Archive for category January 2013

Only in the USA, the Affluent are called “Middle Class” !

By Kollengode S Venkataraman           e-mail:

In the recent election cycle, politicians of every stripe and persuasion talked about protecting the “Middle Class” even as the country is buried in a huge mountain of public debt accumulated over the last 20 to 30 years. And this happening with the leadership alternating between Democrats and Republicans both in the Congress and the White House. Now we have reached a stage of the whole nation falling off what every talking head calls a fiscal cliff, something that responsible people of all persuasions have been warning us for decades.

There is only one way to solve this national problem that we created for ourselves with our eyes wide open: Everybody needs to take some hit — higher taxes for people earning more, higher corporate and capital gains tax, keeping the estate tax as it is, higher eligibility requirements and means testing for Medicare, maybe even for Social Security. And the inevitable reduced service and/or more out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare for everyone. Another item for serious consideration will be a higher gasoline tax.

The defense expenditure for the nation is definitely bloated and un­sustainable. The annual US defense expenditure is more than the combined military expenditure of the next ten large countries. Out of the ten, except for China and Russia, countries such as France, Japan, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Saudi Arabia are our allies with military treaties to come to our defence, if attacked. So, it is obvious that military expenditure too should be trimmed if we are serious about addressing our debt problem. But defense expenditures and outlays are the most sacred cows in the US Congress. 

It is strange that not many in the Congress seem to care that powerful nations are weakened first by profligacy from within, and only then from external threats.  The situation has reached such a ridiculous stage that in one of the Congressional rtestimonies, I remember hearing a UG general in military uniform attesting that our economic situation poses a bigger threat that external militaries.

In this context, one phrase we heard over and over again in the political discourse and campaign rhetoric in the past election cycle is tax cuts for the “Middle Class,” defined as families with annual incomes of $250,000 as the upper limit.

It is likely that the household income of the overwhelming majority of readers of this article such as yourself is well below this threshold; maybe under $120,000 per year. You are likely to be living in a desirable ZIP code in a good school district leading a comfortable lifestyle.

But it is another matter that you have been living under the perpetual anxiety of losing job in the corporation where you work — the same company you have been with for the last 20 years, getting regular raises, promotions, and bonuses.

So, it is no surprise that you never cared to know the income distribution in families in this great country.

After repeatedly hearing that families with $250,000 household income are defined as “Middle Class,” in all possibility, by now you might have developed a massive inferiority complex with your $120,000 annual house­hold income. In social discourse, you may even refer to yourself as “Lower Middle Class.”  Today’s marketing gurus and political media consultants know that by repeating a statement over and over again, they can make any idea gain currency and credibility. This is pitiful.

However, the US Census Bureau has done a wonderful job in gathering household income data. The latest year for which the information is available is for the year 2009.

The graph below shows the distribution of household income for Ameri­can households.

We can see in this graph that of the 118 million households in the nation, only 4% have incomes over $200,000. Only slightly more than 8% of the households has income more than $150,000.

To put things in perspective, the median household income for the nation is $50,000. That is, 50% of the homes have income less than $50,000, and 50% have incomes more than $50,000.

So, if $250,000 annual household income is “Middle Class,” then what do you call households with, say, $125,000 household income? Lower Middle Class? After all, they make only 50% of the so-called “Middle Class” in­comes. And what do we call homes with $60,000 in family incomes? The Working Poor? Remember, the median household income is $50,000.

I know people with graduate degrees stuck in white-collar office jobs paying only $35,000. What do we call them? White Collar Poor?

I am amazed at our skewed perception of ourselves.

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Is the World Flat or Is the World Getting Flattened?

By Kollengode S Venkataraman              e-mail:

When traveling outside Europe and North America, we see the Euro­pean and American influence everywhere — in technologies, fashion, pop culture, and food. And if it is junk food, it is invariably American — Pepsi, Coke, potato chips, burgers, French fries, pizza… …  People lament this and worry about losing their heritage, culture — even identity. American­ized English phrases and idioms have permeated the globe, much to the chagrin of both the British and the French.

However, historians recognize that when cultures interact (or clash), host cultures also influence the invading/incoming cultures. This happens during slow osmosis (as in East and Southeast Asia); or in the course of violent invasions (as in India in the wake of the Turkic, Mongolian, and Afghani invasions), or where the predatory cultures overwhelm the native culture (as happened in the Americas).

In the US, the much-celebrated federalism among the states, and among the counties and cities within states, is the result of European colonizers first internalizing, and then formalizing the loose federal structure pre-existing among the different Native American groups.

Also, Islam, on entering India violently, adapted itself to India’s social, cul­tural and spiritual ethos to such an extent that Islam in the Indian subcon­tinent it is nothing like the Salafi and Wahabi versions of the Arabs.

Thanks to the Internet, the mutual influence among societies today is not due to the invasion of armies, but due to the invasion of ideas from other societies. So, even as Asians lament the American domination in food, fashion, pop culture, and technology (with Americans reveling in it), aspects of Asian lifestyles are innocuously and subliminally —Tea Partiers may say, insidiously — seeping into America.

