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Putin Shows EU Leaders Their Place

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

In February 2022, as the U.S. tried to militarily engulf Russia on its western borders by offering NATO membership to Ukraine (see the article here), Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his army into Ukraine. President Putin placed himself at the unenviable center of world politics by this military action in Ukraine. When European leaders went to Moscow to defuse the situation in the early days of the conflict, Putin dramatized the diplomatic gulf between him and his European visitors in his choice of a 20-feet-long white marble-top table for sitting with his visitors. Here are the pictures of Putin sitting with French president Emmanuel Macron (top) and German chancellor Olaf Scholz (bottom), dramatizing how far Europe was away from Russia on how they see the NATO-provoked war in Ukraine.

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Obituary: Emeritus Pope Benedict (April 16, 1927 — December 31, 2022

Kollengode S Venkataraman

He stood firmly on the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy, even as the ground he was standing on was tectonically moving within and beyond his church. His interactions with non-Catholic faiths were equally doctrinaire.

On December 31, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 95, died in the Vatican. He became Pope in April 2005. In 2013 Benedict resigned from the Papal Office citing “old age and lack of stamina” as the reasons. Before becoming pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was a cerebral orthodox Catholic theologian. Pope John Paul II appointed him in 1981 as the Prefect (chief officer) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), known in the 16th century as the Roman Inquisition, with its notorious history in Europe.

The Inquisition in Europe also had an Indian version in Goa with the horrific details available in the Catholic church records and other sources of that era in the Konkan region. The Goan inquisition (imposed by the Portuguese king on the recommendation of Francis Xavier) banned the sale of books in the Konkani, Marathi, Sanskrit and Arabic languages. The use of Konkani was forbidden in the Portuguese colony of Goa.

The Christian missionaries in Goa called the Hindus ‘uncultured’ and ‘savages,’ who worshipped black idols ‘resembling demons’;  Hindus were forbidden from holding public office, inheriting their father’s property and testifying as witnesses in courts. If a Hindu child was deemed to be an orphan by the colonialists, the child was taken by the Society of Jesus (founded in 1540 by Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, and others) and made to change his religion. Hindus couldn’t be clerks in village offices. In 1567, a law banning Christians from employing Hindus in the colony was introduced. Chock-full information is available on the Internet and on YouTube.

This is the history of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Ratzinger headed as the appointee of Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s appointment as the prefect for CDF was for his intellectual acuity and orthodoxy on doctrinal matters. Before Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church in Europe and North America was in turmoil of its own making: in the 1980s, Catholic laity in their 40s and 50s in North America and Europe were outing scores of Catholic priests for sexually abusing them when they were young boys. The pedophilia within the church and homosexuality among priests was deeply embarrassing to the Catholic Church.

What made this worse was the fact that the Catholic hierarchy including archbishops, and even the Vatican – with Ratzinger as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — was aware of this problem. The Church covered it up without punishing the erring priests. Eventually the scandal exploded in the open with many dioceses in the US filing for bankruptcy protection against lawsuits by their own laity. The moral bankruptcy preceded the financial bankruptcy.

Given this background, when Pope Emeritus Benedict died on December 31, 2022, the media headlines blared, summarizing the complexity of Benedict’s papal term: 

The New York Times: Benedict was criticized for his handling of the church’s sex abuse scandal; From Germans, an outpouring of mixed emotions at Benedict XVI’s death; Benedict leaves behind a conflicted legacy on clerical sexual abuse.

Washington Post: Pope Benedict shows us how the Catholic Church went so terribly off course

The Guardian from the UK: “During Pope Benedict’s tenure as the allegations of clerical sexual abuse and its cover up began to surface, his critics said he failed to grasp the gravity of the crimes and the scale of the crisis, which reached a peak several years after he was elected pope.”

Thus, the intellectually sharp and conservative Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, was standing firm on the orthodoxy of the church, even as the ground on which he stood was tectonically shaking. We need to see Pope Benedict’s resignation from the papal office against this background of the pedophilia and sex scandals exploding in North America, Europe, even in South and Latin America.

Why the long intro to this article? Well, if Ratzinger and Pope Benedict was this rigid within the Church, why should his attitude towards non-Abrahamic faiths be any different? Towards the theistic, polymorphic, and even agnostic approaches to the Divine Ground outside Christendom?

In the 1990s before the ushering of the new millennia in 2000, the United Nations wanted to produce a declaration on religious amity. It instituted a committee of all major religions. A draft resolution was circulated among the leaders from diverse faiths — Judaism, Christianity’s many branches, Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and others. Cardinal Ratzinger led the Vatican delegation.

While finalizing the draft, Swami Dayananda Saraswati made his case that the resolution should replace “tolerance” among the religions with the phrase “mutual respect.” The Swami’s point was that “tolerance” may signify no more than the permission given by the adherents of a dominant religion for other religions to exist. An example given was, when we are invited as guests, simply to be “tolerated” by our host is an insult. We want to be treated with respect as equals. See here Rajiv Malhotra’s article: www.tinyurl.com/Tlrnc-Mtl-Rspct.

Cardinal Ratzinger objected to replacing “tolerance” with “mutual respect.” As Rajiv Malhotra of Infinity Foundation noted then, “If religions deemed ‘heathen’ were to be officially respected, there would be no justification for converting their adherents to Christianity.”

Swami Dayananda Saraswati was under pressure to relent. But the Swami persisted that it was time for the non-Abrahamic religions to be accepted as equals and not just tolerated by the three “religions of the book.” At the last minute, the Vatican conceded, and the resolution declared that all religions would agree to respect one another. This was big news and was broadcast widely among the non-Abrahamic religions.

However, within a month, the Vatican backtracked saying that while “followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.” 

Even as people from all over the world poured in their messages praising Emeritus Pope Benedict’s death, I feel comfortable being an insignificant contrarian, given my roots within the polymorphic faith called Hinduism and Gautama Buddha’s agnostic approach to understand our Divine Ground.

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Mandal Singh Persuades the Gateway School to Recognize Deepavali as a School Holiday

By K S Venkataraman

Mr Mandal Singh

Mandal Singh has been living in this metro area for over fifteen years  after a circuitous route in his career in Sweden, and France. He was born in the pilgrimage town of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India, where he completed his master’s degree in botany. After teaching at the Udaipur University for four years he went to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. After one year at the IISc, he went to the University of California, Santa Cruz and earned his PhD in biology in 1974.

From 2007 to 2013 he was a faculty member at the Department of Medicine, Dorothy P. & Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Now he is retired.

Mr. Singh, with his wife Madhu, moved to Monroeville in 2010. He became active in the Monroeville Public Library, and got elected to the library governing board, where he served for five years. Believing that he could contribute to the Gateway School System, in 2021, with help from friends and lot of legwork, he was elected to the Gateway School Board in November 2021.

For high quality pre-school childcare in the Plum/Murrysville Area

Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs celebrate Deepavali, the festival of lights, in different contexts. Recently, the New York City Public Schools with one million students declared Deepavali a holiday.

So, in November 2022, Mr. Mandal Singh introduced a resolution at the Gateway School Board meeting to recognize Diwali as a holiday. Mr. Singh was happy when the school board adopted his suggestion at the December 8, 2022 meeting, and passed the resolution declaring Deepavali as a  school holiday starting in the 2023-2024 school year and replacing the Friday-after-Thanksgiving holiday for Deepavali in the Gateway Public School calendar.

Adding a new and additional school holiday for a religious festival is extremely difficult in the US, given our ethnic and religious diversity. However, Mandal Singh’s effort is worthy of our recognition because now the Gateway School System acknowledges Deepavali as a religious festival for students of Indian origin in the school district and let other students know of this important festivals celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs in many parts of the world beyond India.

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The Dhru Gul Bhagwanani Senior Center Opened After Renovation

By Jamnadas Thakkar

Editor’s Note: Dhrupadi and Gul Bhagwanani, long-time, low-key residents of our area, both passed away in 2012 within a span of two months. They were both Children of Partition. They left their considerable estate to charity in their will. Jamnadas Thakkar, known to many and a friend of the Bhagwananis, worked for several years as the state-appointed executor for their estates that culminated in a sizable part of their estates going to the creation of the Dhru Gul Bhagwanani Pittsburgh Indian Senior Center (The Bhagqwanani Senior Center hereafter), inaugurated in 2019. Location: on Business Route 22 in Monroeville, near the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, minutes from the Turnpike and Interstate 376.

Right at the Pittsburgh Airport for All Your Special Events

This fall the center was renovated conforming to the guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for seniors to use the resources of the facility. Here Jamnadas Thakkar’s reports on the renovated place.

The renovated Bhagqwanani Senior Center reopened on October 9, 2022, as a much larger 4,500 sq. ft. facility on the ground floor (no steps) with ADA-required amenities at 3955 Monroeville Blvd., Monroeville, PA 15146. It also has an entrance on 3946 William Penn Highway (Business Rt.22).

