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Nilakantha Dikshita: A Lesser-Known, but A Great Sanksrit Poet of the 16th Century

By V Krishnaswami, Ross Twp., PA

e-mail: vkrishnaswami@comcast.net

 

Editor: V. Krishnaswami, a longtime resident in our Metro area, grew up in Tamil Nadu.  Sanskrit was his second language in high school, and also at the Loyola College, Chennai. He was taught Sanskrit at home by both his grandfather, an erudite scholar in the language, and his father, who was well versed in both Sanskrit and Classic Tamil. Both were lawyers.  Krishnaswami’s interest included Kavyas (poetry), scriptures, stotras (hymns)…  He has read Sanskrit dramas in the original — the works of Bhasa, Kalidasa, Dandi and Bhabhuti. His interest in Appayya and Nilakantha Dikshita started when his grandfather taught him Nilakantha Dikshita’s Shanti-vilasam. He feels that Sankara’s Brahmasutra Bhashya is a masterpiece in literature, logic and hermeneutics (the subject dealing with the theory and methodology of interpretation wisdom literature, and philosophical texts).

Krishnaswami came to Pittsburgh in 1973 as a fellow in cardiology at the then Presbyterian University Hospital. He practiced cardiology in Pittsburgh at Mercy and UPMC between 1988 and 2017. He was a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.  Now retired, he was involved in teaching and research all through his career.

Sanskrit is the mother of Indic subbranch Indo-European languages. ‘Samskritam’ literally means a language of perfection. The beauty of this “language of the Gods” was elucidated by William Jones(Chief Justice of Supreme Court in Bengal at the time of Warren Hastings) in his address to Asiatic society on February 2, 1786: “Sanskrit language …is of a wonderful nature, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin more exquisitely refined than either.”

If you poll the people in India where Sanskrit as a language is well known even if not spoken or understood, about Sanskrit poets, I will be surprised if they can name anybody beyond Kalidasa. Some may have heard of Dandi, Magha, may be even Bavabhooti. Sanskrit poesy appears dead after the time of these masters. But hat is not true. 

It was prevalent in religious works of Sankara and his disciples in 8th century, Ramanuja (9th/10th century) and later, Madhva in 11th century. Many people wrongly think there was no Sanskrit poetry after 12th century.  even though it was not flourishing. Tulasidas Goswami (16th century). Muthuswami Deekshitar (18th century) are great Sanskrit Bhakti poets.

Nuilakantha Dikshita was a Sanskrit poet, born in South India in 16th century. He was born in the illustrious family of Appayya Dikshita. We know that he was born at the end of 15th century and lived to about middle of 16th century. Neelakanta was a genius, great poet, philosopher and a distinguished statesman. He was the chief administrator  during the rule of Thirumala Nayaka, ruler of Madurai, a splintered state after the collapse of the Vijayanagar empire.

Impressed by the young Nilakantha’s exposition of the text Devimahatmyam, the King Tirumalai Nayak was so impressed that he offered him a position as an administrator in his kingdom. His exquisite poetical works go beyond Bhakti, and are known for their humor, suggestion, sarcasm, Slesha (double entendre) — all in measured quantity.

His  works include plays (his magnum opus being Nalacharitra Nataka)  epic poems like Siva-leela-arnavam and Gangavataranam. His minor works include Kalividambanam, Sabaranjana Satakam, Santivilasam  reflecting the hypocrisy in the society in Kaliyuga among various professions. Some of his works are not extant and some only partially available.

Neelakanta Dikshta’s poetry is like honey in a bottle. The pleasure starts right with the look, easy to obtain and sweet, unlike the works of some great poets. For example, Bhavabhuti whose works are heavenly, are like cool coconut water in summer, but you have to get the fibers out and break the shell before you enjoy it. Dikshita’s style is simple, his words are fluent and spontaneous coming from the heart (Sahrudaya), with not much of grammar problems. His descriptions of nature in Gangavataranam is splendid. He also wrote heart-melting Bakthi poetry in which in spite of all his scholarly understanding of the Upanishads, he makes a case that one can attain liberation only by totally surrendering to God and through His Grace — Her in his case, since he was a bakta of Goddess Meenakshi, the presiding deity of Madurai temple) —  and not by Gnana (knowledge) alone, somewhat akin to Martin Luther’s idea of Grace.

Here is a sloka from Anandasagaratavam a beautiful work in prayer to Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai:

Translation:

How many different recensions (Shakha) there are in the Vedas!

How many different Upanishads in each of these recensions!

How many births will be needed for mere rote learning of these texts — Not to speak of the study to understand their meaning!

In this profound verse the poet rhetorically says, any amount of  knowledge acquired by the study of Vedic or other religious texts alone without God realization (for which you need God’s Grace) will not bring  hope for liberation in this life.

Editor: We will share with readers other examples of Neelakanta Dikshita’s poetry in the ongoing issues.  

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Bhamini and Vaishnavee’s Delighful Karnatic Arangetram

By P Sundararaman, Allison Park, PA

e-mail:  psundararaman@hotmail.com

All children are natural musicians. Obsession to music is what makes them talented. Right training and rigorous practice can make them performers, if they so desire. Bhamini and Vaishnavee, teenage daughters of Hema and V Sundararaman, gave an impressive debut vocal Karnatic duo recital at the SV Temple auditorium on Sunday, July 8, 2018. Rasikas, discerning and common alike, enjoyed the concert, encouraging them with well-deserved applause.

Their Guru — Tirumala Penugonda Chakrapani and Seethalakshmi Madhavan — have given them a firm foundation in fundamentals of Karnatic music, further kindling their desire for creative music. “Creative” music, by implication, cannot be “taught.” Guru can only illustrate how to approach it. The student should assimilate these guidelines and practice creative singing with raga embellishment, neraval, kalpanasvaram, with the Guru and then by themselves, till they become confident that the rules and restrictions are not violated. Creative music cannot be memorized and reproduced, it is improvised on the spot.

Bhamini and Vaishnavi began their concert with an invocatory sloka followed by a well rendered rare varnam in Kharaharapriya composed by musicologist Pinakapani. The fifteen krtis of various composers presented by the sisters, were all set to different talas and ragas. The kritis were sung with chittai (proper diction and precision); a proof of their rigorous practice. They delineated raga and svaraprastara for several kritis.

Parvati Ninnu in the raga Kalgada, Muruga in Saveri, Ekkadi Narakamu in Nitimati (a rarely heard raga) were noteworthy. The well-presented center piece Kaddanu Variki in raga Todi with detailed alapana and neraval and the sisters singing complimentary one-avartana svaram were enjoyable. Their 3-hour concert with no break remarkably maintained a steady tempo throughout.

The young, talented accompanying artists — Sarang Mulukutla on the violin and Ganesh Sankaranarayanan on the Mrdangam — supported the young singers very well. Anjali Bandi on the tanpura provided the critical shruti accompaniment. These five young artists jointly made the Arangetram to a near-professional performance.

I have listened to Bhamini and Vaishnavee from their childhood. Their passion for Karnatic music — instilled by their grandmother— should help them widen their horizon by learning and listening.   ♠

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Our Kailash-Manasarovar Pilgrimage

By Vish and Akila Iyer

e-mails:  vishviyer@yahoo.com and iyer1957@gmail.com

 

Editor’s Note: Vish Iyer, a physician, and Akila Iyer, a financial manager, live in Fox Chapel. Spirituality transcending religion, they say, is the goal they seek in life.

Mount Kailash is revered by millions of Hindus as the abode of Shiva. Pilgrimage to visit to this sacred mountain and lake  Manasarovar is the life-long ambition, not only for the Hindus, but also Buddhists, Jains and the followers of the Kom religion.