•  During my early days of employment here, colleagues used to disparage the Asian lifestyle — evolved out of economic necessities and cultural traditions — of adult children living with their parents well into their late twenties and even early thirties. “After high school, you’re outta here,” was the mantra youngsters heard from parents. Those days the cost of living was manageable, jobs were plenty, and even with low wages, one could afford independent living. Those days are long gone. Now, young college graduates working in poorly paid jobs often live with their parents out of necessity. Recognizing this, the much-vilified ObamaCare provides health insurance to youngsters under their parents’ insurance until they are 26. Another incipient trend in the US is “Multigenerational Living” with older parents in their 80s living with their sons and daughters in their 50s and 60s, something that was perfected in Asia and Central America.  Read here on the struggles of what Pew Research Center calls the Sandwich Generation caught between aged parents and dependent adult children. This is the ultimate Asianization of America.

•  Young people with college degrees working in low-paying, but high-visibility, glamorous jobs (in media, fashion, or as staffers to politicians) live off subsidies from affluent parents or from trust funds established by grandparents, much like youngsters from rich and powerful families in Asia. In the US, affluent Indian, Chinese, and Korean immigrant parents often subsidize their adult children well into their late 20s.

•  Yet another trend in the U.S., identical to the trend in Asia, is ad­ditional “Coaching Classes” outside the classroom for regular subjects like mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Unlike 3-month cramming classes teenagers take before their SAT and PSAT tests, these long-term classes are designed around regular high school subjects taught year-long.

•   In urban centers around the US, professional families are walking away from public school, sending their children to private elementary and high schools costing up to $40,000 a year. This trend too is identical to what has been the norm in Asia for over the last sixty years.

•   Many high schools have eliminated courses on music, literature, less-known European languages, even sociology.

•   And this: Recently, Tina Rosenberg wrote (The Family Doctor, Minus the M.D, in The New York Times, October 2012) on a trend in rural America where nurse practitioners fill in the void left by qualified doctors unwilling to work there. These nurse practitioners even prescribe medicines. In many small towns in Asia the situation is identical with no doctors wanting/willing to serve the rural community. There the poor rural folks have been going to nurses for decades for treatment.

So, the economic compulsions in the globalized market place today are changing the social structure of industrialized nations as well. In the US the ever-widening gap in access to resources between the rich and the working poor — a topic that is dissected in countless ways — has far reaching deleterious social consequences, if only we are willing to see what such gaps have done in other parts of the world.

In the wake of globalization, years ago, Thomas Friedman wrote the best seller The World is Flat.  He should have titled it The World is Getting Flattened.

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D. Raja, A Trailblazer for Indian-Americans in Southwestern Pennsylvania

By K. S. Venkataraman           e-mail:

In the 2012 election cycle, D. Raja, the successful Founder/CEO of a Pittsburgh-based IT company and a Republican, lost to Matt Smith (D) for the Pennsylvania State Senate District 37. District 37 is in Allegheny County (except for Peters Twp. in Washington County). See the map of the district. But even in his loss, Raja’s accomplishment needs to go on record.

District 37 is affluent. Based the on 2000 Census, the Median Family Income of this district was $62,000/year; for Pennsylvania, it was $50,000; and for Al­legheny County, $48,000. Only four municipalities out of 31 in this district have median family incomes below $50,000. This trend continues even now twelve years later.

Map of the District 37 of the Pennsylvania State Senate.

The townships with median family income from $158,000 to $64,000 in descending order are Sewick­ley Hts., Edgeworth, Ben Avon Hts., Upper St. Clair, Sewickley Hills, Mt. Lebanon, Osborne, Ohio Twp., Bell Acres, Moon Twp., Aleppo Twp., Ben Avon, South Fayette Twp., and Bethel Park.

The district is also very Repub­lican. Only once since 1969 has a Democrat represented this district. (see the box). Besides, in the last three elections, Republicans won this district by 2 to 1 margin.

So, Raja was a safe candidate for the GOP in a highly Re­publican district — he is well edu­cated (MS from Pitt in EECS and an MBA from CMU); a naturalized Indian immigrant; and a self-driven and self-directed successful entrepreneur. And for the GOP in this time and age, as a non-White “minority” candidate, Raja is a poster-child. In the Republican primary, Raja defeated his GOP opponent who tried to sway voters on Raja’s Indian ethnicity. Till very late, no Democrats even sought nomination for this district.

However, in November Raja lost with 55,700 (47%) votes to Matt Smith (D) 65,300 votes (53%). Readers will have many explanations on how Raja, a poster-child GOP candidate on many counts, lost in a very Republican district. However you slice and dice the results, it is necessary to see the results in a broader context.

Of the 250,000 people in the State Senate District 37, 94.8% are White; 2.5% Black, and~1.0% Asian. With Indian-Americans forming less than 1% in the electoral district, it is remarkable that 47% of the voters were willing to give Raja a chance to represent them based on how Raja, a naturalized citizen, not a natural citizen, presented his candidacy.