The building of the Center on Business 22 in Monroeville

The center has a social/meeting hall with a seating capacity for 100, a stage with a large 16’ screen, and theatre-style audiovisual amenities. Also available is a full-fledged commercial kitchen, an exercise room with a bike and a blood pressure machine, a dining hall with senior-friendly game supplies and a small shrine for personal prayer. The center is equipped with state-of-the-art safety, security, and surveillance systems.

More than ninety invited guests from the social, cultural and religious organizations in our metro area attended the inauguration on October 9. Haresh Malkani, with the help of Rahul Joshi and Tridas Mukhopadhyay, organized the event with Brita Chakrabarty as the emcee.

The highlight of the program was a Kuchipudi dance recital by Kamala Reddy’s students Sia Iyer, Srimayi Mulukutla and Arpitha Udupa, followed by a Bollywood Karaoke music performance by Vijeta and Gaurav Hombali, Sheela Raju, Ganesh Krishnamoorthy and Haresh Malkani.

The dining hall can seat over sixty people

A large number of people attended the center’s Open House on Saturday, October 15. The first public event at the center was the Diwali gala on October 22, with Sasikala Krishnamoorthy, the office manager, organizing a cultural program. Over ninety people attended the gathering.

The center is open to all Indian seniors over 60 years of age and their spouses on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am to 3:00  pm during winter, and 11:00 am to 4:00 pm during spring, summer and fall.

Regular activities include Yoga classes from 11:00 am to 12:00 noon on Saturdays (by Saroja Chandrasekaran) and on Sundays (by Mandal Singh), followed by lunch between 12:00 noon and 1:00 pm.

The center holds senior-friendly games (carom, cards, bingo, antakshari, movies) offering tea, coffee, and snacks from 1:00 pm onwards.

The multipurpose auditorium has state-of-the-art audio system

Other activities at the center are lectures and talks on Medicare Open Enrollment Options, Taxes 2022 and Beyond, Investment Strategies, and on health, wellness & medical care. The center will organize these events with the option for in-person participation and live broadcast on Zoom and FaceBook. All programs are followed by lunch.  The center also will organize special programs such as Karaoke, and dance performances with Bollywood singing on a monthly/quarterly basis. Future programs will include on art, painting, decoration and singing classes, cultural shows & drama, indoor games (bridge, bingo, chase, billiard/pool, table tennis), musical chairs, Bhajans, Satsang, and discourses.

President’s Message: “The center recognizes the self-worth of older adults and provides them services and activities in a friendly atmosphere to encourage and support senior life. Join us for group activities of yoga, music, discourses, exercises, and one-on-one interactions. We serve snacks and tea/coffee on Saturdays and Sundays. Most importantly there are No Admission or Membership Fees of any kind.”

Members of a managing board volunteering time for the center: Radhu Agrawal (President), Satish Jindel, Kishor Mehta, Rahul Joshi (Secretary) and Ex-Member P.J. Gursahaney. Advisory Committee Members: Umesh Golani, Haresh Malkani, Tridas Mukhopadhyay and Rajnikant Popat.

 People who served in previous years: Mohan Chabra (Chairman of Programs), Mahendra Shah (who designed all the signs & logos), Praful Desai, Sumedha Nagpal, Bharti Patel, Jasbir Sayal, Mira Shah, Datar Singh & Prabhanand Yedla. Office Managers:  Sasikala Krishnamoorthy & Sandhya Sampat (Ex-Manager). Volunteers: Prakash Patel (Structural Design during Construction and Renovation), Gopal Krishnamoorthy (IT help), Prajna Parasher and Nidhi Gangwar (Interior and exterior decorations);  Jay Gowda (Audiovisual)

The auditorium as a large lec-dem place

Saroja Chandrasekaran (Yoga and Ex-Advisory member); Mandal Singh and Bhavna Mehta (Yoga teachers); Nandini Mandal (Taal Se Taal Mila exercises with music); Nisha Joshi of NYC, and speakers who gave talks on health, Medicare, finance, taxes and investment and others.

Thanks to Hindu Jain Temple and  S.V.Temple for providing the priest services; and many thanks to the Monroeville municipality zoning, permit and police departments for their continued support & cooperation. Contact Info: (412)376-9933   e-mail:  iscpdgb@gmail.com   website: www.pittsburghindianseniorcenter.org

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Dr. Arvind Venkat, Pennsylvania’s First Indian American State House Representative

By Ramita Ravi, New York, NY

Edior’s Note:  Ramita Ravi, a Pittsburgh native, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Health & Societies. She moved to New York to pursue dance professionally and became the first Indian to be featured on So You Think You Can Dance. She dances for TV/film/theater and recently choreographed for Coachella, Miss America, and opened a Broadway bound musical. Ramita is Co-Founder and CEO of a tech startup incubated at The Wharton School: Artswrk, the world’s first marketplace to hire artists.

Born in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, Dr. Arvind Venkat immigrated with his parents to the Detroit area in his early childhood. His parents were young physicians when they came to this country. Like many others in their generation, they came to pursue a higher education in their fields. After their medical residency, his parents talked about moving back to India, but found a home in the strong Tamil community that was already growing in the Detroit Area, like in many other parts of the US in the 1970s and 80s.

Dr. Venkat went to Harvard University where he majored in History and Science. He wanted to become a lawyer, but after a law internship during his freshman summer, he decided to pursue medicine. Given his diversified interests, he felt that his undergrad education in history and science was a great fit to kick off his his journey on how the sciences of health intersect with society. He went to Yale University for medical school and did his emergency medicine residency at the University of Cincinnati’s Hospital.

In medical school, he met his wife Veena, a longtime Pittsburgh native. They got married and settled in Pittsburgh. As an emergency physician, Dr. Venkat was immersed in work at the critical intersection of healthcare and society – in the Emergency Room. He says with a deep sense of  satisfaction, “In the emergency room, all patients get medical care regardless of their socioeconomic status, with no questions asked. It is the one place in America where most barriers to medical care fall away, and physicians make an immediate impact on people’s lives in life-threatening situations.”

Arvind Venkat reveling with his supporters on the election day evening as the results poured in

Simultaneously, he joined the faculty at the Allegheny General Hospital working on public health programs from flu vaccination projects to training for EMS providers, and initiatives on the needs of those on the autism spectrum, and on the importance of a greater voice for emergency physicians and their patients. He started working with the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians and eventually became the president of the organization, with opportunities to improve care in emergency rooms across the state.

A combination of these experiences gravitated  Dr. Venkat to the public sector. “The real catalyst was the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” says Dr Venkat. “During the early days of the pandemic, it became clear to me that the public health system needs greater resources and resilience – and it also needs trust from the community at large. That is when I decided to run for elected public office to be a public health advocate and help pass legislation that would reach PA residents in times of dire need.”

Dr. Venkat launched his campaign on the Democratic ticket in February 2022 seeking to represent the 30th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Harrisburg. He spent the bulk of time knocking on a grand total of 13,000 doors. The 30th District in the Lower House of the Penna Assembly includes McCandless, Franklin Park, Ohio Township, Kilbuck, Emsworth, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, and the western part of Hampton Township. The district is 85% Caucasian, 15% minority with South Asians making up about seven percent of the population. Its residents are mostly college-educated with a large STEM workforce and sa strong public school system.

With his volunteers who made it happen.

“Taking time to make one-on-one connections with voters was the most important and most enjoyable part of my campaign,” says Venkat. “As I met my future constituents, I opened conversations around public health, public safety, and public education. I touched on difficult topics like affordable healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, and gun safety. I sometimes spent thirty minutes to an hour having a dialogue with folks on these tricky topics — even when they disagreed.” While this might not have changed his voters’ minds on those touchy topics, it certainly allowed them to hear the other perspective and reach common ground. Venkat says with great satisfaction, “The lesson from this is that having a willingness to meet people where they are and engage them in conversation is important to generate collective action and progress.”

The 30th District has a population of 64,000 residents. With 34,000 voters casting their ballots, In the November 2022 election, Venkat defeated his Republican opponent Cindy Kirk with a comfortable margin of 55/45.

The American tradition of taking oath of office with his wife Veena standing by.

In America, as everywhere else in the world, the reality of any electoral political campaign is that it needs money—a lot of it, in fact. “And this election was,” says Venkat ruefully, “a $2 million campaign for this single state house seat.”  With 34,000 voters going to the polls, this campaign cost almost $59 per voter.

For comparison, in the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden and Trump got 81 million and 74 million votes respectively, with the two campaigns spending $5.8 billion. (Reference: www.tinyurl.com/2020PresidentialRace)  This works out to the two campaigns together spending only $37 per voter in the 2020 US presidential race.

Just imagine, the 2022 election for Pennsylvania District 30 was more expensive per voter than even the 2020 US Presidential campaign! This is insane!

To raise funds, Venkat drew on support from friends, family, and community members who  shared the importance of investing in the public sector and using resources to make their voices heard.

While the South Asian community generally shies away from electoral politics, Venkat spoke to South Asians here on the importance of being leaders and trailblazers in public life and in electoral offices. Venkat believes that, just because that representation has not existed to date does not mean it should not be a reality. He says, “We get the elected leaders that we deserve. In my nine-month long campaign, I received countless messages of support, had meaningful conversations, and felt energized by the idea of South Asians organizing to vote and making their voices heard in the political process.”

