Tag Archives: Community

India Currents Foundation Wins Local Journalism Grant

India Currents Foundation was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in May. 

The grant will fund India Currents’ general operations to support its storytelling and community engagement efforts, Publisher Vandana Kumar said. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is an organization that supports philanthropy within the Silicon Valley by helping to connect organizations in need of funding to donors.  

“This was our first grant win in 2021 and also a validation that a funder found the work we do at India Currents to be valuable to the community,” Kumar said. 

She said she was “ecstatic” upon hearing the news of the grant win and said this type of funding is essential for organizations like India Currents to continue serving the Bay Area community. 

“India Currents is in a moment of transition – historically, we have been supported by ad revenue,” she said. “With the collapse of the advertising model, we are turning to our readers to support community journalism. Every donation makes our hearts sing! We are working on making this a major part of our revenue base.”

The grant is one of multiple that India Currents has won in the past year from organizations like  United Way Bay Area, Ethnic Media Services, and the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Srishti Prabha, India Currents’ Managing Editor, said India Currents serves as a crucial source of information for minority communities in the Bay Area.

“Ethnic media battles to provide unencumbered reporting, and grant funding allows for us to tell the unusual, unique stories you wouldn’t find in mainstream media,” they said. 

She said the grant funding will allow India Currents to maintain its position as a space for Desi people in the Bay Area, United States, and across the globe. 

“We rely heavily on grant funding to sustain our grassroots work and so getting this grant feels like a life source,” Prabha said. “We live another day to tell the stories that matter to our community.”


Isha Trivedi is a journalism student at George Washington University. She enjoys reading and listening to podcasts in her (limited) spare time. 


 

Neil Nayyar with the many instruments he can play.

Musical Desi Teen Is Awarded Volunteer Of The Year By The City Of Elk Grove

Fifteen-year-old Neil Nayyar is on a mission of helping others through music. Selected by the Assist Foundation as a World Record Holder for playing a whopping 107 unique instruments, Neil is an immensely gifted musician. 

Neil Nayyar’s musical journey started even before he was born. His father played CDs of music by Mozart when Neil was in his mother’s womb because his dad heard that listening to Mozart’s compositions would help “form the soul, heart, and mind of the baby.”  When Neil was five, he started playing the drums with talent and adeptness that is rare in children that young. His parents noticed this and immediately signed him up for music lessons. His passion for music has only continued to grow since then. Neil learned instrument after instrument with the same passion he had for the drums. He has learned traditionally South Asian instruments like the Sitar and Veena and western instruments like the Alto Saxophone and Piano.

Now, Neil uses his gifts to give back to the community and bring awareness to important topics. Neil regularly performs at the United Nations Association of Sacramento Chapter and has received a plaque from the Chapter’s president Eddie Trujillo for his many efforts. He has also performed at many Pride events and multicultural festivals. Neil was recently on Good Day Sacramento to promote an event held by the non-profit organization, My Sister’s House, an organization that brings awareness to domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking of AAPI women.

In what has been a turbulent year, Neil has been honored by Mayor of the City of Elk Grove, Bobbie Singh-Allen, as the 2021 City of Elk Grove Arts, Culture, and Heritage Volunteer of the Year. Mayor Singh-Allen noted Neil’s many achievements and accomplishments and specifically drew attention to his performance of the Star-Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace at the City of Elk Grove Singh and Kaur Park, honoring the Indianapolis FedEx gun massacre of four Sikh victims. The Singh and Kaur Park was named to honor two grandfathers who, in 2011, were violently and senselessly murdered while walking. Neil was the first person to perform in the park, honoring those who were killed because of their race or religion.

Neil Nayyar performing the Star Spangled Banner at the Singh and Kaur Park.
Neil Nayyar performing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Singh and Kaur Park.

Mayor Singh-Allen praised Neil for his talent, generosity, and compassion.  “Neil is an inspiration to present and future generations,” said Singh-Allen further stating “He’s not only talented, but he does support local efforts.” 

In his acceptance speech, Neil thanked the City Council and the Mayor for honoring him with this award. He specifically thanked Mayor Singh-Allen for her continued support of volunteer efforts and her interest in the greater good.  He also reiterated that the youth should volunteer to help improve the community and make our world a better place through hard work and passion.  “My message to youth here and all over the world is to do volunteer work,” said Neil. “It is really working to make our community better.” 


Medha Sarkar is a student starting at Los Gatos High School in the Fall.  She enjoys writing, music, and having a good laugh.


 

Tiled Steps Around SF/Bay Area (Images by Mona Shah)

Bay Area Stairways to Community and Collaboration

On a recent trip to San Francisco, my family and I decided to step up our game, zigzagging the city to climb its most beautiful stairs. The city’s many staircases–installed to get you conveniently from point A to point B are a boon–saving one the laborious climb up its many hills. Most are quite mundane, but there are a smattering of swoon-inducing steps with incredible views. What is even more incredible is that they are volunteer-driven, community-based projects. Every mosaic tile on these stairs is etched with the names of the person who donated to the project and as I scanned through them, I was pleasantly surprised at the many South Asian names that I came across. As we become more visible in the philanthropic community, eager to redistribute some of our wealth, our efforts are changing the face of giving, to a sector that has sometimes struggled with diversity.

