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Natyakriya Celebrates Ten Years

By Srujana Kunjula, Wexford, PA      

Editor’s Note: Srujana (picture on the side) was born in Tirupathi and had her schooling at Anantapur, in Andhra Pradesh. After her MA in Political Science from Hyderabad Central University, she completed her MPhil and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. She teaches political science and sociology at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) at North Campus, and lives in Wexford, PA.

The founder of the dance school Natyakriya, Shobhitha Ravi (picture below), with fifteen of her students, presented the dance program, Sri Vidya Shakti, on October 6, 2018, at North Hills Middle School, celebrating ten years of teaching Bharatanatyam. The theme of the production Sri (wealth), Vidya (knowledge) and Shakti (strength) was in praise of Devi, the universal mother in Hinduism. The program coincided with the Navaratri festival in which Hindus celebrate Devi in the form of Lakshmi (Sri), Saraswati (Vidya) and Parvathi (Shakti).

The program was divided into three sections, each focusing on one theme with the dancers in traditional bright costumes performing three items in each section. The young dancers were good with abhinaya, a coordinated combination of movements of the legs and footwork and hand gestures to rhythmic music and facial expressions, all to convey stories.

Akshara Murali, Bhavana Kolla, Jothika Gorur, Nanditha Ganesan, and Malini Harinath.

It was a ticketed event, with all the proceeds benefiting EKAM USA Foundation, a non-profitorganization committed to providing healthcare to needy babies and mothers in India to reduce the mortality of mothers & infants at child birth.

The program was a success with good attendance helping a social cause. Shobhitha’s solo dance was impressive and her students were energetic, enthusiastic, and talented. Their hard work and love for dance was evident throughout. The master of ceremonies, Sandhya Rao, impressed the audience, describing the dance pieces and relating them meaningfully to the nine-day Navaratri celebrations. Carol Schneider, the World Languages teacher at Shady Side Academy Senior School aptly remarked, “The dances were stunningly beautiful and exquisitely choreographed. The movements, the music, and bright costumes combined to make the experience enchanting and enriching.”

L to R Top: Somya Thakur, Sherin Puthenpurayil, Bhavana Kolla, Mitali Belambe, Meghana Vemulapalli, Sruthy Miriyala, Malini Harinath, Sanjana Harish, Kavya Balakumar, Nanditha Ganesan, Akshara Murali, Jothika Gorur, Anagha Arunkumar. Bottom: Keerthana Samanthapudi, Harsha Mikkilineni, Inu Miriyala.

Natyakriya, founded in 2008, strives to preserve and spread Indian art and culture here. From a small base of eighteen students, the school now has over 100 students. Over the years, ten students have completed their arangetram under Shobhitha, a disciple of Natyakalavathi Jaya Mani, who trained Shobhitha in the Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai tradition.

With a passion for dance and patience, Shobhitha mentors and inspires her students. We wish her well for continued success in the years ahead in teaching Bharatanatyam and touching the lives of many children and parents in such a profound manner.  ♠


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The ‘Burgh’s Brand New Organization for Seniors

By Arun D. Jatkar, Monroeville, PA      

Founded by Pittsburgh’s senior citizens to serve the interests of Pittsburgh’s senior citizens and open to all senior citizens regardless of creed, color and country of origin, here is the United Seniors Association of Pittsburgh (or USAP for short).

USAP was founded in December 2017 and registered as a non-profit organization in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It has also received approval as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable organization from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

USAP’s mission statement reads:

To promote healthy aging through education, participation and social support, and thus, dignity, independence and longevity of its members in their senior years; and provide a forum that would encourage able seniors to help fellow seniors in need, with goal to minimize their dependence on society.

Current office holders L to R: Rajnikant Popat, Chetan Patel, Subash Ahuja, and Dilip Desai.

Two hundred and forty-two senior citizens of Pittsburgh have already become members of this rapidly growing organization. This includes 31 life-time charter members.

USAP members are vibrant professionals from all walks of life — doctors, engineers, computer specialists, teachers, businessmen, entrepreneurs — with wide interests and passions on diverse topics.

