Archive for category January 2015

Boom-Bust Cycles Are Typical in the US Economy  

Kollengode S Venkataraman

For all the gloss the IT industry uses to describe itself, the response of its American CEOs during the system-wide layoffs were trite and very unoriginal. Unlike their muscular CEO brethren in the steel and auto industry whose decline decades earlier wiped out hundreds of thousands jobs, these IT CEOs were contrite and apologetic. Using copycat vapid phrases for not assessing the situation correctly, they took responsibility for the layoff.

It was ironic that these IT industry giants, as they themselves claimed, had the all software tools for gathering the needed data to predict the future under different scenarios to advise their clients for making business decisions and improving productivity, of course, using their consulting services. This reminded me of a colloquial Tamil proverb,

meaning, “The teacher’s son is an idiot and the doctor’s son is sick.”

Or more to the present context,

meaning, “The teacher himself is dumb and the doctor himself is sick.” 

Many companies offered expanded severance package to their laid off employees to lessen the pain. Often, these companies also employ large number of TVCs [temps, vendors, and contractors] working in their campuses. But these TVCs are not covered for the severance package since they are not in the companies’ payroll.

Here are contrite, unoriginal e-mails from the CEOs of IT giants, as if they copied from each other explaining the layoffs to those who they fired:

Sundar Pitchai of Alphabet, who owns Google:


I have some difficult news to share. We’ve decided to reduce our workforce by approximately 12,000 roles. We’ve already sent a separate email to employees in the US who are affected… …

This will mean saying goodbye to some incredibly talented people we worked hard to hire and have loved working with. I’m deeply sorry for that. The fact that these changes will impact the lives of Googlers weighs heavily on me, and I take full responsibility for the decisions that led us here.

Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today.

… … To fully capture it, we’ll need to make tough choices… … While this transition won’t be easy, we’re going to support employees as they look for their next opportunity.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft:

… … We’re living through times of significant change, and as I meet with customers and partners, a few things are clear. First, as we saw customers accelerate their digital spend during the pandemic…  [now they want] digital spend to do more with less. We’re also seeing … parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one…  [and] the next major wave of computing is being born with advances in AI…

This is the context in which we as a company must strive to deliver results…[requiring] us to take actions grounded in three priorities.

First, we will align our cost structure with our revenue … result[ing] in the reduction of our overall workforce by 10,000 jobs through the end of 2023. This represents less than 5 percent of our total employee base… … We know this is a challenging time for each person impacted. The senior leadership team and I are committed  that we go through this process in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

… [W]e will treat our people with dignity and respect, and act transparently. These decisions are difficult, but necessary. They are especially difficult because they impact people and people’s lives – our colleagues and friends… U.S.-benefit-eligible employees, will receive a variety of benefits, including above-market severance pay, continuing healthcare coverage for six months, continued vesting of stock awards for six months, career transition services…

Zuckerberg, FaceBook:

Today I’m sharing some of the most difficult changes we’ve made in Meta’s history. I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13% and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1.

I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted…

At the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected. … [and] our revenue [was] much lower than I’d expected. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that.

Elon Musk, Twitter:

Elon Musk’s Twitter cut 50% of the company’s workforce, including its contractors. He tweeted his sympathies: “Folks at Twitter past and present are strong and resilient. They will always find a way no matter how difficult the moment. I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that.”

Niraj Shah, Wayfair:

Last August, furniture retailer Wayfair said it would let go of 900 people, or about 5% of its workforce. In a published letter, CEO Niraj Shah wrote: “Over the past few years, we’ve grown Wayfair significantly to keep pace with the e-commerce growth in the home category. We were seeing the tailwinds of the pandemic accelerate the adoption of e-commerce shopping, and I personally pushed hard to hire a strong team to support that growth. This year, that growth has not materialized as we had anticipated. Our team is too large for the environment we are now in, and unfortunately we need to adjust… I take responsibility for the impact this decision will have on the nearly 900 Wayfairians who will be told today they are no longer a part of building our company’s future.”

