The 2018 Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) Dandia season began with a resounding opening featuring the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak on October 5 and 6 and ended with a successful show featuring acclaimed singers Preetysha and Sameer on October 20. These events enthralled the attendees and lighted up not just the Bay Area, but also the world of those needlessly blind. Falguni Pathak in performance with the Ta Thaiya band was a sight to behold. Twenty-five years and counting, they showed why they make such a great team. Though folk music is the core of her performances, she is known for surprising audiences with a peppy mix of Bollywood music and folk songs, and she recreated that magic again. One after another, she sang melodious as well as high-energy songs, and the crowd grooved as if there was no tomorrow. There wasn’t a person that left without a smile and a happy heart, feeling satisfied with the non-stop dancing. After showering the organization with accolades, rave reviews, and appreciation for the flawless Dandia event with the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak, attendees turned up in huge numbers to show their support and end the festive season with the talented duo of Preetysha and Sameer.
They have performed for SEF for more than a decade, each time entertaining a sold-out crowd. Their camaraderie, connection with the audience, unmeasurable talent is a beautiful confluence with SEF’S vision, passion, and zeal to eradicate curable blindness in India. Preetysha and Sameer understand the pulse of the attendees and they made them dance to one popular number after another. Their trademark, ‘Sanedo’ usually performed at the end, left the crowd wanting more, and was a befitting end to an enthralling evening. Though the three events were in the spotlight, Bay Area was spoiled with choices, with SEF organizing five Dandia events, and ten overall across the country. The Laser Dandia at Pleasanton by DJ Precaution on October 13th and by Sangeeta and Troupe on October 20th were both sold out, and the patrons gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to the organization, entertainment factor, and the beautiful experience they had. The patrons really savored the flawless execution, minute attention to detail, and entertainment par excellence at all these events. But the SEF exclusive tradition of the Diya Aarti, really made the whole experience divine and complete, keeping the festivities in mind. At half time, at each of these events, patrons joined in the devotional aarti with the little tea light Diya in their palms and created a magically mesmerizing sight #SEFDiyaAarti is an annual ritual that has been created at SEF Dandia where a beautiful amalgamation of the devotion and the organization’s worthy cause reverberates magically throughout the venue, as everyone sings aarti in unison with lighted Diya on their palms. Thousands of people reveled in these events, appreciated the SEF exclusive perks like the free Garba/Dandia lessons, free Dandia sticks check-in, among many others, and appreciated the tradition of keeping patrons first, another trademark feature of every event organized by the organization.
Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a nonprofit organization that has been working for the SANKARA EYE FOUNDATION, USA • 1900 McCarthy BLVD #302 • MILPITAS, CA 95035 • 1-866-SANKARA • INFO@GIFTOFVISION.ORG past 20 years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of eradicating curable blindness in India, SEF currently has 9 super specialty hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore, and Mumbai. By far a unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception has enabled over 1.79 million people to receive the gift of vision, absolutely free of cost. The organization has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy –- get your or your loved ones’ name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join the cause, volunteer, and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes.
Midterm elections are almost upon us and many of us are struggling with the choices we have to make, especially with the ballot propositions. Californians will vote on 11 ballot measures come November 6th. Reading the official State voting guide can still leave us with questions – we have some difficult choices to make as responsible voters. One way to determine how to vote on the measures is to see who supports and stands to benefit from the passage of each proposition and see who is on the opposing side. Following the money trail also helps to gain perspective on how to vote.
There are three Propositions related to health-care on this ballot. Each one poses a dilemma as both ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments seem to make sense. We at India Currents would like to provide you with detailed d insight into these three propositions that can have a huge impact on how health-care is delivered to us.
PROP 4: Children’s Hospital Bonds initiative
What is the deal? This measure authorizes $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to provide for the Children’s Hospital Bond Act Fund. The fund would be used for construction, expansion, renovation, and equipment projects in order to provide retrofitting and seismic upgrades to facilities that are in dire need of them.
This fund would be distributed among eight private non-profit children’s hospitals, the UC children’s hospitals and other public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Bear in mind:
- Children’s hospitals provide much needed medical care for California’s most needy children.
- Voters have approved two statewide bond measures to support children’s hospitals in the past. This money which was used for new buildings, renovations and equipment will run out this summer.
- The state of California already has $74.2 billion in debt from bonds and Prop 4 will increase that debt.
Vote YES if you think the State should use general obligation bonds to fund improvements to children’s hospitals. These hospitals treat the majority of children who need life saving treatments like organ transplant, cancer treatments and heart surgeries.
- 72% of funds would be designated for eight private, nonprofit children’s hospitals
- 18% allocation for five of the University of California’s children’s hospitals
- 10% of funds to public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Who is sponsoring:
- California Children’s Hospital Association.
