Tag Archives: Mona Shah

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


 

Left to right: Author, Shoba Narayan and book, Food & Faith.

Food and Faith: The Intrinsic Prasadam at Hindu Temples

As a child growing up in India, I have visited my fair share of temples, partaking in the rituals and the prasad handed out the priests and never quite questioning my parents on why we did what we did. Nevertheless, I did wonder about the role of religion in our lives. So, when I was asked to review Shoba Narayan’s Food and Faith: A Pilgrim’s Journey Through India, I jumped at the chance.

Calling herself a lapsed Hindu, who was first an atheist in her teens, then agnostic in her 20s, she says, “After having two kids, faith was a way of going back to my roots, finding meaning. The journey of writing this book also became a sort of pilgrimage.” Narayan sets about visiting many of India’s iconic places of worship, trying to understand their rituals and make sense of religious polarities. In doing so, she attempts to answer the question that confounds many of us as we seek spirituality: what sustains us? 

In India, you can’t separate food from faith. If the 29 diverse varieties of Indian cuisines, each coming from one state in the country are not enough, we also have recipes that the temples and shrines in India dole out. Narayan attempts to spotlight many of them. “I started with a simple calculation. I would visit those temples that had good prasadam or sacred food offerings. These are, literally, foods for the gods, which belong to a time, place, and a specific deity. After offering it to God, the devotees partake of this ‘gracious gift of God’.” 

The book is divided into fourteen chapters based on where the author is traveling to, each chapter can be independently read as a short story. Narayan coincides her visits with each region’s most important festival. She travels to Puri during the Kumbh Mela, to a Jewish household in Mumbai during the Passover, and to Haridwar during a time of convergence of yogis.

Accessibility was also one of the criteria in finalizing her list. Shobha also lists “geography, history and the seasons. Going to these temples at the right time, being able to speak to priests and scholars about the food, having some sort of connection with the food so that I could actually write about it, and also ensuring that the multitudes of faiths present in the land that we call Bharat or India” as the other factors she considered. She had wanted to include temples from the Northeast but “ended up not being able to because accessing those temples and interviewing the priests proved to be very difficult.”

In each chapter, Shoba talks not just about the food and history of the temples, but how her faith identifies with the practices and what makes her uncomfortable (like caste segregation). There are lovely little vignettes like the mechanization of Palani panchamritam, how onions were sneaked into the Udupi masala dosa, and why copious amounts of ghee is used in the food at the Kashi Annapurna temple, revealing that no outsider is allowed inside the Jagannath temple kitchen except the 1000 male cooks who make 56 different kinds of offerings called the chappan bhog, that is served to the Gods, six times a day. 

Shri Jagannatha Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License 4.0)
Shri Jagannatha Temple (Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License 4.0)

I always knew that most traditions at temples always started with a logical reason, which then morphed into ritual. It was interesting to note that Narayan did dig deeper into the root of prasadam. The satvik food served at Udupi is what we tout as local and sustainable farming, the langar at Amritsar develops a feeling of community, that the strict food preparation practice at Puri is a tribute to the area’s tribal food habits, and the practice of drinking small sips of water before food was a way of activating the thyroid gland. A major instance of agriculture and the way it influences temple meals is during the Tamil month of margazhi, when vaishnavite temples serve ven pongal: “Hearty with rice and dal, with complete pepper for our ‘winter’ months and beneficent addition of ghee for heat.”

Apart from Hindu temples, Narayan also talks about experiencing “the layers of tradition” in a Goan Christmas, a dargah in Ajmer, where there was qawwali and kesari bhat, and being part of a Jewish Rosh Hashanah, or New Year with the Bene Israelis in Mumbai. “Each dish had meaning: a bowl of pomegranate signified bounty, there was head of fish and goat…,” she recalls.  

Narayan has a narrative, oftentimes self-deprecating style, that draws the reader in, transporting us with her to the Kashi, Ajmer, or Kerala as she explores the cultural heritage that is passed on through religions, especially through their unique practices and cuisines. Most of the book is based on Hindu temples and customs, which she delves into deeply. She stresses that religions in India are inevitably interlinked in many ways, and while she tends to delve deeper in the beginning, Narayan seems to be in a hurry towards the end of the book and glosses over sections in Goan and the Bombay Jewish faiths.

It is refreshing to see Narayan’s candor as she writes about her own spiritual journey, which in turn encourages us to explore our relationship with religion. For some of us, the notion of a God, faith, and prayer might be difficult. But when Narayan talks about her visit to Haridwar, the pomp of the Kumbh Mela, the long line of Naga Babu’s jumping into the Ganga to seek salvation…I see her point. We look at prayer as a way of connecting to nature. Prayer as a way to touch flowers, fruits, stones. By giving thanks to nature and its bounty, by seeing the universe in a grain of and God in a single rock.

