Tag Archives: India Currents

Trailblazer Chef Manish Tyagi Shares His Signature Recipes with IC

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist! Check this space every so often as I speak to other professional chefs and share their “secret” recipes to spice up your homemade meals.

For centuries Indian cuisine was synonymous with spices and hot curries, but now we have several Michelin-rated South Asian chefs that are changing the way Indian cuisine is perceived, elevating traditional flavor profiles with their signature twists.

The San Francisco Bay Area culinary scene is known for being as diverse as the city itself. With a sudden profusion of high-end Indian restaurants and celebrity chefs that want to show diners that beyond Butter Chicken and Paneer Makhani, there is a whole universe of Indian food that is seasonal, plant-based, light in flavor.

On a recent lunch with Chef Manish Tyagi, owner and chef of Aurum in Los Altos, we got to talking about his journey as a chef and his signature dish– Spinach and Paneer Lasagna, the famous dish that beat Bobby Flay. He’s been executive chef at some very high-end Indian restaurants — Rasika West End (the Obama’s loved dining here), Amber Dhara, and August (1) Five in San Francisco. He has broken many culinary shackles and has modernized Indian food with a focus on home-cooked food rather than Indian-syle restaurant food. 

Chef Tiyagi with India Currents' columnist Mona Shah.
Chef Tyagi with India Currents’ columnist Mona Shah.

I playfully asked him if he would share some of his recipes with our readers and he immediately agreed. A lot of what he creates surprises the palette and that is key. He has some basic advice, don’t overcook your food and don’t douse the dish with sauce. The components should come together, but still be separate, so that the person eating it can experience and relish the dish as they see fit. So, meat covered with cream and butter is a big no-no!

Whether you are a novice cook or looking to level up behind the stove, indulge in some feel-good home cooking with Chef Tyagi’s signature dishes.

PULLED PORK THEPLA TACO

Pork Thepla

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

Pulled pork thepla taco is a Californian name for Indian-style cooked pork and thepla. Flatbreads are an integral part of the Indian dining scene, so I took an opportunity to take bread from one region and the protein preparation from another region of India and added my own style and experience to make it appealing here in California. It’s a flavor bomb and full of umami. It gets pungency from fenugreek leaves, sourness from malt vinegar and pickled onion, sweetness from jaggery, creaminess from sour cream and soft pork butt, and savoriness from degi chili, cumin powder, and coriander powder.

Pork Ingredients:

  • One 5- to 6-pound bone-in pork butt (sometimes called Boston butt)
  •  4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon degi chili
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Barbeque Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup water, for deglazing the roasting pan

Thepla Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fenugreek leaves (methi), tightly packed
  • 1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) gram flour (besan) 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) pearl millet flour (bajra flour) 
  • ¼ cup (40 grams) sorghum flour (jowar flour) 
  • 1-inch ginger, crushed to a paste
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon chopped green chilies or serrano pepper, crushed to a paste
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder 
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt or add as required
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons yogurt, curd, or water for kneading or add as required
  • Oil as required for roasting thepla

Serving ingredients:

  • 1 cup cotija or queso fresco 
  • 1 cup sour cream (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

For the pork

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and set an oven rack in the lower-middle position.
  2. Pat the pork dry with paper towels.
  3. Mix the salt, paprika, cumin, ginger and garlic paste, dry mustard, brown sugar, and pepper in a small bowl. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Rub the spice blend all over the pork, turning to coat evenly (don’t leave any of the spice blend in the bottom of the pan; keep turning the meat until it all adheres).
  4. Roast, uncovered, for 6 to 6-1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork registers 195°F.
  5. While the pork roasts, make the barbecue sauce. Combine the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit until the pork is done. 
  6. When the pork is done, take it out of the oven and set it on a cutting board or platter; tent with aluminum foil and let rest for about 10 minutes. 
  7. Pour off and discard the fat from the roasting pan (remember the handles are hot). Add 3/4 cup water to the roasting pan and set it over a single burner on medium heat; scrape with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently until the liquid is reduced by about half. (The liquid will be very dark; that’s okay.) Pour into the saucepan with the barbecue sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  8. While the pork is still warm, use two forks to pull the meat away from the bone into large shreds. Remove and discard any large pieces of fat or sinew. Put the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish and pour about two-thirds of the barbecue sauce over it. Toss so that the pork is evenly coated with the sauce. Taste and add more sauce, little by little, if desired.

For the thepla

  1. Rinse methi leaves very well in water. Then drain them and chop finely.
  2. Add the flours to a mixing bowl. I use millet flours, but if they’re not available, use 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour and ½ cup besan.
  3. Add all the spices and herbs.
  4. Add the chopped methi leaves. Mix everything well.
  5. Add yogurt or curd (for a vegan option, add very little water instead).
  6. Mix again and knead into a dough. Don’t add water while kneading as methi leaves release water.
  7. Knead to a soft and smooth dough. If needed, add more curd while kneading.
  8. Make medium-sized balls from the dough. Sprinkle some flour on it.
  9. With a rolling pin, roll the thepla to rounds of 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Cooking thepla

  1. Place the thepla on a hot tawa or skillet. Flip when one side is partly cooked (about one-fourth or half cooked). You will see some faint air pockets on the top, and this is the time when you need to flip it.
  2. Spread oil on this side. Flip the thepla again when the second side is half-cooked.
  3. Now spread the oil on this side. Flip a couple of times till you get golden spots and the methi thepla is cooked evenly. You can also press the thepla with a spatula while cooking.
  4. Remove and keep in a roti basket.

ASSEMBLY

When ready to serve, apply a spoonful of sour cream (if using) to the thepla, then add pulled pork and top it with cheese. Serve immediately.

CAULIFLOWER BEZULE FOR 2

Cauliflower Bezule

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

Cauliflower Bezule is my adaptation of South Indian-style Kori Kempu.

Ingredients:

  • For batter
  • 10-12 cauliflower florets 
  • 4 tbsp rice flour 
  • 2 tbsp gram flour 
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 tsp turmeric 
  • 8-10 leaves fresh curry leaves, chopped 
  • 1 tsp degi chili powder 
  • salt to taste 

For tamarind chutney

  • 1 cup Tamarind pulp 
  • 4 tbsp Jaggery / sugar 
  • 1 tsp Coriander powder 
  • 1 tsp dry ginger powder 
  • 1/2 tsp black salt / regular salt 
  • 1/2 tsp fennel powder (optional) 
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder 
  • 1 cup water 

For tempering 

  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 1 pinch nigella seeds 
  • 1 pinch fennel seeds 
  • 1 pinch mustard seeds 
  • 1 pinch cumin seeds 
  • 1 thai chili, slit 
  • 3-4 curry leaves 

INSTRUCTIONS

For tamarind chutney

Heat a heavy bottom pan, add tamarind pulp, and wait for boil. Once boiling, add sugar and other ingredients and mix them well, lower the heat and allow it to cook until thick chutney or coating consistency. Once cooked, set aside to cool. 

For batter

Make a pouring consistency batter with water (not too thick) and mix well with cauliflower. Fry battered cauliflower until half done. Fry again when ready to serve. 