Just imagine that a naturalized Indian citizen of Iranian, English, or Sri Lankan, or Nepali, or American heritage, seeks elected office into the legislatures in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, or West Bengal, or Gujarat. What do you think are his/her chances of even getting the nomination from India’s political parties?

For that matter, what are the chances of a Banerji living in Bengaluru for twenty-five years getting the nomination to get elected to Bengaluru’s city council? Or a Krishnaswamy getting elected in Kolkata? What are a Luthra’s chances for getting elected from, say, Kerala?

No matter how sophisticated, how educated, and how eclectic people are in the aggregate, elections are always decided at the visceral level on how voters feel inside the voting booth.

Further, to the best of my knowledge, Raja’s faith was never used in the November campaign against him. In the Republican primary in sum­mer, when his GOP opponent Mark Mustio of Italian heritage used Raja’s Indian name and identity to sway voters, the media cried foul. Mustio lost in the primary.

In any electoral process, win, you get all the limelight; and lose, you quickly fade from the public eyes. Naturally, it hurts to lose, and only people of certain temperament are attuned to seek elected office. Raja could have simply rested on the laurels of his entrepreneurial successes and the social prominence that comes with success and wealth. But the gregarious Raja wanted to be expansive. In interacting with voters, Raja viscerally — not academically or intellectually alone — would have understood the social, economic and cultural diversity and identity of people in this region, their aspirations and anxieties. On this point, he is so atypical of Indian-Americans in this region. He is a trailblazer in this regard.

There is an old Tamil verse, which conveys the following: An arrow that just missed to take out a lion is better than the one that pierced the stomach of a jackal. Raja’s arrow aimed at the lion, even though he missed it. We congratulate Raja for trying daring things in public life.

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Fundraising Program for Clean Water for the Disadvantaged

By Juginder and Dolly Luthra, Weirton, WV       e-mail:

The AQWALife (Access Quality Water Always), Prem Sharma Memo­rial Foundation, organized a well-attended fund-raising event titled Jal­tarang (meaning Waves) on Saturday, October 28 in the Antonian Theater at Carlow University. The cold rain showers outside complemented the theme of the evening. The program drew materials from the rich potpourri of Indian music and dance traditions.

The funding for the program was from the ticket sales; Aquatech, a world leader in water purification technology founded in 1981 by Prem Sharma in the US; and sponsorships from many individuals and Pittsburgh-based organizations. After Mr. Sharma’s death in 1991, his sons Venkee and Devesh now manage the company.

A brief presentation at the beginning highlighted the challenge: Scarcity of clean water affects one in three people in every continent, and four children die every minute from preventable water-borne diseases.

The program started on time, which itself was an auspicious sign for Indian programs. After Carl Weinman’s short welcome remarks in Hindi, Venkee Sharma briefly addressed the 400-plus audience on the goals of the Foundation established in 2007 in memory of the Prem Sharma, and its activities in India, Ethiopia and Uganda for providing safe drinking water to the disadvantaged people. Ramesh Rangarajan described the collaboration with Akshaya Trust, Madurai, India. All the speeches were pleasantly short, and video presentations highlighted the problems caused by the lack of clean water, something we take for granted.

After brief Sanskrit hymns, Babeena Sharma (Prem Sharma’s daughter-in-law), accompanied by four children, recited Tulasidas’ famous Hanuman Chalisa in contemporary tunes. Babeena is blessed with a golden voice, which she has honed further with training and hard work.

Next, Nandini Mandal in traditional Indian dance costume in aqua blue, surrounded by a large group of her students in golden yellow costumes, presented an exquisitely choreographed item titled Ganga Tu Behti Hai Kyon? (Ganga, Why do You Flow?). The video of Holy River Ganga gushing down as she descends from the Himalayas and then caressingly flowing in the Northern Plains in India in the background complemented the dance very well.

Neel Nadkarni, with his rich and well-modulated voice, enchanted the audience with several songs of Sonu Nigam and Mohammed Rafi.

Ruby Jain’s graceful Kathak dance followed with Babeena Sharma’s vocal support lighting up the stage. CMU Asian student’s group, Deewane presented a couple of unique songs. A few more dance items came next. Then, more filmi songs, a ghazal, a Punjabi song and classical music recitals.

For all the vocalists, Shreeram provided support on the Keyboard, with Shrikant Aqwalegoankar on Guitar, and Aqeel Bhatti on the Tabla. A pleasant surprise item was a Spanish/Hindi song presented by Sumedha Nagpal and Saurabh Sharma that left the audience mesmerized.

Sumedha Nagpal and Saurabh Sharma, alternating as emcees, kept the program moving with their humorous quips. They never let the program sag. Chandra Sharma, Venkee and Devesh Sharma’s mother, gave the vote of thanks.

