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A couplet on Education from a 2200-year-old Tamil Classic Tirukkural

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Tirukkural (तिरुक्कुरळ, and not तिरुक्कुरल), a 2200-year-old Tamil classic authored by Tiruvalluvar, is a collection of 1330 couplets on 133 topics with ten couplets in each. Each couplet has only seven words in a 4-3-word formation. Obviously, to present concepts on different topics in just seven words, one needs to be terse, much like sutras, requiring great skills to interpret its imports. So, the interpreter’s skills and insights make a huge difference in what we understand. Over the last 10 to 15 centuries, over ten scholars have written commentaries on this literary work. Here is just one couplet in the chapter on Education:

கற்க கசடற கற்பவை கற்றபின்

நிற்க அதர்க்குத் தக.

Translation:

Learn thoroughly [the subject]. After learning,

… … live by what you have learned.

On first reading, this couplet even in Tamil, appears mundane — and even more so, in my English translation. People who have gone to Tamil medium schools would have memorized this couplet routinely.  Then, about 15 years ago, I listened to a retired Tamil pandit — to this day, I regret for not jotting down his name — on YouTube who brilliantly interpreted the couplet by inserting the first word in between every word in the original thus:

கற்க கற்க!  கசடற கற்க!  கற்பவை கற்க!  கற்றபின் கற்க!

நிற்க கற்க!  அதர்க்குத் தக  கற்க!

And he elaborated this further in Tamil, the gist of which I give below in English:

கற்க கற்க!  Learn for the sake of learning — and implying that we should not pursue education with the idea of earning name, fame and money. These are, of course, important, but only useful byproducts of education. Besides, accomplishing these is not in our hands, really speaking. But whether we accomplish these are not, the purpose of education is to widen our horizon, and that is the best and only worthwhile reward we get for education. Whether we get name, fame, or wealth or not, we can still lead satisfying career as teachers, engineers, doctors… As a matter of fact, this is where most of us end up in life, and most of us have no regrets.  

Commentary:  These days we often choose college studies on the basis of job opportunities and job security.  Not just the degree programs, but also the individual subjects within the programs we choose on the basis of the nebulous idea of “scope” du jour. On this approach, Valluvar is a contrarian.  He says, when you embark on any course of study, do this to gain understanding and mastery on the subject chosen thoroughly. This is because, no doubt, the details of the specific subject we study is what we get. But what we subliminally learn is how to study the subject. For example, the approach we take to study preliminaries of organic chemistry is mostly memorizing terms and terminologies. However, when we approach the theories of organic reactions, the approach is analytical, and logical requiring abstract thinking, and entirely different. That he elaborates further:

கசடற கற்க! Learn thoroughly without leaving any loose ends, [once you select the program]. That is, stay focused on the subject, and while doing assignments, spend time as much as you can to assimilate the material thoroughly. And do this not as we often do to limit ourselves to get through the class and get decent grades. These are, of course, important, but real purpose of education widening our horizon of understanding the phenomenal world, and grades are what we collect along the way.  

This is a profound advice because the future is always unknown. And we often realize the importance of what we learnt years years ago much later in life. We can all recall instances of some long-forgotten subjects learned a long time ago coming in handy at an opportune moment and save the day for us  — and also regretting for not doing a thorough job on some of the subjects we chose, or for having stayed too narrowly focused in our choices .      

கற்பவை கற்க!  Focus only on subjects [of your choice].  With fixed durations of semesters, time is precious and is always in short supply. So, we need to focus on the topics that are contextually worthy of our time. Don’t fritter away time on extraneous topics by “taking your eyes off the ball,” if I can use a sports metaphor.  

கற்றபின் கற்க!  After the class, read and study the material again and again.  This advice may sound trite, but in any study, real understanding takes place in solitude during contemplation.  Lectures and classwork alone are inadequate. Only when we read the material again and again, can we comprehend the topics and their nuanced and expansive meanings. This is true for all subjects, but particularly in subjects like theoretical physics, thermodynamics, theoretical foundations of Indian music in terms of melody and layam, physical chemistry, philosophy, literature…    

நிற்க கற்க!  Study to live your life based on the lessons.  This emphasis on education is unique in many Asian cultures. Topics in literature and classics in all languages contain important suggestions for the students to be reflective on human follies, foibles, the need to manage one’s anger, jealousy, envy, pride, delusions, on ethics, and on hubris and nemesis.  This is the real purpose of education. That is why these days they want engineering and medical students to take one of two courses in creative arts, philosophy, literature, writing… …  

Acquiring mastery on these topics is not just for an esoteric appreciation, whetting our intellectual curiosity, and impressing others in conversations. These are only secondary. The primary objective of education, however, is to mull over these lessons, internalize their import and see if we can incorporate them in our interactions and dealings with the outside world. This is easily said than done.  But then, that is the real challenge and purpose of education. This is where repetition has a useful purpose. 

Haven’t we all seen erudite scholars who can quote from scriptures for all occasions, but who are a mess in their personal life and living their lives quite contrary to what they preach? As you read this, I am sure, images of many colorful preachers, religious leaders, clergy leading their flock, public speakers on ethics, and politicians will flash through your mind as if they are on a caravan… …   

அதர்க்குத் தக  கற்க! Develop your education program accordingly!  END

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Dump the Trump-Pence Ticket

Arun D. Jatkar, Monroeville, PA .

While on WhatsApp with friends in India, I coined a slogan, Dil pukare baram-bar, Modiji ka jay-jay-kar!  But when asked if I will ever say, Phir ek bar, Trump Sarkar, my answer was an emphatic No.

Having made a conscious choice to become a US citizen years ago, I feel I ought to vote for someone who will work for the good of America and Americans, not for someone who simply mouths slogans like “Make America Great Again,” and then, in the same breath tells Americans to get rid of the ballot. Everyone knows the serious threat posed by his psychopathic and equivocating “musings” that will derail a smooth transfer of power, if he loses in the presidential elections this fall.

Years ago, I had to rely on Cobra for myself and my wife for eighteen months; and when that ran out, had to go without Cobra for another eighteen more months before becoming eligible for Medicare. So, I know first-hand what it is like to be out in the cold with pre-existing health conditions. So, I just CANNOT vote for a nominee who is obsessed with the thought of abolishing the Affordable Care Act. And now, with social security as my major financial lifeline, I just CANNOT vote for its callous, remorseless disappearance.  In addition, 

Do I want to see a government-promoted, nakedly racist policy of disenfranchising the citizens of color?  No!

Do I stand for the insults heaped upon our sons and daughters who put their lives on the line for defending America?  No!

Do I want to go along with the maniacal policy of hoping for herd immunity in the midst of the current pandemic? Hell, No!