The authors at Yamadwar, the start of the Parikrama.

The vedas, the sacred texts for the Hindus, do not start from the first word and end with the last one. Of the four. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana Vedas, Yajur Veda is widely practiced.  Yajur Veda has 7 chapters and the middle of the fourth chapter is Sri Rudram. And the center of Sri Rudram are the syllables Si-Va. Thus around Si-Va is constructed Sri Rudram and around Sri Rudram is constructed the Veda. For the first time ever,  Atirudra Mahayagna — that is chanting Sri Rudram 16,461 times — and performing  Havan was organized at Mount Kailash, for world peace. Chanting Sri Rudram invokes Siva Himself and performing Yagnam (Homa) simultaneously ensures His presence.

Getting to Tibet is either via Nepal or China. We chose the Chinese route, which requires that we had to go  as a group, since individual permits are  not allowed in Tibet.  Lhasa, the beautiful capital of Tibet, is filled with lovely people who are culturally conscious. Chinese presence is felt in every aspect of day to day living.  The Potala Palace, the headquarters of the Dalai Lama is occupied by the Chinese.

 A busy thoroughfare in Lhasa, Tibet.

After acclimatizing for a day in Lhasa, we proceeded by road to Xigatse. The mighty river Brahmaputra gave us company during the long drive. After a night of acclimating in Xigatse, the next night was spent in Saga. Electricity is available only from 8 PM to midnight at Saga and other towns above this altitude.

A majestic view of Mount Kailash, the very purpose of our trip.

First stop was the sacred  Lake Manasarovar where we were blessed with the sight of the third moon representing Siva Himself. There are two lakes, Lake Manasarovar and lake Rakshastal that are side-by-side. Lake Manasarovar is filled

A Tibetan Buddhist, with help from her two children, doing the parikrama. for every four steps, she does an Pranam.

with life and there are birds and other forms of life. While Lake Rakshastal is devoid of any form of life. The legend goes that the waters of  lake Rakshastal is unfit for consumption as this was the place where the demon king Ravana did his penance and lifted Mount Kailash. And, the legend goes, Ravana got punished by Lord Siva who squeezed Ravana under the holy mountain.

Our base camp at Darchen is situated at an altitude of 16,500 feet. The partial pressure of oxygen gets low at these altitudes and any form of physical activity takes lot of effort. Many moons ago, as a young Captain in the Indian Army, I’ve experienced it along the Chinese border in Sikkim.

Because of various delays in delivery of Yagnam materials and other logistical hurdles, the Yagnam was delayed. We embarked on a 3-day Parikrama of Mount Kailash with basic supplies including plenty of high calorie food for the arduous trek. Each pilgrim had a porter who would carry a small backpack.

A Tibetan bride on her Big Day in he traditional Braial dress.

In addition, there was also a horse and the horseman as a back-up, if one is unable to walk. The starting point was Yamadwar near Darchen.

Buddhists believe in Parikrama, but they do full prostration after every four steps. It takes them 25 to 30 days to complete the entire length of 52 km. Bon religion has two categories, white Bon

A Buddhist Temple along the way.

that is quite compassionate and the other is Black Bon. Interestingly, those who practice Black Bon do the Parikrama  in an anti-clockwise direction. Their practices are somewhat similar to Islam.

At the end of the first day, we spent the night as close to Mount Kailash as possible near the north face with a  divine darshan of Mount Kailash.

The second day was the most difficult portion of the trek. It involved climbing to an altitude of 19,500 feet to Dolma La pass. The terrain was steep and uneven. Breathing was certainly challenging! Soon after we could see Gauri Kund, and also had darshan of  Hayagriva. According to the Buddhists, this is one of the three

The Hayagriva Mountain Peak, a work of art by Nature done over thousands of years in bone-chilling cold and blistering winds.

holy sites of Hayagriva who they recognize as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Climbing down was tricky where the surface was wet and uneven, but the breathing was definitely easier. The second night was spent in rather basic conditions in a guesthouse. Appetite

Yaks, the beasts of our burden, very critical for our trekking.

was literally nonexistent. Plenty of fluids and prophylactic medicines to prevent high-altitude sickness are vital.

The third day of the Parikrama was a lot easier on an even surface and it

involved another 20 km of trekking. At the end, it was a welcome sight to see the waiting buses to take us back to Darchen. We thanked our porters and horsemen and reached Darchen.

Our last day was partially spent in taking part on the Ati Rudra Maha Yagnam. The ambiance was divine. We thanked everyone and started our return journey. Our descent was along river Brahmaputra, back to Lhasa. One more quick appreciation of beautiful Tibet before flying back home, to Pittsburgh.   ♠

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One Upset Trump Supporter Angrily Responds

K S Venkataraman

E-mail:  ThePatrika@aol.com

 

In the wake of articles in the April and July issues of the magazine on President Trump’s presidency, one reader was quite upset and penned this e-mail:

Editor:

Shame on Patrika becoming anti-Trump mouth piece for Indian Diaspora in the Allegheny County. U.S. economy return 4.1% growth and now average 3.1% growth for the last six months.  U.S. economy couldn’t rise above the 2.2% doldrums of the Obama years.  Tax reform broke the bottleneck on capital mobility and investment from the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. Tax reform and deregulations have lifted U.S. Economy from Obama/Clinton doldrums.

Stop playing identity politics or caste politics like Democratic Party. 

Jay Goonetilleke

Former GOP Candidate in West Mifflin

In all democracies, when the stock market, the GDP growth rates  and unemployment numbers do well, the presidents/prime ministers and the ruling parties take credit, whether they deserve it or not, or whether they had anything to do with these numbers are not. Similarly, when these numbers go southward, opposition parties leave no opportunity to berate the ruling establishments for their gross negligence in not paying attention to “the pain and suffering of the ordinary, hard-working citizens.”

As we all know, changes in these numbers (upward or downward) have multiple contributing factors, some domestic, and others, on account of events and trends occurring in overseas. Very often, the ruling establishment have no influence over these events, not to speak of any control.

Discerning readers and those in the know of the rules of engagement in politics know that this strategy is how the game of politics is played.       

When Trump and his supporters take credit for economy doing good  (as the writer above does) under his watch (whether he has anything to do with it or not), they should extend the same courtesy to Obama, again whether Obama is directly responsible for these numbers or not. 

So, we feel compelled to share with readers some of the general observations we have already published earlier on the eight years of the Obama Administration and the two years under Trump. 

Since most of the readers of the magazine are college-educated, I present these observations as charts in the hope and expectations that readers can read these charts and make their own judgments:

On the Dow-Jones Average:

On Unemployment Rates:

 

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Why Is Coronary Heart Disease Such A Big Problem Among Indians?

By Dr Padma Garvey, MD Hudson Valley, NY

e-mail:  pgarveymd@gmail.com

Editor: Padma was born in Nellore India and grew up in Pittsburgh. She earned her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992. She is a full-time gynecologist in the Hudson Valley area, married to her physician-husband for 25 years. She has two kids in college. She practices yoga and is dedicated to teaching people about the benefits of a plant-based diet.  She has a website (www.drpadmagarvey.com).

Asian Indians have some of the highest rates of coronary artery disease and diabetes in the world.  I know from personal experience that many Indians are lulled into a false sense of security because they tend to be vegetarians. My own father, the late Dr. K N Rao, had diabetes. Eventually, he needed bypass surgery, but this extended his life by only two years. In addition, those two extra years of life were spent confined to a bed. Though my father had always been a strict vegetarian, he ate a high fat diet. Dinners included chutneys, ghee on lentils, fried papadam, fried pooris, tamarind rice with lots of oil and white rice, fried samosas, sugary laddoos, sugary jilebis, and yogurt. In addition, the typical Western snacks crept into his life. He ate potato chips, ice cream, candy, and cakes.