With his parents (extreme left) his wife and his three children after taking the oath of office in the Harrisburg State House

Dr. Venkat will head to Harrisburg to officially start his term in early January. When discussing what his early days will look like, a few things came up. First, the state house flipped control from Republican to Democrat (Democrats: 102, Republicans: 101). However, there are now three vacant seats from representatives who either moved to higher office or unfortunately passed away before the term began. As a result, there will be special elections for these seats. Dr. Venkat feels that it is imperative that these elections happen early so that each district has representation in the state house. Another Indian American, Bhavini Patel, has announced her candidacy to fill the vacancy in one of these open State House seats. If you live in that region, please look out for her, and learn about her work.

Once Dr Venkat is in office, he hopes to advocate for funding for early responders, investments in public education and childcare, policies around affordable and accessible healthcare, preserving reproductive rights for women at the state level, and expanding access to the ballot box through methods like early in-person voting.

While we as a country are often drawn to national elections, it is the state and local levels that closely affect our daily lives. Whether school board elections, county commissioner races, or others,  these local elections require the same energy, turnout, and attention to make sure our voices are heard in the political process. Arvind feels excited that it is trending upward – in 2014, voter turnout was 30% nationwide, but this year it was 70% in his district — imagine if we only could inch closer to 90% to get  elected leaders that represent all our voices.

At the reception hosted by Dr Ravi Balu in December 2022 in Monroeville.

It is with love, care, and support from the South Asian community, and communities at large, that Dr. Venkat ran in this race. He says he is a product of this community – his wife grew up here, they moved here, and they are raising their family here. As a community, it is imperative that we are engaged in the political sphere and make our voices heard – whether by supporting candidates, voting in every election, or running for office. We have the opportunity to share the values our families brought to the US and make this country even better for the next generation. Dr. Venkat is the first Indian American in this position in Harrisburg. He is confident and excited that he will not be the last. And so are we.

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The Way We Elect Our Leaders Is Not Reassuring

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

There is widespread belief that American voters judiciously elect their leaders after evaluating their candidates and the issues they confront in national elections. This is because globally, the United States’ history in electoral politics has gained mythical dimensions, eventually getting into high school textbooks in many parts of the world. However, we can make a case that American voters in the aggregate are not that discerning in electing their leaders. This is despite our long traditions in grass roots democracy since the days when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in the 17th century. Our voters seem to follow their past voting patterns based on their beliefs, ideologies, deeply held anxieties towards change, even prejudices.

A more troubling pattern in the US is the sharp differences in the voting patterns among the urban, suburban, and rural populations. These groups live in silos, with little efforts to understand each other’s hopes, priorities, and anxieties. Worse still, they live with mutual disdain and condescension towards each other despite all the wonders of instantaneous communication and affordable gadgets for disseminating information. One can even make a case that the silos mentality is because of the instantaneous and affordable access to information, with well-funded campaigns that only reinforce people’s beliefs and prejudices.

This situation makes it difficult for building consensus to bring about changes with minimum discord. This is becoming a global trend in developing and less developed economies with ominous consequences.

In the 2022 midterm elections in Pennsylvania, we had “open seats” for the US senate and governorship, with the none of the GOP and Democratic candidates having the benefit of incumbency. For the US Senate, the candidates were Mehmet Oz (R) and John Fetterman (D); and for the governorship, Doug Mastriano (R) and Josh Shapiro (D).

Even though  the seats were “open,” candidates Mastriano, Fetterman and Shapiro were not new to electoral politics in the state. Fetterman was the elected lieutenant governor for the retiring governor Tom Wolf, and Shapiro was the elected Attorney General, both having won in state-wide elections. While Fetterman and Oz won in the party primaries early in 2022, Shapiro was unopposed in the primary.

Mastriano too was not new to electoral politics: he is the state senator in Harrisburg for District 33 comprising Franklin and Adams counties, part of what is known as “the Dutch Country.” He won in the party primary for the governor’s office. Mastriano is a US army veteran (30 years), retired as a colonel after serving in Europe during the Cold War, and in the wars in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The GOP US Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, a New Jersey native and a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, was a TV personality promoting health fashions in Oprah Winfrey’s morning shows. Oz was new to electoral politics—not having contested even in school board elections—and an “outsider” in Pennsylvania. But Oz had the backing of President Trump.

These “open seat” situations gave an opportunity to study the voting patterns in the “urban” Allegheny County (with Pittsburgh at the center) vis-a-vis the five surrounding suburban counties. See the picture below.

Fetterman (D) was a “local” candidate with an unusual background. He was born in southeast Pennsylvania to parents who were nineteen years old at the time of his birth. He was raised in affluent suburban York, PA and his parents were Republicans.

While Fetterman was studying at the University of Connecticut for his MBA, his best friend died in a car accident that deeply affected him.  Later, Fetterman joined the NGO Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, pairing with an eight-year-old boy in Connecticut whose parents both died of AIDS. He worked for two years in Pittsburgh in risk management as an underwriter. In 1995, he joined the AmeriCorps, and was sent to teach Pittsburgh adults pursuing their GEDs, giving a second chance to people who did not complete high school. He later went to Harvard’s Kennedy School graduating in 1999 with a master’s degree in Public Policy. (Source: Wikipedia)

Fetterman is known in our region as the Mayor of Braddock between 2006 and 2019, a rundown municipality in the Mon Valley (once a thriving place in the heydays of Mighty Steel decades ago), now known for poverty, violence, and crime. His work in Braddock gave him national recognition.

With this background, Fetterman was seen by many as a shoo-in candidate for voters in our region, given that his opponent Mehmet Oz, a multimillionaire TV doctor was seen as a carpetbagger from New Jersey.

Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants, raised in Wilmington, Delaware, is a dual citizen of  the US and Turkey. He went to Harvard University (biology undergraduate), and later to the University of Pennsylvania (medicine and MBA degrees). In 2001, he became a professor of surgery at Columbia University and was a well-recognized cardiothoracic surgeon. In the early 2000s, Oz was a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2009, he started his own The Dr.Oz Show, a daily television program on health and medicine, running for thirteen seasons. Oz dabbled in alternative medicine, faith healing, and various paranormal beliefs that earned him criticism from a number of medical publications and physicians (Source: Wikipedia).

Given this contrast between Fetterman (D) and Oz (R) as candidates  for the US Senate, I too expected that Fetterman would have no problem harvesting votes from our region of the six counties, namely the urban Allegheny County and the surrounding five suburban counties. But an analysis of the votes polled in the elections revealed something quite different and significant in US electoral politics. The voter data extracted for this story is from www.electionreturns.pa.gov/#

Historically in US elections, there are significant differences in the voter turnout between the quadrennial presidential elections and the biennial midterm elections. Therefore, comparing the voter data in the presidential elections with those in the midterm elections may muddy the analysis. Therefore, the results of the midterm 2022 are compared with those of the midterm 2018 elections. The table below  shows the results of the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections.

In the 2018 midterm elections for the US Senate, Bob Casey (D), the incumbent US Senator, ran against congressman Lou Barletta (R), the GOP candidate for the US senate. Barletta too, like Oz, had the former President Trump’s endorsement.

On the statewide votes count (red letters at the top of the table), in the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic incumbent Casey with 56% of the votes defeated Barletta who got 43% of the votes. In the 2022 election, the Democrat Fetterman, the PA native son, could defeated the outsider Republican Oz only with a narrower margin of 51% vs Oz’s 46%.

Incidentally, after nearly 80 years, Pennsylvania now has both US senators from the Democratic Party. The last time this happened was in the 1940s. In that sense, there is a big palpable change on the electoral politics in our state, partly attributable to the redistric https://www.msn.com/en-us/feed ting of electoral maps.     

When we drilled down the voter data  for the counties in our region, the numbers are quite revealing. Historically, the highly urban Allegheny County, as urban counties everywhere in the US, has always been heavily Democratic.

John Fetterman taking oath of office as US Senator administered by vive president Kamala Harris. Fetterman’s wife Gisele is standing in the middle.

Therefore, in the 2018 Midterm (green part of the Table), in Allegheny County, the vote split between Casey and Barletta was 66/33. For Fetterman in 2022, the vote split against Oz was narrower, namely, 63/35. It is noteworthy that even though Fetterman is from our region with an impressive record, he got only 63% of votes in Allegheny County against OZ, an outsider from New Jersey, lower than Casey’s 66% of votes against Barletta.

Again, historically, all counties surrounding Allegheny County have always been consistently Republican, some more, some less. This is a common trend between the urban and the surrounding suburban counties in all fifty states in the US. Compared to the 2018 midterm, in the 2022 midterm elections, all the surrounding counties voted even more heavily Republican. See below:

                                                    2018 Midterm                 2022 Midterm

Armstrong County:                   63% GOP                            69% GOP

Beaver County:                          47% GOP                            53% GOP

Washington County:                 51% GOP                            56% GOP

Westmoreland County:           55% GOP                            59% GOP

Fetterman, a Harvard MBA, is a “native” local candidate heavily invested in the region, with an impressive track record, serving as mayor in one of the most depressed municipalities in our area.  Even with such a record as Fetterman’s, the Democratic party still got a smaller percentage of the votes in the 2022 midterm against the GOP’s outsider Oz, compared to what the Democratic party got in the 2018 midterm race for the US Senate.