For tempering

Heat oil in a frying pan. When oil is hot, add all the spice seeds and allow them to splatter. Add green chili and curry leaves and sauté for a bit. Add crispy cauliflower and add 1-2 tbsp of tamarind gel and sauté nicely so that tamarind gel get coated evenly on cauliflower. Serve with tomato ketchup or ranch.

SOY, TOFU AND MOZZARELLA KOFTA 

Soy, Tofu, Mozarella Kofta

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos)

This kofta is an imitation of a Scotch egg. 

Kofta Ingredients: 

Part 1

  • 1 cup soy nuggets
  • 1 large boiled russet potato
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • ½ tsp chopped serrano chili
  • Salt to taste

Part 2

  • 1 cup extra firm tofu
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • Salt to taste

Part 3

  • 4 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 -2 drop  yellow food coloring
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch to coat the koftas

For sauce (gravy)

  • 2 tbsp ghee or oil
  • 1 tbsp cashews
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic  paste
  • ½ tsp degi chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ tsp fenugreek powder 
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 medium-sized tomato
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp cream

For garnish

  • 3-4 each soy nuggets
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 small red beet
  • 2 each green cardamom

INSTRUCTIONS

Kofta – Part 1

  1. Soak soy nuggets in water for a good 1-2 hours to make them soft and spongy. Meanwhile, boil the potato, or, if you have boiled potatoes, then grate them and set them aside.
  2. When soy is soft, tightly squeeze out all the water and grind them to make a fine and soft crumble. Add potato to the crumble.
  3. Heat a frying pan over add oil and when it’s hot add cumin and allow them to crackle. Add ginger and green chili and saute them for a minute and add them to the soy potato mix. Season with salt and set aside.

Kofta – Part 2

  1. Mix the tofu, garlic powder, onion powder, cornstarch, and salt. Make into a stiff dough consistency. 

Kofta – Part 3

  • Add yellow food coloring to the cheese to make it look like yolk and make four equal size balls.

ASSEMBLY

Coat tofu mix over cheese balls to give it a shape like egg and put in a chiller to make them firm. Then cover with the soy-potato mixture to give it a feel of ground meat and coat it evenly with cornstarch. Fry on medium heat till the upper crust becomes crisp.

For Sauce

  1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add cashew, and saute. Now add cumin and allow them to crackle.
  2. Add ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute. Add all the powdered spices and cook for another minute. Add tomato and salt and cook till nicely cooked.
  3. Let it cool and make a fine puree by adding water. Now pour it in a pot and cook it again, set seasoning.
  4. Finish the sauce with butter and cream. 

For Garnish

  1. Heat water in a pan with cardamom until it boils. Add sugar and remove it from the flame. Add roughly chopped beet, vinegar, and soy nuggets and leave it for some time so soy nuggets take the pickle flavor and color from beet.
  2. When soy nuggets are ready, cut them into half or in the desired shape.

Pour the sauce in a pasta bowl and place one whole kofta and break another one into the half with a knife so that mozzarella cheese oozes out. Arrange pickled soy pieces decoratively on the plate. 


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


 

The Significance of Pew’s ‘Religions of India’ Survey

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

When the US-based Pew Research Center published the findings of its Religions of India survey, it left many elite journalists, Marxist and “South-Asia” scholar-activists scratching their heads. Most Indians, including Indian-Americans, however, felt vindicated. 

At the heart of such polar reactions is the disconnect between perception and reality in the presentation of India, both in media and academia. There is this false perception of India deliberately and painstakingly crafted by the Indologists, Orientalists-Colonialists, and Marxists. And then, there is the real India, that is Bharat.

In a massive undertaking spanning over several months, Pew surveyed nearly 30,000 respondents in face-to-face interviews. These interviews were conducted in 17 languages across the length and breadth of India just before the Pandemic (2020). Pew, one of the most reputable polling agencies in the world, conducts “opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis, and other data-driven social science research.”

It came as no surprise to most that the survey found India to be a deeply “religious” country, even though the Indic notion of “religion” is quite different (for example, it is not dogmatic) from the Abrahamic one. Native Hindus have preserved and nurtured their indigenous notion of Dharma for over 5,000 years despite foreign invasions, colonization, and Marxist hegemony over India’s educational institutions. 

One of the key findings of the Pew survey was that Indians deeply value “religious tolerance.” The survey reported that it was essential for Indians to respect other faiths. Almost 84% (85% Hindus) of the respondents said that to be “truly Indian,” it is crucial not just to tolerate but also “respect” all religions. Remarkably, 80% of the respondents believed that respecting other religions is a “very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.” 

This “Religious tolerance” is a Western and liberal representation and interpretation of a more nuanced Indic notion of sambhāva. “Respect” for ‘other’ religions is ingrained in the Indic value system. It comes from the quintessential Indic belief that there are many truths but only one Reality. The Rig Veda, one of the most ancient texts of the Hindus, proclaims:

ekaṁ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti 

(Truth is one, wise speak of it differently.)

Another critical finding of the Pew survey was that an overwhelming majority of Indians, almost 80% members of every faith community, reported that they felt free to practice their religion. In an overwhelmingly Hindu majority (80.5%) country of about 1.4 billion people, 89% of Muslims and Christians (each comprising 13.4% and 2.3% of the total Indian population, respectively) also said they were free to practice their religion. 

However, suppose one pays attention to the commentary in the Western media, including the Left-dominated American press and religious/human rights advocates. In that case, it is hard to reconcile with the findings of the Survey. The survey results were in sharp contrast to the portrayal of India in Western media; and seminars and conferences in various centers of South Asian Studies, think tanks, etc.

SN Balagandhar (Balu), a professor of Comparative Science of Cultures at the Ghent University in Belgium, alluded to this chasm in perception and reality in his address to the 2014 Maulana Azad Memorial Lecture organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). While recounting his 40-year academic research journey, Balu said that he discovered very early that there were many problems in his understanding of Indian history. Most of the knowledge about India that makes it to Indian textbooks is a description of India by foreign traders, travelers, and the Christian Missionaries, he noted. He further said that the perception of India these textbooks gave based on those accounts was not the India he “lived in.” Most Indians can easily relate to this statement.

In the last 200 years or so, foreigners and Marxists have dominated the study of India, its culture, traditions, texts, religions, and more. Indology, once a foremost enterprise for the study of India, for example, was based on neo-Protestant theology and their debates over scriptures and their racial prejudices. These prejudices over time, but consciously, were applied to the study of Indian texts where one can easily trace the antecedent of “anti-Brahmanism.” 

The British colonizers played an essential role in, first, creating and then institutionalizing their perception of India based on their understanding and prejudices. In British presentations, Hindus were condemned as “degenerate” and as “slaves.” The need to portray Hindus as primitive, savage, uncivilized, or vicious arose from the urgency of the colonizers to present themselves as civil and enlightened. As a result, what we ended up getting, according to Arvind Sharma, is a “situation in which a people were made more primitive than they were, or presented as more primitive than they were, or perceived as more primitive than they were, either deliberately or out of ignorance.”

On the other hand, Marxist historiography distorted and weaponized Indian history and the idea of India with its ideology of conflicts and divisions. 

The Pew Survey is one crucial step in setting the record straight and reclaiming the agency in representing and defining India and Indian culture.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

Cherry Blossom Tree in Sara Garg's front yard.