There is lot of misinformation about what a healthy diet includes. We hear fat is bad, fat is good.  We hear that carbs are the enemy. We hear that protein-centered diets like the keto diet or paleo diet are bad for us.

In actuality, the evidence regarding a healthy diet has been known since the 1930s when Dr. Ancel Keys conducted the famous Seven Country Study. Keys found that countries that consumed low fat diets had better health than countries that consumed high fat diets. In particular, Keys found that the Okinawan and Mediterranean diets in 1930 were extremely healthy having 10-18% total fat.

I came across an interesting study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in 1959, entitled “Serum Cholesterol, Diet, And Coronary Heart Disease in Africans and Asians in Uganda” by Shaper et al.  At the time of the publication of this study, coronary heart disease (CAD) was nonexistent among African Ugandans.  This alone is a shocking statement since CAD is the Number One killer of African Americans today.  While CAD was nonexistent in the African community, it accounted for 43% of all deaths over the age of 30 among Asian Indians in Uganda at that time.

The authors examined the diets of the two communities.  The African Ugandans ate a diet which included green leafy vegetables, maize, millet, yams, and beans. They ate very little meat and absolutely no dairy. They did not utilize much cooking oil in their cooking and consumed whole grains. In contrast, the Asian Indians in Uganda in 1959 were consuming white rice, lentils, butter/ghee, yogurt, milk, and lots of cooking oil.  The total fat calories in the African Ugandan diet was about 18%.  The fat calories in the Asian Indian diet in Uganda was 35-40%.

The typical middle-class, vegetarian Indian diet is even worse today. In general, vegetarian Indians are consuming more refined grains, added sugars, oils, animal dairy, and even cheese.  A low-fat, whole grain, plant-based diet has been the only diet ever shown to reverse heart disease.  This study conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish was published in the Lancet in 1990. When it first appeared in The Lancet, the results were so startling that many in the medical community felt that it would revolutionize the way CAD was approached and treated.  Dr. Dean Ornish even made it on the cover of Time Magazine with the subtitle asking if this was the end of heart disease.

Unfortunately, the fact that Ornish published his ground-breaking research in the British journal, The Lancet, suggests that the American journals passed on it. Around the 1960s, most American medical journals, American medical societies, and even American medical school education were supported by the pharmaceutical industry.

President Bill Clinton suffered a heart attack shortly after he left office. He had bypass surgery. After his surgery, he was on the standard regimen of medications including cholesterol-lowering drugs and told to follow the American Heart Association (AHA) diet. Interestingly, though the Ornish diet was the only diet ever shown to reverse plaques, the AHA recommends the less effective DASH diet. Clinton was quite frightened after his heart attack and followed his cardiologist’s recommendations.

About 18 months later, President Clinton had a re-occlusion or buildup of plaque in his heart. He underwent angioplasty. I remember watching reporters questioning Clinton’s cardiologist at the time. The reporters wanted to know why Clinton had a recurrence of his heart disease despite following the AHA guidelines. The cardiologist said, there was nothing more that could be done about it and that Clinton had bad genes.

Clinton was not satisfied with this response and talks openly about seeking other treatment options. Clinton came across the Ornish study and went to Dean Ornish for guidance. Clinton became a strict low-fat vegan.  His daughter, Chelsea, is also one.  Since following the Ornish diet, Clinton has been heart disease-free.  The past president of the American College of Cardiologists, Dr. Kim Williams from Rush Medical Center says that there are only two kinds of cardiologists, vegans and ones who are unaware of the data.

Indian physicians must be made aware of the proven benefits of a low-fat, whole grain, plant-based diet.  We need to educate the Indian community as well as all our patients to avoid needlessly painful, early, and costly deaths. Excellent resources for more information are on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) website.

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Time to Reform Cremation/Death Rites for Hindus in the US

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

e-mail:  ThePatrika@aol.com

 

Editor’s Note:  A slightly modified version of this article appeared in the April Issue of Hinduism Today.

Death rituals — burials and cremations or other practices — are perhaps more for the living left behind to come to terms with grief and get a cathartic relief at the irrevocability of the Final Exit. For people who pass on in their 80s and 90s, the death rites are also occasions for great celebrations for reminiscing the lives of the departed. After all, the departed would have seen so much of life’s ups and downs, very personal griefs, frustrations, disappointments, excitements, successes, failures… … And touched the lives of many people in very many ways.

A large proportion of Hindus use cremation for taking care of the dead. A relatively small fraction of Hindus also use burials. Traditionally, if people die in the forenoon or early afternoon, the cremation was expected to be done before sun down. For Jews and Muslims too, traditionally, the burials must be done before sun set, not always possible today.

For the Hindus today in many places outside India, cremation or burial on the same day of the death is simply not feasible because of medicolegal requirements of hospitals, autopsy, death certificates, funeral homes’ requirements, etc. Typically, it takes two to three days to organize cremation in North America after the Final Exit. If long weekends intervene, cremation takes place only after four or five days after the death. This is the reality today.

Further complication with Hindu cremation is that we need a pandit or a purohit to do the death-related rites for several days after cremation. In olden days when our ancestors lived in villages, on the day after cremation, the ashes were gathered and were sprinkled into the river or ocean, or lakes. Afterwards, there were daily rites for the departed for the next several days, at the end of which the departed Jiva was ritually merged with the departed ancestors. All these are called Antyeshthi karmas (NOT pujas).

Then, on the 13th day in many cases, there is a formal puja invoking the blessings of Nature for people to come to terms with the death of the departed so that people can get on with their lives. This puja goes with various names in different parts of India. In cases where people in the prime of their lives suddenly die in accidents or under complicated medical conditions, “getting on with their lives” is not easy. It takes years to come to terms with cruel games Life/Fate/Bad Luck plays with people.

A great many variations are there in the details of the rites from region to region and even within the region in different families with customs evolving over several centuries, compounded by geographic isolation.

Even fifty years ago, for people who die after a long life, siblings and cousins, nephews and nieces, and grand-kids and also close friends assembled for the 13th day Pujas to joyfully reminisce the life of the departed.  There is a great fellowship and camaraderie in these celebrations.

The 13-day death rites and celebrations, which was OK during our countryside leisurely life, are simply not sustainable in today even in India, not to speak of Hindus living outside. There are several practical reasons: For starters, today, the members of the family are scattered globally. Further, people have only two weeks of paid vacations, and they have very busy work routines. Children need to go to schools and colleges. And people running shops or small businesses cannot afford to be away from their shops for long duration.

Today, relatives — sometimes even siblings — rarely participate in all the key events such as the cremation itself, immersion of the ashes, and the 10th and 13th day events. It simply is not possible in contemporary lifestyle.

The saddest part of the system as it exists today is that often the husband and wife, often in their 60s or even older, do the 9th and 10th day karmas (rites), and the 13th day puja all by themselves, or with very few people to give them emotional support.

A great opportunity is thus lost for the extended family members and friends to commiserate among themselves during such a somber and evocative occasion. We need to remember that after the death of aged parents, the siblings slowly and naturally drift away from each other in the normal course of the flow of Time.

So, the 13-day death rites even for observant Hindus, for all intents and purposes, are already modified to varying degrees to to accommodate  the present day constraints and lifestyles.

