Archive for category July 2015

International Air Travel: US & Persian Gulf Air Carriers Compete — Travelers Stand to Gain

By Kollengode S. Venkataraman


For people traveling from second-tier cities like Pittsburgh and Raleigh in the US to second-tier cities in the Indian subcontinent (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Lucknow, Peshawar, Kochi) the gate-to-gate travel time can be daunting. Often three stopovers — a major hub in the US, a brief layover in Europe, another major hub in India like Mumbai or Delhi with long layovers.

Seniors or people traveling with infants and kids despair even before they leave home. This has changed now.


A few years ago, the Big-3 Persian Gulf carriers — Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — started their nonstops to US cities beyond JFK. We now have 18 nonstops to US cities such as Dallas, Houston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Miami, to their hubs in Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai in the Persian Gulf. Incidentally, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, new entrants to high-end international travel, have state-of-the-art hubs and airport facilities. Later, the Big-3 US carriers (Delta, United, and American) also started their nonstops to the Persian Gulf to get their market share.


The Big-3 Persian Gulf carriers have nonstop flights from their hubs to second-tier cities like Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Goa, Kochi, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, and Peshawar in the Indian subcontinent.

Several regional air carriers like Air India Express, Jet Airways, IndiGo also have nonstops from these Persian hubs to several other second-tier cities in the Indian subcontinent.

Because of these options, the gate-to-gate travel times between second tier cities in the US and the Indian subcontinent are shortened anywhere from 4 to 6 hours or even better.

With the Open Skies policies in the US for international carriers, the Big-3 US carriers are feeling the heat from competition from these big Persian Gulf carriers. These new comers have much younger fleet, better and wider range of in-cabin service (like food, entertainment, and importantly, cabin crew). Besides, the Persian Gulf hubs are huge shopping/entertainment complexes with even hotels within the airport for long layovers. The Business Class service in these new entrants is far better than what the US carriers offer.


So, these new Persian Gulf airlines are now luring away international travelers from established US and European carriers such as Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, Delta, United, and American. These legacy airlines for decades had almost 100% share of the international travelers from the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Africa. Those days are gone for good.

The Big-3 US carriers are complaining to the US government that the Persian Gulf’s Big-3 get unfair financial subsidies from their governments. Not many in the US who understand global travel are convinced.

In any case, international travelers in second-tier cities in the Indian subcontinent and North America now have more travel options, shorter gate-to-gate travel time between their home towns in the US to their destinations in India, and possibly also less expensive tickets. The in-cabin service in US carriers may even improve with competition, and the competition will keep the air fare in check.


In the man-eat-man world of international air travel business, India’s air carriers and big airports in India have missed chance to lure international travelers compared to the Persian Gulf’s Big-3 carriers and their hubs like Dubai. On this also, India will be perpetually in the catching-up mode.

The Pittsburgh International Airport has excellent infrastructure and resources for easy, hassle-free and quick international arrivals and departures. And within a 100-mile radius, this is a first class airport.

There are enough international travelers —  business people, students, government officials, researchers and university teachers  —  living within a 100-mile radius around the Pittsburgh Metro region.  

If these travelers’ final destination is anywhere in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok), East Africa, or the Middle East, and if we have a nonstop from PIT to a Persian Gulf city like Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, we can reduce our gate-to-gate travel time by at least 6 to 8 hours, or even longer. And the air travel more convenient.

If you know elected officials in Pittsburgh, or the airport administrators at PIT, or our regional business leaders, persuade them to look beyond Europe and explore getting a nonstop to one of the Persian Gulf hubs from the Steel City before some other city in our region gets it.  ∎ END


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Proxy War: The Syrian Axis Dividing the World

Kris Gopal, South Hills, PA


A proxy war as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is a war instigated by a major power, which does not itself become involved. Typically proxy wars function best during cold wars, as they become a necessity in conducting armed conflict between two belligerents while continuing cold warfare. Proxy wars are those in which the main actors face conflict through the use of other means—proxies. These proxies range from aid and arms supplies to full use of troops, not simply the act of war itself; there are many ways for outside forces to contribute to war and conflict between entities other than itself. Proxy war is covert and illegal, yet still frequently used as a strategy today. The earlier conflict between the regime and the Taliban in Afghanistan (in 1970) and how the super powers, United States and Russia, were drawn into the conflict is a classic example of proxy war.

