Archive for category July 2014

The Modi Revolution Galvanizes India

By Arun Jatkar, Monroeville, PA 


Arun_JatkarMany months ago I heard Damodar Prabhu, an energetic and wiry octogenarian of Pittsburgh, animatedly telling someone: “You want progress in India? Make Narendra Modi the prime minister!”  I was not as intimately familiar with the political events in India as I would like to be. So I did not take it seriously. But then Harilal Patel, another long-time resident of Pittsburgh, one day said to me that he had been thinking about what “we” could and should do to get Modi elected as India’s prime minister.

As I mulled over these words, I kept saying to myself, “I can see the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), winning hands down in Gujarat; but how is BJP going to get a decisive victory in the elections across the length and breadth of India?  If BJP alone or in alliance with other parties does not get the majority in the parliament, how would Modi become the prime minister? Modi becoming the prime minister is a pipe dream.”

So I was even more astonished when BJP announced Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Everyone has read about the communal riots of February 2002, just months after Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat and how Modi has been ceaselessly blamed ever since for those riots in the Western as well as in the Indian media.

When one reviews all the facts around the Ahmedabad riots of 2002 in the light of several other communal riots in India, it becomes clear that the media, both in the West and in India, have been conducting a callous, sly and wholly unfair campaign against Modi. Some organizations undoubtedly played a lead role in perpetrating and perpetuating this colossal calumny. Eventually the charges of “genocide” and “pogrom” against Modi took on a life of their own. The Congress Party in power in New Delhi had a vested interest in keeping the drumbeat going on against Modi. Many well-funded non-Hindu organizations in India and abroad also stood to gain by relentlessly vilifying Modi in the media. The left-leaning pseudo-secularists, having drifted away from the letter and the spirit of secularism, also joined the bandwagon of Modi-bashing. This, I thought, was a formidable alliance, very hard for Modi and BJP to defeat.

This was in spite of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India unequivocally saying in its report that Modi was not responsible for what happened before or during the riots in Gujarat in February of 2002. And yet the anti-Modi megaphones kept on spewing out their jaundiced opinions, hoping that by loudly repeating the same lie a thousand times it might become the truth.

Modi was appointed chief minister of Gujarat in October of 2001 by his party. Though the media kept on blaming Modi for the February 2002 riots, the voters in Gujarat were not swayed by the anti-Modi blitz let loose by the media. They voted Modi and his party into power in 2002, 2007 and 2012. During the period of 12-plus years from October 2001 till May 2014, Modi brought about the Wirtschaftswunder (the economic miracle) in Gujarat, the state that was struck a deadly blow by a massive earthquake  in January of 2001 that killed 20,000 people, injured 167,000 and destroyed 400,000 houses. Modi’s state government gave top priority to the rehabilitation work. Today, Gujarat is an example of progress, peace, and religious harmony; there is no bureaucratic sloth and no corruption in high offices — the two endemic problems in India. Modi’s Gujarat model is working very well.

People least likely to support came to defend Modi: Zafar Sareshwala is one of those people. He is a member of the Tabitha Jamaat, a puritanical strand of Sunni Islam and a successful businessman. His family is from Gujarat. Since some of his family members were victims in the riots of 2002 and his family suffered a huge financial loss in the riots, Sareshwala wanted to have Modi tried in the International Court at the Hague. However, after a long meeting with Modi in London in which a London-based Islamic scholar also participated, Sareshwala became convinced (Reference 1) that the real Modi was different from the image portrayed by the Indian English language media. He wanted Muslims to work with Modi, and he became a spokesperson for Modi. Naturally, Sareshwala was vilified by many Muslim organizations.

Another supporter of Modi was Madhu Kishwar, a prominent New Delhi-based academic-cum-social activist-cum feminist and a journalist with integrity. In the long investigation she conducted (Reference 2), she met with a wide cross-section of people in Gujarat including Muslims. What she heard in Gujarat was very different from what was portrayed in the English language media. She proclaimed that Modi was not the villain in the 2002 riots as the English language media was portraying.

 I had gone to India in February this year. When I tried to talk to my friends and relatives on Indian politics, most were reluctant saying they had no interest in politics. Those I goaded said they did not believe the BJP alone or in alliance would win a clear majority.

On my return, my attention really perked up when I read that in Amethi and Varanasi people waited for hours for a darshana of Modi. It stirred up a memory from my own childhood. I was at my uncle’s place in Vité  in Southern Maharashtra during the sultry summer of 1954.  One day, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s motorcade was going to pass through Vité and I was one of the hundreds of folks standing along the roadside for a darshana of Nehru. That sort of popularity and halo of respectability were being conferred on Narendra Modi, much to the chagrin and grief of India’s pseudo-secularists and Media Māntriks’ (magicians), whose black magic was unable to stop Modi’s march to victory.

On May 16, Indian voters spoke loudly and clearly. They gave Modi and the BJP a decisive victory, and rejected the Congress Party’s dynastic democracy imposed on the nation by the Nehru-Gandhi family. When the results streamed in, there were spontaneous celebrations of the astounding victory of BJP all over India, and also in North America.

