Archive for category April 2014

The Most Populous and the Most Powerful Democracies

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


It is election season again in India. Recently, the Indian English Media obsessed with how they stack up against the US, came up with this stat: In this elections, the Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi estimates that Indian political parties will spend a whopping Rs 300 billion in the campaign, equivalent to $ 5 billion. They are gleeful they are catching up with the US, where, in 2012, the political parties spent $7 billion.

So, it is time to compare the ground realities of the electoral system in the two countries going beyond the constitutional hyperbole of one-man-one-vote banality and vox populi vox dei embellishment.

India’s democracy is unique. It is a Dynastic Democracy. His socialist liberal leaning notwithstanding, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of Independent India, praised by the West as the architect of modern India, was no George Washington. Nehru sowed the seeds for dynastic politics in India. He  kept  his daughter Indira Gandhi as his personal secretary and de facto chief of staff when she was barely 30, giving her political exposure nationally and overseas. He made her the president of the Congress Party when she was 42. Her Congress cronies ensured her the premiership. She thrust her sons — first, her son Sanjay, and after his untimely death, her second son Rajiv  — as yuvarajas (princes) making sure her retainers would put them on the throne after her. Sanjay died in a reckless and illegal plane joyride when his single-engine craft nosedived in downtown Delhi. After Rajiv’s untimely ghastly assassination, his widow Sonia, despite her ambition, did not dare to ascend the throne because of her Italian citizenship. But her Congress cronies made sure she became the de facto empress holding court, with Manmohan Singh, the nominal prime minister, doing her bidding as her compliant diwan. Simultaneously, Empress Sonia has been grooming her son Rahul for the throne keeping her daughter Priyanka as the back-up, just in case.

•   Once this pattern was set, regional parties replicated it in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan…   In regional parties, old timers rule the roost grooming their sons and daughters, modeling themselves after Congress. In their defense, everything in India is hereditary from Bollywood onwards to professional careers to the corporate world. Even though opportunities are nominally open to all, established parents — the likes of the Bachhans, the Kapoors, the Khans, the Ravi Shankars, the Lalgudi Jayaramans, the Ambanis, the Tatas, the Birlas — make sure their wards get huge advantage over others.

•   Intra-party democracy is unknown in Indian political parties except perhaps among the Communists and in the Bharatiya Janata Party. India’s Leninist or Maoist Communists are like rare biological species that have become extinct in their natural habitat, but survive on some marooned islands. China and Russia, the patron saints of Indian communists, have abandoned Marxism while communism limps along in India with Indian communists making political alliances with anybody but BJP.

•  In the absence of primaries and intra-party democracy, despotic leaders of regional parties nominate candidates for all elections. Cronyism, personal loyalty overriding integrity, personal wealth and family connections are the factors for the selection, not talent or fresh thinking.

•  The last factor that makes the India democracy ineffective is the absence of runoffs in elections. As in track events in sports, the first-past-the-finish-line wins. Political parties have perverted elections by placing “dummy” minority candidates in districts having significant minority  population to scatter the votes. In Mumbai’s Matunga or Delhi’s Karol Bagh where South Indians live, you will find a Ramakrishnan or a Mudaliar on the ballot; or in Sowkarpet in Chennai where North Indians live, a Bhogilal Luthra will be an independent “dummy” candidate. By siphoning off minority votes this way, established party’s candidates get elected.

The scenario in the US has its own version of a Pedigreed Democracy, if not a Dynastic Democracy. The Bushes, the Gores, the Clintons, the Cuomos, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers are well-known names. Our US senator Bob Casey Jr. is the son of Bob Casey Sr, a state governor. It is not anywhere as bad as it is in India, thanks to the primaries, but the slate is not clean either.

•   In the US, electoral maps are redrawn every ten years. State legislatures redraw the districts. Since the majority party in the state legislature appoints the committee for redistricting, the committees redraw the maps giving maximum demographic advantage to the majority party.

