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India’s One Quintessential Salesman

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Last December, I was in Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu, a self-made city built by the enterprising instincts of Kongu Vellalars (Gounders) and Naidus, the two major communities that pretty much built the city and the region surrounding the city from scratch, with practically no support from federal or state governments.

Kongu Vellalar’s (Gounders’) and Naidus’ footprints are everywhere in the area  —  in elementary, primary, secondary education; 4-year colleges in arts and science; medical and engineering colleges; hospitals, primary care centers and charities; small and medium industries; and in patronizing performing arts.  In an area where one needs to go 300 to 400 feet deep to get water, these people also engage in farming and agriculture.  That is how hardworking and enterprising the people in the region are.

We were in the shopping area along Hundred-Feet Road in Coimbatore looking for a Pattu Paavaadai (reshmi lehnga) for my 3-yar old grand daughter. Hundred-Feet Road had several showrooms for silk saris and gold/diamond jewelry. These shops specializing in silks only sell the fabric in pure Kanchi silk for Paavaadais for 2 to 12-year old girls. The Paavaadai fabric, like expensive saris, comes with matching material for the blouse integrally woven at one end.

My wife and I were debating how the green pavadai would go with the pink/red blouse material for our 3-year old brown grand daughter. The salesman heard our discussion: “Ayya, oru nimisham,” or “Sir, wait an minute.” He continued in Tamil: “I will show you how it would look as a paavaadai-jaaket pair.”

I don’t know what he did, or how he did it. Within 30 seconds, he folded the single piece of silk fabric in a few complicated steps. Bingo! Magically, he made the same piece of fabric look like a paavaadai-blouse pair.

“Ayya, ippa parunga.” Or, “Sir, now you see.” With a smile on his face, he continued in Tamil, “This is how it would look on your grand daughter.”

I asked him to pose for a picture. And here it is.

Needless to say, he was so good, I also ended up buying more material than what I had in mind when I entered the shop. ♣

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Young Men and Women in India Choosing Their Partners on Their Own Is Nothing New

By K S Venkataraman

     Young Indian men and women in the US or in India increasingly choose their own partners now. Parents are usually informed that they are “seeing someone” who they met in college/at work/on online dating sites. In the due course of time, these youngsters eventually settle down in life with their choice of life partners.

Young men and women choosing life partners on their own is not entirely a new phenomenon in India. Literature dated 2500 years before our time has poems describing the lament of parents over their daughter leaving with her beloved without even informing them! Here is an example.

     Aga-Naanooru is an anthology of 400 verses in classical Tamil. Here is the verse in Aga-Naanooru in the original, by the poet Karuvoor Kannambalanaar. (Reference: Aga-Naanooru by Puliyoor Kesikan, Pari Nalayam, Chennai, Verse 263):

The verses in Aga-Naanooru are dated between 600 years BC and 300 years AD. (Incidentally, the UN has declared Tamil as a classical language of the world. The other UN-recognized classical languages are Sanskrit, Mandarin, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. India is the birthplace of  two of the world’s classical languages.)

     The language in these verses is old classical Tamil that most Tamils of today cannot understand without the help of commentary by scholars.  The gist — not a translation — of the verse is this:

    The Sun making waves in the oceans is worshipped all over the world, But this summer, it has dried the lakes and ponds, making the rich farmlands fallow, thus plunging farmers into poverty. 

     In this hot summer, along a trail through the forest used by people to go from one village to another, in an area with thick foliage, thieves with bows are hiding on higher branches of tall trees to rob travelers. 

     My innocent daughter has left my house eloping with her lover, and now has to travel through the dangerous forest… …

     The neighboring City of Vanji is well protected by Kothai, its courageous spear-bearing king. Even my prosperous farmland is as safe as Vanji.  If only I had known my daughter’s love for her beloved, willingly and without any ill feeling and rancor, I would have arranged the marriage of my virtuous, innocent daughter with a lovely, bright forehead such that her beloved can rest his head on the valley between her still-growing breasts and sleep.  Alas! I cannot do this for her now.