To the more than 100 people gathered in Monroeville’s India Garden restaurant, its owners Shinghara Singh and Davindar Kaur sponsored the dinner and Harilal Patel brought in the fireworks. It was Diwali in mid-May!

On a large TV in the banquet hall of India Garden, Modi was speaking in Hindi. What impressed me was his plan for Bhārat vikās: “Mahatma Gandhi made independence of India a matter of personal concern for every Indian. The Mahatma’s message ensured that whatever one did was done with the conviction that he or she was working for India’s independence. Similarly, I will ensure that my one-hundred-and-twenty-five karod (1 karod = 10 million) brothers and sisters will make this nation’s vikās their first and foremost priority. Bhārat-vikās will not remain simply a project to be planned and implemented by the bureaucracy in New Delhi… …”

This was a welcome radical change in India. Modi is the first politician in recent times to have traveled all across India speaking to audiences in many states about their deeply felt concerns. He also talked about a plan for taking the entire nation into the twenty-first century. He said he is going to do it by making it a priority project owned by the people, implemented by the people for the benefit of the people. I prayed, “May the Force be with Modi!”

This election was not just an election. It was, indeed, a ‘velvet’ revolution, a genuine triumph of democracy. Modi has achieved what seemed impossible only a few months ago. Now he is poised for a role for which the People of India, the Bhāratīya Janatā, will sing his praises in the years to come, if he does it right.

One hopes that Modi gets the political courage and moral rectitude to lead India to prosperity, peace and harmony for all. This is a once-in-a-life-time golden opportunity people have handed to Modi. Modi can ill-afford to squander it away on anything of lesser importance.  ♦


1. Sareshwala-The-Muslim-who-bats-for-Modi/articleshow/26290224.cms

2.       ♦

No Comments

Deadly Violence in Murrysville’s High School

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

Violence among teenagers, like domestic violence, has no correlation with social differentiators such as education, pedigree, wealth, or the ZIP codes where we live. All three recent incidents of school violence by teenagers in Columbine, Colorado (1999), Sandy Hook, Connecticut (2013), and now, in our own backyard Murrysville this April, occurred in public schools in bucolic neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns and “desirable” ZIP codes. The stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville in April were by one out-of-control teenager using two large kitchen knives. In a matter of minutes, 22 students were injured, three of them seriously. The three required extended stays in ICUs and multiple surgeries. Fortunately nobody died.

That the student’s choice of weapon was long kitchen knives and not guns was fortuitous. If he had used guns, we would have ended up with war-like killings. Just imagine, if the unhinged teenager had no weapons at all, only a few kids would have gotten bruised faces in a fist fight.

I was speechless hearing on the radio that they deployed in Murrysville, a desirable bedroom community, medical triage units trained by US army medical units that served in Iraq, saving wounded soldiers in battlefields! Is this where we have arrived as a “civilized” society?

The criminal justice system will go through its winding course deciding the fate of the 16-year old deranged perpetrator of these violent stabbings. But the incident leaves behind traumatized kids, parents, the devastated family of the unhinged student who committed the stabbings, and a community seeking answers. No matter what the judgment will be — the 16-year old is being tried as an adult — the young man’s life is ruined, and his family has an uphill task rehabilitating themselves.

For the many young adults reading this magazine we want to tell you this: As your elders, we are deeply committed to your wellbeing and future. So, listen to this: no matter what the perceived provocation will be, never ever be in situations where you are the perpetrator of this kind of violence, no matter what the aggravation. Equally important, or better still more important, we also certainly do not want you to be a victim in this type of senseless violence. 

So, be smart and keep these pointers in mind even as you are having a good time with your friends during the school years:

•   Be aware of the changing “mood” of the groups you are in at all times. If you are mindful of your environment and sensitive, your instinct will tell you when simple jovial teenage pranks are getting out of control and beyond acceptable limits.

•   Resist the temptation to seek acceptance by encouraging, approving, or participating in the bullying of a single individual in a group either because he is weak, or because of his race, faith, ethnicity or other differentiators.

•   You don’t need the tribal group identity and acceptance of your peers to find camaraderie.

•   Be fair and respectful towards everyone.

•   When things are getting out of hand and may become violent, try to diffuse the situation. If it is not possible, leave the scene right away and get the hell out.

•   Always keep open access to your parents and teachers so that you discuss with them these kinds of situations brewing in your mind. These types of experiences may be new to you as a young adult. But they have seen many of these, and know how to handle them.

Your life is too precious to be wasted in these kinds of traumatic and entirely mindless excursions. ♦

No Comments

Retain Ground-Level Inter-connectivity of India’s Rural Road Networks When Building 4-lane Highways

Preface:  I tried to send this article to many leading Indian English Dailies — The Hindu, the Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express… …  Unfortunately, when I visited their websites, I could not find even one e-mail address of either the editor for Op-Ed pieces, or e-mail addresses for their editors for different sections in the different dailies.