During 2018, its first year of operation, USAP organized fourteen well-attended, well-received informative and entertaining events. These included, among others, informative talks by professionals on healthy aging and financial and social wellbeing. Topics included :

  • Yoga & meditation, physical fitness,
  • Ayurvedic approach to healthy eating and living,
  • New tax laws affecting senior citizens,
  • Health insurance, protection of personal identity,
  • A music gala, a bowling bash, introduction to bridge and other card games, a golf outing, and
  • A three-week organized tour of eastern Europe!

One might think that all this must amount to a big fat membership fee that a middle-class senior living off his or her limited life savings and Social Security income can only dream of. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Now get this: It is only $30 per person for 2019. This number was at the insistence of the all members because refreshments and snacks are served free of charge at these events. Beverages like tea and coffee are always on the house at all events. And one could go for Charter Membership by paying only $ 500 per person.

Organizationally, four officers run USAP: Mr. Chetan Patel (President), Mr. Dilip Desai (Vice President), Dr. Subash Ahuja (Secretary) and Dr. Rajnikant Popat (Treasurer), with these committee chairs:

Mr. Girish Thakar (Life and Finance Planning), Dr. Chetan Ladani (Health and Fitness), Dr. Ved Kaushik (Hobby and Sports), Chetan Patel (Cultural, Social and Humanitarian), Dr. Kiran Bakshi (Tours and Travel), Mr. Jayant Mirani (Membership) and Dr. Juginder Luthra (Social Media and Publications).

When I asked Dr. Ahuja, the secretary of USAP, what he would like to tell the as-yet-uncommitted seniors of Pittsburgh, his face lit up and without any hesitation he said, “Join USAP, ASAP!”

More information is available at  ♠


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PIC-5K Raises $58-k in Fun-filled Annual Walkathon Event Last Fall

Suresh C Ramanathan,  Volunteer for the PIC-5K Event

 Five years ago, the Pittsburgh Indian Community and Friends (PICAF) Nonprofit was established to bring the entire community together across all languages, religions and social and cultural groups around a single event, the PIC-5K Walk/Run. Its purpose was simple and

Some of the volunteers in the PIC-5k Event.

straightforward: to try to make a huge impact in the lives of people in the region where we live, work, study, and raise our families through a fun-loving fundraising event in the fall. All the money raised through donations in this annual event goes to nonprofits. Volunteers cover all the operational costs.

These last five years, PIC-5K has raised about $250,000, including the operational costs that are covered by volunteers who run this unique event. Thanks to the generosity of donors and the frugal approach of the organizing volunteers, this year, PIC-5K raised nearly $58,000 in the September 22 event.  And the organizers will distribute the $58,000 raised in the event to various community organizations.

Great efforts go to due diligence for identifying, vetting and selecting the non-profits in the

            Volunteers at the East End FitBit Program booth.

Greater Pittsburgh area mitigating homelessness, helping with healthcare and education for the needy, and emergency first responders. We request award recipients to use all the funds we donate to deliver programs to the deserving individuals in our region. We try to ensure that the recipients of our funds follow-through by requesting outcome-based reports following our funding guidelines.

You have helped us make a huge impact over the last four years and it shows! With your help we have impacted many local programs including but not limited to:

  • After-school education program that helped 525 homeless children
  • Nutrition program targeting low-income families
  • Helping adults finish high school
  • Exposing 500 underserved girls to arts and culture
  • Mobile employment training to homeless people
  • Setting up computers for use by the homeless
  • Shoot, Don’t Shoot VR training program for 900 Police officers
  • Book donations for underprivileged children.