That is, irrespective of the merits and track record of the candidates and his/her political roots in our region, citizens here, in the aggregate, voted only based on their party affiliation, political ideologies and visceral Red-Blue identities, and deeply held beliefs and prejudices. The individual candidate’s qualifications, personal track records and roots in our region did not seem to matter.

In the gubernatorial elections too, the 2022 midterm was an “open seat” between Shapiro (D) and Mastriano (R). Both were in state elective politics, with Shapiro as the attorney general and Mastriano as a state senator  in the General Assembly in Harrisburg. Both were “native” Pennsylvanians. See the table below for the voting data. It is noteworthy that in the two midterms, the percentage of votes the two parties got were remarkably close. In the aggregate, the votes the candidates received were more dependent of voter’s political ideologies and party affiliations between the GOP and the Democratic parties, and not necessarily on the candidates’ track records.

This pattern in political affiliation among people in urban counties (heavily Democratic) and suburban counties (heavily Republican) is seen throughout the United States. And when you add the rural counties into this mix, the interior rural counties tend to be even more Republican than suburban counties.

Another important feature in the US presidential elections is that many states have repeatedly voted for either the Democratic or the Republican presidential candidates. This is irrespective of who the candidates were, and no matter what the burning economic, military, foreign policy, or cultural issues at the time of election have been. See the table below showing how the states voted in the last ten presidential elections — over a 40-year period, nearly two generations.

Also, the population densities in urban counties are several times that of the suburban counties. Example in our region: Allegheny county’s population density is 1650/sq. mile, while that of neighboring Westmoreland County is 350/sq mile and that of Armstrong County is only 100/sq mile. The population densities in suburban counties, in turn, are orders of orders of magnitude higher than the population densities in rural counties (the population densities of Bedford, Bradford, Cameron and Clarion Counties are 50-, 50-,70- and 10 per sq mile.

The US has been the dominating force in the last 80 years in wealth creation, global politics, military might, sports, entertainment, R&D, higher education, and communications and electronic news media… …  Not only the outside world, but even Americans themselves—at least a large cross section of Americans—seem to believe in what has come to be known as American Exceptionalism. Hence there is widespread belief in Asia (and in Africa and Latin America) that Americans, with their grassroots tradition in electoral democracies make judicious choices in electing their leaders.

However, American voters in the aggregate, as shown in this analysis, are not as discerning as they are believed to be in electing their leaders. This despite their long traditions in grass roots democracy since the days when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in the 17th century. They seem to simply follow their past voting patterns based on their beliefs, ideologies, even visceral fears, and  prejudices.

A more troubling pattern in the US is that the urban, suburban, and rural populations live in silos, with little effort to understand each other’s hopes and anxieties; and worse still, with mutual disdain and condescension towards each other. This is makes it difficult to build a consensus needed to bring about changes with minimum discord. These three groups could  as well be living in different countries and cultures.

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The Difference Between the Old and the New

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

From time immemorial in India, rivers have been used as a metaphor. Examples: Hinayanam (literally the Small Vehicle or Boat) and Mahayanam (Big Vehicle or Boat) in Buddhism, samsara sarovar (the sea of life), and teerthankaras (the Boatmen Who Help to Cross the River) are the Jain masters.

For all your
wedding
and event
plannings…

We have rivers all over India that people need to to cross over for going from anywhere to everywhere.

The Ganga Basin in North India.
Major rivers in the peninsular India.

No wonder, Urdu poets too have used rivers and boats as metaphors in simple-sounding shers (two liners). Here is one by Akbar Allahabadi (1846-1921) that Harish Saluja sent me sometime back, also providing me with its translation:

The difference between old light and the new light is only this:
One can’t find the boat; the other can’t find the shore.

In Indian languages, there is more to any two-liner doha of shayiri than its literal translation. The light the poet talks about is insight. The “Old” has the insight to see the shore afar, but not the resources or the strength to reach there. And the “New” has the resources and strength, but does not know where the shore is. This is the ultimate paradox of life.

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Bus Driver’s Error Takes Kerala Pilgrims to the Goa Beach 300 Kilometers Away

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Kerala could be the state with the highest literacy rate and better social indicators in the aggregate. But aggregate numbers do not tell about individuals as this story shows.

In May 2022, the Kerala State Transport Corporation introduced an air-conditioned sleeper bus service from its capital Tiruvananthapuram to Kolluru Mookambika temple, the famous Devi temple and pilgrimage destination for Keralites, north of Mangaluru in Karnataka. On the inaugural trip, on the coastal highway, late at night, the driver missed the exit to Mookambika temple and continued straight, not recognizing that he missed the exit.

Passengers deep asleep in the bus were expecting to be at the Mookambika temple at dawn. When the passengers opened their eyes in the morning, they found themselves on the beach in Goa, 300 kilometers away from Kolluru, seeing scantily clad gora men and women tourists playing beach volleyball. The driver blamed Google map for wrong directions.

A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

Enjoyed the last page article Wicked Tamil Nadu Humor in the April issue. Similar things happens here in the USA too, right here in our own neck of the woods. Across from my housing plan on Beaver Grade Road, in Moon Township our Port Authority contractor built this bus stop.

The bus route on my street was never active and I never saw a single bus on this road. Finally the Port Authority officially discontinued the route as uneconomical on account of the lack of riders.
However, after the bus stop was installed, contracts were awarded for ad hoarding. Maybe the contractor rushed to finish the job before he got notification of the cancellation!

Currently, even with no bus plying on this road, every every few months the advertising contractor comes and replaces the poster! — Mahendra Shah, Moon Township, PA

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The Reptilian Brain on Hyperdrive

Arun D. Jatkar, Monroeville, PA

When my wife and I arrived in the US in 1973, we lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was a graduate student at the University of Utah and my wife Shobha was a graduate student at Brigham Young University. A Mormon land through and through. I could write many anecdotes about our experiences while we pursued our PhD degrees, but recent events in the body politic of the USA take my mind elsewhere.

During our four years of living in Salt Lake City, we watched with awe and wonder the narrowly missed impeachment of President Nixon. Such a thing was so much against the very grain of our cultivated reverence for Prime Ministers, Presidents, and many other past and present figures of national importance. It taught us what democracy is all about and we said to ourselves, “If only Indians stopped chanting ‘Indira is India and India is Indira!’”

The year 1976 was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies from England. We were bombarded by the conviction deeply rooted in the American psyche that “the American Constitution is divinely inspired.” In India, the only divinely inspired words are the four Vedas. It was also the time that the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) was on its way to being ratified in several states of the USA.

Move forward to 2022. Despite the abundantly proven fact that there is not a grain of truth in ex-President Donald Trump’s irrational and evil claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, he and his allies in the House and the Senate in Congress are unfailingly bent upon bombarding the whole country with that Goebbels-style lie (Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, whose mantra was, “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”.) With the ex-President’s continued hold on a vast cross section of Republican voters, the “divinely inspired” constitution is increasingly becoming a sorry victim.

When I look at all this, it makes me think that a nation may land a man on the moon and a robotic explorer on Mars; but its primitive reptilian brain simply refuses to become sophisticated. And right now, that reptilian brain is on hyperdrive!

The landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973 had remained unshaken until now. But it did not survive the majority opinion of the current Supreme Court. As if that was not cruel and evil enough (see the lead article by Premlata Venkataraman), one of the six justices who ruled to overturn the Roe v. Wade landmark decision of 1973 has further suggested that the Supreme Court should also reconsider several constitutional rights!

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Obituary: Mani Balu (1935 – March 28, 2022) Soft-Speaking Pediatrician, Helpful & Caring

By Sudha Dixit, Wexford, PA

Sudha Dixit, a long-time friend of Mani Balu, lived in Uniontown before she and her husband moved to Wexford. With her husband Niranjan practicing medicine, Sudha lived in Uniontown for decades as Mani Balu’s neighbors.

Dr. Mani Balu, a long-time resident of our area who practiced pediatrics in Uniontown for several decades, suffered a cardiac arrest on March 28, 2022, and passed away even before the emergency medical staff arrived. He was 87.

Mani Balu was the youngest of six siblings, born in 1935 in Thoothukkudi in Tamil Nadu. Mani completed his medical degree at Kilpauk Medical College in the late 1950’s. He was posted as a civil assistant surgeon for Tamil Nadu in various small towns. He married Shantha in 1961. They had two children, Ravi, and Latha, while in India. The Balus came to the United States in 1968, with Mani wanting to train in pediatrics. He studied pediatric endocrinology in New York’s Queens General and Long Island Jewish hospitals. After completing training, the Balus moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Later, in 1993 they moved to Uniontown, PA, with Mani joining Dr.Thomas D’Auria to practice pediatrics. After Dr. D’Auria’s retirement, Balu continued and expanded the practice in Uniontown, with three pediatricians joining him.

