Multi Faith Prayer Vigil for Sept. 11th

Today, September 11th marks 17 years since 3000 Americans died in the deadliest attacks ever on American soil.American Muslim Voice Foundation and Dave Cortese, Board of Supervisors, Santa Clara County, along with 35 multi-faith groups, mosques and community organizations invite all Americans to join them for a multi-faith peace picnic, prayer service and candle light vigil.

We use this day to extend our prayers for the victims of September 11th and extend our deepest condolences to their families. We also pray for all other families who have lost loved ones due to wars, violence and senseless crimes against humanity.

We salute “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” for their  work towards creating global peace after losing their loved ones. Let us join hands with them and strive to transform this tragic day into one of peace and community building.

On Tuesday, September 11th 2018, hundreds of peacemakers, Christians, Muslims Jews and other communities of faith will hold a multi-faith peace picnic, prayer service and candle light vigil for peace.

Please join hands with us.

What: Multifaith Peace Picnic, Prayer Service & Vigil
Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Time: 7:00-8:30 PM
Location: King Plaza. 250 Hamilton Ave Palo Alto, CA
Contact: Samina Sundas: Phone: 650-387-1994.

American Muslim Voice Foundation was founded in July, 2003 by American Muslims, to work for and with all Americans. We are a grassroots movement based on the simple idea that stronger American communities serve the interests of all Americans.

The organization strives to strengthen the world by working alongside neighbors and strangers toward a common goal, forging bonds and sparking friendships in the process. AMV Foundation continues to celebrate diversity and values all human beings regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or creed.

Please visit us at www.amuslimvoice.org. Phone: 650-387-1994

Vajpayee: Poet-Politician-Patriot

 

India has lost one of the finest politicians of our times. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not only an accomplished parliamentarian, an impressive orator, an ardent nationalist and a proud patriot – he was also a sensitive poet and a sincere friend. He befriended his political colleagues belonging different parties,  many journalists and common citizens.

94-year-old Vajpayeeji, or Atalji, as he was popularly addressed by many, was ailing for a few years and had mostly retired from public life in 2005. However, his advice was a sought after commodity valued by those who could see him. Many current leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani were very close to him. A life-long bachelor, Vajpayee was a father figure for many.

He was the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete his full five-year term, though he was Prime Minister earlier for 13 days and later for 13 months. Was that tenure tied to the unlucky number 13? One can only guess – but that did not in any way affect his popularity, performance or diminish his patriotism in any way.

Vajpayee was an undisputed leader and carved his own path -he was intent on nurturing meaningful relations with our constantly feuding neighbor – Pakistan and, on many occasions, displayed maturity while dealing with bitter political enemies. He would never stoop to lower levels of debate in Parliament or in public. That’s why he was respected and loved by politicians belonging to all political affiliations. Being a leader of a so-called “Hindu” party, he was more secular than many so-called secular politicians.

Though he was one of the staunchest supporters of building the Shree Ram temple in Ayodhya, t he, as Prime Minister, had unequivocally declared that it was not the role of the Bharatiya Janata Party to get the temple re-constructed.

My association with Vajpayeeji – and to Advaniji – dates back to 1952 when they were junior politicians and I was an upcoming journalist.  That year India had the first general elections and I covered part of it. Since that time, for the next several decades, I followed the career trajectories of thesepoliticians and became close to them to see their parties transform from Bharatiya Janasangh to Janata Party to Bharatiya Janata Party. [With Advaniji I even shared some facial resemblance that another journalist pointed out once; on hearing this, Advaniji himself acknowledged that it was true and remarked  – “if I am not available maybe you can address the meeting!”]

Vajpayee was a true nationalist who appreciated and applauded the achievements of rival leaders heartily. One of the memorable occasions was in 1971 when under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi India had to go to war with Pakistan and help in the liberation of Bangladesh. The whole country was with the government in that war and Vajpayee, as the leader of the then Bharatiya Janasangh, had no hesitation in acknowledging the leadership and achievement of the Congress leader, and Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He declared unhesitatingly in Parliament : “Today, there is only one undisputed leader in the country – and that is Shrimati Indira Gandhi.” Not many from rival parties would provide such staunch support.

That’s how Vajpayee was – a mature politician and an ungrudging admirer of a rival leader who achieved a remarkable victory for India. You don’t find this magnanimity or maturity now –  in India or in the US.

I had the privilege to be close to Vajpayeeji and had the privilege of chatting with him privately on several occasions where he shared his views and observations.  I have attended and reported on numerous meetings he addressed in various cities across several states, and also attended special press conferences. He was quite informal in his demeanor. I interviewed him on several occasions for newspapers, radio and TV. He was always upfront, clear, convincing and impressive in what he said. Never did he leave us confused about his way of thinking. He had a good sense of humor and sometimes he would regale us with his poems in the exclusive Central Hall of India’s Parliament where we, as senior journalists, met him.