Our history is replete with innumerable proxy wars from time immemorial — from the Abhyssinian-Adal war in 1529, from the colonial era to the present second Saudi-Yemen War. The list is too numerous to mention all.

The present Syrian conflict is a proxy war at best, with the civil uprising in the country being manipulated by three super powers, China, Russia and United States of America. Syria is a complicated place and an important player in Middle Eastern and global relations.

First and foremost, Syria is the third arm of the anti-Israeli and anti-West, Iran-Hezbollah-Syria alliance, a Shia threesome that opposes the set of Sunni-led powers in the Middle East. Syria’s population is dominated by Sunnis, but the Assad family, who are Shias, controls the country.

In addition, Syria buys some $150-million worth of arms from Russia every year and hosts a Russian naval port on its Mediterranean Sea Coast. It has been lorded over by the ruthless Assad family for more than 40 years, with democracy a forbidden notion. And it is situated at a continental crossroads, between the energy riches of Eurasia and the Middle East and the energy-hungry markets of Europe.

Syrian conflict has triggered something more fundamental than a difference of opinion. In sixteen months, the situation in Syria has mutated from an uprising in outlying areas into full-scale civil war. Now it has mutated into a proxy war between the great powers.

The Russians have been arming Bashar al Assad’s regime and the West is arming the rebels. The Saudis and the Persian Gulf countries are funneling weapons straight to the Sunnis. The arms are trickling across the Syria’s borders with Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. The CIA has been channeling the weapons to the “right” people away from al-Qaeda, but who the right people are anybody’s guess. A rag tag of village insurgents and army defectors is coming together as a fighting force. The regime and its opponents are now fighting with special savagery.

While the savagery is going on, the Syrian exile leaders are frittering away time sitting outside, where they discussed their plans in Cairo to get their act together. Divisions along the lines of clan, tribe, ethnicity and Islamic sects would make a united front difficult to achieve. It appears that the Assads, father and son, were more skillful than Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi in keeping their opposition weak and divided.

So the Great powers are facing off in the most volatile region on Earth, which may have a destabilizing effect in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and even beyond. Russians and Americans are restrained because of the dangerous standoff over the neighboring Iran.

Russia helped build Iran’s nuclear program, China needs Iranian oil and both are willing to support Iran’s defense of the region’s Shias, including Syria’s Alawites. The US and Saudis are lined up behind the Sunnis.

But while Russia and the US want to keep the confrontation at low ebb, their proxies — Iran and Syria on one side, and Israel and Saudi Arabia on other — will seek to drag them deeper. Both Russia and China see the Syrian issue through their own political lenses.  They understand Assad well and support the dictator.

In this complex world of fighting by proxies, now U.S is finding itself caught in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.


Making sense of proxy wars, by Michael Innes.

The world deployed by Scot L Bills.

World History, by Jonathan Drsner. Pittsburgh State University.

The New York review of Books. How Syria divided the world,  by Michael Ignatiff

Caught in the cross fire, by Massimo Calabresi, in Time Magazine. April 2015


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5-k Charity Event by Pittsburgh Indian Community & Friends (PIC)

By PIC-5-k Volunteer Team, Pittsburgh, PA 

We call Pittsburgh our home. So, let’s give back to the city that all of us have benefited from in many ways. Many of us support nonprofit charities on an annual basis. However, there is still a perception in local public that our community does not contribute enough and that we are somehow indifferent to the local issues despite our education and success. The mission of PIC-5k is to bring our community together to raise funds for deserving Pittsburgh-based nonprofits and demonstrate our commitment to Pittsburgh.

PIC-5-k Nagpal
So, in this spirit, we organized our inaugural event last September. We were pleased that over 600 people participated in the event and raised over $35,000. This was accomplished by the support from over eighteen  organizations representing our diverse backgrounds and religious organizations. We came together under the canopy of the 5k event — an impressive way to showcase our Unity in Diversity!