Need for Reform on Death Rites

Given our changed lifestyle today, it is time that we are honest to discuss in the open the need for reform on death rites. We need to come up with a set of shortened and reformed death rites that will be an alternative optional standard for all Hindus who cremate/bury the mortal remains of the departed Jiva.

In stating this, I am NOT suggesting any radical change  Those who want to do in the traditional 13-day event may continue to do it that way.  However, for others who have other constraints as listed earlier, we can come up with death rites that can be done, say, within three days after the cremation, while still retaining the key elements of the 13-day events. Thus, the whole sequence will be completed within three (or four, or five) days after the cremation, which is a more manageable time-wise for all extended family members to participate.

A shortened death rites will greatly help all relatives to gather for all the death rites and observances and celebrate the life of the departed.

It is not fair to place the onus for shortening the rites on the individual Pandits/Purohits. They are already caught between a rock (their traditional training in pathashalas) and a hard place (their clients asking for all kinds of compromises). They have their own ethical codes that they do not want to drift too far away from unless they get social approval for the shortened version of death rites. We need to ask for it.

That is why we, the Hindu faithfuls, need to make an acceptable compromise on the core steps involved in death rites. Again, those who want to follow the 13-day practice, can continue to do so. We need to meld these rites into our contemporary lifestyle and fit them into 3 or 4 days after the day of cremation.  Are we ready for discussing this in the open?

Remember, the 3- or 4-day marriage events of the olden years has been seamlessly shortened to 1-day or even 1/2 day event today to fit our convenience.

Also, I heard in one lecture that even Manu in his smrti, has wisely stated that the codes he has given us need to be revised to adapt to the evolving lifestyles, much like constitutional amendments and changes in the laws we see today.   ♠

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Mental Illness, A Worldwide Epidemic: A Hindu Millennial’s Call to Action

Raashmi Krishnasamy  

e-mail:  raashmik@andrew.cmu.edu

 

Editor:  Raashmi Krishnasamy, currently a senior in Cognitive Neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon University, is a passionate advocate for mental health, particularly within the South Asian community. She aspires to combine her knowledge of neuroscience with public health to provide more equitable access to healthcare for individuals with mental health problems. She is dedicated to preserving her Indian cultural roots through activities on and off campus. Currently, she is the Co-Director for Bhangra in the Burgh 12, a nonprofit Bhangra competition hosted by Carnegie Mellon and Pitt students to raise money for the Creative and Expressive Arts Therapy program at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The World Health Organization’s recent report says that by 2020, depression will be the 2nd leading cause of disease; by 2030, it is set to outpace heart disease as the #1 cause of disease worldwide. An estimated 97.5 million people are suffering from mental illnesses in India alone. The incidence of depression is about one in every twenty Indians — roughly 5% of the country’s population. And it’s only getting worse. Chidren of our Bharat Maata is suffering from a serious mental health crisis.

Why is the birthplace of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness also home to about half of the global mental illness disease burden? And why hasn’t it shown signs of stopping?

The answer is simple – our attitude. We fear sharing our feelings with others. We judge and fear judgement towards individuals with mental illness. But most importantly, we fear ourselves, and fear admitting that we may actually need some help, after all. All of this fear contributes to strengthening the stigma, forcing us further and farther away from what we really need—direct confrontation. However, we’re a long way from tackling this issue face-to-face.

According to the Live Love Laugh Foundation, in a survey of 3,556 respondents from eight cities across IAndia, 47% could be categorized as being highly judgmental of people perceived as having a mental illness. Of the 47%, respondents were more likely to say that one should keep a safe distance from those who are depressed, or that interacting with a mentally ill person could affect the mental health of others. And the worst part – 26% were categorized as being afraid of the mentally ill.

But are we afraid of people with diabetes? Or hypertension? Why should we view mental illness any differently?

Like any other chronic illness, mental illnesses have both a behavioral and a physiological component. The only difference here is that instead of focusing on the heart or pancreas as in the case of heart problems and diabetes, the area of interest in mental illness is the brain.

In the mental health issues among Indians, when does it all stop? When does the fear stop and the courage begin? When do we stop being afraid and start being brave enough to confront our inner demons? How do we stop taking step backwards and start to move forward in our fight against this disease?

I offer somewhat of a trivial solution: let’s change the way we view mental illness and begin to treat it as a worldwide epidemic. The formal definition of an epidemic is the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a given time. That is precisely what mental illness is – it’s a widespread, infectious disease, plaguing not just one community, but hundreds of thousands across the globe, right now!

The WHO suggests that reversing epidemics, is a 3 step process:

  1. Interrupt transmission
  2. Prevent future spread
  3. Change group norms

Thankfully, when it comes to mental health, we don’t have to do all these 3 things – we only have to do one; we must change group norms. But just how do we go about changing group norms?

They say that the hardest thing to do when it comes to treating a mental illness is acceptance – by the individual. But it’s bigger than that; it has to do with group [or socia]) acceptance acceptance.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna declares, “The man who sees me in everything and everything in me will not be lost to me, nor will I ever be lost to him. When he sees all beings as equal in suffering or in joy because they are like himself, that man has grown perfect in yoga.”

We must look not only look beyond ourselves, but also within ourselves. Group norms aren’t something that just change overnight. They begin with the individual. Changing the way we view ourselves will allow us to see what Krishna preaches in the Gita — we will begin to see others as being equal in suffering.

So next time you’re feeling a little down, or you hear about or see someone struggling with symptoms of mental illness, take a minute and set all the judgements aside. Rather than being afraid of yourself or that person, be brave enough to give your love and compassion. Rather than offering pity, offer support. Rather than shying away from the conversation, become an advocate. Together, we can change group norms and beat the worldwide epidemic that’s shamelessly claiming the minds of many. All we have to do is speak up and inspire others to do the same.   ♠

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Dr. Swami Nathan Receives Life-Time Achievement Award in Psychiatry

(Paul) G. Manoharan, Upper St Claire, PA

e-mail:  gopalsamy.manoharan@stifel.com

 

On September 24, 2018, the Pittsburgh Psychiatric Society presented the “Lifetime Achievement Award for Academic Psychiatry” to Dr. Swami Nathan, MD, DLFAPA, to honor “outstanding contributions and devotion to academic psychiatry and to the Pittsburgh Psychiatric Organization.”   All of his friends in the

Dr. Swami Nathan and his wife Girija

Pittsburgh area who have known Dr. Nathan’s accomplishments for many years were gratified to see this richly deserved honor bestowed on him by his professional peers.  True to his characteristic humility, Dr. Nathan credits his several mentors he was fortunate to have had in his life.

For the Pittsburgh Indian community for a long time, Dr. Nathan has been the “Go To” psychiatrist during times of distress and misfortune. He was always there to guide through difficult transitions with his expertise and appreciation of the difficulties with our unique cultural differences.  For several years, Dr. Nathan worked with children in the Temple youth camps and was very popular with children for his understanding of their concerns.

Dr. Nathan came to the US in 1973, armed with a medical degree from the Stanley Medical College of the University of Madras and accompanied by his new bride, Dr. Girija, his heart throb in college, to start his residency in psychiatry in New York, followed by his fellowship at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University.  He was an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia until 1980.

Dr. Nathan came to Pittsburgh in 1980 to be an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and served as a Medical Director at Western Psych.  He then moved to Allegheny General Hospital to become Vice Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University. Currently, Dr. Nathan is retired and enjoying a life of leisure with his wife Girija and nurturing their two lovely grandchildren.

