Tag Archives: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley’s Success Sits on Toxic ‘Superfund’ Sites

At the Front Door – a column on climate change in our lives

The Environmental Burdens on our Neighbors

Silicon Valley has been one of the greatest wealth generators in the United States. Yet this wealth has come at a price, one that hasn’t been shared equally amongst the residents of the Bay Area. The more ‘visual’ costs, such as skyrocketing rents and urban sprawl obscure the more subtle, but far more dangerous and long-terms costs right beneath our feet. Literally. The true cost of Silicon Valley’s success is in the ground you stand on. Santa Clara County is home to 23 superfund sites, the most of any county in the United States. If you live in the South Bay, you are never more than a short drive from one of these sites. If you live in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose, you can probably walk to one.

A site gains a superfund status if it scores above a 28.5 or higher out of 100 on the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, which is a measurement of the site’s threat to human health. Sites must reach a certain level of severity before they can be designated as a ‘superfund’, which lets the government to force the parties responsible to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup. There are also hundreds of other toxic sites which don’t qualify as superfund sites which are scattered across Silicon Valley.

To understand where we are, we need to look at where we have been. Silicon Valley earned its name by hosting semiconductor and microprocessor companies such as Atari, Fairchild, Hewlett-Packard. These companies used a solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE) in their manufacturing process. TCE is now a known human carcinogen and can also cause birth defects. After use, the TCE was poured down drains or kept in storage tanks which subsequently leaded and contaminated local groundwater.  In some instance, the pollutants can re-emerge as vapor and result in ‘toxic plumes’ or ‘vapor intrusion zones’.

The environmental burden of these sites fallen unevenly upon the shoulders of people of color and the poor, as most sites “are predominantly situated in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara County cities which are comprised of the highest percentage of low socioeconomic immigrants of color.” Unsurprisingly, the whiter cities of Palo Alto and Cupertino host far fewer sites.

I live in northern Sunnyvale and I can easily walk to half a dozen, three of which are collectively called the ‘Sunnyvale Triple-site’. The vapor intrusion zone from this site encompass 400 homes and four schools, including the majority-Latino San Miguel Elementary School. Polluted in the 1980, the site was only fully cleaned up in the last decade and is now closely monitored by authorities.

Superfund sites are not the only environmental legacy of the economic boom. Another is traffic, a problem which plagues most of the Bay area, and Highway 101 is the “area’s most toxic industrial belt, with contamination impacting air, water, and soil.”

It is not a coincidence that Highway 101 through the same areas of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and San Jose which host the highest concentration of minorities (and superfund sites).

The highway also runs through East Palo Alto on its way to San Francisco. East Palo Alto is diverse city with 61%  of its residents identifying as Latino, 15.6% African American/Black, and 11% Asian. The median income in 2018 was $58,783, a far cry from the average of $137,000 in whiter neighboring Palo Alto. Children in East Palo Alto are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from asthma as children in the rest of San Mateo County, and life expectancy is 13 years shorter.

And East Palo Alto isn’t an exception but rather part of a trend, a paper published by researchers at Santa Clara University noted that,

“Environmental burdens are concentrated along transportation routes and industrial centers that represent Silicon Valley’s rapid development. Hispanic populations, people of color, and socially vulnerable populations…are more likely to be exposed to multiple environmental hazards than other groups.”

The term ‘environmental burdens’ doesn’t quite convey the truth that our neighbors who bear these ‘burden’ will be sicker and die sooner than our neighbors without such burdens.

I felt two things when I learned this: shocked and lucky. Shocked, because I had no idea of the history of pollution and injustice which underlay the success of Silicon Valley.  And lucky, because while traffic is annoying I don’t live in an area where I have to worry that car exhaust will damage my health or the health of my family. Nor do I have to decide between affordable housing and living in an area which could be exposed to toxic vapor plumes.

And now I feel determined, because I can do something to help my neighbors who do have to worry about these things. I can vote for people who take environmental issues seriously, and who support clean public transportation. I can advocate at the state and local level for our legislators to ensure that the benefits and burdens of success are distributed more equally. I can speak up because we are all part of this community, and it is my responsibility to help my neighbors.