We may pray to Jesus, Ram or Allah, “but at the end of the day, we are all children of God. We each have many identities. Religion is one, but there are others. We are each of us son/daughter, spouse, sibling, friend, and professional. I tend to identify myself through my work, and I would suspect that most of my readers are the same way,” concludes Narayan.


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


 

Film still from IFFLA featured film 'Kanya'.

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles Opens with an Expanded Virtual Lineup

The 19th edition of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) returns with an expanded virtual lineup of shorts, narrative, and documentary features on May 20-27. The festival boasts a total of 40 films, including 3 World, 8 North American, 5 U.S., and 17 Los Angeles premieres, spanning 17 languages, with 16 women directors. 

IFFLA will open with the Los Angeles premiere of the powerful female-centric film, Fire in the Mountains, the 2021 Sundance-selected debut feature by Ajitpal Singh that immerses audiences in the splendor of the Himalayan mountains. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia will join Singh for an insightful conversation and Q&A, highlighting the journey of the making of the film. 

IFFLA’s closing film on May 27 will feature a screening of Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) by Akshay Indikar, the Marathi film that premiered at Berlinale 2020 and has captured the hearts of audiences at festivals around the world for its breathtaking minimalist exploration of the inner life of its protagonist, a young boy named Dighu. Long-time IFFLA alum Anurag Kashyap (Sacred Games, Gangs of Wasseypur) will join Indikar in a Q&A discussion, putting together an exciting up-and-coming independent filmmaker with one of the most celebrated independent filmmakers of our generation. 

“This is a very special year for IFFLA. Taking the festival online has given us the freedom to curate programs we would not have been able to present in a physical setting. We have expanded our reach to all California residents, doubled the shorts program with a strong representation of films from the diaspora, and curated discussions on timely and pressing topics, celebrating the independent film community from India and the Indian diaspora,” said Christina Marouda, Executive Director. 

IFFLA’s feature lineup includes a vast array of highlights from 13 regions in India, representing over seven languages, including the Los Angeles premiere of Rotterdam Tiger, the award-winning Tamil-language debut film from director PS Vinothraj Pebbles; the North American premiere of debut filmmaker Thamizh’s Seththumaan Pig, about the caste politics of food culture in rural Tamil Nadu; IFFLA alum Bhaskar Hazarika’s romance-thriller Aamis (Ravening); the powerful Bengali ensemble film Debris of Desire; and the North American premiere of National Award-winning filmmaker Farida Pacha’s disarmingly intimate documentary Watch Over Me.

The shorts competition lineup will spotlight notable films directed by women, including the 2021 Academy Award shortlisted film, Bittu by Karishma Dube and Sushma Khadepaun’s 2020 Venice Biennale selected Anita.

For more information and passes visit www.indianfilmfestival.org

Opening Night

FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS

Film still from 'Fire In The Mountains'
Film still from ‘Fire In The Mountains’

India | 2021 | 104 mins | Hindi

Director/Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh

Chandra single-handedly manages her family’s homestay in a Himalayan village, struggling to save for her son’s medical treatment, while her alcoholic husband spends their money on shamanic rituals, pitting desperate pragmatism against entrenched superstition. 

Closing Night  

STHALPURAN (CHRONICLE OF SPACE)

'Sthalpuran' film poster
‘Sthalpuran’ film poster

India | 2020 | 86 mins | Marathi

Director: Akshay Indikar

When eight-year-old Dighu’s father mysteriously disappears, he is forced to relocate with his mother and sister from their Pune home to his grandparent’s coastal village, turning his life upside down. 

BRIDGE

Film still from 'Bridge'
Film still from ‘Bridge’

India | 2020 | 88 mins | Assamese

Director/Screenwriter: Kripal Kalita

Drawn from real-life incidents, the story follows the unusual struggle and the accompanying empowerment of a teenage girl residing at the bank of a tributary of the mighty, overflowing Brahmaputra river in Assam.

THE TENANT

Film still from 'Tenant'
Film still from ‘Tenant’

India/USA | 2020 | 112 mins | English, Hindi

Director/Screenwriter: Sushrut Jain

A conservative Mumbai suburb is bestirred by the arrival of an alluring cosmopolitan woman in their midst. When a wide-eyed 13-year-old boy pursues a friendship with her, he stumbles upon her secret past and is thrust headlong into adulthood.

VANAJA

Film still from 'Vanaja'
Film still from ‘Vanaja’

India | 2006 | 111 mins | Telugu 

Director/Screenwriter: Rajnesh Domalpalli

After seeing 14-year-old Vanaja’s prowess, the reigning local landlady decides to teach her Kuchipudi dance. The initial chemistry between Vanaja and the landlady’s son turns ugly, pitching Vanaja into a battle of caste and hostility. 