Pennsylvania’s case is illustrative here. In the 2012 elections, this is how the votes split in state-wide ballots (numbers in %):

President:                     52/47 Democrat/Republican

US Senate:                    54/45 Democrat/Republican

Attorney General:     56/42/2 Democrat/Republican/Independent

Auditor General:        50/46/4 Democrat/Republican/Independent

State Treasurer:         53/44/3 Democrat/Republican/Independent

So, one would expect that Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional districts would be split 55/45 with Democrats having a slight edge over the GOP — 10D to 8R, or 9D to 9R.  But in the 2012 elections GOP won 13 seats and Democrats only 5. That is how the gerrymandered redistricting perverts elections in the US.

•  Further, in the US Congress with 435 seats, in 19 of the last 25   biennial elections, over 90% of incumbents were re-elected. In 15 of the 25 elections, over 94% were reelected. That is how strong the hold of incumbency is in the US. The Congressmen representing the highly partisan gerrymandered districts have no obligation to respond to national crises, or make reasoned decisions on various big issues. They are answerable only to their districts’ highly partisan voting blocks.

•   Yet another corrupting factor is the Super PACs funded by rich individuals having personal likes and dislikes for candidates; or business interests with large bank accounts determined to defeat candidates whose policies may be good for the public, but bad for their businesses. These Super PACs with their secret list of donors (some of them overseas) pump money to congressional districts or states of their choice to tilt the elections in close contests.

•   Also, defeated/retired congressman/senators become lobbyists and use their connections trying to maintain the status quo.

•   Yet another mischievous trick is Republicans trying to block poor, rural and elderly citizens from voting by creating the bogeyman of voter fraud where practically none exists. Remember Penna GOP’s Mike Turzai’s famous quote in the 2012 elections? “Voter ID [Law we passed]… is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania…” Luckily, the courts stopped this corruption and Romeny lost in Penna.

So, in both the most populous democracy (India) and the most powerful democracy (USA), vested interests have spread their roots deep and their tentacles wide. It is very difficult to reform the electoral system to resemble what the original architects of the countries intended.

In China too, in recent years, communist political bosses have badly corrupted even the single-party political system to give enormous political and monetary advantages to their sons, daughters, and clan members. Similar is the story in Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Pakistan… …

No wonder, political changes in the world — even radical upheavals and revolutions — eventually end up with rearranging of the deck. The old system native to the culture, and often even the same old faces of power brokers of the land, reincarnate themselves becoming part of the new system. Along the way, they morph and mutate slightly along the edges here and there.   ♦

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Pitt in the Himalayas: A Divine Experience

By Rohan Lambore, Pittsburgh, PA


Rohan, who grew up in Allison Park, PA, is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Political Science, Urban Studies and International-Area Studies.

Setting the Scene:  In the fall of 2013, I had the privilege of studying abroad on the “Pitt in the Himalayas” program in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh and the Woodstock School based in Mussoorie, India. Mussoorie is a hill station in foothills of Western Himalayas. At first I could not believe I would be spending all four months of fall semester in the shadow of some the world’s tallest mountains.

Himalayan Mountaimns

The imposing, majestic, and rugged Himalayan Mountain Ranges seen during
Rohan’s hiking trip.

Throughout much of the spring 2013 term, I, along with the ever-generous staff in the University’s Study Abroad Office (SAO), set into motion what would evolve into the most rewarding experience of my life. Thus the packing and anxiety began with high anticipation throughout the preceding summer months as I prepared myself for what would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Before I knew it, I was in the Hanifl Center, the outdoor education facility of the Woodstock International Boarding School in Mussoorie. Sitting at 6,800 feet above sea level, I looked out of my window admiring my surroundings: luscious green peaks peering over the misty clouds, the calls of numerous birds echoing across the valleys, and on the road below cheerful school children racing home to their villages that dotted the foothills.

I smiled as I reminisced on the exciting six-hour train journey from Delhi to Dehradun and then a winding road trip to Mussoorie that had brought me to such an abode. What was to come in the weeks and months ahead I could not say. However, I knew that it was this paradise that fourteen other students from the University of Pittsburgh and I would call home for the duration of my stay in India.