Do I want to vote for a man who stands safely away from unmasked crowds and tells them that the fear of Covid-19 is a hoax?  No!

Will I vote for a man who values Putin’s words more than the findings of our own intelligence agencies on matters of national security?  No!

Do I want to vote for a man who wantonly denies climate change and says, “Science does not know”?  No!

Do I want to vote for a man who is hellbent upon permanently silencing the voices of pro-choice women?  No!

Do I want to vote for a man who is determined to deny the LGBTQ community the right to live like other human beings?  No!

So, I’ve made up my mind: Dump the Trump-Pence Ticket!

END$$

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Diwali at the Children’s Museum Last Year

By Juginder Luthra, Weirton, WV

The tapestry of Pittsburgh is changing. More and more threads of Indian Americans — like our customs, foods and festivals — are getting woven into the Pittsburgh community. In this, we  have come a long way from a time about forty years ago, when a well-educated resident of Pittsburgh asked us, “Do they have festivals in India?” We told him about the numerous festivals and the meaning behind each one. Only one person became educated with our answer. 

A community leader among us, Mrs. Krishna Sharma, last year made one more institution become more familiar with India to a higher level. Sometime back, she had acquired an old church in Carnegie, converting it into the India Community Center, now known as ICC. Last October, she collaborated the Diwali activities at the ICC with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. On October 19, 2019 India’s auspicious Diwali was celebrated, for the first time, at the Children Museum.

The flyer made by the Museum to promote the event included the following lines: This event was made possible by the India Community Center. Special thanks to our event chair Krishna Sharma.

Krishna Sharma, Dolly Luthra and Subash Ahuja at the Museum in the Diwali function.

In spite of serious family issues, Krishna gave her time and efforts for the celebration of Diwali at the Children’s Museum. The event was set on three floors of the Museum Lab. For a token ticket of $5, hundreds of children and adults, a mix of mainstream Americans  and Indian Americans, enjoyed Indian snacks provided by Cafe Delhi. A large traditional rangoli designed and colored by Krishna Sharma and colored by Krishna greeted visitors at the entrance.  

Children colored diyas (clay lamps), learned the rangoli art, and had henna painted on their hands. Sheena Chopra of Weirton, a well-known singer, now living in Pittsburgh, rendered the National Anthems. Against a backdrop of Indian saris decorating the stage, students of Guiding Stars Production performed traditional Indian dances. Their teacher, Sonia, choreographed the dances for the event.  END$$

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Air Travel During the Pandemic

By Manjeri Raman, Savannah, GA

The author sitting inside the plane with his mask.

My wife Krishna and I traveled to Seattle in mid-July after postponing our tickets twice — in early March and then in June — thinking that the Covid-19 situation would improve. Surprisingly, Delta did not charge us a change fee. The pandemic showed no sign of abating.  We took our chances and traveled, since we needed to go to see our son there.

0ur check-in experience at the empty Savannah airport was smooth, with everyone wearing masks and gloves. Savannah being a small airport, the TSA agents were friendly and considerate about allowing food in the hand baggage. The waiting area at the gates was set up for social distancing with alternate seats clearly marked.  Boarding was strictly by row numbers, with time allowed for social distancing. Our flights first to Atlanta and then to Seattle were about a little over half full.

The empty concourse at the Atlanta Airport, usually it would filled with transit passengers.

As we entered the plane, flight attendants greeted us with a Ziploc bag with two small snack bags, bottled water and a sanitizing wipe. They offered masks if you needed them. Everyone was expected to wear the mask during the entire flight except when eating. All the passengers complied. The seats and the seat-back trays were clean and you could use the wipes to clean them further!

Atlanta airport, one of the busiest in the world, with seven con-courses, was a ghost town with just a handful of passengers walking around. It was quite an eerie experience! Very few business travelers. Most like us, were traveling out of necessity.

Empty security check in at Savannah airport, GA

Our layover in Atlanta was about an hour. In the long flight to Seattle, flight attendants cleaned the bathrooms frequently. No cart service of any kind – only bottled water was served – and if you ordered drinks, they brought it to your seat. They did not want to handle either cash or credit cards. Everyone brought food and the trash was picked up frequently.

When we landed in Seattle, another busy airport, ours was the only plane to land at that time, and within minutes we picked up our baggage and met our son outside! Again, this was quite different from our usual trips to Seattle.

We had to cut short our trip by a week, and when I called Delta, they were accommodative and again changed my flights without any fee. I was surprised to get a small refund, as the base fare for the date was lower than what we had paid.

The return flights to Atlanta and Savannah were a replay of the outbound flights. This time we had over a two-hour layover in Atlanta. The food court was partially open, and we had our dinner with mask and social distancing guidelines.

Overall, Delta did a great job under difficult circumstances. I was surprised however that not a single question was asked about Covid-related symptoms nor were our temperatures checked. I thought since we were traveling from the state of Georgia, ruled by an irresponsible governor, there would be some checks or questions. I also expected to fill out our destination address for contact tracing. None of that happened!

We were traveling as before, with no restrictions or questions. This is quite different from India and other countries, where serious efforts are underway to make sure that the Covid virus does not spread due to unrestricted or unchecked travel. END$$

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Our June 2020 BLM Rally at Flagstaff Hill

By Pallavi Muluk, Pittsburgh, PA

Editor’s Note: Pallavi Muluk is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and will be matriculating to University of Pittsburgh Medical School after she graduates in April 2021. She is extremely passionate about social justice matters impacting minorities in our country and helped to establish the youth organization South Asians for Change this summer to confront these issues. 

Most of us are well aware of racism toward Black people in America. However, too often we performatively mourn the injustices, become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem, conclude that the issue does not directly affect us, and move on. After all, we’re not hurting anyone, right?

Actually, I would argue that maintaining our decades-long silence does more to perpetuate racist ideologies than blatant acts of prejudice.
On Saturday, June 13th, over 300 members of the Pittsburgh community came together at Flagstaff Hill to celebrate the Black voices in our neighborhoods. Organized by South Asian youth and adults from South Asians for Change (https://www.saforchange.com/) and Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends, the gathering highlighted the pervasive racism in our society and finally showed our allyship to the cause.