A memorable occasion recalled recently was his meeting with Lata Mangeshkar, the Nightingale of India, who also was a recipient of the prestigious Bharat Ratna, like Atalji. They had a lot of respect for each other. When the two met, Atalji stated, “our names are similar in a way.” Surprised, Lataji asked, “what is it?” Vajpayee remarked: You are L A T A, read it the other way A T A L!

During Janata Party’s election campaign in 1977 he compared his party’s meetings with Indira Gandhi’s.  He used to say: “she has the crowds at her meetings, we have the audience.” Indeed, her meetings had an assortment of  people brought using hired buses and they were not fully interested in what she was saying. On the other hand, Janata Party leaders always had attentive and interested people who came on their own to listen – and vote. And they did!

I remember one incident after Moraji Desai became the Prime Minister in 1977 and Vajpayee was selected as Foreign (external affairs) Minister. I was then working for the leading Hindi daily Hindustan (in New Delhi), and was present on that occasion and told Atalji: I will write an article about you with the headline “Videsh mantralaya mein Deshi mantri.”  His response was: “Desi mantri.” I got the point, he wanted to be known as Desi, typical Indian.

Vajpayee was for all Indians, irrespective of religions, castes and  communities, though he belonged to a so-called ‘upper caste community.’ It pained him immensely when during the election campaign of 1980 with Babu Jagjivan Ram as the leader of the Janata Party (after the split with Charan Singh), at several meetings he heard people murmuring against a ‘Dalit’ being projected as the future Prime Minister. Vajpayee told me that it was painful to hear such remarks and that it was going to reflect in the results. No doubt Indira Gandhi and her Congress Party won the 1980 elections, partly because of the fact a majority of Indian people were still not reconciled to a ‘lower caste’ politician as their Prime Minster. Jagjivan Ram was one of the ablest ministers in the federal government, and probably the finest Defense Minister India ever had.

The other reason was the then President N. Sanjeeva Reddy. The Janata Party’s majority made him the President though Indira Gandhi’s Congress had maneuvered to defeat him and got an ‘independent candidate’ V.V. Giri elected to the highest office – the first any ‘independent’ became the President.  Reddy, first refused to invite Jagjivan Ram to form the government after Indira withdrew support from Charan Singh. Janata Party remained the single largest party, its leader, Jagjivan Ram had the right to be invited to form the government, but Reddy decided against it. May be he was ‘won over’ by Indira or he was himself opposed to a ‘lower caste’ man as the Prime Minister. He dissolved the Parliament (Lok Sabha) and ultimately Indira Gandhi and her Congress party were the winners. But all that is history now and Vajpayee had always expressed his unhappiness and personal pain about the developments.

India has come a long way since but still politics is being dominated with religion, caste and group consideration and reservations are being demanded and fought for. This strategy is mainly used to garner votes, not for doing anything substantial to improve the condition of those belonging to ‘backward’ castes – this strategy of vote garnering was denounced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

I relocated to the United States and for years did not have direct contact with him, but Vajpayee did not forget about me. On one occasion when he was the Leader of the Opposition, and I was the Editor of India Post in the Bay Area, I called him and he graciously gave me a phone interview.

Leaders of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stature have become rare in today’s politics in India – and even elsewhere. He remains one of India’s finest leaders and will be missed by many.

Yatindra Bhatnagar has more than seven decades experience in journalism and writing. He worked at top positions with newspapers in India and the US. He is also a radio and TV broadcaster. He is the author of about 20 books including Bangladesh, Birth of a Nation; Mujib, the Architect of Bangladesh; Australiana, a Visit to Remember; Korean Experience; Autumn Leaves (a collection of poems) and others both in Hindi and English.He now lives in the greater Los Angeles area.

 

Date/Time Event
Sep 1, 2018 - Sep 30, 2018
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
The 90 Year Journey
The 90 Year Journey
Rinconada Library, Palo Alto CA
Sep 27, 2018
5:30 pm
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Toni Rembe Rock Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Sep 27, 2018
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Science Night
Science Night
Menlo Park Main Library, Menlo Park CA
Sep 28, 2018 - Sep 29, 2018
2:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Queen
Queen
De Anza Visual Performing Arts Center, Cupertino California

Math Problems

Hot, sweaty fingers run fruitlessly along the blurring lines. Under the spreading arms of a gnarled neem tree, she sits hunched over her Math homework, desperately holding back tears of humiliation. Yet another tutor glares at her reproachfully. “Why can’t you understand something so simple? You are such a Moddhu!” She hears herself called this by many frustrated voices – well wishers, teachers and tutors who are utterly baffled and clueless about her inability. Moddhu in Telugu parlance, is an umbrella term for every noun and adjective used to describe a person of low to no intelligence. She grows up believing that she is a Moddhu. Specifically, that she is a Moddhu in Mathematics.

