Archive for category October 2009

Dekho Yahan Hindustan our Pakistan

This is not some synchronized sports event or a scene in street theater in one of New York’s ethnic festivals. This is during the official flag lowering ceremony at the Indian-Pakistan border at Wagha between the states of Indian and Pakistani Punjabs — yes, India and Pakistan have states with identical names. The white line at the bottom is the official border. Soldiers in black are Pakistani soldiers and those in khaki are Indian jawans.

This 50-plus year old well choreographed simulated spectacle in jingoism by Pakistani and Indian soldiers is a daily tourist attraction. One wonders how the two countries that do not agree diplomatically on anything, mutually evolved this absurd synchronized jugalbandi tamasha.

There is a new twist to this daily ritual. In July 2010, India unilaterally decided to lower the theatrical aggression in what The Hindustan Times calls “good-natured rivalry.” Soon, Pakistan reciprocated, lowering its simulated belligerence. But don’t expect any thaw between the two countries whose views of their own common history is at such wide variance.

The reason for the reduced belligerence in the ridiculous enactment is more orthopedic than diplomatic. The soldiers participating in the daily rituals ended up with mild-to-severe knee injuries. If you Google search “Change of guard at Wagha border,” you will get several video clips and see for yourself the absurdity of this aggressive seema-tamasha.– KSV

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Pittsburgh’s Palate Partners Suggests Wine Pairings for Indian Cuisine

By Premlata Venkataraman

The flowery overblown descriptions of wines amuse me; I guess I just am not the type to go overboard over a glass of wine. While living in the Bay Area decades ago it was chic to go to wine-and-cheese tastings. Also at their peak of popularity were fondue parties — but that is another story for another day.

Recently Palate Partners, a specialty wine retailer at the Strip run by Deb Mortillaro and Mike Gonze, held an open house to demystify all the verbiage — body, bouquet, aroma, vintage— in the wine vocabulary. Their simple message: learn to enjoy wines by experimenting with different types. They do this through their affordable ($12/person) wine appreciation classes with six wines to explore.

The teaser in their e-mail was: Do you know which wine to serve with special foods? This has been a sore point with me, as I am sure it is with most readers. How do you pick wines to go with spicy Indian dishes? Even though wine is not routinely served during Indian dinners, we would still like to know which wines go with our spicy dishes for those rare events. Seeking some enlightenment on this, I went.

To my pleasant surprise, Mike and Deb, our wine gurus, were practical, friendly and helpful. Emphasizing that there is nothing objective in matching food with wines, they offered a few broad general ideas:

  • Opposites attract. Spicy food needs fruity wines.
  • Textures should match. Light foods with light wines and heavy foods with heavier wines.
  • Popular wines don’t always match with spicy food.
  • Try a new wine even if it isn’t the most popular du jour. It’s fun to try new wines and see what you like.

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(Satyameva Jayate, na Asatyam)

Anu Chandrasekhar grew up in Srirangam and earned her M.Sc degree in Chemistry. She came to the USA in 1987 after living for five years in Switzerland and Germany. She lives in Penn Hills and recently earned her MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. 

 

(Satyameva Jayate, na Asatyam)

It was the 15th of August, one of the proudest and most poignant days in India’s history, the day of the country’s independence. I was a freshman in high school. The principal was addressing us explaining how lucky we were to be in a free country and detailing the struggles the freedom fighters had undergone to liberate India from the British Rule. I could not control the tears of joy rolling down my cheeks when the Indian national flag was hoisted and we sang the national anthem.Then the mayor of the city delivered a speech that was very lucid, eloquent and simple to understand. He narrated the story of Harishchandra – a great King in Indian legends who was revered for his unflinching adherence to truth. The Gods tested him, cruelly at times, driving him to adversity and exile, even bribing him to tell a lie so that he could regain his kingdom. However, all the sufferings he had to endure, losing his wife and only son, did not change his stand on truth. Satisfied, the Gods restored him to his former glory and gave him back his wife and son.

I was so enthralled by the way the mayor told the story that it made a lasting impression on me. He warned us that the price one sometimes has to pay to uphold truth may be heavy but in the end, the rewards are sweet. He ended his discourse by reminding us of Mahatma Gandhi who exemplified the motto of India “Truth alone Conquers, not Untruth” and challenged us to follow in his footsteps since there has never been an instance when falsehood has resulted in a lasting victory.

Though I was impressed by the teaching, in many instances I got into much difficulty when I told the truth. When I was in middle school, I was selected to participate in a school play. My mother did not want me to stay after school for anything other than school work. I did not like to drop out of the play; so to keep my mother happy I told her I had to stay after school for school work. It never even occurred to me that I was lying. But when my mom came to know the truth from a friend of mine who was proud of my getting the leading role in the play, she screamed at me for lying to her and asked me to promise never to tell a lie.

By Anu Chandrasekhar, Penn Hills, PA

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Uncommon adventures in Refueling

Uncommon adventures in Refueling

K S Venkataraman

Recently in the wake of the FBI Citizens Academy graduation I had a unique opportunity to witness and participate in a refueling operation by the Penna Air National Guard operation. 