As you journey through these steps and marvel at their beauty, pay attention to the names etched in stone and let them inspire you to make a measurable impact in your communities.

Lincoln Park Steps

Location: 32nd Avenue, between California Street and the Lincoln Park Golf Course

While these steps date to the early 1900s, the mid-aughts renovation brought this staircase back to life, care of Irish ceramist Aileen Barr. Bright green, yellow, and orange hues make for a set of stunning steps. This was the shortest and the widest of the 7 mosaic steps. 

16th Avenue Tiled Steps/Moraga Steps

Location: 16th Avenue and Moraga Street

These are the most popular and tourist magnet. Features 163 unique steps made up of mosaics that create a seascape-themed piece with panels depicting the world: starting from the ocean at the bottom, climbing all the way up to the sun, detailing animals, fish and shells along the way. Connecting Golden Gate Heights to the Inner Sunset, Aileen Barr and mosaic artist Colette Crutcher collaborated in the creation of the steps.

Hidden Garden Steps

Location: 15th Avenue and Kirkham Street

A few feet away, the second most popular stairs in the city depict blooming flowers, cute butterflies, and even a salamander that extends up the steps. This mosaic staircase looks shorter, but it’s actually 148 steps up. The entirety of this set of stairs is hidden between several buildings, earning its name of hidden garden steps.

Kenny Alley

Location: Mission Street, between France and Italy Avenues

Literally in an alley, they are hard to find. Assembled by an art teacher, her students, and volunteers they are not very well maintained, it is yet another short flight of stairs (47 steps), the design depicts a waterfall.

Tompkins Stairway

Location: Nevada Street and Tompkins Avenue

Vibrant and fun, these are the perfect place to grab content for Instagram. The multicolored zig zag design was inspired by the Steps to Peace painted by Syrian students in Syria. Some great landscaping here, with tons of California natives and other drought-tolerant plants. Created by neighbors — for neighbors, the locals maintain and clean up the garden every few weeks.

Athens Avalon Greenspace

Location: Avalon Avenue and Athens Street

What was once a literal garbage dump is now a lovely stairway with rainbow-hued mosaic steps. Walk all the way to the top — there are sweeping views of the southern border of SF.

Arelious Walker Mosaic Staircase “Flights of Fancy”

Location: Innes Ave and Arelious Walker Street

4-foot wide, 87 step mosaic tile staircase is inspired by patterns all over the world — from India and Indonesia to Japan and the Middle East. Make sure to climb all the way up — the mosaic steps wind up the hillside and each section has a different theme.

Quesada Gardens Tiled Steps

Location: Quesada Avenue between 3rd and Newhall Streets

These are HARD to find and even most of the locals have not heard of them! Neighborhood kids painted the 600 colorful ceramic tiles on the staircase.

Unity Plaza Ocean Avenue History Staircase

Location: within Unity Plaza at the start of the Ocean Avenue business corridor

Part of Unity Plaza, a new public space completed in 2016, besides the tiled stairs, you’ll find benches to relax on, an artistic pavement, and photography depicting the history of the area. From far away the porcelain tiles don’t look like much (they’re just black and white), but once you get closer you’ll see the real meaning behind them. Scenes of the neighborhood are represented in the steps — and yes, they’re actual historic photos.

Miraloma Mosaic Steps

Location: Bella Vista Way across from Dorcas Way

In their newest addition, artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher are at it again, this time with a tiled staircase in SF at an elementary school. A cool walk to school, no? 


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

Rishi Kumar Recruits Student Interns for 2022 Election Campaign

The summer days go by slowly? Well, why don’t you join a summer internship program and find a fabulous leadership opportunity right where you live? You may even be teamed up with your schoolmates.

Get involved in a high-energy campaign by joining the Rishi Kumar for Congress Fellowship program. Submit your application today at RishiKumar.com/Fellowship to be invited to an interview.

With this internship, you will discover a unique empowerment opportunity: You will find plenty of opportunities to be promoted to a Team Lead, Associate Manager, Manager, Sr. Manager, Associate Director, and Director positions.  In the summer of 2020, this program was led by 14 directors, and 45 managers leading specific functional roles, mentoring, and leading interns from 29 states.  The Kumar for Congress team drove an unprecedented engagement with our neighbors, the likes of which our district had never seen before: 100,000 doors, a million phone calls made, called 86,000 seniors offering them help with groceries/medications, and the videos went viral with 1.25 million views. In the November 2020 election, Rishi fell short by 45,000 votes in challenging a 30-year veteran incumbent but did get more votes than any other challenger in the last 30 years.