For reasons he cannot comprehend, he simply does not have number sense, a skill set that helps him comprehend numbers . The complicated steps required to solve math problems leave him feeling confused and lost. No matter how hard he tries, and regardless of how much his teachers “explain,” he cannot understand. And nobody understands why he does not. His parents assume that either the teacher is not doing their job well, or that their child is not paying attention and not following instructions. They arrange for private tutoring, hoping the personal touch will help. The child continues to struggle. Teachers and tutors alike report that while he nods and acts as if he understands, the boy is unable to solve problems. Now everyone is frustrated. “You are too slow, too lazy, you need to work harder,” they urge, cajole and yell.  Unable to understand his own learning difficulty, the child starts to think that everyone is probably right. There must indeed be something wrong with his brain. He must be dumb, lazy and stupid. Why else is he unable to “understand something so simple” even when it is explained to him a hundred times? He begins to dread tests and exams, because he hates to perform poorly thereby disappointing his parents. He develops strategies that protect him from the pain and the humiliation. Some of those coping strategies involve hiding, lying, and making excuses for himself. He develops mysterious ailments that prevent him from going to school on testing days. He “forgets” homework at home and cooks up stories to explain his failures away . But deep inside, he knows – he knows that he is a failure. He knows he cannot achieve anything. He has given up on himself. 

I am her, I am him.

I now know that I have a Learning Disability (LD) called Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is the Math equivalent of Dyslexia. Let me try to explain what Mathematics has entailed for me since I was young. I could never memorize Math facts. Addition and subtraction have to be worked out on paper, the long way. Mental calculations are out of question, since I cannot hold numbers in my head. Multiplication is always extremely hard because I cannot memorize the tables. Therefore division, percentages, and algebra are all nearly impossible. This extends to logical thinking of any kind. In real life, the implications are crippling. I cannot for instance, calculate percentage off on any item on sale or figure out the tip for a restaurant bill. Neither can I estimate whether a piece of furniture will fit into the space I have for it, because I am not good at measuring or visualizing volumetric measurements. It means I cannot help my children with their homework, can’t remember important dates, birthdays, amounts owed and so on. I always struggle with directions, time, layouts, procedures, budgeting, sequences, and figuring out logistics. Beyond all this, having an academic disability entails being at the receiving end of innumerable thoughtless remarks and put downs – mostly unintentional – but hurtful nonetheless.

Dyscalculia is real, as real as Dyslexia, albeit not as well diagnosed or treated. Akin to any other learning disability, Dyscalculia can cause anxiety, depression, stress and low self esteem. Inability to perform simple calculations undermines academic performance; closes off career choices  and creates severe emotional distress. The good news is that once diagnosed, there are ways to teach Math to students with Dyscalculia. Some techniques that have met with success include the use of manipulatives, visual aids and multisensory instruction.

Here are some quick facts about Dyscalculia:

  • Dyscalculia is a Learning Disorder, NOT an intellectual disability
  • It manifests in early school years and can be diagnosed by professionals at school
  • Very often Dyscalculia occurs alongside Dyslexia
  • People with ADHD often also have Dyscalculia
  • This disorder tends to run in families which means it is genetic
  • Injuries to certain parts of the brain can result in “Acquired Dyscalculia”
  • There are no medications for treating Dyscalculia
  • There are no specialized teaching programs for Dyscalculia such as the ones used for Dyslexia
  • There are resources and techniques to help students who have this learning disorder
  • Early intervention in cases of Learning Disorders helps prevent low self esteem by providing alternate methods of learning and building necessary skills.

So, if your child is struggling with Math, here is my earnest request to you: Talk to their Math teacher. Ask questions about what specific areas your child is falling behind in. If you suspect a Learning Disability, please read and educate yourself about this condition and how it can be addressed. Most public schools in the United States  have resources for testing and evaluations to diagnose all types of learning disabilities. You can even have your student evaluated privately. Most importantly, please equip yourself with tools to recognize and acknowledge a Learning Disorder (if any) before thinking, or much worse, calling your child a “Moddhu.”

Note:

  1. Dyscalculia is only one of many known Learning Disabilities
  2. All information in this article is culled from my own experiences and from these highly informative and useful websites:

http://www.dyscalculia.org/

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/understanding-dyscalculia

http://www.aboutdyscalculia.org/index.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514770/

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 at catchup.vaishnavi@gmail.com

All in a Day’s Work: Subbing Senior Yoga at ICC Cupertino

When I was a young girl, I read the Reader’s Digest “All in a Day’s Work” section with interest. Contributors would submit humorous or poignant anecdotes about interactions with co-workers and customers. On labor day, I offer a similar “All in a Day’s Work” style article based on my own work experiences, whether paid or unpaid, salaried or volunteer.

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to volunteer as a substitute senior yoga teacher at India Community Center in Cupertino. The site is in the heart of Silicon Valley, just a few miles from Apple. One of the yoga teachers was getting some remodeling done in her house, and Dr. Sachin Deshmukh, who runs the yoga program, asked me to be the substitute. The informal nature of the yoga teaching was evident in the rather ad-hoc manner in which I found myself in the role of a teacher, facing about 40 expectant seniors. My yoga training at Yoga Bharati had prepared me for this moment, I hoped. A lapel mike was fastened to my shirt, and just like that, we were off.