For his many friends in Pittsburgh, Dr. Nathan is a warm friend with a helping hand, a good sense of humor and an ever-present positive outlook.  May God Bless the Nathans.   ♠

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The Fall Midterm Elections Are Important

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

In every election, as a matter of routine, we need to show our faces at the polls  to tell everyone that we take our civic duties seriously. Besides, being a relatively new group of immigrants into this these great United States, showing our faces at the polls is one sure way to slowly get acceptance into the American mainstream.

In addition to the above Boiler Plate need for us to go to the polls, the coming midterm polls this November is important for one additional reason as well.

The Pennsylvania state supreme court has redrawn the maps of the Congressional districts in Pennsylvania this year to reflect the voting patterns for offices elected by state-wide voters such as the offices for the governor, US senators, and attorney and auditor generals. We discussed this in a lengthy article two issues ago.  See here for the article.  In the past, the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania state legislative bodies in Harrisburg, using its majority in the state legislature and with help from the GOP governors, managed to gerrymander the Congressional district maps and gave undue advantage in sending a large contingent Republican member to the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC. Thus, in a moderately center-right state that is Pennsylvania, Republicans garnered 13-5 advantage by the blatantly  skewing the congressional district maps in their favor. The redrawing of these maps is mandated to be adjusted based on population changes revealed in the decennial census.

With the redrawn maps for the congressional districts, now GOP has only a 10-8 advantage in the congressional delegation. The delegates elected in the upcoming November election is more likely to be representative of the broad electorate of the state.

So, this is one very good reason why you should go to the polls in November. Now you have a good chance to change the GOP’s skewed majority in the US House of Representatives. And may be also in the US Senate as well. So, please go to the polls this November.   ♠

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Kali Vidambanam — Paradoxes in the Age of Kali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good Bye to Swim Suit in Beauty Pageants

Premlata Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

The Miss America contest has scrapped its swimsuit competition, striking at the most derided part of the contest. It is long overdue.  Coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement that exposed sexual harassment — actually,  sexual abuse — of women in many walks of life, this is a blow to the outdated, voyeuristic and prurient aspects of beauty contests.

The Swim-Suit picture of Miss America 1962, staid by today’s standards.

In recent years, viewership interest — and corporate sponsorship — in beauty pageants have been dwindling in industrialized societies in the backdrop of changing social mores and attitudes between men and women and in the way society judges women. At least in public discourse, men and women in the First World rejected the idea of subjecting women to this kind of objectified evaluation in terms of the size of their bust, waist and buttocks and how well they filled a bikini. The Feminist Movement and women with professional degrees joining the work force in large numbers in the last several decades have contributed to this transformation.

Sadly, however, this contest is gaining feverish attention from emerging countries like India and China, and in Latin America, and parts of less developed parts of Europe. To capture a greater share in high-end middle class markets

By 2015, only bare essentials are covered with  not much left to cover Swim Suit parade.

in cosmetics and designer apparel, global companies now sponsor these events in Asia. Never mind that it goes against the prevailing culture of modest attire in these countries.

With the Second and the Third World aping their Western counterparts in everything (see the swim suit photoshoot on the next page in the 2017 Miss India contest), here too, I am sure, they will ape the West by scrapping the bikini contest, going forward.

That is why it is important that Women’s Movements retain the  cultural values of their lands, even as they work towards bringing fundamental changes to reduce gender-based violence and domestic abuse.

Indians are catching up with the West… … in this too. Miss Miss India Suit 2017.

There is a visual image associated with social workers in India. They are called jholiwalas and Jholiwalis, because they always wear simple khadi clothes with a cloth bag slung over their shoulders.  To convey their important message they always wear simple cotton dresses in local designs.

I am glad Miss America 2.0 did away with the swimsuit (bikini) category. It is time women are judged not only for their attractive looks in attractive everyday clothes, but also for their wit and intelligence.    ♣

 

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Indian Poets: Cynical, Sarcastic, Humorous All at the Same Time

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

Many short verses in Indian languages deal with honor, dharma, compassion, beauty, obligations and responsibilities, romance, love, devotion and bhakti — in high-brow and uplifting tones.  But many are also known for their dripping sarcasm, cynicism, and hard realities of life.

Here are two 4-line alliterating and rhyming Tamil verses in the latter category. Nothing is known about the authors of these verses. (Source: Viveka Chintamani, editor Gna.  Manikkavasagam, Uma Pathippagam, Chennai, 600 001, Year 2001). However, on the basis of the words and phrases in them, one can say that these verses cannot be earlier than 1700 AD.  With Tamil having at least 2500 years of literary history, these verses are, therefore, relatively recent, only 300 years old.  Here is the original of the first Tamil verse:

Here is a nonliterary translation:

Once they become adults, sons won’t listen to their fathers’ advice;

After middle age, wives wearing fragrant flowers won’t 

              care for their husbands;

After learning from teachers, shishyas (students) don’t go 

              looking for their gurus, and

Once cured of their diseases, people don’t seek their doctors.

In the above translation, if we replace “sons” with “children” to indicate both sons and daughters, and “fathers” with “parents,” It will be a lot closer to the reality of contemporary family life.

The next verse is on a topic that we all are familiar with — unsolicited advice. As parents, friends, and employees we recognize that unsolicited advice — even suggestions — is not welcome. This is the case whether we give suggestions to others, or we receive advice from others. Often, such advice breeds resentment, if not hostility, among the people involved, whether friends, colleagues, or relatives.

Such behavior in human interactions is nothing new. Here an anonymous poet explains this axiom using great wit, sarcasm, and cynicism. First the original in Tamil:

Here again is a nonliterary translation since I don’t have the skills for translating the poem into verse form:

 

A weaver bird, sitting in its cozy nest in rains, saw a monkey                      

       getting drenched, and said,

“Why don’t you build a place for yourself against the rain?”

Irritated at the advice, the monkey got mad, went wild, and 

      shredded the weaver bird’s nest to smithereens.

Such is the fate of those giving unsolicited advice

      to the undeserved.      ♣

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Further Along the Kerala Coast… …

By Premlata Venkataraman

thepatrika@aol.com

Driving from Coimbatore last December, we reached the Ernakulam-Kochi metro area. The roads and streets of Kochi had the usual hustle and bustle. Decades before, it was a much smaller, relaxed town. As we

Eastern Cross atop a Dwajastambham.

passed a place of worship getting a new coat of paint, we assumed they were getting ready for the upcoming Ulsavam (festival). It was a typical Kerala structure. The kodi maram (dwajasthambham), the ceremonial copper flagstaff was being cleaned; we noticed that it had an Eastern Orthodox Cross atop it. Intrigued, found that this was a Syrian Orthodox church and they were getting ready for Christmas! Now, this in a

snapshot, was the southern part of Kerala!

Serene and bucolic, Cochin has been welcoming traders, explorers and travelers to its

         Church in Alappuzha.

shores for centuries. They have left their mark — a 400-year old synagogue, churches that resemble Hindu temples and also ancient mosques set up by Arabic traders, long before the advent of Islam via the Turkic invasions. The first mosque ever built in India was in Kerala.

Of course, many old and ancient temples are open for worship with tens of thousands of devotees offering vazhipaadu (special worships) and fulfilling nerchas (vows) unbroken through very many more centuries. This setting of various places of worship reflecting so many major religions is a reflection of the makeup of the denizens of Kochi. Hindus are 44 % of the population, followed by 38 % Christians, and 18 % Muslims. There is very little religious strife in this town unlike many other cities in India. The high literacy rate of 98% in Kerala could be one reason.

The Bhagavatghi Temple in Alappuzha.