A Glance at the Raining Flowers, Away From My AP Lecture

Rain is a metaphor in many books and movies. It signifies a baptism, a cleansing, a change. It is said to smell like a thousand different things: roses, grass, smoke, spring. Rain is laughter, rain is peace, rain is tears. Adele sang a song about rain, so did Pitbull and Phil Collins and so many others whose names I can’t remember. In their voices, I’ve listened to the longing of the rain, the screams of the rain, the warm smiles of the rain, and the tippy-tappy feet of the rain. But today, rain is simply beautiful.

The water falls like diamonds from the sky, catching the light and making the front yard of the house glow. The wet grass looks like the plains in the movies where the main characters can lay down as if it’s a bed. This window in my study peers into a world of wonder. 

I want to run outside and be part of the wet, wondrous world, I want to dance in the rain, but I have responsibilities. I look back at my computer, and I get back to AP World History. Rain will come again. 

My little sister gasps, “look outside, Sara,” she tells me, “it’s so pretty.” I look back at the images on my screen: burial mounds as Auschwitz, accounts of the “Rape of Nanjing,” and soldiers lining up for a firing squad. It’s hard to imagine anything pretty after this atrocity. How did the world move on? When the victors wrote the story, was there no mention of the horrors they committed, was there a mass campaign to forget? I sound like a conspiracy theorist and shake my head to clear it, smiling at my sister. I will see the beauty that she does because without that rosy sheen the world becomes a dark place. 

I smile at Savi, nine years old and caught up in the rain. And I humor her, walking over next to her desk. She’s covered it in stickers of hearts and rainbows and a pink nameplate that says “THIS GIRL CAN.” While nine-year-olds are enamored with every little thing about the world, at sixteen, I’m focused on making it to a good college.

In a few years, Savi won’t even remember Austin, the city in Texas we moved from over the summer. I know, because when I moved to Austin from Pittsburgh right around her age, I quickly forgot details, left only with a vague notion of warmth. All I remember is the snow in Pittsburgh, huge puffy pink snow pants, friends I found in our neighbors, experimenting on worms, and evenings spent trying to catch fireflies. 

It’s strange how history repeats itself, a new job, a new home, a new school, and eventually, new memories to replace the old. I left too much in Austin to forget. Austin was where all my friends were, where I diversified my relationships, and where I learned what it meant to grow up. In six years, Savi will be a different person with different experiences. But for now, she’s completely engrossed in the window. She isn’t even thinking about her next class period let alone the next few years. I glance up. 

What a difference those four steps I took to Savi’s desk made. Suddenly, I see rose quartz falling from the sky. The pale pink of a sunset outside the windows. A flurry of springtime snow. And my eyes want to grow larger to take in the whole world right outside that’s pushing its way in. I can almost swear I hear birds. If my life was a movie, a chorus would sing in the background, my hair would fly around my face, and I’d ask, “Is that a different world?” 

Magic can’t hold for long before reality kicks back in.

A petal flies into the window. Light pink and small, and I understand what’s happening. Our front-yard cherry blossom trees bloomed a few days ago, and the hard rain is pushing the petals down to the ground. Even with a logical reason, I can’t help but laugh. It’s raining flower petals. 

In Austin, our front yard was bland. Two big green bushes covered everything and even when they flowered in the spring, their tiny flowers attracted so many bees that we couldn’t truly appreciate it. If I was nine again, I would want to prove that I was better than my friends through empty posturing about having a pretty yard. But now that I have a slice of nature in my yard, I find that I don’t want to share the story of its glory with the world. This will be our memory to cherish.

I watch for a few more moments, looking down at the coating of petals on the ground. I’m enamored of the flower petals. I can’t move. I watch the petals fall, the wind pushing them onto our neighbors’ lawns, then pulling them back onto ours. If fairy tales happened, if princes came, if there is a heaven, they would all look like this. 

“Look, Shiv,” I point my twelve-year-old brother out his window, “It’s raining flowers.” I feel giddy. My smile feels like it could light up the room. He looks away from his computer, his eyes follow my finger, and he smiles too. The big, open smile that only my younger siblings can make. 

“I saw, I’ve been watching it ever since the rain started,” he tells me smiling as he returns to class. Lucky boy, in front of a window all the time. I sit in front of a wall plastered in all of the chemistry notes for the open-note tests. 

I finally tear my eyes away from the window and head back to my desk. But, I’m only half-listening as my teacher talks about the Treaty of Versailles, World War II, and the other legacies of the “Great War.” I’m lucky to be sitting here, the past a distant memory. For me, it’s raining beauty, and for those soldiers, it rained death and chemical warfare. And I wonder what would have happened, if one day, on the bloodied battlefields of the war, it rained flowers instead of bullets. 

My phone rings with the alarm for lunch, startling me into action. I close my laptop, and I run towards the hallway bridge outside my room to look through our giant window. The flowers are still falling, and now I can hear the rain. A torrent that sounds like YouTube Calming soundtracks played at full volume. 

Down the stairs, I turn into Papa’s study. He’s in a meeting with his headphones in, I wave my arms to get his attention and point outside. He smiles and nods, he’s seen the rain. I keep gesturing, and he looks again. His face lights in awe at the pink tornado outside that wants to pull your gaze into its swirling depths and never let it go. 

I loved Austin and felt my heart was tied there by too many strings to ever let go of the past, but I feel my heart making space for the present. Atlanta is where I can look outside and become nine again because it’s raining flowers. 


Sara Garg is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school and a poet. She started writing poetry in 4th grade and hasn’t stopped since. Her works have been read at the Matwaala South Asian Diaspora poetry festival and published in two of the anthologies of Austin International Poetry Festival as well as the Austin Bat Cave 2019 Anthology. She has won multiple awards for her poems including the Youth Poet of the Year Award 2017, Awards of Excellence for her PTA Reflections poems, and her district Young Georgia Writers’ Competition winner. 


 

Book cover of Zilka Joseph's 'Sparrows and Dust'

Zilka Joseph’s ‘Sparrows and Dust’ is a Heavy Read, But She Makes it Fly

I don’t know the color of a hummingbird’s throat. But when Zilka Joseph brings alive the “green-steel warrior”, I feel as though I’ve recognized the crimson feathers on its dainty neck as an old memory, a remnant of childhood held captive by poetry. That, I suppose, is the secret to Joseph’s pen — the ability to blur the boundaries between her world and those of her readers. This is precisely what she does in Sparrows and Dust, Joseph’s 30-page, Pushcart-nominated homage to her identity as a South Asian-American immigrant and more. As the name of this chapbook suggests, Joseph often draws upon the behaviors and appearances of birds, from beady-eyed sparrows to golden eagles, to explore the depths of her experience. In Sparrows and Dust, Zilka Joseph flits between memory and migration, fight or flight, in this pithy tribute to the birds that have shaped her. 

Joseph is a veteran poet and creative writing instructor, whose work has graced the pages of publications from Asia Literary Review to The Kali Project. Her experience with both writing poems and selecting them shines through in this book, which consists of only 19 poems. Although the brief Table of Contents left me unsure of Joseph’s work at first, later added to my appreciation of her strong sense of word economy and selection.