Are these systemic layoffs anything new for American businesses? No. These are familiar for those who lived through earlier gut-wrenching transitions in our own times caused by self-inflicted wounds. During the 1970s when the steel industry died in the US, tens of thousands lost their job, causing a deep decline of many towns and cities (like Pittsburgh) in the Rust Belt

Later, the American auto industry declined seriously only to reinvent itself, after ridiculing the Japanese compact fuel-efficient cars. The closing down of the full-fledged automobile plants in rural American towns turned them into graveyards.

The S&L bailout followed, and when the real estate bubble burst, many ended up owning huge mortgages on homes that lost their market values. In the wake of the Y2K, tens of thousands of Indian IT temp workers all across the US were dumped on the streets. The bubble burst was the next with huge job losses. Then in the Wall Street melt down in 2008 job losses were in the millions across the board in the US.

Even NASA was not spared of the boom-bust cycle. Hundreds of thousands of people were employed in the 1960s directly by NASA and indirectly by subcontractors making components needed for the moon mission. After the Moon-landing when an American Stars & Stripes was planted on the Moon, NASA had to shrink and tens of thousands of employees were let go. Again, when the US Congress stopped the space shuttle program, NASA laid off thousands of skilled engineers and technicians.    

The latest IT layoffs are only following this patterns of what American businesses go through: incubation and euphoria on new businesses and technologies with speculators jumping into the fray ushering in explosive growths of a whole new industry. Innovators become icons, only to see their innovative and avant garde businesses becoming one more “mature” and “regular” corporation needing run-of-the-mill managers, bean counters, and lawyers, PR & HR folks to manage the layoffs.

This boom-bust cycle has been common in the US since the early days of its industrialization in railroad, banking, gold and copper mining in the Western States, and drilling for oil and natural gas. In this template, the American Dream is fulfilled for those who succeed, and the American Nightmare unfolds for those who struggle to barely survive, with many succumbing along the way. History is replete with these stories for those who care to know.

Every society has its own culture, irrespective of the constitutional and legal framework in which it operates. If the society is large enough in land mass (as in the US), or complex enough (as in India), it also has subcultures within the big umbrella.

How many Indian IT companies spend their time and resources educating their employees on their business, and the cultural backdrops of their clients in different countries to which they depute their employees?

And how many Indian IT companies manage their business risks by diversifying their market segments in Central and South America, Africa, the Persian Gulf countries, Southeast Asia and East Asia? And not to speak of the huge Indian domestic market in the small and medium scale industries and retailers in second and third tier cities? These market segments will NOT give them 20 to 30 percent annual growths. But they will certainly help them to spread the risk to mange the economic downturns and wean them away from over dependence on the industrialized West, as it seems to be the case now.

And how many university-educated Indian IT professionals care to study the industrial and cultural history of different countries in their career expeditions all across the globe? After all, these tech-savvy youngsters have access to all kinds of information literally on their fingertips when they sit in front of the PCs with internet connections.


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The IT Layoffs Hit Indians Hard, But Was Inevitable, Even Predictable

Kollengode S Venkataraman

The IT sector in the US saw explosive growth in the last two decades. Flagship IT companies — Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta, and others — employed Indian “techies” in large numbers, most on the H-1B visa. A look at the H-1B visa numbers summarized in tables and plots in this article reveals how extensively Indians have flooded the IT jobs all across the US.

Simultaneously, people in the know have been warning that the IT sector globally is ready for a major correction and upgrade through Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The self-learning AI, they said, will eliminate repetitive low-skill jobs all across, including in the IT sector, the jobs that can be done by software and computer-aided machines. In addition, in the history of the US economy, boom-bust cycles have been a common theme.

So, if we put all these together, as you will see below, the on-going large scale layoffs in the IT sector was something that was waiting to happen. And when it did indeed happen starting from July 2022, it was inevitable that Indians were the most affected. One is tempted to say, Indians were walking — worse still, sleep-walking — into this maelstrom.     

The IT industry described itself using fancy adjectives to embellish  its attributespathbreaking, revolutionizing, life-altering, 21-st century phenom,  futuristic, mind blowing, dizzying… Soon a lifestyle evolved around this phenom: casual dress, company-paid fancy food platters, laundromats and gyms at workplaces. Even 3-week paid vacation days was not unheard of. Workplaces and office parks became campuses.