Dr.Mani Balu retired from his practice in Uniontown in 2015 and moved to Monroeville to be close to their son, Ravi Balu. In his retirement, Mani Balu annually went to Chennai and spent several weeks in Chengalpattu, treating leprosy patients. With Shantha’s dedicated support, he silently continued his philanthropic work there from his own resources, be it for leprosy relief efforts or funding education for young girls and underprivileged children.

Balu was an avid reader of the classics and Hitchcock. He was an ardent fan of Raj Kapoor songs and cricket. With his friends practicing medicine in Uniontown, Balu would watch cricket matches and travel to many places. Personally for me, Balu was my Pediatric Help Hotline while we were helping our daughter raise her two children. Mani Balu was known for his humility, generosity, compassion, and openness towards his friends. The Balus bore their painful personal losses with stoicism, fortitude, and resignation.

Dr. Mani Balu leaves behind his wife Shantha, and his son Ravi Balu, his daughter-in-law Raji, his two grandchildren, and a large number of his friends. Mani Balu was cremated on March 29, with Pandit Gopala Bhattar helping Dr. Balu’s son, Ravi, with the Vedic cremation rites. Dr. Mani Balu’s family organized a memorial service in Monroeville in early April with a number of his friends in attendance.  

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From the Kolis (कोळी) to The Wholey’s — A Seafood Story

By Deepak Kotwal, Squirrel Hill, PA

In early June, Deepak Kotwal, a Maharashtra native and a seafood connoisseur, visited Wholey’s in the Strip District to write about their business and how they cater to the seafood lovers in our area.  Note: The Kolis (कोळी) are the Marathi fishing community that dominates seafood harvesting and trading in Maharashtra.

Typical retail seafood bazaar in Chennai.

When Indians first settled in the Pittsburgh area in the 1960s, pescatarian Indian immigrants from Mumbai and coastal regions of Maharashtra savoring paplet (pomfret,) bombeel (Bombay-duck) and surmai (kingfish), and the macher-jhol-loving Bengalis, whose favorites are hilsa and rohu, and from all over the peninsular and other regions of India were thrilled to “discover” Wholey’s in the Strip District. They are the largest seafood retailer in Southwest Pennsylvania. Local supermarkets then did not have much of a seafood section. Until fish-loving Indians in and around Pittsburgh found out about Wholey’s, their options were frozen fish sticks and canned tuna to whet their cravings for seafood.   

Typical retail seafood market in Mumbai.

The word Koli (कोळी) in Marathi refers to the traditional Marathi fishermen community that dominates the seafood harvesting and trading business in Maharashtra.  My childhood memories include shopping for fish and price-haggling, mostly unsuccessfully, with the kolanīs (कोळणी), the kolī women who managed the retail sales. Their men were on the seas harvesting their catches or getting ready for their next fishing expedition. My daughters’ childhood memories here include going to  Wholey’s and holding a slippery smelt in each hand.

Besides ethnic identity, religion, language and clothing, food is an important marker of one’s cultural identity. The late Anthony Bourdain, the famed chef, author, and TV culinary travel host, showed through his TV shows, how to understand cultures through their food. 

Here in the US, a land of immigrants, by necessity, new arrivals quickly adapt to the morés of the land to blend in. They switch to local clothing. Their children lose proficiency in their mother tongues in one or two generations. But they continue their culinary traditions passing them on to their children. Childhood food and taste memory is a powerful force.

There is a perception outside India that most Indians are vegetarians. But with its 7,000-plus kilometer coastlines and 400-plus rivers with over 12,000 miles of rivers and countless ponds and lakes, it is natural that seafood is a major part of the Indian diet. There are many references in old Sanskrit and Tamil literature to all types of fish and other aquatic creatures and fishermen communities. In 2000-plus year-old Tamil classics, neithal (ெநய்தல்) is the term for seashores, having unique landscape features, human settlement and activities. Here is a website listing the Indian names for a variety of different fish types: www.tinyurl.com/Fish-names-in-Indian-Languages  As an aside, in India, Bengali brahmins and Saraswat brahmins in Maharashtra are seafood connoisseurs. Why some brahmins are vegetarians and others are not is a topic for another article.

At the entrance to the Wholeys’s.

Recently, I visited Wholey’s in the Strip District to inform readers of a whole range of seafood items at the store. I spoke to John McNally, a purchasing and marketing veteran with Wholey’s, and Muriel Maze, who joined the Wholey’s recently, to learn more. 

In 1912, Robert L. Wholey, from an Irish immigrant family in McKees Rocks started a food distribution company dealing with poultry, meats, sausages, and coffee.  His son Robert C. Wholey in 1948, after returning from his military service in WW-II, started a live chicken store in what was then known as “Diamond Market” in downtown Pittsburgh.

The author, Deepak Kotwal (L) talking to Wholey’s Muriel Maze (C) and John McNally (R)

In 1959, the Diamond Market was converted to the current up-scale Market Square, forcing their poultry and meat-related business to move to the Strip District.  It was a difficult business decision since theirs would be the first retail food store among all  the wholesale shops there. It is a truism that successful businesspeople listen to their customers. Around 1960, a customer who had gone to the Chesapeake Bay area came to Mr. Robert Wholey with a large catch of crabs and asked whether the Wholey’s would put them up for sale in his store; they did.  Sensing an opportunity, Wholey’s added a fresh seafood section. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Wholey’s sources their seafood from all over the world. They even have a cooked food section as well, the most popular item being their fish sandwich.

The Wholey’s has a significant customer base from among the people of Indian origin living in this metro area. John explained that Indian customers like to buy the whole fish and have it cleaned by the store’s skilled staff. Fish cleaning requires special skills and there is in-store training for the job, which commands better pay, and has a much lower turnover rate. We chatted with Mr. Yum Duong, a fish cleaning specialist with the Wholey’s for over 20 years, an immigrant from Vietnam. He is well tuned into how to prepare fish steaks, bone-in, for the Indian market.

Prepping the fish requires lots of skills.

The fish types popular among Indians are bronzini, blue fish, sea bass and catfish among others. Also popular are butterfish, a small fish that is cooked whole. Pompano and flounder remind us of paaplet (pomfret.) 

The local American population sticks to boneless fillets, as most do not know how to cook and eat a whole bone-in fish. Indian immigrants who learnt to eat fish in India know that bone-in fish preparations are tastier than boneless fillets.

Raw shrimp sold at Wholey’s, as in most of America, is head-off  (that is, with its head cut off). Most of the shrimp’s fat is in its head. So, when the shrimp has its head on, it tends to become mushy.  Headless shrimp can retain their original crispness and texture because of the absence of fat and is preferred by Americans.

The author holding a live 5-lb live lobster.

In the late 1970’s, a few fish-eating friends of ours would order head-on whole shrimp from Louisiana.  We woulde pick up the 50-lbs dry-ice-packed Styrofoam box at the airport, and split the huge shipment.  For a true fish-lover from India there is nothing more delectable than sucking on a curried shrimp head! I know, I know, some of you, who are used to eat shrimp the American way are probably repulsed by this. But then, food, like beer, you will agree, is an acquired taste!

When I buy a whole flounder at Wholey’s and have it cleaned at the store, I always request the cleaner to check for egg sacks inside. These egg sacks are an Indian delicacy, but routinely thrown out here. 

There are those Indian immigrants who were vegetarians back home and have switched to eating fish after coming here. They learnt to eat fish in   restaurants, always served as boneless fillets.  These Indians generally do not like whole fish prepared bone-in and with Indian curries and spices.

Deepak Kotwal (L) talking to John McNally (C) and Yum Duong (R)

Climate change, increased world demand for seafood and improvements in the mechanized fish harvesting technology have led to overfishing. While per-capita meat consumption shows a downward trend in the developed countries for health reasons, seafood consumption has increased.  Naturally, some species are near extinction. Fish-farming may be the savior of some of these species. Given the increased demand for seafood, flagrant violations of international agreements to limit catches are common.  The Marine Sustainability Council (MSC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working to promote sustainable practices. Whole Foods uses a red/yellow/green rating of MSC.  John McNally at Wholey’s assured me that their policy is to sell only sustainable species. It is incumbent on all pescatarians to ensure that the seafood they consume meet the level of sustainability.

The fish-loving Indian immigrant community here and Wholey’s have a symbiotic relationship: the former wanting to fulfill their desi cravings of seafood, and the latter, wanting to find a new market segment for expanding their business. The Wholey’s in the Strip District ensures that despite Pittsburgh not being on either coast of this vast  country, it is not a gastronomic wasteland in the sphere of seafood delectables.

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Juginder and Dolly Luthra, Well-Known to Patrika Readers, are Moving to New Jersey

By Kollengode S. and Prema Venkataraman

Juginder and Dolly Luthra, long-time residents of Weirton, WV and well-known to  Patrika readers and the Indian diaspora here, are moving to New Jersey, to be close to their daughters and grandkids, in their retirement. This is a trend among Indians in their autumn years.