A common complaint was that I could not be heard. I tried to project my voice. The man who had affixed my lapel mike, and who was referred to as Dr. Krishna, came by again, his forehead creased with concentration as he fiddled with the sound system. I shot him a grateful look. In a room full of octogenarians and nonagenarians, my grey hair notwithstanding, I felt like a young upstart.

A Creative Commons image by Liz West

There were several levels of fitness in the room, and I tried hard to modify poses so that the wheelchair-bound could benefit from the gentle movements of yoga. I looked up videos of chair yoga on YouTube. The adage that yoga meets you at whatever level you are is relevant here. Those who were on a mat went through rounds of sun salutations with practiced ease. A lady with a large bindi on her forehead began chanting in Sanskrit: sahanau vavatu, sahanau bhunaktu, saha veeryam karvavahai, a vedic hymn that is traditionally an invocation for harmony between the teacher and the students.

The weeks flew by. As I got to know the yoga students, I learned their names and joined them for lunch. Ramesh Mathur, wearing a Gandhi cap, coordinated the program, keeping things moving smoothly. I learned that a bright-eyed lady, who always sat with her friend at lunch, was a rishtedaar, a relative. “This yoga teacher is my granddaughter’s sister-in-law,” she proclaimed proudly at the lunch table, as I smiled and nodded to my senior students. 

The center was well attended. Several seniors carpooled, their children taking turns on different days to drive a small group to the center. Friends would bring small Tupperware containers to share food with each other, eating together and mischievously spurning the communal meal that was deemed too healthy or too unhealthy or too bland.

The aging parents of tech workers in Silicon Valley proved to be a varied bunch. Many were polyglots, fluent in several of the languages that are spoken in India. Many had a deep knowledge of yogic traditions and practices. A retired University professor offered to help me with my Sanskrit pronunciation, her eyes kind. There were retired government bureaucrats and scientists, retired school teachers, poets and artists as well as housewives. Most had children and grandchildren who were fueling the tech boom in California.

There were comings and goings. During holidays, attendance went down sharply as a result of family outings with children and grandchildren. Some returned to India to tend to ancestral homes or visit family.

One of the ladies was new to the program. I told her she looked like my grandmother. She seemed to be settling in well, making new friends. She impressed me by telling me a multilingual joke, switching from Hindi to Bengali to Marwari as I clapped with delight. But one day, she was in tears. She was missing her husband, who had passed away a few weeks ago. Dr. Sachin spoke to her gently, helping her with her grief. Her new friends spoke consoling words. Everywhere, there was community and connections. I thought frequently of my own aging parents and in-laws in India, too far to benefit from these senior yoga classes.

I see now that this was a rare opportunity to observe an aspect of the immigrant experience which lies ahead. The yoga, I saw, can be particularly helpful to create community and healing around this ancient tradition, and ease the pain of being in a new land. But I also learned something about my own place in this adopted homeland and had a glimpse of my own life down the road.

The substitute stint ended quite suddenly. As I hurried into the large, somewhat musty room, an attractive lady was already issuing instructions. The home remodel had ended, and the regular yoga teacher was back.

And just like that, my gig as a senior yoga sub was over.

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. She is touched by the selflessness of volunteers. For more information about the ICC Senior program, go to http://www.indiacc.org/programs/seniors/

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Moving Inward With Mythili Prakash

Mythili Prakash, known nationwide as the Indian dancer on NBC Superstars of Dance and in classical Rasika circles as perhaps the only American dancer who has made her mark in Bharatanatyam, will be performing in Palo Alto for the IDIA- I Dance, hence I Am- festival of BharataNatyam.

Indeed,Mythili has her own brand of dancing, one that is traditional while at the same time infused with timeless energy and emotion. She is continuously deconstructing Bharatanatyam while at the same time raising the bar on technical mastery. Her dream is to form a dance company so trained dancers can have a platform to pursue dance as full-time professionals. She believes that Bharatanatyam is so rich, complex, and nuanced that sometimes it becomes overwhelming for an uninitiated audience, and has (to some extent) become restricted to a niche audience. Her goal is to create work that retains the depth and aesthetic of the classical form, while having a universal connection. Her solo and ensemble work is proof of this- Watch Prakash’s “Jwala” here.

Mythili speaks candidly about her approach, working with family, and being an NRI dancer here:

What are you working on, currently?

For IDIA, I will be presenting a traditional “Margam” at the request of the organizers. Though the pieces and my choreography of them are driven by structure and composition, I have selected pieces that I feel a personal connection with.

I’m working on two other solo pieces that are extremely challenging, and because of that – stimulating and exciting. The first piece is on the dichotomy of “femininity” specifically between the worship and glorification of the Goddess, and the treatment and degradation of women in our culture(s). The second piece that I’m working on is about Time – that time is illusion. The creation process has involved a lot of creating structures and then deconstructing them completely, as linearity is totally contradictory to the concept. The piece also reflects the constant struggle to be in the present. I’m incredibly lucky to be working on this piece under the mentorship of Akram Khan (the internationally acclaimed Kathak and contemporary dance master). 

