Archive for category Past issues

One-of-a-Kind Delectable Shehnai House Concert

Rishi Nigam, Pittsburgh, PA    

Note:  Rishi Nigam moved to Pittsburgh last year after earning his MS in engineering management from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is a consultant in the healthcare industry. Interested in music, he is working on his own album.

Recently I got an incredible opportunity to listen to Ustad Hassan Haider Khan on the Shehnai, accompanied by Pt. Samir Chatterjee on the Tabla. I attend music concerts often, but this pure classical recital transported me to a musical realm I have never been before.

Ut. Khan comes from a musical family. His great grandfather Ustad Sajjad Hussain Khan was the first Shehnai artist to take the instrument to Europe, playing it to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. Khan’s father, Ustad Ali Ahmad Hussain Khan is a Banga Bibhushan-awarded Shehnai maestro. The young Khan has performed around the world and has recorded Shehnai for music directors like A.R.Rahman. Yet, I found him so easy to talk to.

Pt. Samir Chatterjee, widely known for performing with eminent artists and as a soul-capturing soloist, accompanied UT Khan on the Tabla. I have been listening to Tabla performances for many years, but Pt Chatterjee on the Tabla in the recital made me completely fall in love with the instrument. His encouraging support to the young Khan enhanced the overall ambience of the evening.

The concert started with pure Indian classical ragas and ended with beautiful semi-classical and folk pieces. Towards the end, Chatterjee briefly gave a background of Indian classical music, how the shehnai is made, and how challenging it is to play the wind instrument solo for three continuous hours.

The shehnai recital was special because this was a house concert in Irwin in music connoisseur Samar Saha’s aesthetically decorated living room. The audience got immersed in a pleasant journey in ragas and laya for three hours in the intimacy of the house-concert. The proximity of the stage gave the artistes an instant and intimate rapport with the audience.

Before the recital, in a good-natured way, Pt. Chatterjee looked around and spontaneously picked two young girls, Sohini Ghosh and Ahiri Ghosh, from the audience, and “volunteered” them to provided shruti support, which they obliged for all three hours of the recital.

I heard the two veteran artistes doing things I had never heard before, surprising me every time a new piece started. This gave me a rare opportunity to talk to them later. For me as a music producer, a music learner and a passionate music lover, this was God-sent. The evening ended with a delightful dinner and desserts making it a splendid event.   ♣

No Comments

Shyamaa: Tagore Portrayal of Passion Ending in Tragedy

By Siba Ray, Murrysville, PA    


On April 22 and April 23, the Nandini Mandal’s Nandanik Dance Troupe presented Rabidranath Tagore’s dance drama SHYAMAA. The Kelly Strayhorn Auditorium in Pittsburgh was the venue.

The story revolves around Shyamaa (Nandini Mandal), the court dancer, instantly falling in love with a handsome merchant Bojrosen (the talented dancer Hari Nair from Toronto) from a neighboring country, the moment she sees him. Many men of substance in the kingdom amorously desire the gorgeous Shyamaa. Among them is Uttiyo, a young man in the neighborhood, willing to do anything to please the dancer to draw her attention, even though he has never met her.

Nandini Mandal and Hari Nayar as Shyaama and Bojrosen

The drama starts with Bojrosen acquiring Indramonir Haar, a priceless necklace from Suborno Dwip (literally Golden Island). Bajrosen wants to gift the necklace to the bride of his dreams.

Meanwhile, there is a theft of jewels from the palace and the queen wants them back. The royal guard, Kotal (played by Kumudini Venkata on Saturday and Paushaly Sau on Sunday) and his men catch Bojrasen. They want the necklace, which Bajrosen refuses to part with. Chased by the royal guards, Bajrosen runs for his life along a river, when he comes across Shyamaa and her friends.

Shyamaa’s heart sets on Bojrosen the very moment she sees him. The palace guards arrest Bojrosen. Foisting a false case against him for possessing the invaluable necklace, they plan to execute him.

In her desperate attempt to save Bojrosen, Shyamaa lets her admirer, the young Uttiyo (played by Roosa Mandal), take the blame for the theft. Uttiyo is put to death.

Shyamaa and Bojrasen leave the country, with the merchant oblivious to how he was saved from imminent death. Love blooms between the two, but Bojrosen is inquisitive about how Shyamaa managed to save him from the clutches of execution. When he keeps on asking her how she secured his release, Shyamaa finally tells Bojrosen what she did because of her love for him, and the sacrifice of Uttiyo. Bojrosen is filled with guilt for Uttiyo’s death, and is disillusioned. He rejects Shyamaa’s love.

Having lost Bojrosen’s love, Shyamaa too is disenchanted with life, having been the cause of Uttiyo’s death, Rejected by Bojrosen, she too decides to leave. Bojrosen is left to live in remorse, deprived of love, happiness and peace.

Behind the straight story of great tragedy, the story is a metaphor for life itself: the queen and the royal guard Kotal are unhappy not getting what they want, with Uttiyo even dying for Shyamaa. And Shyamaa and Bojrosen, the main characters in the story, also end up very unhappy after getting what they want.

Singers are critical for any dance drama.  For Shymaa, the foremost exponent of Rabindra Sangeet, Pramita Mullick, from Calcutta, trained in Shanti Niketan, was the female singer, with Agnivo Bandopadhhay of Rabindra Bharati University as her male counterpart. Their well-modulated singing (in audio recordings) of Tagore’s Bengali verses elevated the quality of the dance drama.

The main dancers all performed very well, among them Nandini Mandal, Hari Nair, Roosa Mandal as well as Kumudini Vankat and Paushaly Sau. Also, the large number of Nandini’s students — as flower girls and the sakhis, palace guards and others — showed great energy and passion in their roles. Hari Nair, as Bojrosen, nicely brought out the pangs in his heart depicting the sense of guilt for the death of Uttiyo and his inability to forgive Shyamaa for Uttiyo’s death.

It was an enjoyable program. That over 400-plus people, many of them from the American mainstream, bought tickets for the program is a testimony to Nandini’s reach in the larger Pittsburgh community. Not many Indian dance programs in this town can make this claim.n

No Comments

On Frenemies and Frenemity

By Kollengode S Venkataraman 


Recently I came across a syrupy multi-serial-forwarded e-mail from India, this time on Friends and Friendship. The oozing syrup in the e-mail  was too much for me. That triggered me to explore a paradoxical relationship everybody recognizes and nobody can escape from. This unnamed complex relationship, present in all cultures, now has a portmanteau word in English for those in this relationship – frenemies. The actual definition of frenemy depends on the dictionary you go to. Here are the examples:

  1. Merriam Webster: one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.
  2. a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.
  3. Wikipedia: “Frenemy” is an oxymoron and a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” that can refer to either an enemy pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but also a rival.
  4. Informal; a person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry.

From the nuanced differences in these definitions, it appears, the meaning of the term is still evolving. There lies the problem: no matter in what sense you use it, readers can internalize it in different ways.

From frenemy we can also coin an abstract noun frenemity, like enmity. Frenemity is known only among Homo sapiens, both the male and female species. The male species have this when they are in the same competing business as among news bureau chiefs of NBC, CBS, and ABC. Frenemity exists among doctors or lawyers in the same specialty practicing in the same town, or between editors of the NYTimes, WaPo and WSJ. In sports among QBs of football teams of comparable ranking. It is common among musicians, writers, dancers, actors everywhere, and among politicians vying for the same office. When two people in the same profession are unevenly matched, the one perched on the perceived higher level often has condescension toward the other. Often, the other guy/gal perceives the condescension. Those perceiving themselves to be below reciprocate with envy that can contextually morph into hatred. This one-way relationship is not frenemity. For frenemity, these love-hate feelings have to be mutual among equals.