Erin Zimmerman was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image by Hermina Olah Vass  @beautymakesasound

References
Fagone, J. and Dizikes, C. (2019). “SF’s Treasure Island, Poised for Building Boom, Escaped Listing as Superfund Site.” San Francisco Chronicle.
Greenaction. (2019). “East Palo Alto, California.” Greenaction.org.
Nieves, E. 2018. “The Superfund Sites of Silicon Valley.” The New York Times.
Pellow, D. N. & Park, L S-H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. NYU Press.
Rao, A. and Scaruffi, P. 2013. A History of Silicon Valley: The Greatest Creation of Wealth in the History of the Planet. Omniware Group.
Reilly, C. (2018). “Silicon Valley’s ‘Middle Class‘ Earns 7 Times US Average.www.cnet.com.
Schlossberg, T. 2019. “Silicon Valley is One of the Most Polluted Places in the Country.The Atlantic.
Siegel, L. (2015). “Building Trust at the Triple Site, Sunnyvale, California.” Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
Solof, L.E. (2014). “Bay Area Student Involvement in the Environmental and Food Justice Movements: A Narrative of Motivations, Experiences, and Community Impact.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of San Francisco; The Faculty of the School of Education.
Stewart, I. Bacon, C. Burke, W. (2014). “The Uneven Distribution of Environmental Burdens and Benefits in Silicon Valley’s Backyard.” Applied Geography. 55: 266-277.
Stock, S. Paredes, D. and S. Pham. 2014 (12 May). “Toxic Plumes: The Dark Side of Silicon Valley.NBC Bay Area.
Sustainable Silicon Valley. (2020).
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). “What is a Superfund.

 

My “March” With My Mother’s Life

Self-quarantined in my bedroom in San Jose, I pen down my thoughts about a time that will be forever etched in my memories. It is a journey between India and the US during a time when borders were getting closed, schools were reinventing themselves online, social fabrics were getting challenged, and loved ones were lost to a pandemic.

On Feb 23rd, I got a call from my father that my mother is in an ICU in a hospital in Kolkata. My mother, aged 69, is a Lupus survivor and in recent years, she had her bouts of cardiac and respiratory incidents. I thought she would manage this one also. But by the first weekend of March, her condition seemed to deteriorate and I decided to travel to India. This was also the first weekend that the coronavirus was moving its way into silicon valley. People started to hoard things. I could not find a thermometer and there were long lines and fights for parking places in supermarkets. I did some essential shopping for home, bought a direct United SFO – DEL ticket, imparted a list of instructions to my 12-year-old daughter, bid goodbye to my wife, and boarded the 15 hour flight.

Corona was on the periphery of my thoughts …. I had other things to worry about. I reached Delhi in the wee hours of March 4th. India had not started screening incoming passengers yet –  not for flights coming from the US. I came out of T3 and walked 10 minutes to the newly created T2 to catch an Indigo flight to Kolkata. In the next 2 weeks, my dad and I shuttled daily to the hospital during visiting hours to catch up on my mother’s condition, which was not getting any better. Her sufferings and pains were hard on me emotionally. Corona was slowly coming to Kolkata. Masks were seen everywhere and hospitals were doing a good job of cleaning and providing sanitizers. I started avoiding elevators and used stairs to the 3rd floor ICU. I bought a mask for my father and made him wear it.

My early mornings were spent WhatsApping with my family and friends back in the USA. The changes in the Bay Area started slowly but suddenly picked up by the 2nd week of March – remote working, schools closed, 40 minutes line to check out groceries.  And, then came the “Shelter in Place” order on March 16th – an (almost) lockdown of 6 counties of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley. I was concerned about my family but was also comfortable, as my close groups of friends were supporting them in every way possible.

I lost my mother on March 17th. By then we had moved her to a different hospital and she was on Ventilator life support for the last 5 days. We lost her to a Sepsis Infection (an infection that flows in the bloodstream) caused by a bacteria “Burkholderia Cepacia”. She most likely acquired during the long ICU stay in the first hospital but it was undetected. It was too late by the time we moved her to a different hospital. I did not say the last goodbyes but I wished on her bedside that she is freed from her pains.