KANYA

'Kanya' film poster
‘Kanya’ film poster

India | 2020 | 15 mins | Tamil 

Director: Apoorva Satish

An adolescent girl growing up in a traditional Tamil household aspires to become a competitive swimmer, but her life takes an unexpected turn when she gets her first period.

RAMMAT-GAMMAT

Film still from 'Rammat-Gammat'
Film still from ‘Rammat-Gammat’

India | 2018 | 18 mins | Gujarati 

Director/Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh

Their different socioeconomic backgrounds have not stopped two schoolboys from being best buddies, but a brand-new pair of soccer shoes will put their friendship to the test.

PEBBLES (KOOZHANGAL)

Still from film 'Pebbles'
Still from film ‘Pebbles’

India | 2021 | 74 mins | Tamil

An irascible drunkard drags his reticent boy to a distant village to get his estranged wife to return, but when the encounter turns ugly, the journey home through unforgiving Tamil Nadu barrens transforms the father and son’s parched relationship. 

SETHTHUMAAN (PIG)

Film still from 'Seththumaan'
Film still from ‘Seththumaan’

India | 2020 | 112 mins | Tamil

Director/Screenwriter: Thamizh

A basket seller with big dreams for his grandson is asked by his bellicose landlord to prep a pig for a victory meal. The ensuing affair reveals the fraught caste politics surrounding forbidden meats in rural Tamil Nadu.  

WATCH OVER ME

Film still from 'Watch Over Me'
Film still from ‘Watch Over Me’

Switzerland/Germany/India | 2021 | 92 mins | Hindi, Malayalam

Director/Screenwriter: Farida Pacha

A palliative care team in New Delhi helps terminally ill patients and their families come to terms with the inevitability of death.

Short Films:

BITTU

India/USA | 2020 | 17 mins | Hindi 

Director/Screenwriter: Karishma Dev Dube

When adversity strikes, the future may depend on Bittu, a defiant young girl with a brilliantly foul tongue.

ANITA

India/USA | 2020 | 18 mins | Gujarati, English

Director/Screenwriter: Sushma Khadepaun

Anita returns to India for her sister’s wedding, eager to share some news about her exciting, independent life in America. But her pride quickly turns to disillusionment when the deep-rooted force of patriarchy rears its ugly head.


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


 

Newark Farmer's Market Haul (Image by Mona Shah)

Indian Recipes Inspired by a Newark Farmer’s Market

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

There is nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of a busy farmer’s market on a beautiful spring day. It’s so easy to get inspired by the rows of fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, local honey, and cheese. I love wandering through the stalls at my local farmer’s market in Newark, CA. Not only does it give me easy access to produce that is in season, picked at the peak of its flavor, with the shortest amount of travel time, but it’s the connection and conversation with the farmer and their kids that I enjoy the most.

Farmers will gladly tell you how they grew a tomato that tastes so divine or give you advice about the best way to prepare that giant bunch of green garlic (that I bought two of!) However, wandering around the market can get overwhelming. The abundance of produce is tempting, and sometimes we buy way more than we can consume in a week. So here are a few recipes using produce that is in season to jumpstart your meal plan.

Green Garlic Vegetable (Hare Lehsun Ki Sabzi)

Green Garlic Vegetable - Hare Lehsun ki Sabz (Image by Mona Shah)
Green Garlic Vegetable – Hare Lehsun Ki Sabz (Image by Mona Shah)

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 small (new) potatoes
  • 1 cup mixed veggies-optional (any that you have on hand. eg: carrots, beans, broccoli, small eggplants)
  • 1 large bunch of garlic green or garlic chives. The more greens you have, the better garlic flavor you get.
  • 1 tbsp. mustard or vegetable cooking oil
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 dry red chili, broken in half
  • A pinch of asafetida powder
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • Salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Wash and cut potatoes into quarters
  2. Cube the rest of the mixed veggies (if using)
  3. Clean garlic green or garlic chives, picking out any damaged/dry leaves. Very tender stems can be left in. When cleaning the bulbs, remove any tough outer layers of skin.
  4. Wash well and chop finely.
  5. Heat oil in a wok or karahi.
  6. Add cumin seeds (jeera) and a pinch of asafetida (hing) powder. Once the seeds crackle, add the red chili and stir for a few seconds.
  7. Add potatoes/veggies, spices, salt, and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add garlic leaves/chives, stir and cook covered until all water is absorbed and potatoes are done. If the leaves are fresh and you cook on low/medium heat, no additional water will be required.
  9. Adjust salt and chilies, raise heat, and stir-fry until all the water is absorbed and the vegetable looks shiny. Turn heat off. Garnish with some raw garlic greens if desired.