So, I am uploading this article in my own website in the faint hope that those who are well-connected in India’s political and administrative set up reading the article will forward this article or bring the proposal to the attention of the Powers That Be in India.

There is a great push in India for building high-speed limited access tolled expressways connecting cities.  Almost always, these high-speed 4-lane divided expressways are built along the existing national Highways built several decades ago, or even earlier. The government collects tolls for the vehicles using these limited0-access roads to defray the cost of building the high-speed roads

These high-speed limited-access freeways are helpful to commerce, whose primary and immediate beneficiaries are usually the big industrial houses and the increasingly urbanizing middle class.  As India moves forward, everybody would stand to gain by these high-speed expressways – quick transportation, reduced accidents and fatalities, etc.  This type of infrastructure is long overdue.  Freight trucks carrying large loads between cities, inter-city buses, private cars, and motorbikes use these toll roads to reach their destinations quickly and safely.

One of the challenges in building 4-lane limited-access divided expressways on the existing National Highways roads (as say, between Nagpur and Agra, Chennai and Tiruchi or Chennai and Bangalooru, or Mumbai and Ahmedabad and others) is:  how to accommodate and get around the existing intersections of local rural roads along the freeways. 

The intersections of these rural local roads have existed for a very long time for well over a few centuries, and in the past have been convenient for linking villages lying on either side of the existing national highways.

These villages have existed close to each other for centuries, and having a road access for the rural people on the same ground level is convenient for

a)     People walking from one side of the high way to the other carrying loads on their heads and shoulders often on barefoot, and

b)     Bicyclists and or carts pulled by muscle powers of bullocks and even muscular men.  Yes.  In some places, we still see men pulling carts.

People take these rural roads to go between these villages scattered along either sides of the national highways.

 It is important to retain the social cohesion among these villages interlinked through these roads on the same level as they exist today.  Retaining the existing interlinks through these rural roads is important for another reason as well.  Often, people live on one side of the expressway own fields on the other side of the road, or work on the fields on other sides of the expressway, or children living on one side of the road walk to schools on the other side of the road.

So, easy and quick access to these villages is critical for agricultural productivity too.

In their efforts to contain cost of building inter-state limited access expressways, the government often opts to close the existing rural roads to make way for the high-speed expressway.  This causes great inconvenience for the rural population scattered throughout the India.

Elected officials and officials need to institute policies/guidelines to National Highways Division such that wherever the rural roads and the high-speed expressways intersect, the expressways will be built over the rural roads such that the existing rural roads would remain as they are now at ground level and the hi-speed traffic would be over these rural roads build as flyovers or over-passes.

This will definitely increase the cost of the high-speed expressway, and further, it will take longer construction time.

However, most of these new expressways are toll-roads used by businesses, and industries, and the more affluent classes owning private cars etc., and the cost of these overpasses (flyovers) would be recovered over time.  ♦

No Comments

Looking Back and Taking Stock

By Samar Saha, Iwin, PA


Samar SahaGrowing up in India in the 1950s, it was hammered into our brains that Indians and India were kept down by the ‘White’ rule and could flourish only under self-rule. To a young mind this seemed self-evident then. The ruthless colonial exploitation for the mind and wealth of the disunited India by the British and European Whites were the reason of our downfall.  People who were dear to us painted a dream of how things would change when we had won our freedom, and how we, the young ones, would make that change happen.

This message came from respected freedom fighters – both of the violent and non-violent kinds – and teachers, historians, journalists, and our elders. Gleaning over statistics and historical anecdotes in my teen years, I was convinced.  The 1950s was a decade of hope and dream.

Fast forward the calendar to 1970. I stopped in Bombay and spent a few days with my radical but intellectually brilliant school friend Umesh Dutta, on my way to New York with my green card in my pocket. Strangely, I was not exactly sure why I was leaving India.

My buddy was a researcher working in a prestigious institute. He was totally at a loss as to why I gave up my good job in a British company to go to an ‘uncivilized’ White country called the USA.  His parting words at the airport were, “Write me back if they still lynch Negroes on the street of New York.”  I never wrote back anything.  Slowly he faded from my memory.

I met Umesh this year after nearly forty years. Umesh searched me out on his own. I flew to Austin, Texas, and spent a few days at his son’s place.  Time had taken its toll. He is mellowed now compared to the radical he was. Now he lives in Mumbai in retirement.

I could still see that flash of brilliance in his eyes.  We finished the elaborate Thai dinner his daughter-in-law had made for us while relentlessly talking about our recollections of the past and our current state. He abruptly said with the patented twinkle in his eye: “I sum up India’s performance during the last 40 years in one sentence, Samar!  Indians have succeeded in countries ruled by Whites, but failed in their own.”

He continued: “India would have been the USA or Britain if our elders were smart enough.”  There was a dreadful silence as we finished our drinks without any further talk. I was thinking, “I dare not stop this guy now.  He’s on a roll and I must hear him out.”