Every piece of this collection has a purpose, from the emphatic “Listen!” that forces readers to halt in their tracks in “For the Birds” to the “Please stay.” that closes off “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” like a lingering whisper. The poems themselves are generally short and pithy trips into her personal life, with choppy lineation that leaves the poems structurally “wispy”. In fact, that’s what struck me when I read this book for the first time; I felt as though the poems themselves tangibly reminded me of birds’ feathers, slipping out of the tongue and into flight. I suppose herein lies my only critique for this book; many of the structurally similar poems feel clumped together, rather than interwoven with the more visually experimental “Negative Capability” and “So Much”. Thematically, Joseph alternates between nostalgia and quiet introspection, bringing both her childhood home in Kolkata and her current wintry abode in Michigan alive. There’s an aura of desolate solitude to Sparrows and Dust; beyond herself and the birds she chooses to elucidate her emotions with, other characters feel like distant and sad recreations of Joseph’s memory. She channels this emotion beautifully in her leading titular poem, where she mentions how she has “never saved anyone or anything — my parents, the animals, and birds”. 

It’s interesting how Joseph can catch you so off-guard with moments like these. How despite her colorful illustrations of sparrows and their immutable relationship with the natural world, Joseph still creates a world that can be so empty and unforgivably fleeting. It’s not a happy space, but it’s where she thrives as a writer. Some of my favorite moments in this book are where Joseph slips into vulnerable dramatic monologues, whether that means begging with the spirit of her mother in “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” or describing the accidental death of an insect in “Good Intentions”. Strangely enough, she finds a way to convey the importance of both tragedies to her readers, despite our perceived emotional distance from her personal life or the seeming insignificance of an insect’s life. Each time, she leaves the readers clinging to an atmosphere that she has now made barren, by both reflecting on her past mistakes and also on her inability to reverse or rectify them. Personally, I felt especially forlorn after reading “Mama, Who’d Have Thought” and “Scenes from the Deck”; I rarely recognize the mortality in my own parents, and found myself seeking some kind of resolution or closure when the poems were over.  This way, I think it becomes easier to understand Joseph — just as she clings onto her memories, we will have to cling to her poems, despite the way they end. 

Sparrows and Dust is a short and good read, which does not force readers to feel certain emotions but invokes them regardless. Joseph’s third chapbook is illusive, rarely indulgent, and like the birds, she illustrates, never idle. 

With the author’s permission, I have chosen to reproduce her piece, “Scenes from the Deck” in this review to offer a preview into the book:  

Scenes from the Deck

I know how you love that word deck, Dad—

all those years you sailed around

the world. Began at Mazagon Docks,

Mumbai. 25 paise wages. Steamship days.

Diesel days. Deck, bridge, engine room

was home to you, Chief Engineer,

with the booming voice, always in charge,

everyone’s boss. Nothing changed

even when you grew old

and blind. You still wouldn’t listen.

Too late. Too late. Mum sank quickly,

suddenly she was gone. You fought

the storm, your ship still

strong and sea-worthy.

Drowned slowly

in the salt sea that filled

your lungs.

You clutched my hand

for hours. I sang Somewhere

over the Rainbow

by your hospital bed.

You moaned the words

inside the mask muzzling

your mouth. The voice

that bellowed a thousand commands.

Oh my father. Eagle with claws full

of thunderbolts. Now lying shattered

on the deck.

***


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. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the 2020 summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 


 

Sushmita Mazumdar's work, 'Something is Missing/Present - Grounding'

Albela Sajan Aayo Ri: Finding Myself in My Art

During the pandemic, my home changed as my family members worked, attended school and college from home. The museum where I had volunteered weekly for 20 years was closed. My work at my studio, Studio PAUSE, a community space for art and stories changed, and I found myself week after week, month after month, thinking, “Nobody is here. Still, there is nobody here!” The wall where anyone could show their art was blank. The writing sessions had moved online. Zoomceptions were few. 

It took a while before I noticed someone was here. It was me. As I started to explore my work in a new way, I watched what I would allow myself to create. 

When I finally felt okay playing music in the dead silent community center, I found the good old Hindi songs, playing on shuffle from my iTunes app, still spoke to me.

One day “Kafirana sa hai, Ishq hai ya Kya hai?” stopped me. It feels blasphemous, Is this love or what is it, the lyrics asked.

Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.
Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.

I had not seen the 2018 movie Kedarnath, but the song had moved me greatly. I pulled out four canvasses I had bought for a commission which I had discontinued. I had been asked to remove some elements related to George Floyd from that project and was given no explanation for it. So instead, I painted on it an intense deep green-blue. A month earlier the actor from Kedarnath, Sushant Singh Rajput, was believed to have killed himself. The shock had rippled through our community. He will never smile or sing again. I wrote the lyrics in my expressive calligraphic style, carving into the paint as well as applying paint to write in the Devanagari script and the Roman cursive. I wrote a new word, “Kafirana” written by new poets. I had lost touch with my native scripts while I lived my life in the US. They had gone quiet. Sushant, I found, also means quiet.

Another blue-green canvas sang, “Albela sajan aayo ri, Mora ati man sukh payo ri”. My charming beloved had come, My heart feels very happy now, it said.

I remembered the video from the 2015 movie Bajirao Mastani where Kashibai runs through the palace carrying a huge flag, thrilled at her beloved’s return home. I re-discovered my old favorite Devanagari letters which I had first fallen in love with when I studied calligraphy in art school in Bombay in the late 1980s. Who was this classical Hindi song speaking of? 

Hawa Hawa played, from that most special album from the 2011 movie Rockstar. I had made all the art for my first solo show in Oct 2012 listening to this album. But I had never made any songs visual. This song, meaning Wind, Wind, tells the story of a queen who couldn’t stay within the golden walls of her palace and needed to run bare feet into the wind, along with the wind. It clearly spoke of me—the old me. As I made a deep rani-pink, a red-infused variation on the pink color of queens, and wrote the lyrics on it, I saw myself now, sitting here every day. Who am I if I am not running? 

“Yeh Zameen chup hai, Aasmaan chup hai, Phir yeh dhadkan si, Charsu kya hai.” The earth is silent, the sky is silent, then what is this heartbeat, I hear all around me, asked an old favorite song, as I stood painting among my studio walls painted in the colors Baked Clay and Endless Sky. A question the queen Razia Sultan had asked herself in that 1983 movie – the poet imagining the state of the first Muslim woman to be emperor of the subcontinent of India in the 13th century spoke to me during the 2020 pandemic. What is it then?

I entered Sing to Me, Mr. Shuffle!, the story of a collaboration with an app and an algorithm for my first online presentation at Our Stories Virtual Festival hosted by Asian Arts and Culture Center, Towson University, Maryland. As I write this, I document a journey towards a new beginning, and a return to bring along the old me. 

Sushmita Mazumdar's mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic
Sushmita Mazumdar’s mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic.

I went back to yoga after years. I had first learned it when I attended the first standard in Bombay. I learned about chakras and found connections with stories I have collected from friends. I explored the bright colors in my paintings.

“Whose work is this,” an old friend asked when she finally left her home in July. “Mine,” I laughed. She looked at me in surprise. 