“There is a pang of sadness in leaving the community,” said Dolly Luthra wistfully, continuing “even as we are happy to look forward to spending more time with our grandkids.”

They raised their daughters and took part in social and cultural events around the city, as is usual in Indian communities everywhere. Soon they went beyond just participation. Living in Weirton close to the Greater Pittsburgh Indian diaspora, they were the patrons supporting Indian classical traditions of music, dance and performing arts.

Dolly recalled arriving in Pittsburgh over four decades ago with their 6-week-old twin daughters in a bassinet and another 4-year-old daughter in tow. They settled in Weirton WV to start their practice in healthcare — Juginder in ophthalmology and Dolly in dentistry.

Weirton in its heydays of the Mighty Steel starting in the early 20th century, attracted immigrants from all over Europe to run the thriving steel industry. The city organized an annual Festival of Nations in Spring to highlight the culture of the many immigrants. But this festival ended in 1948, after the end of WW II.

When Weirton revived the Festival of Nations in 2009, Juginder introduced Indian folk and classical dances in the festival to highlight the new immigrants from India settling in Weirton. He dipped into the resources available in Pittsburgh and enriched the Festival of Nations to include many dance traditions from Asia. Nandini Mandal wrote a story on this. (www.tinyurl.com/Luthras-Story-by-Mandal)

Both Dolly and Juginder are also well known for their artistic talents outside the narrow confines of their professions. Dolly acted in dramas. Juginder was the main lead in a 15-minute short movie titled Sunflower about getting old, directed by Ferris Rosati. Many of Juginder’s friends would recall his singing ghazal/shairis and other genres of Hindi songs.

The Luthras coauthored poems in the Pittsburgh Patrika. Juginder also authored poignant articles in the Patrika on his childhood as a Partition Child, when Juginder’s parents moved to India with their young kids leaving everything they had in Pakistan.

When we approached the Luthras to feature a story on Saroj Bahl, and her efforts to set up the India Nationality Room at the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland., they readily responded to our request. The Luthras talked extensively to Saroj and her husband Mohinder Bahl on this topic. Their fascinating account of how the Nationality Room came into being culminated in an article in the Patrika in 2009.

Similarly, they talked to Nandini Mandal in 2018 on her journey in Indian dance traditions through her challenging health situations (www.tinyurl.com/Luthras-on-NandiniMandal).

Making their marks in their professions and giving back to their communities (Weirton and Pittsburgh), while sharing their love of literature and the performing arts, Dolly and Juginder enriched the lives of people in our area that they called home for four decades.

We are sure they will be active on matters that interest them in New Jersey as well.  Surely, we expect and anticipate that they will continue to use the Patrika as a platform for sharing with readers their poems and essays in the coming months and years. Please join us in wishing the Luthras good health and happiness in their new place, spending their times with their daughters and grandkids.

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Maestro Zakir Hussain’s Electrifying Tabla Recital Came Once Again to Pittsburgh

By Nicholas J. Gigante, Vice President of Development Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh, PA

The maestro (L) with Nita Wadhwani (C) and her husband Sunil (R), the hosts for the evening.

Finally, Covid-related restrictions were receding further in our rear-view mirror, and we were in spring last April. In a wonderful sign that downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District is returning to life once again, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust presented a return engagement of the Tabla Maestro Zakir Hussain in Triveni at the Byham Theater on April 12.  Nearly 1,000 patrons came to the recital on a Tuesday and thoroughly enjoyed the performance by Mr. Hussain, the tabla superstar, performing along with Kala Ramnath on the violin and Jayanthi Kumaresh on the veena.

The President of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Mr Kevin McMahon, welcoming Zakir Hussain (facing Mr McMahon) in the reception.

Prior to the evening recital, around fifty guests attended a special meet-&-greet with the dynamic and engaging Mr. Hussain, along with Ms. Ramnath and Ms. Kumaresh. Mrs.Nita and Mr. Sunil Wadhwani, well-known to the readers, hosted the reception  in the Byham Theater’s Fulton Mini lounge, overlooking the Allegheny River.  Mr. Hussain and his musical colleagues interacted with guests, posed for pictures and selfies, and signed autographs.

Mrs. Wadhwani, along with Cultural Trust President and CEO, Kevin McMahon, made remarks jubilantly welcoming Mr. Hussain back to Pittsburgh. Mr. Hussain also delivered heartfelt musings highlighting his excitement to once again be performing for live audiences, especially his devoted and enthusiastic fans.

Nita Wadhwani (Left) welconing the artistes Kala Ramnath (violinist) and Jayanthi Kumaresh (veena player) in their elegant saris. Sunil Wadhwani is facinfg camera .

Mrs. Wadhwani is a member of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Programming Committee. Her husband, Sunil, is on the PittsburghTrust’s Board of Trustees. Also in attendance, among others, was fellow Cultural Trust Trustee, Sarika Goulatia, along with her husband, Dr. Amit Goulatia.

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The Regressive Reversal of Roe v. Wade

 By Premlata Venkataraman

Finally, on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade by a vote of 6-3. The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling was given, interpreting that the “Due Process Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution gives a fundamental “right to privacy” protecting a woman’s right to opt for terminating her pregnancy (aka abortion). The overturning of the 1973 decision was expected for weeks — social media was abuzz that it would be struck down, and the death watch was already in place.

This latest overturning of the 1973 ruling will cause a tectonic shift in all these rights and even beyond. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision went beyond abortion: it included the right to contraception as well. Many states in the South, where social and religious conservatives run the government machinery, had already started imposing restrictions on abortion.

Striking down Roe v. Wade has always been in the campaign promises of many Republican presidential and congressional candidates in elections. But it gained momentum during the Reagan presidential campaign in 1980. It was ironic that the B-grade Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s, made this a campaign promise when running against Jimmy Carter, an Evangelical Christian, to woo the religious conservatives led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. And Reagan struck gold!! 

Ever since, every Republican presidential candidate has promised to appoint judges to the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade to appeal to social/religious conservative voters. Of course, the maverick Republican Donald Trump appointing three justices to the Supreme Court made this easy. Nobody will miss the irony that the thrice-married Trump, a playboy with a promiscuous, unrestrained, philandering — you pick the adjective — lifestyle throughout his adult life, made this happen! Predictably Trump took credit for the decision, keeping the 2024 presidential elections in mind: “Today’s decision, which is the biggest win for life in a generation … was made possible because I delivered everything as promised.”

Americans have always been divided on the issue of abortion. Those opposed to women’s need to have the options on reproductive matters  prophesied that rates of abortion will rise and promiscuity among teenagers would lead to more pregnancies. Much to their chagrin, this did not happen (see the graphs). On the contrary, better sex education and dissemination of correct information resulted in fewer teenage pregnancies.

Similarly, as working women focused on their careers, the birth rate too declined. The blame for this is the abysmal state of paid maternity/paternity benefits and the prohibitive cost of childcare for working class families.

Some states rushed to ban abortions altogether (the count is now seventeen) and many more will join them in the coming months. Now, in many of these states, abortions will be accessible only to those women with money to travel to states where abortion is still available, who have the resources to pay for the service and stay in hotels, costs that may run into a few thousand dollars. But abortion numbers are closely tied to the poverty level of women. See the table below:

 Low-income rural and urban women of all ethnicities in the American context, who cannot afford to pay for the abortion, are the biggest victims of the US Supreme Court decision. These women, already burdened with low wages and higher unemployment with less access to medical facilities, will be victimized for this over-reach of the Supreme Court.

In the post-feminist era, a new generation of women took the victories of the feminist movement for granted. With better access to education and better paying jobs, many felt complacent about the freedoms they enjoyed. They will have to start the struggle all over again  to gain control of their reproductive rights. Now, there will be a new respect for the earlier feminists who fought and won concessions to gain control of their reproductive rights — from sex education/contraception to abortion.

So, where are we headed from here? For starters, restrictions to abortion in many states are likely to increase the serious complications for women and infants during childbirth. Further, where abortion is not legally available, outcomes for medically high-risk births will result in dangerous situations, mostly for low-income, less educated women. This should be of grave concern for public health administrators, irrespective of their ideology on women’s reproductive rights. 

Fixing this problem requires a long-term outlook. Electing more women who are pro-choice — not just in Congress, but also in state and local government — is necessary to bring women’s issues into public focus. Not just reproductive rights, but paid maternity/paternity leave, and helping families with childcare costs.

What should young parents do now? It is important now more than ever that parents with young children take on the important duty of educating their daughters and sons as welland particularly sons, one might say — on their personal responsibilities in their interactions with their peers of the opposite gender. Discussing openly and freely in the home in one-on-one discussions and in schools is imperative for saving our children from the horrible consequences of pregnancies when they are themselves children.