Even though frenemity is gender-neutral, people watchers arguably believe frenemity is more prevalent among women.

How do you identify your frenemies among those with whom you interact socially? You can start with the points below. You can add your own to embellish the list.

Frenemies love you sometime and hate you some other time. But it’s not always this simple — they can love and hate you at the same time. It can be more complex: when you love them, they hate you; or vice versa.

When two frenemies love each other at the same time, it is all honey.  When they hate each other simultaneously, it is all vinegar. Worse still, it can be caustic lye.

If the spouses of frenemies are normal friends, this can lead to awkward moments between the spouses. If they are not careful, frenemies will drag their spouses into their orbit. If these gullible spouses take sides, eventually they too end up as frenemies.

Frenemies, whether they love or hate, are always in each other’s thoughts; they constantly try to read each other’s minds, and try to stay one step ahead of the other in the social game they play. When they misread the other, it can lead to awkward interactions between frenemies. When these interactions happen in public, they are hilarious to onlookers. This is what nourishes gossips.

Frenemies care for you, for sure; but your frenemies also can be gleeful in your misery, particularly when they are in the hate-you mode.

Your frenemies are not from your family, thank God. If they are, they are your relatives, your cousins, your brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. For Indians, they are your sambhandhis, particularly when they belong to the same caste, or the same socio-cultural group in a different Indian language (as when a Tamil marries a Bengali/Gujarati/Punjabi/Kannada/Telugu, and in its varied permutations and combinations). The caste identities add another toxic dimension. Or they are your oarpadis or oar-agatti (Tamil), oori-gatti (Kannada) or jethanis (Hindi), or todi-kodalu (Telugu).

Though frenemies are not your blood relatives or relatives by marriage, they can be more lethal.

In interacting with frenemies, women appear to be more sophisticated than men in navigating the turbulent, turbid frenemity waters.  You realize your frenemies have long memories, because you have a long memory.

Frenemies are ready to share your pains; they share your pains with others who know you well, more so when they are in the Hate-You mode.

Whether you hate your frenemies or they hate you, you learn to live with them, because you cannot live without them either. As you read through this short piece, if the images of your own frenemies, or the images of your friends who are mutual frenemies flash through your mind, don’t blame me.   ♣    

No Comments

Today’s Rebellion is Tomorrow’s Orthodoxy

By K S Venkataraman


It is one of the paradoxical twists in all reform movements all over the world — whether religious, social, political — that the rebels rising against the orthodoxy in their times eventually end up as a sect by themselves, or a subset within the system. They create their own traditions, and after a few generations, are constrained by their own orthodoxy.

Gautama Siddhartha, before he became the Buddha (or the Awakened One) for his followers, was a social critique and rebel in his time.  He defied many conventional norms of this time in matters of social order and faith.  A few centuries after the Buddha’s death, his followers split into the Teravada and the Mahayana. They further split into the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Yogachara, and Madhyamika schools, each having its own traditions and observances, with each buried in their own definitions on Buddhist practices and doctrinaire differences.  Many of these schools eventually fizzled out in India.

The Sri Vaishnavas of Tamil Nadu brought about rebellious reforms in the 11th century. Several decades after their founder Ramanuja’s death, they morphed into their own inviolable orthodoxy and broke into two groups — the Northern and the Southern sects (Vada Kalai and Then Kalai in Tamil) — with doctrinal differences, with each sect ending up having its share of temple properties and assets. They have taken their fights — some of  them may appear trivial to outsiders, for that mater, even to many insiders — all the way to the Indian Supreme Court.

The Veerashaivas, after rebelling against the caste system in the 12th century, are today a caste by themselves. The Sikhs too, who  defied the caste system in 15th century to become a separate religion, internalized the caste system de facto.

Jesus of Nazareth was a social and economic rebel in his time.  After his death on the cross, his followers venerated him as Christ, meaning Messiah or the Anointed One. And calling themselves Christians (or the followers of the Messiah), the religious leaders of the faith, throughout history in later centuries  developed their own orthodoxy on many social, political and cultural matters  —  Even on matters related to science such as whether the earth or the sun was at the center of the universe.  The Vatican’s position was that earth was the center of the universe since Man was the best creation of their God, Yahweh in Hebrew.  On theological grounds and dogma, the church declared that earth was at the center (geocentric theory).  The condemned Galileo who correctly argued that the sun was the center of the solar system.   In the following centuries, Vatican also took its stand against anesthesia, blood transfusion, contraceptives, organ transplants, and stem cell research, only to be overridden by common sense.

Eventually Christianity too broke into many groups: from the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox sects (Russian, Syrian, and Greek), Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Anabaptists, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Quakers, Mennonites… … These divisions were based on political, social, and/or doctrinaire differences.

In India, the atheistic Communist movement offers another fascinating model. India’s Communist Party was formed to fight feudalism, inspired by the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution in the Czarist Russia. In response to the souring relationship between Soviet and Chinese Communists in the 1960s, Indian Communists split into CPI (loyal to Russia) and CPM (Marxist), loyal to China.

Soon the atheistic CPM, like a religion, splintered into countless groups — Naxalites (Charu Majumdar), Naxalites (Pulla Reddy), CPI (Marxist-Leninist), CPI (Maoists), Revolutionary CPI… …  See the long list of Communist Gotras (clans) here:\Communist-Gotras.  With their patron saints the Soviet Union now dead for nearly 3 decades, and China abandoning its socialist ideologies and becoming capitalistic, Communists in India are drifting away and gasping today to be relevant in politics.

Religious, social, political, and economic reform movements are like hurricanes, starting in nondescript spots in oceans with nobody recognizing them. Moving through warm ocean waters, they become large masses of swirling clouds with immense energy. They make landfall with great force causing enormous damage, and move inland, only to lose their strength and dissipate into smaller clouds causing only drizzles. After some time, the next hurricane arrives.   ♣

No Comments

Veerashaivas: 12th Century Rebels Against Religious Orthodoxy in India

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


V.S.Naipaul, the celebrated writer of Indian ancestry from the Caribbean, wrote a harshly critical book on India in 1964: India: An Area of Darkness. Then, in 1977 he muted his critique by writing another book, India: A Wounded Civilization. His understanding of India culminated finally in India: Million Mutinies Now, the book he wrote in 1990 at the end of his own long, inward journey. Here he portrays ordinary Indians he interacts with struggling against great odds to change the stifling systems. The land of darkness morphed into a mutinous land.

No wonder many anglicized Indians think India was static and resistant to change till Turkic, Afghani, and Mongol marauders brought Islam in the 10th century and the European colonizing occupiers brought Christianity to India in the 16th century. For them, real reforms in India started with the europeanized, persianized Raja Ram Mohan Roy (early 19th century.)

In reality, though, since Vedic times, India always had a native intellectual tradition of people campaigning for change whenever society became ossified or exploitative. The teachers of the Upanishads, Jain Teertankaras, Gautama Buddha, Sankara, and Ramanuja are great examples, if you consider the social condition of their times. Such rebellions are in line with the Hindu idea of the need for periodic reforms: “I make myself appear again and again to restore Dharma whenever Dharma decays and corruption becomes widespread.” Rebellions are built into the Hindu ethos.

In this tradition of rebellion come the 12th century Veerashaivas in Southern India, against the Vedic Brahmin orthodoxy. The movement got its impetus through the works of Basavanna, Allama Prabhu, and Mahadevi Akka. Anna (elder brother), Akka (elder sister) and Prabhu (gentleman) are respectful appendages to their names. Some scholars believe Jedara Dasimayya (10th century) was a forerunner in this Movement.