Supporters: California Teachers Association
Total raised by sponsors: $11.28 million.
Vote NO if you think the funds should come from another source and NOT out of general obligation bonds that will need to paid back with interest. If you believe that State funds should not be used to support private facilities.
Who stands to lose if this measure passes:
- The State of California and therefore taxpayers, as the Bond would have to be repaid with interest, potentially through higher taxes.
Who is opposing:
PROP 8: Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative
What is the deal? This is an initiated state statute, an initiative that seeks to cap the revenue of dialysis clinics to a maximum of 15% over the amount spent on each patient’s treatment. If passed, this measure requires that all revenue above 115% of direct patient care must be reimbursed to private insurance companies or individuals in the form of yearly rebates. The measure would also prohibit clinics from discriminating against patients based on their method of payment.
Bear in mind:
- Nearly 80,000 Californians with afflicted kidneys need dialysis three times a week.
- 72% of dialysis clinics in California are controlled by just two for-profit companies called DaVita and Fresenius.
- This measure does not cap the the amount spent on direct patient care service, it only limits the revenue that companies make out of each clinic.
- Dialysis clinics are underpaid by Medical and Medicaid and therefore try to recover costs by overcharging private insurance companies
- Dialysis companies claim that revenue caps might force them to shut down some of their clinics and this will affect patients who critically need the service.
- This measure, if voted in, will be a groundbreaking regulation in the healthcare industry and is being watched by interest groups all over the country.
Vote YES if you support a 15% revenue cap on dialysis companies so that the companies prioritize life saving treatments for patients– if they want to keep their profit margins.
- Patients suffering from kidney ailments who might face lower costs and better care if the dialysis companies spend more on improving care and take in less revenues
- The The SEIU-UHW West, a labor union which has been trying to unionize the dialysis industry and have asked for legislative regulation of the industry in the past and have failed in their attempts.
Who is sponsoring:
Total raised by sponsors: $18.86 million
Vote NO if you feel that the proposed revenue cap is too arbitrary and it would force dialysis companies to shut down clinics that are critical to kidney patients. Or if you agree with regulation, but strongly feel that such radical regulations should be brought about through careful legislation and not through ballot initiatives.
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if measure passes:
- DaVita and Fresenius who own and manage 72% of the dialysis industry. The average profit margin for dialysis clinics in California is 17% — nearly five times as high as an average hospital in California.
- Kidney patients, some of whom might lose access to dialysis clinics nearby if the companies decide to shut down clinics due to reduced profit margins.
Total raised by opposition: $111.02 million
Proposition 11: Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative
What is the deal? This initiated state statute is a preemptive proposition by the ambulance industry, paramedics and EMTs. If passed, ambulance companies would be exempt from 2016 labor laws passed by the California Supreme Court that mandates uninterrupted breaks for workers and also requires employers to pay workers at their regular rates during breaks. This initiative requires ambulance companies to provide additional training and some paid mental health services to EMTs and paramedics. The measure also seeks to void pending worker liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for violations (past industry practice of on-call meals and rest breaks) of labor laws passed in 2016.
Bear in mind:
- Currently ambulance personnel do not take off-duty breaks. This measure will simply preserve the status quo and allow the ambulance industry to write its own law as opposed to following current labor laws.
- According to current labor laws, workers are entitled to a half hour meal break and two ten minute rest breaks during their shift.
- Providing uninterrupted breaks would mean ambulance companies have to staff 25% more ambulances to cover those on break, costing $100 million per year. These costs will trickle down eventually to health care customers.
- However, ambulance personnel are first responders who perform in gruelling and pressure filled schedules, often dealing with life and death situations. Denying them uninterrupted breaks may not improve public safety.
- The measure would not apply to EMTs and paramedics who work for public agencies, such as fire departments.
Vote YES if you think it should be written into law, that like police officers, (and other essential public safety personnel,) EMTs, paramedics, life flight helicopter crews and 911 dispatchers should remain reachable during their breaks and be paid to do so.
- Patients with serious emergencies who can get care fastest if the nearest crew is not on an uninterrupted break.
- Healthcare customers avoid additional costs incurred by ambulance companies who have to hire additional staff to cover those on break.
- EMTs and Paramedics who will get paid for being on-call during breaks. They will also receive additional training and paid mental health services.
Who is sponsoring:
- Californians for Emergency Preparedness and Safety
- American Medical Response. They are the country’s largest medical transportation firm.
Total raised by sponsors: $ 29.93 million.
Vote NO if you want private ambulance companies to follow the same labor laws as everybody else. If you feel this a highly stressful job and that EMTs and paramedics must be given breaks to eat and decompress while not being on call. If you do not want the ambulance industry to be able to write their own laws, then you will need to vote “No.”
