Tag Archives: Ritu Marwah

Are the Essential Insured?

Free Press reporters M. L. Elrick and Tresa Baldas at their home in Detroit on April 14, 2020. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

“My husband, podcast host and Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick was the first to get sick. I felt sick and so did my husband. We had fevers, fatigue, aches — he coughed incessantly — and we did not know with certainty what was wrong.” Elrick tested positive for Covid-19. “The same day that he got his fever, I spiked a fever, too — though mine was 102; his was 100,” says Tresa Blade, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

Named Richard Milliman Journalist of the Year by the Michigan Press Association, Tresa is a committed journalist. She had just written an article about an infected mother, father and son who had beaten the virus from home. She had also interviewed doctors battling the pandemic on the front lines when she and her husband got sick.
Desire to feed the hunger for news, drives journalists like Tresa. Quarantined people want news of the outside world. Reliable sources of information are crucial in our fight against this morphing enemy. Journalists become essential foot soldiers on the front lines of the war against the virus. In the pandemic world sifting wheat from chaff becomes a matter of grave importance.

Journalists like other essential workers – truck drivers, food businesses, health workers, farm workers – are often treading in the virus’s footsteps. The question then is what – insurance they carry. Does workers compensation cover their exposure to the virus? Do they have health insurance? What happens if they are unable to meet their premiums at this time?

Workers’ compensation insurance is designed to assist employees who incur medical costs, lost wages, and rehabilitation expenses in the event of work-related illness or injury. Workers’ comp may also provide death benefits and other financial services for the family members of an employee who died as a result of a work-related illness.

At a Zoom briefing update organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundationon April 22, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara identified who qualifies for the state’s Worker Compensation System during COVID-19.

On March 12, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order stating that workers may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they were exposed to or contracted COVID-19 on the job.

Lara reiterated that all workers impacted by coronavirus on the job, including undocumented immigrants, are now eligible for workers’ compensation benefits . They would be eligible regardless of their immigration status.

It is generally challenging to identify whether an illness is covered by workers’ comp—especially if that illness (like the coronavirus) is circulating in the outside community. In most cases, even a validly filed Workers’ Compensation claim may take months or longer to determine eligibility for benefits (medical treatment and temporary disability).

One of California’s largest workers’ compensation insurance companies, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, announced that it will pay COVID-19 medical costs and income losses for employees at essential businesses that it covers, regardless of whether workers contracted the illness at work or not.

“Getting coverage for yourself and your family has never been more vital,” said the commissioner. Covered California opened the state’s health insurance benefits exchange to eligible uninsured individuals who need health care coverage amid the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. Anyone who meets eligibility requirements, which are similar to those in place during the annual open enrollment period, can sign up for coverage through June 30, 2020. Consumers can find out if they are eligible for financial help and see which plans are available in their area by using Covered Shop and Compare Tool and entering their ZIP code, household income, and the ages of those who need coverage.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Commissioner Lara directed health insurance companies to make all medically necessary COVID-19 screening and testing free of charge by eliminating co-pays and deductibles. This includes network tele-health or, when necessary, doctor’s office visits as well as network emergency room or urgent care when necessary for the purpose of screening and testing for COVID-19.

Consumers who sign up through Covered California by June 30, 2020 will have access to private health coverage plans with monthly premiums that may be lowered due to federal and new state financial help that became effective in 2020. In addition, Covered California health plans and health insurers will help cover costs that arise from any required treatment or hospitalization.

If essential workers are experiencing a problem with an insurance matter, the number to call is 1-800-927-4357. “We will guide you through the process,” said Commissioner Lara. Users can visit the online Consumer Complaint Center to file a complaint and submit general insurance questions and inquiries online, using the Contact Us  form.

Lara also suggested that people who are faced with the choice of putting food on the table or paying their premiums, should contact their insurance company if they need additional time to pay their premium. His department has issued a Notice requesting all insurance companies provide their policyholders with at least a 60-day grace period to pay their premiums.

Commissioner Lara has also instructed all insurance companies to stop enforcing policy or statutory deadlines on policyholders for claims or coverage until 90 days after the statewide “state of emergency” or any other “state of emergency” has ended related to COVID-19. It protects policyholders from losing, limiting, or waiving policy benefits as a result of the current national state of emergency. If an individual incurs a substantial loss of income, subsidies available through Covered California may pay for almost all of their premiums, or they may qualify for low or no cost insurance. if you qualify for Medi-Cal.

Assured insurance coverage would give journalists like the Elricks one less thing to worry about and allow them the freedom to move around and report on the pandemic. Their fearless reporting keeps us well informed and gives us hope that we will beat the virus. They shine a light so we may not walk in darkness.

There is one minor hitch though. When asked if she got workers compensation after her brush with death. She replied, “I have not. I do not know HOW I got the virus.Nor where I caught it.” Besides, even though she had the exact same symptoms as her husband, her test for corona had come back negative.

Letters to India Currents: 4/21/20

Dear India Currents,

To keep her self entertained my daughter draws a cartoon every day thinking about all the things that are happening around her now. Her goal, she said, is about putting a smile on someone’s face in this gloomy time. 

This is what she did yesterday, hope it puts a smile on your face as well as your readers’. I have a few more that have done rounds and people have sent lots and lots of positive comments on her details.

Priya 


Dear Editor:

Please share only the positive feedback. It is already scary out there. I think it is time for some positive, upbeat information to build our immune system.

I stay positive, do not watch the news (except for PBS for half an hour a day), focus on prayers, meditation and keep my strong faith. I turn inward to draw as much strength as possible. It is not easy.