Varuna, the Vedic God for rains, was merciful toward the end. The rains stopped as we climbed up the steep hills of Pittsburgh to get the delicious Indian food in the dining hall.

Babeena Sharma, who harnessed the talents and resources from many places for organizing the program, said, “It is a lot of hard work and team effort by all involved. It was a great creative outlet for me and I enjoyed working with my team of performers, musicians, and dancers.”

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Partition Stories of Sadat Hassan Manto, India-Pakistan’s Master Story Teller

By Samar Saha         e-mail: 

Editor’s note:  Continuing from his introductory piece on Sadaat Manto in the last issue, Samar Saha writes here on Manto’s gripping stories that highlight the absurd and scarily psychotic behavior of Hindu and Muslim offcials during Partition, the people who were otherwise normal and who for generations haveworked together in various capacities.

Sadat Hassan Manto was moved to write Toba Tek Singh seeing this lunacy around. It is a masterpiece set in a mental asylum in Lahore during Partition. The whole city was being ethnically cleansed — how can the asylum escape?

The bureaucrats organizing the transfer of power tell the Hindu and Sikh mental patients that they will be transferred — they have no option to refuse — to institutions in India. Only Muslim inmates will stay back.

The inmates are totally baffled. Bishen Singh, a Sikh from the village of Toba Tek Singh was one of the residents in this asylum. No one had seen Bishen ever to sit or lie down or close his eyes in this asylum. A shadow of darkness and fear pervades in the asylum when relatives stop visiting. The inmates become desperate.

A few days later, the inmates are forced into a truck to take them across the border to India. Bishen was overwhelmed when he learnt that his village is on the Pakistani side of the border, and he had to leave.

Overcome by rage, he stands in the strip of land called ‘No Man’s Land’ between Pakistan and India and refused to budge. Next morning the guards hear a shriek and finds a motionless body of a burly Sikh in the ‘No Man’s Land.’ The mental patient Bishen Singh, who had not slept a wink in the asylum for fifteen years is finally asleep — permanently.

The lunatic who never lied down was hugging the soil of Punjab in the ‘No Man’s Land’ that neither belonged to Pakistan nor to India.

Confronted by so much insanity outside, Manto, with irony, sarcasm, bitterness and disillusionment, shows that while “normal” people outside were behaving like lunatics enraged with ethnic hatred, there was complete normalcy inside the mental asylum. The ‘lunatics’ in the asylum had a better understanding of the crime that was being perpetrated than the politicians who agreed to Partition.

In Tayaqqun (An Anguished Certitude), Manto derides the efforts of the two post-colonial states to sew together the tattered pieces of women’s honor by rehabilitating those who were abducted during the communal frenzy in Punjab. The heartbreaking story revolves around a disheveled and crazed Muslim woman who is desperately looking for her daughter:

The Pakistani officer communicating the story tells the old woman her daughter is killed and she should accompany him to Pakistan. She refuses to believe that her beautiful daughter could have been killed. One day she spots her daughter walking down the street with a young Sikh, who upon seeing the elderly woman, tells the young girl, “Your mother.”

The young woman glances at her mother and walks away. The distraught mother calls after her daughter, only to drop dead when the liaison officer swears on God’s name that her daughter is indeed dead.

Manto ends the story mystifyingly and deliberately unclear: Had the young woman, indeed, run away with the Sikh? Was she kidnapped? If so, did she make her peace with him and, no longer wanted to be reunited with her hapless, grief-stricken mother? Manto lets the reader wonder.

The 32 vignettes comprising Siyah Haashiye (Black Margins) are simply chilling. They are notable for their macabre humor and subversive intent. Each story is hardly a paragraph. They are unparalleled in world literature except, perhaps, for the genre of “One Minute Story” of the Hungarian writer Istvan Orkeny (1912-1979) who chronicled the trauma of World War II replete with irony and grotesquery. Look at this Manto chiller “Jelly”:

At six in the morning, the man selling frozen ice sticks from a pushcart next to the petrol pump is stabbed to death. His body lay on the road until seven, while water from the melting ice keeps falling on the dead body in steady driblets. At quarter past seven, the police take away the dead body, leaving the crushed ice pieces and blood on the road. A tonga (horse-driven carriage) rides past. The child noticing the coagulated blood on the road, pulls at his mother’s sleeve and says, “Look, Ma, Jelly!”

The pain, horror, and savagery of Partition changed Manto profound­ly. He chronicled this horror that displaced fifteen million people and killed about a million. If Margaret Bourke-White froze the scenes of this event with her black-and-white photographs for LIFE magazine, Manto archived this historic foolishness of Partition in his stories.

Manto is as Relevant Today: The ever-percipient Manto had antici­pated the problems of treating and using religion as a weapon instead of letting it be a matter of personal faith. We are witnessing his apocalyptic vision now. His words of warning have a resonance that is louder now than when he said this:

“Our split culture and divided civilization, what has survived of our arts; all that we received from the cut up parts of our own body, and which is buried in the ashes of Western politics, we need to retrieve, dust, clean and restore to freshness to recover all that we have lost in the storm.”