We often forget that if not for Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcom X, the Immigration Act of 1965 would never have been passed and we wouldn’t have stepped foot into this country. So how can we now turn a blind eye to the trauma of the Black community? Why do we perpetuate the “model minority myth” and allow the Blacks to suffer the consequences? By now we must know that ignorance is not bliss. When Black people cannot go jogging, hold a bag of skittles, sleep peacefully after a long day saving lives, eat ice cream, or even stand in their own backyards, there is no place for our inaction and silence.\

On June 13th, we listened to a passionate call to action from the Rev. Dr. Darryl Canady; the experiences of Shirley Douglas; and much needed advice on where to start from Lance Hyde and Nicholas Anglin. The beautiful music of the Rodman Street Baptist Church Choir reminded us of everything, art and otherwise, on how the Black community has enriched our life here

When we chanted the names of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Traeyvon Martin, we reminded ourselves why this fight is necessary. Most of all, we learned how much more needs to be done.
While we as South Asians strive to understand the realities of systemic racism, we must accept that being a minority in America does not make us immune to being racist and prejudiced. It is undoubtedly an uncomfortable topic, but instead of saying, “There’s nothing I can do,” sit in that discomfort and ask, “What can I do?”

Minimally, exercise your constitutional right to vote this November to elect a leader who has a semblance of compassion and who does not bring out the very worst in our country. Take five minutes today to learn something new about the reality of Black people, and tomorrow take ten minutes to figure out what you’re going to do about it. And the following day get started.

Books to read:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Links:
Systemic Racism Explained (act.tv)
How to Be an Ally if You Are a Person with Privilege (Frances E.
Kendall, Ph.D. © 2003)

Editor: The graphics are from South Asians for Change. END$$

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The Indian Community Responds to the Food Crisis for Needy Families in the Pandemic

By Suresh Ramanathan, a PICAF Volunteer

Long car lines this spring that stretched over a mile outside the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (Food Bank) with wait times of up to five hours brought national attention to our region. The increasing unemployment in Pennsylvania combined with numerous business closures and the socially crippling coronavirus brought about a perfect storm that debilitated families that had not previously experienced food insecurity. It was worse for other families that were already suffering and did not have any transportation to get to these distribution centers!

Visaka Muluk (in the sari), representing the Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends, hands over the $100,000 check to Amber Deemer Lauren Babich and Beth Burell of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends (PICAF) had an existing partnership with the Food Bank as we had worked with them to improve a breakfast menu for school children so that they were nutritionally charged and ready to learn!

Even before PICAF reached out to the Food Bank, individual donors from the Indian Community had already donated to the food bank. However, each of you reading this should feel good that Indian families in our region stepped up and helped Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends (PICAF) raise over $100,000 in a matter of weeks!

As with all our partners, 100% of all that we raised goes to the nonprofits. The Food Bank worked with us to make sure 100% of what we gave them went to the program and not to overhead. Further a dollar-to-dollar match from 84 Lumber and Nemacolin Woodlands allowed us to double the amount and thereby double the number of meals delivered to needy families!

On Thursday, April 23rd, 2020 the Indian Community had a combined check presentation at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank with $5,000 from Hindu Jain Temple, $25,000 from the S.V. Temple and $100,000 from Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends (that includes a significant contribution from Chinmaya Mission and S.V. Temple). Dr. Visala Muluk represented Chinmaya Mission and the Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends, Dr. Linganna, Secretary of S.V. Temple and Jayesh Selokar of Hindu Jain Temple.

The combined total was $130,000 that would have resulted in 750,000 meals; but with the match we were able to deliver 1.5 million meals!

This year PIC5K has gone virtual. We are turning our attention to eradicating racial inequities in education! One of the projects we are investing in helps families with young children deal with cyber classes conducted by the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The OASIS project has established a neighborhood pod school that buses children to the pod and feeds and mentors them as they attend online classes from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. PIC5K is raising funds this year to support an after-school program for these children focused on robotics and coding.  Please visit www.pic5k.org and helps us facilitate children learning while their parents have time to earn.  END$$

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Obituary: Maxine Bruhns (1924 to July 2020)

By Chandrika Rajagopal, College Station, TX 

Editor’s Note:  Chandrika Rajagopal lived in the Pittsburgh Metro area during the 1980s and 90s, and was part of the efforts to smooth out the teething troubles of the Indian American community in those challenging formative years. She was the founding chairperson of the Indian Nationality Room Committee from 1991-2000. She moved to Texas, in 1998.

Meeting Maxine Bruhns was an unforgettable experience. In May 1991, we met near a painting at Chancellor Wesley Posvar’s residence on the Pitt campus. An elegantly dressed lady shared with me details about the artist while I was admiring the painting’s wintry scene. She was Maxine Bruhns.

After our introductions, the first question that flew out of my mouth was, “Why is there no Indian Nationality Room?” Maxine explained that these unique rooms are built by the local immigrant communities, who raised funds to build their rooms to honor their ancestries and countries of origin. She promptly invited me to head up a committee.

Maxine Bruhns is standing third from left. (From Deepak Wadhwani’s archives)

That is how the Indian Nationality Room’s destiny was set in motion. While forming our committee, Maxine was a great source of inspiration as she motivated us by sharing stories about how the other nationality rooms grew and developed. I was struck by her interests in various cultures, her indefatigable energy and her single-minded devotion to the Nationality Rooms program. The spirit of Ruth Crawford Mitchell was alive and well in Maxine!

From the beginning, the aim of our committee — at the time, consisting of Anu Reddy, Deepak Wadhwani, Saroj Bahl and myself — was to highlight India’s incredible unity and diversity. We showcased India’s cultures through art, dance, and music by hosting fundraising programs. Maxine attended all of them, dressed in strikingly colorful and culturally appropriate attire.

From beginning to end, she inspired us so much that we became the first Nationality Room committee to raise funds, design, build, and dedicate our room in under 8 years!  While the kudos for this feat go to the generosity of our beloved Indian community, Maxine was the fairy godmother who shepherded us through the various steps over the years.

The culmination was the dedication in January 2000. When I suggested a typical Indian way of inaugurating anything new with ceremonial blessings, Maxine watched delightedly as the stunning room, designed by Deepak Wadhwani, was blessed by religious representatives from India’s religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism.

The official dedication at Heinz Chapel followed by a delicious dinner in the evening were memorable occasions graced by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Naresh Chandra, India’s Ambassador to the U.S.

What else can I say about the indomitable Maxine? I learned much: her dedication, devotion, love of and for life, her wealth of experience and her insatiable curiosity about new and different things. My move to Texas kept us in touch for over two decades as she updated me on the new rooms, scholarship programs, and personal matters. I never stopped admiring this West Virginia-born-and-raised gal who left her mark on Pittsburgh and, through the Nationality Rooms Program, the world.

Who could have ever imagined that a chance encounter over a painting would lead to the construction of a Nationality Room and a relationship that endured for decades?! Maxine passed away on July 17, 2020 in Pittsburgh. She was 96. Rest in peace, dear Maxi!  END$$

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Black Lives DO Matter — Do the Browns Care?