Thanks,

Vijaya Narasimhan

Letters to India Currents: 4/07/20

Dear India Currents, 

In these difficult times, many of us are busy worrying about and taking care of others. It is important to remember that first and foremost we also need to take good care of ourselves and to make the time for self-care and self-compassion. 

Respond to yourself in the same way you would respond to a close friend when he or she is in distress. Mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace yourself with kindness and care. Be warm and understanding toward yourself. Don’t ignore your own pain or beat yourself with self-criticism. Recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. Be gentle with yourself.

Together, we will come out at the other end of this tunnel, into the sunshine that is temporarily eclipsed.

Take good care,

Mukund Acharya


GREETINGS Vandana ji & team INDIA CURRENTS,

PRAYERS TO TEAM & FAMILIES.

We follow your daily updates, good—keep it up.  WE ARE IN IT, WITH YOU, WITH OUR COMMUNITY.

It has been a scary and unsettling time for everyone, and we are our part in supporting our community. Providing medical and emergency personnel with FREE rooms and at  deeply discounted rates to keep our staffs humming along with positivity.

We are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices our hotel staffs, medical personnel, Social Workers  are making to save lives and stop the spread of the Coronavirus, Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this terrible disease.

Our teams ensure rooms are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and deeply touched by the support from the community.

https://www.asianhospitality.com/hotel-owners-across-the-country-are-struggling-with-cancellations-due-to-covid-19-epidemic

https://india-herald.com/hotel-industrys-perspective-on-cov…

Respectfully,

Sunil Tolani

What Are Bay Area Residents Doing Behind Closed Doors?

Toilet Paper Na Milega Dobara,” writes Sheetal Gokhale as a rehashed title to a Bollywood film. Then quickly types “Doh Toilet Paper Bahrah Hanth”. On a Saturday morning the Saratoga dentist is playing a game of adding toilet paper to names of Bollywood films. Her WhatsApp group is in giggles. Nina Daruwalla, the realtor who has been collecting shoe covers to donate to Santa Clara nurses and staff, joins in, “Gumnam Toilet Paper”.

The entries come in fast and furious: Mein Toilet Paper Tere Angan Ke; Dilwale Toilet Paper Le Jayenge; Kagaz Ke Toilet Paper; Maine Toilet Paper Se Pyaar Kiya; Hum Toilet Paper De Chuke Sanam; Jis Desh Main Toilet Paper Bhathi Hai; Pati Patni Aur Toilet Paper.

Toilet Paper Hunting, Toilet Paper Wars, the gaffes continue. It is like a valve has been released and the overstressed brain has come up for air.

Masks made by Bay Area women. Image courtesy Hema Raja.

The nurses of Santa Clara have requested for some supplies. The ladies used to receiving wishlists from teachers at the start of every school year are now pooling resources to meet this request. Tailoring of masks is starting in earnest. Patterns and sewing instructions are exchanged, sewing machines borrowed and the ladies are off to a running start. All hands on deck. It is when stress creates a yoyo of emotions and whatsapp messages roller coaster through the phones that equanimity is most desired.

Salil Jain, a Cupertino resident unrolls his mat. He has been doing yoga at home with his own private yoga teacher out of India. myYogaTeacher, a Silicon Valley based fitness startup, offers its customers private 1-on-1 yoga sessions online. “For a fixed sum I can do unlimited hours. I plan to do two hour sessions three times a week,” says Salil as he shutters himself in his office. He is signing up for a session by selecting a teacher from their profile and their introduction videos.

Rajiv brews his fourth cup of tea for the day and clicks on the website. In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, myYogaTeacher has launched live online group classes to help those practicing social distancing. To support our communities and our health these classes are completely free says the CEO Jitendra Gupta.

“For others not so motivated myYogaTeacher not only guides but more importantly will make sure that you are showing up and practicing,” says Rajiv to his wife Ritu. He decides to sign her up. She purrs and pours herself a gin and tonic and heads to the study to join a zoom book club meeting. Reading soothes her nerves.

In homes across the Bay, members of her book club are downloading zoom for the first time. They struggle with getting their audio and videos working and soon their first zoom book club meeting is off to a good start albeit minus two members who couldn’t join in despite their best efforts. As they munch on ideas and thoughts the ladies who usually lunch together discuss Amitav Ghosh’s latest book The Gun Island while sipping their gin and tonics. After all Chloroquine the malaria drug of the colonists is being bandied about as the new cure for Corona.

A Bay Area group comprising of 6 couples has decided to have dinner together via a Facebook meeting on Saturday at 7pm. Everyone will join in virtually for Gupshup and Quaratini or now Chat and Gin-chloroquine.

The Krishna Balram temple has set up a 10 minute chanting call for 6pm ending to end the day on a calm note.

Long walks are becoming part of the new routine. Like students on a silence meditation course the walkers avert their eyes as they pass each other in the park.

Brown yanks at his leash. His routine has not been disrupted by Corona. After finishing his breakfast of poached eggs and dog food he is ready for his walk. With a jaunty step he heads out of the closed door out towards McClellan Park where other dogs are walking their owners. It is business as usual for him. He passes the CEO of myYogaTeacher, a bay area resident and gives him a wag of his tail. No sniffing of the butts in the days of social distancing thinks Brown as he dutifully averts his eyes from his buddy Froddo.

Building mental immunity is as important as building immunity of the body to deal with stress.

Ritu Marwah is washing her hands hourly. She agrees with “Better Saaf than Sorry”. Her husband and dog feel she could do better on the walking and yoga fronts.