Easy Pickled Radish

Easy Pickled Radish
Easy Pickled Radish

Great on just about everything, from sandwiches, tacos, chole, biryani

INGREDIENTS

  • 15 average size radishes
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup warm water

PREPARATION

  1. Slice radishes as thin as you can and place in a mason jar
  2. In a bowl, combine apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, and warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. 
  3. Pour the pickling mixture over the sliced radishes and let them set for an hour. 
  4. Once cooled, cover and store in the fridge.

Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale 

Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale (Image by Mona Shah)
Toor (Pigeon Pea) Daal w/ Kale (Image by Mona Shah)

You can use any greens here: fresh fenugreek/methi, spinach, arugula. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup toor dal 
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bunch washed sliced kale or any greens you are using
  • 1/2 tsp. canola oil or vegetable oil (ghee/clarified butter is preferred if you have it)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2-1 tsp. red chili pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp. asafetida/hing
  • 1/8 tsp. garam masala (optional)
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Cook the dal in the water until it is soft. (IP about 10 mins, natural release, stovetop about 35 mins or until soft and mushy.) Use a hand blender to completely puree the dal. Set aside.
  2. In a deep skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and the garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the ginger and kale and stir. Add one tablespoon of water and cover the pan. Stir every minute or so, and cook until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the dal and remaining ingredients to the kale. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. 
  4. Optional tempering: Heat some oil in a small pan. Once hot add some jeera seeds, once they sputter add red chili powder and pour over the daal right before serving. Garnish with cilantro. 

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


 

CAAMfest film, Americanish

CAAMFest 2021 Celebrates Asian American Heritage

In an apt marking of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and in a year when Asian Americans have been targeted for widespread violence, The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) brings us a film festival celebrating the richness and diversity of the Asian and Asian American experience. “Now, more than ever, the power of storytelling is vital to the health and happiness of our diverse communities,” says Stephen Gong, executive director of CAAM.

Slated for May 13-23, the 11-day festival brings us a robust array of live, virtual and on-demand film screenings, continuing its trajectory of storytelling and conversation with a schedule of over 50 events, including screenings, panels, and live performances. 

“The world may have paused due to the pandemic, but our filmmakers didn’t,” says Masashi Niwano, festival and exhibitions director at CAAM. “The vibrancy and energy of this year’s programming are unmatched with our filmmakers bravely telling their unique and vital stories.”

This year, South Asian directors take center stage at the festival with provocative, bold new works. 

The powerful Closing Night film:

Americanish

Film: Americanish
Film: Americanish

Directed by Iman Zawahry 

Sunday, May 23, 5:00 p.m.

Welcome to America: Where dreams come true…ish. In Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, two career-driven sisters (Maryam and Sam) and their newly-immigrated cousin (Ameera) must navigate the consistent — and sometimes conflicting — demands of romance, culture, work, and family. Serving both as a lighthearted reimagination of and critical divergence from the classic romantic comedy, Americanish tackles and celebrates the complex intersectionality of womanhood by welcoming us into the world — with all its joys and tribulations — of these three marriage-aged women. Americanish meditates on the sometimes inevitable tension that arises between competing societal and cultural norms, or between personal obligations and ambitions, with a fresh perspective, weaving from it a story that is unconventional, funny, and heartwarming.

White Elephant 

Film: White Elephant
Film: White Elephant

Directed by Andrew Chung

On demand

Pooja is an Indian Canadian teenager trapped between two worlds and doesn’t have anyone she can rely on. She’s from a minority neighborhood and struggles to fit in her high school where everybody’s idea of fun is limited to one eatery. Pooja finds escape through movies, and fantasizes about love and along comes Trevor, a White heartthrob she instantly falls for. Her infatuation doesn’t last when conflicts arise from a clash of cultures. Undeterred from her pitfalls, Pooja manages to find renewed confidence through adversity.

This coming-of-age story deals with the angst and frustrations of high school and blends it with the immigrant experience with a 90’s flair. 

Because We Are Girls

Film: Because We Are Girls

Directed by Baljit Sangra

On demand

A heartbreaking secret emerges for an Indo-Candian family: a relative sexually abused three of the sisters for years.   

After nearly two decades of silence, we meet sisters Jeeti, Kira, and Salakshana Pooni, now adults, at the end of their court case against their abuser. Director Baljit Sangra deftly captures the emotional journey the women face not just navigating the justice system but confronting their family for standing by while the abuse happened.        

The film explores the impact of the sexual abuse of three sisters in a traditional Punjabi family and shines a light on the nuances of gendered violence and the cultural systems that reinforce and perpetuate the trauma of abuse.