If there is a birthday present Indians and Pakistanis can jointly give Manto on his 100th birthday, it is to admit the reality of the problems he spelled out in his writings on Partition.

It may then become possible for them to rectify past errors, and strike a mutually beneficial and sustainable historical compromise.

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Vempati Chinna Satyam (1929-2012) — A Tribute by His Student

By Jaya Mani       e-mail:

Note:  Jaya Mani has taken nearly 100 students through their Bharatanatyam arangetram over the last three three decades. Her classes are held at the S.V.Temple.

The Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam

For some time I was aware that Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, 83, was suffering from an age-related illness, but unable to reconcile with the thought that he is no more. A legend in his own life time, Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, through his relentless efforts, popularized and revitalized a dance form now known as Kuchipudi that was earlier known as Bhagavata Mela, confined within the boundaries of an obscure area in the Divi Taluk of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, India. He also broke away from the tradition.

The dance form was the exclusive preserve of a few Brahmin families, with only men allowed to dance, even taking up women’s role in the story. Guru Vempatti taught women the dance form, and today, women Kuchipudi dancers overwhelmingly outnumber men. Guru Chinna Satyam, while maintaining the purity of this dance form, also infused it with other classical elements, closely following the structure and grammar in ancient texts.

L to R: Guru Chinna Satyam, Kanaka Durga and Jaya Mani after the recital at S V Temple (1984).

I am honored that I am one of the lucky few to be a member of the “first generation disciples” of the magical dance maestro. My dream came true when I gave a solo Kuchipudi dance program at S.V.Temple in Pittsburgh in the 1984.  This was special because the Guru himself provided nattuvangam with Shrimati Kanaka Durga offering the musical score. A man of deep thoughts and few words, Vempatti Chinna Satyam had an imposing personality, revered and respected by anyone who came into contact with him.

Who was this legendary maestro? The Guru was born in a Brahmin family in Kuchipudi village on October 15, 1929. Following family tradition, at the age of six, Chinna Satyam began his dance training under Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, later honing his skills under Sri Tadepally Perrayya Sastry. Still very few artists either performed or were aware of this impeccable dance style outside of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh. With the knowledge he gained from his training under the guidance of several dance teachers and an irresistible passion to showcase this dance style outside of Kuchipudi, he arrived in Chennai, and in 1963, through dedication and hard work, he established the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai. He was awarded the title Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1997.

The S.V.Temple organized several of his dance-drama tours in the 1980s and 1990s. Guru Vempatti leaves behind a large number of his students all over the world, who carry the dance form he established.

A few of Guru Vempatti’s students in the US organized a dance homage called Guru Smaranam to the legend on October 6, 2012 at the SVTemple auditorium. This program, sponsored by The Srinivasa Prasad International Foundation for the Performing Arts, started with a brief slide show on the life and achievements of Guru Vempatti.

His junior disciples — Radha Kotamraju Lee, Sangita Rangala, Indira Sarma, Vanita Sundararaman, Sudha Natrajan, Bindu Madhavi Gutti, and Mangala Maddali (L to R in the picture below) — living in different cities in the US participated in the event, paying their homage to the maestro by dancing to the songs choreographed and taught by him.

Starting with the prayer, the dancers brought out the graceful movements unique to Kuchipudi dance style and performed Purvarangam. Followed by a few solo items, the program concluded with a Tillana performed by all the disciples.

Guru Vempatti passedaway on July 30, 2012. The memories and legends of this genius will stay in the hearts and minds of art lovers around the world. His students — many seasoned choreographers having their own dance schools — will keep the art form alive for all time to come.   

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Pittsburgh’s Temples: Preserving Culture and Community for the Youth

By Ramita Balu

Ramita is a high-school senior at Ellis School and lives in Murrysville, PA.

When your relatives from other cities visit Pittsburgh, do they ever mention how well you relate to your heritage, culture, and religion? Though much of my family comes from regions such as New Jersey, D.C., and Boston, with much larger Indian population, I receive this reaction quite often. What makes Pittsburgh special? We learn about our culture through the lens of Pittsburgh’s Hindu temples, in the midst of a welcoming and supportive community. While we live almost 8,000 miles from our home country, we are able to celebrate our traditions and customs because of the temples. For this reason, we must acknowledge the very early immigrants from India for creating two of Pittsburgh’s most unifying Hindu cultural centers.

The Hindu-Jain Temple in Monroeville, PA.

Indians immigrants seemed to thrive in Pittsburgh. Many rose to re­sponsible positions in hospitals, companies, and universities, bolstering the fields of science and medicine in Western Pennsylvania. However, their success was tempered by a feeling of disconnect—they encountered an acute change in climate, differences in clothing, scarcity of familiar foods, and a society and lifestyle that they knew little about. Most of all, they missed their families and the tight-knit communities which they were accustomed to back home.