Picking A Gift for Your Valentine? Be Smart

For Valentines Day I plan to gift my husband a Smart Pillow. I found the Motion Pillow while walking the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas this year. Anything that improves his quality of sleep and our relationship is a gift of love I think. At CES 2020 I saw many smart products that aim to improve the quality of our life and relationship. Everything is getting smarter: dog doors, belts, pens, shoes, glasses and also the answer to a better relationship, a pillow that can stop your spouse’s snoring!

The Motion Pillow can sense where the head is positioned on the pillow. The pillow records snores and when they reach the level that action needs to be taken, it takes action. Once sound of snoring is detected, airbags inflate, gently turning the sleeping person’s head. The company that makes the pillow is launching a version two of it.  An anti snore pillow with Memory Foam. Besides the motion pillow app forever puts to bed the “I don’t snore” argument as the pillow tracks sleeping patterns through its app. Voila! Case closed.

Couples with dogs have another argument, the “who-lets-the-dog-out” argument. Wayzn, the smart dog door made by a Los Altos innovator plans to put that argument at rest. Designed to replace traditional doggie doors, the smart sliding glass door opener is the first product of its kind and was selected by USA Today’s Reviewed to receive a CES Editor’s Choice Award. It allows hands-free use of your sliding door. The smart slider fits most standard sliding glass door tracks. The app-controlled device, which integrates with smart cameras like Nest, sends a notification to your phone when motion is detected at the door, prompting you to open or close the door for your pooch remotely.

I have an English mastiff and would have loved to get Wayzn but the door, if 8ft tall, is not opened wide enough to let a 180 pound dog through. It would be great to provide my dog, Brown Sahib, controlled access to the yard when we are at home or away but he will have to lose some weight for that to happen.

Many devices including your shoes, and your watch can record the pitter-patter of your heart. These devices display electro cardiograms to tell you if your heart is skipping a beat at the sight of your loved one or you have a medical condition. My apple watch does that. But at CES I ran into Mezoo a small diamond shaped device that I stuck on my chest. It can detect 16 types of heart arrhythmia as well and tells you if your heartbeat is irregular, too fast, or too slow.

Finally to make that Valentines Day kiss sparkly and clean I saw two options at CES, the quick teeth cleaner and the detailed teeth cleaner.

The quick teeth cleaner was Y-Brush the 10-second cleaner. Instead of moving the small head of a regular toothbrush from tooth-to-tooth, the Y-Brush cleans half your mouth at a time.

Oral-B on the other hand shared the iO brush which will be made available in August 2020. The iO app gives detailed feedback on spots missed during routine brushing. It also has a built-in display to provide feedback throughout your brushing routine.

 

 

Like a kid in the candy store I wanted all the products I saw at CES but then I remembered Gaye, a girl who worked with me in London. She had returned from her visit to the US with a gift of an anti balding solution for her boyfriend, permanently ending that relationship.

Some gifts may be perceived as feedback by your loved one even though you only have their welfare and happiness in mind. While choosing a gift, like the devices, you too must be smart.

Ritu Marwah is a senior writer whose articles and awarding winning stories are awaited with great anticipation by her readers. She hopes her gifts receive the same appreciation. Somehow she doubts it.

A Sixer by Tony Award-Winning Director in Testmatch

Pam MacKinnon, whom the LA Times called a “hot commodity on Broadway”, has come to San Francisco as American Conservatory Theater’s (A.C.T.’s) Artistic Director. In her first order of business, Pam has honored the Bay Area by picking as her debut production a play set in the locker rooms of the cricket teams of India and England. The rival women cricket players are playing a world-class match when rain interrupts the play, and slowly secrets spill out. 

A reading of the play by the A.C.T. cast and a talk back featuring the play’s writer and director on the kind invitation of EnActe and Vinita Belani for EnActe’s VIPs.

 A contrast of two time-traveling stories, Testmatch moves from the above scene in 2019 to the 1800s when the players discuss the rules by which to play the game. The director makes the two periods of history come alive. Her skill is seen in the exemplary performance of the actors and the fine nuances that distinguish the two periods of history.

During the panel discussion Chai, Gupshup and Stories with Ritu Marwah at the recent South Asian Literature and Art (SALA) festival at Montalvo Arts Center, Pam MacKinnon shared some of the fine elements that distinguish her as a storyteller. The panel discussed how stories belong to everyone but it is in the telling of the story that the skill of the storyteller can enthrall and captivate the audience.

Pam MacKinnon won the Tony and Drama Desk awards and received an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play for her production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She won an Obie Award for Excellence in Directing as well as Tony and Lucille Lortel award nominations for Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park. Her production of Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman, starring Uma Thurman, is currently running on Broadway. Her other Broadway credits include Amélie, A New Musical; the world premiere of David Mamet’s China Doll with Al Pacino; Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles with Elisabeth Moss; and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance with Glenn Close and John Lithgow.

In Testmatch we expect nothing less from the lady who rocked Broadway. The world premiere of Testmatch runs from October 24th through December 8th‬ at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater in San Francisco.

Photo credit: A.C.T

Patrons of art play an important role in what is made available and offered to them. The response of the Bay Area theatergoers will determine the future choice of plays by the artistic directors of the area.

Ritu Marwah is an actor turned writer who enjoys gupshup, chai and stories.

Cover photo credit: Hetal Soni. Pam MacKinnon, Tony Award-winning director of Testmatch on the panel “Gupshup, Chai and Stories with Ritu Marwah” at SALA 2019.

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

 

The Visual Artists in the #SALA 2019 Festival

Lucky S.F. Bay area denizens of the high-brow variety, you have yet another event to look forward to that is sure to amplify your festive Dussera season this year. If you are scurrying off to the many poojas, family gatherings and Golus (display of dolls), be sure to add this event to your calendar!  