With IT jobs aplenty and not enough employees to hire from within the US, companies went on a hiring spree bringing workers from overseas, even raiding other companies, for employees. A 2018 story in Seattle Times reported that foreign-born IT workers in the Seattle area account 40% of the total of 143,000. In the San Jose area in California, over 70% of IT workers are foreign-born.

In India, IT workers have been enjoying ever increasing salaries and benefits, with weekend haunts to Goa, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mauritius becoming the norm.

To meet this demand, universities started offering majors and minors in Data Analytics, Managing Information Technology, e-Commerce, Web Applications, Data Mining…  They organized events bringing together graduating IT students and hiring managers/venture capitalists for link ups. IT students with exotic ideas and venture capitalists flush with cash were hovering around each other, as in mixer dancing, to create the next trailblazing start up.

With startups and new IPOs and their acquisition by the industry Big Boys, these were heady days, and the ambience dizzy for the 20-somethings!! Even through the Covid pandemic, the IT sector saw a boom because of the growth of e-commerce. With people working from homes, business in home-office furniture and gadgets saw a spurt while sales in undergarments saw a decline. 

For ambitious students in India, their career choices were cutout for them: degrees and trade certificates in computer-related fields, followed by a 3-semester master’s program in India — better still, in US universities — that would lead to prized IT jobs. Graduating students walked into Google, Microsoft, FaceBook, Amazon and other lesser-known companies in the US with exotic names, all on the temporary H-1B visas. They wanted jobs in the Bay Area, Seattle, LA, or New York City, Boston. Austin, Atlanta, the DC area… … Jobs in Little Rock, Ark or Birmingham, Ala were punishments.

Alarmed at the American IT industry’s appetite for hiring people from overseas (which also helped the industry to keep salaries low), the federal government capped the number of IT-related overseas hires at 65,000 per year for people with bachelor’s degrees, and 20,000 per year for people with US-earned master’s degrees under the H-1B visa regime. Indians started flooding these employment market, gobbling up around 75% of the 85,000 H-1B visas for 2020 and 2021. A look at the plots and tables on these pages tells how Indians have been overwhelming H-1B visa system — and how Indians eventually got trapped into H-1B net.

With Indians applying for the H-1B visas in numbers far, far exceeding the allotted cap, the US consular offices in India resorted to a lottery system to pick applicants for H-1B visas. In this milieu, everybody was taking advantage of everybody else, and not everything was kosher or Shudh, or halal both from the employers’ and the employees’s end.

As experts predicted, starting in late 2022, American IT companies used the post-Pandemic global recession and laid off over 200,000 tech employees so far. Not many of these jobs will come back because these companies have been readying themselves to launch AI platforms for many routine IT tasks. It was therefore inevitable, and also entirely predictable that Indians on H-1B visas are the largest number laid off.

The Big Picture to contextualize the problem: Even though the IT industry is critical to the American economy, as Forbes magazine (December 18, 2022), reported, the tech sector is a small part of the US workforce, accounting for only 2% of the 150 million workers. 

Besides, the recent layoffs of tens of thousands of IT employees from Big Boys in the industry — FaceBook, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, among others — are between 5 to 10 percent of their workforce, small in relative terms.

Also, while the tech sector layoffs are getting wide media coverage here (and wider coverage in the Indian media), the overall unemployment rate in the US is still low it has ever been in the last several decades. Many sectors are having difficulty in recruiting workers.

Indian IT companies such as TCS, Infosys, Wipro too laid off employees since they heavily depend on their US and EU clients. With Indian IT compuses located in urban hubs in India, their IT employees coming from the anglicized urban middle class, the Indian media were quick to highlight the woes of the laid off Indians both in the US and in India.

Vulnerable middle managers: In this milieu, middle level managers became vulnerable targets for layoffs because of the flattening of the organizational pyramid and replacement by youngsters at much lower salaries. Younger workers became formidable competitors since the management saw them as one way to reduce their operating costs.

Most Indians come to the US on the H-1B visa with the idea of becoming permanent residents here. But a major roadblock for Indians for becoming permanent residents has been the long waiting time, simply because so many of them are on the line for their green cards. Because of the large numbers of applicants from countries like India, the Philippines, China, and Mexico, they have to wait up to 15 years, or even longer.

