Tag Archives: #telugu

SandiSpell: Spelling Bee Champ to Tollywood Remix Artist

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

After a hectic day in high school, comparing notes with classmates to understand derivatives and limits to traveling to various suburbs in central Massachusetts to play tennis, nothing grounded me more than resting my forehead on the window of a moving school bus listening to my favorite song. The melodious vocals of Sadhana Sargam on her award-winning song ‘Manasa’ from the Telugu movie ‘Munna’. Fast forward 10 years, I still find comfort listening to Desi tracks every morning on my way to work. Recently, I came across a mix on SoundCloud called “A Decade in Rewind: Tollywood Edition“. A mix of familiar Telugu classics I grew up with blended with hip hop vocals and beats by a name familiar to those in the desi dance circuit, SandiSpell aka Snigdha Nandipati. Having seen her name as the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion, I knew I had to speak to her and find out how she was breathing new life into songs that of us grew up with.

My interviews on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ primarily focus on identity. What has been a constant amongst the different personalities I encounter is this – this generation finds its own unique way to express their South Asian Identity. For Snigdha, one such outlet of her identity was through her music. Like many, she grew up singing and continued to hone her craft at Yale through her campus acapella group. While she learned how to harmonize with others, dissect melodies and beats, she wanted to implement the same techniques to the Telugu classics she grew up with. In between recording covers and acapellas of Telugu songs, she found herself in a community that many young South Asian creatives find their roots – The Desi Dance Network Forums. Check out my interview with Snigdha Nandipati on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ to hear about what her Telugu identity means to her, and how she expresses it through her music.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

Revolutionary Carnatic Musician: The Saint Thyagaraja

Indian history is full of exceptional devotees who proved the significance of love and spirituality. One such divine and gifted soul was the great “Saint Thyagaraja”. He descended on the land of Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu in India on May 14, 1767. He was born in a Telugu Vaidiki Mulakanadu Brahmin family.

Saint Thyagaraja revolutionized the dormant Carnatic Music during the 18th and 19th centuries. This form of Music is based on unique “Ragas and Talas” (musical notes) like all other forms of Indian classical music. It beautifully expresses Bhakti (devotion) and Sringara (love). Earlier, it was performed for the praise of God. Later, it included singing the glory of great kingdoms.

Thyagaraja was inclined towards music from an early age. Ramayana and Lord Ram also influenced the musical legend. He sang many kritis (a devotional form of composition in Carnatic music) of Lord Ram. He predominantly created the kritis in the Telugu language. Still, Saint Thyagaraja is a global icon. Two of his contemporaries also gained equal fame along with him in that era. They were Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Together, these three were known as the Trinity of Carnatic Music.

Carnatic Music has survived the ever-changing modernization of the music. Its several concerts are being held not only in India but all over the world. Compositions of Saint Thyagaraja are part of almost every show. Isn’t it phenomenal that they are popular and relevant even after 250 years of their creation!

Body of Work

Saint Thyagaraja created over 22,000 compositions during his lifetime. Out of them, only around 729 survived. They lived through the generations of his disciples. One of the most celebrated creations is “Pancharatna Kriti”. It is a combination of five Kritis of Lord Ram. Each one in a different Raga depicting different moods. One of them is in the Sanskrit language. The rest of them are in Telugu.

The great Saint Thyagaraja was not inclined towards the technicalities of classical music. His devotional music flowed like a free waterfall soothing the heart of his listeners. His fans ranged from common Men to the Kings of that era.

Like a Lotus Leaf!

He was detached from worldly pleasures. He was a perfect example of the lotus leaf provided in “Bhagvat Geeta” (a prominent Hindu scripture). A lotus leaf is untouched by water even while floating in it. All the drops of water fall off from its surface, and it remains clean. Saint Thyagaraja experienced everyday family life. He had a home where he lived with his wife and daughter but he always longed for the spiritual connection with Lord Ram. He regarded him as his friend and guide in his compositions. The musical legend never ran after wealth and fame. He used to make his living by “Daan” (Alms) given by villagers and his admirers. He denied an invitation from the King to live a lavish lifestyle. He believed he was born to serve God only.