We sat out on the deck in the comfortably cool Texan chill of the late evening and my friend continued.  “The harsh reality is that Indians have succeeded in countries ruled by Goras (Whites) in America, Britain and in other places, but failed in their own. Those who stayed back are pulled down by a disgraceful system that fails to encourage merit or talent, fails to allow people and businesses to grow, and keeps real power with politicians and their cronies. When Indians go to the Gora countries where there is a better sense of fair play and openness, they conquer the summits once occupied only by the Goras.”

He cited examples and I quietly listened.

•      Rono Dutta is head of United Airlines, the biggest airline in the world. Had he stayed in India, he wouldn’t have a chance in Indian Airlines, the only government-run airline then. Even if the top job was given to him by politicians, the trade unions would have ensured that he could never run it like United Airlines. Vikram Pundit was the CEO of Citigroup till recently, which runs Citibank, one of the largest banks in the world. Granted, Vikram Pundit was abruptly and unceremoniously fired by his chairman. Still, on his watch, the company turned around. 

•      Rana Talwar in his 40s is the head of Standard Chartered Bank, a large multinational bank in Britain. Had he been in India, he would perhaps be a branch manager in one of the government-owned banks — maybe an area manager — taking orders from politicians to give loans to politically favored clients.

•      Lakhsmi Mittal is the biggest steel baron in the world. India’s socialist policies kept the domestic steel industry government-owned. Mittal went to Indonesia to run his family’s first steel plant there. Once freed from the shackles of India, he conquered the world.

•      Subhash Chandra of Zee TV is now a global media king, one of the very few to beat Rupert Murdoch in his game. He could never have risen had he been limited to Doordarshan, a TV monopoly of the Indian government.  He used satellite TV to beam programs in India from Hong Kong. Once he escaped India, he soared.

•      Arun Netravali became the president of Bell Labs, one of the biggest R&D centers in the world with 30,000 inventions and several Nobel Prizes to its credit. Had he been in India, he would probably be struggling in the middle cadre of Indian Telephone Industries. Now, Microsoft has an Indian CEO; and Carnegie Mellon’s President is Subra Suresh, who headed the prestigious National Science Foundation.  Silicon Valley alone contains over 100,000 Indian multimillionaires.

“How many examples do you want, Samar? And you ask — why Indians in India are in such a mess?  I’ll tell you why.  It is our system rooted in history. We carry historical seeds of corruption in our veins. We cannot function within the rules of law.”

Umesh was indeed on a roll. I could not stop him even if I wanted to. He was very perceptive.  He continued.

“These Indians who have soared in the White-ruled West are the peak of the pyramid. Beneath these peaks, Samar, I see thousands and thousands of Indians educated in India and the US who have made imprints as dedicated doctors, professors, researchers, engineers, and mid-level managers in small and large hospitals and corporations. And some are running their own businesses.

“When Britain left India in 1947, India was the most advanced of all colonies with the best future. Today with a per-capita Gross National Income of only $1550, it is in 127th position among 180-plus countries in the world.

“Politicians say that is because of population explosion and poverty. But poverty is not the main problem. If the government was focused on good schooling and healthcare for all, and the infrastructure in the first 30 years after Independence in 1947, we could have managed poverty, and the population would not have exploded. We were 300 million in 1947. Remember Samar, education is the best contraceptive ever invented. Now India ranks near the bottom in the United Nation’s Human Development Index, but high up in Transparency International’s Corruption Index.

“And the rule-based society we inherited from the British is today in shambles. Instead only money, muscle and influence matter.

“At independence we were proud of our political leaders. Today, everybody knows they are scoundrels and criminals. They have created jungles of laws in the holy name of socialism, and used them to line their pockets and create patronage networks. No influential crook ever suffers. The Mafia flourishes unhindered — they have political connections.  The sons of politicians behave as if they’ll inherit their parents’ mantle. Talent cannot take you far in that environment.

“We are reverting to our ancient feudal system where no rules apply to the powerful. The British brought the abstract concepts of equality before the law. Sixty years later, citizens wail that India is a lawless land – the equivalent of the American Wild West in the East.”

I could not resist smiling at his colorful, insightful imagery.

“I have heard of an IAS probationer at the Delhi Training Academy pointing out that in India before the British came, making money and distributing favors to relatives was not considered a perversion of power. It was the very rationale of power. A feudal official had a duty to enrich his family and caste. Then the British came and imposed a new ethical code on officials. Indians in power today, even as they are imitating everything Gora, ask, ‘Why should we continue to choose the British codes and rules, now that we are independent?’

“The lack of transparency and perverting of rules at every opportunity are why talented Indians cannot rise in India. The Neta-Raj with cronies and retainers remains intact despite the economic liberalization.

“But once talented Indians go to rule-based societies, they take off. In those societies all people play by the same rules, more or less, all have freedom to innovate without being strangled by cliques and cronies.

“This, then, is why Indians succeed in countries ruled by Non-Indians, and fail in their own. It is the saddest story of the century. Be Indian but NOT in India.”

My friend finally stopped.  We rose up as the air got chillier outside. It was sad to see this train of thought in a radical patriot in his autumn years. He was totally disillusioned.