Rishi’s motivation: Rishi brings a fearless political agenda and is on a mission to change the broken Washington culture by bringing a new brand of people-driven, not lobbyist-driven politics. Watch Rishi’s personal story here. Rishi won with the most votes in Saratoga’s 60-year election history on a people-centric platform and a track record of “Getting Things Done”.  We have had only 2 competitive congressional races in Silicon Valley. This is a unique opportunity that is not to be missed.

Joining the Fellowship Program would allow you to:

An opportunity to lead teams, and discover invaluable management skills.
– Win MVP awards, get recognition awards
– Get a personal letter of recommendation at the end of the program upon request
– Earn valuable political and leadership experience while working alongside dozens of your peers
– Run for the California Democratic Party Executive Board or for a delegate seat.
– Earn passes to the California Democratic State Convention and even meet Presidential candidates

This internship is mirrored after the fellowship program of President Obama’s winning re-election run in 2012. Last summer the Kumar for Congress team had students participating from Stanford University, Georgetown University, University of California (Berkeley), UCLA, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and many local high schools.

For further info, please contact the campaign team at campaign@rishi2020.com

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Dwarka: Lord Krishna’s Kingdom

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

(Featured Image: Gomti Ghat by Suman Bajpai)

After a year of a forced break due to pandemic, at last, I have decided to travel and booked an early morning flight ticket (thinking, that at that rush would not be heavy, but I was wrong, the flight was packed) to travel up to Rajkot and then further to Dwarka

The present Dwarka is on the coast of the Arabian sea opposite the Gulf of Kutch. Known as the capital of Lord Krishna’s Kingdom, the Dwarkadhish temple has heritage importance as one of the major sites for Hindu pilgrimage. It is said that when Lord Krishna and Yadavas left Mathura and arrived at the coast of Saurashtra, they decided to build their capital in the coastal region; invoking Vishwakarma, the deity of construction, it is believed that the ‘city of Gold’ was built in one day. 

Sudhama Setu – Witness Sunrise and Sunset

Sudhama Setu from Wikimedia Commons.

After having lunch and some rest, I went to Sudama Setu over river Gomti.

Sudhama, the best friend of Lord Krishna, is said to have his presence in the land of Dwarka. The bridge that connects both sides of the Gomti River is called Sudhama Setu and watching the sunrise and sunset from this place can be truly delightful.

There I saw the sacred five wells built by the Pandavas, including the famous meditation spot of the five rishis. Camels, decorated in vibrant colours can be seen and camel riding on the banks of the Gomti River is one of the best things to do in Dwarka. The sight of the Ghats and boat riding is a great experience.

Dwarkadhish Temple – Stories Tell Its glory

Dwarkadish Templa (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Dwarka, the city, has been claimed by the sea six times. Though a few kilometers away, I could see the temple’s flag – Dhawajaji or the kirti pataka, which is changed five times a day. Soon the temple’s huge dome could also be seen. This is where Shree Dwarkadeesh reigned 5000 years ago and his presence is felt even today.

While moving towards Dwarkadhish temple, on both sides of the road you find a variety of shops that sell bags, juttis, items made by shells, sweets, Puja material, and Prasad. The air smells of salt and incense. Chants of Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaay, Om Namah Shivaay, and the Hare Krishna Mahamantra emanate through the backdrop of bathers, shoppers and the colourful bazaar. In the evening, different shades of lights enhance the beauty of the temple, which mesmerize you as soon as you enter. 

Sri Dwarkadhish temple is a five-storied structure built on 60 columns, crowned by a soaring elaborately carved spire. There are two gates or dwar to the temple. The North Gate is called Moksha dwar – the way to salvation, from where devotees enter, and the South Gate is called Swarga dwar – the gate to heaven, from where you exit.

Legend has it that the temple was originally built by the grandson of Krishna, Vajranabha, over Lord Krishna’s residential place (hari-griha). Adi Shankaracharya, the venerable Hindu theologian and philosopher from the 8th century who unified the main beliefs of Hinduism, visited the shrine. After his visit, the temple became part of the sacred Char Dham pilgrimage that is essential for the attainment of Moksha for Hindus.

Built in Limestone, the temple complex has several shrines. The main deity is Lord Krishna, also known as Dwarkadhish or Ranchor ji. The basement has an ancient Shivalinga along with Ma Amba, Aniruddha, Pradyumn, Rukmani, Satyabhama, Jamvanti, and Laxmi are also worshipped.

The place below the temple is known as Chakra tirth. Shell-like stones, mostly white in colour, are available only at Dwarka, are sold here. This chakra is a sacred object, bestowing purity and salvation. Gopi Chandan, which is very dear to Lord Krishna, is also sold here.

The temple was packed with devotees, so in queue with my mask, I attended the enchanting aarti of Dwarkadhish.