After the cremation, we planned for the rituals of “shraddha” on March 26th. And then the arrived on March 19th that India is stopping international flights starting March 22nd. We made the difficult decision to complete all the rituals in the next 24 hours. Surrounded by my extended family in Kolkata, we offered our last pranam to “Maa” and I hopped on the last Air India flight ( KOL – DEL – SFO ) leaving India.

Corona cut short the time I wanted to spend with my father during this difficult time. The ride from the airport to home was eerie as I started assimilating the changes that happened during my absence of 3 weeks. Empty roads, silent parks, supermarkets rationing eggs, bread, and paper products and meeting friends over hangout and zoom. I decided to quarantine myself in one room of my house to protect my dear ones as there is a slight risk of my getting the virus due to my travel in long flights and the transit area of busy airports. It has been 7 days now in my room and 7 more days to go ….

The image which is still stuck with me is related to the most prized commodity of this new world – ventilators. It is still pumping oxygen in the still body of my mother ….


Featured Image by Bharatahs and license can be found here.

Throw a Community Kindness Party

Aila Malik just turned 40. Instead of a traditional party to usher in the new decade, she decided to do something different. She threw a Community Kindness virtual party. She “invited” her guests to complete an act of kindness (big or small) and post it on social media.  

Aila was overwhelmed by the response. The participation and impact from this one party resulted in nearly $10,000 (and growing) raised towards non-profits and families in need. The acts of kindness include neighborly help for stalled vehicles or injured cyclists, and sharing  joy anonymously by secretly paying in advance for people’s coffee or dinner, among other good deeds.  

Anybody who knows Aila Malik will smile because this is who she is – a Bay Area native and nonprofit leader who views the beauty of sharing kind acts as “an excuse for people to spread kindness and inspire others on social media, while allowing me to ‘see’ and honor our relationship in an authentic way,” Malik comments. 

An after-school girls’ tutoring program in Refugee Camp Aida, West Bank, Palestine

Aila, her husband and three children just returned  from an incredible, year-long trip around the world,  that was over a decade in the planning. They immersed themselves in every community they visited and learned about the human crises of the planet – climate change, trash, water, poverty, political conflict, and blight. You can read about their experiences at https://www.franklinstreetglobetrotters.org/.  

The Silicon Valley may be  the envy of the world with its staggering wealth and economic growth, but income inequality affects many here as well, as residents struggle to find and afford housing, childcare, transportation, health care and education. 

Aila is convinced that “the only way to reverse these tragedies is to create a culture of connection and kindness” here at home and around the world.

Living with indigenous San people in Xai Xai, Botswana (Kalahri Desert)

As 2019 draws to a close and we take stock of our personal lives,  Aila Malik’s ‘acts of kindness’ should inspire us to increase both our random and conscious good deeds  in the world around us. As we buy gifts for our loved ones and dress up for fun parties, lets also add deliberate connections to the wider community to our list. Find creative ways to redefine gift giving by donating time and money generously in the New Year!

Aila says “From whatever lens you look at our current world – climate, politics, homelessness, suicide, etc, our world is in great despair. We  need to use opportunities to build human-kindness and connection with one another so that we can create and restore cultures of group-think, and group-action.” 

Here is a list of non-profits and community organizations that many in our community support and you can too. We should give back because it teaches us to find compassion within ourselves while making a difference in the lives of others. Ultimately, it makes us happier and healthier too.  

https://www.magnifycommunity.com/ A database of bay area nonprofits vetted and approved by respected Silicon Valley foundations. 