No visit to this part of the country is complete if we do not include a boat trip on the backwaters along the Arabian coast of Southern Kerala. After a visit to the ancient Bhagavathy temple in Alappuzha, near Kochi, we went into the modern resort of Punnamada to savor the beautiful backwaters. Floating along the rivers in a small open boat with several houseboats going past us, it was idyllic. We floated past neighborhoods along very

narrow canals barely 20-feet wide and navigable only in motorized canoes. It was amazing how people have made a lifestyle along this maze of intricate waterways.

        Temple worshipped by Adi Shankara in Kaaladi.

Though the waters were clear and lapped gently along the sides, you could see the water hyacinth (an invasive species of water plant) choking the waterways and affecting the aquatic life beneath. One

                   A house boat in Kerala Kaayals.

hopes they find a way to rid these pests from destroying the natural flora and fauna of the waterways.

People living in Kerala have learned to live with water. You could see cheena valas (Chinese nets in Malayalam) dotting the seashores in Kochi. (See below the picture of the nets used to catch fish.) Now they are used mainly as a tourist attraction. With abundant coastlines and

                        Cheena Valaas in Kochi.

backwaters, seafood is a staple in the Kerala diet for many. People use the waterways to go to work (see the photograph below). These special ferries worked like bus routes along the waters.

        A “commuter” boat in the Kerala backwaters.

It was a near perfect vacation, though very, very short. Soothing to the eyes and the spirit, a vacation trip to Southern Kerala is a must for any traveler in South India.      ♣

 

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Federal Indictments on Five Area Healthcare Providers in Opioid Case

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

Federal prosecutors have indicted five area physicians for illegally prescribing Suboxone, a drug meant for treating opium addicts for mitigating withdrawal-related problems. Buprenorphine, marketed under trade names Suboxone and Subutex, among others, wards off the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal and lessens cravings. The five physicians worked as contract employees at Redirection Treatment Advocates, LLC, (RTA) a business engaged in rehab work for opium addicts.

The federal indictments allege, “… the defendants, working as contractors at various locations, created and distributed unlawful prescriptions for buprenorphine, known as Subutex and Suboxone, a drug that should be used to treat individuals with opium addiction. The defendants are also charged with conspiracy to unlawfully distribute buprenorphine.” The defendants are charged also for allegedly causing fraudulent claims to be submitted to Medicare or Medicaid for payments to cover the costs of the unlawfully prescribed buprenorphine.”

Details of the federal indictments are here: www.justice.gov/opa/pr/five-pennsylvania-physicians-charged-unlawfully-distributing-buprenorphine-and-defrauding. The healthcare providers indicted in federal courts in Pittsburgh and West Virginia are Krishan Aggarwal, 73, and Madhu Aggarwal, 69, both from Moon Twp; Cherian John, 65, of Coraopolis; Parth Barill, 69, of Pittsburgh; and Michael Bummer, 38, of Sewickley. An indictment is only an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Krishan Aggarwal, Madhu Aggarwal (OB-GYN) and Parth Barill, a gastroenterologist, earned their medical degrees from Rajasthan, India. Cherian John, earned his medical degree from Mumbai.
In a statement released, the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes.”
While announcing the indictment, US Attorney for Western Pennsylvania Scott Brady said, “Expanding the legitimate use of medication to treat addiction is a critical part of this administration’s multi-faceted approach to combat the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities. Yet another vital component is the prosecution of unscrupulous practitioners who abuse their privilege to practice medicine and dispense prescriptions unlawfully. These indictments demonstrate that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of physicians who ignore their oath to do no harm.”      ♣

 

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Samar Saha:  Enthusiastic Organizer of Hindustani Music, Host & Patron for Musicians

By Shailesh Surti, O’Hara Township, PA

Shailesh.surti@gmail.com

Editor: Music lovers here know Samar and Mala Saha of Irwin as great enthusiasts of classical Hindustani music, having enjoyed many house concerts at the Sahas’ home in Irwin.  In this engaging story, Shailesh Surti (left in the adjacent picture) draws out Samar Saha (right in the picture) on his exhilarating journey from his casual interest in Hindustani music to serious, passionate listener, organizer, host, and finally to patron of the music, and more importantly, of the musicians. The venue for this exchange was Shailesh’s home in O’Hara Twp, with his wife Urvashi as the gracious host.  

For any type of performing art — music and dance recitals, drama and live stage performances — to flourish anywhere, one needs art lovers, organizers, and patrons willing to underwrite a good part of the expenses above and beyond gate collections.

It is a well-recognized truism that “classical” art forms simply cannot sustain themselves merely on the basis of ticket-buying audience

Mala and Samar Saha at the Surti residence.

support.  This is the reality today both in Indian and Western performing arts. In the US, corporations and individual donors make huge contributions to symphonies and operas. In Europe, public funding for the performing arts has been the norm. In India, without corporate and government sponsors, the performing arts simply cannot survive.

 The Indian performing arts scene here:  Pittsburgh has only around 20,000 Indian-Americans, with

fewer classical music enthusiasts compared even to Cleveland, which is demographically comparable to Pittsburgh on many measures. Here, Sri Venkateswara Temple has been organizing and patronizing classical Indian music concerts — especially Karnatic music — on a regular basis.  Other temples also have done so in the past. Students of the Pandit Jasraj Institute of Music have organized concerts of artistes belonging to their gharana.

Urvashi Surti, the gracious host of the evening.

Fortunately, a few individuals, on their own drive and initiative, have been active in organizing Hindustani music concerts in Pittsburgh for a long time. For over 30 years, Dr. Balwant Dixit, under the banner of the Center for the Performing Arts of India at the University of Pittsburgh, organized many such events, both in Pittsburgh and around North America with concert tours for Indian artistes.  In the early days, Dixit also organized Karnatic music programs in our town.

With Dixit now in retirement, Samar Saha and his wife Mala of Irwin have taken on the mantle for organizing Hindustani music concerts.  Music lovers in our area owe the Sahas a big Thank You not only for their enthusiastic support for the art form, but also, more importantly, for their multi-faceted patronage for the artistes. The Sahas moved into the Pittsburgh area fifteen years ago after Samar retired from a job in New Jersey.  Samar, a metallurgist by profession, joined US Steel’s R&D after arriving from New Jersey.

Samar had his early schooling in Banaras where he got interested in learning the tabla. But his father would not encourage him to go

Ustad Haidar Hassan on the shehnai accompanied by Pt. Samir Chatterjee (tabla).

into music.  Samar used a colorful expression to describe how his father reacted when he told his dad he wanted to pursue music.

Later, his interest in classical music blossomed when he went to college in Kolkata. During his tumultuous college days in the 1960s, with the Naxalbari Movement in full swing in Bengal, Samar managed to attend all-night concerts of artistes of great repute.  His interest in cultivating a  keen interest in music and musicians was greatly reinforced.

Samar even dabbled in western music in college. In 1975, he married Mala — it was an arranged marriage. Mala had her training in Rabindra Sangeet and Hindustani classical music. So it was natural both the Sahas are passionate about music.

The Sahas’ move to the US in the early 1970s directly as green-card holders was quite accidental.  They settled down in New Jersey.  While in New Jersey Samar became part of the Bengali Cultural Organization  Kallol.

     Rajyashree Ghosh

At Kallol he introduced Hindustani cassical music concerts despite the apprehension of some members that it might not go well with their members. With the concerts well-liked by the members, Samar got first-hand experience in organizing music recitals and dealing with artistes.

The Sahas also came in contact with the tabla maestro Pandit Samir Chatterjee and his organization Chhandayan of New York.  Chhandayan has been active with Indian musicians of every genus, innovating and experimenting with fusion, and tabla orchestra with vocalists. Chhandayan selects and invites artistes to perform around the USA.