Basava, Allama and others used to meet at the Anubhava Mantapa (Pavilion of Experience) in Kudala Sangama, a temple town, now a pilgrimage place in Bagalkote district in Karnataka State. They debated on Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (Knowledge), and Vairagya (detachment) for bringing egalitarian changes in society.

The Veerashaiva Movement campaigned against the ossified caste division of its time. Even though millennia ago, this division had a rationale for organizing society in terms of skills, it got stratified as “high” and “low” castes in later centuries. By the 10th century India, the system was further fossilized, based exclusively on birth.

Veerashaivas rejected the authority of the Vedas, the need for an intermediary priest and empty rituals. It was a radical idea, like today Jews, Christians, and Muslims rejecting the need for rabbis, priests/pastors, and maulvis to get through life’s transitions. The Veerashaiva idea of Godhead is Shiva, the Supreme One, who causes the entire gamut of creation, preservation, and dissolution, going in endless cycles.

Even as they rebelled against the ossified Vedic system of their time, Veerashaivas accepted its cultural bearings such as pursuit of knowledge, logical analysis, bhakti, jnana (wisdom); discipline, contemplation and liberation; karma and rebirths; and the need for Gurus in Man’s spiritual quest. The teachings of the Veerashaivas are in Vachanas, literally “Sayings,” some of which are iconoclastic. Kabir Das, Ravi Das, and Bulleh Shah, also known for their acerbic iconoclastic verses, came many centuries later, in the 15th, 16th, and 18th centuries, respectively.

In one of the vachanas, Basavanna, using vivid imagery, sarcastically reproves the Vedic Brahmin priest. In this, the priest, who worships fire as divine, has no qualms cursing the fire when it suits him. Basava himself being a Brahmin only shows he was, indeed, a true rebel. Here is the vachana, first in Kannada:

The contents of the Vachana in English:

The pandit in his house worships fire as deity, offering cooked rice  as oblations to the fire;  

The fire goes wild with the flames burning down the house.

They dump the gutter water and dirt from the street to douse the fire, and scream for help from all around.

Forgetting their worship, they curse the fire.

O, Koodala Sangama Deva (The Lord of the Meeting Rivers)!

Veeerasaivas are scattered throughout the Peninsular India in Maharashtra, Andhra/Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. In today’s Karnataka, the contribution of Veerashaivas in primary, secondary and tertiary education (arts, science, engineering, law and medicine) is substantial. Their impact in Karnataka’s public life — arts, literature, politics, and administration — is important too. Their presence and impact in other parts of Southern India are also noteworthy.

It is ironic that Veerashaivas, who fought so passionately against the caste system, ended up being a dominant caste in Karnataka.  More on this here.  ♣

No Comments

An Endemic Feature in Indian Music Programs

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

For-profit entertainment programs based on Indian film music are popular, with tickets sold in the thousands in big cities. In these events the emcees go to great lengths to introduce the songs with details and filmi trivia — the year and films in which they appeared, the playback singers, the music directors, the actors who lip-synched for the song… even vividly describing how the song was picturized. One thing they often miss is crediting the lyricists (kavis) who penned these memorable songs.

This was the case in the Sahana-2017 event also for very many songs. In the review two years ago on Sahana’s 2015 fundraiser, the Patrika wrote this (Full review here:

“Indian film songs describe different moods — joy, pathos, irreverence, sarcasm, humor, irony, paradoxes, and the dilemmas of life — often conveying great insights into life’s complexities. Some of the really good ones are as good as paid sessions with psychologists. So, lyrics are the heart, soul, spirit, and the very life of [good] film songs… … [Hence] leaving out the names of the lyricists who penned the masterpieces … … while mentioning the names of the films, music directors, and the singers who simply lend their voices… is inelegant… Sahana can correct this quite easily in their future programs.”

Using songs without giving credit to the lyricists is discourteous and unfair to the lesser-known poets. This topic is worthy of a stand-alone article.

We sent the above to Sahana’s Mr. Girish Godbole. His response is given below. Readers can make their own judgment.

“Mr. Venkataraman’s opinion is right that a lyricist (“kavi”) is a key contributor to a song. However, in criticizing the Sahana-2017 event for not mentioning the lyricist of every song, he seems to have missed the point that it was a live entertainment show which was “emceed,”  not “announced.” An emcee’s role is to make an entertaining introduction to the next song while following the theme of the show and linking the various items like a beautiful seamless garland. This is exactly what the emcees of Sahana 2017 Bollywood Show did. The advertised theme of the show was “Shankar Jaikishan to Shankar Mahadevan” —  clearly a theme focused on music composers. The emcee’s narrative mostly talked about the music composers, their styles, their sources of inspiration, etc. In a handful of cases, where it was particularly relevant, the emcees mentioned the lyricist’s name, and in one case even the original lyricist’s name in the original Punjabi song. The rest of the emceeing was appropriately focused on making it funny, entertaining and interesting in line with the theme and spirit of the evening.”      ♣

No Comments

Pittsburgh Sahana’s Successful Fundraiser

By Subash Ahuja


It was prime time for Pittsburgh SAHANA when it presented an evening of enchanting Bollywood Music in a well-attended program on May 20, 2017 at the Marshall Middle School in Wexford. The fourteen-member band with its live orchestra took young and old alike down memory lane from Shankar-Jaikishan to Shankar Mahadevan. Many in the excited crowd were on their feet dancing in the aisles and wherever.

Girish Godbole, an entrepreneur in technology companies, and Nakul Ranade, a marketeer, emceed the program, humoring the audience with Bollywood trivia. The vocalists — Akshay Hari, a two-time Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa finalist, and Vaibhav Karandikar, Asha Rajawat, Gayathri Shriram and Nakul Ranade — although referred to amateurs, were truly star quality.

Sahana group taking their final bow at the end of the program.

While pursuing their love for music, they have been giving concerts since 2009, successfully raising funds for various charities. They raised around $25,000 in this concert for the Association for India’s Development (AID and, a volunteer organization founded in 1991 and with 36 chapters in U.S. cities. AID volunteers before the program talked about the various women’s empowerment projects they operate in India. Over the years, SAHANA has raised over $110,000 benefitting various charities in India and the U.S.

Originally formed ten years ago as a loose group of music enthusiasts by Shriram Murthy, an engineer, and his wife Gayathri, an accountant, when they first moved to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh SAHANA has grown into a full-fledged band with a mission. Arunkumar Sanjeevi and Niveditha Mohan, both physicians, have opened their house to the group for their meetings and music practice.

Remarkably, the youth members of the group — Vikaas and Samyukta Arunkumar, and Keerthana Shriram — inspired by Pittsburgh SAHANA and their parents, have taken lessons in piano, guitar, drums, keyboard, saxophone and trumpet in their high schools. Now they are part of the group.  Ganesh Narayanan, deft on keyboard and drum pads, and Chockiah Suresh, facile on  his guitar, are the remaining valuable members in the ensemble. The SAHANA musicians plan to continue making a difference in people’s lives through entertainment while having fun with their passionate interest in music.    ♣

No Comments

Desi Transitions: Insider Trader Rajat Gupta Blames the Aggressive Prosecutor His Jail Term

By Kollengode S Venkataraman   


Rajat Gupta (picture on the left), an alumnus of IIT-Delhi (1971) and Harvard Business School MBA (1973), was the youngest and the first foreign-born managing director at McKinsey & Co. He was barely 45 when became the chief executive of McKensey. His background is the stereotypical Bengali Bhadralok — his father was a journalist and professor, and his mother taught in a Montessori school.

His parents died when he was in his teens. He was brilliant in his studies.

