“Mr. Mahal, you’ve just had a heart attack.”
Manmohan S. Mahal was just 34 years old when he heard those dire words. Since that fateful day Jan. 12, 1985, Mahal has had to reexamine his lifestyle, eating habits as well as physical and psychological patterns of behavior. Mahal did not fall within the general stereotype of heart patients. He was decidedly young, was not overweight, and did not smoke or drink.
So then, why did he have a heart attack? “The causes are complicated and confounding because the rate of obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure is lower in India than in America,” confirms Dr. Cesar Molina, medical director of the South Asian Heart Center in Mountain View. Metabolic abnormalities compounded by unhealthy exercise and nutrition habits possibly add to a genetic predisposition. Molina metaphorically illustrates his point, “It’s like the genes load the gun, and the lifestyle pulls the trigger.”
In California, South Asians have four times the hospitalization rate compared to Caucasians and other Asian populations. To further draw immediacy to the issue, more than half of the heart attacks occur before the age of 50 for South Asian men compared to an average age of 65.8 for men in the general population.
South Asian Heart Center, a nonprofit organization seed-funded by El Camino Hospital, was started in 2006 to combat the spread of heart disease among community. The first of its kind, the center is a response to the burgeoning epidemic of heart disease afflicting the South Asian population worldwide. To date, the center has addressed the needs of a little over 2,000 participants through a combination of aggressive screening, risk factor modification, and counseling. Research has shown that Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) follows an earlier and more rapid, severe, and malignant course among South Asians.
Mahal’s case stands testimony to this fact. “It is not only people like Manmohan S. Mahal that need to be screened for heart disease,” says Ashish Mathur, executive director at the center, “but all men and women over the age of 18, who have not had any incidence of heart ailment.”
With this in mind, the center is hosting “Scarlet Night: An Affair of the Heart,” a gala that aims to draw attention to the rapidly escalating rate of CAD among people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. This black tie/scarlet dress event is slated to feature a dazzling scarlet dress fashion show by Dublin-based The Heritage Boutique, and musical renditions by UC Berkeley’s Dil Se a cappella, a dance performance by Tattva as well as Hindustani and Bollywood melodies by local songstress Anupama Chandratreya. The evening’s sumptuous banquet will feature deliciously healthy Asian Indian cuisine from Turmeric, prepared according to the Center’s nutrition guidelines for better heart health.
Drumming up support for the cause,  Prakash Vaswani, a Silicon Valley technology analyst will serve as the master of ceremonies. The evening’s notables will include Mayor Orrin Mahoney of Cupertino, Consul General Susmita Thomas, and Ashok Kumar Sinha, consul for community affairs .

Jaya Padmanabhan is the publicity chair for Scarlet Night.

Saturday, March 14, 6 p.m. India Community Center, 525 Los Coches, Milpitas. (650) 940-7242.www.southasianheartcenter.org. 

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....