Then, poems! Bazaar, a recurring dream I had made into an artist’s book in 2012, was selected to be part of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria’s Poem-A-Day project in April 2021. It was also made into a poetry video by artist Mary Louise Marino who saw how it connected with her own experience.

I had finally applied for citizenship, and found a poem emerge on an emotional afternoon before the test. In Kanyadaan, Again, I think about the ceremony where a father gives away his daughter at a Hindu wedding. I beg my father—who had fought for the freedom of India and had given me away to my American husband when he came for our wedding—to give me away again, from one flag to another. 

“I hope he will he say: Go! Be a freedom fighter for yourself

in the country which fought the same imperialists

And vote! So its children can always be free 

and so yours can be assured that their country

is also their Motherland.” 

— Excerpt from Sushmita Mazumdar’s Poem ‘Kanyaadan Again’

Colors, languages, and scripts had exploded out of me—my heritage, a leap past the 21 years in the US and beyond! I put it all into my new website.

On June 8, I voted for the first time in 21 years. I will be heard. I went to vote with my husband and my son.

On June 10, I was at a poetry reading where I read aloud my first Hindi poem, Aaj Summer Camp Mein, American accent and all, accompanied by its English translation which was published earlier this year in Written in Arlington. It’s about a new staff member who was at my daughter’s camp and how my daughter loved her long black hair, her dark eyes, and had asked: Is Ms. Maheen like me? Is she Indian? 

This was all new for me. It had taken a global pandemic for a flood of the old me to emerge and merge with the now me, leading to a new me, hopefully moving toward a more complete me. 


Sushmita Mazumdar is a self-taught writer and book artist, writing stories from her childhood for her American children and making them into handmade storybooks. Encouraging everyone to share their stories of home, heritage, and migration she opened Studio Pause in 2013 mixing community voices into her own work, allowing cross-cultural collaborations and dialogues to inform her creations.


 

Sardar Kaur Is the Irascible Dadi That I Might Be

I saw the title Sardar Ka Grandson pop up on Netflix. I kept on scrolling, assuming that this may be a Punjabi movie with a macho flair. Perhaps it was a remake or sequel of Son of Sardaar (a 2012 movie directed by Ashwni Dhir). After an arduous workday, I was not keen to watch Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Dutt engage in dishoom dishoom or explosions in sugarcane fields.

I was surprised when my daughter recommended it to me. She said: You would like this movie, it’s a story about a dadi and her not-so-savvy grandson.

Sardar, a masculine name for princes, noblemen, chiefs, leaders, and turbaned North Indian men of Sikh faith, but I had forgotten Sikhs have a tradition of transporting masculine names like Jaspreet, Harpreet, Kamaljit to feminine by just adding a suffix kaur, a synonym for miss in English or kumari in Hindi.

I fixed myself a large katori of kheer and sat down to watch this dramedy c0-written and directed by Kaashvie Nair and co-written by Anuja Chauhan.

I became a grandma ten years back, and ever since that day, I have come into my mettle. I have realized that I was born to gain notoriety in this role.  My temperament is amiable but I confess that I am a tad bit stubborn (God help those who get on my wrong side). It’s but natural that I have admired irascible grandmas on and off-screen.

My most favorite is the crusty dowager of Downton Abbey played by Countess Violet Crawley (the one and only dame Maggie Smith). Her candid aphorisms, withering looks, and haute couture sweep me off my feet: A woman of my age can face reality better than most men.”

The other hilarious character is Sophia Petrillo played perfectly to the last cheeky wisecrack by Estelle Getty. She is the scrawny, unglamorous, and yet most unforgettable of the Golden Girls TV series. Sophia Petrillo’s dry sense of humor reminds me of my great grandmother and raconteur Madame Hukam Devi Mehra, aka Maaji, whose tales of wit were famous in the orchards along the banks of the mighty river Ravi.

But I am certain that the credit of my headstrong gene goes to my paternal grandmother, Madame Krishna Kumari Kapur of Lahore, British India. She was willful and quite “the talk of the town” with her beguiling pink rose and pearlish complexion. Her Lahori friends grew accustomed to her and often turned a blind eye to her shenanigans!

Now our own Neena Gupta as Sardar Kaur has added her name to the legion of unforgettable grandmas of the silver screen.

Neena Gupta is one of the most versatile actors. When I saw that she was the dadi,  Sardar Kaur, I could not wipe the grin off my face.

My heartbeat quickened to learn that the movie was filmed in the two historic border towns, Amritsar and Lahore, straddling the line of partition drawn arbitrarily by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. My ancestors migrated from Lahore to Amritsar and settled in Shimla after the partition. They had similar double-story row homes with Persian-style balconies, ideal for observing street processions and engage in chit-chats, gossip sessions, or full-blown street fights with their neighbors. My grandparents talked with great nostalgia about the homes and hearths they left behind in Lahore. My dad always wanted to go to Lahore but he never did. He used to recite a poem with so much love in his voice. 

Daal dus khan shehar Lahore ander

Kinne boohey tay kinnian barian nein

Naley das khaan aothon dian ittaan

Kinnian tuttian tay kinnian saarian nein…

(There is no place as beautiful as Lahore,

 with millions of doors and millions of windows, 

sweet wells for water and beautiful maidens…)

The high spirits portrayed by Sardar Kaur are very characteristic of the hardy women of Punjab. My daughter said that she rewound the final scene when Sardar Kaur enters the home of her dreams. She flows like water into the reverberating memories of her youthful days with her beloved husband. She relives her youth by touching the rose-painted window panes. There is laughter and tears. It’s authentic. It gives her closure. It’s a true homecoming!  

I suggest that you watch the movie. The movie has a smattering of Hindi, Punjabi, and English dialogue written by Amitosh Nagpal. Neena Gupta on and off the frames carries the movie “gently gently” with the swig of Lahori whiskey and in her hand-knit pink mittens like a true sardarni! Her faithful black rottweiler guard dog would definitely agree! The music score has a catchy folksy feel. I enjoyed the lyrics and beat of “Mein Teri Ho Gayi” and “Bandeya“!


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.


 

Left to right: Kaveri Lalchand, India Mask Project, Siddharth Ramalingam

#MaskPodu: Bay Area High Schooler Joins Forces With Mask India Project

As COVID-19 makes its way down to the southern parts of India, there has been a silver lining. We have seen a surge of humanity that is lending a helping hand to India in this time of crisis.

One such initiative is by a 14-year-old school student Siddharth Ramalingam. He started The Bay Area Mask Care Project last year where he would make and sell cloth masks to raise funds for COVID relief.

“Bay Area Mask Care was formed to give back to the community in several ways during the pandemic. The COVID situation in India drove me to explore avenues to contribute to the Indian community where my close family and friends currently live,” says Ramalingam.

Parallelly in India, after the lockdown last year, when all businesses had to shut, Chennai-based designer Kaveri Lalchand had an idea to start making masks which had become mandatory.

“As we were told we need to wear masks all the time as the simplest and most effective way to protect ourselves, we started making masks. And one year down the line we need to be protected now more than ever. We decided to focus on the welfare of the country and the health and safety of our employees, friends and family, and the community at large. Our masks have been hugely popular, and this was one way we could think of to give back to the community,” says Lalchand.