His meteoric career on Wall Street as a foreign-born Wall Street executive was a model for ambitious Indian business school graduates. He was a board member at Goldman Sachs, Proctor & Gamble and AMR (the holding company of American Airlines); and he was in many big-banner global philanthropies fighting AIDS, TB, malaria…

Gupta is also a convicted felon. In 2012 Gupta was given a 2-year prison term and a one-year supervised release, plus a $5 million fine for insider trading. The jury convicted him for colluding with billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager of Galleon Group, then one of the largest hedge funds. Gupta’s net worth at that time was around $100 million. Savor the irony that Gupta’s parents, as reported in the Economic Times in India, were communists.

Gupta (R) in his Halcyon days with Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Group (L) and Rajat Gupt (R) with US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (Center).

In his first interview after coming out of prison, Gupta talked, not to any US print media in New York such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, where he made his mark in his career and his millions, but to Vikas Dhoot of The Hindu. The interview was published in March 2017 under the title Had a Good Time in Prison.” See here:     

Gupta’s nemesis Preet Barara, the US District Attorney, who he blames for his incarceration.

The case against him was for trading privileged information — he was a director at Goldman Sachs and many other big corporations — with billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, manager of the hedge fund Galleon Group. Rajaratnam is serving his 10-year jail term in the same case.Gupta conceded to Dhoot that he wouldn’t have gone to jail for sharing information if he was more careful about whom he trusted: “If I were to fault myself, I would say I trust too many people.” After all, he was sitting on many corporate boards with access to policy-level privileged information of the business world having the potential to make huge profits, if you know such privileged information ahead of others.

After his prison release, he went to India, where he was accorded a homecoming welcome by his friends and associates in New Delhi, who are among the richest and most famous. See here: 

“We welcome Rajat wholeheartedly. I don’t know of another PIO [person of Indian origin] who has done more for

With Ratan Tata (L) in a commencement ceremony of Indian School of Business Gupta founded in India.

India. Fairly or otherwise, he has served his term. We have to move on in life. Forgive, forget and let things go,” said Mr Analjit Singh, DEO of Max Indian, to the Economic Times.

Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal waxed in exuberance, “He [Gupta] has served time for an offence which he continues to challenge in courts. I am sure Rajat will find a renewed purpose to use his skills. He drew strength from Bhagwad Gita through his difficult time which, I hope, will shape his future.”  Mittal also said Gupta brought to bear his position as the head of a global consultancy to focus on issues like public health and education in India.

After being released early from prison in late 2015, Gupta was sent to complete the sentence confined to his home. In a letter to his buddies on January 1, 2016, Gupta shared his prison experiences. The letter was recently made public.  Here are excerpts from his letter:

“[On this] New Year’s Day… I could not but reflect on my time in prison … A difficult chapter of my life [comes] to

Gupta with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. Ronan Sen of the Indian diplomatic Corps, is in the middle.

a close. The last eighteen months have taught me a lot and I will mostly remember it as a joyful time, full of camaraderie, laughter…  I have forged some deep friendships that I will keep for the rest of my life. I learnt many new skills and was able to teach fellow inmates a few too.

“Even though the [prison] regime tries hard to ensure that the prison does not become a community, most of us look after each other and help whenever we can… …

“In the last 18 months, I lived in three different facilities, nine months in a low security prison, two months in solitary confinement and seven months at the main prison.

“As a result, there was a great variety of living situations, experiences and people I encountered. Every place has its own peculiarities and culture. There were a few experiences that I will never forget, such as the first gay couple who wanted to get married despite the reticence of the regime in the prison… … It turned out that one of the men was not gay at all. It was a ruse employed in order to get transferred to some other facility.

 “Well, in addition to reading, meditating, and working on writing a new book, I learnt many new skills including some new card games … I also took up chess again, after 50 years… … I even learnt some new hood [Black slang] language  like, ‘Let me see that’ — which means give that to me. ‘Riding together’ — which means eating and cooking together.

“Overall, I am glad to be leaving here, but I had a good time. In a very strange way, I will miss the place…

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention. It’s so true in prison. The exquisite dishes that inmates can cook using only the microwave… we only had access to the microwave oven. I enjoyed a variety of cuisines, Mexican, French, Asian, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Italian and of course, usual American foods.”

“I had a world class trainer who pushed me into shape doing squats, sit-ups, push-ups and the like. I have had expensive trainers outside but no one as good as this guy who cost $5 an hour.

“As they say, life is a series of experiences. None is inherently good or bad. It is what you make of it. This experience has been good for another very important reason. The love I received from each one of you (my friends) during this difficult time and you should know it means a lot to me. Let me close by wishing you a very Happy New Year.”

Gupta with Reliance’s CEO Mukesh Ambani and GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt.

In Rajat Gupta’s letter to his friends after leaving jail there is no remorse — because that would imply accepting guilt. The tone of the letter is as if he went to jail as a Satyagrahi (Seeker of Truth) like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or for Civil Disobedience a la Martin Luther King Jr. Gupta went to jail for nothing noble. He went to jail for greed, as an arthagrahi (seeker of wealth) by indulging in abuse of privileged information.

Fascinatingly, one sees in Gupta’s letter the ability of the human psyche to compartmentalize personal behavior into watertight chambers, even when the contents of the chambers are in blatant contradiction. This is similar to priests being caught in pedophilia when preaching public morality from their pulpits, or when our Congressmen take conservative stands displaying moral rectitude in speeches, when in their personal lives, their behavior is just the opposite. When we try to understand such inner workings of human mind, it is disconcerting.  In looking at Rajat Gupta, are we looking at ourselves? That is a scary thought.    ♣

1 Comment

Cosmic Design — Shanthi Chandrashekar’s Paintings

By Premlata Venkataraman


Shanthi Chandrashekar (photo on the left), an Indian-American visual artist living in Maryland, had her paintings titled “Cosmic Design,” inaugurated at the Lantern Studio in Downtown on June 2, and concluded on July 2. In the inaugural reception, I talked to Chandrashekar.

Explaining her art, Shanthi said, “Cosmic Design is an outcome of my fascination for the unknown, be it the journeys of the subatomic particles or the mapping of black holes. In my multimedia work, I explore the scientific concepts with ideas ranging from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from quantum mechanics to relativity and from singularity to infinity, juxtaposing of science and art.”

Shanthi graduated with a master’s degree in physics from Chennai, India. She grew up near Kalpakkam, near Chennai where nuclear physicists work, who inspired her. Her paintings capture the mysteries of the universe through patterns and symmetries with repetitive figures representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. Her paintings are mostly pen and ink.  But she also has some in acrylic and some done on handmade paper.

Her paintings immediately bought to mind fractal dimensions and the brightly colored kaleidoscopic glass images under high magnifications to the person accompanying me. He is a materials scientist. A few images reminded me of the transverse sections of in plants in botany.

Shanthi says, “I try to find answers to the big questions in our lives, philosophy and religion through my paintings.”

Definitely an interesting exhibit in town for the Indian community and for others as well struggling with these eternal questions.    ♣

No Comments

Unsettling Early Days of Trump’s Presidency

By Kollengode S Venkataraman   

People are incapable of rationally responding to frequent, erratic changes even in their personal lives — in their careers, health, marriages … — all occurring around the same time. They become numb and focus on how to get through the day. When these changes do not immediately affect them, people ignore them even when these changes have long-term consequences for them personally. That is what is happening since Donald Trump became the president. Ordinary folks — not people in the news business, politicians, partisan types or news junkies — simply have withdrawn, as if this is happening in some other country far away. But late-night comedy shows are having a field day with grains of hard truths underneath the supposedly humorous quips in these shows.

Trump’s harshest critics are not only liberal writers of the New York Times and the Washington Post, but also traditional conservatives like the Wall Street Journal’s editors, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, and many others. GOP members of Congress are adrift, thinking about their own survival in next year’s mid-term elections. Only right-wing radio and TV talk shows are singing the paeans of praise for Trump.