With their long-standing association with Samir Chatterjee, Samar and Mala snap up opportunities to invite artistes and host them at their home. Asish and Nidrita Sinha of Cheswick are always there playing key roles in the organizing details.

Hosting artistes is not a simple job. By nature, artistes can be temperamental and picky. Receiving them at the airport, driving them around and dropping them back is a chore.  But catering to their minute needs in food preferences and other needs is a different type of challenge. Samar and Mala have mastered the art of dealing with artistes.

Sometimes for a well-known artist the venue is moved to a formal auditorium, like the last concert this May of vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande at the Frick’s Fine Arts’ Auditorium in Oakland. Many instrumentalists and vocalists, enjoying the Sahas’ hospitality at their home, have given their best recitals. Last year we enjoyed the Sarod player Sri Atish Mukhopadhyay accompanied on the tabla by Sri Tejas Tope. The other notable program was the nearly 3 hour memorable solo shahnai recital by Ustad Hasan Haide. Pt. Samir Chatterjee accompanied him on the tabla. Reviews of several of these recitals have appeared in the Patrika written by     knowledgeable music enthusiasts living among us.

 

L to R: The Sahas, Ashwini Bhide and her Harmonium accompanist Kedar Naphade.

The Sahas have a lovely home in Irwin with a great room that can accommodate a small audience of up to fifty music enthusiasts to enjoy live performances. Samar has equipped his beautifully decorated home with a good sound system. Listening to the music is not the only treat at his place. The ambiance of a private house concert offers wonderful opportunities to interact with the artistes. The artistes too have said during the post-recital interactions that the sterile and formal atmosphere in large concert halls is no match for the instantaneous rapport they make with their audience sitting only feet away from them in house concerts.  The concert is always followed by a scrumptious dinner, usually organized in potluck fashion with many in the audience bringing home-cooked delicacies.

The Sahas take great pride in hosting talented, young artistes, who give their very best in trying to establish themselves in the field.  Many of them will never forget the Sahas’ patronage. The Sahas also encourage our own home-grown talents like vocalist young Ayan Sinha. Here are some of the artistes who have performed at the Sahas’ place:

  1. Padma Bhushan Pt. Buddhadeb Dasgupta (Sarod) opened the house concert with his blessings for success.  His son, Anirban Dasgupta, another Sarod player played with him. August, 2012.
  2. Flutist Steve Gorn — April, 2013
  3. Classical Vocalist Mitali Bhowmik — May, 2014
  4. Thumri, Dadra and Ghazals by Rita Ganguly and Sitarist Amie Maciszewski — October, 2014
  5. Classical Vocalist Samarth Nagarkar — May 2015
  6. Thumri, Dadra and Durga Vandana Singer Rajyasree Ghosh — October, 2015
  7. Sitarist Abhik Mukherji and Flutist Jay Gandhi Jugalbandi — April 2016 (during the wedding reception of the Sahas’ daughter, Elena)
  8. Classical Vocalist Sanjoy Banerjee — April, 2017
  9. Shehnai Haidar Hassan – son of Shehnai Nawaz Late Ut. Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan -— May 2017
  10. Sarodist  Atish Mukhopadhyay — October 2017
  11. Classical Vocalist Ashwini Bhide — May 20, 2018

Without letting anybody know (until now), very often, the Sahas, like true patrons of arts, have contributed from their own resources, a lion’s share of the total expenses for many of these concerts. This is in addition to hosting the artistes in their home for several days before and after the recital.

That they are Hindustani music enthusiasts is well-known.  Further, without any institutional support here, and on their own strength, they are also warm hosts, efficient organizers, and generous patrons of the art and the artistes, all rolled into one.  The Sahas are unique in this respect.   ♣

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Consul General of India Visits the Asian Studies Center at Pitt

The Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh was delighted to host the Consul General of India, Mr. Sandeep Chakravorty, on March 28th and 29th 2018. The Consul General was invited to by the University of Pittsburgh for a major conference “Rethinking South-South Cooperation: India and Brazil in the 21st Century,” organized under the auspices of the University Center for International Studies.

Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty facilitates Pitt’s Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg with a traditional Indian scarf. Extreme left is Vice Provost of Global Affairs Ariel Armony,

In conjunction with this, the Consul General of India participated in a series of events focused on the development of Indian Studies, toured the Indian Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning and met with a group of students representing a tremendous cross-section of interests in Indian Studies in particular and South Asia more broadly. Mr. Chakravorty and his staff have been extremely helpful in working with senior leadership at the University of Pittsburgh, and with Ms. Riva Ganguly Das, Director General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, to establish the ICCR Chair in Indian Studies.

Over the course of the next five years, this important initiative will bring leading scholars from universities in India to the University of Pittsburgh to teach courses that focus on Indian society and culture in the humanities and social sciences.

The ICCR Chair in Indian Studies will serve to anchor and help to develop an important initiative.  Recognizing the growth and development of South Asia, the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh is committed to expanding faculty research and teaching expertise on the global significance of this significant region of the world.

Beyond the academic significance of the “India Initiative” at the University of Pittsburgh, the establishment of the ICCR Indian Studies Chair will serve as an important bridge to the community.

In conjunction with this goal, Consul General Chakravorty was able to meet representatives of Pittsburgh’s community who have contributed to Indian studies over the years, most especially those who have played a vital role in building and supporting the Indian Nationality Room  ♣

 

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The Wadhwani Institute of Artificial Intelligence Inaugurated in Mumbai

By K S Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

Sunil Wadhwani and his wife Nita are well known in our region’s city and county governments and civic institutions. He was the founding CEO of i-Gate, a global software company, known in its previous incarnation as Mastech, a company he co-founded with Ashok Trivedi.  At the peak of his career as the CEO of i-Gate, over 30,000 employees were on its payroll in 70-plus offices worldwide with over $1 billion in annual revenue.

In the middle of this, Sunil took great interest in promoting Pittsburgh, a second-tier US City, as the destination of choice for national and international businesses to relocate or open their offices. At the same time, Wadhwani also worked with city and county elected officials to diversify the region’s population making it attractive for immigrants, a feature that global businesses consider desirable in their decision to relocate or open a new office in a new place. After all, our region has all the accoutrements needed — affordable housing, good public and private schools, excellent medical facilities, universities, sports teams, museums, and other entertainments…

Sunil Wadhwani is extreme left and his elder brother Romesh Wadhwani is extreme right. Maharashtra’s Governor Mr. C Vidyasagar Rao is third from left and Chief Minister Mr Devendra Fadnavis is third from right, on the stage during the inaugural function. Prime Minister Modi is in the middle.

In 2015, Capgemini, a French IT services company, acquired i-Gate for over $4 billion. Now, Wadhwani is in semi-retirement, yet active in running SWAT, a venture capital company based in Moon, as a managing partner, along with Ashok Trivedi.

“Most of us who grew up in India and moved to the US have been extremely fortunate. We had parents who cared for us and had the means to educate us in good schools and send us to the US. Many billions of people around the world — especially those struggling in poverty in India and other developing countries — are not so lucky. It is up to us to help our fellow human beings who have not been as blessed.” Sunil’s thoughts have been drifting along these lines for quite some time.

So he decided to put a small portion of his resources to good use in India, with possibilities of having a global impact. Joining with his older brother Romesh Wadhwani, a California-based venture capitalist, the two Wadhwanis each donated $15 million and founded the Wadhwani Institute for Artificial Intelligence (WIAI).  The thrust of the Wadhwani Institute is “harnessing the power of AI to solve deep-rooted problems in healthcare, education, agriculture, and infrastructure to accelerate social development.” Though the institute’s beneficiaries can be global, its immediate focus is on the Indian subcontinent and Asia, where it is most needed, and where the impact can be high.