Immigrants’ discomfort translated into fear for their children. They were concerned by the challenge of raising their children in the Hindu culture without a supportive Indian community. For this reason, Indians began to gather at the only Indian grocery store in Pittsburgh to perform pujas and watch dance performances. Recognizing that religion and Indian culture often go hand in hand, this group recognized the need for a Hindu temple.

The Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills, PA

Because the original group comprised of a diverse regional and religious mixture of Indians, out of it grew the Hindu-Jain Temple, Sri Venkateswara Temple, and few other religious establishments. Both temples fostered stable and supportive communities, which provided Indians with a sense of identity in America. The temples served as more than places of worship—they preserved the cardinal values of Hindu culture to ensure that future generations appreciate and nourish their heritage.

As the temples evolved, so did their programs for cultural youth immer­sion. Today, both temples host youth camps, Sunday school classes, dance & music lessons, and humanitarian youth organizations. While temples in many other cities have similar programs, there is something quite unique about those in Pittsburgh. Because Pittsburgh is a small city, the temples have allowed youth to interact on a very personal level. When children realize that there are other Indians who have similar families, interests, and daily struggles, they immediately assume a new sense of identity. By learning about our culture whilst surrounded by friends, Indian youth find that their heritage is valuable and meaningful.

We, as youth, are so blessed to have easy access to Pittsburgh’s Indian community and cultural amenities. It is imperative that we take advantage of this fortune by getting involved in what our temples have to offer—take a Sunday school class, attend temple camp, join a youth group, volunteer at the temple! The possibilities are almost unlimited. This will not only give us a chance to understand our heritage, but also to uphold, nourish, and preserve our performing arts and our tight-knit community

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Adieu, My Friends!

 By Prasad Potluri               e-mail:

Prasad Potluri arrived in Pittsburgh seventeen years ago, starting his life living from his car. While working as an IT professional, with his innate entrepreneurial instincts, he ventured into a range of enterprises — screening Telugu Films, grocery stores, and Indian restaurants. After succeeding in all these, before returning to India in Spring 2013, here he takes leave of the people he worked with, lived with, and the people who were his customers.

The Potluris from L to R: Prasanthi, daughter Preetika, and Prasad.

It has been a wonderful time for me in Pittsburgh from Day 1 when I moved as a bachelor in 1995. Interacting with the few Indians living in Carriage Park then, I do not even remember how time went until I got married to Prasanthi in 1996. I met several wonderful friends who have been with me ever since, some of them becoming my business partners. It was an exhilarating journey for me.

When I was bored at work and had a lot of time, my mind wandered thinking of new things I could do. So, I started the site Living “Indian” in Pittsburgh, now known as, a free site that helps newcomers to Pittsburgh to settle in.

Then in 2003, I jumped into the restaurant business. Coming from a business family, all I know was that if you provide the best service in your business, you will eventually succeed. I have followed this dictum all through, and I survived—even succeeded—in the business for which I thank my customers. From a restaurant in one little corner, we ended up operating in six locations spreading the wings around Pittsburgh with the names Tamarind and Manpasand. Working with my customers trying to provide the service they wanted was very satisfying to me.

I cannot thank enough Pittsburgh’s Indians who have been good to me and the businesses all these years. I leave these businesses in the capable hands of my partners who will manage them well.

Starting my life living out of a car and then moving into a comfort­able suburban family-oriented neighborhood, I acknowledge that Pittsburgh has been so good to me. So, as I prepare to move back to India, I find it difficult to take leave of you after all these years.

Pittsburgh will always be my second home. I may not know many of you personally, but many of you will remember the person behind the service you received all these years if you had come to any of my estab­lishments. With your blessings, I hope to make this difficult transition. Thanks again.

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Indian Music Enthusiasts Present A Lec-Dem on the History of Hindustani Music

 By Shambhavi Desai, Bridgeville, PA

Editor’s Note: Shambhavi, after receiving her initial training in the Indian dance tradi­tions from her mother, went on to earn under- and post-graduate degrees in dance from the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Baroda. She also has a diploma in vocal music from M.S. University, Baroda. She teaches dance and music in her school Sanskruti. More info in available at

Shambhavi acknowledges Anupama Mahajan’s and Nalini Padmanabhan’s help in finalizing the article.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Music in collabora­tion with Chhandayan presented a concert on September 9, 2012 at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium on the History of Indian Music focusing on Hindustani music. Pta. Tripti Mukherjee, the founder-director of the Pt. Jasraj Institute of Music developed the concept for the program, with her disciples giving the recital in the program.

The two-hour program was informative and enjoyable to all regardless of their extent of familiarity with Indian Classical Music. Using a Pow­erPoint presentation to narrate the story, different genres of Hindustani music were presented.

The performing artistes were Nidrita Mitra Sinha, Nalini Padmanabhan, Shambhavi Desai, Priyadarshi Desai, Shailesh Surti, Anupama Mahajan and Babeena Sharma, as well as younger disciples of the Pt. Jasraj Institute of Music, Eishan Ashwat, Moha Desai, Ashutosh Sharma, Rivu Sinha and Divya Ramkumar. Priyadarshi Desai was on the Harmonium and Asish Sinha provided the laya (rhythm) support on the Tabla.