Starting Sunday, October 6th from 12pm – 5pm, the beautiful environs of Villa Montalvo is home to the South Asian Literature & Arts Festival – SALA 2019. This event, the first of its kind in the US, runs from October 6th – 13th, showcasing a grand variety of visual arts, performing arts, poetry, book readings and panel discussions. 

Visual Arts @ SALA 2019:

Rekha Roddwittiya

Visual arts enthusiasts have special treats that thrill and educate. This event presents a great opportunity to meet with award-winning luminaries like India’s leading contemporary artist Rekha Rodwittiya whose work with distinctly feminist narratives has received critical acclaim. In a discussion titled Rekha @ 60: Transient Worlds of Belonging, Dr. Prajit Dutta of Aicon Gallery, NY will be speaking with Ms. Rodwittiya. 

Priyanka Mathew, Principal Partner of Sunderlande New York – an art advisory with a focus on South Asian art, presents an exemplary exhibition titled ‘Revelations: The Evolution of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art’. The show highlights works by Jamini Roy, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Shobha Broota and G.R Iranna to name a few.

Also featured is a conversation with Dipti Mathur, a local bay area philanthropist and well known collector of modern and contemporary South Asian art. She has served on the board of trustees of several museums and is a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, SF.  

Deepti Naval

One of the highlights of the program is well known actor, painter and poet, Deepti Naval. U.C Berkeley professor Harsha Ram, will moderate a program titled “An Elaborate Encounter with Deepti Naval”, as part of the Confluences – Cinema, Poetry and Art segment. 

Cinema @ SALA 2019: 

Vikram Chandra

Indian cinema has a great representation at SALA 2019! The festival offers up a chance to interact with the men behind the popular Netflix original series ‘Sacred Games’, in two separate programs.

The trio of Varun Grover, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikram Chandra will be interviewed by Tipu Purkayastha on Oct 6th as part of the opening day of the festival in a program titled ‘From the Sacred to the Profane’

A special event on Friday, Oct 18th tilted ‘From Text to Screen’ will feature Tipu Purkayastha . In conversation with him is noted director, writer, and producer, Anurag Kashyap. This program offers us an interesting perspective into their creative minds!

Literature @ SALA 2019: 

The literary world boasts of several names from the South Asian diaspora who decorate the local, national and international stage. SALA 2019 proudly presents writers and poets like Vikram Chandra, Minal Hajratwala, Shanthi Sekaran, Nayomi Munaweera, Raghu Karnad, Athena Kashya and Tanuja Wakefield to name a few, who will share their work in readings and discussions. 

Also being represented at the festival is the emerging Children and Young Adult genre of writers. Curated by Kitaab World, Mitali Perkins and Naheed Senzai in a program titled The Subcontinent’s Children. 

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Montalvo Arts Center and Art Forum SF, in collaboration with UC Berkeley Institute of South Asian Studies are jointly bringing to us one of the largest collections of contemporary South Asian writers, artists, poets, and personalities from theater and cinema. 

The opening day features various programs like art exhibits, panel discussions with internationally renowned writers and filmmakers, hands-on art activities, henna artists and dance performances. There are food stations offering up the many flavors of South Asia. This family-friendly event includes book readings, storytelling and hands on crafts for children. Visitors can also avail themselves of an art and literature marketplace displaying Bay Area artists and Books Inc. book sellers.  

The festival, the largest of its kind in the US is brought to us by Art Forum SF, a non profit that strives to promote emerging  visual, literary and performing art forms from South Asia.

Montalvo Art Center is well known for its mission in advancing cultural and cross-cultural perspectives, nurturing artists by helping them explore their artistic pursuits on their historic premises.

Free shuttle buses are available from West Valley College to aid festival goers.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

India Currents is a media partner for SALA 2019.

Harvesting Rain: Indian Americans Prepare for Drought

California’s immigrant communities have long been among the leading proponents of state and local measures to protect and safeguard the environment. But in the South Asian community, many residents have also begun to take matters into their own hands.

From the rural farmlands of the Central Valley to the high-tech heart of suburban Silicon Valley, Indian Americans have begun to embrace conservation strategies that can help better prepare them and the watersheds they depend on for the expected challenges of climate change.

At the height of the last drought, Yuba County farmer Sarbdeep Atwal switched irrigation methods, adopting more efficient techniques to water his 1,200 acres of fruit and nut trees. But as the drought’s impact on the state’s groundwater supplies became more apparent, Atwal realized he may have to take additional action.

“During the drought we switched to … drip and micro jet irrigation to conserve water,” says Atwal, who owns Heer Atwal Orchards, located in Yuba County, about an hour north of Sacramento.

Sardeep Atwal with family

The shift was a costly but necessary move, he notes. Yet while the new irrigation methods were “more efficient for watering trees,” they did little to replenish dwindling aquifers.

Groundwater accounts for close to 40 percent of California water supplies in a given year, according to the California Department of Water Resources, and close to half of water supplies during periods of drought.

California farmers like Atwal came under intense scrutiny for drawing heavily on local aquifers to water their crops during the last drought. According to one report farmers “extracted twice as much water from the state’s aquifers as the total storage capacity of the state’s dams and man-made lakes.”

Atwal is a third generation farmer and member of the Yuba Sutter Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Yuba is home to the largest Punjabi community outside of India. According to the Punjabi American Heritage Society, Punjabi farmers account for 95 percent of peach farming, 60 percent of prune farming, and 20 percent of almond and walnut farming in California. They also contribute 20 percent of grape cultivation in the San Joaquin valley.  