With his erratic management style, Trump’s White House staff work under fear, insecurity, and embarrassment. These are the most loyal people willing to be the fall guys for their boss. When they try to shield their erratic boss — we understand this is in their job description — they contradict themselves often within the same day and  become caricatures. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer is one example. His Secretaries of State and Defense are in the dark on key foreign policy decisions till they see them in the media.

With Trump’s obsession over not getting favorable news coverage,  he runs his administration by nocturnal tweeting. His staff wake up each day wondering which bizarre comments of their boss they need to defend.

Nearing his six months in office, thousands of jobs in the Trump  administration are vacant, many needing Senate approval, including ambassadorships, usually given as return favors to big donors in the election. Many offices of federal prosecutors are also vacant. People have withdrawn their nomination; many don’t even want to be considered for key appointments. These are normally jobs coveted by people driven by commitment, ideology, ambition and adrenalin.

When in Europe in May, Trump castigated publicly his NATO allies for not paying their share of bills, something many US presidents have done, but in closed-door meetings. Savor the irony. Trump, in running his business, was not a model for financial or professional probity. His businesses centered on gambling filed for bankruptcies several times.

After WW II, the victorious US formed the NATO military alliance, driven by its national self-interest, willingly footing the bill to achieve its two geostrategic objectives. The first was to contain the inevitable military power and political influence of the Soviet Union, its WW-II ally. Remember, Soviet Union too was a victor in WW-II after suffering the biggest loss* in the war. The second unstated objective was to prevent the re-emergence of Germany as a military power, and keep Germany on the its side. After all, Germany’s military growth culminated in the disastrous war*. The US achieved both with NATO. The alliance was  against the Soviets; and the US kept Germany within NATO, with its largest military presence (outside the US) in Germany, nearly 50,000 troops.

Trump’s disastrous public performance in Brussels — targeted to satisfy his domestic audience — might have sowed the seeds for the re-emergence of Germany as a third military power in Europe having its own geostrategic interest that may not align with US interests. Listen to what Angela Merkel said in Berlin the day after Trump’s Brussels speech:

“The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days. And so, all I can say is that we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands… Of course we need to have friendly relations with the US and with the UK, and with other neighbors, including Russia… We have to fight for our future ourselves, for our destiny as Europeans. Where Germany can help, Germany will help, because Germany can only do well if Europe is doing well.”

The Trump presidency hastens the US decline as the sole Super Power, which was already declining slowly. The US’s dependence  on its military muscle rather than on diplomacy to retain its global influence has the opposite effect. The simultaneous rise of other global power centers and alliances are already challenging the dominance of the US.

* Note: 80 million deaths, totally. 26 million in Soviet Union alone, 8 million in Germany, 6 million in Poland, 2 million in India, 18 million in China, 3 million in Japan, and a minuscule 0.45 million in the UK and 0.41 in the US.   ♣


No Comments

Ignore Public Criticism? Sometimes, Yes.

By K S Venkataraman

I heard this story by Sivakumar Ayya on Tirumandiram, a canonical work on Saiva Siddhantam in Tamil with 3000 four-line terse verses, many of them in what is called Sandhya bhasha with words having esoteric and hidden meanings. This makes it impossible to translate many of the verses into comprehensible English. You need a good commentator such as Sivakumar Ayya to explain the import of the verses.

In any case, this is his advice on the need for us to develop indifference to public criticism when we are trying to do something good:

There was a rich man in a village. After experiencing everything life offered him, he saw the futility of all his worldly pursuits. So, he gave up all his wealth and became a mendicant.

As a mendicant, he was lying down on the floor on a roadside public place using bricks as a pillow. Two local village women passing by recognized him. They were talking: “Look, this man was rich. He left everything and became a sannyasi. See how he is now lying on the floor!”

Her companion commented: “Uh! If he is really a sannyasi, why does he need bricks as a headrest for sleeping?”
The mendicant was listening. Seeing their point, he removed the bricks he was using as pillows and was trying to fall asleep.

The two women were returning after their errands. Seeing that the mendicant was sleeping without even the brick as his headrest, the first woman told her friend: “See, he heard your comment and is sleeping without the headrest. He is indeed a true sannyasi.”

Her cynical companion commented: “What sannyasi is he, trying to overhear the conversation between two women?”     ♣

No Comments

Obituaries: Jagbir Singh Bedi (1946 to 2016) and Indu Bedi (1948 to 2016)

They struggled to survive with their catering skills

Jagbir Singh and Indu Bedi

On December 23 last year, Jagbir Singh Bedi died in Pittsburgh; and just one week after his death, Indu Bedi, his wife and life partner for 45-plus years through the thick and thin of his life, also passed away. Heart problems were the causes for their deaths.

Jagbir Singh was a Partition baby, born in Gujranwala (in Pakistan today). His parents came to India after the Partition. Indu was born in Amritsar, Punjab. Jagbir Singh owned a business in India before they migrated to the US in 1984, landing in Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, Jagbir Singh used his natural entrepreneurial instincts to start businesses in Indian groceries (Home Fair) and restaurants (Vegetarian Delight and Durbar). However, the businesses did not last. The Bedis stoically bore their disappointments, accepting them as part of life. They tried to stand on their own feet by servicing the catering needs of Indians in the Tri-State area.

About ten years ago I once saw him when he was in his early 60s working with his wife in their catering kitchen in Monroeville. They were sweating it out in the mid-August heat in front of a large kadai (wok) deep-frying samosas and making chicken and lamb items for his clients.

Jagbir Singh had a wry sense of humor. Laughingly he once recalled his experience selling his restaurant to Indians who had no experience in the restaurant business. “Do you know they had twelve partners? Can you imagine running a restaurant with twelve partners?” Laughingly he continued: “I am having difficulty running this place with my family!

The Bedis leave behind two sons and a daughter. Gagan is in India and Sandeep is in Pittsburgh. Their daughter Poonam lives in Houston, TX; Jagbir’s brother Datar Singh and his family and his nephews and nieces live in Pittsburgh.

The Bedis were cremated in Pittsburgh following the Sikh rites.

— By Kollengode S Venkataraman  ♣

No Comments

Obituary: Suman Ahuja, (Jan 17, 1947 – Feb 1, 2017)

A Well-liked Psychiatrist

Suman Ahuja, a retired psychiatrist from the V. A. Medical Center and a longtime resident of Pittsburgh, died on February 1, 2017.

She was born on January 17, 1947 in Chiniot, Punjab (in Pakistan today). She was the youngest in a family of six, of four brothers and two sisters.

She had her schooling in Delhi and earned her medical degree from Gauhati Medical College in Assam. She met her husband Subash in New Delhi in 1974, married and joined him in New York that same year. After finishing their residencies in New York — she in psychiatry and he in pathology — they moved to Pittsburgh in 1977. She joined the V.A. Medical Center as a clinical psychiatrist, where she worked for over thirty years.

They raised two lovely children, Rajiv, born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Nina, born in Pittsburgh, PA. She was grandma “Bima” to two adorable grandchildren, Riaan, 5 and Rayna Lakshmi, 1. With her two children settled in their careers, Rajiv, a lawyer, in practice in the field of Health Care Management, and Nina, a physician, pursuing a fellowship in Gastroenterology, and her own successful career in the field of Psychiatry, she was happy and content with her life.

She was a very caring person, always helping others. She volunteered in the soup kitchens and was on the Humanitarian Committee at Hindu Jain Temple. It was not money or fame that she sought, but a loving family and close friends she yearned for. She was successful in her goals.