The evening commenced with an introduction to Indian music with its two broad categories — Hindustani music from Northern India and Karnatic music from Southern India. The common origins of Hindustani and Karnatic music in the vedas with just three notes — Udaat, Anudaat and Swarit — and its gradual evolution into two distinct forms of music were covered effectively. The concert then progressed to focus on the evolution of Hindustani Music through the ages.

The first piece was a Vedic composition on Agni (Fire) from Rig Veda with just three ‘swaras’ and Saam Veda with five ‘swaras’ presented by Nidrita, Nalini, Shambhavi, Anupama and Babeena. This was followed by a Saraswati Bhajan, composed in Raag Saraswati and presented by Eishan, Moha, Ashutosh, Rivu and Divya. The journey continued with melodious renditions of different genres of Hindustani music — Tappa, Dhrupad, Khayal, Haveli Sangeet, Thumri and Bhajan.

The audience was introduced to India’s ‘Bhakti’ movement. Start­ing from the 5th century in Southern India, it emphasized the intense personal devotion of worshippers towards their personal deities using lyrics mostly in regional languages of the times and in Sanskrit.

Nidrita presented Tappa or Jati Gaayan — a light classical com­position with intricate and fast-paced patterns of swaras (notes). As Indian music was influenced by the Islamic advent at the end of the 12th century, it brought the Persian culture with it. As an example of this, a composition of Amir Khusro was rendered in Raag Zilaf in Rupak Taal presented by Priyadarshi and Shailesh.

The evening continued with a group performance of the oldest genre of Hindustani classical music that is still performed — Dhrupad, in Raag Basant set in Chautaal. Dhrupad was popularized by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior, in today’s Madhya Pradesh in India.

Babeena rendered a Kirtan in Haveli Sangeet, a genre that has been revived by Pt. Jasraj of the Mewati Gharana. The composition was in Raag Yaman set to Deepchandi Taal.

Just as Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandi-Prakashika (17th century) laid the structural foundation for the ragas of Karnatic Music, the modern era of Hindustani music is indebted to two doyens of the early 20th century: Pt. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, both from Western India (today’s Maharashtra), who gave the structure for modern Hindustani music we see in different genres — Khayal, Thumri, Chaiti, Kajri, and Folk traditions.

An example of Khayal (meaning ‘thought’ in Persian) style of sing­ing was presented by Anupama with Nalini accompanying her for the Tarana — in Raag Nayaki Kanada set in Teen Taal.

Another popular style of light classical music is Thumri, character­ized by great flexibility with the raag. The text is either devotional or romantic, revolving around Gopika’s love for Krishna. Shambavi presented a Thumri in Raag Khamaj set in Addha Taal.

The concert concluded with a mellow signature bhajan of Meerabai, composed by the doyen of Mewati Gharana, Pandit Jasraj. This was presented by all participants en masse.

It was rather extraordinary to see a full auditorium for an Indian clas­sical concert whose audience consisted of both Indian-Americans, and more importantly, students from neighboring colleges and schools.

After the program, all left with good vibes, having listened to differ­ent styles of Hindustani music, and having received a broad outline on the evolution of Hindustani music through the millennia.

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My Peeve with Bollywood Shows

By Kollengode S Venkataraman         e-mail:

You are a typical guy or gal who likes listening to Bollywood songs, but are not heavily “into” it. If I give you the starting lines of popular Hindi songs, you can right away identify the playback singers, the actors who lip-synch for the song, and the film in which the song appeared. You will be less certain about the music directors who set the tune, and you will may not know the lyricists who penned the song. So, Bollywood shows held all over India and outside are popular, where organizers try to satisfy the yearnings of people to re-live their old days, and to go back on a nostalgia trip mentally recreating the old magic.

Understandably, in these shows, singers re-creating the pieces already recorded in songs, pay all their attention to the way the original playback singers render the songs. They pay tribute to the original playback singers using hyperbolic phrases.

But no matter how good these playback singers are, in the context of Indian films, they only lend their voices. Does it ever occur to the singers in Bollywood shows that without the lyricist, there is no need for playback singers no matter how talented they are? And before these singers step into the recording studio, a lot of creative and artistic work is already done?

In creating songs in films, the Indian film industry has wisely com­partmentalized the skills required, namely, creating the lyrics; developing the music; and then singing. Often, the lyricists have no sing­ing skills, but are well-grounded in the literary and cultural traditions of India, and are aware of Indian music traditions. And the music directors have limited singing skills, but are rooted in India’s classical, traditional and folk melodies. And the playback singers often have no grounding in the literary traditions of any Indian language, including their own mother tongue. Their assets are their well-trained vocal chords — nothing else.

Typically, the film director describes to the music director and the lyricistthe story line and situations where he/she would like songs in the film. The playback singers are nowhere in the picture at this stage.