Not Your Typical Classes:  My fellow cohorts and I excitedly began to observe our surroundings and tackle the lingering jet lag, but academic endeavors started almost immediately. On this specific study abroad program, students could choose from seven classes, and almost all chose to take five, equaling a full, 15-credit term. I chose two anthropology courses, one in creative writing, one in biodiversity, and one in advanced Hindi and Urdu. All classes were taught in the Hanifl Center, except for the Hindi/Urdu course, which was held at the renowned Landour Language School, just ten minutes away. Drs. Joseph Alter and Nicole Constable, professors at the University of Pittsburgh, led all anthropology coursework. Professor Sindhu Clark of the Woodstock school convened the biodiversity class, while Stephen Alter, an acclaimed Indian writer of fiction and nonfiction literature, taught the writing course.

Uttarnchal Map

Uttarnchal Map

My classes were specific to the location in which I was living and exploring: the Western Himalayas. The courses were unique, not resembling anything at a traditional university campus. The design and structure was outstanding: we could essentially live and learn about the Himalayan, and pan-Indian picture by reading and writing about the culture, traditions, and values of those living in the hills that surrounded us. Little did I know that the numerous treks, day visits, and day-long trips, would be utterly “divine” experiences.

Exploring the Mountains: I don’t know where to begin when I try to detail my journey around Uttarakhand during those days when I was not in the classroom in Mussoorie. How could my 14 fellow students and I essentially explore the entire state in only four months?

Our travels took us to Sainji, a small up-and-coming village an hour away from Woodstock that was benefiting from its Gharwal English-medium school recently instituted by the village chief and his Canadian-born wife. Soon after, we found ourselves overlooking the Tehri Reservoir and Dam, a

Rohan with his whole group at a Buddhist Temple

Rohan with his whole group at a Buddhist Temple

hydroelectric project that is seeking to renew the infrastructure across the Tehri Gharwal region in Uttarakhand. Among our day trips were Navdanya, an organic farm based in the plains outside Dehradun, as well as Assan Barrage, a bird watching point next to the Paonta Sahib Gurudwara in Himachal Pradesh, which were simply beautiful and insightful experiences.

We also visited both Rajaji and Jim Corbett National Parks where we saw a variety of animals up close, including the famed Indian elephant and quite luckily, an Indian tiger. These places were incredible complements to our various day-trips and village visits as we felt we had finally understood “the wild.”

Nevertheless, our 6-day treks to Har-ki-Dun and Gangotri were on an entirely different level. The camping, climbing, picture taking, and for me, praying, were unparalleled experiences as we journeyed up the valleys to both the source of the Ganga River and the Tibetan border. Similarly, our week-long home stay in Majhkali, near the small hill station of Ranikhet, exposed us to the eastern part of Uttarakhand, the intrinsic beauty of the Nanda Devi mountain range, and the indigenous way of life in a Himalayan village. We concluded our trip with a rafting adventure down the Ganga herself, surviving a number of dangerous rapids, not to mention the freezing temperatures of the green-blue water.

Symbolically, we ended our rafting adventure at Rishikesh, with the Ganga Aarti on the banks of the river at an ashram, where we were able to thank the Gods for a truly successful semester. Then it was back up to Mussoorie to finish up the semester and celebrate. Before we knew it our journey was over and it was time to say our heavyhearted good byes.

Rohan with Dr. Joseph Alter and kids in a village.

Rohan with Dr. Joseph Alter and kids in a village.

Months later, I still find such experiences transformative: they not only showed me almost every corner of the region, but also helped me discover my own capabilities, limitations, and goals.

The Value of Studying Abroad:  As an Indian-American, this trip was a dream come true for me. I learned more about my roots culturally, linguistically, and spiritually, I explored unimaginable locations, took amazing courses, made a plethora of friends, and brought home infinite memories. From playing with village children in Sainji to standing atop the Gomukh glacier in Gangotri, as a human being and as a Hindu, I am certainly more appreciative of what I know about “incredible India.” I dream of going back one day, doing it all over again and more. The people I met and spoke to, and the environments I immersed myself in were truly more than rewarding. I strongly encourage everyone to travel abroad, go places you never thought you could and explore as much as you can. Take it all in for what it is really worth.