Have You Forgotten Me (short accompanying Because We Are Girls)

Film: Have You Forgotten Me?
Film: Have You Forgotten Me?

Directed by Baljit Sangra

On demand

This emotionally compelling short shines a light on North American’s oldest running Sikh Temple and the struggle it represents.

With offerings for everyone from media makers to film lovers to those interested in Asian and Asian American representation, the festival brings us unique voices highlighting the intersections of community. 

***

Check out the full lineup at: CAAMFest.com

General admission tickets for virtual screenings and panels range from complimentary to $15. Drive-In Experience ranges from $45-$50. 


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


 

Three recipes with locally sourced ingredients and single origin spices.

Mindfully Spiced Foods for a Sustainable Planet

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

Every time I think about changing up my diet and incorporating more clean foods, I tend to put it off. All I can think of are buddha bowls and raw salads. Do I really have to suffer through several meals of incorporating raw kale into my meals to enjoy a delicious, eco-friendly diet?

Earth Day prompted me to rethink my approach to clean, healthy eating and cooking.

I figured it didn’t have to be all or nothing to reduce my ecological footprint and to start being more environmentally conscious in the kitchen. I began with seasonal organic and locally sourced ingredients -earth-friendly cooking doesn’t mean endless amounts of tofu or raw veggies. Instead, I hit up my local farmers’ market for some seasonal bounty. Wasting less food and cooking a tasty meal was paramount.

Spices are such an integral part of our Indian meals, that I wanted to find single-origin spices that are equitably sourced from countries with the best growing conditions, climate, and expertise to make sure that even the smallest pinch packs the biggest punch.

My friends who are chefs highly recommend Burlap and Barrel. I spoke to Ethan Frisch, cofounder of Burlap and Barrel, who used to be a chef and is working towards ending inequality and exploitation in food systems that disenfranchise skilled farmers.

“Mainstream conversations around food sustainability rarely consider the people involved in growing, harvesting, transporting, processing, and cooking food. Sustainability is discussed in terms of environmental impact, or the comfort of livestock providing meat, dairy, or eggs. We believe that the standard measures of sustainability must evolve to consider the conditions in which the farmers who drive global food supply chains earn their livelihoods. Single-origin ingredients draw attention to the unique environments in which incredible ingredients grow and to the farmers with the expertise and commitment to grow them well.” 

With all the pieces in place let’s cook with sustainable recipes that benefit the earth, are delicious and beneficial to both our health and the environment.

Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce (Image by Author)
Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce (Image by Author)

Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 14 oz firm tofu or Veggie Smart ground (plant-based “beef” ground with 11 grams of protein)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil 
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts – about 1 cup, chopped
  • ½ cup, chopped bamboo shoots (optional) 
  • 3 cloves minced garlic 
  • ½ teaspoon of powdered ginger (I have used Burlap and Barrel’s Buffalo Ginger)
  • 1 head Boston lettuce or butterhead lettuce
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves for garnish

Peanut Butter Sauce

Mix together organic peanut butter (I used crunchy), honey, vinegar, olive oil, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, pepper, minced garlic, and salt.

PREPARATION

  • Heat a nonstick pan and add oil. Crumble the tofu or the Veggie Smart ground into the pan. Sauté the tofu/smart ground over high heat until the mixture starts to turn a light golden brown color. About 6/10 minutes.
  • Lower to medium-high heat. Add the onions, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and ginger/garlic. Sauté until the onions start to soften.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves
  • Layer two leaves of lettuce on top of each other and spoon the tofu filling in the center. Top with peanut sauce.

Couscous Salad

Couscous Salad (Image by Author)
Couscous Salad (Image by Author)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • 1 medium cucumber, halved and sliced
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh sweet corn 
  • 1½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A pinch of ground black lime (a yummy savory, tart flavor: I have used Burlap and Barrel’s black lime)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

PREPARATION

  • In a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool slightly.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, onion, corn, and parsley/cilantro.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the oil, honey, black lime, salt, and pepper. Pour over couscous mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Pistachio Cardamom Snowflake Cookies

Pistachio Cardamom Cookies (Image by Author)
Pistachio Cardamom Cookies (Image by Author)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick soft butter
  • ¼ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom (I have used Burlap and Barrel’s Clod Forest Cardamom)
  • 1 1/8 cups sifted flour
  • ¼  teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

PREPARATION

  • In a stand mixer, mix together the softened butter, sifted confectioners’ sugar and cardamom till it’s a light and fluffy light golden color.
  • Mix in the flour and salt. Then add in the pistachios. At this point, you can mix with a spoon.
  • Once the nuts are thoroughly incorporated roll the dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and chill. The dough can remain in the fridge for a 1/2 hour or even overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • To bake, roll into 1″ balls. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet (I lined it with parchment paper). Bake until set but not brown, for exactly 8 mins (depending on your oven, but no more than 10 mins).
  • While still warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again if you want a nice even coating of sugar. I didn’t do that to cut down on the sugar.