So, she started The Mask India Project that manufactures and distributes masks free of cost. Kaveri and The Mask India Project have joined hands with the Bay Area Mask Care Project (USA) and with Chennai Volunteers and the #MaskPodu movements to give away thousands of masks to people of Chennai. Masks are also being distributed through the Suyam Charitable Trust to children in rural areas of Tamil Nadu.

When Ramalingam heard about this project, he stepped up to help raise funds for relief work in India by reaching out to his network of people in the USA. “I have always been impressed with Ms. Kaveri Lalchand’s contribution to society. When I heard about ‘The Mask India Project’, I decided that partnering with her would be the best way for me to serve the Indian community. I am excited and honored to be part of this initiative,” says Ramalingam.

The lockdown has also affected businesses and daily wage earners. Through this initiative, we have been able to provide eight tailors with machines to work from home. As a brand, we supply all the materials used in the mask free of cost fabrics, elastic, and threads. The tailors are paid for every mask they stitch. They have done a fantastic job with the uninterrupted supply,” says Lalchand.

The masks that are distributed as part of this project are 3-layer, reusable cloth masks. The top layer is linen and the inner two layers are cotton. “The mask is printed with our logo – the map of India with a heart at its center. The heart is to honor the memory of all those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” says Lalchand.

The Mask India Project also works with Chennai Volunteers, a voluntary organization started by Rinku Mecheri, that manages welfare and relief work in fields like gender equality, disaster relief, and uplifting the less fortunate. Lalchand has tied up with the Chennai Volunteers to distribute our masks to the people of Chennai.

The #MaskPodu movement was created to bring about awareness about the importance of wearing a mask and wearing it right (not under your nose or on your chin!) This was created by two responsible citizens of Chennai, Kishore Manohar, and Siddarth Ganeriwala. They have spread the message using a very catchy tune that has been written by Aravind-Shankar the musician who made the famous Chennai Super Kings song “Whistle Podu.

“We will be giving our masks to them for distribution amongst the people of Chennai. The song has also been made into Kannada and Malayalam with the Hindi version underway,” says Lalchand.

As the predicted third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to affect children the most, the Suyam Charitable Trust decided to raise money to provide masks to children across districts of Tamil Nadu. With vaccinations for children still a little further away, masking up is the only proven method to protect oneself.

This is also why Maya (16) and Eka (13) Kachibhatla, a sister and brother duo from Chennai wanted to contribute towards COVID relief in a more meaningful way and associated with Lalchand and her team. They started to raise an amount of Rs 30000 (USD 410), which they could surpass and now The Mask India Project is providing them and the Suyam trust with 7000 children’s masks. And to make the masks more fun, the masks are being printed with a heart or a star or a design of an elephant or some other cute design.

Since its inception, the team has started seeing a sustained increase in the demand for masks. “We have now committed 1000 masks for an entire village in Haryana. We have also tied up with the Apollo Shine Foundation to distribute masks to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and we hope to help more,” concludes Lalchand.

If you want to help contact the team on their Facebook page.


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Dhokra art

Dhokra Art is a Sustainable Tribal Legacy

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

When we talk about Mohenjo-Daro, immediately the famous statue of the dancing girl appears in front of our eyes. It is one of the earliest known ‘lost wax casting’ artifacts and this technique of non-ferrous metal casting, known as Dhokra (or Dokra) is 4,000 years old and still popular and in use. 

Influence of Tribal Themes

Dhokra art is the famous art of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a state of east-central India, whose rich tradition of craft and culture has always attracted art lovers from all over the world. This art is influenced by tribal themes related to animals, mythical and human creatures, and nature. The folk characters used to make the artifacts make this handicraft more valuable and that is the reason in every household or office, we find these pieces decorated as a pride possession. Dhokra artists make each piece with delicate attention to retaining its authenticity. The process involves manually casting brass and bronze metal with the help of a wax varnishing technique. 

The unknown beauty of this art, in which metal crafts are made through wax casting techniques, is that it is eco-friendly! Most pieces are made with waste and scrap metal. 

Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)
Dhokra art (Image from Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons Licence 4.0)

History Tells a Tale 

The Dhokra craft has been discovered in the relics of the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilizations and is proof of its historical and traditional importance as an art form.

Today in Bastar region, the small artisan group of the Ghadwas produces brass or bell metal objects. In Bastar, many folk stories are told about the origins of the Ghadwas. According to one most popular story some three hundred years ago, the ruler of Bastar, Bhan Chand, was presented a gift, a necklace crafted in Dhokra craft, for his beloved wife. He was so mesmerized with the beauty of craft that to honor the craftsman, he decided to bestow the title of Ghadwa on him. Ghadwa, derived from the word Ghalna, means to melt and work with wax. 

Fascinating Process

Natural raw materials are used in the process of making Dhokra pieces. The famous Dhokra artist Rajender Baghel explains that the basic mold is made with fine sand and clay. Goat and cow dung or husk is added to it, which is then layered with pure beeswax found in the jungle. Then wax threads are prepared and wound around the clay mold until its entire surface is covered uniformly. Then it is cooked over a furnace while the wax is drained via ducts. The wax burns in the furnace leaving a free channel for the metal to flow. Molten metal (mainly brass and bronze) is poured inside the mold. The molds are taken out and water is sprinkled to cool them, once the metal is melted. By breaking them the cast figures are removed. It can take up to nine days to complete a three-foot-high sculpture.

Dhokra art styles
Dhokra art styles

Themes and Inspirations 

This art is unique, not only because of its process or intricacy, but because no two Dhokra artworks are alike. Every single sculpture is crafted to be different from another and exquisite. Inspiration and themes generally come from mythology, nature, and day-to-day traditions and rituals. Intricate works of the local deities, sun, moon, jungle, flora, and fauna are used to give a decorative look to it.

One of the popular themes is the local deities – Jhitku-Mitki and an interesting story accompanies these characters. Jhitku-Mitki were deeply in love with each other but their families were against their relationship. As a result, Jhitku was killed by Mitki’s brothers, when she refused to stay away from him. The people of Chhattisgarh worship them and usually make their figures.

Tribal Legacy

Dhokra Jewelry, which is crafted using motifs of gods and goddesses, floral shapes, and rustic designs, is a creative and contemporary expression of an ancient technique. These days Dhokra artists are experimenting with designs to give it a stylish and international look. A woman can match it with her both ethnic and international styles.

Not only jewelry, items like decorative platters, containers, vases, photo frames, tea light candle holders, wall hangings, dining accessories, and cutlery and sculptures are also in trend. These objects are a smart mix of tribal designs and contemporary styles – each piece tells the enchanting story of the tribal legacy, culture, daily lives, and environment-friendly orientation.

Each Piece is Unique 

Dhokra art is also practiced by the artists of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal also. No one can make the same Dhokra piece as every object is exclusive because each artisan of each state, creates it in his distinct way. Thin hands, legs, and a slender body – if you look closely, you will find that this tribal art is not perfect, body parts aren’t proportionate but it reflects its own history. Simplicity mixed with intricate work and tribal designs are the beauty of this art form.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

Sushant Singh Rajput in Kai Po Che.

One Year Since Sushant…

As the first death anniversary of Sushant Singh Rajput approaches, we relive the moments that made his memorable debut in the 2013 movie Kai Po Che.