     So, relax and take it easy if your wards go on their own in choosing their life partners. This has been the way of the world all over.  Besides, there is nothing else you can do about it anyway!   ♣

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Weekend in the Only Ice Hotel in Quebec City

By Rahul Dilip Tendulkar, Shaker Heights, Ohio

Editor’s Note: Rahul Dilip Tendulkar was born and raised in Grand Blanc, MI. He went to medical school at the University of Michigan, and finished his residency in radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic, where he is at the Taussig Cancer Center. He married Rajani, daughter of Arvind and Deepa Koimattur of Monroeville. The Tendulkars and their two daughters live in the Cleveland Metro area. Rahul enjoys traveling, publishing papers and tennis.

My wife Rajani, daughter of Deepa and Arvind Koimattur of Monroeville, was born on a cold and snowy January day in Pittsburgh in 1978. Naturally, she wanted to spend her milestone 40th birthday not on a warm beach, but rather in an environment similar to the day of her

Rahul and Rajani with their kids in the hotel lobby.

birth. So our family planned a special trip to visit the Hotel de Glace just outside of Quebec City, Canada, which is the only ice hotel in North America. Accompanied by her daughters Parisa and S

amira, myself, and her parents Deepa and Arwind Koimattur, we packed our bags with extreme cold weather gear to withstand the arctic blast that weathermen were predicting to sweep through the continent.

The Hotel de Glace, which is only open from January to March each year, is constructed by local artists who spend weeks putting together the massive structure out of snow and blocks of ice. Like a giant igloo, the indoor temperature remains surprisingly constant around 25 degrees F despite the subzero wind-chill temperatures outdoors.

The hotel is an architectural phenomenon, with a bar, a chapel, and forty-five

Aravind Koimattur enjoying the freezing cold with his wife Deepa and grand kid at the ice hotel.

distinctive guest rooms. The bar area was equipped with bright LED lights, dance music, a fireplace, and drinks served in glasses made of ice — it was quite the party! Intricately designed ice sculptures were there in every corner and even hanging from the arched ceilings.

Each bedroom was uniquely crafted, with beds made of ice and topped by a comfortable mattress with sleeping bags of the same kind as used by explorers

to the North Pole. We carefully tucked in the children first and zipped them up so only their eyes and noses were exposed. Getting ourselves into the sleeping bags proved to be even more tricky, but once we were able to zip ourselves in, our bodies (except for our faces) were remarkably comfortable. As parents, we didn’t sleep much that night, but our children slept like babies. We all woke up with a sense of accomplishment having survived a night outdoors in the coldest place we have ever visited! It was certainly an occasion to remember for the January birthday girl.  ♣

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A Memorable and Nostalgic Train Journey

By Premlata Venkataraman    

e-mail: ThePatrika@aol.com

Home, country, kinship can mean different things at various stages in your life. Confusing? Maybe not. For those of us who were born in one nation, but now call another our home, these concepts have been shifting. Ponder this: for many of us going to India  on our first visit after being here for several years, it brings forth choking emotions of nostalgia, love for the place and people, self-doubt on our leaving India, even patriotism. However, after a few decades of living in the ‘Burgh, when returning from India, just a glimpse of the Three Perennial Rivers from the plane before landing gives us the relief and comfort of being home.

Mangalore Junction.

With nostalgia, after thirty years, last December, I created an opportunity to travel through the lands where my parents were born and lived until adulthood — small-town Kerala they were from for generations before moving to Bombay, where they raised a family.

We settled on an 8-h long train journey along the West Coast of Southern India from Mangalore to Coimbatore. I had taken this route at least ten times from childhood through my young adulthood. People talk about the past flashing before their eyes. As the train was gently going past several small stations, memories of past images gushed past in my mind as I was looking through the window!

Coconut palms just 50 yards away from the railway track.

We boarded the train early in the morning at Mangalore Junction after going to the famous Mookambika and Udupi Temples. As the early sun was drenching the landscape with light, the train was gently going past a land of coconut groves densely dotting the green paddy fields. Acres and acres of green fields, stretched on a land watered by plenty of streams and rivers.  Backwaters washed over the land, with bobbing fishing boats headed out to the Arabian Sea visible through the window.