She loved dancing, cooking and entertaining, enjoyed music and listening to soothing Bhajans, and Ghazals & Shayries (Hindi/Urdu poetry recitations).

Although, she was very conscious of her health and practiced daily yoga and meditation, she developed an autoimmune liver disorder towards the later part of her life. With her deep faith in God, she always maintained a cheerful and positive outlook.

Suman leaves behind Subash, her husband of 43 years, two children, two grandchildren, and three siblings in India. She was cremated with Hindu Vedic rites on February 4, 2017 in Pittsburgh.

— By Praful Desai, Greensburg, PA  ♣

No Comments

On the Impoverishment of Servitude

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Tiru-mangai-alvaar, a Bhakti Tamil poet, is one of the twelve savants in the Vaishnava tradition in the Tamil country. He composed several hundred verses (part of the compendium called Divya Prabandham containing nearly 4000 verses) addressing Vaishnava deities in his pilgrimage. Analogously, the works of several Tamil Saiva poets (between the 6th and 9th centuries) called Tevaram and Tiruvachagam, and others are over 8000 verses in different meters.

Literary critics date Tiru-mangai-alvaar between the 7th and 9th centuries. In one of his verses* he candidly pours out his personal inadequacies that resonate even today in our “modern” times. Here is his verse addressed to Venkateswara of Tirupati in India:

Here is the free-style non-poetical translation of the verse:

Unknowingly, in my youth, I indulged in countless bad deeds!

As an adult, laboring for others, I became impoverished!

O, Hari, the Lord of the Venkata Hills with surrounding forests
       where elephants roam,

Here I am! Accept me [with all my faults] and grant me your grace!

We work in our jobs as employees, professionals, or as entrepreneurs and accumulate wealth of various kinds. But the poet here poignantly confesses that he was impoverished working for others. Is this not strange? We may never know who he worked for or the nature of his earnings over 1200 years ago. It is entirely possible that he, like us today, was not content with his earnings. Greed is so simple: no matter how much we earn and accumulate, often, we wish for more. But not getting more than what we actually get does not make us impoverished. So, why does the Alvaar confess, “I became ‘impoverished’ laboring for others?”

The Alvar’s impoverishment probably was not material. Most likely, his was the spiritual impoverishment he suffered in earning his living — like the excessive servitude he showed to his employer. Or committing acts he should not have, or deliberately omitting acts he should have carried out, and making all kinds of unethical compromises along the way. In today’s parlance, it is like indulging in unethical practices to get ahead of others — even outright cheating and lying. Or by our becoming silent accomplices in the unethical business practices in work places, even in temples.

Such frustrations as in the confession above have been the bane of human existence. Here is another example: Pattinattaar, a Saiva mendicant in the 10th century Tamil Country, expresses the humiliation people endure when they go to rich and powerful people seeking favors. Incidentally, Pattinattaar was not born to poverty. He was a prosperous trader. He became a mendicant out of choice. A dramatic transformation occurred in his life when he realized, “Not even an ‘eye-less needle’ is of any help during our final exit.”  Here is his original expression in Tamil

Sewing needles are of value and use only so long as they have the “eye.” Once the “eye” of the needle breaks off, the eye-less needle has no value whatsoever. Realizing this, Pattinattaar walked away from his wealth, becoming a wandering mendicant. He composed priceless poems on the human predicament in various situations using humor, cynicism, anger, irony or sarcasm in his expressions. People memorize these rhyming, alliterating verses even today.

In one verse Pattinattaar puts his frustrations pretty bluntly in an alliterative and rhyming verse addressed to Shiva in Mount Kailasa:


O, my father, the Lord of Mount Kailasa, when will be the day 

     when I don’t have to go behind the rich, whining about my problems 

     seeking favors by ingratiating myself with them and fawning over them?

And when will I be free from this misery, and experience 

     the bliss of being content with myself in solitude?

On the human yearnings for a higher call, every Indian language is a treasure trove of verses like the ones presented here. I say this with my sketchy understanding of Hindi/Bhojpuri/Awadhi Bhajans, Kannada Devaranamas and Vachanas, and after listening to pravachans on the shabads from the Adi Granth at the Gurudwara.

Unfortunately, in today’s India with the overemphasis on the anglicized education by rote, regional languages (including one’s own mother tongue) are losing their influence on youngsters. And nobody knows how to stem this tide. And there is only minuscule interest among India’s youngsters in one region to learn another Indian language. What is even worse is people’s benign condescension or outright hatred for other regional languages. This is a great Indian tragedy unfolding in front of the whole nation that nobody seems to recognize — or care, even when they recognize it. ♣

* I acknowledge Kalyani Raghavan of Edwewood, PA for the exact reference to this verse.   ♣

No Comments

Some Protest Placards Make Us Look at Life Differently

K. S. Venkataraman

A good protest placard conveys complex social issues in a simple and direct language. This placard is an example.

Take the example of today’s working class families with below-the-median family-income of ~$55,000 a year. They try to stretch their limited resources to meet their needs for paying their bills on time, saving for their future, and educating their children.

When allocating their limited monies for different needs, even suboptimal decisions have huge consequences. This is true in educating children. Not getting proper guidance at crucial stages in their high schools often make these kids to go unprepared to the rigors of university education.

With their limited resources, it will be difficult for these kids to make a course correction in their education when they realize that they took a wrong path when facing a fork in their education journey.

Families living above $100,000 dollars of income/year tend to be better educated and informed about the way of the world. They give better guidance to their kids. Further, children from these families have the luxury of time and resources to change their education options even after their first degree. The higher the family income and resources, the greater is the leeway for children in this. This is a simple fact of life.

Parents from higher income families are aware of this. But they try to camouflage this by attributing all their children’s accomplishments to their intelligence and hard work — on their DNA and the family memes. “We are a better breed,” they subconsciously would want to believe.

The DNAs and memes are very important factors, no doubt. However, many other factors — protracted illnesses, deaths, divorces, job losses for parents, political turmoils, for examples — over which the parents and their kids have no influence or control, have a big say in what we accomplish in our lives.

So, when I read the placard again, I feel a sense of gratitude for all the help and generosity I received at critical junctures in life — and a sense of obligation to society at large.    ♣

No Comments

Obituary:  Mohinder Mohan Bahl (1938 – 2017)

A Respected Doctor in Internal Medicine

Dr. Mohinder Mohan Bahl, a longtime resident of Pittsburgh, passed away on February 3rd, 2017. The cause of his death was complications following a stroke in his long battle with heart problems.

He worked at the Shadyside Hospital and the East Suburban Hospital in Monroeville (now Forbes), while also mentoring many young doctors. His specialty was internal medicine. Loved by his patients and respected by his peers, he was recognized by the Allegheny County Medical Society for his years of distinguished service.

Bahl was born in 1938 in Nairobi, Kenya.  He was the third among his five other siblings. He earned his medical degree in India on a scholarship. He came to the US in 1972, pursuing his American dream. He did his residency in internal medicine in Pittsburgh and other places in the US. In 1975 he opened his medical practice in Penn Hills where he served his community for over thirty-five years with diligence, dedication, and kind disposition.

While working as a doctor in Nairobi, in 1964 he married Saroj. The Bahls with their three young children came to the US in 1972. In the early days of Indians coming to live in Pittsburgh, Mohinder Bahl was active in the Indian community. He was a founding member of the Hindu Jain temple. He gave his full support to Saroj’s dedicated efforts to add the Indian Nationality Room in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. The Indian Nationality Room, against many odds, was dedicated in 2000. He supported many charitable organizations locally and abroad including the Red Cross and Ekal Vidyalaya, which builds schools in rural, interior India.