Farmers like Atwal are looking at flood irrigation, a method that researchers at the University of California Davis say could help sustain groundwater levels. Flood irrigation involves drenching fields with harvested rainwater during wet periods. Water over the flooded fields eventually permeates the soil and filters through to the underlying aquifers.

It’s an approach Atwal describes as “counter intuitive,” given the likelihood of future droughts. But according to researchers, harvesting rainwater in wet years to flood local fields holds the potential to help refill empty aquifers and prepare for expected dry years.

“In a wet year, we can have 15 million acre feet of flood flows in the winter season that are not used,” explains University of California Davis Professor Helen Dahlke in a video demonstrating how flood irrigation works. “They are just flowing out to the ocean. That could be designated for groundwater recharge.”

Dahlke is leading the research into flood irrigation, looking at its potential impact on groundwater supplies and any potential harm to crops, including any damage done by frozen roots in winter time. Her team is testing a variety of different crops, including many grown on Atwal’s farm.

University of California Davis Professor Helen Dahlke

Paul Basi 

Still, despite its advantages, Yuba farmer and Sutter county Planning Commissioner Paul Basi says a lot of farmers in the area are still using micro irrigation. “I have yet to find a farmer who is saving rainwater,” he adds.

Basi is adamant that more needs to be done. “We need to increase the number of reservoirs, and we need to add new methods of saving and recycling water,” he said. Capturing and storing rainwater, he notes, has to be part of the solution.

Harvesting Rain at Home

It isn’t only farmers who have had to adjust to California’s prolonged droughts.

“We laid our lawn in 2002. At that time we chose to go with California natives and rocks to minimize the amount of water we would use,” say Anita and Arjun Bhagat,  longtime residents of Los Altos, about an hour south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley. “Two years ago we went a step further. We enlarged our hardscape area and shrank our lawn area by 1500 sq. ft.”

They add, “Since the last drought the residents know that though this year we have had rain, they have to prepare for more drought.”

Anita & Arjun Bhagat’s backyard in Los Altos

The couple added that many of their friends and neighbors are making similar changes to their homes. “We all want to be more water efficient,” says Anita.

Max Gomberg is climate and conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board, which determines water allocation and quality needs around the state. He says the price of water has increased at six times the rate of inflation across the state. Cities such as Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale increased their rates by 9.9 percent, 19 percent and 25 percent, respectively, with Mountain View’s average monthly water bill costing more than $100.

Noona and Mohan Giridharadas of Saratoga say they have worked on getting their water bill down by making changes to their yard space.

“We have synthetic grass in our front yard,” says Noona Giridharadas. “Now we have a realistic looking green grass lawn that needs no water. Our water bill has gone down by $50 a month.”

Growing Demand Among S. Asians

Babak Tondre is a designer with Dig Co-op, an Oakland-based, worker-owned design firm specializing green infrastructure for Bay Area homes.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests from South Asian homeowners,” says Tondre. “Sometimes the price is out of their budget but there seems to be a great deal of desire to learn about rainwater harvesting. There is an upsurge in interest especially in the Peninsula.”

Tondre says greywater from a home’s showers, bathrooms, and laundry can direct 30,000 gallons of water annually from the house to the yard.

Image:Khalifeh & Associates, Los Angeles

In addition, a home with a 1,500-square-foot roof is capable of collecting 10,000 gallons of water in an area that gets 12 inches of rain a year. San Jose, for example, averages 15 inches of rain in a typical year, while Walnut Creek gets 23 inches. During a heavy storm, each downpour on a house can deliver 12 gallons of rainwater a minute to the sewer system. 

But Tondre says unlike solar installations, the state does not provide as many incentives for homeowners to install rain capture features.

A bill on the June ballot could change that however. Proposition 72 if passed would ensure that any rain capture installations put on homes after January 1st, 2019 would not be taxed as new construction.

The average spent on rainwater installations is around $20,000.

Still, despite the cost homeowners like Giridharadas say with climate change and the increased likelihood of more severe droughts, it’s a critical step.

“Frankly we had no choice but to go this route,” Noona says. “We are going to have another drought that is for sure. It is not as if we are going to have water forever.”

Ritu Marwah wrote this story as part of UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS) 2018 Watershed Fellowship.

The Black Prince

Interview with Kavi Raz, Director of “The Black Prince”

Ras Siddiqui in conversation with Kavi Raz, Writer and Director, The Black Prince.

The Black Prince Poster
The Black Prince Poster

RS: “The Black Prince” is based on the little-known life of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the youngest son of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The world knows little about him or his life. What perked your interest in doing a film about him?

KR: That’s precisely the reason for me to take up this film. The subject was fascinating; I felt it was a story that needed to be told. During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time, Lahore was the seat of perhaps the most powerful kingdom in the world. It was progressive, modern, and wealthy. The army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was commanded by great generals that included Europeans, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. It was a secular place. It flourished not just on the might of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his General’s swords, but on his astute thinking and political foresight. It’s a story that is very relevant today and should be a case study for religious figures, politicians and thinkers. It was a powerful, just and harmonious kingdom.

 RS: The movie has been shown at many film festivals, including at Cannes and has received great reviews.  It is slated for wide release in the United States on July 21, 2017. What are your expectations from its release compared to another movie you made earlier – “The Gold Bracelet” (2006)?  

KR: This new movie – The Black Prince has received praise from the public and critics. On IMDB and Facebook, we have one of the highest ratings possible. It’s a true and very passionately told story that I feel will connect with all types of audiences. The Gold Bracelet was also very well received. Like The Black Prince it won many awards. However, at that time, I could not manage a much wider release for the film. But now things have changed a lot. Both stories are as relevant today as they were during the times that they are set in. The stories are either based on or inspired by true events in our history. Both are emotional journeys of men who aspired to live truthful lives with the fear of God in their hearts.