Nageshwar Shiva Temple – A Tall Idol Attracts   

Nageshwar Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

The next morning, I went to Nageshwar Shiva Temple, which is one of the twelve jyotirlingas located at Nageshwar village in Gujarat. As soon as I had entered, a very big size idol of Lord Shiva surprised me, standing tall in the open sky. 

Nageshwar Temple is one of the oldest temples mentioned in the Shiva Purana. The swayambhu lingam enshrined in the underground chamber at Nageshwar Temple is known as Nageshwar Mahadev. It is believed that this Jyotirlinga protects from all poisons and one who prays here obtains freedom from all kinds of poison.

There is a legend behind this temple told to me by its priest there. There once lived a demon called Daruka, who was extremely cruel and tortured the people. One day he captured a Shiva devotee called Supriya along with many others. The prisoners were held in the underwater city that swarmed with sea-snakes. Supriya recited the Shiva mantra ‘Aum Namaha Shivayay’ to protect them. Daruka tried to kill Supriya, but Lord Shiva appeared in his full glory and killed the demon and went on to reside in the powerful Jyotirlinga.

The temple is a simple structure with typical Hindu architecture. Here the Shiva Lingam faces to the south and the Gomugam faces towards the east. The Shivalinga at Nageshwar is a Tri-Mukhi Rudraksha which is around 40 cm high and 30 cm in diameter. Goddess Parvati as Nageshwari along with the Shivalinga also can be seen. 

Rukmini Temple – Stands On Dry Land

Rukmani Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Almost 2000 years old, Rukmini Temple is located in a deserted area. Its intricate carvings have made it a nationally protected monument. The temple of Rukmini Devi, the chief queen of Lord Krishna, is on the outskirts of Dwarka City. Interestingly, drinking water is offered as a donation to the temple. By donating money one can contribute to bringing drinking water to this area.

Why this temple is far away from the temple of Lord Krishna is associated with a legend.

Saga Durvasa was once invited by Krishna and his wife Rukmini for dinner. Krishna and Rukmini were pulling his chariot. On the way, Devi Rukmini felt thirsty, asked for water, and Lord Krishna provided it by hitting the ground with his toe. Without offering to Durvasa, Devi Rukmini drank the water. The sage felt insulted and he cursed her – she would live separately from her husband. That is the reason that in this temple Rukmini is being worshiped alone without lord Krishna. As a result of this, it is believed that that is the reason for the shortage of drinking water.

Rukmini’s temple stands on very dry land, completely isolated with not a single building or house beside it. The temple’s spellbinding architecture with minute carvings and paintings depicts various stories. Within the complex, there are other temples also dedicated to Amba Devi, the Kul Devi of Krishna.

As soon you get a chance to travel, this should be on your list as one of the first places to visit in India!


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

The Historical Old Temple of Vedanta Society In San Francisco

The Old Temple of the Vedanta Society in San Francisco somehow made me think about the little poem below by Rabindranath Tagore. I have appended my (admittedly poor) translation below the poem.

বহু দিন ধরেবহু ক্রোশ দূরে

বহু ব্যয় করিবহু দেশ ঘুরে

দেখিতে গিয়েছি পর্বতমালা

দেখিতে গিয়েছি সিন্ধু।

দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া

ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া

একটি ধানের শিষের উপরে

একটি শিশির বিন্দু।।

“Over many many years, I traveled many many miles, spent a fortune, and visited many distant lands to enjoy the majestic beauty of great mountain ranges and seashores. But I just did not spare the time to merely step outside my front door and open my eyes to the simple beauty of a drop of dew glistening on a blade of grass in a paddy field.”

We travel to London, Paris, Rome, Greece, Egypt to see the Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Acropolis, and the pyramids. We travel east to visit the famous Borobodur and Angkor Wat in Indonesia and Cambodia, Beijing’s Summer Palace, and the Great Wall of China. We take time to visit the famous temples of Kedar/Badri, Varanasi, and Tirupati.  

But how many among us have noticed the Old Temple of the Vedanta Society of Northern California – a rather unusual structure – at the southwest corner of Webster and Filbert Street in San Francisco?  How many of us even knew about it?

Replica of Benares Temple and Swami Vedananda (Image by Partha Sircar)

The Old Temple has its own unique history.  It is the oldest universal Hindu temple in the western world.  It was completed in 1906, just before the great San Francisco earthquake. It somehow survived the earthquake and the fire that followed – some may think it was divine intervention. The temple was built under the leadership of Swami Trigunatitananda, who at the time was in charge of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco (founded by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1900). Swami Trigunatitananda was a brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s sixteen monastic disciples.  Incidentally, he died in 1915 resulting from the injuries from a bomb thrown at him by a deranged disciple, while he was speaking from the pulpit of his beloved temple – the first martyr of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Movement.