Mohinder Bahl was always dignified and gracious with people. He had a good sense of humor that his children imbibed from him. He liked gardening, current events, discussing politics, and he avidly collected coins.
He leaves behind Saroj, his dear wife of fifty-two years of marriage; his three sons Ashish, Monish and Sachin and their wives; his only daughter Mala and her husband; and his ten grandchildren, whom he adored. His brother Vijay Bahl lives in Pittsburgh.

His cremation ceremonies followed Vedic rites at the Beinhauer Funeral Home on Sunday, February 5.

—  By Nita Wadhwani, Presto, PA 

No Comments

Ramalingam Sarma: Celebrating 100 Years

Translated Valmiki’s Sundarakaandam into English in his 80s

By Jayashree Phanse


February 12, 2017. Venue: A modestly decorated Banquet Hall at the Cascade Marriott in Dallas for 150 people. With children running around, adults were chatting, munching on hot samosas and pakodas and sipping Lassi or Chai. We were awaiting the arrival of Shri Ramalingam Sarma, our hero, to celebrate his 100th birthday. Ramalingam Mama — mama is an endearing term for maternal uncle in Indian languages — alert as ever, arrives in a wheelchair with his sons, daughters, and grandkids in tow. He lives in Dallas with his son Arvind. People  greet him with bouquets and pranams. Mama calls out one of the guests, “Govindraj, so you made it. Look, I am wearing the shirt you bought for me!!”

As Chaitanya, Mama’s grandson, gets ready to welcome everyone, Mama interrupts, “It is just another birthday and it happens to be 100. I welcome you all for my 100th birthday,” and blesses in Sanskrit: “Jeevet sharadah shatam” — ‘May you all live for 100 autumns.’  He continues with a smile, “And invite me for your celebrations.”

Geetha Manian, Shri Sarma’s daughter, is in the blue sari.

Mama has a Pittsburgh connection. With his wife Shakuntala (now deceased) he visited the US in 1984 for his son Arvind’s wedding. After retirement, they migrated to the US in 1988 since all their children were here. He lived in Pittsburgh with his daughter Geetha Manian until 2005 to help her raise her son as a single mom. Geetha still lives in Pittsburgh. Many here remember him as an energetic, wiry, alert man.

Mama had studied basic Sanskrit during his school and college days. This was eight decades ago. “Like many

youngsters, in my youth I was not interested in understanding Sanskrit chanting done during routine worships,” he says. After he turned 80, he started refreshing himself in the language’s arcane grammar with books and help from the Internet.

In his boyhood, he had listened to his mother reciting in Tamil Sundarakaandam, a section in Ramayanam. Later he read it in Tamil. Valmiki’s Sanskrit original has 2800 slokas (verses) in 68 sargas (chapters). He wanted an English translation to be useful for today’s youngsters with these features: It should go beyond the simple translation. He set himself for this big task while he was in his 80s. He wanted to present each sloka in the Devanagari script as in the Valmiki’s original with these features added: Classical Sanskrit slokas are with complex Sandhi rules (coalescence of vowels and consonants) and meters peculiar to the language. So, each sloka is simplified in the Devanagari script by breaking the coalesced phrases into simpler words with meanings for easy reading and understanding. Transliterating this into the Roman script, Sarma gives the translation of the verse in English.

For doing this, Mama, while in his 80s, learned computer skills and the necessary software for transliteration from the Roman to Devanagari scripts.

This enormous task took eleven years for completion, with Gargi (Mama’s youngest daughter) and her husband

Mama Shri Ramalingam Sarma at his Centenary Celebrations.

Chandrakant helping him in the last two years. Sujatha Awathi, a Sanskrit professor in Pune, proofread the work and helped in getting the work printed in two volumes of more than 600 pages each. Two-hundred-and-fifty copies were printed in Pune, and several were donated to various universities.

Many assembled in the centenary gala recited poems and prayers, and sought Mama’s blessings by doing pranams to the centenarian. Mama’s sons, daughters, and grandchildren put together a slide show with occasional commentaries by Mama himself! The guests were given a coffee mug with the famous Rig Veda phrase Aano bhadraah kratavo yantu vishvatah printed. The phrase literally means “Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions.” Incidentally, this is the first Sanskrit lesson I learned from my father when I was less than 10 years old.

In his 100th year, Mama sent individual and personal “Thank you” emails using his i-Pad for those present at his 100th birthday bash.

Even at 100, Mama is fully independent, with the need for occasional oxygen supplements. He is mentally alert, and his memory is as sharp as it can be. Evidently, the good genes he inherited from his parents have played a big part. However, we also need to recognize the other lifestyle choices he made: All through the one hundred years of his life, Mama has been disciplined and simple in his personal life, even as he lived through several difficult transitions; fastidious and frugal in his eating habits; regular in his exercise routines; and attentive to his health. He is a good role model for us on this. We wish him well.   ♣

No Comments

Harish Saluja’s Miniature Paintings Exhibited

By K. S. Venkataraman

Taking inspiration from Rajasthan’s rich tradition in miniature paintings, our multi-faceted Harish Saluja used his palette and paint brushes to create bright paintings using water color, acrylics and other materials. His medium for these miniature paintings are 3” x 5” index cards, with abstract and Asian motifs.

Over 100 paintings were on display during February-March in a gallery on Liberty Avenue. Arts aficionados, Saluja’s friends and well-wishers, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (see below), were there on the opening day to hear Saluja sharing his inspiration for these paintings.

The adjacent picture measuring 3” x 5” is the actual size  of the paintings displayed.

Harish says he had no formal training in arts schools; or for that matter in music or film making, for which also he is known. His talents are natural, like the fragrance of flowers in the wild.  ♣

No Comments

Obituary: Sarjit Singh (Nov 1, 1939 to Dec 22, 2016)

Well-liked Neurologist, Founding Member of AAPI and the Pittsburgh Sikh Gurudwara

Dr. Sarjit Singh, a long-time resident of Weirton, WV, passed away peacefully at his home on Thursday, December 22, 2016. He was 77. The Greater Pittsburgh Area has lost one of its outstanding members.

Born in Tanda, Hoshiarpur district in Punjab, India, Dr. Singh obtained his medical degree from Glancy Medical College, Amritsar, Punjab. He came to the United States in 1969 with his wife, Dr. Ranjeet Singh, now a retired pathologist. He trained in neurology in Buffalo, New York, and completed a clinical fellowship at Harvard University.  In 1975, the Singhs settled down in Weirton.

Dr. Singh was an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Singh actively practiced neurology up to the time of his death. He authored numerous research papers in neurology. His patients liked him for his clinical skills, compassion, personal attention, and cheerful disposition.

Dr. Singh was a founding member of AAPI, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, where he also served as president in 1991. During his tenure, Dr. Singh, with his colleagues, established three charitable medical dispensaries in India, serving thousands of needy patients. He was also involved in forming the Amritsar Medical and Dental Alumni Association of North America.

In 1992 Dr. Singh was appointed to the West Virginia Board of Medicine which licenses and governs doctors throughout the state. He later served as the Board’s president in 1998. In 1991, the Governor of West Virginia recognized Dr. Singh as one of the Most Distinguished West Virginians, one of the state’s highest honors. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Urban Health Alliance, representing ethnic/minority physicians to aid the less fortunate in their healthcare needs.

Dr. Singh was one of the founding members of Tri-State Sikh Gurudwara in Monroeville PA, completed in 1985, for serving the spiritual and cultural needs of Sikhs in the Tri-State area.

He was also active in the Democratic Party at the state and national level, and was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the National Democratic Committee in 1992.  He was active in the Weirton Rotary Club, donating generously for the scholarship funds, and hosting many exchange students. The City of Weirton inducted him into the Weirton Hall of Fame.