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if the measure passes:
- Ambulance employees who have liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for continuing to violate labor laws after the 2016 Supreme Court mandate for providing uninterrupted breaks for workers. These lawsuits and future ones will be voided if Prop 11 passes as this measure states that the past industry practice of on-call meal and rest breaks was allowable. .
- EMTs and paramedics lose their chance of getting uninterrupted breaks to decompress and be at their best for the next call
- Ambulance personnel will continue to have their breaks interrupted sometimes by less serious calls–one of the reasons why negotiations broke down between labor union and ambulance industry.
Vaishnavi Sridhar has a Masters in English and a penchant for the written word. She is also a theater/film enthusiast and on a given day, you might catch her on stage performing in a Telugu/Tamil/English play, or waxing eloquent on socially relevant topics on her Facebook page. Vaishnavi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and you can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 22, 2018
3:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Thanksgiving Dinner and Concert
Badarikashrama, San Leandro CA
Nov 23, 2018
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
3iii Fashion ICON 2018
Redberri Convention Center, Plano/Sandwich IL
My parents moved from the South Asian subcontinent to the North American continent in the mid-1960s, never to again celebrate Diwali in the country of their birth. But over the past 50 + years, they’ve never failed to light diyas, do pujas, enjoy mithais, and convey Shubh Diwali to their loved ones.
This is how Mom and Papa conveyed their sense of Diwali to me: As detailed in the Ramayana, one of India’s two magnificent epics, a royal couple – Prince Rama and Princess Sita – are banished from their homeland, Ayodhya. With Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, they spend 14 years in exile during which Sita was kidnapped by Lanka’s demon king, Ravana. The arc of the story is how the brothers, supported by well-wishing devotees such as the monkey God, Hanuman, rescue Sita and return home to Ayodhya. The jubilant citizens of their homeland excitedly welcome Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana by lighting diya oil-lamps on the night of the new moon, Amavashya. Sweets and gifts are distributed as Ayodhya celebrates with firework and dance. This is the delightful, somewhat facile story of good triumphant over evil. There are alternative narratives, including those which privilege Sita’s perspective, Lakshmana’s role, and Hanuman’s point of view; there is even a reading which is sympathetic to Ravana’s plight. Also quite interesting is how other goddesses and gods make their way into the celebration. As the victory of good over evil is said to bring prosperity, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped. And with King Rama rightfully back on his throne, Lord Ganesha represents a new start for Ayodhya. But for the diasporic traveler that I am, the story of Diwali is ultimately about desh and pardesh – home and away – and how we reconcile the two.
Bombay Baby and Calcutta Maybe
Although my parents had a comfortable life in Bombay (not yet called Mumbai by English newspapers), Papa left for Ontario, Canada in early 1965 as a scout of sorts, to get a lay of the snowy-white new land that would pave the path to more prosperity. Mom stayed back in Mulund, Bombay with her four children, awaiting the green light to move the family across the kala pani, the dark waters that her father insisted would result in familial fracture. While that feared fracture never quite happened, India and Pakistan fought yet another of the subcontinent’s internecine wars which ended days before Diwali, 1965. With our parents separated by an ocean, my brothers, sister, and I tried to make sense of our changing world: windows of our apartment flat in Mulund were darkened with brown paper to ensure that Pakistani fighter planes could not see the light inside our home; my elder brother, who was then not yet ten years old, had to fight his way home from school one day when all the trains and buses stopped, causing great worry for Mom; and my five-year-old self fought with inner demons at night as I would sleepwalk throughout our 3rd-floor flat looking out of our balcony for my absent father.
I imagine that Papa and Mom telepathically communicated all these troubles along with their more hopeful visions in the way of young people in love separated by long distances. While it seems inconceivable to me that Papa sent any poems to Mom during festive nights away from home and family, perhaps we can do a bit of revisionist history and dream that he sent a few lines from Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” (1981):
Home. These walls, this sky
Splintered with wakes of light
These mud-lamps beaded round
The eaves, this festive night,
These streets, these voices…yet
The old insensate dread,
Abeyant as that love,
Once more shifts in my head.
After the war was over, on the eastern side of India that makes the shape of its map look like a woman holding a sari aloft on her outstretched arm, there was a girl about my age who was celebrating Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali. While the rest of her family members in diya-lit Calcutta had their eyes closed during the Lakshmi puja, praying to the Goddess of Wealth, this bold lass saw her mother’s jewelry on a silver tray and quietly hid the jewels so as to protect them from anyone who might not be a well-wisher for the family’s prosperity. But as open as that girl’s watchful eyes were, they could not have been as open as my own eyes when Mom prepared me for our flight to Canada.