One of the countless homes along the track nestled around coconut palms.

The scene was so reminiscent of the many trips I had taken in my childhood traveling from Bombay to Kerala to visit grandparents and family. I distinctly remember now, as you enter Kerala from Coimbatore, the changing landscape from Tamil Nadu was so sudden and dramatic. That is why India has so many diverse languages and food preferences.

Palakkad Junction, nostalgically familiar to those from Kerala.

We passed through Kannur where my maternal grandfather taught mathematics and accounting at the European High School — the grandfather, I remember, wore a linen jacket and a cotton turban. We moved on to Thallassery, famous for black pepper, the home of my mother and her large family, onto Mahe, my father’s hometown. The train chugged on through Badagara where my parents lived for a short time before moving to Bombay. I re-lived the many stories told by my relatives at several family gatherings in my childhood.

About the Indian railways in South India: Having traveled in European and US trains, I must say, the Indian Railways system does an amazing job, when you consider that over 10 million people are on long-distance trains every day, and how relatively affordable the second-class tickets are to average Indians. A great improvement in the trains is new toilets that collect waste products, like in airplanes, leaving the railway tracks en route clean.

Ticket purchase is now as easy as on-line booking of airline tickets. The tickets give all the information of compartment number, (as the rail cars are called in India), its placement on the station platform and seat numbers. You are able to board the train with comfort and with no anxiety. The railway platforms in big stations are typically 1000 yards long. South Indian train stations are clean with enough seating for weary travelers. The longest trains, with 24 rail cars, are over 650 yards long.

Verdant paddy fields in front of coconut palms — a common sight in central Kerala.

The railway staff was courteous and professional. A new development that pleased me was: all employees at stations waving the trains off were women in smart uniforms! Also, now women are in the driver’s seat, running the heavy electric locomotives in suburban trains as well.

The range and quality of food at the South Indian railway stations did not disappoint me. The food and newspaper stalls are all privatized, with lots of local delicacies. Snack packs of salty banana chips, cookies, halwas, crackers, and murukkus are available everywhere.

We had appam and stew for breakfast at the station. Our boxed lunch of rice, sambar and yoghurt too were served fresh.  Nonvegetarian lunches too are available. One suggestion if you are travelling in long-distance trains: Take paper napkins, fork/spoons and bottled water before leaving home; and also some large trash bags to put all the waste you will generate.

The short 8-hour ride through a familiar, beautiful route made me nostalgic. So, if you have the time and the opportunity, travel in a long-distance train in India along a route familiar to you from your younger  days. It is far more interesting than sterile air travel. It will bring back memories that you thought you’ve forgotten long, long ago.  ♣

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A Real Life Humorous Story — How I Became An Artist

By Mahendra Shah   

e-mail:  mahendraaruna1@gmail.com

Editor’s Note:  After earning his degree in architecture from the MS University in Vadodara, Gujarat, Mahendra Shah, migrated to the U.S. in 1974.  Mahendra, a successful entrepreneur and businessman for many years in real estate and retail businesses, is an enthusiastic contributor to the Pittsburgh Indian community. Over the years, he has recorded his humorous observations on immigrant Indians in America in more than 1500 cartoons.  He is also keenly interested in poetry, essays and paintings. His work was originally published by Pittsburgh’s Gujarati magazine and is now featured in several publications and exhibitions.

I was in the 10th grade. Our Gujarati literature class was studying Saraswatichandra, an epic four-volume text written by Govardhanram

Mahendra’s self portrait.

Madhavaram Tripathi. The story is about love, wealth, business, and family. Once a week our teacher, who was also our principal, taught one chapter at a

time. He narrated the story in such a lively fashion that you felt as if the entire scene was being played out right in front of you.

Growing up shy and somewhat reserved. I preferred to sit in the back of the classroom trying to avoid answering questions. I often wandered off into my own thoughts.

In one class the teacher began reading the story in which Saraswatichandra was going from his village to meet his fiancee in her village. He was walking through a wooded forest and ran into a poisonous snake.