PIC-5K’s community investments from fund raised in 2018:

  1. Mary’s Market Program, a stop-gap food pantry for the needy
  2. Home Again Program for moving homeless to their next home
  3. AP/EA Program to bridge the gap of textbooks for needy students
  4. Mother & Son Program to bring them together and make them more responsible and successful
  5. Additional incremental funding for Backdraft Simulator
  6. Books for needy children

So, PIC-5K needs you in the walkathon event, and also your material support in 2019!  Next year’s PIC-5K event will be on September 14, 2019. Looking forward to seeing you there!!   ♠


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Akshaya Kumar: A Pittsburgh Native Working for U.N.’s Human Rights Watch

By Rashi Venkataraman,  Washington DC   

Editor’s Note:  This spring, Rashi Venkataraman, a native of Murrysville, PA talked to Akshaya Kumar, the Deputy UN Director for Human Rights Watch in Washington. A graduate from Upper St. Clair, Akshaya attended George Washington University and then earned her law degree from Columbia University. Her academic and professional work has taken her to London, Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan.  Akshaya Kumar currently lives in New York City with her husband. Rashi went to Franklin Regional High School and earned her BS and MS from Carnegie Mellon University. She spent a year in Indonesia as a Fulbright Scholar. After working for the Veterans Administration for several years in different capacities, she now works for a nonprofit outfit in the healthcare-related field.

Rashi: Tell me a little bit about your current role.

Kumar:  Since 2015, I’ve worked for Human Rights Watch, one of the largest human rights organizations in the world.  Human Rights Watch is focused on reporting and shedding light on human rights conditions around the world. The United Nations has the power and authority to affect and address human rights in many parts of the world, and my role is focused on helping the UN do their job better.

Rashi: Since the administration change in the US in 2016, what are the biggest challenges you face doing your work in 2018?

Kumar:  One of the great things about the Human Rights Watch is that our work has never solely relied on the United States as a vehicle for positive change in the world. More broadly, the United Nations is based on the principle of nations coming together from all over the world to inspire change. While there are disagreements about what that change might look like, there’s a shared sense of principles and intentions. And it’s in that shared spirit of trying to do the right thing to improve peoples’ lives that we are able to work with our counterparts at the UN on different initiatives.

Rashi: Beyond the standard accomplishments question, what is the coolest project you’ve worked on?

Akshaya: Well, the one that probably excited my family in India the most is the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times I co-authored with George Clooney and John Prendergast. It was great to shed light on the conflict in Darfur. It’s great when you can harness the power of celebrity to shed light on an important topic.

Rashi: What advice would you give young Indian-Americans growing up in Pittsburgh that might be interested in your career track?

Kumar: Pittsburgh can feel like a small town when you’re growing up and interested in international affairs. I didn’t even know a job like this existed when I grew up in Pittsburgh! There’s no reason to feel like you have to operate in a certain lane. I went to law school and got my law degree, but you don’t have to practice law if you don’t want to; there are ample opportunities to take that legal training to create your own niche.  I’ve found that my law background and training has been a great foundation for doing the international justice work that is my passion.

Rashi:  What do you miss most about Pittsburgh?

Kumar:  I left Pittsburgh about fifteen years ago when I left to pursue my degree in Washington, DC. Further academic pursuits and jobs have taken me to New York, London, Egypt, Sudan, and South Sudan. When I think about growing up in Pittsburgh, I think of the tight-knit Indian community there that had so many common experiences to really bind us all together. I definitely miss the familiarity of seeing the same families at the temple during the weekend; it really fostered the sense that we were all part of a community. I’ll always feel really grateful for that and look forward to paying that forward to future generations.     ♠


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My Experiment with Cold Showers

By Kollengode S Venkataraman   

Like everybody else, I have done my share of crazy things in life — like getting married, as most people have done. If that was not enough, I went to graduate school for over four years in my 30s with a wife and a newborn baby. This was after an eight-year gap after my bachelor’s, a long gap in which my grasp of the sciences and mathematics had evaporated.

Then, in my 40s, over two decades ago, I started this magazine while holding on to a full-time job — with no experience whatsoever in editing, proofreading, or copyediting; software skills for myriad things, Bulk Mailing, selling ads, bookkeeping… … And this when my older daughter was getting ready to go to college. Ignorance was bliss.