Our stay in Chatham, Ontario was a makeshift one, with the only other South Asian family in our town being the Hasnains from Pakistan. In those early years there were no Indian grocery stores close to home, though there was an uncle who owned a French-Indian restaurant in a nearby city. My memories of Diwali celebrations in Chatham are blurred by the struggles of my parents making their way in the world. Both would work multiple jobs including picking tomatoes as farm hands, Mom sewing clothes as a tailor, and during an economic downturn Papa, trained to be a procurement manager, was laid off from a multinational firm and took on odd jobs as a security guard and then as an orderly at a mental hospital. All I can really remember about India was the pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal and blue aerogrammes to and from family back home in Rajasthan.
For those of you not old enough to know about aerogrammes, kindly follow these instructions:\
- Find a thin, lightweight piece of blue paper approximately the size of 8 ½” x 11” printer paper.
- Fold into three sections as if you were enclosing it in an envelope (if you are too young to know what an envelope is, please proceed to the Silicon Valley part of this article).
- The top fold is for parents to pay respect to elders in India, write that “all izz well” in Canada, and for special holidays wish everyone “Happy Diwali,” “Happy Holi,” or “Happy Raksha Bandhan.” Just keep things joyous, suggesting that Goddess Lakshmi is smiling upon us in this land of milk and honey. Hidden from family in India are the hardships, the hard facts of our cold Canadian Diwali; no time with an uncle who was too busy with his restaurant, no agarbati to fill our home with sandalwood incense, no exploding firecrackers to let neighbors know about “our Christmas,” no flickering diyas to guide Lakshmi to our home, no shining new jewelry or dhan except the maple-leaf pennies that my parents earned; all we had were the six of us performing the puja around a silver coin of Lakshmi safeguarded from India, our foreheads dotted with kumkum powder carried in Mom’s suitcase as a vermilion reminder of our ancestry, and our mouths sweetened with saffron-less rice pudding pretending to be kheer with wrinkled black raisins substituted for plump golden ones.
- The middle fold is for more serious matters: replying to previous requests to send more money; sharing news about children’s educational accomplishments; and deferring the visit home to Rajasthan with a “we will soon return when we have accrued enough vacation” (while never disclosing that Goddess Lakshmi’s smile has been a bit pinched, and we don’t have funds for tickets to fly back to India; the illustration of an airplane on the front of the aerogramme is as close as we’ll come to a flying machine for almost a decade).
- And squeezed into the bottom fold on the inside of the aerogramme is space for the elder two siblings to write their pranams; inevitably the respectful salutations bow down to the end of the page and climb over to the other side where the younger two siblings (my younger brother and myself) write in larger font to grandparents, uncles, and aunts whose fully-fleshed memories slip away into two-dimensional black and white photos.
- Lastly, the address section on the front has Papa’s confident upper case hand-written memory of his or Mom’s village homes, before the gummy edges of the paper are moistened with parental saliva, pressed together, and the aerogramme is dropped in a mailbox.
After Papa was laid off from his job, he explored an opportunity in Chicago. In the same year that Apollo 11 made like a powerful Diwali firecracker and rocketed the first men to the moon, our family made like Diwali phuljharis and sparkled our way to the United States. While the Windy City was as cold as Ontario, its Midwestern heart felt so much warmer. Cosmopolitan Chicago had universities with graduate students from India, had a group of Gujarati friends that reminded Papa of Pravin Parikh, his best friend in Bombay, had a Patel Brothers grocery store to cater to the growing Indian population, and even had a Hindu temple.
In Chicago, Mom found other women who wore saris everyday, just as she had in Canada and would continue to do for decades in the United States. But these were not Indian women whose jet-black hair flowed down to their waists over the saree’s pallu. They were fair-haired wannabe gopis of the ISKCON movement. But no matter, my parents had a temple, albeit a temple shared with former hippies chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” And we had a place to go on Diwali, before returning home to feast with newfound friends and dance in dandia circles.
Just as Papa and Mom built an Indian community that enabled them to recreate a semblance of what they had left behind, their children turned toward another community, playing baseball with our American friends and singing rock-and-roll songs that our parents did not appreciate. Filial piety demanded that we attend family pujas, but while Mom and Papa celebrated Diwali with their friends, we rolled our eyes during prayers and began to surreptitiously make fun of our parents’ friends’ funny clothes and oily hair, and, out of adult earshot, mimicking the thick Gujarati accents in a way that presaged Hank Azaria’s diminishing Apu character on The Simpsons by a couple of decades. We were becoming defiantly Americans while steadfastly remaining loyal to, and protective of, our parents’ core values.