As I was listening to the story unfold, my mind began to wander in its usual fashion. I began to doodle in my notebook, at first somewhat aimlessly, but then, the teacher’s words grabbed my attention. As he began describing the poisonous snake creeping closer and closer to Saraswatichandra, I started imagining and drawing the whole scene as a pencil sketch.

All other students were mesmerized by the teacher’s reading of the story. They were frozen in their seats in anticipation of what was to come next. The room was absolutely still except for me. My eyes were glued to my notebook as my fingers were busy doodling and drawing out the scene that the teacher was narrating.

Suddenly, the teacher’s eyes set on me and he noticed that unlike the other students, my attention was not fully on him. He stood from his chair and menacingly stared at me. I was frozen stiff. I was certain I was in an enormous amount of trouble. I had never been this frightened in my entire life.

He knew I was doing something in the notebook. He called me to his desk. As I rose from my chair, raising his voice, he said, “Bring your notebook too. I want to see what is so important that it drew you away from my lesson.”

I approached the teacher with my notebook and was terrified of what would come next. Immediately, he asked me to hand over the notebook and opened it to the page full of my doodles. As he looked closer and closer at my notebook, his face stiffened. I was sweating in fear. I was expecting the worst.

Several seconds passed as he riffled through all the pages. Slowly, I saw that his frown was gone.  When he finally began to talk, he showed the entire class my sketch of the story. He praised my drawings and said that they were the best narration of the story!

I felt such a sense of relief. Not only was I not in trouble, but from that day on, I was known as the “Resident Artist” of the school. I was commissioned to execute all art-related projects — posters, banners, and others — for school events.

After my education, I married and came to the United States. The responsibilities that came along with work and family made me put my art on the back burner, but I always kept doodling or sketching in my spare time.

Our children had grown and started lives of their own. Several years ago my daughter and son-in-law were visiting us. They had just moved to a city only a couple of hours from Pittsburgh.

When I returned from work in the evening, I was surprised to find my daughter exploring my art portfolio. It had been sitting in the attic for years, and I had nearly forgotten about it. In fact, we were preparing to move to a new house, and the album was meant to go into the trash pile!

My daughter asked, “Dad, would it be alright if I take a few pieces of your artwork with me?”

“Of course, you can. I was going to throw those away anyway.”

A few weeks later, we went to visit them in their new apartment. When we entered the house, to my utter surprise and delight, I saw a few of my paintings and drawings hanging nicely on the walls. They were framed aesthetically too. I was so touched. It felt wonderful to have my art appreciated again after so many years by my own children..

Her simple act of appreciating my forgotten paintings inspired me to return again to my childhood passion of being an artist.  ♣

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Francis Cleetus’ Vibrant Paintings on Display

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Francis Cleetus happily poses for the Patrika in front of one of his painting collections.

On a wintry January evening, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council organized a Gallery Crawl for lovers of the visual arts to “crawl” from one venue to another to enjoy the works of Pittsburgh-based creative minds at several galleries and public places. The artists were also present to answer questions; music programs and a comedy improv also were part of the crawl. Part of the crawl was the works of Indian-American visual artist Francis Cleetus at the gallery at 810 Penn Avenue  downtown.

Cleetus has brought 3-d effect simply by imagina-tively using the effect of light and shadows in a 2-d painting. Do you see a Ganesha in this?

Cleetus was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). “Even from my early childhood, I always had interest in visual arts,” he says. He helped friends with their drawing-related homework assignments at school. He says, “My dad, who worked for Reader’s Digest, encouraged me in my pursuits.”  Cleetus went to St. Pius High School in East Bombay, where his English teacher Mary D’Souza encouraged his creative pursuits. She was his inspiration.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Bombay, he worked as a chemist at a tire company. He soon realized that was not his calling. He went on to earn his diploma in Advertising Management from the Advertising Agencies Association of India. While working on multi-media campaigns for clients, he kept his creative instincts alive. Along the way, he won awards at agencies like Draft FCB, J. Walter Thompson, and Doe Anderson in India. He

A painting of Cleetus shows a snake in 3-d.

developed his style as a painter, designer, illustrator, cartoonist and sculptor. But Cleetus had no formal education or training in visual art. His talents are instinctive, endowed by Mother Nature.