This regressive decision by six judges of the Supreme Court, prompted solely by their partisan politics and conservative ideology, is deplorable to say the least. Deplorable because this decision

a) reverts an already settled issue,

b) is intrusive in our cherished right to privacy,

c) completely ignores the widely available socioeconomic statistics of unwanted pregnancies that are cruel to the working class and poor disadvanged women of all races and color, and 

d) overlooks the advances in medicine in detecting serious fetal defects resulting in a huge burden on all women, families, the healthcare system, and taxpayers when women are forced to carry to terms their high-risk pregnancies.  

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Juginder and Dolly Luthra: Reviving Weirton’s Festival of Nations

By Nandini Mandal  e-mail:  nandini@nandanik.com

Note:  Nandini Mandal, the artistic director of Nandanik Dance Academy, recently spoke to Juginder and Dolly Luthra of Weirton, WV, on their participation in reviving Weirton’s Festival of Nations, last held in 1944.  She met the Luthras at CMU.

Nandini Mandal (right) with Dolly Luthra (left) with Juginder Luthra (centre).

Their story started as a Bollywood-style romance. From the forced migration during India’s painful Partition in 1947, to fifty years later, reviving a defunct Festival of Nations in Weirton, WV, through organizing an Indian Cultural Day there. And their story still continues.

He was born in Multan, in Pakistan now. His family, like other millions, was uprooted during the 1947 Partition and settled down in Panipat, in today’s Haryana, India. Seventh child in the family, he joined the medical school in Amritsar in 1961, obeying his father’s decision.

Three years later, a lovely young lady joined the same medical school in dentistry. Originally from Bombay, she moved to Chandigarh as her father was part of Le Corbusier’s architectural team that built Chandigarh. At the college social, they were part of the play together, with the lovely woman getting the best actress prize.  He, Juginder, was in his third year, and she, Dolly, was in her first. And the rest was their destiny together.

The Luthras with their three daughters, circa 1975.

Juginder and Dolly were married in 1968, and they moved to the U.K. in 1974 with their first daughter Namita.  Juginder Luthra, an ophthalmologist, got his advance diploma in UK. Soon after, their twin baby girls, Rohini and Rashmi, arrived. The Luthras eventually wanted to reach the US shores.

With America still recovering from the Vietnam War, there was a dearth of qualified and experienced doctors in many cities, including Weirton, WV. One of his friends already in Weirton asked him to come to Weirton to practice medicine. In 1975, the Luthras arrived at Weirton with their three daughters.

While Dolly stayed home for eight years to raise their daughters before starting her dentistry practice, Juginder worked as a house physician at the Weirton Medical Center. Weirton was now their home away from home. Juginder recalls, “Our neighbors embraced us, giving us car rides, taught us driving in our very early days as immigrants.”

… … The Luthras with their three daughters over two decades later.

To find out how this Punjab da puttar (son of Punjab) became intertwined with the heart and soul of Weirton decades later, we need to understand Weirton’s history built around steel. The economy of Weirton (population 30,000 at its peak) was driven by the steel mill with 13,000 employees at its peak.

In 1909, Ernest T. Weir established a Tin Plate Mill near Holliday’s Cove, a farming village, calling it Weirton, an unincorporated company town. With the expanding mill and an influx of European immigrants, Weirton was incorporated in 1947 by merging several neighboring communities around the mill.

As is the case with all steel towns in the US, Russian, Polish, Greek, Slavic, Italian, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Dutch, Spanish immigrants, and native African-Americans flocked to Weirton in the early 20th century. The interactions among the disparate immigrant groups were not always smooth. A large number of immigrants living in close proximity in a small, isolated town without a strong common American identity was a cause for concern for leaders of the community.

So, in 1934 Weirton’s civic and business leaders conceived a Festival of Nations to foster a sense of fellowship and social and cultural interactions among the ethnic groups. They wanted to showcase the diverse culture in a noncompetitive atmosphere. They succeeded in their mission, and until 1939, the Festival of Nations continued in this spirit with ten nationality groups’ participation in the thousands.

Then World War II started in 1939, ending in 1945. The returning victorious soldiers and the people at large were forged with a common American identity. With this, the rationale for the Festival of Nations too ended, the last one was in 1944.

Good times roared for decades. But with steel’s decline in the 70s, Weirton was devastated like other US towns built around steel.  Today Weirton’s population is only 19,000, with only 1000 in steel! Weirton is a now a bedroom community to people working in Robinson Township and the Airport areas.

With their friends in the Sargam music group.

Flash forward to 2006. The Luthras, now well-established in Weirton, and both ardent art lovers and patrons, decided to showcase India’s dance and musical extravaganza to the people of Weirton. They dipped into the Indian talents in Pittsburgh with artistes trained in India’s rich musical and dance traditions. Sponsored by the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, the Luthras organized the event with Nandanik Dance Academy, Nidrita and Asish Sinha, and Sushanta Banerjee performing in an hour-long program. It was a hit with the audience.

Impressed by the event, Weirton Mayor William Miller, surprised the Luthras by declaring November 18, 2006 “India Heritage Day” in Weirton. The Luthras, now members of the Board of Directors for the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, added a new dimension to Weirton’s cultural landscape.

Then came the Weirton’s centennial in 2009. In a meeting participated by Weirton’s civic and business leaders and community organizers, old-timers wanted to revive the Festival of Nations. Juginder says, “Many of us, including those who have lived here for a long time, had never heard of it before. When they heard about the festival from old-timers, everyone asked me, Why don’t we create something like you did on India?'”

Dolly Luthra emceeing the Festival of Nations program.

Weirton’s glorious legacy, now seen through faded photographs and recalled by elders helped in its revival in 2009. The Luthras were active for three years — they were the chair and co-chair of the organizing committee — trying to reconnect to Weirton’s past with help from countless citizens of Weirton.

The Festival of Nations was re-started in 2009 with a parade, all singing We are the World at the Municipal Building, with artistes from Weirton and its extended neighborhood including Pittsburgh participating

Every year, attendance improved, starting from mere 400 to over 1600 people this year with twenty-one ethnic groups participating. Indians, Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese are the new entrants. People come back to participate in the parade, buy artifacts from display tables, and taste the featured multiethnic food. The Luthras made sure the gala started with an invocatory piece by Dell Fryer, or Chief White Panther, a Delaware Native American chief.

Now having acquired a building for the museum with a grant of $30,000 from the J.C. Williams foundation, the Luthras and their fellow townsmen are pleased that they were able to revive the Festival of Nations. While recognizing that the festival had seen better days in the past, they hope that it will grow in the years ahead.

Dolly Luthra says, “When my father, a PWD (Public Works Department) engineer, was part of the team that built Chandigarh in India, little did I know that decades later, I will be involved in trying to rebuild another city not physically, but culturally, far away from India. That is very satisfying to me.”

L ro R: Dennis Jones, President, Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center; Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia; and Dolly and Juginder Luthra.

The Luthras are also path breakers in other ways. They are the founding members of Triveni, a cultural organization with Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani members to share the common ethos of the Indian subcontinent. Under the Triveni banner, in 2010 the Luthras were instrumental in showcasing the creativity of visual artists among Indians in the Pittsburgh Metro area under one roof in Monroeville to display their works.

Soft-spoken and warm, the Luthra’s dedication to Weirton that has seen better days is admirable. The Luthras went forward with the limited resources they had.

Along the way, in their efforts to rebuild the Weirton’s glorious legacy, they have befriended a diverse cross section of people in the community. Weiron too, has embraced them even tighter than before.

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British Airways Revives Its Nonstop to London Heathrow from Pittsburgh

British Airways resumes its nonstop services to London Heathrow starting in June, four days a week. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays the flight departs from London Heathrow at 4:45 p.m. and lands in Pittsburgh at 7:50 p.m. The return flight will depart Pittsburgh the same day at 9:50 p.m., arriving in London at 10:10 a.m. the following day

.British Airways started the service to Pittsburgh in 2019. The flight operated successfully for a year before Covid-related travel restrictions led to the flight’s suspension in 2020.

The flight is expected to generate more than $50 million annually to the Pittsburgh regional economy. For people traveling to the Indian subcontinent, this convenient flight offers several options to reach many big cities with one stopover in London Heathrow, and all second-tier cities via Dubai, Abu Dhabi. Qatar, or through Mumbai and New Delhi.

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रामायण सारांश में

लेखक: जुगिन्दर लूथरा, वियर्टण, पश्चिम वर्जीनिया

Summary of Ramayan

By Juginder Luthra, Weirton, WV

Father agreed with what wife said
Son agreed with what father said
Marich transformed to a golden deer
Ravan kidnapped Sita
Filled his bag of sins


Monkey burnt Lanka with his tail
Lanka fell by leaked family secret tale
Ram Lakhan brought innocent Sita home
Bharat removed sandals from throne
People joyfully lit lamps in homes


Due to washerman, earth swallowed Janaki
Sita bore sufferings, even lost her life
Since then people keep saying,

Victory to Sita’s husband, Ram Chandra!”
Victory to Sita’s husband, Ram Chandra!” .

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“The Kashmir Files” Portrays the Brutal Genocide and Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits

By Bupesh Kaul, Squirrel Hill, PA

Bupesh Kaul, a resident in our area for over twenty-five years, is a practicing physician, now in semi-retirement. He was an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This is his review of Vivek Agnihotri’s acclaimed film The Kashmir Files.