In March of this year, in Mumbai, the Wadhwani Institute of AI went on-stream, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating it in the presence of the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis,  its Governor Vidyasagar and many other dignitaries. In the opening ceremony, Modi said, “The Wadhwani AI institute is a prime example of how the public sector and the private sector can come together with good intentions to build a world-class institute, aimed at benefiting the poor.”

Sunil said, “The government of Maharashtra has committed land, but the details are still being worked out. Currently, ten full-time employees are working at the institute, which is likely to go to 30-plus full-time employees specializing in AI in three years.” Around one hundred researchers from affiliated institutes outside India will be working on AI applications for social good at the institute.

The Wadhwani Institute, a fully independent body, will be closely working with the University of Bombay to develop a master’s program on Data Sciences and AI.

In a press release on the occasion, Sunil said, “AI is a game-changing technology. There’s a lot of research being done at companies like Amazon, Google and Alibaba, and at universities like Carnegie Mellon and MIT.  However, virtually all of that is targeted at commercial applications, and there’s little or no research on how to use AI to accelerate social development. Our goal is to have, within the next two years, over 100 researchers working on leveraging AI to improve the quality of life for the bottom two billion people in the world.”  So founding this institute is gratifying to the Wadhwani brothers and their families.

Responding to a question, Sunil said, “The institute is looking for hiring the best AI researchers from around the world who are also passionate about social development. Because of our location in India and our initial focus on applying AI to social development in India and other developing countries, most of these have been of Indian origin so far. As we expand, we expect our workforce to become more global in nature.”

Continuing, he said, “We are forming partnerships with the world’s leading AI research institutions to work together on applying AI to accelerate social development.  We have already formed such partnerships with MIT, Carnegie-Mellon University, New York University, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California.

As part of the launch of the institute in March in Mumbai, Wadhwani Institute hosted a summit of seventy-five leading AI researchers, social sector experts and senior government officials to identify challenges that could be addressed using AI.  Ideas discussed included using AI to help farmers on when they should plant their seeds for best crop yields, improving the effectiveness of community health workers, addressing high dropout rates in rural schools, making educational content available in local languages and dialects, and facilitating the early detection of diseases.

Indeed, ambitious objectives for social good on many fronts.  ♣

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Our Region’s First Nonstop Flight to Asia

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

After considerable effort, the Allegheny County Airport Authority finally succeeded in cracking into the Asian aviation market with a chartered nonstop flight to Shanghai, operated by China Eastern Airlines, starting this August. One hopes that the charter nonstop  flights to Shanghai is just the beginning for Pittsburgh International to get nonstops to other Asian destinations. It must grow into a seasonal and then regular three or four weekly flights all year around.

This nonstop came with a price tag for the region:  The airport authority is pitching in up to $560,000 to subsidize the flight. This is essentially tax-payer money. That amount will drop   when Pittsburgh travelers purchase tickets, according to the Authority’s spokesman Bob Kerlik.

In addition, the VisitPittsburgh tourism agency is kicking in another $300,000, with another $50,000 coming from the Idea Foundry, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that works with Chinese families and students to encourage educational ties and investment.

The subsidies are part of a three-year agreement with Caissa Touristic, the tour operator, to market and sell trips to Pittsburgh. However, the flight currently is guaranteed for only one year.

Remember, in the heyday of US Airways at Pittsburgh International we had daily nonstop and direct service from PIT to Paris, Frankfurt, London, Rome, London, Milan… … And then the sky fell for us when US Airways walked away from its hub here, only to eventually disappear altogether from the skies. Recently Pittsburgh International inaugurated nonstops to Europe through WOW and Condor airlines.

The Patrika has written on the need for connecting PIT to Asia with nonstops for our region to encourage businesses to relocate here. However, anybody who is even peripherally familiar with the commercial aviation industry knows that the center of gravity of commercial airlines has shifted to Asia (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, China, and India).  The commercial airline industry will grow for the next several decades in this region domestically, regionally, and even globally. Europe and North America are saturated markets.

The Big-Three US air carriers — United, Delta, and American — dominate global nonstops through their hubs across the US. Working to get American or other large European air carriers to introduce nonstops from Pittsburgh International to Europe and Asia is just a waste of time. That is why airlines from China, India, South East Asia, and the Persian Gulf countries has become attractive for Pittsburgh International to get nonstops to Asian destinations.

China Eastern Airlines nonstop seasonal charter service connecting Pittsburgh and Shanghai, China commences on August 3. This is the region’s very first nonstop air link with China, or for that matter, the the whole of Asia. Pittsburgh will be the arriving and departing gateway for hundreds of Chinese tourists visiting the U.S. East Coast this summer.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our region to become the first medium-size city in the country as a destination for Chinese tourists,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “Our region’s businesses, the airport, and our tourism industry will be the primary beneficiary of this agreement.”

China Eastern will fly its flagship Boeing 777-300 ER, carrying 316 seats in a first/business/economy three-class configuration. The first departure from Pittsburgh will occur the same day as its landing.

“This is huge step forward for the future, particularly for nonstop air service to China. The charter-to-scheduled service model has been successfully adopted in other parts of the world,” said Christina Cassotis, Pittsburgh International Airport CEO. “We are the first U.S. market to tap into China’s fast-growing tourism market with this type of business model.”

Pittsburgh area travelers will be able to purchase tickets on these flights through www.Travel2.com and www.firstinservice.com. Flights start at just $1,098 inclusive of tax and fees. Travel2 has also put together land packages starting as low as $990 when booked in conjunction with these flights. For all bookings, inquiries, terms, and conditions contact michelle@fls.com or call 310-435-3977.   

 

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Trump’s Bravado Is Counterproductive

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

ThePatrika@aol.com

As a New York real estate tycoon and casino owner in Nevada, Donald Trump’s management style was to keep his subordinates, competition, vendors, clients guessing, and spring surprises in meetings to have an upper hand. But it did not always work for him. His businesses filed for Chapter-11 bankruptcies six times. Trump’s ad hoc working style and blowing hot and cold unabatedly followed him to the Oval Office on appointments, domestic and trade policies, and foreign affairs. This style is bad for running the behemoth called the Government of the United States, whose tentacles in military alliances, intelligence operations, business/trading interests, are spread all over the world.

So, managing US relations with allies and trading partners, and dealing with threats and enemies require a steady hand at the helm to diplomatically coordinate the policies. Thousands of dedicated government officials work for him doing the groundwork for months, even years, to build consensus on complex, sensitive issues, so that in summits, leaders can sign agreements on issues on substance under good optics.

The other G-7 leaders confronting Donald Trump at the G-7 meeting in Canada in May 2018.

Trump’s adhocism on policies makes it difficult, to put it generously, for officials to negotiate on his behalf. He erratically turns the rudder wheel of the huge ship of the State with bluster, as he did in the G-7 meeting in Canada in June. The confrontational picture describes the acrimony in the meeting.

President Trump may think — even believe — that the brashly displaying American raw power in summits will make US allies genuflect before him and scare hostile nations into submission. The “Sole Super Power” sobriquet for the US will be honored by allies — and feared by enemies — only if the US uses its power with discretion and finesse. His bluster and bravado weaken the alliance, only making Russia and China happy.

Even in domestic politics, one wonders if Trump is helping or hurting the GOP by his brazenness.  —  By KSV

 

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