Many Indians in the US on H-1B visa for 10 to15 years are in their mid to late 30s, living their American dream — with their homes in the suburbs with mortgage commitments, SUVs and annual vacations. Many have teenage school-going children. For these people, getting laid off midstream in life is a nightmare. They have only sixty days to get another job in an environment when tens of thousands of laid-off IT workers are looking for jobs, failing which they have to leave the US. These people are overwhelmed with a host of problems needing quick decisions, with the deportation sword hanging over their head. Piyush Seth and Lisa Ventresca, Pittsburgh-based immigration attorneys, are familiar with challenges these people face.

In recent years, many young Indians came to the US for pursuing 3-semester courses in IT-related subjects in universities. They got IT jobs in the US upon graduation. Now, when these Indians on H-1B visas in their late 20s are laid off, their decision to return to India may appear less complicated because they are single or married with only young pre-school children. But their problems are of a different kind: many of these men and women in India took personal education loans for over $70,000 (nearly INR 6,000,000), and others funded by parents. These loans are relatively easy to clear if their earnings are in US dollars, but a huge burden to repay if one’s earnings are in Indian rupees. With the Indian job market itself flooded with recently laid off local IT workers, if these people on the H-1B visa return to India, getting commensurately high-paying jobs in the Indian IT sector will be hard.

This recent IT layoffs in the US (and in India) have landed many Indians on the H-1B visa in a complex situation with social, cultural, financial, professional, and career- and family-related challenges, all hitting them at the same time, without any easy solution. But this was inevitable since Indians overwhelmed the H-1B visa regime.

However, Seth, the immigration attorney with 25 years experience, citing a Computer World article in February 2023, says, “Regardless of the layoffs in big companies, qualified IT jobs are still in demand with over 100,000 jobs remaining unfilled throughout the technology sector.”   


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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:

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:   website:


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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:  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

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

By Nandini Mandal  e-mail:

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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Retirement Communities and Senior Centers for Indian Immigrants to the USA

Balwant N. Dixit PhD Phone: (412) 963-8023

(I respectfully dedicate this paper to the Late Dr. Ashok Sapre of Murrieta, California for his pioneering efforts in promoting ideas to help Indian immigrant seniors to the North America. His numerous contributions have led the path for all of us to follow. Dr. Sapre passed away on September 14, 2021)

Note: The most of the information mentioned in this article about the Indian Retirement Communities and senior centers is obtained from respective websites. Most often website information is given for promotional purposes and emphasizes most desirable aspects. The graphics are also not realistic since they are most often generated from computer graphics. It is very difficult to get the real information except when a person visits an establishment and spends time and gathers information from the residents and managers. Such visits are rare. One example is a brief report made by the late Dr. Ashok Sapre on ShantiNiketan.  

Indian immigration to the USA: I arrived in the USA from India in 1962 on a one year International Fellowship in Pharmacology.  At that time there were only about 4000 persons of Indian origin in the USA. Although Indian immigrants entered the USA as early as1920 significant immigration is of very recent origin because of the legislative barriers due to the laws such as the 1917 Immigration Act preventing any immigration from India. As of 2019 there were about 2.7 million Indian immigrants in the USA.  This increase was principally due to the passage by US Congress of the 1965 Immigration & Nationality Act removing national-origin quotas and basing immigration on having the economically desirable skills. This was the reason that from 1980 to 2019 the Indian immigrant population in the USA increased almost 13 fold, reflecting in the fact that most of the current Indian Immigrants (about 2,500,000) are comparatively a young ranging 35 to 70 yrs. in age. Then there is a significant income disparity between the early immigrants and the later arrivals. However, no reliable quantitative data are available. This highly skewed population in age and in income has important consequences as related to retirement readiness. In the USA population of 330 million, about 54 million are over 65 and retired (16.3%) and verifiable data on what USA Senior citizens want as far as their retirement is concerned are easily available, while in the Indian 65+ seniors estimated at about 200,000 (7.4%) it is very difficult to ascertain what Indian seniors want, since verifiable data are unavailable.