Are you ever in conflict, being an NRI in India and “Indian” dancer in the US?

Not conflict as such. Dance has always been such a part of my identity, and because it has been in my life since I was born (Mythili is well-known dancer Viji Prakash’s daughter), there is a natural sense of ownership and belonging. So even though I may technically qualify as an “NRI” in India, I have always felt that I belong. I do sometimes feel a bit marginalized as an “Indian” dancer in the US. There are more schools and (Bharatanatyam) dance students in the US than there are professional dancers, and that reflects in the overall standard of performance. The standard of a “company” in genres such as contemporary dance are far different from a “company” in Bharatanatyam, which usually consists of well-trained students from a dance school, but not full-time professional dancers.

You’ve said that much of choreography depends on where you are as a person at that time…where would you say you were when “Mara,” your production, came to be?

Meditation became a very active and integral part of my life starting in 2009. Since then, there has been a transformation in the way I view and interpret my artistic content. The esoteric became (and continues to be) a fascination. My brother Aditya was going through something similar. In 2012, we had both read a book by Deepak Chopra, called The Buddha. The character Mara, as delineated by Chopra, immediately became apparent to both of us as a representation of our own mind. As meditators, the mind becomes a point of focus and observation; As artists, the mind became an interesting point of creative exploration. (Watch glimpses of Mara here.)

What were some of the discoveries you’ve made in your own choreographic journey?

Recently, the topics and pieces I am moving towards are things that require me to be a bit more inventive with my knowledge and use of the Bharatanatyam vocabulary. In “Sanctuaries” for example, exploring an elephant character was not as much a challenge as exploring the “Scientist.” Also, when something is an allegory, how does one find the balance between specificity and universality? What does my scientist represent and how can I bring that out through abstraction, while also using a gestural language that is universally recognizable as associated with a scientist, but also within  the aesthetics of the form. These are some of the challenges.

Why did you choose the pieces you did for NBC Superstars?

My choices were dictated largely by time restriction. We had 2 mins in the first round (from what I remember), and 1.5 mins in the second round. It’s virtually impossible to do anything of substance that represents the depth of the form within that short time frame. I chose nritta for the first round to keep things simple. For the second round, I chose Shiva as the subject because I feel He is one of the most important symbols in terms of the cosmic and spiritual aspects of the form. (Watch it here.)

Was your experience of growing up similar to what many other kids experience? – Public school, school orchestra? Participation in sports?

Yes, I went to public school. I learned modern dance in High School and was in my school’s Dance Company. In high school, I got progressively more obsessed with doing well academically (until the second semester of senior year!). It was a pressure that was completely self-imposed, I’m not sure why. I’d wake up, study or do homework, go to school, stay for dance company practice after, come home and either practice or be rehearsing for something, and then stay up late doing more homework. 

What was your first time on stage like?

At three years old, sort of an accident though! I was quite insistent on dancing with my idol who was my mother’s student, Anjali Tata. To keep me quiet, my mom allowed me to dance behind Anjali during all the rehearsals for an upcoming show. Long story short, I was tricked into believing that I was truly in the show, but I was locked in a dressing room during the show itself so that I could not come out. I cried (tantrum-cried) myself to sleep, and woke up, broke out of the dressing room and made an entrance on stage! It was quite a memorable experience for all! 

Your brother, Aditya singing for you – was that always the plan?

It was never really a plan for him to sing for me. He has a lot going on with his own career. The working together just sort-of happened naturally. I like having him compose music for me because I like his blend of classicism and out-of-the-box ideas. But getting him to do it is sometimes a bit like pulling teeth! We are close, though you may never be able to tell by the way we act. (More on Aditya Prakash here.)

How has the relationship with your mother changed over the years?

She was my first role model. I idolized her and wanted to be a dancer just like her. It’s actually really sweet because I see my 3-year-old daughter saying the same thing. She was a strict teacher and tough on me. And because I was her daughter, I took liberties that any other student wouldn’t, so we fought a lot. I’m glad for her firm and rigorous teaching style though, it has shaped me so that I am never complacent but always looking to be better. As I have grown as a dancer and choreographer, my style has developed and continues to. We are very different in our approach to the dance and you can see that reflected in our choreography. Very often there is a (spirited!) difference of opinion, but she is my teacher and I look to her for her critical eye. 

What is your guiding philosophy for yourself as a person and as a dancer?

As a dancer and as a person, I want to continue to grow, to find depth, to move inward. Learning and discovery inspire and excite me tremendously! 

(Mythili Prakash will be performing at IDIA, festival of BharataNatyam: August 19 2018, Cubberly Auditorium, Palo Alto, CA. Tickets here.)