At the start of director Abhishek Kapoor’s film, a bunch of athletes is introduced to us, one after the other, with a voice-over in the background telling us about their names and their achievements. The screen slowly pans out and we realize the voice is actually that of Govind (Rajkummar Rao), and this is a pitch for his Sports academy (Sabarmati Sports Club). He ends the presentation with a quick mention of a potential international debutant in cricket, named Ali, albeit without any visuals.

As the story rewinds to 10 years earlier, we, and Ishaan, (the second protagonist of the three lead characters, played by Sushant Singh) first notice Ali from his back after the latter “catches” a ball whacked by Ali beyond the imaginary boundary in the crowded playgrounds. Ishaan asks a boy who the batsman is; the boy mentions he is someone from “outside their territory”. A few moments later, Ali throws a challenge to Ishaan, still a stranger to him. It is a win-all, lose-all challenge with a container of marbles at stake.

The scene quickly shifts the focus to the relationship between Ishaan and Ali, who are now tutor and disciple at the Sabarmati Sports Academy, still at its nascent stage. It takes a while for either of them to earn the other’s trust, and these scenes are nicely staged. Ali, still a boy, has his loyalty divided between the game of bat and ball and the one with marbles. Ishaan fumes at his commitment and chases him away from a practice session. In another scene, he storms into a Math class being instructed by Govind and teaches Ali the importance of stroking on the off-side. Ali scratches his head. Why? He is a natural, no? He doesn’t think too much when batting and gives the ball a thump the only way he knows. But Ishaan looks beyond this love-hate relationship with Ali and sees a future in him that no one else does.

Ishaan, the fearless warrior that he is, doesn’t bat an eyelid before breaking the headlight of an SUV, as a reprimand for a driver honking during the viewing of a cricket match; he likes to hold a gun that scares people nearby; and towards the end, he does not fear heading to Ali’s den for a cricket match the next day. But even the boldest have a weak moment, and Kapoor captures this beautifully in a short conversation on the phone between Govind and Ishaan, when the latter requests him to come over while expressing a “strange feeling of fear”.

The movie itself isn’t only about this tutor-disciple relationship. There is another delicious teacher-student relationship featuring Govind and Ishaan’s sister Vidya (played by Amrita Puri). Vidya woos him during Govind’s math tuition classes as he tries his best to wiggle out. 

The bigger problem for Govind though is the sports club he has set up with Ishaan and Omi (Amit Sadh). They are struggling to break even but are already dreaming of another facility in the city inside a mall. In the hope of making it big someday, they double-loan themselves while moving to the new mall. But their dreams are crushed when a natural calamity strikes one day. With everyone rushing for shelter, Govind instead runs barefoot to the mall to find what remains of the devastation. With such a feverish build-up to the interval, we look forward to how the story would shape up in the second half.

But from a fictional account this far, Kapoor shifts focus entirely to real-life happenings in 2001-2002. The principal characters take a back seat, while the supporting characters suddenly hog the limelight. There is generous screen space for Omi’s uncle, Bittu, the banker for the trio’s sports club in the first half, who unleashes his darker side. Omi himself, shown as a man of fewer words than others, is reduced to becoming a caricature towards the end.

All the subtleties and nuances that made the first half memorable are replaced by in-your-face moments that make you squirm in your seat towards the end. Even the 2001 India-Australia series, of which the second test match is covered with sufficient detail, appears to be shoe-horned into the plot without any major reason. They do create a feeling of nostalgia in the cricket lovers inside us, but what business does it have in a movie about the dreams and aspirations of three young men?

I wondered why Kapoor didn’t switch off the distractions to the plot with the material in his hand.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.


 

Dr. Nagalli Answers All Your Questions About The Black Fungus Associated With COVID-19

More than 3.5 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19 infection and the numbers are only rising despite more than a year into this public health emergency, specifically in developing countries.

Although the clinical manifestations of this disease are well-established the long-term consequences are still evolving and are being studied. Infection with ‘Black’ fungus is one such complication that is increasingly seen in patients with COVID-19 infection, particularly in India and other Asian countries. ‘Black’ fungal infection, known as Mucormycosis or Zygomycosis in medical terminology, is an opportunistic infection. It is labeled as ‘black’ due to the physical appearance of dead tissue caused by this fungal infection.

As a physician, some of the common questions that I frequently encounter from my patients, family, and friends are on ‘Black’ fungus. Here, I attempt to answer the questions:

How is black fungus infection acquired?

The most common causative organisms of this illness belong to genera Rhizopus, Mucor, and Rhizomucor. They are found ubiquitously and are commonly acquired through the inhalation of spores. This is typically seen in patients with severe immunocompromised states. 

Who is likely to get black fungus/Mucormycosis?

Mucormycosis is not seen in all patients diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. But some of the underlying comorbidities can make patients more susceptible to acquire this infection. Patients with uncontrolled Diabetes Mellitus, cancers (particularly blood cancers), organ transplants, and those on immunosuppressive therapy are at increased risk of getting this fungal infection.

Why is black fungus increasingly seen in COVID-19 patients?

The relationship of COVID-19 infection with Mucormycosis is still unclear. But it is known that the fungi causing this infection thrive well in high glucose and acidic environments. It is important to remember that steroids, which are commonly prescribed in the treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia, increase patient blood sugar levels and suppress one’s immunity. This can put him/her at risk of acquiring Mucormycosis.

What symptoms to watch for?

Patients at risk should watch for symptoms such as nasal discharge often with fevers, facial pain, headaches, orbital pain or swelling, decreased / loss of vision, or double vision. Blood in cough or vomitus may also be seen. The development of any of these symptoms should prompt immediate evaluation by a physician.

Is there any treatment for Mucormycosis?

The fungi causing Mucormycosis spread rapidly and invade blood vessels resulting in the death of infected tissues. Patients diagnosed with Mucormycosis typically require hospitalization and initiation of antifungal therapy as soon as possible. This illness has a risk of significant morbidity and mortality. Patients require urgent surgical debridement to remove the dead and necrotic tissues. Hence consultations with ENT and or a maxillofacial surgeon are required. Ophthalmology consultation is also required if orbits are involved. 

What can be done to prevent this fungal infection?

Patients who are on chronic immunosuppressive therapy should consult physicians before initiating any new medications. Indiscriminate use of steroids, such as using steroids for patients with mild COVID-19 infection, should be avoided. Over-the-counter dispensing of steroids should be banned and strictly enforced by pharmacists. Patients who require steroids should have their blood sugars monitored and sugars need to be corrected, typically with insulin injections. In short, controlling blood sugars well mitigates the risk of Mucormycosis.


Dr. Shivaraj Nagalli is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. He practices Hospital Medicine at the Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, Alabama. 


 

AACI doctor with patient (Image from AACI's website)

AACI & Bank of America Partner to Support Health Care Access and COVID-19 Vaccination

AACI announced that it has been awarded a $20,000 grant from Bank of America to help bolster its critical healthcare and medical services related to a lagging COVID-19 vaccination rate among Santa Clara County’s hardest hit, low-income, immigrant communities. This funding comes on the heels of a Bank of America $10,000 sponsorship to assist with its Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders program development.