The Retirement Communities in the USA.

There are an estimated 80,000 Retirement Communities of various types, operated by organizations (for profit, non-profit, religious, self-managed etc.) serving 25 + million USA senior citizens, mostly complying with the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. As far as I know, several hundred Indian immigrants have moved into the age based American Independent retirement communities such as the Sun City Center in Florida, Age based Independent retirement Community in Marietta, California, Traditions of America near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in a few other states.

Earlier efforts made to build “For Indians Only” Retirement Community in the USA.

In 2007, a workshop by the National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens (NIAASC) was organized in New York and the following items were discussed. Where to spend golden years” for those who immigrated to USA in early 60s. Since the Joint family system was no longer a viable option for those in the USA and it may not be feasible for most NRIs to move back to India OR to stay with their children in the USA, a plan was announced to develop a retirement community near Atlantic City, (NJ), for the seniors of Indian origin, slated to open in 2008. For various reasons the venue was changed to Florida.  A suitable site was selected in the Taveres County near Orlando and plans were finalized to construct a facility called ShantiNiketan.  The ground breaking ceremony took place on June 17, 2009 at the hands of Iggy Ignatius, the originator & CEO.

Current, age based (55+ or 60+), independent Retirement Communities for Indian Immigrants, in the USA.

(i) Ownership:        

Name of the Community, type of housing & Contact detailsLocation (State)Type of the facilityAmenities  Present status and remarks
ShantiNiketan (Houses, Condos and townhouses). Contact: (352) 508.7060  Florida  Age based Independent living. No provision for long term care. Nursing care facility under considerationDining Hall/Theater. Daily chef prepared three vegetarian meals. Each residential unit with its own kitchen. Prayer room, Library/Computer room, club house with a gymDevelopment in several phases. Over 150 units sold out. Some of the houses/condos owned by seasonal occupants  
Serenity Reserve (85 Houses). Contact: (407) 212-0123 (JAGK7518@GMAIL.COM)  FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.Club house, pool, central kitchen, banquet hall, outdoor lounge, fitness center, yoga and meditation room, library, movie theaterSold out. Opportunities for resale exist
Anand Vihar (Houses & Townhouses (Costs from $179,000 to $329,000)FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.A recreation center, a swimming pool. A dining hall with flexible meal options, a fitness center, a movie/media room, tennis and pickle ball courts, a prayer & meditation room and a gazebo for relaxingSold out. Some of the houses/condos owned by seasonal occupants. Opportunities for resale exist             
Nalanda Estates (83 homes. Cost: $305,990 to $525,990. Contact:FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.Club house, banquet hall, Commercial kitchen, fitness center, prayer room, walking trails, theater, zen gardenSold out. Opportunities for resale exist
Verandah (51 Townhomes, 75 Condos and several houses, Handicapped accessible (Costs from $390,000, with monthly charges, $4,637-$6,028. Contact: (312) 952-1802. (  Illinois (Chicago)A CCRC with a 100 bed hospital on the campusDining room,  library, Beauty salon, Restaurant-style dining. Indian and American LifestylesSold out

(ii)  Rental Apartments

Priya Living: Various locations in California with completely furnished rental apartments for senior citizens, with unique shared spaces and Innovative programming.  Contact: 408 – 310 – 5112. ( Monthly rent: $2,395-$3,100

Name of the CommunityLocationType of the facilityAmenities
CITY CENTER.  Fremont, CA.94538.Independent living. No provision for long term care  Outdoor recreation spaces, an indoor community kitchen, a pool and cabana.  Open Courtyard   All amenities not available at every campus.
WARM SPRINGSFremont, CA.  Located in the Bay Area   
CIVIC CENTERSanta Clara, CA. Silicon valley