After living in Hong Kong for nine years with his wife Maneesha, Cleetus joined MARC Advertising as its Creative Director in Pittsburgh.

A few years ago, when Phipps Botanical Conservatory organized Tropical Forest India, a 3-year live exhibition, Cleetus’ mandala-type painting decorated the roof of the South-Indian-style entrance created by our own Sthapathi Ayyachami Narayanan of Monroeville.

Cleetus is currently with Mylan’s global creative & design services team working on logo designs, print ads, billboards, digital ads, websites, exhibitions and more.

When asked why all of  his paintings on display are inspired by Indian themes, his reply was quite simple and direct: “Because that’s who I am.”   But his sculptures and drawing also have universal themes  in terms of imagery.

On the inaugural day, Michael Griska was on the sitar adding to the excitement and enjoyment. See the picture on the side.

Cleetus lives in Upper St Clair with his wife Maneesha and two daughters, Ananya and Antara. More information about Cleetus is at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Cleetus.

Visitors can see Cleetus’ works at the Karmalogue Gallery during weekdays’ by arranging appointments with Christiana Leach at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) at 412.391.2060 Ext 228. The next Gallery Crawl is on April 27 from  5:30 PM till 10:00 PM, when you can see the works of other artists in galleries and other public places.   ♣

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Nandini Mandal:  Inspiring Journey in Dance Through Challenges

By Dolly Luthra and Juginder Luthra, Weirton, WV

e-mail:  dolgin1968@gmail.com

Nandini Mandal has now become synonymous with a talented dancer, teacher, brave and resilient survivor, and a cultural ambassador of India in Pittsburgh. It was a long, difficult but exhilarating journey.

We have known the ever-smiling Nandini since she came to Pittsburgh. She was not a household name when she landed in Pittsburgh from India in 1995. She being from Bengal, her talents were first recognized in the Bengali Association of Pittsburgh. Very many years ago, she was invited to give a performance for the Annual Triveni Family Variety Program. Her amazing dance pieces are still talked about. Just as a rooster cannot take credit for the sunrise, Triveni International cannot take credit for the trajectory of Nandini’s rise in the area; it was just one of the many platforms.

At Kharaghpur, 1987

It did not take long for Nandini’s creativity to be known to all Indians — and also non-Indians as well — in Greater Pittsburgh Area.

Even as a young child she stomped and broke into dancing to the beat of music and ghungroo. The inborn talent was quickly recognized by her pare

nts. Her mother, a school teacher, took Nandini to dance lessons. Her father, working in the Indian Railways in Kharagpur, too was very supportive. She started getting formal dance training when she was seven. In 1983 she obtained Junior Diploma in Hindustani Classical music. She earned her Senior Diploma, Sangeet Prabhakar, from Allahabad University with distinction in Bharatanatyam at the age of 14 under Guru Snigdha Pal. In the same year she completed her Arangetram. She also got training in Kathakali, Manipuri, and Nava-Nritya. Credit for the variety of dances in India, she tells, goes to traders and invaders who added new touches to the already existing Natyashastra-based dance traditions.

Later, when she continued her education in Calcutta, her passion for dance followed. She trained at the Kala Mandalam focusing on Bharatanatyam and Nava-Nritya.

With MaryMiller, Ashish Sinha and Nidrita Mitra-Sinha, 2012.

Her Bharatanatyam was Tanjavoor School (Gharana).  Her structured courses on the theory of Indian dances at college were extremely helpful when she took practical classes under traditional teachers.

After her marriage, she came to Pittsburgh where her husband was employed in the early boom period of the IT industry in the US. The Mandals are blessed with two daughters.

She founded the Nandanik Dance Academy and the Nandanik Dance Troupe in 19

With Hari Krishnnan                       Nair, 2017

98, where she is the director since inception. She teaches Bharatanatyam, Nava-Nritya, Folk, and contemporary dances. In her classes in Pittsburgh, she tries to teach her students the theoretical foundations to the extent possible.