Swami Trigunatiatnanda had grandiose visions of the temple. He wanted it to reflect an architectural representation of the message of religious harmony, the central theme of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world, as so ably expounded by Swami Vivekananda. Therefore it is not built like an Indian temple. Each of its four towers on the roof and the small tower at the entrance to the auditorium is architecturally unique. They have echoes of the Shiva temples of Bengal, the Varanasi temple, a medieval Christian church, the Taj Mahal, and a Muslim mosque. The veranda running along the north and east sides of the building on the third floor is lined with sculpted arches in Moorish style.  In addition to the auditorium, the temple housed monk’s quarters and administrative offices. With time came requirements for additional space.

Old Temple Auditorium in the Old Vedanta Temple (Image by Partha Sircar)

Major activity was shifted to the New Temple which was built in 1959 at the northwest corner of Vallejo and Fillmore Streets, a few blocks from the Old Temple. 

The Old Temple was recently subjected to a major renovation, including seismic retrofit, to bring it up to the current Building Code requirements. A  Re-Dedication Ceremony for the Old Temple took place on October 29 (Kali Puja Day) and October 30, 2016, graced by a senior monk from Belur Math and about a dozen monks from all over North America.  

Perhaps now some of us will take a closer look at the Old Temple and try to find out more about it. And that also includes me.

Epilogue

The article above was written about four years ago. Since then, the renovations, including seismic retrofit of the structure, for which the temple was closed for a while, have been completed. A guided tour of the temple was arranged by the Vedanta Society on October 13 and 14, 2018 to mark the reopening after the renovation and seismic retrofit.  As usual, it was conducted by Swami Vedananda, the elderly, very learned American monk, of the Society. I took advantage of the tour on its very first day. 


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write.

Featured image from Wikimedia commons.

Bards Of the Same Feature Recite Together

(Featured Image: Bay Area Poetess, Saswati Das)

Poetry As Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.

Poetry as I can relate to it is my first love and my last love. It was my grandfather who first introduced me to the world of poetry through Tagore’s poems. As a child, the rhythmic words of the poetry and its melody used to give me immense happiness. I used to get lost in the vivid descriptions of village life, the beauty of nature, the lush green forest, and the chirping birds and animals that inhabit them. My grandfather died at the age of seven. That was the time I had first faced death and that too of a person closest to my heart. Since then, I have been expressing my feelings through the world of poetry.

From my childhood, as I entered my teenage years, I started experiencing life with new passions and renewed vigor. On one hand, as the arrow of cupid struck me, I started writing romantic verses, while on the other hand, being a radical at heart, I started revolting against anything that binds us. I started questioning anything that we are bound to abide by and protesting even the silliest of things that maintain the status quo. I was in the process of discovering myself through life and poetry. During that time, revolutionary poets like Kaji Nazrul Islam, Paul Robeson, and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan began to inspire me and I started writing poetry in both English and Hindi languages, to bring social change and uphold social justice. Often, I used to mix romance and revolution in a single poem to decorate the message I wanted to convey.

You do not exist

From the date I knew myself

You had been near me;

Sheltering me from rain drops

Picking the flowers of glee.

 

Through the dark clouds in the sky

You showed me the horizon;

Breaking the bounds of joy and moan

You took me to my mission.

 

Across the distance of the vast space

Thou peace touches mine,

Thou sunshine remains untarnished

Through rusting affect of time.

 

You decorate my night with glowing stars

Soothe my soul like the sea;

It wets my eyes with drops of pearl

How much you love me!

 

A sound in my yard woke me up

I found myself alone;

Like the spring days you were there;

And now you are gone.

Thy shadow mingled in the dawn

With the dizzy morning mist;

Oh friend, you are a world to me,

You do not exist!

When I came to the Bay Area, I started missing the poetry, music, and arts of India that is so deeply rooted in me. I started searching for poetry group of Indian languages on the internet and finally found the “Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley”, a close-knit meetup group where the poets and the poetry lovers not only shares and rejoices poems of Indian and Asian languages like Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, and Bengali, but also the languages of the Western world such Spanish and English.

My knowledge and love for poetry increased by many folds after joining this poetry group. With the onset of the pandemic, we started meeting virtually every Saturday and we look forward to it throughout the week. Our group recently published a multi-lingual book of anthology captioned “A Memory Book of Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley” which contains an excellent collection of poems of some of the remarkable poets I met through the poetry group. I wish that “Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley ” keeps flourishing and inspiring the poets in us and as always keeps fueling the candle of creativity in our minds for long days to come.


Saswati Das, an engineer by profession and a poetess by heart, lives in Milpitas, California, and writes poems and fiction in both English and Hindi. She had published a poetry book in English captioned “Fragrant Flute of Fire”, which speaks of the cooling breeze and the scorching heat of human life. Recently, some of her Hindi poems have also been by Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley in the anthology captioned ‘A Memory Book of Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley’.

Machiavelli Mitch Akin to Jacobin Jayewardene

(Featured Image: Found on Twitter @ltthompso)

However much you dislike a player in the opposing team, when the blighter does a fiendish bend it like Beckham, at least for a moment we have to hit pause and tip our hat in recognition.