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

 

Much Ado About A Mango

Much about a Mango

My friend bought a giant mango from Berkeley Bowl and gave it to me. I squeezed it to see if it was  ripe; the way I saw my mother test them when the fruit seller came to the door of our flat in Mumbai many years ago. The mango felt soft to the touch – I cut and separate the three parts – the two kaduppu, and the fleshy portion around  the seed. The mango is the color of fire, but my spoon soon gets entangled in the fibers. The threads stick between my teeth and I nostalgically think of the time when I used to eat the famed Alphonso mango, celebrated as the king of mangoes when I was seven or  eight years old. During summer, when my parents could still afford a mango a few times a week, I would eat one kaduppu, my father would sometimes eat the other and my mother would make mango milkshake with the pulp scraped from around the seed. My mother would take a few sips of the creamy milk shake, and leave the rest for my father and me to drink and enjoy.

The Alphonso mango is cultivated in the Ratnagiri region  close to Mumbai, in Maharashtra. I remember that the price was initially about Rs. 3, but then the price rose and on my father’s government salary we could not afford it. At the time, I was told was that all the mangoes were going to countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia. I was told that these countries had a lot of money to buy mangoes because they had reserves of petrol and all cars did need petrol to run. We did not have a car then but I had seen cars at the pump, on the road and in my building – then and there, I decided that I did not like the smell of petrol as it prevented me from having sweet  mangoes!

As I wrote this essay, I consulted  Wikipedia, my source for quick information and that explanation for the rise in the price of mangoes at that time made sense. The sudden price rise happened in the 1970s, and this was the time when OPEC countries exerted  greater control on oil prices in the world market.

With the world demand for oil in the 1970s preventing ready access to the Alphonso that I loved, I satisfied my longing by digging into spicy mango pickle, made with raw mangoes of an inferior variety – my paternal grandmother worked tirelessly to turn small green mangoes into great tasting mango pickle. I mixed this mango pickle with cold yogurt  rice, hoping to bring the spice level down a few notches by doing so. Or in my Maharashtrian friend Madhumati’s house, cheaper raw mangoes were boiled in water till they were softened; then the mangoes were crushed into a pulp which was mixed with sugar and water; we drank this on hot summer days as kairie ka juice.

In 1989 I came to the United States. I searched the aisles in grocery stores, but only found Mexican mangoes. In 1994, the year I defended my PhD, Prop 187 was passed prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using healthcare and public education, even as Californians were  still gorging on Mexican mangoes. Later, I became a scientist and moved to Berkeley, but still had no luck locating the Alphonso. Then I saw a small article in India Currents, saying that the US import ban on the Alphonso was being lifted. I had not even realized that there had been a ban in place, since it is not as if the Alphonso needed a visa, or had immigration quotas! Digging further, I found that  the ban on importing Alphonso mangoes was imposed in 1989, the year I came to the US and only lifted many years later in 2007.

But I am still searching for the Alphonso mango here. I also read that in May 2014 the European Union banned the import of the Alphonso mango and India had appealed that decision. With bans in place in countries outside India, it appears that the price has dropped in India. So maybe if I go to Mumbai this summer, I might be able to scoop out spoons of the Alphonso mango, letting my teeth glide softly into the inviting flesh.  But till that blissful moment, I’ll make my mango lassi with Mexican mangoes and try not to complain.

Roopa Ramamoorthi is a scientist and poet who grew up in India and now lives in Berkeley. Her essays, poetry and fiction have been published including on Perspectives on NPR, India Currents, Berkeley Daily Planet as well as in anthologies – She is Such a Geek, Dismantle, Red Skirt Blue Jeans, the best of 60 years of Spectrum,  and in Ursa Minor. 

 

 

 

Yoga: Walking on a Path Beyond the Asanas

The characterization of stress as a “silent killer,” and of yoga as an antidote to stress rests on solid scientific research. And just as prolonged stress can literally shorten one’s life, yoga as an antidote to stress can be seen as enhancing wellness.

One of the earliest definitions of yoga refers to the power of yoga to soothe mental agitation. In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, we find a definition of yoga as “the suppression of the modifications of mind.” (Yogah chitta vritti nirodha.)

In his book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar believes that the modifications of the mind disturb peace. “As a breeze ruffles the surface of a lake and distorts the images reflected therein, so also the chitta vrtti disturb the peace of the mind. When the mind is still, the beauty of the self is seen reflected in it.”

In 1957 Basu Kumar Bagchi from the University of Michigan conducted research for the first time that showed that yoga brings about “deep relaxation of the autonomic nervous system.” Advanced yogis can control both sympathetic as well as parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic nervous system exhibits the “flight or fight” response. The adrenal glands produce adrenalin, which inhibits digestion and makes blood available to the muscles for quick action. The parasympathetic system serves to calm the nerves, promotes the absorption of food, and curbs the flow of adrenaline. The sympathetic system thus serves as an accelerator, and the parasympathetic system as a brake. Prolonged exposure to stress can have deleterious health ramifications on the nervous system.

Harvard physician, Herbert Benson, who examined the effects of yoga and meditiaton wrote a 1975 book The Relaxation Response, which became a modern classic on undoing stress.’ Benson and his colleagues studied the phenomenon they referred to as hypometabolism—a “wakeful cousin of sleep that exhibits low energy expenditures.” He called the relaxation response “an inducible physiologic state of quietude” that healed and revitalized.