By Deepak Kotwal, Pittsburgh, PA.

This is a common Hindi proverb meaning “The washerman’s dog neither belongs to the home nor the river-shore.”  Even after living in the US for decades, many Indian immigrants and naturalized citizens feel they are “Indians” living here and “Americans” while visiting India.

The police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in broad daylight by use of excess force in Minneapolis in May triggered Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests nationwide. Many whites joined, recognizing the systemic racism against African Americans. In this, where do the BROWNS — the immigrants from India — stand? Are we like the proverbial Washerman’s Dog?  Since we are neither white nor black, do we feel it is not necessary to get involved? The BROWN youngsters here did not think so. For details, see Pallavi Muluk’s article on the BLM rally held in Oakland.

Indian Americans have done extremely well in the US due to their in-demand, marketable cerebral skills. Among the recent immigrant groups by country, Indian Americans have high incomes and net worth, primarily because of the skewed immigration policies of the US of letting in only people with cerebral skills. Claims that our success is due to our merit, hard work and American meritocracy are only partially true. We are the beneficiaries of two broad historical developments: a large economy and the Civil Rights struggle. We generally don’t recognize how we are benefitting from the latter.

Early English and other European arrivals to North America simply grabbed the land from the Native Americans, leading to genocide and driving the Native Americans into reservations. Slavery provided free labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans. The concept of White Supremacy (AKA manifest destiny) was the essential intellectual underpinning.

Civil rights struggles followed. Even after the Civil War (1861-1865) ended with the Confederate States’ defeat and the abolition of slavery, Blacks were kept subjugated through Jim Crow laws, intimidation, and lynching. The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr, finally led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. All later immigrants from India are the beneficiaries of the hard-won Civil Rights Act on housing, schooling, and employment.

One would think that the US would have welcomed immigrants in the expanding labor-short economy of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But the American attitude towards immigration was not only racist, but also anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. It favored the Protestant White immigrants from Nordic countries. Various laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, excluded Asian immigration. Naturally, in early 20th century, the number of Indians in the US was negligible. The few, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, working as laborers, faced racist attacks. An example is the 1907 Bellingham riots in Washington state to kick out Indians.

The game changer for Indians was the 1965 Immigration Act. It did away with the country-based quotas and preference for European immigrants. This act preferred immigrants with skills required for the US economy. The US was anxious to catch up technologically with the USSR after it launched Sputnik in 1957. The change was perfect for English-educated, highly skilled Indians when the Indian economy was not large enough to fully absorb them. Hence the in-flux of Indian graduate students in S&T, and doctors as residents in US hospitals after 1965.

The Civil Rights Movement and the enormously consequential 1964 Civil Rights Act made it easy for the later Asian immigrants. It integrated schools and housing, workplaces, labor unions, established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with its potential for lawsuits and did away with the overt Jim Crow segregation in the South.

Thus, we are the direct beneficiaries of the hard-won social changes brought about by the descendants of enslaved Blacks, without even being aware of it. So, we do need to support the continuing march by Blacks towards the eradication of racism. A few questions of self-examination are warranted here.

— What is our attitude towards African Americans?  Are we unconsciously internalizing the White attitudes, thinking we are accepted here as “honorary” Whites?

— Do you know any African Americans you would call a friend?

— Do you sympathize with “colorism” in the Indian matrimonial ads? The ones where “wheatish” complexion is preferred.

— How would you feel if your son or daughter were dating/marrying an African American?

— If there is a BLM protest planned in your area, would you show up with your kids?

We owe this self-examination to ourselves, and also as a tribute to the activists who risk life and limb for progress that directly benefits us. Barrack Obama was the very first Black president — elected and then re-elected.  Just remember: the choice of Kamala Harris as the VP candidate for the Democratic Party would have been impossible without the political struggle waged by the Native Blacks’ Civil Rights movement. 

It is time for us to follow the lead of our youngsters:

For details, see Pallavi Muluk’s article on the BLM rally held in Oakland.

END$$

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The Pittsburgh Patrika’s 25-year Trajectory

By Kollengode S. and Premlata Venkataraman

Assessing the articles in The Patrika against the goal it set for itself (as detailed in this lead article), one can say, the magazine has met its objectives. You can access the other articles at www.pittsburghpatrika.com.

Unlike New York/NJ, DC/MD/Northern VA, and the Bay Area where hundreds of thousands of Indians live, barely 18,000 Indians live in the Pittsburgh Metro region (Southwestern Pennsylvania, the West Virginia Panhandle and Eastern Ohio). And yet, we have people among us contributing articles for the magazine. These writers take time from their busy careers as engineers, financial planners, teachers, physicians, dancers, musicians, and Hindu priests to express themselves. They have written poems, personal experiences, cynical observations on the desi lifestyles and contemporary issues, reviews of events in Indian performing and visual arts, humorous pieces, and many others.

These writers trust the integrity of the magazine, even when they do not always agree with the tone and contents of some of the articles. A big Thank You to these writers. 

The magazine deliberately stayed away from the glossy filmi gossips, even though we received suggestions from well-meaning readers that these items would make the magazine more lively. Yet, the magazine has survived for these twenty-five years with your support.

Personally, publishing this magazine was both an outward journey, and an inward journey as well for us as we worked in our spare time seeking advertisers, interacting with writers in developing stories, and reviewing and finalizing manuscripts. Our interactions with people strengthened our cultural and spiritual moorings as liberal Hindus, as Indians, and now as American citizens. 

Our ideas about our faith was reinforced when we went to the original texts and read on their several interpretations, which we shared with readers in many articles. It helped us to go back to India’s literary/spiritual traditions over three millennia in Sanskrit, Hindi, Kannada, Punjabi, and Tamil languages and place their refreshing relevance to our contemporary life — here and now — in these United States.

Laying out the magazine integrating stories with graphics and with advertisers’ artworks has been a challenge requiring great attention to details. All through these years, the magazine has been able to satisfy advertises and writers, while producing a reasonably well-edited and well-laid out product, four times a year for the past 25 years.   END$$

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The Business End of the Magazine

By Kollengode S. and Prema Venkataraman

Printing and mailing the magazine for free was possible because of two reasons: First, we had full-time jobs that gave us a professional middle-class lifestyle. With this, we could divert the bulk of our spare time to the magazine. When people ask us how we do this with our full-time jobs, we have often replied them with a different question, “More than ‘How do we do it?’ we have been wondering ‘Why do we do this?’” 

Honestly, when we asked the same question ourselves, particularly while in the middle of a cash crunch to pay the bills, we never got an answer that made any economic sense. But then, as Christ says in the New Testament, “Man does not live by bread alone.”