Then, the music director and the lyricist put their creative minds to­gether and come up with the tune and the lyrics to reflect the situations. A lot of give-and-take goes on between the music director and the lyricist when they integrate the tune and the lyrics to reflect the underlying themes of the song — pathos, happy mood, self-pity, disillusionment, humor, satire, sarcasm… …

The music director and the lyricist fit all this into songs that are three to five minutes long, with a mukhada* (Hindi) or pallavi (Tamil) that is repeated after two or three antaras* (Hindi) or charanams (Tamil).

The lyricists choose their words creatively conforming to the flow, meter, alliteration, rhyming schemes of the languages, describing the theme, mood, period, and the character in the film who lip-synchs the song. Only then, the playback singers come into the picture.

Often, in the Indian filmi-duniya, playback singers have no literary background or poetic skills. They may have a sketchy grasp of the Indian musical tradition. I am not belittling them here. I am only stating the obvious. How many of Bollywood playback singers can compose, say, a few verses of 4-line shayaris or 2-line dohas around unifying theme in their own mother tongue? Or in any other Indian language? And how many of them can give a sold-out concert with non-filmi songs? There are exceptions, but they are rare.

Often, the music director, like a drillmaster, works with playback singers on how to emphasize which phrase, and where they should draw out the phrases, where to simply hum, where to taper it off, and where they should leave pauses and for how long — all to embellish the song. The playback singers follow their music directors closely and give what the music director is expecting out of them.

Given this, it is inexcusable that in Bollywood events in India and outside emcees and singers, while praising the playback singers to the sky with visual aids projected on large screens, completely ignore the music directors and kavis (lyricists) altogether.

This was the case in Bharatanatyam till recently. Starting from the mid 70s, the Bharatanatyam choreographers are mostly city-bred, “convent-educated” women with barely a colloquial working knowledge of their own mother tongues, not to speak of other Indian languages. In their programs and brochures, they never used to give credit to the poets whose songs they use in their storytelling. But with criticism in the media on this point, many of them are taking pains to acknowledge the poet-philosophers and kavis whose works they use in recitals.

The situation is better in Tamil films. Song writers (Kannadasan, Vali, Papanasam Sivan, Vairamuthu) and music directors (Viswanathan, Ilaya Raja, K.V.Mahadevan, A.R.Rahman, and others) are household names. So, in Tamil shows, they acknowledge the music director and the poet.

When will the sophisticated among the Bollywood shows’ audiences start demanding from the organizers, emcees, and singers that they credit the music director and the lyricist for every item they sing ?

* the author thanks Shambhavi Desai for these Hindi literary terms.

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Ha! Now its Our Turn to Laugh at the Political Pundits!

Before the November elections, while most surveys showed Obama and Romney locked in a dead heat, Gallup predicted Romney would win by a comfortable 6% lead [in popular votes].

But President Barack Obama won with 51% popular votes (PV) and 332 electoral votes (EV) with Gov. Mitt Romney getting 47% PVs and 206 EVs.

In contrast to the final result, this is how the political pundits predicted the outcome days before the election:

• Newt Gingrich: “I believe the minimum result will be 53% to 47% Romney [popular votes], [and] over 300 electoral votes.”

• Karl Rove: Romney 285, Obama 253 [electoral votes]. “If crowds at his recent stops in these states [NV, WI and PA] are any indication of his supporters’ enthusiasm, Mr. Romney will likely be able to claim vic­tory in these states as well.” Romney lost in all the states

• Dick Morris, Fox News contributor: Romney 325, Obama 213 [electoral votes]. “It will be the biggest surprise in recent American po­litical history… …”

• Conservative columnist George Will: Romney 321, Obama 217. “The wild card in what I’ve projected is I’m projecting Minnesota to go for Romney.” Minnesota went to Obama.

• House Speaker John Boehner: “I think Ohioans vote with their wal­lets. That’s why I think Romney’s going to win on Tuesday.”

• Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “I got this, Romney three [percentage] points [in popular votes]”

• CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, predicting a Romney landslide: “I am now predicting a 330 electoral vote landslide [for Romney]. Yes, that’s right — 330 electoral votes.”

• Rush Limbaugh in his daily radio talk show: “All of my thinking says Romney big… …[M]y intellectual analysis of this — factoring every­thing I see plus the polling data — it’s not even close. Three hundred-plus electoral votes for Romney.”

• The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan: “I think it’s Romney. … While everyone is looking at the polls and the storm, Romney’s slipping into the presidency.

• Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer: “My pre­diction: Romney 50.1%-49.5%. Romney wins minimum 271 Electoral Votes with FL, VA, CO, WI, NH. 309 Electoral Votes if he takes OH & PA. Pres-elect Romney.” Obama won in all these states. — Sources: Politico and the Internet.

So much for the punditocracy!

Only New York Times’ Nate Silver (the Five-Thirty-Eight fame) was predicting throughout that Obama would scrape through with a thin major­ity of PVs, with the EVs anywhere between 290 and 310.

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