“But then again, Umesh, how come some Indians in India became billionaires?”  I asked.

It was past midnight. He was exhausted after this cathartic torrent. He said, “That will be on another day when you come to my home in Bombay.  Till then you keep searching the answer for yourself.”  ♦

No Comments

Journey in Resolving Multiple Identities

Editor’s Note: Priyanka Srinivasa grew up in Murrysville, PA, an Eastern Suburb of Pittsburgh.  She graduated this year earning her bachelor’s degree with Magna Cum Laude from the American University’s School of International Service (SIS).  She was the speaker during the graduation ceremonies at SIS.  Here is the major portion of her speech. Priyanka can be reached at

Priyanka Picture“I came to SIS — the School of International Studies — at American University with goals of developing the professional skills I needed to represent a Hindu voice in US Foreign policy. But in a region like South Asia with thousands of years of civilization, conquest, colonialism, and Partition, history is complex. Whose story was I telling? Who was I leaving behind? At the same time, I knew I was Indian and American.

“As a member of a minority community in America, I was expected and pressured to represent this community. I felt torn between needing to represent my community and knowing what it meant to be a South Asian. How could I represent what I did not know? I was torn by feelings of responsibility and feelings of uncertainty.

“Feeling lost, I sought refuge when reading Todorov’s Conquest of America in Professor Patrick Thaddeus’ Jackson’s World Politics class.  I read: “The man who finds his country sweet is only a raw beginner; the man for whom each country is as his own is already strong; but only the man for whom the whole world is as a foreign country is perfect.” This was so powerful — “The man for whom the whole world is as a foreign country is perfect.”  Foreigner, Videshi, Deconocido… Stranger. When a stranger encounters a strange land, she is forced to be humble…

“Being a stranger is not easy. Being a stranger requires that we accept not only uncertainty but also humility. During my sophomore year in Ambassador Akbar Ahmed’s “World of Islam” class, I had a fellow-student in the ROTC program who had a diametrically opposed world-view to my own. In class, we discussed the politics of identity in post-9-11 America. The subject matter was close to my heart because it was my living experience. In recent years, Sikh and Hindu communities in the US have suffered hate crimes — as a Hindu American I watched, and was horrified.

“Our conflicting views turned into an intense, explosive disagreement. We were both intransigent, locked into a conflict that rose from what we imagined the other to be. We could not hear each other …

“Quite suddenly I realized — just because I was talking to someone in a uniform, it did not mean I was talking to a uniform. The man underneath it was as dynamic and human as I am. We were not trying to solve our differences — we were confronting them.

“Pedagogical environments lead us to certain kinds of estrangement. SIS did not solve of my or anyone else’s identity. SIS helped me learn to dwell in the ambiguity of who we are. Estrangement does not have a fairy tale ending — an easy casting away of differences. Estrangement is… … confronting humanity of the ‘Other’ without dissolving his/her ‘Otherness’.”

“SIS helped me recognize that humanity is not a collective singular, but a dynamic, organic, fervent, and beautiful force. I recognized humanity at SIS by going deeper and deeper into myself and by ‘confronting’ other views and minds. I was only able to do that when I became a stranger and questioned my initial identity and myself.

“So, go out and interrogate your worldview. What makes us, the SIS Students, is our ability to question…. The School educates students to recognize humanity through humility. The service we bring to the world is figuring out the questions for everyone to see, and that is enough.

“I have come to terms that perhaps I will not resolve my conflict of being an Indian, an American, and a Hindu… I have come to terms that this is my beginning. By studying my own identity, I have realized that I am a stranger. I have questions which I will spend the rest of my life figuring out.

“If there is one lesson I will give to you, it is this: Reject simple historical narratives. Reject it. Learn to be a stranger to it. It does not mean we have no heritage, no home, no identity. But it does mean we are not bound and constrained by the chains that ascribe us through guilt… My journey did not make me any less of a Hindu. My incessant questioning of identity makes even more proud to call myself a Hindu.

“Thank you, the Faculty at SIS, for spending countless hours cultivating our minds. Thank you, all my mentors for giving me the confidence to keep asking larger questions. Thank you, Amma and Appa — my mother and father — for trusting me to find my voice. I will not let you down. Thank you American University School of International Service for letting me tell my story.” ♦

No Comments

Transitions: Usha and Ram Chandra Moving to West Coast

Usha and Dr. Ram Chandra of Mt Lebanon, after nearly 30 years of productive professional and social lives here, are moving to San Jose, Calif, to live close to their daughter and grandchildren in their retirement. They are with their first grandchild Alok in the picture.  They are moving in early July, 2014

Usha & ChandraDr. Chandra practiced pediatric gastroenterolgy at the Mercy Hospital as its director of Pediatric GI program, compassionately treating children having problems in the digestive tract. He was a clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine and an academic staff at UPMC Children’s Hospital.  He has published many peer-reviewed articles in medical journals.

Usha was active at the S.V.Temple as a volunteer and in its governing bodies. She had helped organize the annual Pongal events at the Temple and others with arangetrams for years. She was active in the Tamil Nadu Foundation supporting charities in Tamil Nadu, India. Usha earned an MS in physics from Madras University, and administered her husband’s practice.