The second reason is more important. To retain our editorial independence, The Patrika deliberately has not sought financial or other kinds of support from any social, cultural, political, religious, corporate, or government entities. However, in the Free Market World, any business activity has a reason to exist only if it can stand on its own legs to pay all the bills.  The Patrika owes a very big Thank You to all our advertisers — many of them repeat advertisers from Mainstream America and a few Indian businesses here as well.  Our advertisers  are the only reason the magazine has survived for twenty-five years. We acknowledge their support and trust in our integrity.

Without subscriptions, advertisements were the only source for us to meet the expenses — around $5,000 to $6,000 for each issue. These include the bare-bone expenses for a) printing and mailing the magazine; b) software updates essential for the magazine layout, address correction, and bulk mailing; and c) office supplies and incidentals and travel.  

We also spend lots of time working with writers revising and finalizing stories, copyediting & proofreading the articles; and then on the layout of each issue sequencing the articles and advertisements.   

As the lead article details, the Coronavirus stunned the finances for the magazine with advertisements vanishing in one stroke.

Thousands of businesses have shut down with tens of millions losing their jobs, and investors losing trillions of dollars. The hospitality and education industries — our mainstay among advertisers — were the worst hit.

It will take a long time for “normalcy” to return even after the pandemic is brought under control. Our life and lifestyle and work environments have already changed. And for sure, the new “normal,” when it returns, will be quite different from the one we left behind. The way we live and work; our ideas of what we mean by “success and wealth,” society, neighborhood, leisure and entertainment, travel and vacation, all will be quite different, hopefully for the better.

So, that is why an honest financial reckoning for the magazine became necessary. And that is why The Patrika seeks voluntary contributions of $20 or more from readers. We hope this is a temporary measure.  Please remember, we have been mailing this magazine for free for 25 years, or 100 issues! If and when the economy recovers, we will definitely revisit this situation. Please note that your contribution is NOT tax-deductible since the magazine is not a tax-exempt enterprise. 

You can make your volunteer subscription at this Gofundme site.

Or you can mail your check payable to:

The Pittsburgh Patrika, Inc. 4006 Holiday Park Dr., Murrysville, PA 15668.          

END 

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An Appeal for Voluntary Subscription — The Day of Reckoning for The Pittsburgh Patrika

By Kollengode S. Venkataraman, Editor and Publisher

The Coronavirus pandemic turned the lives of over six billion people upside down worldwide, devastating every segment. Even giant US businesses using the now-familiar “Too Big to Fail” argument, sought — and got — taxpayer-funded bailouts. There is a saying in Tamil,

Translation: “In the tornado, the kitchen grinding stone itself is flying in the air. What can peepul leaves do?” The Patrika is a peepul leaf sucked into the Coronavirus tornado.

“Day of Reckoning” is the phrase in the Bible referring to the Last Judgement. We use the phrase here not in the biblical sense, but in the literal sense, with “reckoning” to mean counting, as in “accounting.” 

You have been receiving the magazine for free for twenty-five years since 1995. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is no longer possible. The pandemic wiped out the advertisements that paid for printing and mailing 1900 copies of the magazine for free every three months to readers around Pittsburgh. So, The Patrika is seeking voluntary subscriptions to continue to inform readers about what is going on in our midst.

When The Patrika started its journey twenty-five years ago, the lead article “Why This Newsletter?” began thus:

“The Pittsburgh Patrika is an experimental newsletter to reach people who trace their heritage to the Indian subcontinent, or who are curious about the people from there. This newsletter is a forum for airing and sharing your views, ideas, and even frustrations, on any topic. People from the Indian subcontinent have a diverse background, and yet, are so very alike. When we look through our patina of sophistication, we see that our pleasures and pains, problems, hopes, and even griefs, are similar…

We have opinions on war, peace, societal issues… … raising children in these ‘modern’ times, dealing with ‘old-fashioned’ parents, intercaste, interracial, interfaith, [and no-faith] marriages, divorce, reproductive rights, religion, religiosity and spirituality, ecology, taxes, tax evasions and tax shelters, NRIs… … This is a forum for expressing and critiquing ourselves. It will last only so long as it serves these stated purposes.”

Against these objectives, The Patrika is satisfied with what it delivered in the last twenty-five years. The Patrika’s credibility is its editorial integrity and independence. To ensure this, the magazine never sought financial or other support from any social, political, cultural, religious or corporate entities.  

This unique magazine for the Greater Pittsburgh Indian Community goes to the offices of local, state and federal elected officials, local libraries, and media outlets, providing them a credible window on how we are melding into the American mainstream. Because of this, we have become a one-of-a-kind source of information as we receive inquiries from the mainstream, seeking resources from within our community.

Our writers pen articles about our people who render yeomen service in different fields and their talents. Also, knowledgeable members among us regularly review music and dance recitals and other events.

Thus there is a compelling need to continue to highlight in an editorially independent magazine the accomplishments of our community members in their professions and extra-professional activities. Such records gives credibility to these stories and can inspire our youngsters about opportunities, possibilities — and needs — in their adult life.

Our very first issue came out with no ads. Savor the irony here: after twenty-five years, we are almost back to square-one, only two ads in this issue.

So, The Patrika seeks voluntary subscriptions from readers to continue to inform readers about what is going on in our midst. Contributions of $20 or more from readers are welcome with gratitude. Please remember, we have been mailing this magazine for free for 25 years, or 100 issues! We hope this is a temporary measure.  If and when the economy recovers, we will definitely revisit this situation.

You can donate online at the GoFundme here:

Or mail your check payable to:

The Pittsburgh Patrika, Inc. 4006 Holiday Park Dr. Murrysville, PA 15668

We will update you on the total amount we receive from readers in response to this appeal.  Please note that your subscription is NOT tax-deductible since The Patrika is NOT a tax-exempt enterprise.   End.

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Examples of Press Releases We Wrote

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The Annual Writers’ Dinner

By Premlata Venkataraman

This was a valid point. The magazine is meant to be a platform for disseminating information about ourselves to readers scattered around Pittsburgh. We have been doing this for 24 years. Also, this magazine is mailed to many media outlets in Pittsburgh, local libraries, and offices of elected officials. So, we are eager to highlight events in our community.The Patrika can address this with help from the organizers of these events.

But here is the challenge: The Indian population here is thinly scattered over a large area around Pittsburgh and its Metro neighborhood. It is difficult for any one or two people to go to these events to cover these programs. Remember, these people have their own family obligations and social life in addition to holding full-time jobs. 

L to R: Pandit Jagdish Chandra Joshi, his wife Lakshmi Joshi. Mani Manoharan, Prema Venkataraman, and Arun Jatkar.