As the years went by, it appeared that Yankee defiance might win out: Blue jeans left no space in our closets for kurtas and pyjamas; Hollywood pushed Bollywood into the distant background; and for a while it seemed that television families like “The Brady Bunch” were the norm that we aspired to. The so-called “boob tube” delivered cultural context and our Americanized tongues became more comfortable saying “Happy Thanksgiving” rather than “Shubh Diwali.” While my parents did not overtly show anxiety around cultural loss, it must have seemed to them that their Diwali diyas could not hold a candle to Nat King Cole’s Christmas lights accompanied by chestnuts roasting on an open fire; while the former was easily extinguished, the latter illuminated much more of our Midwestern zeitgeist. It was as if Vikram Seth’s poem about Diwali was describing the cultural conflict between my birthright and the ascendant West’s claim on my impressionable teenage years.
Macaulay the prophet of learning
Chewed at his pen: one taste
Of Western wisdom “surpasses
All the books of the East,”
And Kalidas, Shankaracharya,
Panini, Bhaskar, Kabir,
Surdas sank, and we welcomed
The reign of Shakespeare.
College was a turning point. The summer before my freshman year, our family returned to Rajasthan to celebrate the weddings of my two older siblings. I returned to the U.S. with a commitment to learn about India, to be more of an Indian, to never remove my janoi, the sacred thread with which I had been invested days before my elder brother’s wedding. At college, only the Indian graduate students seemed to know anything about our shared heritage. There were three other undergraduate Indians in my freshman class, and all of them were on the right side of the Indian-American hyphen. It was only through coursework in Indian history, political science, art, religion, and anthropology that I found my way back to my own Indian identity. And then there was Satayjit Ray’s Apu Trilogy that clinched the deal with its masterful cinematic verisimilitude. On my road to self-discovery, I discovered Pather Panchali, the Song of the Little Road. I fell in love with village India and with the Bengali aesthetic. I saw Diwali through Apu’s eyes in Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second of these three classic films. I found a way to vanquish my years of exile from India.
Upon graduation from college, I returned to India for my own wedding. I married Mangla, that not-quite Bengali girl who in the mid-1960s had safeguarded her mother’s jewelry on Dhanteras. Through the years, my wife has taught me more about Diwali then all the professors, books, films, and years that preceded her. Like so many mothers before her, Mangla has safeguarded much more than shiny baubles. She has kept alive the traditions of our ancestors and passed them along to our children and their spouses like a treasure that can be held only in one’s heart.
It is true that we no longer wait twelve days for our Diwali letters to cross the ocean and do the postal handshake/namaskar. Yes, we’ve been blessed by Silicon Valley innovations like email, Skype, and WhatsApp that enable us to have our Diasporic Diwali dreams delivered to us in an instant. And for those of us who are old-school, we now even have a Diwali stamp should we be inspired to send our loved ones Diwali greetings that consist of more than ephemeral bits and bytes.
Of course, the number of Indians in North America has gone up exponentially through the years. Unlike my parents and the Hasnain family of 1960s Chatham, Mangla and I have nearly a dozen Indian families living within walking distance from our Palo Alto home, each celebrating their own vision (and each other’s version) of Diwali/Deepavali; North India, South India, East India, and West India all centered around our California abode. Despite our neighborly friendships, our past has its hold on us and we hold on to vestiges of ancestral tribalism with our RANAs (Rajasthan Association of North America), GCANAs (Gujarati Cultural Association of North America), TANAs (Telegu Association of North America), CABs (Cultural Association of Bengal), and more.
To be sure, there have been some clunker Diwali celebrations like the RANA function in the early 1990s when I read aloud every word of Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” poem, leading almost the entire audience to head for the food before it was ready (I think Mangla was the only one who listened to me! ) But we’ve come a long way, crossing the bridge between here and there. Here might be Morgan Hill, and there might be Mt. Abu. Perhaps here is modernity, and there is tradition. And courtesy of our multiple and virtual Silicon Valleys that are anywhere, here and there could be everywhere, facilitating the building of our own Rama setus, our own bridges to (re)discover the loves of our lives. And we merely need a diya to light the sky, to show us the way back home to make peace with our disquieted heart.
It holds me-till the strain
Of exile, here or there,
Subverts the trance, the fear
Of fear found everywhere.
“But freedom?” the notes would sing…
Parole is enough. Tonight
Below the fire-crossed sky
Of the Festival of Light.
Give your soul leave to feel
What distilled peace it can;
In lieu of joy, at least
This lapsing anodyne.
“The world is a bridge. Pass over it,
Building no house upon it.”
Acceptance may come with time;
Rest, then disquieted heart.