What have these to do with Cold Showers?” You may wonder. But this preface sets the stage for what follows. Out of necessity, I use the Internet for fact-checking, etymology of words…  In this, I’ve come across nuggets of fascinating information. This is identical to the story in Yoga Vaasishtha of a man assiduously searching for a lost copper penny, fortuitously ending up with Chintamani, the wish fulfilling gemstone. But in my search, I am content if I get a nugget, if I get anything at all.

The one I got was on the health benefits of Cold Showers, defined as taking bath in really, really cold waters, at temperatures going as low as 50 F or lower. The health benefits claimed are many, some psychosomatic, others physiological: reduced stress, better alertness, long-term weight loss when done daily, increased testosterone and sperm count, better immune resistance and blood circulation, antidote for depression, better sleep, muscle recovery after injury, better skin and hair…  All kinds of information is available on the Internet. Samples:

Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body by A Mooventhan and L Nivethitha (

Here is a website on the subject:

Here is another:

These are only the tip of the iceberg floating on cold waters.

I was skeptical, but when I learned more, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to try Cold Showers, not in summer, not in fall, but in this winter, when the outside temperatures were in the 30s  F.

Being used to hot showers, I wondered where to begin and how.  The best advice was to phase myself into it. So this is what I did, step by step:

Note: I am in my 60s and what follows worked for me, though my wife thinks I am crazy. So, after reading this, if you want to be adventurous, talk to your doctor before you start.

  • On the first day, before my bath time, I indulged in some serious autosuggestion to get ready mentally. I told myself, “Venkat, after all, you’ve survived forty years of marriage; you went to grad school after a big gap, when you were married and had a baby; you’ve seen two daughters through their teen years. You have seen far worse. Cold Showers can not be any worse. Besides, it is going to be very brief, only for several minutes.”  Getting mentally prepared is necessary.
  • Then, instead of starting with hot water (~120 F for me), I started  with lukewarm water (~105 F). While under the showers at this lukewarm water, I scrubbed my body head to toe with a washcloth.
  • Then, while under the shower, very, very slowly I lowered the water temperature. I stayed there for about 30 seconds, turning around, completely drenching my head, shoulder, back, legs, and front so that my entire body got used to the lower temperature. This is important.
  • I lowered the water temperature again — again very gently — and drenched my entire body for 30 seconds to get used to the water.
  • I took the water temperature down like this over 6 to 7 minutes.

Our normal body temperature is 98.4 F. So, as the water temperature came close to this, the sense of warmth I experienced vanished.

Then the fun started. When the water temperature was slightly below body temperature (around 92o F), I had the first sense of discomfort. I told myself to get used to the discomfort. I stayed at the lower temperatures for 30 seconds, turning around for my entire body to get used to the colder water. Surprisingly, I got used to it, and I felt OK.

Then, I made the water colder by one more small decrement. I went through the cycle of experience. As the water got colder, I had a initial discomfort for each step down, but I got used to it. Strangely, I even felt a sense of mild exhilaration. The temperature-time profile was something like shown in the sketch on the side.

Then, as the temperature got colder (in the 70s F, much colder than 98.4 F), the initial discomfort became acute. I was gasping for breath, breathing deeply and more frequently. But I got used to this too after 30 seconds, till the temperature was low and the discomfort was unbearable. This was my lower temperature limit for that day. Along the way, I screamed with choicest profanities in Tamil, Malayalam, English and Hindi. After the showers, I completely dried myself.

During this whole sequence, I was fully alert, living every second in the ETERNAL NOW. I was mentally detached from everything else, simply because, honestly, I could not think of anything else.

After my shower, I felt incredibly fresh and energetic. I was exhilarated, almost euphoric for no reason. Strangely, paradoxically, and contrary to my fear, I felt a great sense of warmth in my body. I did not feel cold at all. I am sure there are physiological explanations for this in terms of blood circulation, better use of oxygen through diaphragmatic breathing, and hormone secretions…

With each passing day, I lowered my bottom temperature a little. I am now around 60s F for over a month . I intend to stay on this for several months. My goal is to go all the way to ~40 F. I don’t know if I can reach there though.