Retirement Communities in the planning stages

Name of the Community & type of housingLocationType of the facilityAmenitiesPresent status and remarks
Athashri (Contact: Costs:  $460,000 – $740,000            Hayward, CA.Independent living, with 150+ condominiums  + three single family homes (1-3 BR)  A kitchen + living space of 700-1800 sq. ft. Swimming pool, wellness centerOriginal developers: Pristine Homes, CA + Paranjape Schemes, Pune, India. Future plans uncertain due to problems with  financing       
Vishram Kuteer An active 55+adult community with houses. Prices: $123,000 – $215,000. Contact: (281) 337-5133    Rosenberg TXIndependent livingLocated on 23 Acres with two lakes, a recreation facility, a common vegetable garden, a meditation area, and a small Hindu TempleUncertain future
Apna Ghar. 7228 Blanco Drive, Irving, Texas 75039.  Contact: +1 (817) 891-7770Texas (Dallas)Independent living communityYoga classes, Health seminars,  Movie Theater next door, Relaxing room  with playing cards, domino, Carrom Game, Large outdoor Patio with pool and Waterfall. Three vegetarian meals,Proposed
Anand Vihar. Contact: Anand Patel, Pangea Realty Group, 1211 Tech Blvd. #150, Tampa, FL 33619Georgia (Atlanta)A high-rise luxury condo community for Indian seniors with a potential for an assisted living facilityA covered parking garage, indoor and outdoor pools, meeting spaces and a dining hall.Proposed

Nursing Care Facilities for Indian Immigrants

The “Indian Nursing Home” Program started by Dr. Mukund Thakar, a pioneer in providing nursing care services to Indian Seniors living in the USA located in (i) Kings Harbor Multicare Center (NY) (ii) Arista Care Centers (NJ) and at (iii) Smaller facilities at several other locations.

Care is provided by Indian doctors, Indian nurses and Indian therapists speaking Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarathi, with Indian vegetarian food, Indian Prayer service, a Hindu temple, Traditional Indian festivals, Indian television shows and Indian music.

The following statement by Dr. Mukund Thakar is worth mentioning here and I hope some Maharashtrian physicians and health care workers follow Dr. Thakar’s steps. “Taking care of the elderly has been my passion since I began my career as a medical professional and now I have the honor of catering to their needs 24 hours a day. I had a vision of establishing an Indian nursing home program to accommodate the Indian elderly. The Indian nursing home program was developed in 2005 by creating an environment where the Indian elderly would feel comfortable in their living arrangement and where their medical and personal needs are met to ensure their well-being and happiness.

My staff and I have been providing exceptional quality care to our Indian senior citizens from all over the country. The accurate formula of medical care enriched with the Indian culture has revolutionized the way our senior citizens are cared for in nursing homes. With multiple programs operating successfully in New Jersey and New York, I would personally like to invite you to take a tour of this unique program that brings comfort, culture, and care together under one roof.” Contact: (

Some observations, some questions and some freewheeling thoughts

(1)  “For Indians only” retirement communities currently provide housing for around 1500 seniors out of an estimated 150,000 to 20,000 Indian seniors in the USA

(2)  Almost all “For Indians” retirement communities have no provision for much needed assisted living /nursing care. Exception being Veranda in Chicago and a stand-alone Mukund Thakkar’s Arista care in NJ and New York

(3) Currently relatively very few “For Indian only” retirement communities are functional in the USA. What are the reasons? Is it the lack of interest or the lack of demand or the lack of capital or the lack of reliable market research?

(4) Why so few Indian Immigrants want to move into a retirement community for Indians?

(5) What factors determine where Indian seniors want to retire?

(6) Many Indian seniors prefer to move near their siblings, but not with them. Why?

(7) No reliable data to indicate the thinking of Indian seniors as what they want

(8) No representative business organization that can provide reliable data on Indian Seniors on retirement issues is present as it is there for the American Retirement Communities

(9) Let Indian seniors join a senior care community (such as a CCRC) that can provide all the necessary care from A to Z. Needs lot of financial recourses. There are 2000 such communities in the USA

(10) Go by yourself and take care of yourselves the best way you can with whatever resources you can muster and with whatever help you can get.

(11) Let us negotiate with our grown up children in what way we can help them in advancing their life objectives such as the education of their children (e. g. by         contribution to the 529 college savings plans), improving their house etc. and in return request them to accommodate us and our limited needs. This is already happening on a ver limited scale. It may be necessary to modify their existing house. Reestablish JOINT FAMILY structure with a modern twist!