In life, nothing goes up in a straight line. She developed aplastic anemia which required multiple blood transfusions. Her Indian friends in this town gathered together helping her in many ways — anything from arranging food, monetary help for the long duration of hospitalization and medical care, and social support for their beloved Nandini aunty teacher, mentor and friend, and her betis. This, combined with her grit and determination to live to full under very trying circumstance and share her God-given gift with children and adults, made Nandini survive through the ordeal.

Due to her sickness she lost movement in her thigh bone joint.  This required joint replacement.  For any dancer, this generally means end of dancing career.  But Nandini is not any dancer.  Her obstacles did not stop there. She continued with her dance, while restricting her acrobatic moves.

Jugalbandi with Kathak’s Anupam Kanti Chandra, 1991.

In the middle of all this, she developed an aggressive form of Acute Mylogenous leukemia. The only cure was bone marrow transplant. Her social network once again went into full gear searching for a compatible donor all over the world. An anonymous donor’s marrow matched. She went through a successful surgery, followed with chemotherapy and a lengthy recovery period.  She was fragile, having to raise two daughters.

She endured through all this with her grit and smile, and she was able to beat the disease, usually associated with high mortality rate. She credits her survival to the excellent timely care by cancer experts in New York and well-earned social support she received from friends.  The strong will to live also critical.

All through this, simultaneously she was struggling with personal issues too. She and the family survived this bitter part of their life as well. She credits her father’s support and for her and positive attitude for coming out of the many challenges.

Nandini continues to pass on her talent to her own daughters and hundreds of children in the Tri-State Area. She has given solo and group performances in and around Pittsburgh, and in other states in the US and India as well choreographing several dance programs. Her numerous activities include being an Art Activist, Event Planner and manager, Interpreter and Translator…

During rehearsal in                          Pittsburgh.

She spreads her understanding of dances, music and various facets of India in numerous schools in and around Pittsburgh. As the cultural ambassador of India with World Affairs Council’s Pittsburgh Chapter, she did a series of lectures at schools in Allegheny and Washington counties. She actively has collaborated with local artists such as Mary Miller, Africa Yetu and Dr. Sheila Collins.

She has performed dances in the presence of Mother Teresa, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam, and India’s Air Chief Marshall where she raised funds for the fallen soldiers.

Teaching 8-to-10 year olds in the Hill District’s YMCA.

After receiving so much help from society, she is conscious that she needs to give back to the society. Her fundraising activities include Light the Night Walk for Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Dance for Cure for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. A video of her choreographed dance is being used in India to help raise awareness for need of sanitation facilities for girls. A still photograph of this video, taken with the fountain at the Point State Park in the background was on the cover page of the Pittsburgh Patrika.

Nandini is one of the recipients of the Artist Opportunity Grant of 2016. Due to the efforts of Nadanik Dance Troupe, the Mayor of Pittsburgh issued a proclamation declaring November 14, 2014 as Prakriti Day.

Recently, in February 2018 her efforts and talents were recognized by the Pittsburgh Art Council. She is the first Indian/American to receive a grant of $12,000 for the production of Vilaya.

She feels bad that with so many high-caliber professional dancers living and actively performing in Pittsburgh, the community prefers to invite outsiders, glossing over the “Local” artists. Her dream is to one day perform in larger well-known theaters in Pittsburgh. Wo subah kabhi tho zaroor aayegi (Someday that morning will definitely come!)

As a panelist at the All for All Summit at Alphabet City 2017 as an immigrant artist and art activist with Olie Kahnu of AfrikaYetu, Janeira Solomon of KST.

In addition to teaching and choreographing dance programs, she enjoys reading, listening to good music and gardening. There is not a dull moment in her life.

Nandini declares, “Humans start dancing when they are born. Just watch the movements of babies.” Her motto in life is “Push forward and do not give up”

Pittsburgh is richer and a better place to live for Indians because Providence brought Nandini to live among us to realize her dreams here. We wish her success in every sphere of life.  ♣

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History of Tax Reform

By Kris Gopal      e-mail:  gutcut@comcast.net

As our present government scurried to create a new tax code before the end of 2016, it will be worthwhile to know how the tax code evolved in this country.