Finally, a sincere Thank-You to all of those who  made the inaugural year of the Pitt in the Himalayas program a great success both here at the University of Pittsburgh, and at the Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India. Three years of meticulous planning on their part made this happen. Without them I would certainly not be able to share my story.  ♦

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Preventing and Reversing Diseases Through Changes in Diet and Nutrition

By Uma Purighalla, MD, ABIM


Editor’s Note: Uma Purighalla, born in Nellore, AP, India, grew up in the Pittsburgh metro area. With her degree from Medical College of Pennsylvania, she is board-certified in Internal Medicine, and is in private practice with Preferred Primary Care Physicians.

Uma purighalla PictureOf late the buzz word is to go low-fat plant-based whole food. From Bill Clinton to Venus Williams, many people are reversing their diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune disorders by eliminating or severely restricting dairy, meat, poultry, eggs, refined carbohydrates and  oils. Instead, they go for whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes. Flowing through their blood and cleansing their livers are colorful smoothies, salads, flavorful stews/soups, curries and even starchy vegetables.

According to recent Adventist studies, low-fat whole food vegan/near vegan diets are strongly associated with healthy longevity. But, Indians long ago had already put much emphasis on plant-based diets.

But why then are Indians and Indians abroad doing so poorly today?  According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, diabetes is soaring amongst Indians. The Indian Heart Association finds that Indians comprise 60% of the world’s heart attack burden, while they are only 20% of the world’s population. Further, 50% of heart attacks among Indian men occur before they are 50. These risks are high even amongst the nonsmoking vegetarians who are not overweight.

The great news is that these statistics can be dramatically improved. Finlanders once also had dire health statistics like Indians today. Over the past few decades Finland has helped dairy farmers become berry farmers. They have reduced animal protein consumption and offer a vegetarian meal option for school lunches. They have greatly improved the health of their nation as a result.

The reverse corollary: Okinawa Japan was once known as a Blue Zone, having the largest population of healthy centenarians in the world.  Their diet consisted of 95% brown rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruit. Only 3 ounces of fish/week and meat only once a month. They did not consume dairy, and oils were rarely used. It was a starchy diet with only 7% fat. Funny, they hardly had any cases of diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis or other chronic illness. Today, their diet is 30% fat, high in animal proteins and refined starches. Consequently, obesity and other chronic diseases of the West are ever increasing in Okinawa.

After reading this, you may think of changing your dietary habits. Before you start, check with your doctor to guide you since dietary needs can vary from person to person depending on body type and medications one may be on. Here are general suggestions for you to consider:

•  Avoid frying and dramatically reduce oils. They get oxidized easily, become rancid and turn into trans fats when heated. Exercising cannot remove such toxins from the body.

•  Instead bake, roast, or steam food, and dry toast spices.

•  Avoid or dramatically reduce dairy and meat.

•  Rely more on beans and lentils. Eat whole grains.

•  Have more fruits and vegetables — some raw; and some fresh.

•  Add one tablespoon of ground flax seed or a few almonds, walnuts or chia seeds into your daily regimen for Omega 3 fatty acid.

•  Check your vitamin B12 level yearly. Vegans must take B12.

•  Check vitamin D and supplement according to your doctors advice.  Too much or too little vitamin D is detrimental to overall health.

For further information on healthy plant based diets and recipes, checkout;;;; or

And review with your doctor.  ♦

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Boating without Life Vests Ends in Tragedy

By Siva Soora, Little Rock, Arkansas


It was a warm, bright, muggy, summer day in Little Rock, Arkansas. A few Indian families were making their July-4th plans—especially those with parents visiting from India. The “India like” weather was enticing.  But little did one group of friends discussing a trip to the nearby lake know of the terrible tragedy that awaited them.

For most urban Indians the only exposure to a large body of water is getting into knee-deep waters at the beach. So, when an Indian says he/she knows how to swim, it is typically swimming in pools. And very few Indians travel on boats, let alone how to pilot one.

Also, Safety First is an idea drilled into people in American manufacturing work places. However, many Indians working in offices do not have this same kind of training.

Two families—one a husband and wife and their friend; the other, a couple with elderly parents and their four-year old—decided to go on a boating trip on last July-4th. They chose one of the many large remote lakes in Arkansas. These young immigrants had lived in the US for barely  five years. The husband driving the boat and his friend had learned swimming while growing up in India.