Ram Chandra, a connoisseur of Tamil film songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, has entertained many friends singing from memory. Chandra’s wacky sense of humor is known among his friends.

The Chandras supported the Pittsburgh Patrika providing encouragement and through ads in the magazine’s early critical days.

Their friends in Pittsburgh wish them good health and happiness in their retirement.  —  By K S Venkataraman  ♦

No Comments

Race- and Ethnicity-based Affirmative Action

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


In April, the US Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the public universities in the state. It was not, the court stressed, deciding the larger, divisive question of whether racial preference in admission policies can be lawful.

The U.S. has a checkered history in assimilating new immigrants particularly in the early decades of the immigrants’ arrival.  Early Italians, the Irish, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics and Mexicans faced blatant discrimination in housing and education. For many years, Ivy League schools kept Jewish students out by design. Women too had problems getting into colleges.

Blacks came here as slaves against their will, and hence are not “immigrants” as the term is generally understood. Theirs is a painful history in getting integrated into the education system and in athletics in schools, colleges, and even professional sports. Their assimilation even today appears to be a work in progress. The US is not unique in this. Every nation state has its own problems with immigrants. But what makes the U.S. unique is that its Declaration of Independence explicitly states “All men are created equal,” and the country itself was built by immigrants. The harsh history of Native Americans is in an entirely different basket.

Societies in transition, like individuals in rehab, are prone to recidivism. So, educators and social scientists worry that this Supreme Court ruling, if implemented nationwide in both private and public institutions, will turn back the clock. So, understandably they wonder how to keep diversity in their student body. As the latest immigrants, we need to grasp the import of this ruling.

In the last three decades, a large percentage of the latest immigrant groups from Asia and the Indian subcontinent have integrated themselves into the American Middle Class in suburbia.  This is because of the selective immigration policies. The US uses filters to let in Asians only with education, talents and skills that are in demand, or who are the blood relatives of these immigrants. These policies are periodically fine-tuned making it more difficult for the “sponsored” relatives to migrate.

Because of selectively choosing immigrants from Asia — a large number of them are engineers, doctors, lawyers, managers, scientists who put a premium on education — Indian- and Asian-Americans are over represented in the student bodies of American universities.

Therefore, children of Indian- and Asian-Americans are no longer considered a minority in college admissions. In an earlier article ( we welcomed this decision.

Since our kids are competing with others without any preferential treatment, they are forced to strive and give their very best in school work and extracurricular activities — a trait that will stay with them when they join the work force. This is good for them personally, and good for society at large. After all, when everyone tries to do his/her best, all benefit.

This is important also in another important way:  When our young men and women graduate from schools without having received preferential treatment in admission, psychologically they are confident and self-assured. This smoothens their interactions with coworkers, vendors, and clients. Since they stand out in their appearance, their confident demeanor makes a big difference in how they are perceived by the US mainstream.

Besides, tolerating under-performance because of race and ethnicity drags down morale. That is why armed forces all over the world resist the quota system in promoting people, even though they may give preference for a diverse work force at the entry level.

But in American educational institutions, for a variety of historical, social, economic and cultural reasons, Blacks and Hispanics are under-represented in the student bodies. The US News and World Report ranks US universities on the basis of the ethnic diversity of its undergraduate student body. Here are the rankings of some of the schools (1.00 means highly diversified and 0 means not at all diversified). See here:


Rutgers U.:                    0.77        Stanford U*:                          0.74
MIT*:                             0.70        Univ. Calif. Berkeley:            0.67
Carnegie Mellon U*:     0.62        U. Chicago*                           0.56
Cleveland State U:        0.48        George Washington U:         0.47
U. of Pittsburgh:           0.32         North Carolina St. U:           0.35
Duquesne U*:               0.22         Florida A&M:                        0.10

* Private Universities       International students excluded


We see that some of the private universities are highly diverse racially/ethnically, while some of the public universities are not. So educators’ anxiety in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s judgment striking down affirmative action is not entirely misplaced.

But racial diversity of the student body says nothing about the socio-economic diversity. We can make a case that an injustice is being done to White and Indian-, and Asian-American kids from low-income homes who do not have professionally educated parents to guide them in their middle and high-school years and send them to expensive coaching classes. These low-income parents — people working in restaurants and grocery stores; or driving taxis on erratic schedules — often work two low-paying jobs having long working hours.

For example, young men and women from low-income Indian-American families with less educated parents have great disadvantage when competing with children of professional Indian-Americans for college admissions. This is true among low-income Whites as well.

The opposite is the case with Black children from affluent families — homes of lawyers, doctors, and managers, not to speak of star athletes in the NFL, NBA or MLB. Do these kids still need the Affirmative Action crutch in college admissions when compared with Black children from low-income families?

So, race and ethnicity all by themselves cannot be and should not be a weighted criterion in school admissions. We need to factor in race only where necessary, and economic class where warranted. This becomes important given the sharply uneven income and wealth distribution in US households in the last 20 years.