Second Harvest Food Bank https://www.shfb.org/

Touch a Soul https://www.touch-a-soul.org/

Kiva Kiva.org

Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA https://phs-spca.org/

Citizen Science https://www.citizenscience.gov/#

Indian Cultural Center http://www.indiacc.org/

Maitri https://maitri.org/

Narika https://www.narika.org/

American India Foundation https://aif.org/

South Asian Heart Center https://southasianheartcenter.org/

Community Seva https://communityseva.org/

I-MAK https://www.i-mak.org/

Slum Dwellers International SDINET.ORG 

Akshaya Patra https://www.akshayapatra.org/

Pratham ‎www.prathamusa.org/education/future

Home of Hope https://hohinc.org/

Asha for education https://ashanet.org/

India Literacy Project https://www.ilpnet.org/

Vibha http://www.vibha.org/

Shankara Eye Foundation https://www.giftofvision.org/

Please reach out to us and tell us about your favorite organization that you support. Let’s keep this Community Kindness Party going all year. 

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

This article was edited by contributing editor Meera Kymal.

image credits: Aila Malik
lead image: With a Sudanese refugee at the the Baqa’a refugee camp north of Amman, Jordan, home to around 100,000 Palestinian refugees.

I’m With the Yang Gang: Volunteering with the Andrew Yang Campaign

A compelling thread of history is the power of ideas and their ability to shape the world around us. The power of ideas could not be more evident than in the Silicon Valley. Computer processing power has increased with the invention of the silicon transistor and turned what was a valley known for its delicious produce, into one known for its global technological impact. 

To quantify the change, in 2017 the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated the per-person GDP of Silicon Valley was $128,308, making it $66 dollars short of being the highest in the world, of all nations.

What’s often puzzled me is why our political leadership seems unable to deal with the real impact of ideas from the technology sector – for example, their inability to address the automation of jobs by software and robotics. 

So, when I saw a man named Andrew Yang running for President in December 2017 and heard him talking about how to develop and adjust our public policy around the realities of technological change, I was immediately a fan. 

Yang talked about how automation was replacing jobs across the country, how this was affecting the real economy and that it required we think harder and implement policies like a universal basic income

Technology has completely altered societal norms in many areas, especially in the labor force. We’re increasingly seeing various jobs across the labor force being replaced by automation, machines, improved business efficiency and robotics. And yet, our federal government has done little to prepare for any of these realities; if they had, it wouldn’t take a relatively unknown entrepreneur to make this a national issue. Commentary on cable news from political leaders also suggests that none of them seem educated about technological trends.  

Yang has risen into this vacuum to inject a dose of reality to a system that desperately needs it. 

Over thousands of years of recorded history, there are many who subscribe to the “Great Man Theory of History” view that our world is shaped by individual leaders. To my eye, a great leader is one who recognizes the trends of the time and is able to forecast the future. 

In 2017 I saw a candidate who was addressing my concerns and I had to act immediately. I emailed his campaign and joined his early staff. The vibe was very much like an early stage startup – it felt familiar to me. The team was tasked with a difficult mission – to take a relative unknown and raise his profile with the American public. 

It was no easy task at a time when it was easy to quickly dismiss the entire mission as oddball politics. I started off doing simple things – tabling at community colleges, talking to students about what they were studying and their hopes for the future. It wasn’t always easy; many were disinterested or didn’t see politics affecting their lives in any meaningful way.

But, for every three rejections, there was always one person who showed interest, and was curious and excited to engage with new ideas in politics. That one out of three people were interested made it seem possible that we could build a movement around them.

Yang had previously served in the Obama administration as a “Champion of Change,” advising the administration on how to create jobs in places hard hit by the 2008 financial crisis. He was invited to do so because of his work with a non-profit he founded called Venture for America, which worked to create entrepreneurship in places across America that didn’t have a start-up ecosystem. 

As a presidential candidate, Yang’s signature policy is the “Freedom Dividend,” a new right of citizenship that gives every American over the age of eighteen $1,000 a month paid for by a value-added tax on technology. This idea sounded unrealistic to many and has required the Yang campaign to frequently stress how deeply American this idea really was – Alaska, a deep red Republican state, for instance, has a freedom dividend called the petroleum dividend

It was difficult to find media to cover these ideas, but we were able to get on great podcasts like Making Sense with Sam Harris, Freakonomics Radio, The Joe Rogan Experience and more. These appearances lit a fire across the Internet; tens of thousands of people started flowing into our social media spaces and websites and our donations skyrocketed. 