It was windy when they rented a large pontoon boat that beautiful summer day. They were all issued life vests as required by law. The clerk who handed over the vests told them, “Adults don’t need to wear it but children under 12 must wear it.” This casual statement was the Achilles heel for this day of boating.

The parents, not knowing how to swim and fearful of the water quickly put on the life jackets and the four-year-old was also suited with the life preserve. None of the others wore a life jacket.

The husband navigating the boat was the only one with any experience in piloting the boat. In the strong soothing winds on that 90-degree day they started out. The sole trained driver was trying to train others on how to run the boat. Along the edge of the lake’s shallow waters, others had parked their small boats and were swimming or fishing.

The Indians in the pontoon boat did not pay attention to the ski boats speeding past them at 30 knots and the strong waves created by them. In about an hour, they were in the middle of the lake, and their initial fear and excitement was wearing off.  They parked the boat in the middle of the lake where the water was 90-feet deep. They could not anchor their boat in such deep waters.

Taking off his shirt, the man who knew how to swim jumped into the water and swam for a while. He returned to the boat  thinking that it was safe to swim in the lake. With the engine shut off, the boat was drifting in the strong wind.

Then his friend decided to jump into the lake with his encouragement. Swimming back home in a pool was their only experience. Little did they know what to expect in a large body of water with rolling waves created by the speeding boats whizzing by. The friend panicked and started taking in water. Noticing him panic, the boat driver jumped in the water without his life jacket to help. Any trained person in water rescue knows you should not be in front of the person you are trying to rescue. But the driver went in front of his friend who, in his panic grabbed him and pulled him under the water. The mistake of either of them not wearing a life jacket was fatal for both. They were drowning.  All the others on the boat were bystanders in shock not knowing what to do.

The boat driver’s wife screamed and threw life preservers to them. But in the 40-knot wind, they drifted away from the two struggling for their lives. The boat itself was drifting in the wind away from them. Those on the boat panicked and started the engines of the boat full throttle.  The engine overheated and was shut off automatically.

Untrained for this kind of an emergency, they called 911 from their cell phone, but could not get a signal as all cell-phone towers were quite far away in the wilderness of the lake. After several vital minutes, they reached 911, but help arrived quite late. The two people in the water drowned. Totally grief-stricken those on the boat returned to the shore.

So, what if anything could have been done differently to avoid such a tragic turn of events?  A marina operator told a journalist from a local TV station, “Eight out of nine drowning incidents are because people do not wear life vests.”  In hindsight, it is so obvious that everyone should have worn life jacket whether they knew swimming or not. Boating safely requires a few simple rules, such as swimming only in shallow waters closer to the shore. The boat should have been anchored, and at least one other person should have known how to operate the boat. When it is very windy, it is critical not to jump into deep waters since the waves created by ski boats are bigger.

Thus, an otherwise enjoyable boating trip in an Arkansas lake ended in a tragedy this summer afternoon, changing the lives for many forever simply because of not taking a few simple safety precautions.  ♦

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The Greatest Journey: Life

By Puja Shroff, Charleroi, PA


Puja was born in New Jersey and is a 20-year resident here. With a BA in Psychology from Case Western Reserve, she earned an MS in Counseling & Clinical Health Psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is a counselor in a private group practice providing psychiatric care in Washington County. Along with psychology, she’s had a keen interest in spirituality. “I am grateful,” she acknowledges, “to my family and my Guru in my journey in life.”

“A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” — Lao Tzu

Puja Shroff picWe are all travelers who have embarked on this greatest journey, life. Yet, we travel aimlessly without knowing the destination, purpose, and value. From the day we are born till the day we die, we go through numerous experiences. On this journey, we expect to find happiness, peace, and contentment. We may even mistake them to be the destination itself.  While the whole universe lies inside of us, the external world traps us with occasions for instant gratification. Sant Kabirdas puts this nicely in a doha:  “This world is like a flower trapping a bee. Don’t get carried away by the fleeting experience and falsity.” Essentially, we are all in search of eternal bliss.