Spiritual Height!

There are many stories of him witnessing miracles where he reached out to Lord Ram. Eventually, he gave the most significant proof that he was close to God. It is said that his day of demise, January 6, 1847, was announced by himself beforehand. He declared that Lord Ram has appeared in his dreams and promised to take him to salvation. He remained a mystic both in life and death.

Thyagaraja Aradhana – Homage to the Legend

His legacy continues even today through the Thyagaraja Aradhana music festival. It’s an annual event held between January to February on his death anniversary. It’s a week-long musical extravaganza organized at his resting place at Thiruvaiyaru. It has flourished to become an international marvel. Carnatic musicians gather from all over the world to celebrate the heritage of his compositions. It’s a mesmerizing sight when thousands of people together sing “Pancharatna Kriti” in his honor.


Reema Krishnan is a content creator at Acharyanet, a platform for Carnatic music learners where they can learn music from gurus through 400+ video lessons. Being a music enthusiast and a history buff herself, she is able to provide value for her readers and her content is well-received by musicians, music lovers, and music learners of all ages and at all stages. 

Rising Healthcare Costs Make Patient Care Difficult for Visiting Parents

U.S. President Donald Trump and presidential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, are united by one issue at least – the rising cost of medication.   

This July, prices rose 3.1 percent on average for 67 drugs compared to the same period last year. GoodRx points out that the increases came on the heels of a 6.8% surge, on average, from January to June 30 of this year – manufacturers raise prices in January and July annually. And for many Americans, this means not filling their prescriptions. In a new poll by Best Health and the Global Strategy Group of 4,200 potential voters in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, the main battleground states for the Senate, 22 percent of the respondents said they couldn’t afford medications prescribed by their doctors. More than a quarter (26%) said they or their family members were unable to seek treatment for a health problem in the last year due to cost concerns.

Rising costs have also affected another demographic – parents from India visiting their offspring. Thousands of older Indians have had to extend their stay as a result of travel restrictions amidst the pandemic earlier this year.

“My father is 75 years old and has had benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) for about 10 years. His urologist made the very unwise decision to perform surgery for my father’s BPH right before he came to visit me. He’s been experiencing complications from that ever since,” says Dr. Debyani Chakravarty, a new mother and a faculty member in the department of pathology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “I bought both my parents’ travel insurance but since these are complications from surgery, nothing is covered. I pay $300 per consultation with a doctor here, $300 for my dad’s cystoscopy, $100 for labs, and $200 for his meds so far. In Pune, their medication (alone) would cost at least ten times less.”

Another set of parents visiting their daughter, also a new mother in New York, were Sushima Sekhar and her husband from Chennai. Both had to postpone their return and were running out of their diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medication they’d brought from India. 

Their daughter’s physician, Sekhar says, asked to see them in order to prescribe. “The consult per person was $250, quite steep,” she recalls. “In the meantime, we got the number of a COVID Tamil Task Team which was doing an unbelievably great service to stranded Indians here. They had chemists and doctors in their group. All we had to do was give them our Indian prescription, and they would find the equivalent generic low-cost drug, double-check with their doctors, (and issue us a prescription here). We kept them as a last resort because the price of meds, however low, was way too high when converted in Indian rupees – anywhere between five to fifteen times higher.”

Sekhar eventually succeeded in getting the medication couriered from India, after that avenue opened up following a lockdown there. 

But for many others, obtaining affordable medication in time without missing dosages would have been impossible but for voluntary groups such as the COVID-19 Tamil Task Team, and Non-Resident Indian doctors in the Telugu community. 

Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, a Telugu NRI doctor who is helping parents visiting from India.

“The federal government relaxed telemedicine rules (as a result of the pandemic), and I wanted to help these people stranded here. For one prescription to go out, we had ten volunteers working on it,” says Dr. Saravanan Ramalingam, a trauma surgeon in New York who helped launch the service. The initiative gained momentum after the group had a conference call with Shatrughna Singha, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, who was keen that Indian-origin doctors provide help to visiting older Indians in need of healthcare and medication, Ramalingam points out.  