The first income tax bill was introduced in 1861 as a one-time event to raise money for the Civil War, which the then president Abraham Lincoln signed into law the same year. It was meant to be a temporary measure with a flat tax rate of 3% on annual incomes above $800 (equivalent to ~ $22,000 per year income today).

In 1862 congress created what would become the Internal Revenue service. This tax law lapsed in 1872, and there was no income tax till the year 1894 when congress passed law to in recreating income tax code. At that time the Supreme Court by vote of 5-4 voted that the income tax code was unconstitutional. A progressive reform group fighting to reintroduce the tax code led to the passage in 1913 of a constitutional amendment – the 16th amendment – legalizing federal taxation. The first implemented permanent tax code had a top rate of 7% on annual incomes above $500,000 which would be equivalent to $12.5 million today.

The U.S. Government later passed a massive tax hikes to pay for the world War I, including the first version of the estate tax, and raised the taxes yet again to finance the enormous costs of World War II. In 1944 the top income tax rate peaked at 94 percent on taxable income of over $200,000 (about $2.5 million today).

In 1963 President John F Kennedy slashed the top rate for individuals from 91 percent to a more reasonable 65 percent. This reduction met with still resistance from conservative Democrats and Republicans who worried about the deficit it will entail. When Lyndon Johnson became the president after Kennedy’s assassination, the Revenue Act of 1964 was passed lowering the top individual tax rate to 70 percent and the bottom rate to 14% from 20%. At the same time the corporate tax was also lowered from 52%to 48%.

Another seventeen years elapsed before the next tax reform took place under President Ronald Regan. He created the biggest tax cut by slashing the top individual rate from 70% to 50%. He and his advisers revamped the tax code and introduced the 1986 Tax Reform Act simplifying the tax and reduced fifteen tax brackets to just two, 15% and 28% percent. This tax code also eliminated $60 billion tax loopholes.  It was felt to be revenue neutral.

To appease few resentful congressmen and senators, Reagan increased the standard deduction to benefit low-income families. He also increased the capital gains tax from 20% to 28%.

Then in 1991, the then citizen Donald Trump told congress that the new tax reforms had been “an absolute catastrophe for the country.”

President George W Bush pushed through a major tax cut in 2001.  Later Democratic presidents have raised the top tax rate to 39.6% and the number of tax brackets was expanded to seven and several new tax breaks and loopholes were been added.

During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the Republican controlled House and Senate succeeded in rewriting the tax code. After cantankerous debates both in the House and Senate, the Republicans managed to pass the bill, solely along the party-line vote. It was necessary to raise the debt ceiling. The new tax bill reduces the corporate tax from 35% to 21%. It reduces personal tax bracket from eight to seven. It reduces individual taxes to many Americans. The new bill increases the personal standard deductions from $12,000 to $24,000. The present bill reduces the property taxes and state taxes deduction to $10,000. It reduces mortgage interest deductions for new houses up to $750,000. Some changes were also made in the estate taxes, and alternate minimum tax, and gift taxes.

The new budget increase spending on defense, infrastructure improvements, mental health care, and Catastrophic Fund.  This new tax law will not be budget neutral and will leave an enormous deficit. Congressmen of the future will have to reconcile with this huge budget deficit.

References:

The library of Congress. Business Reference Service. compiled by Ellen Terell. https://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html
The US. and International Media. Vol 17 issue 848
https://www.irs.gov/about-irs/brief-history-of-irs
https://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html
https://www.infoplease.com/business-finance/taxes/history-income-tax-united-states
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_history_of_the_United_States     ♣

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A Level Playing Field for Electing Members of US Congress from Pennsylvania

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The US Congress, as required by the US Constitution, has 435 Members in the House of Representatives, elected from 435 electoral districts from 50 states. With the nation’s current population around 320 million, each Congressional district must have approximately the same population (~ 720,000 people).