Singh was an avid tennis player and loved playing golf with his friends and was a member of the Williams Country Club in Weirton.

He had a great sense of humor that came out even when he was seriously ill. He advised and rewarded people who quit smoking. I was one of the many recipients of $100 from him when I quit smoking.
Dr. Singh is survived by his wife, Ranjeet; his son Satbir, a urologist and his daughter-in-law, Shalu, a neurologist; and grandchildren, Sheraj and Simreen.

Private cremation services following the Sikh rites were held for Dr. Singh on Saturday, December 24, 2016 in Dover, Ohio. In the memorial service held later at the Sikh Gurudwara in Monroeville on January 7, 2017, a large number of his family members, friends and associates from near and far reminisced about their association with Dr. Singh. The common themes in the gathering were his determination, vision, kindness, caring, readiness to help others, and his sense of humor.

—  By Juginder Luthra, Weriton, WV  ♣

No Comments

Want to know about NRIs, PIOs, OCIs ?

By Kris Gopal


Editor’s Note: Readers of this magazine are familiar with the acronyms and abbreviations relating to Indian citizens under different visa/citizenship categories. The most important of these acronyms are NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), POI cards (People of Indian Origin cards), and OCI cards (Overseas Citizens of India cards). Other terms are Green Cards, Naturalized Citizens and Natural Citizens. Indian-Americans is a term often used in the US relevant only in a social context, with no legal validity.

For a variety of reasons, many naturalized US citizens in the US carry either the PIO card or the OCI card the obvious one being the visa-free entry into India any time. There are other important differences between the PIO cards and OCI cards that pertain to driving privileges, privileges and restrictions to work in India and ownership of properties, bank accounts, money transfers, inheritance… …

These are important legal and citizenship terms having far-reaching implications. So, take the information in the article in our website as a starting point to get a general idea. You need to do further search to get the most current and precise definition of these terms. Many websites are available to guide you in this search.

Kris Gopal, a long-time resident of our area has figured this all out for your benefit in the simple, easily readable and understandable article below. 

1. NRI

While OCIs (Overseas Citizens of India) have given up their full Indian citizenship, NRIs (non-Resident Indians) are still citizens of India. This is technically a tax classification as opposed to a visa status.
Who can be an NRI?
An Indian citizen residing outside India for a combined total of at least 183 days in a financial year (from April 1 to March 31).
What are the benefits of being a NRI?
You can get special bank accounts from Indian banks.
You can continue to own land and property in India.
Your earnings outside India are not taxed by the Indian government, provided you have paid taxes in the nation you reside in. Local earnings in India (interest, rental income) are still taxed.
There is a special quota of seats in Indian universities reserved for NRIs.
You can still vote, but you have to be in India to do it.
What are the drawbacks?
You may need permission to take out money invested in India.
You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses.
You may not hold a government job.
You may not be elected to a political position.
How do you become an NRI?
There is no application form needed. The only official record of being an NRI comes on your yearly tax filing. This status can change from year to year. If you wish to open an NRI bank account, you simply need to inform your bank of your plans.

2. PIO

A PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card allows for visa-free travel to and from India.
Who can be a PIO?
Every person of Indian origin who is a citizen of another country (other than those specified by the Indian govt.) is eligible to apply for PIO Card regardless of ethnic origin, so long as they were not born in, or ever nationals of, the prohibited countries specifically mentioned by the Indian government.
  • The person used to be an Indian citizen (held an Indian passport)
  • The person or at least one parent, grandparent,or great-grandparent who is/was born in and permanently resided in India
  • The person is married to an Indian citizen or an existing PIO covered under (1) and (2) above
The following groups of people cannot have OCI status:
  • Anyone who was ever a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal
  • Anyone whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, China or Nepal
What are the benefits of being a PIO?
  • A multiple entry, multi –purpose visa for visiting India. PIO Card itself is treated as a Visa
  • No separate Student/Employment/Business visa will be required for admission in colleges/intuitions or taking up employment, business, etc in India
  • Special counters for speedy immigration clearance at designated Immigration check posts
  • Exemption from registration with local police authorities for continuous stay up to 180 days in India
  • Exemption from registration with local police authorities for miners up to 16 years of age
  • Parity with Non-resident Indians (NRIs) in economic, financial and educations fields except for acquisition of agricultural land or plantations
  • PIO Card can be used as identity proof for applying for a (I) PAN card, (II) driving license and (III) opening of Ban account in India, if the PIO card holder resides in India.
What are the drawbacks?
  • You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses
  • You may not vote
  • You may not hold a government job
  • You may not be elected to a political position
  • You may not travel to restricted areas without permission
  • You may not undertake any missionary work, mountaineering and research work, without the prior permission of the Government of India.

3. OCI

An Overseas Citizen of India is a lifetime visa status. It is the closest thing to dual citizenship that India offers.
Who can be an OCI?
  • A person who used to be an Indian citizen
  • A person with at least one parent, grandparent,or great-grandparent who is/was an Indian citizen
  • A person married to an Indian citizen or an existing OCI for at least two continuous years
  • The following groups of people cannot have OCI status:
    • Anyone who was ever a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh
    • Anyone whose parents or grandparents were citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, or Sri Lanka
    • Anyone who served in a foreign military or worked in a foreign defense department
What are the benefits of being an OCI?
  • Lifelong multiple entry visa to India
  • You can eventually become a citizen of India if you remain an OCI for 5 years and live in India for at least 1 year (short breaks are now allowed)
  • You can use special counters during immigration
  • You don’t need a student/employment visa to study or get a job in India
  • You can open a special bank account in India, just like an NRI
  • You can make investments in India, buy non-farm property and exercise property ownership rights
  • Your can use your OCI card to apply for a driver’s license, open a bank account, or get a PAN card
  • You get the same economic, financial, and education benefits as NRIs
  • You pay the Indian resident fee when visiting a national parks, monuments, museums or wildlife sanctuary (of course it is ultimately up to the discretion of the man issuing tickets)
What are the drawbacks?
  • You may not purchase agricultural land or farm houses
  • You may not vote
  • You may not hold a government job
  • You may not be elected to a political position
  • You may not travel to restricted areas without permission
Difference between PIO and OCI
The difference is the eligibility criteria. The PIO scheme covers up to four generations and the foreign spouse of an Indian national or a PIO/OCI card holder. On the other hand, for the OCI card it is mandatory to be eligible in your own terms i.e a foreign national is not eligible for the OCI card even if he/she is married to a valid OCI card holder. However, their children will be eligible.
Why the decision to convert PIO to OCI?
According to the Citizenship Amendment bill, 2015, all PIO card holders are ‘deemed to be’ to be OCI card holders with effect from January 9, 2016. However, the act did not specify that the cards will need to be changed. This has led to serious implementation issues with the PIO-OCI merger resulting in much confusion at Indian embassies and immigration portals abroad. Also, the PIO cards will not be compatible with the card reading machines to be installed at Indian airports soon.
This is why the Indian government announced the decision to convert PIO cards to OCI before December 31, 2016. The deadline was recently extended from 31 December last year to 30 June, without any penalty.
How do you become/convert to an OCI?
You can apply through the Indian embassy in your country of residence or within India at the local FRRO.
Here is a sample of documentation you will need (see your local consulate for a specific list):
  • Proof of present citizenship
  • Proof of former Indian citizenship (for you or your relative)
  • Proof of renunciation of Indian citizenship (if applicable)
  • Proof of relationship to an Indian citizen
  • The entire process can take several months in some cases. Fees vary from nationality to nationality. If you apply in India, the fee is Rs. 15,000 for an adult or Rs. 8,000 for a minor. You can convert a PIO card to an OCI card if you qualify, and the fees are very nominal.   ♣

No Comments