While the ancient yoga sutras of Patanjali outline the meditative traditions of yoga emphasizing concentration, contemplation and self-realization, a more modern version has become popular under the umbrella of “mindfulness.” Kabat-Zinn, a professor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has popularized the notion of mindfulness that he learned from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, ” he says in a video on Youtube.

My own experience has borne out much of these research findings. Though I had practiced yoga as a child, I felt what has been referred to as the “mind-body connection,” only as an adult practicing in America. Yoga became a peaceful oasis in the middle of a stressful week. Whereas aerobics classes left me energized, the sense of quietude that followed a yoga session was as if I was flooded with wellbeing and bliss. As class sizes grew, the YMCA in the Dallas suburbs where I lived offered one, and eventually, three yoga classes.

When I moved to California, I eagerly sought out the yoga offerings at the local YMCA. A “traditional” yoga class that I signed up for was different than what I had encountered. Rather than focusing on energetic asanas, it proceeded at a meditative and slow pace. My younger self found this a bit irritating, as I mentally tapped my foot restlessly, waiting for the action to happen. Focused as I was on burning calories and weight reduction, I avoided this slow pace for several years, focusing instead on the more energetic asana-based yoga styles. Eventually, I began to appreciate the restorative yoga classes more.

By this time, I had mastered the warrior poses as well as the sun salutations, but the crow pose still presented a challenge for me. Only recently have I begun to feel comfortable in these poses—crow, tripod headstand, and wheel, which prove that I am still making progress along this path. The adage that we learn something new everyday has been an accurate portrayal of my yoga experience. Without fail, though, the shavasana at the end of the class has quite consistently been the most rewarding part of the class for me.

While discussion of one’s meditation “phenomenon” is discouraged among yoga practitioners, I was quite drawn to the descriptions of other meditators, who discussed colors and lights and sounds during meditations. In my own meditation experiences, there are some distinct experiences that I can recall. One such meditation experience was when our family was faced with a very stressful decision of whether to move our family away from California. My daughter, who was then in high school, was reacting very negatively to this possibility. During one of my meditation sessions, I focused on a wish to free my daughter of her pain. During my meditation, I had a sensation of energy streaming through my body. A few weeks later, we made a decision not to move from California. The sheer intensity of my meditative experience has made this an unforgettable memory.

Another intense meditation I experienced was during a visit to the Tibetan monastery in Dharamsala. I was in a room with a large statue of the avalokiteswara, and began to meditate. Again, I felt a very strong cathartic emotion, as if the pain that I had been experiencing was being dissolved and tears began to flow from my eyes. This is the closest first hand experience I had to the melting of toxic emotions in a meditative state.

More recently, I have found that at the end of a yoga class, during the shavasana, I might experience meditative bliss. Waves of pure joy seem to course through my closed eyes and I am filled with ananda (joy). It is a disappointment when the shavasana comes to an end.

This inner sanctuary of peace can become a refuge during life’s ups and downs. It is a sanctuary to which one returns time  and again. Though alcohol and drugs can induce a state of artificial happiness for a little while, ancient yogis had discovered a natural mood and creativity enhancer in meditation and it is no wonder that today many more are literally paying attention.

First published in December 2016.

Geetika Pathania Jain is a yoga practitioner.  She has been teaching hatha yoga in the Bay Area for several years.

The Peacock Keys

They hung in a noisy jangle a few inches to the left of Padma’s well padded belly button, tucked snugly into her sari’s waistband. Keys of iron and brass, jostling each other around a communal ring meant for expensive Harrison locks and cheap padlocks. The center of power in the house.

Every morning, the cooking lady, Neela, shuffled in, her children trailing her blankly, their eyes solemn and adult, cowed by the intimidating presence of Padma. The keys were waiting, ready to officiously dispense the morning’s rations, and then to return to their privileged station.

The Verma household was run in the manner of a siege – the contents of the kitchen pantry were under constant threat from thieving servants. Tins full of lentils, rice, and flour, and smaller jars of jaggery, turmeric, chili and spices, guarded zealously by Padma and her keys.

The surveillance of household servants took up much of Padma’s time. There was the cook to watch, of course, but also her three children, aged two to seven, and a myriad of part-time workers. Sometimes, in a voice weary with the responsibility of overseeing such a well-stocked pantry, she cautioned the younger women in the neighborhood about how servants could not be trusted.

“The more temptation you present them with, the harder it becomes for them to resist. I lock everything – that way I know I keep them honest.” The younger women would listen and nod, taking in all this household wisdom on servant management.

The keys ensured Padma’s status as a guardian of a wealthy household. The key holder had elaborate decorations, a peacock’s tail that fanned out over the underlying hook. Padma had received the peacock keyholder as part of her marriage dowry. Made of solid silver, with blue and green meena work, it had been a family heirloom, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Little bells on the peacock tail announced Padma’s imminent arrival into a room, the delicate tinkling sound jarring incongruously with the bulk of her body when she appeared. The keys were quiet when Padma snoozed in the afternoon. If there was no electricity, a child fanned her sleeping frame to keep the flies away. Padma would awaken sometimes with a start, then relax when her hand touched the cold metal of the keys to ensure their continued presence.