I already saw another benefit: My wife, who showers after me, now does not complain about not having enough hot water for her shower, and we no longer have disruptive behavior towards each other!!!!

I am in my 60s, and Cold Shower worked for me so far. But then, I’ve done many crazy things in life.  So, if you want to try this, talk to your doctor first. The experience — the sense of exhilaration, energy, euphoria and the sense of well-being that stays for hours — is worth it.  You will help reduce the carbon footprint, too.       ♠


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Chinmaya Mission Organizes Chinmayananda’s Mahasamadhi Day in 2019

Ganesh Krishnamurthy   

Regional Coordinator,  Chinmaya Mission Pittsburgh

He was waiting, searching and looking to strike. This was the mighty and powerful monkey king Vaali of Kishkinda. He was looking to defeat and destroy Sugreeva, his younger brother. A small misunderstanding was the cause of the enmity. Sugreeva was safely lodged in the Rishyamukha mountains on the outskirts of Kishkinda, because Vaali had a curse that he would drop dead if he set foot anywhere near Rishyamukha, which in Sanskrit means the abode for many Rishis and their ashrams.

Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is replete with beautiful symbolisms from our sacred texts. In this case, Sugreeva is our individual identity or ‘Jiva.’ The terrible Vaali signifies distractions of the world’s negative forces acting on us. Rishyamukha signifies ‘Satsang’ or the company of pure-hearted and learned people to help us attain ‘moksha’ or freedom from the ill-effects of worldly distractions.

This also is a subtle pointer that the only cure for the maladies of the world is spiritual education. Individuals are the thread woven to make the fabric of the community, society, country and ultimately humanity.

One of the foremost modern Vedantic masters, Swami Chinmayananda,  said, “Worldly problems can be solved only by spiritual solutions.” The Swamiji, through the Chinmaya Mission he founded, dedicated his entire life for imparting spirituality to people’s lives through Gnyana Yagnyas and Spiritual camps. He emphasized the balance of head and heart, pointing out selfless work, study and meditation as the cornerstones of life. To celebrate the life and teachings of this ‘second Vivekananda,’ the Mission organizes an annual ‘Chinmaya Mahasamadhi camp’ for the entire family.

In 2019, Pittsburgh’s Chinmaya mission hosts the camp from July 29 to August 4, 2019. Children will be in Balavihar classes and fun activities in the camp while adults get to be in Satsang, mingle with like-minded people in a Sattvik ambience. The topics covered in the camp will be on ‘Sri Krishna Leela,’ Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita.

For registration and other details, visit Please register to take advantage of the early-bird registration. There is also an option to spread the payments over six months.

We in Pittsburgh have a divine opportunity to engage in this week-long spiritual retreat/camp/festival. We hope that everyone takes advantage of this and extends their support, because remember — “He is waiting, searching and looking to strike.”   ♠


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“To Lend A Helping Hand, All You Need To Do Is Stretch Out Your Hand For Henna!”

By Priya Matreja, McDonald, PA

Priya Matreja

For a girl my age — I am fifteen — I feel incredibly lucky to get opportunities to promote Indian culture with my henna skills and be able to raise funds for charity.

Hello, I am Priya Matreja, a sophomore at South Fayette High School. Along with school work, I participate in extracurricular activities, Indian classical dance, and volunteer at various places. But I never hesitate to spare time even on a school night for raising funds for charity with my henna skills. You may wonder how I learned my henna skills.

I casually tried to decorate my hands using henna by watching videos on YouTube in 2016.

Display in a local library.

Slowly I started getting interested in the art and kept practicing it on my sister’s hands and sketch papers. It was not very long before I decided to make my passion a way to raise money.

Well, what exactly is henna? Henna, also known as mehndi, is an herbal plant-based paste used to decorate hands and feet and other parts of the human body with beautiful designs. These gorgeous designs last from about a few days to a little over a week. It takes a lot of effort to create even one design. First, I must practice  multiple times before I present it to customers.