This was the beginning of what would ultimately be known as the “Yang Gang”, a grass-roots movement of thousands of volunteers, that has pushed Yang’s candidacy into the ranks of the serious contenders. 

Our growth as an online movement happened quickly with new fans, thousands of new volunteers and people looking to assume leadership across this country to turn this campaign of ideas into a movement for change across the nation. I moved on from managing our digital strategies and began organizing locally and regionally to make sure our ground game was as strong as our digital game.

I’ve been helping pro-Yang groups get started across my region in Northern California. It’s fascinating to meet diverse groups of people from all walks of life learning to engage in the American political process. Our campaign’s mission is to see ideas become reality and at these events I see the power of democracy being mobilized to advance ideas once seen as impossible. 

Arun Kumar is based in the Silicon Valley and is a lead volunteer with the Andrew Yang presidential campaign.

This article was edited by contributing editor Meera Kymal.

Ro Khanna, Big Tech & the 2020 Elections

Congressman Ro Khanna participated in a telebriefing on “The Role of Silicon Valley in the 2020 Elections” on Tuesday, November 12, and answered questions from diverse ethnic media reporters on topics ranging from technology’s role on the 2020 elections and privacy issues, to the gig economy.  

Vandana Kumar, Publisher, India Currents, moderated a Q&A session that gave the congressman an opportunity to share his perspectives as a key lawmaker representing the Silicon Valley. 

Ro Khanna (California’s 17th district), sits on the House Armed Services, Budget, Oversight and Reform Committees, and is the first Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

He talked at length about the role of giant tech companies and the fight against fake news. Khanna argued that social media companies have a major responsibility to be vigilant and voluntarily police their platforms to prevent hate speech, viral false ads, and election interference; blatant false speech or disregard for truth is not protected by the first amendment, Khanna said.

Khanna admitted he was concerned by Mark Zuckerberg’s views on fake news, but stressed that the “Facebooks of the world” aren’t the gatekeepers of blatantly false speech; that role belongs to an independent regulatory agency. Rather than an outright ban, a thoughtful regulatory framework to establish reasonable standards that require political ads to remove falsity, would better protect first-amendment traditions, he said.

Khanna is working with Congressman Kevin McCarthy on a bill that will allow social media companies to monitor and remove “bad actors” from election interference. 

Though he hopes that these bills will be passed before Election 2020, Khanna claimed that the hostile tone of political discourse and cable news should share the blame for false news. With the upcoming elections, Congress is concerned about security on social media platforms, he said, and tech companies need to do the right thing to avoid a repeat of 2016.

The congressman commented that healthcare is another issue getting attention in Congress, which is trying to lower the cost of prescription drugs, preserve the Affordable Care Act, and lower premiums.

Conhgressman Ro Khanna

Khanna who is co-chair of Bernie Sanders‘s 2020 presidential campaign, described the Medicare for All bill he is co-sponsoring with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (Washington’s 7th congressional district).The bill will give states the flexibility to use federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid when implementing the single payer system and include a caveat requiring states to get to 100% coverage in five years. A tax on corporations will pay for the bill, said Khanna, who proposes to cover any shortfall with supplemental federal matching funds.

On the role of big tech protections for privacy and consumer data, Khanna referred to his proposed Internet Bill of Rights that requires an individual’s consent before their data is collected or transferred, and the right to know how it’s used. Reforms can protect data from being manipulated against their interests and protect privacy, Khanna pointed out, but what’s really needed is well-crafted regulation that catches up with the pace of technological change.

As the Supreme Court determines the fate of DACA recipients, Khanna expressed his opposition to end DACA; he thinks Congress should act to offer protections to dreamers. He also is supportive of AB 5, California’s effort to regulate the gig economy. Gig economy workers should be treated as employees, and get the same benefits and rights, because with universal healthcare, contends Khanna, people won’t rely on their jobs for medical care.