Vasudevan Kothandaraman, an IT professional in New Jersey, helps to co-ordinate within a group of around 30 volunteers. The quality checks are stringent, he says, and prescription requests are routed through the app Freshdesk. Volunteers verify the Indian prescription and refer patients to a telemedicine team of doctors if required. A group sends the list to local pharmacies to find out if an American equivalent of the drug is available. If it is, the verification team, consisting of doctors, nurses, and pharma PhDs search for a cheaper, generic alternative. The prescription team reviews the process, and a doctor faxes a prescription to a pharmacy nearest to the patient’s home. “If the cost is really high, we provide them with GoodRx type of discount coupons,” Kothandaraman says. “We have issued 400 prescriptions (at the start of the pandemic lockdown).”        

Now, a fall surge expected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could again intensify the struggles of older Indians visiting in the U.S., and those who have extended their visas to be with family. 

Doctors are standing by to help. 

“One Telugu lady, a mother visiting her family in North Carolina, had recurring urinary tract infection. She was stuck here because of the lockdown and had no clue where to go and what to do,” says Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, an internist who was recently awarded a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology by the New York Medical College. “I heard her medical history – she had co-morbidities – and prescribed antibiotics at a CVS Pharmacy close to her. Told her to drink plenty of water and some cranberry juice; her symptoms were gone within a week.”

Lakkasani pauses, adding reflectively: “She is an elderly stranger, she is talking in my language. It moves you.”  


Sujata Srinivasan is a business and healthcare journalist in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @SujataSrini.

Featured Image by Harsha K R.

I Refuse to Be Called an ABCD

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

“I like pizza, and I like camping, and hiking with my dad”, my classmate shared with me on the very first day of first grade in the United States.

I remember thinking to myself in Telugu (my mother tongue) that I had no idea what he had said. “Pizza? Camping? Hiking?”. It was the first moment I realized that there was something different about me.  I felt lost. The feeling was a visceral one that would become a familiar and frequent feeling over the next 26 years of my life in the United States. A feeling that can only be described as a mismatch between my external perceptions and my internal being at my very core.

As I grew older, I obviously grew to love the savory Italian dish, and I even grew to love walking through nature and appreciating its beauty while sleeping in tents overnight. But as I met others like me, I soon learned that this feeling was the seedling of the identity crisis that will continue to cause a chasm in the souls of many young South Asians growing up outside of India.

My confusion with identity did not stem from a lack of awareness of food items and outdoor activities, but rather from confronting my parents’ core values compared to mine. I’ve since adopted what they’ve considered “American Values” while still keeping some of my “Desi Values.”

I am part of a generation that is only now recognizing and accepting its new identity. This identity is far greater than the once common yet cringey acronym, “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi). What led up to this self-acceptance? A slow rise in visibility of the South Asian identity in community and media spaces. It spurred the never-ending conversation about identity amongst first, second, third-generation immigrants.

‘Masalainurdosa’

What was once an Instagram handle that my cheeky 21-year-old self came up with to arrogantly describe the spice and the “stuff” that makes the beloved South Indian dish has now inspired the identity of my new platform to showcase the “stuff” that makes up South Asian diaspora.

I hope to bring on people from all walks of life, all South Asian backgrounds, and speak with them about their journey with their identity. Through meaningful conversations and discussions, I hope to address the complexities and nuances that exist in how our South Asian culture and heritage mixes with our daily lives. I want to showcase conversations from South Asians who are exploring and defining their identity through their careers, art, music, and writing.

While acknowledging that our families have introduced us to our cultures, the platform prioritizes the voices of the younger and newest generations to show the ever-transforming ways people are resonating with South Asian culture – beyond language, behaviors, regions, or caste.

My hope is for the South Asian diaspora to realize that one’s unique and individual identity should be celebrated unmarked by cultural or generational expectations of the country you are born in. If any of this strikes a chord with you, check out my Instagram for regular updates, and my YouTube channel.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.