Time and time again, Spiritual Masters like the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Guru Nanak, Krishna, Rama, Mahavir Swami and others have walked this earth to encourage each of us to ask three crucial questions: 1) Who am I? 2) What is my purpose? and 3) Where am I to go? When we are able to answer these questions, no further questions arise.

Human beings by nature are curious and desirous to know and explore the phenomenal world around them. So curious is man that he has traveled to the moon and back. We have explored the depths of the ocean. However, we fail to search within ourselves. Great philosophers have said “Man, know thyself.”

The true self is the consciousness within us, the silent witness (not spectator). Paradoxically, it is the self, soul, that sustains the body, but we have subdued it and made the mind our master. Holy Scriptures state, “God made man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Once that breath of life departs, the body becomes useless. Thus, our value is dependent on the soul — the greatest treasure we possess.

Obtaining a human birth is the best boon because it is the only birth in which we have a higher level of consciousness, and are able to obtain spiritual knowledge, and ultimately unite with the Almighty. God created Maya (illusion), this world, and us, and because of Him, we can experience His creation.

The choice is ours: do we want to spend our life indulging in worldly matters only to receive temporary happiness and go through the cycles of birth and death? Or do we want to realize the purpose of our existence and progress towards liberation? We have forgotten our divine nature under the influence of Maya, and live our life in ignorance. Therefore, the purpose of our life is to realize we are spiritual beings and experience the divinity within us. In doing so, we escape from being ensnared by the web of Maya. Our destination is to merge into the Cosmic Energy from which we were created.

Theoretically, the part always desires to merge with the whole: all rivers flow into the ocean; flames of a burning fire always go towards the sky because fire is a result of fuel and oxygen; and a child always runs to his mother. Similarly, we are children of God and are parcels of that Cosmic Energy.

Lastly, Sanatana Dharma in Sanskrit has been referred to “as the path or journey to the light.”  The Bible also states, “The Kingdom of God is within you. “ Thus, the path has always been the path of meditation, through which we can experience the Kingdom of God.

The human life is unique. It is the only birth, in which we can understand and experience our soul. Thus, the human body becomes a vehicle for the soul to return back to its source — Almighty, God, Cosmic Energy, Creator, or however you name It.

Nonetheless, the soul’s journey can only be completed when we recognize and realize our divine nature. Once we recognize that, we cease to suffer and live in darkness. When we experience that energy through meditation, we will see the sameness in all and overcome differences.

We will then realize that it is the same energy that governs the entire universe. Ironically, we go through life searching for happiness without comprehending that the treasure is within us.  Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you!

“When the road ends, and the goal is reached, the pilgrim finds that he has traveled only from himself to himself.”  — Sri Sai Baba    ♦

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On Old Age: A Vignette from the Indian Classic Puranaanooru

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Puranaanooru is an anthology of the Tamil Sangam literature, written by both men and women poets belonging to 1800 to 2500 years before the Common Era. The 398 verses are in classical Tamil with very few Sanskrit words interwoven, which clearly indicates that Tamil’s history is parallel to Sanskrit’s. In the verse presented here, the only Sanskrit word is maayam.

The oldest Tamil book available today — dated a few centuries before the Common Era — is Tholkappiyam, a book on grammar. If you have a book on grammar that old, it is obvious, the language itself was sophisticated even at that time with a very rich and long history.

The Puranaanooru verses deal exclusively with secular themes. They describe the valor, pride, pettiness, generosity, and even philandering of kings; they admonish kings to be loyal to their wives; they advise kings not to let bureaucrats harass citizens; they describe the grinding poverty of ordinary citizens during wars, thus trying to dissuade kings from going to war… …  And they also composed odes praising the generosity of kings seeking gifts, in return.

But the verse presented here is very different.  In this, the poet, Todittalai Vizhuttandinaar, in his very old age, recalls with vivid imagery the innocent days of his youth long gone.

The sentiment he expresses in this poem is so universal that it transcends time, place, culture and every other facet that separates humanity into distinct demographic, linguistic, religious, and cultural groups.