Khanna agreed that affordable housing remains a challenge, though he acknowledged “constructive” private sector funding from Apple and Google towards affordable housing. He emphasized that low income housing needs additional federal investment and affordable building tax credits to expand.  Khanna stressed that what would make a difference are more temporary shelters and services for the homeless, and intervention programs to help with rent and mortgage payments, as exemplified by a successful pilot program in Santa Clara.

The telebriefing, sponsored by India Currents in partnership with Ethnic Media Services, was part of the ‘Conversations with Candidates’ series initiated by India Currents to expand ethnic media news access to elected officials and presidential candidates. The event  was attended by reporters from Silicon Valley Innovation Channel – DingDingTV, EPA Today, Phillipinenews, Chinese News, The American Bazaar, California Black Media and India West. 

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

Desis of Silicon Valley Speak: An Oral History

In 2016, KQED reported that 350,000 Asian Indians have moved to California over the last fifteen years based on data from AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders). It is well-known that the trend followed the dot-com boom in the late 1990s when software and computer engineering professionals from India moved to Silicon Valley and the South Bay in record numbers. Affluent cities in areas such as Cupertino, Palo Alto, Fremont, and Milpitas experienced what The Mercury News reported as a diversification in the Asian community owing to the rise in the Asian Indian population. One constant story left untold amidst this demographic transformation is the impact of the growing Asian Indian or ‘Desi’ population on the region. The Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Library at San Jose State University is creating an oral history project to record first-hand stories of ‘Desis’ in Silicon Valley. An oral history is a field of study in which audio and /or video recordings of first-hand interviews are collected, preserved, and interpreted to understand periods of history or events through the lived experiences of the interviewees or participants.

For the purpose of this study, the use of ‘Desi’ refers specifically to the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley and the South Bay. What social and cultural changes have occurred in the past thirty years as a result of the growing ‘Desi’ population? How has the ‘Desi’ identity been transformed by Silicon Valley? Why and how is Silicon Valley ‘home’ for so many Desis?

A tenure-track faculty member at the MLK library has received a university grant to build the first phase of the oral history project. She has started conducting interviews with Desis from various backgrounds – magazine founders, radio station founders, IT professionals, boutique owners. She invites members of the Indian community to participate in the oral history project in order to record and preserve the stories of our community. She will scale the project in 2020 and the next few years. Email mantra.roy@sjsu.edu if you are interested in participating.

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.

Dancing Feet Ready for Dandia with Sankara?

Sankara Eye Foundation has a message for you: SEF Dandia is here! SEF’s mission to eradicate curable blindness is funded by various fundraisers organized throughout the year. One of those, the flagship SEF Dandia event, is a multicultural extravaganza celebrating the start of the Indian festive season every fall, and one of the most successful fundraisers for the organization. A sold-out super successful event for the last fifteen years, we have been able to strike a balance between fun and frolic and working for a cause. Thousands fill the Santa Clara convention center to dance the night away. Patrons show their best Garba moves followed by Dandia. Then there is the synchronized performance breaking in the heat of it all. The excitement at these Dandia events speaks to the enormous support that SEF has garnered from the community.

Our next events are coming up, on Sep 28th, Oct 5th and Oct 12th at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Do not miss out on the fun. Your support will help someone see a miracle they hoped for. Join the movement.

Visit http://www.giftofvision.org to buy tickets to this event and lend your support.

Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a non-profit organization that has been working for the past twenty years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational cause, SEF has currently established 9 community hospitals and soon embarking on three new hospital projects. By far the most unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, those members of the rural poor, and this accounts for 80 percent—which is approximately 200,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception, has enabled more than 1.94 million eyes (as of July 2019) to receive the gift of vision, utterly free of cost. Also, it has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management for seven years SEF will focus its fundraising activities for 3 new projects, Focus Mumbai, Focus Hyderabad and Focus Indore. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy – get your name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join our cause, volunteer and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes. Please visit our website at www.giftofvision.org for more details.