Technically not guilty but guilty – what a diabolical performance with a double-edged sword for the express intent to satisfy and maintain two conflicting groups:

  • Business folks, the source for election funding, desired stability and so wanted Trump to vanish
  • The virulent base was still loyal to Trump and wanted him acquitted

In a cunning, deflecting speech at the Senate, he flicked the fast-paced impeachment ball towards on-side, Biden’s new DoJ, to do the dirty work of making sure Trump becomes toast. 

Reminds me of a similar gambit once carried out in South Asian politics in the eighties.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister was being bombarded by global media for their cruelty against the separation movement by Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). J.R. Jayewardene, the veteran politician, invited the young newly elected Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, to Colombo for discussing and resolving this issue. The old crocodile convinces the well-meaning but inexperienced Rajiv to do the job together.

Thus, India sends in Indian Peace Keeping Force, a trained army battalion, and over a couple of years they too, through association, become villains in the eyes of LTTE. 

End result? At an election rally in southern India, a seventeen-year-old girl, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam of LTTE, garlanded the 47-year-old Rajiv Gandhi and kills him with her suicide bomb vest that carried 1.5 lbs of RDX. Jayewardhane went on to live till the ripe old age of 91.

Ok, ok, it is not ethical or honest behavior, but who said politics is all goody-goody. Politics is dirty and is merely the act of the possible, which puts all politicians in the region of umbra or penumbra, not black or white. Take Churchill, I adore him for tirelessly fighting to ensure democracy prevailed over fascism, but at the same time, I dislike him for opposing the Indian freedom movement.

Talking of democracy, here is how it really survived in 2020. 

Mike Podhorzer, a soft-spoken guy who worked only in the background, was the one to bring together the left-leaning labor union of AFL-CIO and the right-leaning Chamber of Commerce to start having weekly Zoom calls, from as early as 2019. Their mission was to bring the ship of democracy safely into harbor, without being hijacked by the pirates. They quietly achieved the following: 

  • Private money was channeled to influence local governments to pass laws ensuring voting by mail was a seamless process and enough time allowed to count all ballots
  • Invested in ads to shame the two Michigan certifying Republicans to follow the 250-year-old law to respect the will of the people, instead of falling for Trump’s offers to make them rich or bag cushy Ambassador postings
  • Made sure the extreme left did not hit the streets with protests and placards. Their absence on the streets upset the White House as they were banking on that and for skirmishes and violence to happen between the opposing protestors, in order for the President to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, under the guise of controlling civil unrest.

Yeah, it was a close call. It’s time now for the well-meaning Democrats to get off their “America is better than this” high horse and learn to sup with this crafty minority leader. In spite of all his skullduggery, the guy is at least lesser evil than his rabid comrades from TX and MO, right? After all, real governing is something that none of us get to see and it’s never about party policies, it’s always about people, a few good men behind the scenes is all it takes. Remember Reagan and Tip? However, our gentlemanly Schumer has to do one thing – after making deals and shaking hands with Mitch, he must count his fingers to make sure they are all there.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

BLM Organizer At My School Was Targeted By A Gun Dealer: A Next-Gen Desi Reflection

(Featured Image: Denel McMahan speaking with ABC News)

Weeks before a youth-led Black Lives Matter protest that took place outside the Dublin Civic Center, owner of local gun business Mike Grant posted a picture of the 17-year old organizer, Denel McMahan, on his Facebook page. The caption read, “Please bring your vests and helmets in case these BLM people start trouble. Remember this group is known as a left-wing anti-government group. Take Dublin back!”

Within days, the veiled threat garnered a swift and strong backlash from the Dublin community and beyond. From city residents to Congressman Eric Swalwell, people came together to defend “these BLM people” and the cause they champion. 

When I first learned about the situation, I was curious to know who “these BLM people” were, and how Grant’s social media targeting has affected them in this increasingly polarized climate. I had a chat with high school senior, Denel McMahan, president of Dublin High’s Black Student Union, member of the Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter movement, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at the City of Pleasanton’s annual Community of Character Collaborative. Denel was inspired by the string of protests that captured the heart of America this past summer and wanted to bring peaceful advocacy to his city.  

Denel McMahan’s Thoughts

1) You’re a staunch supporter of racial equality and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Gen Z activist, how do you think social media and the Internet Age have affected both racism and social advocacy? 

I think that social media has been a great resource throughout this period of COVID-19 and quarantine. The thing that I love about it is that social media has no boundary when it comes to education. People are free to post about whatever in its true form. This includes history. In school, history is heavily censored and manipulated in order to make students comfortable. However, to make real change we need to stop desiring comfortability. We learn about history to avoid repeating it, but we are right now due to sheltering students from traumatic concepts. The same goes for the internet too. I’ve learned more Black history myself through Google than I have in my 11 and a half years of schooling. My parents are also a great resource, but not everyone has parents who understand Black history in its entirety or are Black in general. So, if you want to learn more about truthful history, I recommend looking through Social Media and researching through Google. 