Doing henna also requires immense patience because the lines do not always come out the way you want them to. Further, to do any design, you must sit for hours creating the design while keeping the customer from moving and ruining the pattern. My henna designs are shown here.

I have spent countless hours applying henna tattoos during Ganesh Chaturti, Teej, Karwa Chauth, Navaratri, Deepavali, and other functions. I also raised money through  events such as “Asha” of Nandanik Dance Troupe and Durga Pooja of the Bengali Association of Pittsburgh.

I also demonstrate my henna skills, share information about it, and create awareness about Indian culture in various places. I was given the opportunity to present my henna designs at the South Fayette Township Library’s launch event for cultural awareness, featuring a new doll named Sundari. It’s gratifying to see the amazement on peoples’ faces when they find the variety of beautiful designs and discover how easy and pain-free it is to get the henna tattoo done with mehndi.It gives me great satisfaction when I donate everything that I earn.  So far, I have raised about $400 towards the Kerala Flood Relief fund, the KDKA Turkey Fund (which provides  Thanksgiving meals to the needy), Toys for Tots (which gives Christmas gifts to kids who cannot afford them) and others.

I think I have made significant progress in my journey as a henna artist, thanks to all my patrons who have encouraged me to come this far. I hope to continue this, because I realize that there are always innovative ways to help mankind.

One of the members of the Bengali Association of Pittsburgh helped me come up with a quote for my endeavor “To lend a helping hand, all you need to do  is stretch out your hand for henna.”

The henna designs shown here are my creations.   My request to all my readers is to consider me for their henna needs in the future to support my endeavor. Thank you. Jai Hind!! God bless America!!      ♠


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The Hindu-Jain Alliance’s Inter-Faith Gathering Against Religious Hatred

By Premlata Venkataraman

The Hindu and Jain Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh, a newly formed group of Hindu and Jain organizations here, held a well-attended — and well-organized — Interfaith gathering at the Sri Venkateswara Temple on December 9, 2018. The context was the ghastly shooting spree on October 27, 2018 with eleven people shot to death by Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, a resident of Baldwin, PA, inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Nine of victims were over 65

Suchitra Srinivasa helping Rabbi Symons to set up the Menorah flanked by two traditional Hindu oil lamps.

years of age and six were over 75. The theme of the event was Unity in Diversity, based on the Hindu axiom Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The whole earth is one family).  Coming in the wake of the killings in a synagogue, the theme was poignant.

The participants were Rev. Liddy Barlow (Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania), Mr. Wasi Mohamed (The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh), Mr. Joshua Sayles (The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh), Shri Som Sharma (Ahinsa), Rabbi Barbara Symons (Temple David), Acharya Vivek (The Chinmaya Mission), and Rev De Niece Welch, (Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network).

Two traditional Indian oil lamps flanking the menorah set the mood for the gathering at the temple auditorium. The priest Shri  Venkatacharyulu lit the Indian lamps to begin the meeting, as Barbara Symons solemnly read the names of those killed in the shooting spree at the Squirrel Hill synagogue, following which Hindu priests recited Shanti Mantras. The English translations of the mantras were projected on a screen so that the invited guests and the audience could internalize the lofty messages of the mantras. This was a welcome change.

Next Harichandan Mantripragada conducted a brief session of traditional meditation to focus our thoughts on bringing peace within us.

Since it was Hanukkah, members of the Jewish faith lit the menorah amid Jewish prayers in Hebrew. It was a profound moment for the audience to listen to Hebrew prayers and Sanskrit hymns for the peace.

Many members of the various faiths gave messages of peace and unity. The Rev. Liddy Barlow gave a Christian reading emphasizing that we do not have to be identical to coexist.

The gathering for the event at the auditorium.