Cover photo credit: Ravi Shekhar

Silicon Valley to host the 2019 Global Bhagavad Gita Convention

Third Global Bhagavad Gita Convention is being organized to disseminate the perennial wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita for Modern Life. Convention will showcase Gita’s road- map to accomplish personal and universal well-being. 

Center for Inner Resources Development – North America (CIRD-NA), a non-profit global knowledge institution is delighted to announce the Third Global Bhagavad Gita Convention (GBGC) at San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, on October 19-20, 2019 (Saturday and Sunday). 

This global forum will introduce the essence of Bhagavad Gita to all the participants, and will further deepen the understanding of the text to those already familiar. The Convention is organized under the inspiration and guidance of Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, a renowned spiritual master from India. A distinguished panel of speakers, including leading scholars, thinkers, and professionals, will share timeless wisdom from Gita along with its practical applications in everyday life. 

The first Convention was at the University of California, Irvine, in the year 2017. The second one happened at George Mason University, Virginia, in 2018. The broader participation in both these Conventions and the tremendous interest they invoked in the minds of the participants to pursue the subject further, led the Silicon Valley community demand a similar third Convention to be held in the Bay Area. 

The goal of this Bhagavad Gita convention is to introduce the teachings of this wonderful text and to deepen the knowledge of those already familiar with it. Regardless of one’s vocation, ethnicity, or religious affiliation, these teachings can greatly benefit one and all. The philosophical foundation provided by the Gita will serve as our springboard and strong inspiration for discussion at the convention. 

“The Convention intends to offer a platform for learning, knowledge exchange, and collaboration of the essence of Bhagavad Gita to positively impact personal and societal welfare,” according to Dr. Ravi Jandhyala, MD, Cardiologist and Program Convener of 2019 GBGC. 

Attendees from every walk of life will discover how spiritual wisdom enriches and empowers one’s inner personality, thereby enabling them to assimilate various impacts from the world and feel a sense of inner expansion and elevation. 

Admission to the convention is free. Interested participants are encouraged to register early and confirm their participation by visiting https://www.globalgita.org/ 

“I See God in My Audience:” Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni

Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni – the name is synonymous with Hindustani Classical music. Various aspects of her life, starting with her auspicious birth on the day of Saraswathi Puja; the many titles and accolades she has received in the field of music, and her vibrant musical virtuosity have been feted, discussed and celebrated over the years. She is a Senior Artist in All India Radio and Doordarshan and serves on the faculty of Hindustani Vocal Music at the Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore.

Initially taught by her father, Dr. H.A Katti, she has been blessed to receive training under well known singers like Sheshagiri Dandapur, Chandrashekhar Puranikmath, Basavaraj Rajguru and Kishori Amonkar.

The recipient of the Suvarna Karnataka Rajyotsava award by the Karnataka state Govt, she has over 2,500 concerts to her credit, both in India and the world over.

India Currents caught up with Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni as she prepares to embark upon a 2019 tour of the U.S, with the opening concert on May 5th, 2019 at the Shirdi Sai Parivaar, Milpitas, California. 

IC: Your musical star first arose as a child of 4. It has been quite a journey! What motivates you as an artiste today?

SKK: The parampara or tradition of music is my primary motivation. Through my singing I can return Nature’s most beautiful gift of music back to where it originates. And of course the blessings of my revered Gurus under whose nurturing care I have been able to pursue my passion is a priceless motivation.

IC: Tell us of your association with the famous composer and music director Naushad Ali sahab?

SKK: I was extremely fortunate to have met Naushad sahab when I was 4 years old, and I rendered the evergreen melody “Avaaz de kahaan hai” which was made famous by the legendary Noorjahan. When he encouraged me to sing some more, I sang his masterpieces from several movies like Mughal-e-Azam, Aan, Udan Khatola etc, recognizing the ragas they were based upon as well. Naushad sahab was thrilled and blessed me! He told my father to make sure that I received training in classical music from a good Guru. “Desh ki bahut badi gaayika banegi yeh ladki (This girl will become a great singer),” he said.

I kept in touch with him, updating him of my progress from time to time. He used to recall and narrate wonderful incidents about Lataji, Rafi sahab and other great musicians and artists. Since his blessings marked the beginning of my journey with classical music, I consider him my very first Guru.