Here is a free-style rendering of the verse in English:

It feels sad to think about it now.
On the sandy edges of the pond with cool water,
we played with girls who made dolls with the clayey soil,
decorating them with flowers plucked from trees nearby.
Holding hands in the innocence of youth,
we hugged each other, swaying this way and that.
Climbing the Marutha (Arjuna) tree on the bank
with its branches sagging towards the pond,
we dived into the deep pond with a thud and a splash.
Reaching the bottom, we returned showing to the
amazed onlookers on the shore the fistful of sand
we grabbed from the pond’s floor.
Where did that innocent youth go?
Isn’t it pitiful that having become old now, tremblingly
I walk holding a metal-capped stick while coughing,
barely uttering a few words in between?

For these who are interested in classical Tamil, I give below the Tamil verse. Even if you know Tamil, the masala Tamil you read in today’s weeklies and dailies or watch on TV shows, will NOT help you to appreciate the Tamil in this verse on first reading. But if you persist in reading it, you will get a glimpse of the language’s pristine beauty.


Tamil, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Chinese are the world’s classical languages. India is the only country having given birth to World’s two classical languages — Sanskrit and Tamil.   ♦


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Retirement Options for Indian Immigrants

By Balwant Dixit, Fox Chapel, PA

(412) 963-8023.    e-mail:

In recent years whenever seniors among Indian immigrants (65+) meet, either in small groups informally or at large gatherings such as at national conventions, one topic that always comes up is “What to do when we retire?” Such discussions usually end up by saying that Indian immigrants in USA must have their own retirement facility or community where all of us can enjoy our retired life with camaraderie seeing Indian movies, eating together Indian cuisine and arranging outings together, praying the way we always wanted to do and spend the remaining years in a an atmosphere truly Indian. However, such discussions rarely try to address or discuss many serious aspects of such a dream plan for retirement. I am 81 years old and I just retired after 50+ years working at the University of Pittsburgh in various capacities; from being just a teaching fellow to being an effective Dean of one of Health Science Schools.  I have spent over five years looking into this retirement conundrum each one of us who is close to retirement or who has just retired find himself or herself.  Retirement presents a myriad of issues that must be looked into in a serious manner. After collecting information for over five years I have written a comprehensive paper on “Retirement Options for Indian Immigrants to USA.”  A copy of my paper is available for a minimum donation of $5.00. All proceeds will be donated to a residential school, Dhayari Karna-Badhir Moolanchi Shala run by Suhrud Mandal, Pune, India ( that is “transforming life of hearing impaired” by providing them education from K2 to the 12th grade. The following is my personal story, which is repeated by so many who came to USA to build their careers in various fields.

When I arrived in USA in 1962, I was one of about 4,000 persons of Indian origin who were in USA then. Initially my plans were to go back to India since in those days persons from Asia were neither eligible to becoming US residents nor were they allowed to own any property (Ref: Immigration Act of 1917 blocking further immigration from Asia). So questions regarding where to retire were far away on the horizon.

Years went by fast. With a special arrangement with the US Immigration I was able to accept a faculty position just for three years at the University of Pittsburgh. The future looked uncertain since I had very little chance of getting permanent residency status because of the 1917 legislation. On the advice of a colleague I decided not join the retirement plan offered by the University since I, as an Asian, I would not have been able to stay in USA on a permanent basis and I will not be allowed to take my retirement benefits to India. However, in 1965 Immigration & Naturalization Act was passed by US Congress, and with University of Pittsburgh’s sponsorship I became a permanent resident. With all the hard work, I secured a tenured faculty position. Still I always thought that sooner than later I will return to India. After getting married, my wife had hoped that we will return to India in a few years. Years went fast, and promotions at the University also came fast. With the appointments as the Head of the Department, coupled with the failure to get any meaningful position in India we decided to stay in USA for a few more years. Further promotions as Associate Dean followed by an appointment as the Dean of a Health Science School and the birth of two children made it difficult to return to India. Since my primary expertise was in pharmacology and because of outdated requirements for academic appointments in medical schools in India, attempts in early seventies to return to India also were not successful. Ultimately, a US Citizenship became a prerequisite to get a strong foothold in American way of life. With increasing success in the University, thoughts of retirement did not enter my mind. My wife also adapted to the American way of life, which was very necessary and helpful.