The funds raised directly benefitted these Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organizations: 1) Homeless Children Education Fund and 2) Primary Care Health Services, Inc.

The PIC-5k this year is on Saturday, September 12th at the North Park Boat House. Mark your calendar.

We urge you to join this event with family, friends and colleagues. The scenic course takes you around the lake, and it is perhaps the best way to meet and greet all your friends and even make new friends. This is a family event and people of all ages are encouraged to participate. Also, the event is open to all and please ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers to join regardless of their background. Help us to reach our goal of 2,000 participants this year.

Let’s make a difference in the region and the larger community that we are a part of.   Please visit us at, and like us at

Our criteria for selecting registered Nonprofits for support with funds: 1) Focus on serving the local community. 2)  Small, yet effective organizations where our contributions can make a difference.  3) Specific programs with measurable outcome.

With these objectives we set for ourselves, we made a list of  local Nonprofits and understood their activities. We then short-listed a few of them for our purpose, visiting them talking to their leaders to understand their operations and the impact on the community.

We satisfied ourselves that the Nonprofits would benefit from our contributions, and further that they would work with us and report to us for assessing the impact of our support.


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On Intellectual Arrogance

Patrika Logo for Website

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


In all cultures, there is always an undercurrent of tension between wealthy patrons and the recipient honorees receiving their patronage. This is simply because the recipients of the patronage — typically poets, painters, musicians, sculptors, and others with creative minds — are temperamental people to begin with; they are also conscious of their creative talents, and the lack of it among their patrons. The patrons, while aware of their limits, are sometimes genuine to help these artistes. But more often, they want to tell the world that they patronize artists. They also know the recipients need their support much more. In all sophisticated cultures, this patronage is expected of wealth and power. In the Krishnadevaraya’s court in the Vijayanagara Empire, he had eight poets of great talents, called  Ashta-dig-gajas, literally, “elephants in eight directions.” Allasani Peddanna and Nandi Timmanna are the famous two.

Both the patrons and the recipients need great skills to negotiate their mutually dependent transactional interactions. Otherwise tension spills over in public. I have heard these stories in 20th century India:

♣  Sahir Ludhianvi, a great Hindi/Urdu poet went with idealism to Pakistan on Partition in 1947. Once in Pakistan, he saw that the literary ambience there was not what he expected. He was even jailed for his leftist writings in Savera, the Urdu daily. In disgust he returned to India, never going to Pakistan even as a visitor. In India he was a star lyricist.

♣  Veteran Hindustani vocalist Bade Gulam Ali Khan too went to Pakistan during Partition hoping for better patronage. He was disillusioned with the condescension he got from the bureaucrats running Radio Pakistan. He returned to India in revulsion. He too was a star in India.

♣  Closer to our time, I’ve heard that there was some bad blood between the Andhra-born Telugu-speaking Balamuralikrishna, the veteran Karnatic vocalist based in Chennai, and N.T.Rama Rao, the founder of Telugu Desam Party and the powerful chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. Balamuralikrishna never performed in Andhra Pradesh as long as N.T.Rama Rao was the chief minister.

♣  Poet Kannadasan was a legend in his own life as a lyricist dominating Tamil cinema in the 50s, 60s, 70s; and well into the 80s. In the Tamil Cinema dominated by superstar heroes, MGR ruled the roost in this time. There was a disagreement between MGR and Kannadasan. Kannadasan felt slighted in the exchange between the two. Feeling slighted, Kannadasan simply refused to write lyrics for MGR films for years and years and yet dominated Tamil cinema as a song writer.  That is how self-assured the poet was.

Finally, MGR recognized his mistake, relented and invited Kannadasan to write lyrics for his film.  The very fist song he wrote for MGR after this invitation was a great hit.

♣  O.P.Nayyar, a well-known music director never used Lata Mangeshkar when Lata dominated Hindi cinema, because of personality clash. Nayyar went on to become a celebrity music director without Lata.

There is nothing new in the intellectual arrogance of people with talents. As a matter of fact, this is very old. Here is an example from 5th century India of a Sanskrit poet responding to the perceived arrogance of his patron king (source: Vairagya satakam by Bhartrhari).