IC: What is your favorite aspect of being a performer?

SKK: A performer creates a beautiful bond with the audience and has the ability to build a bridge between him/herself and the Divine with the help of the “shrota” -the listener. A good performer can explore the techniques and nuances of the notes, getting into the details of the Raag/Raagini paddhati or tradition with years of training and rigorous practice. When the beauty of the Raga finally unfolds seamlessly, that is the ultimate bliss! The energy of music transcends through the listener to the Almighty. This I firmly believe. So, to me, as a performer, I see God in the audience.

IC: Which piece do you enjoy performing in a concert setting?

SKK: Raag Aalaapi in its purest form with Gamak! No second thoughts.

IC: There have been women artists in the classical arts arena over the years. As one yourself, do you see the challenges women artists face today?

SKK: Ours is a male dominated society and however rigorous their “sadhana” or practice, women artists still face struggles claiming their rightful dues, with the exception of a few stalwarts like Kishoritai Amonkar, of course! Most of us have to juggle between family obligations and our performing careers which is a definite challenge. Many singers have lost to this struggle, which is a sad fact.

Women who have the passion, and drive to succeed at all costs should never give up. There are many more opportunities for women artistes in the classical arts fields in today’s world. With self confidence and the blessings of our Gurus, I pray we will be able to face those challenges and pursue our passion.

IC: Who do you look up to as inspiration in the field of music?

SKK: My Guru – Kishoritai Amonkar, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Kishore Kumar, R.D Burman, Madan Mohan, C. Ashwath, Ilayaraja… and Naushad Sahab of course! There are so many.

IC: You are a singer who straddles different musical genres: classical, contemporary, folk music / janapada sangeet, bhav geet /light music, film music, etc. Several of these genres are intersecting in today’s world. What are your thoughts about this trend from the point of view of a classical musician?

SKK: As the scriptures state, “Samyaka geetham iti Sangeetam” – a beautiful melody becomes music. There is no need to find fault with any particular style of music. A cuckoo’s kuhu kuhu call is pleasant to the ears… does it have any words? But we still enjoy it. Music is beyond language.

My junoon – passion or madness (if you will) is Indian classical, traditional music. But I have great interest in light, folk and film genres as well. I also enjoy Jazz and Arabic music. Fortunately my Gurus have encouraged me to balance and nurture all the nuances of the musical form.

Over the years, music has evolved to a greater dimension. This is true especially of Instrumental music due to innovative concepts like Fusion, Desi and International flavors. They have gained global recognition because of technology. Audiences get plugged in to the latest trends in music. So naturally the various genres will intersect and intermingle.

As far as keeping the “purity” of styles intact, it is up to the singer or musician and their individual experiences. As a responsible musician, if I am able to convey the feel of any style of music, without inhibitions, then my mission is achieved.

IC: What do you see as the future of the Hindustani musical tradition?

SKK: Music is the universal language of mankind. Music is Divine. I do not have any prejudices about the styles of music because it is a world with 7 notes, with a universal appeal.

No matter what the styles evolve and transition into, I am positive that they will all eventually return to their roots. Because I firmly believe that Classical music has all the answers.

“Maa Saraswathi sabko sambhalti hai”! (Mother Saraswathi takes cares of all)!

Smt. Sangeeta Katti begins her 2019 tour of the U.S with a performance in the San Francisco Bay Area at the Shirdi Sai Parivaar, Milpitas – on May 5th, 2019; from 3:30 – 6:30pm.

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Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.

Two Women, Two Media Companies

Do you know that two media companies in the Silicon Valley are led by women? Representing two of the largest populations in the world, India and China, these two medias serve the immigrants from India and China in the United States.

India Currents has been a thought leader since its founding in 1987. An achievement that speaks to the unique need for a platform that champions South Asian identity of the diaspora . DingDing TV celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Check out this video which shows publisher of India Currents, Vandana Kumar in conversation with Diana Ding, CEO of DingDing TV.

 

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