RS: It is somewhat rare to a see a movie on a Punjabi in the English language. Will you be releasing it in Punjabi and Hindi at a later date?

KR: Punjab has a very rich and eventful history. So much has happened across the lands of modern-day Punjab. There are so many stories to be told about the land and people of this great region.  And I refer to Punjab on both sides of the border. Like a painting, each tale dictates its own canvas. It’s up to the artiste to choose the right one and justify the story being told.

Initially we were thinking of just making the film in Punjabi. I made the choice to shoot it in English. I wanted to share this powerful story with a much larger audience across the board. It deserved a much wider canvas. It’s an epic story that needed to be told with a larger than life mindset. It’s being released in English, Hindi and Punjabi. There is even talk of doing a Spanish language release. And who knows, hopefully it will continue its worldwide journey in other languages as well.

RS: The powerful female character older Maharani Jindan Kaur in the film is played by screen legend Shabana Azmi. Not only is she a great actress playing a strong mother figure in this movie but she is also a progressive political figure in India. Did the role fall right into place for her?

KR: Shabana Azmi is a delight to work with. She brings so much experience to the sets. But more than anything else, it’s her willingness to challenge herself and take things to the next level that is admirable. She was aware that I am an actor who knew my craft well. This made it so much easier to communicate my thoughts with her. She also speaks Punjabi in the film, a language that she is not completely familiar with. Her character is a multi-layered voice in the film. And she delights us with an amazing performance which could easily stand out as one of the highlights of her lengthy career.

 RS: Both the leading man in this movie Satinder Sartaaj and an important supporting actor Rup Magon (of JoSH) also happen to be great singers. Is this just a coincidence or can we also expect some songs or music in this movie?

KR: The casting of two singers is just a coincidence. Both have done an amazing job in their respective roles. There are a couple of songs by Sartaaj used sparingly in the background. The film is very much a Hollywood film in style, tempo and treatment. It does not have any of the elements of a typical Bollywood film. However, at the same time it’s very much a commercial film with humor, pathos and drama. Something for everyone.

RS: The Kohinoor Diamond that we have heard so much about also plays a powerful symbolic role in the movie. Are we going to see a rekindling of the controversy as to who its rightful owner should be today?

KR: The Kohinoor diamond does figure in the story and it does raise some questions that can be debated. I do hope it starts a dialogue and gives the iconic diamond a voice to tell its story. I am working on a documentary on the Kohinoor and hope to further enlighten people about its origin and journey. In our research, we have discovered some very interesting facts that will throw light on the controversy and hopefully there will be a resolution of some sort. (though I highly doubt that that will ever happen.)

RS: Punjabi history should be a gold mine for future English films. Do you have any other similar projects in mind after this one?

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The Black Prince

KR: Yes, Punjab is indeed a gold mine for great and epic stories to be brought to the silver screen. I have explored many subjects and have settled on something that has been very close to my heart for many years. In fact, I was initially introduced to it when I first arrived here as a young lad from England.  It’s a story of India’s independence movement that has its roots right here on North American soil. I will be officially announcing the project after the release of “The Black Prince.” It will be made into an epic film and a television series that has been shot across several countries and will feature talent from Hollywood, Britain, Canada, India and Pakistan.

RS: “There is a lion that sleeps in the heart of that boy,” is a line that has been used to promote this film. The last Sikh Maharajah ended up waking up the lion within him with dire consequences. Does this movie expose colonialism in its exploitative form?

KR: That line is a reference to Maharaja Duleep Singh’s bearing. He was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s youngest son born from his favorite queen, Rani Jindan. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was known as the “Lion of Punjab” for his fearless zeal on and off the battle field. The film is not so much about the colonization of India and Punjab but more about what effects that had on the young boy, the future king of the kingdom of Punjab. It’s about his psychological journey to reconnect with his true bearing and his fight for the freedom of his people and consequentially the Independence of India.

RS: Where does Kavi Raz really belong- Hollywood or Bollywood?

KR: When I decided to become an actor, the only place I could think of was Hollywood. I grew up watching both Hollywood and Bollywood films. I loved Westerns and was a huge fan of their epic look and narrative style. Even though I watched a lot of Bollywood films and was somewhat familiar with the industry, I never really thought about working in India. I did take a trip early on in my career to Mumbai and found it did not suit my temperament. Even though now things are a lot different and I do look forward to doing a film there some day. Who knows? Maybe it will be a typical Bollywood masala film with a generous touch of Hollywood. I have recently directed a couple of Punjabi films. And I do see myself making Hindi films in the very near future. I am open to the opportunity. However, Hollywood is in my blood and this is who I am.

RS: There was once a young man in San Jose, California who dreamt of becoming an actor and a field hockey player. I met you through our mutual friend over 40 years ago (we are exposing our age here). You have already made quite an impact by being one of the pioneers among South-Asians to break into acting on a regular TV show in America (in the series St. Elsewhere) plus a great deal more since then. But did you ever get a chance to play much field hockey?    

KR: Yes, I had a dream and I followed it. I left everything and headed out to Hollywood. I never looked back and remained true to my dream and passion. Sports has always been a part of my life. I played field hockey, soccer, volleyball and kabaddi. Field Hockey was everything to me back then. The hockey stick and the ball became an extension of who I was and what I felt inside. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much scope for the sport here in America. I captained the American national team, but we hardy had any international matches. Exposure here was so limited. By the time the Olympics rolled around I was busy in my acting career and could not devote time to the sport. Due to old injuries that are taking their toll on the body now, I don’t get to play hockey. But my passion for the game is alive and well.