Bharthari ArroganceHere is the non-poetical Translation:

You’re a king; [but] we too are self-assured of our wisdom acquired from teachers we served;

You’re celebrated for your wealth and grandeur;  our fame [too] is known in all quarters spread by our peers.

Thus, there is a divide between us both. If you are cold towards us,  we too are perfectly content to be indifferent towards you.

In the 10th century Tamil Nadu lived Kambar, a great poet, who rendered Ramayanam in 10,000 Tamil verses that goes by his name, Kamba Ramayanam. His patron was the Chola King Kulottungan. Due to some unknown reason — unknown to me in any case — Kambar felt insulted by his Chola patron.

He left Kulottungan’s court in disgust, writing his resignation letter in a four-line verse (in the style of veNbaa) dripping in anger and sarcasm.

Here is the Tamil original:

Kambar Resignation

Here is a free translation of the above sarcastic verse dripping composed in rhetorical flourish:

And you too are a king?  And yours is this prosperous kingdom?

I nurtured Tamil [here] knowing you as well as I do [now]?

Is there a king who will NOT eagerly take me into his court?

Is there a bough in any tree that will not accept a monkey?

I hope I succeeded in bringing out in the English translation the rhetorical flourish in the Tamil original.  This is perhaps the only instance of a resignation letter in verse form conforming to all the rules of grammar, rhyming, and alliteration, dripping in anger borne out of a combination humiliation and intellectual arrogance.  And written in supreme self-confidence.

When the patrons and recipients know both of them need to nurture their  symbiotic relationship, both gain. Even the outside world gains. After all, true artists are kings in their own right.  But when this does not happen, there is always potential for hell breaking loose.

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India in Transition: Trying to Initiate A Radical Arranged Marriage

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


There is a wide perception in the West that Indians are “traditional” and “orthodox” and very caste-conscious when it comes to marriage. One proof they cite are the matrimonial ads in Indian dailies — for that matter also in Pakistani and Bangladeshi dailies — in which the grooms’ and brides’ parents seek alliance from parents of potential brides and grooms respectively, identifying their religion, sects and subsects, caste and subcastes, native tongue, food habits, and so on.

Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs are no exception in this even though Christianity, Islam and the Sikh faith do not nominally recognize caste. The caste system may have a Hindu origin, but today, in practical terms, it pervades the entire South Asian population across all faiths. However, India is also rapidly changing. This is obvious to those willing to see and understand the details of today’s marriages not only among the upper crust and its middle class, but also among the working poor. In this milieu, any departure is a welcome change.

Given this context, one recent matrimonial ad in a Mumbai tabloid drew wide attention for its departure from the norm, and went viral. This unique matrimonial ad invited proposals for a gay Iyer man (Iyer is a stereotypical name of a Tamil Brahmin subsect) from potential gay grooms. Later, the man’s identity was revealed: Harrish Iyer. See the picture.

Harrish Iyer

Incidentally, South Indian Tamil Brahmins are caricatured in the media all over India as orthodox, religious, traditional, old-fashioned, subservient, compliant…  and not courageous, daring and not entrepreneurial. The famous examples in my younger days (1960s and 1970s) were the well-known Ranganathan character in the Hindi film Rajni Gandha; and the actor Mehmood’s tasteless slap-stick caricaturing of Tamil Brahmins in Hindi films.

However, people outside the Tamil Brahmins’ group also would grudgingly acknowledge privately this: these Brahmins, in general, are studious, hardworking, diligent, and single-minded in their pursuits. They are also self-effacing and low-key in their public persona and with their higher-ups. The Tamil Brahmins are also reviled subtly and not-so-subtly by outsiders for these very reasons. The powerful Brahmin-hating Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s portrayed Tamil Brahmins as wily, crafty and diabolical; and also as the root cause for all evils in the Tamil society.

In any case, the matrimonial ad read, “Seeking 25-40, well- placed, animal-loving, vegetarian groom [for a man] (36, 5’11”) who works with an NGO, caste no bar (though Iyer preferred).” This matrimonial ad from a gay young man from among the tradition-bound South Indian Brahmins seeking alliance with a gay man, understandably,  went viral. Within a day or two Harrish Iyer, got over 70 proposals.