Som Sharma, who for several decades, represented Hindus in  many interfaith gatherings inour area, drew on the universal teachings of the Isavasya Upanishads and the Hindu tenet that all streams of the various faiths ultimately lead to Brahman or the Supreme One. The Rev DeNiece Welch echoed the same theme from the Christian perspective: since we are created in God’s image, we should find His likeness in all the differences we find among all of humanity and hence never

Acharya Vivekji addressing the gathering after summarizing the highlights of other speakers.

give into  hatred.

Joshua Sayles from the Jewish Federation touched everyone when he said he will never ever forget his experience of celebrating Hanukkah at a Hindu temple with people of all faiths in attendance. The hateful events leading to the mindless carnage of the innocents at the Tree of Life may still happen again in other places, he said. But it has brought all of us together in support, so we can become strong again, he said, thus showing us a silver lining in an otherwise mass of dark clouds.

Chinmaya Mission’s Acharya Vivek, who came   from Niagara, Canada, spoke last and summed up the key points of all the speakers who preceded him. He emphasized that individuals working together to understand each other help to remove ignorance and eliminate  blind hatred that ends in violence like that happened at Tree of Life.

Law enforcement officials from the Penn Hills and Monroeville municipalities were present at the gathering. Doug Cole, Monroeville municipality’s Chief of Police, told the audience that events like this go a long way to bring communities together.

It was noteworthy that the minimal, but appropriate comments by the two emcees, Nangali Srinivasa and Visala Muluk, enhanced the solemnness of the occasion, as did the translations of the Sanskrit hymns recited.    ♠


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Court-Ordered Redistricting Maps Make Our Congressional Delegation Equitable

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The midterm elections last November set right the perversion of democracy in Pennsylvania by the GOP-controlled state legislature. In recent decades, the GOP-controlled General Assembly in Harrisburg, after the decennial census, had redrawn congressional district maps.  This is mandated by law. However, they did this in such a way as to give themselves undue advantages in the elections.

Pennsylvania is a moderate state — socially conservative but left-of-center on economic and pocket book issues. In elections for U.S. president and U.S, Senate, the vote split between Democratic and Republican candidates is 45:55 swinging either way. We have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in presidential elections; we have had both Democratic and Republican governors and U.S. Senators.

But the delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives tells a different story. It is skewed badly in favor of Republicans. In the 18-member congressional delegation from the state, the GOP/Democrat split is 13/5, giving undue weightage to Republicans. This is because of the way the GOP-controlled General Assembly in Harrisburg has drawn the maps for the congressional districts, through what is called gerrymandering. States redraw congressional district maps every ten years based on population changes. An article in the April 2018 issue discussed this at length. See here:

Early last year, in a law suit filed by the League of Women Voters,  the state Supreme Court asked outside consultants to redraw the maps to make them more representative of the voting patterns of the state. In the mid-term November elections of 2018, with the redrawn maps for the 18 Congressional districts, the GOP-Democrat split is now 9:9, more reflective of our state’s political character.

Yes, the unpopularity of Donald Trump in the White House also has  contributed to this shift favoring Democrats. But even without Trump at the White House, with the redrawn map, the delegate to the US House of Representatives from the Pennsylvania would have been more equitable, more like 10/8 in favor of the GOP instead of 13/5.

Thank you, the League of Women Voters, for bringing the law suit to the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Thank You, the State Supreme Court, for forcing the redrawing of the maps for Congressional districts and making it truly representative of ethos of our citizens.

This gerrymandering is common also in Democrats-controlled states and cities, where Democrats give themselves undue advantages in elections to stage legislatures and city councils. Gerrymandering not only perverts the very idea of “Representative Democracy,” but also always leads to corruption at many, many levels.


How changes in the population of our state relative to the population of the nation affect our political clout:

The plot below encapsulates the population dynamics of our home state of Pennsylvania in relation to the population of United States.

The U.S. population has been growing quite rapidly in the last century, from 76 million in 1900, 200 million in 1920, 250 million in 1990, to 320 million in 2020.  The black line in the graph.  The population of the state of Pennsylvania is leveling off (blue line in the graph)we were just over 6 million in 1900, 10.5 million in 1950, over 12 million in 2000, and currently around 13 million. As a result, the population of the state as a percentage of the population of the nation has been declining (the red line in the graph).  We were 8% of the nation’s population in 1900, and now we are under 4% of the nation’s population.