(12) Let the seniors join any age defined Independent American Retirement Community, and sign up for a Continuing Care at Home Program (CCHP) or call any of the Home Care agencies, such as Home Instead, to receive the care one needs at home.

(13) Almost every city in the USA has several Indian Restaurant. Arrange a “Meals on Wheel” type of meal delivery program (e.g. 5 days/week) to seniors by subscription.

Senior Citizen Centers

A Senior Citizen Center (SCC) is a relatively recent origin in the USA and it is in the very early stages as far as Indian Seniors in the USA are concerned. SCC is a type of community center where older adults can congregate to fulfill many of their social, physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.  In the USA, many towns have senior centers that are usually locally funded, though some may receive state and federal money.  An estimated 11,000 such centers serving about 1 million seniors are functional in the USA.   Usual activities at a typical Senior Center: Health & Wellness Programs, Personal growth and learning, Computer classes, Woodworking and other hobbies such as Knitting, Painting, Photography, Ceramics etc., Driver’s safety program,          Nutrition & Culinary classes, Advice on retirement investments & financial planning and income taxes

Senior Citizen Centers for Indians in the USA: Relatively few, mostly located in large cities such as the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco etc. “India Home” is one such Senior Centers, opened in 2014 serving the (60+) South Asian Seniors in the New York City.  It serves the South Asians-one of the fastest growing and most overlooked groups of elderly in New York City.

In the Pittsburgh area currently there are two Indian Senior Centers that are very effectively providing very valuable services to the India seniors.

(1) United Seniors Association of Pittsburgh (USAP) is a service organization of senior citizens. Currently it does not have its own facility but functions very effectively as a virtual senior center. It was founded in 2017 by the seniors and for the seniors. USAP is registered as a non-profit, charitable, tax-exempt organization under the State Laws of Pennsylvania. Its goal is to promote healthy aging not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually, through education and physical participation. Anyone above age 50 is welcome to join USAP irrespective of race, religion, or nationality. Contact: (412) 908-1711. (

(2) Dhru & Gul Bhagwanani Pittsburgh Indian Senior Center (DGBP ISC): 3955 Monroeville Blvd. Monroeville, Pa 15146 with an entrance from Business 22, 3946 Wm Penn Hwy. Monroeville, Pa 15146. Total area of 4500 sq. ft. to be opened in mid-2022: It consists of an office, exercise Room, a small prayer room (temple), a social hall, a dining hall, a nap room or a resting room (emergency use), a full service commercial kitchen and a meeting room/ social hall with the capacity of 100 and designated parking for the handicapped. All facilities will be compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The entrance and access will be located at the street level. It is being funded from a trust left by a physician & her husband, and donations received from patrons. The center is planned to have senior friendly & modern high-tech amenities as well as safety & security. The attendees will not need to pay any fees or charges for the facility, food & all the activities & programs offered.


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Aksharaabhyasam in Pittsburgh on Vijayadasami Day During the Sharada Navaratri in Fall 2021

By K S Venkataraman

During Vijayadasami (the 10th and the concluding day of the Sharada Navaratri in Fall, which was in October 2021 this year), the Pittsburgh Chinmaya Mission organized the traditional akshara-abhyasam ceremony, initiating the 4 to 6-year-olds to their long journey — 20 or more years — in studies, learning and education.

Pandit Shri Dharmateja Nagalingam at the Pittsburgh Chinmaya Mission helping parents with the Akshraabhyasam ceremony

In the picture above, Pandit Shri Dharmateja Nagalingam at the Mission is helping parents with children sitting on their laps to write Om Ganeshaaya namah, Om Vaagdevyai namah or Om Namasshivaya or Om Narayanaya namah on slates using chalk pieces while reciting Sanskrit hymns.


At the Mookambika Temple: The priest is writing Om on the tongue of a child with her father’s gold ring.

Typical Aksharabhyasam ceremony at the famous Mookambika Temple where the presiding Devi is worshipped as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parashakti.

This famous temple is situated close to Mangaluru in Karnataka, India. Here parents or family elders initiate their kids to writing on rice paddy spread on brass plates using turmeric root as pencils. A detailed article here: — END


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