However, as I approached 65, and having experienced serious health problems, I started thinking about retirement, since in those years mandatory retirement for faculty was 65. When to retire, where to retire, how to support the family after retirement, what type of health insurance will be available were some of the questions that came to my mind. However, retirement accounts did not show the needed accumulations. With proper medical care heart disease was under control. Age limit for retirement was also removed so a decision to retire was postponed for a few years. As the first generation of Indian Immigrants there was no tradition to follow; there were no examples to look for the answers.

As 2005 arrived, I realized I had worked for over 40 years at the University. Our children were also growing up with all associated problems. Thoughts of retirement became prominent but not compelling. We once thought of relocating to India. What will happen if I decide to go back to India after retirement, would it be possible to spend part of the year in India and the remaining in USA, what would happen about our relationship with our children if we permanently moved back to India? Would situation in India be comfortable for us? After a lot of discussion, and with some trepidation we ultimately decided to make USA our permanent home.

To know about retirement options available to us, we started looking into the retirement situation sometime around 2004. We collected a lot of information, attended seminars, visited a few retirement communities, and collected information about retirement communities in other states. When discussing our ideas about retirement with our friends we noticed that a denial syndrome. Most did not want to face the situation. Several times during this period forceful statements were made to the effect that, “It is imperative that Indian Immigrants must have their own retirement community in the Pittsburgh area.”  When confronted however, everyone agreed that no objective feasibility studies have been conducted.

Collectively, the information we collected formed the basis of our decision to stay in USA after retirement and to join an American Retirement Community of unique nature in the Pittsburgh area called Longwood at Home. Longwood at Home is a program that allows one “to age in one’s home.” In this paper I attempted to put forth the information we collected and those who read it will find the information useful. Information about various types of American retirement communities as well as information about several Indian retirement communities is included in this paper. A useful web site for NRIs (US citizens or Green Card holders) who might be thinking of retiring to India is ( No efforts were made to gather information about retirement communities in Canada, since its National Health Care System has a significant impact on how medical problems faced by older persons are addressed.

A word of caution on the financial solvency of the retirement communities in USA and in India. There are over 80,000 retirement communities of all sorts in USA. Many of these in USA are operated as private profit making and some as not-for-profit businesses, and are subject to economic adversities as any other enterprises. The situation in India is particularly uncertain because of nearly a total lack of supervisory role of any governmental agencies or by any autonomous non-governmental bodies, making it very difficult to assess the financial stability of most of the retirement communities.  As far as I know, a few have already gone bankrupt leaving the tenants who paid hefty sums of money uncertain about their future.  ♦

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Things to Think About

By K S Venkataraman


It is not washed away in floods. Fire does not incinerate it.   
Even kings can not grab it, and thieves can not steal it.
Nor is it reduced by giving it away.
When these assets of education are obvious,
Why do people travel all over the world seeking wealth?
A bright, conch-like white lotus in a pond.  
Water is her mother; and sun, her father. 
Once it is pulled from its roots, the very water will make it rot; 
Toss it on the ground, the very sun will scorch it in no time. 
When condition changes adversely, 
Even your benefactors are your enemies.

–  Translated from Viveka Chintamani, a 16th Century (?) Tamil literary anthology


How to call the news item below — Grotesque, incongruous, outrageous, irresponsible, bizarre, morbid?

In international flights where we change planes in two or three places, our bags not reaching our destination is not unusual. We get our bags in a few days delivered. When the courier delivers bags that do not belong to us, we become irritated and curse the airlines for their ineptness.

What should people do when an airline delivers a wrong dead body?  You may say it can never happen these days with bar codes and traceability. But that is precisely what happened for a family in India. The air carrier is Air India, India’s flagship carrier.

Air India recently delivered the dead body of an Indian worker who died in Dubai. The deceased persons’ relatives somberly took possession of the body at Lucknow airport and were driving back to their hometown. A few kilometers later, one of the relatives noticed that the name tag on the casket had a name different from their departed relative.

When they opened the casket, much to their horror, they realized they had taken possession not of their relative’s dead body, but that of a wrong person. They returned to the airport and angrily protested to the airlines on how they could do such a senseless and totally insensitive goof up.

Here are the details of the story:

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