After all, what is the point in having racially and ethnically diverse student bodies if the students come from the same slice of the economic class—from the homes of upper middle class professionals or better?  ♦

No Comments

What is More Important in Education? Teaching or Learning?

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


Children often tell their parents about how good or bad this or that teacher is in schools. Parents too tacitly agree when children complain about teachers. Implicit in this is the expectation that a greater responsibility for students’ learning is on the schools and teachers.

But does this tell the whole story?  No is the simple answer. Of course, the school’s ambience and emphasis on academics and the inspiration of teachers to students are important in any learning. Inspiring teachers are known to push many kids to better academic performance. That was certainly the case with me in my high school and college education.  I am sure many would vouch for this in the context of their own education.

But then we also know that even with “dull” teachers in “tough” courses in “bad” schools, some students always perform well in exams.  How to explain this? A verse in an ancient Hindu classic poignantly attempts to answer this very question.

Subhaashitaavali, literally meaning “A Series of Well Said Sayings,” is a compendium of over 3000 verses in Sanskrit. The verses by various poets and wisemen spanning over 12 to 15 centuries were collated five centuries ago by Vallabhadeva, a Kashmiri Brahmin and a Sanskrit pandit (scholar).  In Shubhaashitavali, each verse is complete by itself in its import on topics from the profound to the profane, and everything in between.

Here is one on education, specifically on learning. Students and parents will be helping themselves if they internalize the central message in what follows. Here is the Sanskrit original for people to enjoy:

Subhaashitaavali on EducationIn transliteration,

AchAryAt pAdamAdattE pAdam sishyah svamEdhayA;
sa-brahmaacAribhyah pAdam pAdam kAlakramENa ca.

Here is the translation:

One fourth [of knowledge or learning] is from the teacher;
One fourth from the student’s natural intelligence;
One fourth from [discussions with] classmates;
And one fourth in due course of time.

Note that the emphasis on transmission of skills and knowledge is not on teaching but on learning. The onus for grasping the material taught in classes is on students, and not on the teachers alone. Teachers are obviously important.  But the hard work in understanding the material is to be done by students through attention, focus, curiosity, self-study, and discussions with fellow students.

Also, what students lack in native intelligence they can always offset, partly in any case, by effort, as was the case with me throughout my education, given my unique socioeconomic background.

Students who burn the midnight oil ploughing through difficult subjects such as theoretical physics, organic chemistry, calculus, thermodynamics, anatomy/physiology, biochemistry, grammar, creative writing, etc, and manage to get decent grades can appreciate the import of this pithy Sanskrit verse.  ♦

No Comments

Obama’s Presidency in Two Trendlines

Obama’s foreign policy is a mess with what happened or is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, and now Crimea/Ukrain/Russia. But on home front, he is safe by and large. See the plots below.

Dow Jones during Obama1

Unemployment under Obama 1

 No wonder, his GOP/Tea Party detractors see that they are not getting any traction when they criticize Obama on the economy and unemployment. So they pile on him on foreign policy issues. But the war-weary nation is in no mood to engage in one more military misadventure sacrificing in blood and spending billions in treasury. The president recognizes this well as we see in his commencement speech at West Point in May 2014.

For the uninitiated, the cost of the over 10-year wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is nearly $2 trillion and counting. And several TRILLIONS more in deferred payment for taking care of the wounded and mentally scarred war veterans, now in their 20s, for the next several decades.— K S Venkataraman

No Comments

Shades of Attitudes & Habits of Imperialism Linger On

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

When Narendra Modi becoming India’s next real prime minister became all but certain, but before the actual results came out, the White House issued President Obama’s prepared statement that the Indian English media gleefully reported with great relish. See;;

President Obama’s was a boilerplate statement prepared by his staff that heads of nations routinely issue when important nation-states go through political changes — talking about looking forward to work with the new leadership, shared values and challenges confronting them, long historical relationships…   Often, in the busy schedule these heads of states have, they rely heavily on their staff in drafting the statements that go in their names.    

But one comment issued in the President’s name issued on May 12 (before election results) was worth noting. The statement by the president included this: “India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom.”

 While the anglicized Indian media were drooling this comment, I could only see shades of the imperial conceit of the Colonial Era and a patronizing tone characteristic of political missionaries. Here is why:

After all, this is not India’s first parliamentary election. This was the 16th national elections after its independence in 1947. And ever since its independence, India has always been, and will continue to be the largest, most open and most diverse democratic nation-state on earth. 

On every measure of diversity — ethnicity, race, religions and religious practices, faith and faithlessness, intellectual inquiry and philosophical traditions, social groups, arts and entertainment, music, languages, dress habits, culinary traditions, extremes of weather, landscape, geography, types of grains, fruits, vegetables harvested cooked and eaten, variety of healthcare available (and affordable) — India stands leaps and bound ahead of all others. 

So, India for the last 60-plus years, and through the last 15 nationwide parliamentary elections, has been setting an example for the world “in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom.” Nothing new here. It is now routine and blasé.