The total number of members in the US House of Representatives in the US Congress is 435, fixed by the constitution. The number of House Members in each state is based on the population of each state relative to the population of the nation.  Since the population of Pennsylvania as a percentage of the U.S. population has been declining, the number of House members from Pennsylvania in the US Congress has been declining. We had 30 members in 1950s. Now, only 18. See the table.

Republicans, having a majority in our state’s General Assembly in Harrisburg for long, have skewed the redrawing the maps of the congressional districts. The split between the two party’s Congressional delegation from Pennsylvania, is nothing but a scandal.

Again, remember, Pennsylvania is a moderate state, and we have elected people from both parties to state-wide offices. And the vote split in state-wide elections are generally narrow, 55-45, swinging either way.  In this background, here are the numbers of GOP and Democratic Congressmen from the state:

       Election Year            2010      2012      2014      2016    

       GOP-Dem split:         12-7       13-5      13-5      13-5   

Thus, Republicans had 67% of the state’s 18-member Congressional Delegation to the US House, even though the state votes 45-55, swinging either way in presidential and Senate races. This gerrymandering is not unique to our state. Democrats indulge in the same perversion where they are in majority

Finally, with the state Supreme Court’s order for redrawing the maps, in the midterm elections in November 2018, the split in the 18-member Congressional delegation is 9/9.      ♠



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Soft Copies of the As-Printed Past Issues

Here are the soft copies:

  1.        July 2018 Issue of the Patrika

  2.        April 2018 Issue of the Patrika

  3. January 2018 issue of the Patrika

  4. October 2017 Issue of the Patrika

  5. July 2017 Issue of the Patrika

  6. Home

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India’s One Quintessential Salesman

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By K S Venkataraman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Weekend in the Only Ice Hotel in Quebec City

By Rahul Dilip Tendulkar, Shaker Heights, Ohio

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

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

Rahul and Rajani with their kids in the hotel lobby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Memorable and Nostalgic Train Journey

By Premlata Venkataraman    


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

Mangalore Junction.

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

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

Coconut palms just 50 yards away from the railway track.

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

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

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

Palakkad Junction, nostalgically familiar to those from Kerala.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Real Life Humorous Story — How I Became An Artist

By Mahendra Shah   


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

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

Mahendra’s self portrait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Francis Cleetus’ Vibrant Paintings on Display

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleetus lives in Upper St Clair with his wife Maneesha and two daughters, Ananya and Antara. More information about Cleetus is here.

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


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Nandini Mandal:  Inspiring Journey in Dance Through Challenges

By Dolly Luthra and Juginder Luthra, Weirton, WV


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

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

At Kharaghpur, 1987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Hari Krishnnan                       Nair, 2017

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

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

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

Jugalbandi with Kathak’s Anupam Kanti Chandra, 1991.

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

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

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

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

During rehearsal in                          Pittsburgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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History of Tax Reform

By Kris Gopal      e-mail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The library of Congress. Business Reference Service. compiled by Ellen Terell.
The US. and International Media. Vol 17 issue 848     ♣


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A Level Playing Field for Electing Pennsylvania’s US House of Representatives

By Kollengode S Venkataraman     



The US Congress, as required by the US Constitution, has 435 Members in the House of Representatives, elected from 435 electoral districts from 50 states. Each Congressional district must have approximately the same population (~ 720,000 people).

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

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

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

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

Election Year         2010    2012    2014    2016

Rep-Dem split:       12-7     13-5     13-5     13-5

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

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

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

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

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

The map of the Congressional districts of the last several election cycles is also shown below. The rural districts are large because they are sparsely populated. This way of drawing the districts gave a disproportionate advantage to the Republicans for winning 13 of the 18 House seats from Pennsylvania  — more than 2/3 of the seats.

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgments:  The two colored maps of the Congressional districts are from the Washington Post.  ♠


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