2) At school, you’re the president of the Black Student Union. How has this experience shaped your journey of raising awareness and initiating change in your community as a whole?

My presidency has allowed me to earn a platform that is being taken seriously by our administration. For 3 years, I sat and watched the past presidents and how they ran the BSU. Through that, I began to shape my leading style and figured out what I wanted to do with my position. With it, I wanted to do the best I could. I not only wanted to improve our BSU and increase its presence on campus, but I wanted to make sure that we were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement efforts in Dublin. A protest was held in Dublin and there was so much support. Eventually, the other BSU officers and I drafted plans for school change, and our admin engaged heavily with us and is even making more opportunities for us to help the community out more.  

3) Post the election, we find ourselves at the precipice of extraordinary political change. What legislative changes do you hope our new administration will bring to address racism, criminal justice, and police brutality?

I just hope that there’s some sense of accountability that comes with a new president. Of course, the President doesn’t have all the power in the federal government, but I feel that at least when incidents of brutality happen, we will have his support. The other big thing that I would want to see is national reparations. Those have been promised to Black Americans since the end of Slavery, but they haven’t been done. They are currently planning a reparations task force in California, so that would be interesting to see what they try to implement. However, they need to be done at the national level since slavery was pretty much a national thing before it ended. 

4) If you’re comfortable speaking about this, what was the experience of seeing Mr. Grant’s Facebook post like? Was this kind of backlash something you’ve experienced in the past?

It was very worrying for me. When I saw the post, I was in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday. When I got word of the post, I was physically shaking. My face had been posted in a public, alt-right Facebook group for many conservatives to see. I saw that it had 29 shares, so that was 30 people who saw me as some thug trying to destroy Dublin, which in no case I was. The event was passed unanimously and was city-sponsored. A huge part of my nervousness was also because this was the first time I received public backlash. I knew I would eventually get some, but never that quick and never by a grown man. 

5) In a conversation with ABC News, you mentioned that you’re willing to have a conversation with Mr. Grant. Do you feel like conversations like this are possible at a larger scale, where protestors and counter-protestors can reach a middle ground in constructive, innocuous ways?

Honestly, I believe that the political climate has destroyed any possibility of large-scale, constructive conversations. I think the best way to have them is in private so that all you need to do is to listen. A simple one-on-one conversation to get to a middle ground is the most effective way to do so. However, I hope that one day, groups of people from different beliefs can come together and conversate without it becoming ineffective or violent. 

6) What advice do you have for other young people who want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement?

My advice is to be vocal. In this time, silence also means compliance. Take the time to understand it and bring it close to you. Even in this time of COVID, there are social media platforms. Making and sharing posts are still great ways to advocate for the movement. If you find yourself wanting to protest, don’t be scared. The supporters will always outweigh the opposition. 

The Sign Garden For Justice Project was organized by Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter (Photo: Denel McMahan)

My Thoughts

These are wise words, especially coming from an individual who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on November 15th. The demonstration was both peaceful and successful, with Denel and his peers giving speeches about racism, their participation in the Black Student Union, and the harsh realities of police brutality in America. In a creative display of solidarity, this protest featured a ‘Sign Garden’, where signs and posters supporting the Black Lives Matter were placed everywhere from City Hall to the Civic Plaza. These signs were both positive and united, some of them including messages like, “Fear and hate have no place here” and “Color is not a crime”. 

Personally, I’m both relieved and overjoyed that this demonstration, despite the initial conflict, remained peaceful and constructive. It was interesting to see this single cause bring together different generations, ethnicities, and cities to reflect on racial justice. But I can’t help but harken back to Denel’s comment about initiating a conversation with Grant. What does the exchange between these two political antipodes suggest about the future of race relations in America? 

In a flash of optimism, I’d like to believe that recorded displays of police brutality, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd, will bring different ends of the socio-political spectrum together. As said by Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting recorded.” Before videos of racism had the opportunity to go viral on social media and mainstream news outlets, it was far easier for American citizens to exist within an ideological bubble, where systemic oppression did not exist. That’s much harder to do when they’re being confronted by a live video of police brutality and racial profiling at its worst. 

Furthermore, I do think that the coronavirus outbreak may offer a moment for the public to self-reflect, and consider how racial and socio-economic privilege has ravaged the very ideals we consider the ‘soul’ of America. After the strong online response to his incendiary post, Grant discussed how he became ‘educated’ about what it means to be a person of color in the United States in a phone interview with ABC

“I never thought a 17-year old-boy could teach a 65-year-old man something, but he did,” said Grant. “For the last four-and-a-half days I’ve lived it. Just with phone calls, and texts, and hate mail and stuff. Now I think I understand why this young man is doing this, to try to educate people.” 