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


 

Cinematic Gold from Bollywood and Beyond

The advent of winter brings with it the annual 3rd i Film Festival, a visual smorgasbord of fresh perspectives and brave new voices by independent filmmakers from South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, including stories from India, Sri Lanka, UK, Italy, and the USA. 3rd i’s 17th Annual San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond (SFISAFF) launches at the New People and Castro Theaters in San Francisco from November 7-10, moving to Palo Alto on November 16. Some of the movies are unafraid to explore issues that are uncomfortable, give voice to the oppressed and shed light on matters often overlooked or ignored.

A highlight for this year coming straight out of TIFF and Venice Critics’ Week is Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose. In the rich, colorful and layered hand-painted animation there is an ethereal brightness to the chaotic Mumbai streetscapes where Bollywood cinema is both satirized and romanticized, and small town folks in the big city can be crushed by its mean streets, or redeemed by love. The film moves seamlessly between a documentary feeling of present-day struggles in Mumbai, to the lusciously designed dream sequences set in ancient India and inspired by Mughal folk art. Yoav Rosenthal’s original score merges swooning ballads with traditional Bollywood music and a haunting Latin love tribute.

A still from Bombay Rose

This year’s special focus is on Young Voices, with a host of films that feature stories with strong youth characters. Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence is a witty, off-beat take on the road movie, set against the breathtaking landscapes of Ladakh. The film features an inter-generational storyline about the relationship between a young boy and an elderly man, as they head for the peace and tranquility of the Silent Valley, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Filmmaker Gai, a philosopher by training and originally from Ukraine, has made India her filmmaking home and is touted as an exciting new voice in Indian cinema.

A still from Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence

Also part of this youth focus is Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing. The film takes us back to the timeless beauty of the northeast in this bittersweet narrative that draws inspiration from her own experiences of growing up in the Assamese countryside. This is no simple rural idyll however; in Das’ deft hands, the film transforms into a deeply compelling exploration of love, loss, and adolescence.

A still from Bulbul Can Sing

Safdar Rahman’s heartwarming story of young Chippa features Sunny Pawar (award-winning child star of LION). Chippa sets out into night-time Calcutta looking for a father he has never seen, finding a city of migrants who speak in a curious mix of languages. Chippa is not oblivious to the grim reality and communal suspicion surrounding him, but chooses to encounter this world with a mixture of bravado, curiosity and humor.

A still from Chippa

Another film in the youth category is The MisEducation of Bindu screening in Palo Alto, which premiered at Mill Valley Film Festival, and follows a day in the life of formerly homeschooled Bindu as she endures an American high school and tries to graduate early. Her mother does her best to keep Bindu on track while maintaining her South Asian heritage, and her clueless stepfather tries to give Bindu advice on boys and high school life in America. Paying homage to Bollywood rock with one fantastical Bollywood dance number, Bindu dreams about escaping and longs for her home in India. Director Prarthana Mohan will be present for a Q&A session after.

A still from The MisEducation of Bindu

 

Rounding out the youth films in Palo Alto is romantic comedy Bangla, with Phaim. An awkwardly charming 22-year-old Italian-Bengali panics when he falls in love with an impulsive and spirited Italian girl. The attraction between them is immediate, and Phaim will have to figure out how to reconcile his love with his life full of rules. This whimsical lens on the clash of cultures is based on the director’s own life, who plays the lead fictionalized version of himself.

A still from Bangla

 

Another stellar narrative in Palo Alto is Rohena Gera’s Sir, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. A nuanced and sensual film, it explores the forbidden attraction between Ratna, a maid, and her employer Ashwin, a wealthy Mumbai bachelor, with each character quietly yearning to break free from the narrow bounds of their class and gender-based expectations. Gera achieves a particular delicacy in her directing, combining an appealing, understated sweetness with an edge, and thwarting all expectations and stereotypes of a typical Indian love story.

A still from Sir

 

The festival features stories of addiction, which includes acclaimed black and white photographer Ronny Sen’s indie Cat Sticks. A gritty and haunting narrative, the film follows the stories of several addicts looking for the high of halogen, a synthetic brand of heroin that created havoc in India at the turn of the millennium.

A still from Cat Sticks

 

The other film in this focus is Bhaskar Hazarika’s quietly shocking The Ravening (Aamis), which opened to great acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival. An unforgettable meditation on taboo and transgression, the film blends gentle romance and body horror into a unique cinematic experience. Hazarika masterfully concocts a tale of love and addiction that builds slowly – from a lilting rhythm to a pounding finale.