With over 500 million people voting (66% of the voters cast their ballot in the scorching heat), there was no complaints about rigging, or election officials’ bias or bowing to the pressures of the ruling party. The defeated candidates accepted the verdict, congratulated their opponents and moved on as it routinely happens in all mature democracies. 

When is the last time the US congratulated, say, Italy, or Germany, or the France, or the UK, or Japan “for inspiring example of the power of the democratic process in action… … and for the vibrancy, diversity, and resilience of their democracy” ?

So, going forward, the US, the leader of the Industrialized West, its media, political class and bureaucracy, and the opinion makers in Think Tanks may be helping themselves by refining their understanding of India’s history and complexities before issuing somewhat patronizing statements.   For starters, opinion makers in the Industrialized West need to learn to look at India comprehensively on India’s own complex terms, and NOT

  • through the habituated Western prisms colored by the out-of-date vocabulary of colonial occupation, imperialism, and missionary work; or
  • through the NGOs they are funding; or
  • through what they hear from the self-serving religious and/or ideologically driven social scientists lobbying groups, or
  • through India’s culturally and linguistically disengaged anglicized upper crust they feel comfortable relating to.

No Comments

The US State Department Needs to Come to Terms with Modi in Power

 Kollengode S Venkataraman

Diplomats and PR peoples are paid to deftly evade answering questions, even when they know the correct, but inconvenient, answer.  So, it is astounding to read the response of State Department spokeswomen Jen Psaki’s to questions about Modi’s visa issue, when on May 12th, four days before the actual counting began,  it became imminent that Modi would be the next democratically elected prime minister of India.

Initially, Psaki ducked the question nonchalantly using her PR skills:  “As you know, we don’t talk about visa applications. We’re looking forward to working with the new Indian government when they’re elected, [and]  I’m not going to speculate on that given, obviously, the results haven’t been announced yet.”

Then Psaki clarified very inelegantly, diplomatically speaking:  “Heads of state and heads of government are eligible for A1 visa classification under the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act]. [But] No individual automatically qualifies for a US visa… … US law exempts foreign government officials, individuals – including heads of state and heads of government for certain potential inadmissibility grounds… I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.”

Now, everyone knows that consular officials of every country have their own rules and regulations for granting/denying visas to foreign politicians. Often, these officials don’t even have to tell why they have denied the visa.  They also have enormous leeway in granting or denying visas on advice from their political bosses back home. We all understand this. 

But Ms Psaki explicitly and publicly stating that heads of states are “eligible” for getting the US A-1 visa, and further that “they [the US Consular officials] can, on the ‘grounds of inadmissibility’ deny visas to heads of state,” is astounding for its lack of diplomatic niceties. 

One wonders if Ms Psaki speaking for the State department with the security and commercial interests of US in mind, or for the vested interests within the State Department supporting the anti-Modi lobbying groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals (representing 42,000 Evangelical Churches), and the Coalition Against Genocide consisting of organizations of Christian, Muslim, and many left-leaning organizations run by Indian Expats in the US.

This kind of grandstanding is reminiscent if Imperial Colonial-Era European Powers in dealings with their colonies. But today, the US, the Sole Super Power, by the never-ending deployment of its lethal and supposedly “surgically precise” military weapons all over the world, is left with few allies willing to go with it in its martial adventures.  It stands isolated and weakened politically and diplomatically in global politics.  India, with all its faults — which country does not have its share of faults? —  is a 1.25-billion people stable democracy and a responsible nation-state in that troubled part of the world.  The US needs India as much as India needs the US. 

So, it is astonishing that career diplomats at the State Department have not come to grips with this reality. Sometime these officials appear to exude the grandeur of the Mughal and the British Empire in their waning days.

Modi is a seasoned politician having fought and succeeded in the ugly rough-and-tumble Indian electoral politics for over fifteen years. He has been elected four consecutive times in state elections in India. On many measures, and certainly not in all, he has improved the lot his people in the Indian state of Gujarat, a state as large as Italy in population.

The characteristics common to all wielders of political power – elected officials of all ideologies, monarchs, and despots — all over the world are their assuredness bordering on arrogance that comes naturally with raw power, national pride, and long memory of public snubs and humiliations.

Since 2005, the US State Department officials, at the urging of heavy anti-Modi lobbying groups — the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Coalition Against Genocide consisting of organizations of Christian, Muslim, and many left-leaning organizations run by Indian Expats in the US — have heaped repeated insults on Mr. Modi on the Visa issue.  They need to remember that Modi is a popularly elected chief executive of India with a population of nearly 1/6th of the world’s 6 billion people,  and more importantly, the only stable democratic nation-state in that part of the world.  And Modi and the Indian establishement  is only too aware of this.

So what makes US officials to think that Modi is only too eager to apply for his visa to come to the US any time soon to be photographed meeting with leaders of elected officials at the US Capitol? Or meeting with the POTUS in the Oval Office? Or for that matter, even having meeting celebrities in a State dinner on the White House lawn?   ♦

No Comments