One point many raised was the lack of coverage of the social and cultural programs our readers organize in the eight-county tri-state region of south-western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and the West Virginia Panhandle. The magazine should highlight these events to reach  the wider audience of the Patrika. 

One possible solution, however: if the organizers of these programs alert us in advance about the events, the Patrika can publicize these events. As a matter of fact, in every issue, we place a boxed item as shown below with red letter caption to draw readers’ attention to this very point.  This point was acknowledged by a few among the participants.

We welcome more stories on any topic that interests or provokes them and make this annual event lively.   END  

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Indian Dances in the Pittsburgh’s Annual Thanksgiving/Holiday Parade

By Nandini Mandal
Artistic Director, Nandanik School of Dances

On November 30 at 9 AM history was made for the Indian community in Pittsburgh. For the first time, the organizers of the annual WPXI Holiday Parade invited us for the annual outside gala. Having seen our performance at Market Square on 13th and 27th September as part of Welcome Pittsburgh, they invited us to participate in  the Thanksgiving weekend in 2019.

Excited as we all were, we were also worried about the weather. Our Indian dance costumes are meant for the tropical and subtropical  weather, so it was a challenge to design our costumes for the outside event in the cold weather. We decided to gear up in outdoor sport wear underneath our Bharatanatyam, Koli, Garba, and Manipuri costumes!

Sixteen dancers participated along with their enthusiastic parents. We gathered at 7:00 am in Strip District braving the subfreezing temperatures. The wind chill was 20 degrees and the mercury was at 30 F, but nothing could dampen our spirits. There were drummers, marching bands, fire brigade, canine troops, and other organizations of this wonderful city and Allegheny County.

It was a two-mile walk. A crowd had gathered, braving the cold and cheering us along the way. Little children from among the bystanders danced along with us. The fun part was to see ourselves on the big screen and the reporters talking about us on live TV!

For the first time, India was part of the annual gala.  We were delighted that the minority Indian-American community was appreciated by all. We contributed in our own way to become part of the American mainstream.

Anushka Sharma, a seventh grader from Upper Saint Clair, said this on her participation: “It was an amazing to perform and share different Indian classical dances with people from my home city. I was happy to get this experience, because we don’t always have a chance to share our Indian culture with people from other cultures.”

Aditi Thakur, a tenth grader also from the same area said, “The experience overall was fun, albeit a bit cold. It was amazing that we were performing there in the first place. So many people cheered us on, and I felt welcome while performing something from my heritage. In true thanksgiving spirit, I felt connected to the Pittsburgh community and I’m grateful that I got to share my culture with my community.”

Please mark your calendars for our spring production. VILAYA — The Confluence Festival of Indian classical dances on April 18 and 19 at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall at Carnegie. This will be the third year of the festivities as we continue in our mission to promote the rich heritage of Indian art in the greater Pittsburgh region. END 

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A Divine Sitar Concert in Pittsburgh by Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan

By Priyadarshan Manohar, Squirrel Hill, PA

Editor’s Note: Dr. Priyadarshan Manohar has been interested in music for a long time through his association with Marathi musical theater. He has written and produced a few musical plays and created some singing shows for the Pittsburgh community. He has studied Tabla for some time.

What do you get when you combine the culmination of six generations of professional sitar playing heritage and one of India’s most talented artists known for vocalist phrasing of raga improvisation? The answer, Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan.  It was a divine evening at Chatham University’s Eddy Theater on Saturday, September 21 when the Ustad brilliantly displayed his skills on sitar, with Pandit Samir Chaterjee accompanying him on the tabla.

Chandayan, a non-profit organization founded in Calcutta that has branches all over the world, organized the program to the delight of Pittsburgh’s Indian classical music lovers. Chandayan is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Indian music, dance and culture.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Khan-and-Chatterji-sitar-stage-1-1024x573.jpg

Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, a world-renowned sitar player, is the recipient of prestigious awards including Padmashree by the Government of India. He has also received the Sangeet Natak Academy award, the most prestigious award in musical theater in India. The Ustad belongs to the seventh generation of sitar player in the Etawa Gharana. Pandit Samir Chaterjee, a wonderful artist in his own right, who has performed all over the world, is the backbone of Chandayan.  

Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan started the concert with aalap in the raga Yaman in Rupak and Teentaal. He explained that raga is neither a mood nor a melody but a framework for melodically and aesthetically bringing out the mood and the emotions of the time of the day and the season of the year.

He played on the sitar with so much elegance and dexterity that at times it felt as if he was playing the beat, the notes and the words all at the same time just on his sitar.

It was a well-attended ticketed program.

He continued his concert with jod-aalap with the tabla accompanying him. It was wonderful to hear the sitar sometimes sounding as if it was a quiet stream of water flowing, sometimes as frantic as rapids, sometimes with an abandonment and energy of a waterfall, and sometimes reflective and introverted with the depth and patience of an ocean.

Ustad Shahid Parvez presented two gats in taal Rupak and Teentaal in the second half of the concert. He played a lovely tune of the famous Hindi song Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal based on raga Pilu. His sitar was practically singing the innermost amorous emotions of Radha for her God Shreekrishna (Nandalaal). The most delicate tunes created by the Ustad on his sitar touched the hearts of the audience.

The dhun in Khamaj was so melodious and sweet that at times it felt like a pleasant evening breeze touching the soul. Like a butterfly hovering on the flowers. Like a river joyfully meandering through a valley…and sometimes even like an enchantress walking down the red carpet who is fully aware of her grace, beauty and immaculate style.

Parvez Khan ended the concert with a mesmerizing gat in raga Desh in Ektaal. Accompaniment on tabla by Pandit Samir Chaterjee was perfectly in rhythm with the sitar music like old friends walking together, step for step enjoying each other’s company.

It was an enchanting musical experience and a great evening overall.  Many thanks to Chandayan for bringing this musical feast to Pittsburgh. We look forward to attending many more concerts in town! END 

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A Mega Kitchen Serves Hot, Nutritious Food to Thousands of School Children in Delhi

By Srinivas Iyer, Gibsonia, PA

One summer evening in Pittsburgh I met Mr. Sanjay Tikku, Trustee and Vice Chariman of Annamrta Foundation, who is doing full-time volunteer work spearheading a mid-day meal project for students of public schools in the suburbs of New Delhi. This single mega kitchen is serving 150 government schools, serving 90,000 children every day. His Pan India organization is serving 1.2 million children per day through twenty mega kitchens in eight states.

I was so intrigued by his determination and enthusiasm that I decided to make a day trip from Mumbai to Delhi during my recent visit to India to get a first-hand experience of his work. I finished my field trip that day, returning to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport on my way back, I was overwhelmed, humbled and completely in awe of the well-oiled project that Mr. Tikku is running.