 RS: Thank You.

Some concluding thoughts from Ras Siddiqui: “The Black Prince” is a film that we should make an effort to see. Maharajah Ranjit Singh was certainly the “Lion of the Punjab” and this film is about his youngest son, Maharajah Duleep Singh. The British Empire is no more, but its legacy is rich with a number of historical tales. “The Black Prince” or what one can call “The Tale of the Lion Cub” is one very small slice of India’s colonial past. And from what I do know about Kavi Raz, he is not someone who will “whitewash” it just to make it more palatable to western audiences. 

   

 

Mijwan, The Embroiderer of Dreams

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“God crumbles up the old moon into stars,” they said in his village. Ask the girls of a village in India called Mijwan where Kaifi Azmi grew up and they will tell you it is true.

The old moon had dreamed for them. He had dreamed they would be independent little women when they married not pubescent girls. He had dreamed they would be informed mothers and not child-mother leading the child. The old moon had spawned a number of stars. Stars that glitter in the dreams the girls embroider into the muslin cloth on their laps. Glit-glit-glittery wrists and toes slip into their woven blossoms and sashay down runways in tinsel city Mumbai.

The girls of Mijwan watch on screen as Shabana Azmi, the daughter of the old moon, scatters their blossoms amongst celluloid butterflies. The girls of Mijwan are happy to be surrounded by stars. The light of the moon shines on their books. They go to school, and no longer are they in the dark.

The Mijwan welfare society formed by Kaifi Azmi to help young girls in Mijwan break the cycle of early marriage and subsequent young childbirth has helped the girls to fight for their right to education. Girls, who previously lacked a formal education are now offered a structured program in sewing and embroidery. INR 6000, roughly less than a hundred dollars, can see a girl child through school for an entire year.

Additionally 500-600 girls from neighboring villages too are benefitting from this program. Eight centers have opened in neighboring villages and cities : Lucknow Mirzapur Nizamabad Phadgudia Bhedia Manjurpatti Azangarh Kaptain Ganj.

“Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living,” said Jonathan Foer echoing our thoughts.

You too can shine like the moon and scatter light into the lives of those who were served the wrong chromosome in the buffet of nature. Feast your soul on the poetry and become a star of some little girl’s life. “At any rate that is happiness to be dissolved into something complete and great.”

Click here to learn more.

Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents. She is an award winning author, chef, debate coach, and mother of two boys. 

Is India Current’s Graphic Designer A Hindu? A Wedding in Vietnam

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Nghia opened his phone and flashed the picture of his bride to me. She was still in Vietnam waiting for her visa to come through. They had gotten married in December. It was the day of India Current ‘s team meeting and we were celebrating Nghia’s new marital status. Our graphic designer was in love. He had met his bride on a previous visit to Vietnam. She was a friend of his cousin’s. As Nghia played with the Playmemories photo app on his iphone and we were all deciding whether to get L2 or L3 meal I scrolled through the photos of the wedding.

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Stop! What was this? What is in these plates covered with red velvet covers? They reminded me of Indian weddings where the gifts exchanged between the bride’s and groom’s families are placed in similar platters.

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Beetel nut leaves? I got curious. Who officiates at the wedding? A muslim priest? A Christian priest? “No,” said Nghia “the parents and the bridal couple stand in front of pictures of their ancestors and take their blessings. That’s all.”

“Hmmmm”, I said, “You are a Hindu.” Nghia was confused.

We crunched our way through the sweet tangy papaya salad, which had a few peanuts missing.

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At the India Currents lunch

It seemed to me that an immigrant community that had no priests amongst them had decided to solemnize weddings by seeking the blessings of their forefathers. The custom, I thought, has survived through centuries.

“Come to think of it,” said Nghia, “many people told my grandmother she looked Indian.”

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I decided to find out about the Hindus of Vietnam. The Indian legends in Sanskrit had long used the terms “suvarnadvipa” “the island of gold” and “suvarnabhumi” “lands of gold” in reference to Southeast Asia. The merchants from the kingdoms of South India had set sail for this land. In Vietnam the first settlement of importance was Ha-tien on the gulf of Siam.

My preliminary research brought up an article in Times of India. It was a report filed during the Vietnamese new year.

“ A flood of Vietnamese are flooding a Hindu temple in Ho Chi Minh City during the 7-day Tet festival that began last Friday, according to Indian residents of the city and local Vietnamese.More than 50,000 people prayed at the Mariammam Temple through the day and the entire night during the Vietnamese New Year on Sunday.”

Wow I thought this is present day Vietnam.

“The local Vietnamese believe that worshiping at this temple during the New Year festival will bring good luck,” Atul Kumar, a businessmen who has been in HCMC since the 1980s…There was a scramble of people offering ‘prasad’ as the main door of the sanctum sanctorum opened last midnight. There were several thousand Vietnamese… Local Vietnamese are making oaths and offering ‘prasad’ in the belief that Hindu gods are generous about granting the wishes of worshippers. Food offerings are being made to idols of several gods and goddesses including Lakshmi, Muruga and Ganesha besides the main idol of goddess Mariammam.

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(Image Wikipedia).

This is among the three Hindu temples in Vietnam’s biggest city, which has less than 1,000 resident Indians. The Mariammam temple draws the maximum number of local worshippers….Vietnamese worshippers applied red vermilion on their foreheads after making offerings of flowers, coconuts, betel leaf, dried rice and candles to the different gods at the Mariammam temple.”