A still from The Ravening (Aamis)

 

While this year’s program predominantly showcases narrative features, documentaries are also part of the lineup. Equal parts comedy and self-discovery, Laura Asherman’s intimate doc American Hasi is a portrait of Indian-American comedian, Tushar Singh. In an attempt to accelerate his career, Singh maps out a 35-day tour in India (with his mom in tow), taking part in India’s flourishing stand-up scene.

A still from American Hasi

Comedy also features prominently in this year’s edition of Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s signature shorts program which brings California filmmakers into conversation with filmmakers from South Asia and the Diaspora. The program includes Varun Chounal’s Gabroo about a young Sikh boy’s complicated relationship with his hair, Mahesh Pailoor’s portrait of Pakistani-American comedienne, Mona Shaikh, and Andrew Sturm’s political satire on the border wall, 31 Foot Ladders, along with a variety of short docs, narratives, and music videos.

A still from Gabroo

This year for the first time in the festival’s history, 3rd i will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking from the talented documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain (City of Photos, Lakshmi and Me, At My Doorstep, Gulabi Gang). Jain returns to SFISAFF to talk about her filmmaking process, to present excerpts from past work and the present, and to talk about the different social and political movements in India and its alignment with her work. Jain’s work holds up a mirror to some of the most pressing concerns in India today, including India’s #metoo women’s movement.

Documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain will offer a free Master Class in filmmaking.

Women’s issues are at the forefront of several other films in the lineup. Vasanth S. Sai’s Sivaranjani and Two Other Women pays a cinematic homage to the “everyday” woman and is a deeply moving work that focuses a critical lens on patriarchy, with outstanding performances by each of the lead actresses. The film captures the micro awakenings of identity and self-worth when family dynamics, early marriage, and pregnancy threaten to usurp the individuality of three women, unfolding across three different time periods.

The festival brings back Sri Lankan director Prasanna Vithanage with a screening of the historical epic feature Children of the Sun (Gaadi) about a Sinhalese Buddhist woman in the 1814 Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka, stripped from nobility, who subverts the destiny forced upon her. His searing masterpiece is a period drama that takes on caste conflict and British colonial influences in Sri Lanka in the early 1800s. Director Vithanage will join a panel discussion following the film.

Among the voices to amplify, LGBTQ+ themes feature prominently in Poonam Brah’s Home Girl  about a British lesbian woman’s coming out story while navigating her mother’s death in Coast to Coast, 3rd i’s shorts program, as well as Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks illuminating the life and trials of a transgender sex worker, and Rima Das’ engaging youthful exploration Bulbul Can Sing.

Castro Passes ($35) are only available online until Nov 5. Tickets to individual films are $11/online and $13/at the door. More information about the festival, including expanded program, guest and ticketing information, please visit www.thirdi.org

 

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter, Facebook for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news and magazines.

Cover photo credit: 3rd i Films. 

This article was edited by Culture and Media editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

The Men and their Music Help Give the Gift of Vision

shankarehsaanloy_large

Lending their star power for a cause, the trio Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy perform for Sankara Eye Foundation’s (SEF) annual fundraising concert on April 29th.

The performance is a tribute to R.D Burman and S.D Burman, making it extra special for those who cherish the music of yesteryear with a touch of fusion. By the end of this evening, Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy will leave you mesmerized. The three have a unique camaraderie and many a time one feels like we are peeping into a private jam session.

Shankar Mahadevan born March 6, 1967 in Mumbai, Maharashtra, is a famous singer and music composer. He left us speechless with his first album called Breathless. He has won the National award four times, three times for best playback singer and once for best music director. We can never forget his heart touching song “Meri Maa” from Taare Zameen Par for which he won an award for best playback singer.

Ehsaan Noorani born October 12, 1963 in Hydrabad India is a famous music composer and guitarist. He has lent his vocals to many Bollywood songs such as “Ek Junoon” from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and “Don The Theme” from Don. Loy Mendonsa played guitar and piano for A.R Rehman before he became a music composer.

Siddharth Mahadevan, born April 16, 1993, is the son of Shankar Mahadevan, and is a playback singer and composer himself. He is a promising new talent and is well known for his debut song “Zinda” from the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaagand his most recent hit song “Malang Malang” from Dhoom 3.

The trio of Shankar/Ehsaan/Loy has created magic together and won many national awards for best Music Direction with such hits as Kaal Ho Na Ho, Dil Chahta Hai, Bunty aur Babli and Rock On. They also won awards for Two States (Best Music) and Mission Kashmir (Best Background Music). Here is your chance to witness their live performance in San Jose.

Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a non-profit organization that has been working for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of “Vision 20/20 by the year 2020,” SEF currently has 11 hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore and Jaipur.  Like any successful nonprofit, SEF proudly boasts a base of 200-plus dedicated volunteers throughout the United States, and several in India, who have practically devoted a lifetime to perpetuating the cause of the Sankara Eye Hospital.

What is 20/20 by 2020? It was initially difficult to define the scope of this ambitions goal, Murali Krishnamurthy, Founder and Executive Chairman at Sankara Eye Foundation explains. After careful thought, SEF arrived at a viable target: build 20 hospitals in India by the year 2020, each performing up to 50,000 eye surgeries per year, totaling a grand figure of a million per year. “We think that figure will act as a catalyst and make a big dent into the visual handicap,” Murali adds.

By far the most unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception, has enabled over 1.35 million people to receive the gift of vision, utterly free of cost.

It is an organization started in the living room by three committed volunteers and retains the character of a people’s movement. Over thousand volunteers service the fifty thousand plus SEF donors with meticulous attention to detail.  The grass roots organization is flat where any volunteer can propose, take the lead and run with a project and it is seen as a collective achievement.

In the delivery of its vision it became imperative for SEF to manage the use of funds in an efficient manner. Cost of building a hospital, not including the cost of the land, is four to five million dollars. Once the capital expenditure is incurred, it is imperative that the hospital become self-sufficient and run on it’s own steam. By following the eighty-twenty rule, within five years a hospital is able to bear all recurring expenditures. For every two paying patients, eight patients are treated free.

Also, it has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy – get your and your loved ones’ names on the Wall of Founders.

It truly takes the vision of a caring community to enable the needy with sight. If you would like to participate, donate, or know more about SEF’s activities, visit www.giftofvision.org.

April 29th, 7:30 p.m. Event Center at SJSU, 290 S 7th St., San Jose. Tickets: home.giftofvision.org

Filmmaker Mira Nair Recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award

Filmmaker Mira Nair will be the recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival, honoring the director’s expansive body of work and celebrating her unique contributions to the art of cinema.

Mira Nair has been an exhilarating if lonely bridge between American and South Asian film traditions for more than thirty years. Her provocative work draws elements from classic Bengali cinema and Bollywood on one hand, Italian neorealism and Golden Age Hollywood on the other. Her greatest films – Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, The Reluctant Fundamentalist – passionately recount stories of the Indian subcontinent, perfectly attuned for a global audience. The award will be presented to Nair at Film Society Awards Night, Monday April 25 at Fort Mason Herbst Pavillion (2 Marina Blvd.).

Mira Nair will also be honored at An Afternoon with Mira Nair where a screening of her film Monsoon Wedding and an onstage conversation about her career highlights will take place.

Screening: 4/24 -4:30pm @ Castro Theatre

Monsoon Wedding Mira Nair, India/USA (2001)

Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in 2001, Monsoon Wedding is a film of gigantic heart served with an ample dollop of social satire. Five romantic entanglements threaten to derail a high-end New Delhi marriage as the film effortlessly shifts between Bollywood expressionism and Altman-like character intrigue, gut-busting comedy and tender romance. 

Two other South Asian Film Screenings at the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival

Thithi Raam Reddy, India (2016)

In a small South Indian village, a cantankerous centenarian keels over and dies, setting the stage for a capricious comedy of errors among three generations of dissimilar sons. Conflict, confusion, corruption and a series of ill-conceived actions all come to a head at the funeral celebration (the titular thithi).  With its charming cast of non-professional actors—both human and ovine—director Raam Reddy’s feature film offers a playful portrait of intergenerational conflicts and differences.

Screenings:

4/30 – 3:30pm @ Roxie

5/1 – 3:15pm @ BAMPFA

5/4 – 9pm @ Alamo 

 The Man Who Knew Infinity Matthew Brown, UK (2015)

Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones

Self-taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) seeks to burnish his talents at Cambridge’s Trinity College on the eve of the First World War in this entertaining fish-out-water biopic. Invited to study by don G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), the Madras, India, native faces prejudice and clashes with his new mentor over methodology, but remains committed to realizing his gifts. Writer/director Matthew Brown celebrates Ramanujan with a drama that encompasses the triumphs and the tragedies of his life.

Screening:

4/24 – 1pm @ Catro

Tickets to An Afternoon with Mira Nair are $20 for SFFS members, $25 for the general public. Tickets for this special event are on sale Tuesday, March 29 for SFFS members, Friday, April 1 for the general public, online at sffs.org.

For more information about Film Society Awards Night please call 415-561-5028 or email specialevents@sffs.org, festival.sffs.org