The mega kitchen he is managing is located in the southwest suburb of Delhi, near Ali Vihar, in a poor section of the city. Once you are inside the compound, it is spic and span, with full attention given to hygiene.

The Delhi school board gives them the menu along with the caloric value for the meals. Hot food is prepared in a timely fashion to feed the approx. 90,000 children daily.

The mega kitchen has its own delivery vans that make sure that the food is delivered on time, rain or shine! Mr. Tikku and his team have fine-tuned the entire process and have mastered the multiple variable logistics with a 100% fail-safe guarantee for delivering the lunches on time!
Mr. Tikku and team have been able to get corporate donors in the initial setup of these mega-kitchens, costing approx. US$2 million. However, the operating cost is only about Rs.2 per child per day!

From L to R: The author; Mr. Sanjeet Sharma, the supervisor; and Mr. Sanjay Tikku.

Mr. Tikku is eager to setup such mega kitchens in rural Bihar and Jharkhand, where the mid-day meal is the key factor to bringing the kids to school. Hence, his dedicated work not only provides nutrition to the next generation of India, but also is a key factor in educating them! This is a project that has implications far beyond that meets the eye.

Corporate funding is being directed to government projects such as swacch-abhiyan projects and hence is not available for the setup of Mr. Tikku’s future NGO mega kitchen projects. A US charity has been established to raise funds to setup these mega kitchens in rural India. Mr. Sanjay Tikku can be reached at: Sanjaytikku5@gmail.com END

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A Fascinating Scene at the Kollur Mookambika Temple

By K S Venkataraman

About 90 miles from the coastal city of Mangalore in Karnataka is the famous Mookambika Temple in the Western Ghat forest. This temple has a fascinating history traceable all the way back to Adi Shankara. Devotees from all over South India, more from the neighboring Kerala State, come here to worship the presiding deity Mookambika as Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Durga. Because of this, aksharaabhyaasam, the ceremony initiating young kids into learning, is conducted all through the year. Young parents come here for this ceremony with their small children accompanied by their family elders. Last December, I was at the temple with my wife, and my elder daughter, her husband and her two kids for the ceremony for the grandkids.

Sitting with a bunch of people with their young kids, coming from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, was uplifting. Parents and grandparents were squatting on the floor with their young wards. They knew the routine. The priest then placed in front of every child a brass plate with rice paddy spread evenly on the plate and a piece of turmeric root. He then recited Sanskrit hymns seeking divine grace for completing the ceremony of initiating the kids into studies.

The priest then asked the father/mother/grandfather to hold the tender fingers of the young one sitting on their lap and write with the turmeric root the following: a aa, i, ii, u uu etc. — the Indian alphabets — in their native scripts like Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi… Then he asked the parents to write the numbers 1 to 10.

The priest is writing Om on the tongue of a child with her father’s gold ring.

These steps made enormous sense. After all, civilizations are built around languages and mathematics. As the Good Old Tamil Grand Lady Ouvvaiyyar said over a millennia ago,

meaning, “numbers and letters are the two eyes on our face,” because they are necessary to acquire skills and make ourselves useful to others. Otherwise, we become a burden on society.

But the priest did not stop with initiating the young ones only to letters and numbers. He then did something unique and fascinating: he also asked the parents to help the kids to write sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, the seven notes in Indian music, similar to do re mie fa sol… …

What was the priest’s motivation for this step in the aksharaabhyaasam ceremony? He was indicating to parents that it is not enough to acquire skills to earn wealth as an end in itself, but also to cultivate interest in aesthetics like music, dance, literature… … both as practitioners and as patrons as well. After all, wealth and resources are for enjoying the finer aspects of life.

The priest conducting the ceremony himself was starkly simple in his demeanor and was by no means affluent. But he had a far better concept of how we should live our lives and use our resources. END

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6th PIC-5k Run Brings the Indian Community Together Raising $60,000 for Local Causes!

By Suresh Ramanathan, Volunteer, PIC-5k Organizers

Despite the ominous forecast, it turned to be perfect weather for runners and walkers, which later blossomed into a sunny afternoon! On Saturday, September 14, 2019, the Indian Community and Friends in all its diversity gathered at the North Park Boat House for the sixth year to celebrate the annual 5-k walkathon.

The start-up line.

If you were one of the over 500 who attended, you probably enjoyed the ambience of the beautiful North Park Boat House area before you set off on a 5-k or 1-k walk or run around the placid lake. You may have even joined the yoga class to stretch and limber up before the national anthems began. Along the way you may have picked up a bottle of water or dawdled at the color station to create your own custom-designed purple shirt and make yourself even more colorful.

When you made your way back to the boat house you would have found bananas, clementines and piping hot Indian food waiting for you. As you listened to the results of the run and music and interacted with the various non-profits at their tables, your younger children got their faces painted or got Mehndi done for a small donation.

Playing Holi in Fall.

As you enjoyed the delicious food and walked around visiting various tables, you would have bought raffle tickets and dropped then into containers to win tickets to a great Indian music concert or to snag “the biker’s basket” from Pro Bike and Run or even tried your chance at winning a collection of wines. Even if you did not win any of the raffles, you went home with great memories, a striking T-shirt, knowing you came together with your community to make an investment in the lives of people in our region.

Mehndi stall

September is Hunger Action Month! The Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to support the “Breakfast Challenge” at 74 target schools across 11 counties in our region. In addition, we are partnering directly with some schools. As with other causes, this year too 100% of what is invested goes to programs, with not a red copper penny going to administrative overheads.

The PIC-5k event this year raised around $60,000. bringing the total over the 6-year period to $310,000. Over the last five years, the Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends has invested over $260,000 in our own community in the areas of homelessness, education, healthcare and first responders. All this would not be possible without your involvement as supporters, donors, volunteers and sponsors. Thank you! END

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SPIFPA’s 2019 Cultural Festival

By Radha Rao Dhulipala, Fox Chapel, PA

Radha Rao, a long-time resident in our area known to many, was born and raised in Chirala, a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, India. After marrying Madhusudhan Rao, she moved to Pittsburgh in 1969. With her bachelors’ degree from Andhra University, and an MBA from Pitt, she worked at Carnegie Mellon University for 25 years. She is retired now. She volunteers at the S.V. Temple. She fondly recalls taking to Duquesne University decades ago for getting the 30-minute Music from India program on 90.5 FM.