The Times of India report made interesting reading. Nghia’s bride’s family, though now settled in South Vietnam, are originally from North Vietnam where the city of Hoh Chi Minh is located.

“The exact number of Tamil Hindus in Vietnam are not published in Government census, but there are estimated to be at least 50,000 Balamon Hindus, with another 4,000 Hindus living in Ho Chi Minh City,” said Wikipedia.

The term Balamon is considered to have been derived from the term Brahmin. “Another study suggests that 70% are considered to descend from the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste, pronounced in Cham as “Satrias”.

Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces are where most of the Cham ethnic group (~65%) in Vietnam reside according to the last population census. Cham Balamon in Ninh Thuan numbered 32,000 in 2002 inhabiting 15 of 22 Cham villages.  60% of Chams in Vietnam are Hindu the others converted to Islam.” (Wikipedia)

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The temple Po Nagar is named for a goddess of local origin who is said to have created the earth, eaglewood, and rice. The temple was built during the Hindu period of Champa, and thus the image of the goddess takes the form of Uma, wife of Siva. (Image Wikipedia).

Southeast Asia was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga, as well as from the kingdoms of South India.

“No,” said Nghia, “the Champa are different people. They were a separate kingdom that later joined Vietnam. They are more Indonesian…”

I have decided to google read Champa and the Archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam) by Andrew David Hardy, Mauro Cucarzi, Patrizia Zolese to find out more.

Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents. She is an award winning author, chef, debate coach, mom and driver. The last two awards were specially awarded by two long standing employers, her sons.

Colorful Tales from Hollywood-Bollywood. Oscars 2016

“What do you do when someone says, “Your color skin is not what we’re looking for?” said America Ferrara to NY Times. Probably the same thing was said in 1970s by Bollywood aspirant, Smita Patil.  The newsreader whose emotive eyes caught the attention of a film producer, Smita was of a color not seen on the screens of Bollywood cinema. The perfect adivasi (tribal) girl of art cinema, Smita went on to break the Punjabi good looks barrier in Bollywood films and much to her horror found her self gyrating in a rain dance with the megastar of the time, Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh, himself with the wrong skin color and unconventional looks, had stormed into the stronghold of the oh-so-English-white, gora-chita Kapoor and Khanna dominated film industry, not so long ago.

The viewers sat up and cheered. Smita Patil became a beacon of hope for all dark-skinned Indian girls. Mills Boon romance novels had done their work in making girls yearn for a TDH (Tall, Dark, Handsome) man but no one had made dark skinned women desirable till Smita came along. Bollywood was having a rare lapse of fair and lovely moments.

Around the same time, in Hollywood, Eddie Murphy rolled out his comic routines. He was maybe the first one to register his protest against the #OscarsSoWhite. When Eddie Murphy presented the Oscar for Best Picture at the 1988 ceremony, in the guise of a joke, he explained why he was initially reluctant to make an appearance on the show. “I just feel that we have to be recognized as a people,” he told the Oscars audience. “I just want you to know that I’m going to give this award, but black people will not ride the caboose of society, and we will not bring up the rear anymore. I want you [the Academy] to recognize us.” After he had agreed to come, Eddie said, ‘Now when do I have to be there?’ and his manager said, ‘You don’t have to get there until 9 or 10 because it’s the last award of the evening.’”

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He drew a chuckle from the crowd but the point that a black actor gets an Oscar only every twenty years was made. Is it any coincidence that actors or actresses of a different color, like Eddie Murphy, Smita Patil and Nandita Das, must also be social activists?

“My role is not just artist. It’s also activist because of the way I look,” tweeted actress Mindy Kaling who first came through the NBC diversity program. In her first season, the show, “The Office”, therefore didn’t have to pay for a diversity writer, the network paid. Mindy said to NY Times, “On so many shows and movies, race was a gesture, and in mine it’s the premise. I can’t ignore that what a lot of people see is an Indian woman who doesn’t look like a Bollywood star…I want to fill my desire to write vibrant, flawed characters, but then also be a role model to young people. It’s stuff that I think about all the time. Some people don’t have to think about this at all.”

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Actress and star of the show “Quantico”, Priyanka Chopra said, “I do feel extremely proud when I have people of the South Asian community coming up to me and saying, thankfully we’re seeing a non-stereotyped Indian. This girl hugged me and started crying. She said, thank you for making us relevant.”

We cannot deny we have come a long way when actresses have crossed the continental bridge and made a name for themselves in Bollywood and Hollywood. And we can’t deny that the protests against #OscarsSoWhite have picked up a crescendo not seen in previous years. However warns The Hindu it is not just a black-and-white issue. “But it’s also pure economics. Most movies are made for the mainstream, so that the largest numbers of people will buy tickets. And to get these numbers, you have to have a star (or an actor) who is popular with audiences across races, across nations.” For instance if a northeastern actress had played Mary Kom instead of Priyanka Chopra the receipts for the movie may have been lower. “This is just to say that the majority of movies that end up being considered for the Oscars have mainstream actors, and due to the sheer numbers of these frontline white actors, many of them heavily promoted by their studios, it’s inevitable that some worthy performances slip through the cracks. For each “snub” of a black actor, you can find one of a non-black actor as well.” (The Hindu)

Whether we agree with the Hindu or not, before the Oscar night dawns or dusks on us, this coming Sunday, here is our Oscar homework. The top nominees that can be streamed online are Five Mad Max Fury Road; Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Room and Spotlight. Watching these before Sunday will make viewing the Oscars ceremony more rewarding.

Ritu Marwah is Social Media Editor at India Currents.