Rajesh Oza truly hopes one day soon to celebrate Diwali in India, perhaps with a grandchild in tow. As Founder and President of OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group, Inc., he specializes in helping senior executives better align their organizations to achieve success.
Rakesh Dasgupta is an actor, and his own checkered life and journey through three countries and five cities has the potential to make a movie. Having lived in Kolkata, Brisbane, Townsville, and Sydney so far, currently based in Los Angeles, the 34-year-old actor and writer is focused on chasing his lifelong dream, acting. Rakesh is one among many of the Indian-heritage creatives waiting for that crucial big-entry ticket into Hollywood. He is peddling his award-winning script Shiva around and wants to play the lead role.
“There is no way they will cast me, a ‘nobody’. When I refer to Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, I am told he was an exception. You hardly see movies with Indian characters in the lead. Those that have, star established celebrities. I have been told even if my screenplay rocks, makers would change it, mold it, I would just be given money for it and sent out the door,” says Rakesh.
Ask him what a typical day looks like for a struggler in La La Land and he says, “I wake up and go to the gym first thing, unless I have an early morning audition. The rest of my time is devoted to sustaining myself through casual work.” The actor works hard at maintaining his sexy abs and a healthy, toned body. “I have to look appealing so I work out diligently, and eat 6 times a day. Plain rice and boiled chicken is all I eat,” shares Rakesh.
Being in LA was lonely and depressing, which Rakesh turned into his strength. “Week after week, I was alone in my room. Knew no one. I needed a body of work for my visa, or I would have to return to Australia. To combat my loneliness, I started writing. I thought of a story and converted it into a 120-page screenplay,” says Rakesh. “My lead character is a South Asian movie star in Hollywood who struggles to hide his troubled family history as his advancing terminal illness threatens to destroy an unfolding romance.”
“I sent my written work to some Hollywood screenplay specialists. They said it sucked, that I am a bad writer, non-writer, that I should study screenplay writing,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rakesh also sent submissions to film festivals and won best screenplay awards at Top Indie Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Global Film Festival, Los Angeles Cinefest, and Los Angeles Film Awards. However his biggest award will be when the movie gets made, “People like the idea but when I say I want to play the lead, they back off.”
Delve into his past, and he reveals he had the lure for acting since higher secondary in Kolkata where he grew up. His dream of enrolling himself at Film Institute of India, Pune, was thwarted by his parents. “They were influential and ‘high society’ with connections to ministers and income tax commissioner. My parents thought I was crazy as I used to talk to the mirror practicing acting, and they put me on high doses of anti-psychotic medication, meant for Schizophrenia. I was 18 then, and became timid and highly dependent on them,” he shares.
Rakesh could only sign up for Bachelor of Arts at Kolkata University. “It was a start. I matured a bit, started interacting with people, going out, getting a little bit of freedom. My head was clearer.” In 2007, he convinced his parents and escaped to Australia to study. He has a double Masters in Applied Finance and Accountancy from University of Queensland, Brisbane, to show for that period.
Interestingly, despite an English Honors, his spoken English was zero. “I could write but I couldn’t understand anyone and couldn’t speak and couldn’t get a job. So I worked as a dishwasher and a cleaner, and even cleaned my own university campus,” he says.
“I would have liked to come directly to US but at the time, this was the only option. Life caught up and I almost gave up on my dream. My brain went in a different direction. I have been through phases of high addiction: the pills my parents had got me onto, drugs, drinking and smoking. Then I thought I could lead the “regular” life. So I cleaned up my act, started training and working as a policeman, got myself a secure government job,” says Rakesh.
“However, once the effects of my various addictions wore out, my passion for acting came back. By this time, my English was perfect so I finally decided to move to Sydney in 2013,” he says.
It was an overnight decision, but he was on the right path. After a couple of meetings with other agents, he found Therese Clifford, from TCM Agency, who agreed to represent him. “She sent me to auditions, I did a few commercials and small roles, supporting roles, and built up my resume for two years. But there weren’t good roles. In 2016, my small, six-minute role in an Australian film Down Under got me some attention. It wasn’t an important role but the acting part was important; it was hard-core acting,” he says.
“In 2015, Therese took me to LA for two weeks and introduced me to agencies, managers, acting teachers, casting directors. They liked my performance but I had to come back. In 2017, I moved here to LA finally. Therese helped me with my visa, sponsor, attorney, everything.”
Although he hasn’t done any serious acting except for a short film In The Air, Rakesh is keeping his hopes up, “I still don’t have an agent and a manager. I had exhausted my savings once more, it was hard to settle into a new city yet, with shared flats, and hostels. But now, I have a place to live, and my routine.”