Consequently, states gain or lose House seats depending on the changes in the population determined by the decennial census. The population of Pennsylvania relative to the population of the nation has been declining throughout the second half of the 20th century. Hence the number of House seats from Penn­sylvania has been shrinking. See the adjacent table. Reference: https://tinyurl.com/Penna-US-House-Seats

Congressmen are elected from each state from “Congressional Dis­tricts,” which are specific geographical areas within the state. The map for each district is redrawn every ten years. The Pennsylvania legislature’s General Assembly (lower house and the senate) in Harrisburg has the authority to redraw the map after each census. However, the governor has to sign off on what the General Assembly proposes.

Pennsylvania is a Moderate State, Relatively Speaking: In elections for the US president and US Senate, the vote split between Democratic and Republican can­didates has been between 45:55 or tighter swinging either way. We have voted both for Republicans and Democrats in presidential elections; we have had both Democratic and Republican Governors and US Senators. So, Pennsylvania is a moderate state, relatively speaking.

The 18-member House delegation is skewed towards Republicans. How­ever, if you see the split between the two parties Congressional delegation from Pennsylvania, it is nothing but a scandal. Look at the numbers of GOP and Democratic Congressmen in recent elections from the state:

Election Year:                                   2010    2012    2014    2016

Republicans-Democrats split:          12-7     13-5     13-5     13-5

That is, Republicans have 67% of the state’s 18-member Congressional Delegation to the US House, even though the state votes 48-52, swinging either way in presidential and Senate races. Republicans garnered such a dis­proportionately skewed advantage in the US Congress by gerrymandering congressional district maps. They did this by banding and breaking voters identified to vote against them.

Banding: Segments of voters, mostly urban, well known to vote Demo­cratic (for example Blacks, Jews, Asians…) would be herded together into very few districts such that in these districts Democratic candidates would win with an 80%-plus majority.

Breaking: Where it suits them, Republicans have drawn the district maps dispersing Democratic voters in a densely populated urban area into multiple Congressional districts thus diluting their effectiveness against them, and gaining a clear advantage for winning in the general elections.

In many districts, once you win in the primary, you coast to vic­tory in the general election. The intra-party primaries are where the battle is won or lost. To know what gerrymandering is, just look at the example of the 7th congressional district, near Philadelphia shown below.

The state’s ~12.75 million population is clustered around urban centers like Philadelphia (6.0 million), Pittsburgh (2.4 million), and Allentown (0.8 million). The state’s population density is shown below.

The map of the Congressional districts of the last several election cycles is given below (Source:
The Washington Post).

The rural districts are large because they are sparsely populated. The above way of drawing the districts gave a disproportionate advantage to the Republicans for winning 13 of the 18 House seats from Pennsylvania  — more than 2/3 of the seats.

Republicans have been in the majority in the Pennsylvania General Assembly for years. This time, a Democrat (Tom Wolf) is the Governor in Harrisburg. Understandably, the governor did not sign off  on the Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting map. When the issue went to the state Supreme Court — the League of Women Voters filed the law suit — the court asked the General Assembly to revise their redistricting map, because the Republicans’ plan was “aimed at achieving unfair partisan gain.”  The revised redistricting map of the General Assembly too was not endorsed by the Democratic governor.

So, the state Supreme Court took it upon itself to redraw the congressional districts. With the help of a Stanford University professor, the Court redrew the map, saying the map is “superior or comparable” to all the submitted proposals, and is based on “traditional redistricting criteria of compactness, contiguity, equality of population, and respect for the integrity of political subdivisions.” It is a 4-3 decision in the 7-member state Supreme Court. The court-made map is shown below (source:  The Washington Post).

Based on votes cast in the 2016 elections, the new map gives a 10/8 split between the GOP and Democrats compared with the disproportionate 13/5 advantage the GOP now has in the Congressional delegation.

With a more level playing field now imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the 2018 mid-term elections to the US Congress in the state become more competitive, representative, and also equitable, in the context of the voting pattern in the state.

We thank the state Supreme Court for correcting the grossly unfair way the GOP-controlled General Assembly in Harrisburg gerrymandered Congressional districts. This and similar decisions in other states correcting the blatant gerrymandering by both parties can finally moderate the partisan deadlock we have been seeing in Washington for the last two decades.  ♣

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