The Hindustan Times reported ( Iyer saying, “Most proposals … …  were from men from the Iyer community, given the preference mentioned in the ad… …  Proposals had come from all over world, including from Australia, the UK, the US and even Saudi Arabia. Apart from Iyers, many Gujaratis and Muslims also expressed interest… … Some proposals said they were fine with all my preferences and wanted to marry me, but were meat-eaters. An interesting proposal came from Abu Dhabi, where a man offered me his palatial house to live in after marriage.”

Though the ad was radical in every measure, there was also a traditional, and simultaneously, a very radical Indian twist to this ad. The full ad reads thus: “Seeking 25-40, well placed, animal-loving, vegetarian groom for my son (36, 5’11”) who works with an NGO, caste no bar (though Iyer preferred).” (Emphasis mine).

After all,  the ad, in one fundamental measure, was not radical at all, but very, very traditional. For, it was placed, not by Harrish Iyer himself courageously seeking a same-sex partner in marriage, but by Harrish’s mother Padma Iyer, who supports her son’s gay identity and even walked with him in the Queer Azadi Mumbai parade. At another level, it was as radical as it gets anywhere in the world — a mother placing a matrimonial ad seeking proposals from other gay men for her gay son.

We wish Harrish Iyer well in his life whoever he chooses to be his partner and wherever he chooses to live. And we hope that in his married life with a gay partner of his choice — and also his mother’s choice, if you go by the ad — the Indian tradition stops with his mother helping him choose his partner. Ok, give her some slack: Maybe, with her finalizing Harrish Iyer’s wedding details.

If it extends beyond his traditionally arranged, yet very radical gay Indian marriage, it has the potential of his mother’s shadowy presence interfering — and even wrecking — his gay marriage, as it happens so often in traditionally arranged straight Desi marriages.


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The Pittsburgh Triveni Samskrita Mela 2015

By Asmita Ranganathan, Sudarshan Narayanan, Harichandan Mantripragada, and Jyotsna Kalavar

Samskrira Bharati USA, Pittsburgh Chapter

The Samskrita Bharati USA’s Pittsburgh Chapter, extends an invitation to all Sanskrit aficionados in and around the Pittsburgh area to participate and to support Pittsburgh Triveni Samskrita Mela 2015, a festival celebrating Samskritam. We hope that this Mela will serve as a forum for all Sanskrit aficionados to come together in propagating this great language.

Triveni in the title draws an analogy between the confluence of the three holy rivers of India, Triveni Sangam in Prayaag, now called Allahabad, considered a seat of learning and Hindu culture; and the confluence of the three rivers of Pittsburgh, a place we endeavor to make an abode for Sanskrit and Sanskriti.  Here are the details of the events:

When: September 19th (Saturday), 2015 from 11a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: The Holiday Inn, 2750 Mosside Blvd, Monroeville,                            PA 15146.

Activities: Songs, dances, skits, games, and others for adults and youngsters all in Sanskrit!  The event is open to all. Further, there will be:

Exhibits portraying the legacy of the language.

A book stall displaying books for purchase,

to kindle the interest of both beginners and advanced students of Sanskrit, featuring a wide collection of media resources.

Samskrita Bharati USA ( is a non-profit organization committed to reviving and popularizing Sanskrit as a spoken language, and thereby enabling us to access our timeless and rich cultural heritage. A sapling of this tree obtained from its parent organization, Samskrita Bharati in India, was planted in the US in 1995.

Twenty years later today, that sapling has grown into a tree bearing fruits of success in the form of increased engagement in speaking Sanskrit while its branches are growing to reach out and provide shade to many a Sanskrit enthusiast. In just a few years, Samskrita Bharati USA has grown from a single center in California to more than twenty all around the US  with hundreds of volunteers.

The Pittsburgh Triveni Samskrita Mela 2015 is being held to commemorate Samskrita Bharati USA’s 20th anniversary.