During the day, the weight of the keyholder was a familiar tug on the left side of her waist. So one day, when it felt heavier than usual, she was surprised to see the lock still attached to the brass Harrison key. Flustered, she wondered how long the stores had been left open to possible plunder.

Her eyes narrowed at the half-empty jar of lentils in the store. Surely it had been almost three-fourths full the day before? She cursed herself silently for her carelessness in leaving the store-room open. She was employing a gang of petty thieves, apparently. Self-righteousness welled within her. She would have to redouble her vigilance.

She secured the room hastily, and wondered whether to inform her husband, Vermaji, of this security lapse. She decided against it, her lips tightening slightly. The sequence of events did not present Padma in a good light. And anyway, Vermaji was prone to half-listen to her domestic tales, his eyes invariably straying to the newspaper as she talked.

No, she would not tell Vermaji. Her husband would probably chastise her anyway. He would say that she was too hard on the servants. That was, if he could even tear his eyes away from the newspaper to listen to her. Her lips tightened further at this thought and settled on a thin line of discontent. Though she prayed for serenity and chanted ‘shanti shanti shanti’ every morning, the overwhelming desire of Padma’s inner lioness was to devour in entirety her goat-like husband. It was Vermaji who found his tea over-sugared and his dal over-salted on the days that his grunts of feigned participation missed the syntax of the conversational flow. In her imagination, she felt her lioness claws retract as she prepared to lunge at the piteously bleating goat bearing Vermaji’s visage.

Only when Amit called from America did Vermaji give any conversation his undivided attention. How she missed Amit, and the calming effect of her son’s presence on her ferocious psyche.

Vermaji was an administrator, and spent his days in the office, processing files full of mind-numbing legalese. All day long, he received visitors, hopeful members of the public who wanted their files to be extricated from the waist-high stacks of government files in the store room. Over glasses of milky tea, the visitors explained the special circumstances that merited such exceptions, and furnished letters of introduction from colleagues and relatives. Vermaji tolerated such interruptions to his work as part of his day. Life had been kind. His son had shown an aptitude for his studies, and had been rewarded with spectacular American success. Vermaji’s face shone with pride at the thought of Amit.

Image by Christian Schnettelker

That was before the phone call and its dreadful news.

Padma had been in mid-sentence when the phone rang.

“Chai bana. Hello?” She completed her instruction to the servant before turning her attention to the caller.

It was with disbelief that Padma heard the phone call. Surely her gem of a son could not be headed to an American jail. Why, the whole family name would be dragged through the mud. Her headaches started that day, becoming longer and more insistent in time, and all three of the servant children would patiently rub Tiger balm into her forehead with their little fingers. Only when Padma waved them away would they leave the darkened room.

No one must know of this ignominy, was the constant refrain in Padma’s mind. Vermaji was still in service, and she could not bear for their misfortune to become gossipy chatter among his colleagues and their wives. And how Vermaji suffered. His son’s life had been carefully planned and supervised by him, and Amit’s career ascendance was a source of private satisfaction. And now, they had become mired in this disgrace. Had he not coached his son to avoid controversy and potentially sticky ethical situations? Vermaji enjoyed a stellar reputation as an honest bureaucrat, and it was an embarrassment to him that his son had inherited none of his high-minded aversion to graft.

It was all too much. Padma’s interest in her domestic empire waned. How could she continue as if petty pilfering of dal and rice mattered when her son had allegedly dipped his spoon so brazenly in the pot of honey that belonged to other Americans? The household keys were left still attached to the lock of the store-room. This was a new Padma, forgetful and uncaring. Vermaji had taken a leave of absence from work and flown to America, and he returned shrunken and withdrawn.

Funds were needed to launch a legal defence. Vermaji liquidated his retirement savings and sent international money orders to USA. Mealtimes, low on conversation at the best of times, were especially punctuated by silences. A heaviness of heart had descended upon them. That their son was a crook was unthinkable. They hoped that it was just a matter of time before his name would be cleared, but the court case dragged on. How had this happened? They had raised a successful business executive, not a white collar criminal.

As Padma’s decline continued, accompanied with introspection, issues of innocence and guilt began to weigh on her. She was absorbed, in an interior courthouse of her mind, by issues of culpability, and forgiveness. Would the jury have a large heart? Or, like hers, had hearts become many sizes too small? It was unclear whether her son would be exonerated for his crimes, but Padma had made a small, seemingly unrelated decision on her own.

So, one day, the unthinkable happened. Instead of personally supervising the exodus of lentils and rice for the day’s meal, she left the storage room unlocked. “Take out what you need for today and make sure that you close the lids tight.”

It was time to retire the peacock keys.

 

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

This is a fictional story. Any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental. 

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