Srinivasa Prasad International Foundation for Performing Arts (SPIFPA) hosted its 2019 Pittsburgh Cultural Festival of South Asian Performing Arts on Sunday, October 6th at the Fox Chapel Area High School Auditorium. Varaprasad and Parvathi Gutti of Latrobe, long-time residents and enthusiastic patrons of Indian performing arts for decades here, established SPIFPA as a non-profit 501 C (3) in 2005 in loving memory of Vasu (Srinivasa Prasad), their beloved son. Vasu, a passionate enthusiast of Kuchipudi and other Indian dance forms, died in a freak auto accident in 2004 and it was Vasu’s ambition to promote South Asian performing arts among North American youth.

A few hundred people attended this day-long event, where more than ten dance and music schools from the greater Pittsburgh area show-cased the talents of their teachers and students.

The chief guest and the honoree Vina Vidwan Sri Ayyagari Shyamasundaram. addressing the audience.

Inaugural session started with Deeparadhana and Invocational songs rendered by Sitalakshmi Madhavan, Saraswathi Chelluri, Sujana Mulukutla, Sheela Ganesh and Subha Sriram. They were accompanied by Shankar Krishnamurthy & Apoorva on violin, and Ganesh Iyer & Arjun on Mridangam. It was followed by Shri Varaprasad Gutti’s introduction of the Chief Guest for the event, Veena Vadya Vidya Visharada Sri Ayyagari Shyamasundaram from Andhra Pradesh, India. As part of the invocation session, Vasanta Krishna Lakkimsetty (Vasu’s niece) presented a touching Premanjali in the Kuchipudi style, memorializing Srinivasa Prasad Gutti. It certainly brought back several fond memories of Vasu to those who knew him.

In the forenoon session, artistic directors and students from Jaya Mani’s School of Bharatanatyam Dance (Director, Prof. Jaya Mani), Sitalakshmi Madhavan’s School of Karnatic Music (Director, Sitalakshmi Madhavan), SPIFPA School of Kuchipudi Dance (Director, Bindu Madhavi Gutti Rachuri), and Nandinik Dance Academy (Director, Nandini Mandal) presented their skills.

All the artistes and guests were treated to a sumptuous lunch during the mid-day break.

All the other honorees with the Chief Guest for the program.

In the afternoon session, artistic directors and students from Natyakriya School of Bharatanatyam Dance (Director Shobhita Ravi), Sangeetha Saramaya School of Karnatic Music (Director Sujana Mulukutla), Sheela School of Carnatic Music (Director, Sheela Ganesh), University of Pittsburgh Team Pitt Nrityamala (Directors, Jothika Gorur & Nithya Kasibhatla), Courtyard Dancers of Kathak Nritta (Director, Niana Roychowdhury Green), Nritya Sumanjali Academy of Kuchipudi Dance (Director, Sumalatha Sri Ramoju) and Sanskruti School of Indian Dance and Music (Director, Shambhavi Desai) showcased their talents.

Young talented dancers show-casing their talents.

The highlight of the day was Sri and Smt. Gutti facilitating the Chief Guest Sri Ayyagari Shyamasundaram. Following the felicitation, Sri Shyamasundaram responded to the felicitation with a melodious veena recital which concluded the cultural program. SPIFPA honored all the gurus and artists that enriched the festival with their participation and presentations.

No doubt all the guests were treated to several Vindus or feasts (Vindu in Telugu and Virundu in Tamil) that day – Veenula Vindu (musical feast for the ears), Kannula Vindu (dance feast for the eyes), followed by a Vindu Bhojanam (grand Indian feast).

Kathak Dancers were a new addition this year.

SPIFPA did a marvelous job in planning and executing this year’s program, which required lots of logistical details in managing the stage and lighting for all the different programs. I am happy to acknowledge the dedicated team of volunteers working on stage and back stage, taking care of all the needs of the artistes and guests. END

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Obituary: Om Sharma 1942 to Nov 1, 2019

By Ramona Sahni, Pittsburgh, PA

Editor’s Note: Ramona Sahni is a long-time family friend of the Sharmas.


Om Sharma, a long-time resident of our area, a successful entrepreneur who started from scratch, and a well-known person in many social, cultural and religious organizations in our area, died on November 1, after battling prostate cancer for a long time. He was 77 years old.

Om was born in Haryana, India on February 28, 1942 into a traditional Haryanvi family. He was the oldest of four siblings. His schooling was in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India followed by a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kashmir. This was followed years later by a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.

Steel captivated Om. His first job was with a Birla company in Jaipur, where he worked for five years. During this time, he married Krishna in a traditional wedding and they had their three children: Sheeno, Mona, and Vickrant.

After installing a brand-new machine from Germany for the Birla company, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse from Tata Iron and Steel Works in Jamshedpur. After working there for eight years, in 1978, he saw that he had reached the ceiling for his career advancement.

The Sharmas immigrated to the United States in 1978. He had interviews in San Francisco, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Like some of us, while he was flying over the hills, valleys and rivers of our beautiful city, he felt a sense of home, remembering his young days in Kashmir. So here he was, from one steel city in India to another steel city in the United States! The Sharmas have stayed here ever since.

He started with Pennsylvania Engineering and later worked at Westinghouse. In 1983, he took a leap of faith and went into the steel business for himself. He founded Sherman International dealing with various aspects of steel, doing business across the globe.

He enjoyed music, poetry and singing. He always had a joke to tell, especially Haryanvi jokes. He had a passion for life, living each day to its fullest. He and Krishna travelled extensively, often to my amazement and concern, when he admitted he was being eaten within by his disease. Such was his courage and fortitude!

Om was an adoring father, willing to spend the night standing in line to buy coveted concert tickets for his young daughters. He was a doting husband who loved to sing “jo tum ko ho pasand, wohi baat kahenge, tum din ko kaho raat to raat kahenge” to his wife Krishna of over 50 years!

When I asked one of his long-term friends what he liked most about Om, he said, it was his genuineness. This was attested to by a number of people who attended his funeral on November 3, and by the daily satsangs held at his home, culminating in the traditional pagadi rasam, held 13 days later, at the Indian Community Center in Carnegie, which he helped establish.

A man is remembered by the legacy he leaves behind. Om will be remembered not so much for building a successful business or for his charitable contributions to the Hindu Jain Temple, The Encyclopedia of Hinduism, or to institutions like our own Phipps Conservatory, but for the place he carved for himself in the hearts of friends like me.

Pandit Suresh Chandra Joshi from the Hindu Jain Temple conducted the Vedic cremation for Om Sharma on November 3, helping Vickrant, Mr. Sharma’s son, with the cremation rites at the Beinhauer Family Funeral Home, Pittsburgh. Om Sharma is survived by his wife, Krishnaa, all three of his siblings, three children and six very talented grandchildren. END

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