For questions and/or enquiries, please contact:

Asmita Ranganathan: (412) 276-1699

Harichandan Mantripragada: (412) 849-9622

Sudarshan Narayanan: (412) 608-5481


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Pittsburgh’s Indian Music Group Raises $17,000 for Helping Veterans

Patrika Logo for Website

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


Sahana[1] is a 100% Pittsburgh-based music group with versatile traditional percussionists, guitarists, keyboardists, and also talented vocalists. A few of them are teenagers and one or two in their 40s, and others, in all ages in between, both men and women. Most of the adults are from India, with the teenagers born and raised here.

Sahana Ensemble

With full-time jobs in other fields, these people practice music in their free time for four to five months for their annual 2- to 3-hour long programs, usually in spring. The most interesting part of
Sahana’s program is that even with 100% of the artistes being “local,” their program is NOT free, as is the case with most programs in this town. They raise thousands of dollars selling tickets and seeking donations, and give away their net collections to a charity of their choice. This year, they had a talented teenager from India, Sai Vignesh Ramakrishnan, a Top-10 vocal finalist in the Super Singer Indian TV talent show, adding more luster.

Sahana BeneficiaryThis year’s 6th fundraiser, held on May 31, Sunday at the Franklin Regional Middle School auditorium, exceeded their target of collecting $15,000 that Sahana gave to the Friends of the Pittsburgh Fisher House (FOPFH), an organization. FOPFH helps war veterans’ families with their boarding and lodging needs when they are in Pittsburgh for medical treatment. Mr. John Corder, a board member of the organization (see picture) addressed the gathering giving the stats on war veterans, their needs, and how FOPFH helps the veterans. Over the years, Sahana has donated over $60,000 to charities.

The highlights of this year’s 2-1/2-hour program:

  • Over 20 musical pieces in Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujarati; some of them very old (16th and 17th centuries).
  • The songs chosen covered Tamil and Hindi/Urdu film classics made over five decades, and were interspersed and sequenced well.
  • The emcees came well-prepared, delivered their tightly and tastefully written brief introductions for each piece, and quickly left the stage for the artistes. Refreshingly, nobody hogged the mike.
  • The tuning of instruments in-between pieces — a bane in Indian pop music events — was kept to the barest minimum.

Overall, an enjoyable program.

Indian film songs describe different moods — joy, pathos, irreverence, sarcasm, humor, irony, paradoxes, and the dilemmas of life — often conveying great insights into life’s complexities. Some of the really good ones are as good as paid sessions with psychologists. So, lyrics are the heart, soul, spirit, and the very life of film songs, especially the good ones. (There are, of course, many bad ones, really tasteless and even obscene ones, I concede.) In this context, here are two observations from someone who bought the ticket and sat through the whole program.

  1. Leaving out the names of the lyricists who penned the masterpieces in printouts and announcements while mentioning the names of the films, music directors, and the singers who simply lend their voices (however mellifluous they are), is inelegant, to say the very least. Going forward, Sahana can correct this quite easily in their future programs.
  2. When the vocalists render their pieces, the phrases in the lyrics should come out loud and clear without getting drowned in the high-decibel music from instruments such as guitars and keyboards. When we carefully listen to Indian film songs in their original recordings, we can discern that when the vocalists render the pallavis/charanams (or mukhda/antaras), their voices come out clear in the front with the accompanying orchestra music’s volume in the background in low volume, relatively speaking. In the musical interlude between the pallavis and charanams (mukhdas and antaras), the vocalists are absent, and the orchestra music is at higher volume with great effect on the listening experience of the audience.

In the program the decibel level of the accompanying guitars and keyboards almost drowned out the vocalists in a few pieces. High decibel levels for the instruments during singing do not suit Indian film songs based on melody, where the lyrics are at the very center. Sahana can correct this by working with the professional sound engineers they hire.

Over all, it was a well-organized, well-rehearsed program with each member on-stage and off-stage working with passion and dedication.

[1]  Sahana (pronounced sa-haa-naa), a common raga both in the Karnatic and Hindustani traditions, is the janya raga from the parent 22nd Melakarta raga Karaharapriya (Karnatic); and the progeny of the 10th Thaat Kafi (Hindustani). The Sahana music group has members coming from all over India.