This time, Rakesh is set on his goal and intends to get there on his own terms. He is in control of his life, which he has kept lean and simple. Though a work of fiction, his screenplay has shades of his own life. Rakesh believes no other actor can play the role better than him. The ingredients seem right, we know how Hollywood loves the underdog to winner stories. Will the stars shine for this one?
Are you shining just for me?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
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Vijay Gupta’s trip to being one of the winners of the 2018 MacArthur genius grant started with questions – questions only a musician would know to ask. Nathaniel Ayers was the questioner and Vijay, a violinist with the LA Philharmonic was immediately intrigued. The space where he met Ayers was at Skid Row, where upwards of 60,000 homeless people camp in Los Angeles. Vijay says, “Nathaniel was one of the first African American men to be admitted to the Juilliard school in New York in the 1970s. Due to mental illness, the therapy that he received left him a mere zombie, and he lived within walking distance of where I played in one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the city. Along with other musicians, I read about him in the Los Angeles Times, and when I met him, I was pretty devastated to see such a brilliant musician living in abject conditions.”
The inequality that existed between playing at LA Philharmonic and the poverty at Skid Row revealed places that were worlds apart. Meeting Nathaniel pushed Vijay to wonder whether, “there were other musicians like Nathaniel who were languishing in a place like Skid Row, silenced by homelessness and poverty
That thought was the impetus for starting Street Symphony an organization dedicated to providing free music programs, mentoring opportunities to budding musicians and much more in LA’s Skid Row. They have now grown to include over 100 professional musicians and have given over 500 concerts at homeless shelters and county jails.
Of playing at Skid row and other facilities, Vijay says, “I was aware of the HIndustani tradition, where the audiences are extremely well-versed and give critical input to the musicians. At the LA Philharmonic, I was used to sitting on stage, with all of us wearing tuxedos in bright lights, with a “wall” between the performers and the audience. Our audiences for Street Symphony would break that decorum. They would applaud between the pieces. We could not just play and leave. They would ask is questions about the composer, and then add telling comments about their feelings when they heard certain parts. It was truly a humbling experience.”
And, at one of these concerts at a county jail, Vijay spoke about the composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) who was committed to a mental asylum and who died there, before playing a piece written by him. And then Vijay confides, “I was dumbfounded to have an audience member at the jail look around him and say – Schumann must have been in a place similar to this one. He was comparing his own story to that composer, even if I hadn’t done that as a performer.”
And, these humbling interactions and experiences drive Vijay to this day in running Street Symphony. He says with wonder, “This audience is made up of emotionally astute intelligent empathic and creative people. We make the mistake of looking at the arts as a luxury item. Why are you taking music to ‘those’ people? – is a question I get asked often. And, the undercurrent is that those people are somehow unworthy. To me, the arts is a way of believing in everyone’s humanity and when we take that away from certain groups, what we are saying is that they don’t deserve access to their own humanity. Art allows me to connect with people. The way I was brought up, art is a form of sadhana, an act of devotion. In my native Bangla language, I was taught that you worship Shiva in the form of people. To me, a performance by Street Symphony feels like that – a puja performed with deep reverence, committed to the restoration of humanity.”
The MacArthur genius grant comes with a purse of $625,000 with no strings attached and he hopes to use this to chart the future course of Street Symphony.
Learn more about his work at http://streetsymphony.org/
Our shining loads to the temple fair…
Who will buy these delicate, bright
Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,
For happy daughters and happy wives.
Silver and blue as the mountain mist,
Some are flushed like the buds that dream
On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream,
Some are aglow wth the bloom that cleaves
To the limpid glory of new born leaves.
Meet for a bride on her bridal morn,
Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,
Or, rich with the hue of her heart’s desire,
Tinkling, luminous, tender, and clear,
Like her bridal laughter and bridal tear.
For she who has journeyed through life midway,
Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest,
And cradled fair sons on her faithful breast,
And serves her household in fruitful pride,
And worships the gods at her husband’s side.
By Dani Antman Growing up, I had an ambivalent relationship to Judaism. The religious services I attended never inspired me, and when I started my search for a spiritual path, I turned to the teachings of Yoga. Later, when I discovered Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical...read more
Monday, October 1st: Sri Maha Vyadeeyapadam. Tuesday, October 2nd: Madhya Asthami. Wednesday, October 3rd: Sri Avidhava Navami. Thursday, October 4th: Evening at 5 PM, Shiva abhisheka aarati and manthra pushpa. Evening at 6 PM, Gurupeyarchi transition from Thula...read more
In the SF Bay Area, sometimes the only clear signal that the season is changing is the arrival of new fruits and vegetables in the market. Sweet summer produce such as corn and stone fruits are replaced by root vegetables and big squashes such as bright orange pumpkins—as if nature is preparing us for autumn’s cooler temperatures and reduced daylight by offering vegetables with an abundance of vitamin A for eyesight, and the nutrients and fiber needed to support the immune system.