The release of the movie, The Kashmir Files, has led to a renewed interest in the happenings in the verdant vale of Kashmir over three decades ago. The history of Kashmir is very tangled and complex — as all history usually is.

In the Indian context, Kashmir was an important center for learning — arts, literature, religion, and spiritual quest -— a place where Adi Shankaracharya preached as he revived Hinduism during his travels in the eighth century, CE.

The advent of Islam in the valley in the 14th century, though initially comparatively peaceful, became particularly brutal for the Kashmiri Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) resulting in mass conversion to Islam, not always by persuasion. At one point, only a small number of Hindu families were left in the valley. Following the Anglo-Sikh war in mid-19th century, Kashmir, which was a part of the Sikh Empire and was mostly Muslim, was “sold” to the Raja of Jammu by the British for a princely sum of 75 lakh Nanakshahi Rupees. The State became Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

In August 1947, J&K had four distinct regional ethnicities. The Kashmir Valley (Kashmiri), Jammu (Dogri), Ladakh (Ladakhis) & the Northern territories (Gilgit and Baltistan). The Valley had a Hindu minority, about 2-3% of the population. The Kashmiri language was spoken only in the Valley.

It is beyond the remit of this article to trace or debate the political machinations, calculations, and intrigue from 1947 to 1990 that led to the exodus of the minority Kashmiri Pandit community from the Valley in 1990. But what is indisputable is that a premeditated, calculated effort was made to rid the Valley of its Hindu natives. Long before the term “ethnic cleansing” gained currency in the West, it was a reality for the minority Hindu community in the Kashmir Valley. A targeted and carefully orchestrated campaign resulted in a premeditated brutal murder of scores of Pandits that led to the mass exodus of the minority Hindu population from the Valley.

The film also brings into sharp focus the inability/unwillingness of the Indian state and its media to recognize this issue as an Indian issue instead of seeing it as a Kashmir issue. The film does not portray the planning, coordination, and orchestration of the attacks by India’s immediate neighbors. Excepting for this and other minor quibbles, the movie graphically captures what should only be called genocide by terrorism, leading to the exodus of almost all Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley.

Watching the movie at the Waterfront Multiplex, I and other members of the Pandit community had a cathartic release, with many in the audience sobbing through the screening. The makers of The Kashmir Files do not shy away from making bold statements and that is the strength of the movie.

The director, Vivek Agnihotri gives voice to alternate viewpoints for which he needs to be commended. The Pandit community hopes this film will initiate a dialog to bring out the deafening silence by both the media and a spate of weak, corrupt politicians and officials who conspired, perhaps unwittingly, to condemn the whole Pandit community to become refugees in their own land. And bring to justice the perpetrators of the murder, loot, rape, and pillage perpetrated on a peaceful community.

The Pandits believe in the idea of India and in law and order, and not in vigilante justice. Which is why not one Kashmiri Pandit picked up a gun to avenge the murderous wrongs perpetrated on the community.

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Coming of Age for Indian Americans in the ‘Burgh

 By K S Venkataraman

Bhavini Patel, Veena S. Szymkowiak and Mandal Singh at the event.

People of Indian origin in our area, while continuing with their careers as professionals and entrepreneurs, are expanding into public life in elected offices in schools and local governments.

Last December, Ravi Balu and his volunteers felicitated three members of our community who made small steps in their public lives by seeking and getting elected to various offices. They are:

Ravi Balu at the Podium

Bhavini Patel (Democrat), the council member of Edgewood Borough; Veena S. Szymkowiak (Republican), Board Member of the North Allegheny School District; and Mandal Singh (Democrat), Director, the Gateway School Board.

Ravi Balu organized a well publicized event open to the public at the Triveni Center in Monroeville. He introduced the three elected officials, giving them the podium to talk about what motivated them to seek elected public offices in the midst of their busy careers and entrepreneurial commitments. There was also a Q/A session at the end.

The three elected officials with the volunteers who hosted the event

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Snow Leopard Expedition in Ladakh


By Nitin Madhav, Washington, DC

Nitin Madhav was born and raised in Pittsburgh, graduating from Penn Hills Senior High School and the University of Pittsburgh. After his bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, he began working in public health in several countries around the world. He has traveled extensively and is an avid photographer. His work is on nitin.photography and on Instagram at @nitinmadhav.

Location of the national park indicated with the star

I have never packed fourteen pairs of long underwear for a trip to India! When my friend, Behzad Larry, invited me to join him on an expedition to see snow leopards in Ladakh in November — he warned me it would be cold — I jumped at the opportunity since this was not the usual thing a guy from Pittsburgh does. I have been to India many, many times to visit family or for religious festivals, but never had to pack for the cold. This was a first — a snow leopard safari in the high mountains of the Himalayas.

Behzad worked with his Ladakhi partners, Abdul Rashid and Dorjay Stanzin, to set up a camp for snow leopard safaris near Hemis National Park (32 miles from Leh at 16,000 ft elevation), which has only about 70-80 of these cats, out of a worldwide population of about 3500.

Behzad, who is from Indore, India and an accomplished wildlife photographer-turned-conservationist, saw a void in the tourism experience that Ladakh offered. While most people came to Ladakh to trek, there is an incredible story for these visitors to share with people interested in wildlife, especially the critically endangered snow leopards.

Conservation in India has seen a positive change in the last few decades. While there is still human/animal conflict where man is encroaching on wildlife habitat, there is a renewed urgency in maintaining the biodiversity of India. There are several national parks where one can see tigers, but few with the world’s most elusive big cat — snow leopards. Ladakh happens to be the place with the highest concentration of snow leopards in India.

The altitude is important to factor into travel plans in Ladakh. I flew from Delhi to Leh, the capital, and spent two days acclimatizing to the high altitude. I am pretty fit, but still found simple tasks like putting on my shoes left me gasping for breath. Behzad told me that this was normal, and I would acclimatize in a few days, which I did.

Since I have been on many safaris across Africa, the Ladakhi experience is not significantly different… just miserably colder. Behzad works with highly skilled spotters who can identify snow leopards on high mountain ridges from great distances, sometimes up to seven kilometers away. They depart early in the morning, radioing back to camp when a cat has been spotted. Then, we bundle up, grab our cameras, and hop into the jeep.

Snow leopards are most active at dawn and twilight, so it is key to make the most of this time. The spotters look for blue sheep, known as bharal in the local language. A hungry snow leopard will often target blue sheep in its hunt; so, if these local experts spot these sheep, it is most likely that a cat is somewhere around.

Snow leopards camouflage themselves in the rocky terrain. They roll around in the dirt before stalking bharal, covering their coats in soil. Their spots make them blend in with rock formations, making them difficult to spot. Thus, it is important to work with trained spotters who know what to look for. Sometimes, the spotters will see a cat and will try to track it; however, the cat will disappear over a mountain ridge. They carefully scan the mountains paying attention to the bharal and the condition they are in. If they are agitated or seem on edge, a snow leopard could be nearby. Sometimes the wait can take all day in the cold, which is why I made sure to pack all those long johns!

While there are others that offer snow leopard tours, it is vital to ensure that these are done ethically, without baiting the cats. When snow leopards are baited, it creates the expectation that domestic livestock are easy prey for the cat — which leads to ongoing human/animal conflict as herders can lose their entire herd to a snow leopard, and they, in turn, would prefer to kill the snow leopard to avoid future losses.

The first time I saw a snow leopard, I mistook a group of bharal for bushes, and I asked Behzad to stop for a second, when one of our trackers hollered “Snow leopard!” and indeed, it was. It was a scruffy beast, not at all like the supermodel snow leopards I had seen in photos. This was a beast who had worked hard to find every meal — and he slowly approached the bharal which fled in fear — but not before Behzad got a few shots of the snow leopard close to the bharal.

The next day, we got a call telling us that a snow leopard had gotten trapped overnight in a shepherd’s corral in a village about an hour away, and were invited us to take part in its rescue. The snow leopard snuck into a corral at night. The shepherd heard the commotion of the cat attacking the sheep, and let the other sheep out and locked the gate with the snow leopard captive inside.

The Indian Wildlife Service rangers came by, tranquilized the snow leopard and after it was sedated, brought it out of the corral and took some biometric data before releasing it into the wild.

While it was sedated, I got to pet it and be a part of the biometric measuring. It was a beautiful male cat about five years old. I have been told many times that that is an unusual occurrence — I am the only one who has had a chance to do that, of the several hundred people who have gone on Behzad’s expeditions. It was an experience I will never forget — which made the trip so much more worthwhile.

Behzad kept saying he didn’t know if he could top that experience, and to be honest, nothing quite as interesting happened the rest of the trip. But this was the thrill of a lifetime.
If you are interested in a snow leopard expedition in either Ladakh or Kyrgyzstan, Behzad is offering a discount to readers of the Pittsburgh Patrika — mention that when you contact him on his website: https://voygr.com/   ∎

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