Acknowledgments:   Niveditha Vasudevan, Monroeville and Anandi Balakumar, Sewickley for the photographs.



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Samarth Nagarkar’s Enjoyable Recital

By Ahiri Ghosh

Note: Ahiri Ghosh, a 7th grader, learns Hindustani classical from Smt. Nidrita Mitra-Sinha at the Saptak Music School.

Chhandayan, dedicated to Hindustani classical music, kicked off the 2015 season with an enchanting vocal recital by Samarth Nagarkar, disciple of Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, on Saturday, May 23, at Samar & Mala Saha’s home in Irwin, PA. Dibyarka Chatterjee, disciple of Pt. Samir Chatterjee, was on the tabla.  Rohan Prabhudesai (not in the picture) was on the harmonium. Their recital showcased  their understanding of the nuances of Indian classical music. Nagarkar demonstrated styles from the Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas.

samar house concert 1


Nagarkar started with the Raag Bihagada in thaat Bilawal. Bihagada is a close relative of Raag Behag, but applies Komal Nishad. Starting with an alap, he slowly transitioned into a Vilambit Teentaal (16 beats), and ended the piece in Drut Teental, skillfully demonstrating creative taans with Gamak.

Nagarkar then moved onto a seasonal raag Basant Bahar, a mixture of Basant and Bahar in a true sense. He started off this gorgeous raag with an alap, followed by a piece in Vilambit Tilwara (16 beats). Nagarkar concluded this raag with another Drut Teentaal.

After a brief intermission, Nagarkar continued with lighter pieces. Accommodating requests from the audience, he started with Raag Chayanat, with an alap and a graceful song in Vilambit Jhumra taal (14 beats). Nagarkar followed it by the layakari sung using words, moving into a Tarana in Teentaal. The taans and gamak were incredibly crisp and fast.

Nagarkar then sang a semi-classical piece called Dadra in Khamaj in Dadra taal (6 beats). His skill in holding high pitches for long durations was astonishing. After that, he sang a Tappa-style Rabindra Sangeet in Kafi  he learned at the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata. Nagarkar moved onto Abhang (traditional Marathi bhakti literature) in Raag Bhimpalasi, describing that sorrow and happiness follow in cycles. His last piece was in Raag Bhairavi, with a twist by singing a fast-paced Bandish ki Thumri  set in drut Ektaal (12 beats) that left his audience in a joyful mood.

After the concert, the Sahas hosted a delicious dinner giving opportunities for the artists and the audience to interact.


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Dekho Hamara Hindustan at a Micro Level

By Kollengode S Venkataraman


Recently, there were sporadic news in the Indian English media on Muslims having difficulties in getting housing in cities like Mumbai. This news was picked up by the global media. Understandably, the Pakistani media also picked up the story to berate India’s secular credentials. Pakistan’s problem in dealing with divisions within Islam is far more serious with routine murders of Shias by its Sunni extremists.

In Pakistan, when they discuss the need for communal harmony, it is not about reducing tensions among Muslims (95% of the population), Hindus (1.5%) and Christians (1.5%); it is about reducing the tension between Shias (20%) and Sunnis (75%).

In any case, when The Hindu, a leading English daily from Chennai, published the story on the Muslims’ difficulty in housing in Mumbai, a reader’s response to the Letters-to-the-Editor highlighted how insidious this problem is in India at the microlevel.

Here is a letter written by one Annadurai Jeeva from the world-famous Vaishnava temple town Srirangam in Tamil Nadu that appeared in The Hindu (

 “Judicial interventions and legislative actions are not enough to eradicate the endemic discrimination in matters such as housing. The problem is not peculiar to Mumbai.

In Srirangam [the famous Vaishnava temple-town in Tamil Nadu], it is quite impossible for even an Iyer family [who are Smarta-
Advaita  Brahmins] to find rented accommodation in an area dominated by Iyengars [Vaishnava Brahmins], not to speak of families belonging to the OBCs and the SCs, which only exposes the hollow claims of India possessing a secular identity. 

Other intermediate castes in the periphery are averse to the SCs, Muslims and Christians… …”                     


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