Pumpkins have a history as an edible fruit in many ancient cultures. They are native to Central America and Mexico, but have spread all over the world. Pumpkins come in all different colors and sizes. The familiar color is orange, but some varieties of pumpkin are even green, white, or even pale blue! While we associate pumpkins with massive sizes, (the current record holder for the biggest pumpkin weighed almost a ton!) there are some tiny varieties too.
Perhaps due to their large and colorful appearance, pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every continent. In fact there is even a variety known as the fairy tale pumpkin.
In the United States, pumpkins are used as carved decorations for Halloween, but these pumpkins are not ideal to cook with. For soup, pies, bread, or a stew the sugar pie pumpkin works best. It is less stringy than larger varieties and its meat is sweet and fine grained. For a soup recipe, select a medium-sized pie pumpkin with a bright orange skin that weighs about 2 to 3 pounds.
In addition to being easy and gratifying to cultivate, pumpkin is also very nutritious. It is low in fat and sodium and high in other important nutrients.
Pumpkins are easy to cook. They can be either baked or steamed. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin lengthwise into two halves. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and strings. (Seeds can be saved, roasted, and served as a healthy snack.) Oil the surfaces inside and outside the pumpkin and set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the meat is soft when a fork is inserted, but still firm enough to be cut into chunks.
To steam, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Steam the two halves in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Cook them just enough to loosen the skin while keeping the flesh firm and intact. Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
Gujarati Kadhi with Pumpkin
Some food historians believe that the word “curry” came from a British mispronunciation of the name of a yogurt soup called kadhi. In Gujarat in northwestern India, kadhi is considered a comfort food. It can clear the sinuses and relieve other symptoms of the common cold. It is easy to digest and can lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Kadhi is a simple, light soup with a sauce-like consistency that is made with lots of water, some yogurt or coconut milk, and a bit of garbanzo flour. Other ingredients such as peanuts, green beans, okra, yams, or pumpkin can be added to embellish the soup.
2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric and
2 cloves of minced garlic mixed
with ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
and made into a paste using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mild cooking oil such as
corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or
¼ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 whole red chilies
A large pinch of asafetida
A few fresh curry leaves and/or 1 table spoon of chopped cilantro
Whisk together water, yogurt, garbanzo flour, powdered spices, and salt until smooth. Add the garlic/cayenne paste. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot, then turn the heat down. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly until the soup has a creamy texture. Add the pumpkin and continue to cook for a few minutes.
For the final step, in a separate small pot, heat the oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds. After the seeds start to pop, add the chilies and the asafetida. Stir, and then add this smoking mixture to the pot of kadhi. Cover immediately, and keep it covered for five minutes.
Taste, correct for saltiness, and top with fresh curry leaves and/or cilantro. Serve hot with rice and/or bread. Instruct the diners to remove the whole chilies and curry leaves, or you can take them out as you are serving.
Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk
Thai food can be very similar to Indian food in flavor. This recipe was modified with a memory of a soup I had in South India and by mixing a few Thai recipes until I came up with a version which is especially quick to prepare. If you are using canned pumpkin or previously prepared steamed or baked pumpkin, it can be ready in 25 minutes!
2 cups freshly made pumpkin puree
or 1 15 oz can of puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any type
2 cups water
2 cups or one 15 oz can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of prepared Thai
red curry paste (found in specialty
or health food stores)
or prepare your own curry paste
with the following ingredients
Thai red curry paste
1 or 2 red dry chilies or 1 teaspoon
1 stalk of lemon grass chopped into
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
or white parts of green onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon chopped lime peel (skin)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves with
1 teaspoon each powdered
coriander and powdered cumin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
To prepare the Thai curry paste, place all the above ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree into a coarse paste. Store in a glass jar. For this recipe you will need only half of the amount you have made. The remainder can be saved in the refrigerator for upto a week.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add 3 tablespoons of the Thai curry paste you have prepared. (Store-bought paste is denser so you may need less.) Stir-fry for 2 minutes, and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove any rough fibers of the homemade paste that rise to the surface.
Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook over a moderate heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt and pumpkin puree. Lower the heat again and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the soup thickens to a cream-like consistency. Adjust seasoning, adding more paste if desired. Serve with bread and/or rice.
First printed in October 2011. Original Title – A Sure Sign of Autumn
For high school seniors Anvee Bhutani and Ishaan Nandwani, studying and learning language is just as important as studying STEM-related subjects. Especially with the Silicon Valley’s significant immigrant population, there is a wide and diverse array of languages...read more