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the underserved individuals AACI serves, many of whom face significant health disparities and complex barriers to care. According to the California Dept of Public Health, vaccination supplies exceed demand in some of Santa Clara County’s poorer neighborhoods, but there are some positive signs. For instance, San Jose’s 95116 zip code where just 43 percent of its 43,000 residents were vaccinated in mid-April, saw that percentage jump to 57 percent three weeks later.

To keep the momentum going in its vicinities, AACI actively distributed flyers and other marketing materials in several languages, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog, Farsi, and Spanish as part of its push to eliminate obstacles to seeking aid and encourage vaccination for those who want it. Now, funds from the Bank of America grant will allow for coordination and outreach around additional vaccine community events, as well as provide access to safe transportation for AACI clients.

AACI also will allocate a portion of the grant toward its domestic violence shelter support and meal delivery for seniors, along with general operating financial assistance. Bank of America’s other recent contribution to AACI funded panel discussions geared at broadening the conversation around anti-Asian hate speech and hate crimes.

“Bank of America’s grant support gives AACI an extraordinary opportunity to maintain essential services to our marginalized and vulnerable ethnic community members,” said Sarita Kohli, AACI president, and CEO. “Our expanding partnership with Bank of America now allows us to concentrate on our most urgent needs while our day-to-day operations carry on without pause.”

“AACI’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual approach to its work in Silicon Valley addresses the daily challenges diverse populations face. This Bank of America grant supports AACI’s efforts to educate impacted populations about COVID-19 vaccinations and other critical resources,” said Raquel González, Bank of America Silicon Valley president. “AACI’s long-time presence in Silicon Valley is a testament the many individuals and families who rely on their important services and the impact they continue to make.”

In addition to its COVID-19 efforts and primary care services, AACI offers seniors to youth alike behavioral health counseling; HIV outreach, testing, and education; shelter and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking; specialized services for refugees and survivors of torture; advocacy; and youth and senior wellness services.


About AACI 

Founded in 1973, AACI serves individuals and families with cultural humility, sensitivity, and respect, advocating for and serving the marginalized and ethnic communities in Santa Clara County.  AACI’s mission is to strengthen the resilience and hope of our diverse community members by improving their health and well-being. Our many provide care that goes beyond just health, but also provides people a sense of hope and new possibilities. Current programs include behavioral and primary health services, substance abuse prevention and treatment, a center for survivors of torture, shelter, and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, senior wellness, youth programs, and community advocacy.


 

Producer and Songwriter, Jeff Bhasker

Behind Pop Music: You Should Know Jeff Bhasker’s Name

Jeff Bhasker, A.K.A. Billy Kraven, is a music producer and songwriter. Born to an Indian father and Caucasian mother, he was raised in Socorro, New Mexico where his father is a doctor and the town’s mayor. Bhasker left Socorro to pursue music studies at Berklee School of Music, then moved to New York for three years before beginning his career in Los Angeles.

Famous artists he has worked with include Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Bruno Mars, The Game, Rolling Stones, Beyonce, and Alicia Keys. He has won Grammy awards for the songs “Run This Town,” by Jay-Z (Best Rap Song), “All of the Lights” by Kanye West (Best Rap Song), “We Are Young” by FUN (Song of the Year), “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (Record of the Year), and Bhasker, himself, won Producer of the Year.

In this exclusive interview with India Currents, Jeff Bhasker opens up about his music and experience in the industry.

IC: Did growing up in Socorro have any impact on your getting into music?

JF: Not in a typical way, because there were not many resources around. However, the lack of distractions and outside influences allowed me to do a lot of soul searching, during which I discovered my music passion.

I wanted to find a place where I belonged. My home life was not great due to my parents being divorced, and the challenge of having a blended family. I wanted to be around people who, like me, were into Jazz and enjoyed playing music together. I eventually found it at the Berklee School of Music

IC: We are all aware of the Indian stereotype of parents wanting their children to become doctors and engineers. How did your family feel about your pursuit of music?

JF: It definitely confused my family of doctors. No one in our family had become a musician. However, they were relieved once I became more successful. Now, of course, they are very proud of the work I have done.

IC: What was your focus at the Berklee College of Music?

JF: I, initially, wanted to be a jazz musician and composer, but I drifted into recording and production. Technology and computer recording began to take a bigger role, hence making recording more accessible. You could record music on a laptop instead of paying a big fee to use a studio. Eventually, songwriting and recording became my specialty.

IC: You produce music across all genres- rap/hip-hop, rock, pop, R&B, and Bhangra. What are your thoughts regarding the term “genre”?

JF: Genres are only marketing devices to appeal to a certain demographic. I try to be genre-less and, instead, utilize the best aspects of each genre. Ultimately, we are all humans that bleed, love, and hurt. In any genre, the best song appeals to people on a human rather than on a genre level.

IC: How did you initially connect with famous musicians?

JF: My first song was the title track on The Game’s Documentary album. After that, there was a lull until I worked with Kanye. My work with Kanye became my calling card. In 2009, my song with Alicia Keys, “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart”, made me known for my sound. Once I had a hit song, I slowly built up my reputation and became connected with more people.

IC: I assume that each musician you work with has a unique style. How have these different musicians inspired you?

JF: I learn a lot from everyone I work with. However, I consider Kanye my biggest mentor. Kanye is a huge influence regarding how hard he works on his projects, whether in fashion, music, or whatever else.  He has largely helped shape my concept of being an artist, which is to create music on an intensely personal and honest level. In other words, he has taught me to be driven by the need to express instead of success.

IC: You have produced three songs on Jasbir Jassi’s “Back with a Bang” (2014) album. How did working with Jassi help you reconnect with Indian roots?

JF: Meeting Jasbir Jassi and his family has been such a great and organic part of my life. In 2017, I traveled with him to India to participate in MTV India.

Being in India was a culture shock and my head was spinning. I did not know where I fit in.  Navigating Indian society and the music business was like being on another planet. By the end, I had two harmoniums and was sitting on the plane in my kurta and I did not want to leave. I had a close connection with the people I met. The sights, smells of India really felt like home. It was a great experience.

IC: Many people dream of becoming successful musicians. However, very few actually make that dream a reality. What has been the key to your success in the industry?

JF: The best advertising and PR is making the best music. People, nowadays, over-focus on connections and social media. While these are important, you ultimately just need to deliver a great product. A song is a product. How meaningful and life-changing it is, is what matters. That is what I focus on: How to make what I am working on undeniable. 

IC: What are you currently working on?

JF: I have an independent record label called Kravenworks. We are currently releasing the latest material from a Swedish act called Vacation Forever. It’s been fun to curate content and develop marketing campaigns for amazing artists such as Angelique Kidjo and Cam, with whom we had a hit single!

IC: Any lessons to inspire young Indians?

JF: As we develop a more global perspective, it’s about being a human being. Whether you are Indian, American, British, or a Martian you need to find what is inside you that you need to express and tell your story.

My message is to believe in yourself. Find the people who believe in you and work hard. Knowing your place on the timeline of history and where you are going is important for helping you grow in the right direction. You should always be growing, challenging, changing, and trying to better yourself. That will lead you to the most impactful result. Staying true to yourself is what I mean.


Nikhil Misra-Bhambri is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. He is a graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) with a degree in history and will begin his Masters in Social Work at USC in Fall 2021.