The First Amendment of the American Constitution offers each one of us a voice, but these voices are muffled or confined in echo chambers due to political polarization. And personally, I can attest to subscribing to certain echo chambers myself. My social media feed is primarily consumed by individuals who shared the same political views that I do. My choices in mainstream media are a reflection of my opinions as well.

As an Indian-American, I think my identity as an immigrant has definitely been splintered along the lines of these echo chambers as well. During the 2020 election, for example, I found myself isolating myself from certain subsets of the Indian-American population who identified as Trump supporters. Amid the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve seen so many Indian-Americans distance themselves from conversations about racial equality because they don’t learn (and perhaps don’t want to learn) about racial hierarchies and the myth that is America’s “Model Minority”. As immigrants, the echo chambers of this nation have only made our ignorance of the issues that plague our communities more convenient. 

And while these tendencies may be very normal on both ends of the spectrum in our heated political climate, they also contribute to ideological myopia. Men like Mike Grant have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man, constantly targeted and unjustly policed. They read and watch media which feeds them highly distorted narratives on race in this country, and it shows.

Prior to this incident, I can’t help but wonder if Grant has ever had a constructive, honest conversation with a supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Could this gap be bridged? Perhaps the path to an educated America — an America willing to recognize its racism for what it is — requires a space where these conversations can take place.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Kanchan is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, and was the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

Grow, Eat, Share and Sell – Local Families Get New Resource for Heritage Seedlings

Valley Verde to sell culturally-meaningful and hard-to-find seedlings for families to ensure food security and comfort during pandemic and economic uncertainty 

Today, Valley Verde launched a new offering of seedlings for culturally-preferred produce at a price point that communities can afford (even offering a discount to low-income shoppers). With unemployment and the cost of living high and a crisis like COVID-19 hitting our community, a backyard or porch garden can provide economic security and a nutritional safety net for families in need.

“Families want to grow healthy, fresh, organic, and affordable culturally-meaningful organic produce like Thai basil, bitter melon, chayote, and chili peppers in their own gardens. We are here to help them every way we can,” said Raul Lozano, Founder of Valley Verde. “People can grow their own food and eat it, share it, or even sell it to other families in the community.”

Diverse South Bay communities can have difficulty finding seedlings for the healthy, culturally-meaningful, and organic produce they would like to grow and eat. When families must rely on big stores and corporations for food access it can be easy to feel disconnected from their cultural food roots. With this new effort, Valley Verde is making it easier to grow the vegetables that our communities want. 

Valley Verde has provided participants in gardening courses with homeland seedlings for four years, and  is now expanding this opportunity to meet community demand. This includes opening an in-person nursery at 59 S Autumn St. on Saturday, March 27th where families can buy seedlings and have access to resources for new gardeners. 

Lozano added, “Food unites our communities and nourishes our souls. Planting seedlings in a home garden or community garden is a critical first step to food security. Harvesting foods from our heritage is also a way of investing in the future and creating the community we want to see.” 

To tell this story, we can offer media:

  • Interviews with Valley Verde representatives (Languages: English, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi)
  • Interviews with local growers/gardeners (Languages: TBD) 
  • Site visits to the nursery, including on the day of its grand opening – Saturday, March 27th, 9am
  • Photos and b-roll of gardens and people working in their gardens

Seedlings will be available for sale at:

Homeland seedlings for sale (at prices ranging from $5.00 – $10.00) include:

  • Amaranth 
  • Thai Basil 
  • Chinese bitter melon 
  • Alok – bottle gourd 
  • Chayote 
  • Chinese eggplant
  • Satsuma long eggplant
  • Squashes and zucchinis
  • Cilantro
  • Fenugreek 
  • Daikon radish 
  • Epazote
  • Huacatay
  • Hoja Santa
  • Thai hot chili and other peppers
  • Okra 
  • Lemongrass
  • Habanero, jalapenos, and serranos 

About Valley Verde

Valley Verde is a San Jose-based nonprofit focused on increasing self-sufficiency, health, and resilience through a culturally informed community based food system. We own greenhouses and help local residents plant gardens to promote food security. We offer monthly workshops and one-on-one mentorship in a variety of languages (including Spanish) to help home gardeners have a successful harvest. We want to support our community as they build resilience through food sovereignty by providing culturally preferred vegetable seedlings, environmental education, and supporting the development of edible gardens.

 

Letters to the Editor: 3/18/2021

Dear India Currents,

Captain Tom Moore served in an imperialist force.

The United Kingdom and the world are celebrating the life of Captain Tom Moore for raising a lot of money for the British health service’s charitable wing. Moore is being praised as a hero, but he was a member of the British occupying force in India. The British caused millions of deaths in India and left the country in shambles.  Moore should have apologized to the people of India for being part of an imperialist force in India. Instead of raising money for NHS Charities Together, he should have raised money for reparations for India.

Ashu M. G. Solo


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note.