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171 Air Refueling Wing operate from their base close to the Pittsburgh airport using the airport’s infrastructure — runways and air traffic control — to reduce their costs for their operating their flights.  I was one of the over dozen participants in this exercise

Air refueling is a 100% military-related operation but the Guardsmen, who are under the command of the governor in most states, also respond to natural disasters for supply and rescue mission, as they did during Katrina.  

On the stated date (July 22, a Wednesday), we assembled at the Air National Guard facility adjacent to the airport.  I was under the impression that they would show us a video, or make us sit in a simulator — maybe take us for a short ride, over Lake Erie and bring us back.

But was I in for a huge surprise!

As we sat through the briefing by Brig. Gen. Rou Uptegraf, Commander of the Pennsylvania 171 Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, it became crystal clear that this was THE Real Deal!

The flight crew (two part-time volunteer pilots Eric Yockey and Keith Stephen and two full-time “Boom” operators John Cima and his colleague) informed us that we would fly due east all the way to the Atlantic shoreline in the NY/NY area and fly well into the ocean. We would be air-borne for nearly 4 hours!  There, our “mother” plane would dock with another plane requiring refueling during flight.

We had been asked to come prepared for cold temperatures inside the plane and were also cautioned that the plane’s toilet facilities are minimal.

The utilitarian 50-year old plane was C-135, the military version of the old Boeing 707. We drove past several of these planes, something that you can see if you land on the run way closest to their parking yard. We entered the grey painted plane through the very large door on the side. Even though thee planes are very old, we are told, their dedicated crew take great pride in keeping the plane fully operational ALL the time.

The barebones interior was with wires and cables and HVAC ducts exposed and running the entire length of the plane. The highly visible insulation/noise muffling layer was kept in place with the liberal usage of what appeared to be duct tape. The plane had only 4 windows – two on either side – along the entire length of the fuselage. The cockpit was open to those who were riding in the plane.  Figure 1

The seats arranged along the length of the fuselage were barely functional, made with woven 2” or 3” wide bright red tapes like what we see in garden chairs. In the middle of the fuselage along the length of the plane were five sets of multipurpose cargo boxes for transporting anything that would fit into the box. Figure 2

As the plane taxied to the runway, even before we were airborne, it was clear this would be a very, very noisy ride.

Once we were cruising at 26,000 feet we walked around the cabin.  All of us took turn and entered the cockpit during the flight and sat right behind the two pilots. To have the pilot’s view (nearly 270 degree views) of what was outside the plane was a treat of a lifetime for all of us.  The veteran pilots were joking around with us even as they were fully focused on their job, making small talks with me on radio/intercom.

E

xciting as the cockpit view of the outside was, the real action was all at the tail end of the aircraft! For this is where the maneuvering for the refueling takes place. Conceptually, a hose from the “mother plane” has to dock into the fuel receptacle on the fuel-receiving plane. The only constraint is that this has to be done at 20,000 to 30,000 ft in the air while the two planes are flying at nearly 500 mph. And everything has to be done by remote control. 

This is where the “boom” operators come in.  These highly skilled technicians’ agility, skills and concentration at their task and their professionalism are very inspiring. They train, we are told, hundreds of hours on simulators, perfecting their technique before getting trained under a veteran boom operator in actual flight. 

The whole operation takes highly coordinated communication among the pilots in both the planes and the boom operators as they maneuver the two planes close enough – but not too close — to dock the fuel hose from the mother plane to the receptacle on the top of the front end of the receiving plane, just above its cockpit.

The boom operator working with very limited space operates several joysticks and control knobs to move the “boom,” — which has the hose installed in it. He lies flat on his stomach on a padded mat like a Yoga mat and operates the joysticks and other knobs while looking through the three windows, the largest of which measured maybe 24” x 12”. By working on the joystick, the boom operator moves the hose independent of the mother plane, and with great skill, docks the discharging end of the hose on the receptacle on the top of the receiving g plane.  When the hose coupling comes very close to the receptacle of the receiving plane, a powerful electromagnet attracts the hose plumbing fixture and locks it into position on the receptacle in the receiving plane.

I was looking through the window lying on my stomach on the mat adjacent to the boom operator as we were flying at 26,000 ft at ~ 500 mph (ground speed). At a far-away distance, I saw a plane approaching us.  The boom operator told us, that is the plane we were about to re-fuel in flight.

As the plane got closer to us, I could see the military jet plane’s four-engines… … then I saw the inscription US AIR FORCE painted on the side of the fuselage. And then I could see the number on the plane 3084. 

As the plane needing the fuel got closer still, I could even see the pilots in its cockpit.  When the plane got closer at ~ 200 feet, I could see the fuel hose receptacle, even the rivets on the fuselage and the scratch marks when the hose made contacts with the plane near the receptacle.  It was an eerie experience seeing a plane in flight this close.  

All the while, the Boom Operator was constantly in radio/intercom communication with the pilots in both the planes even as he was maneuvering his joysticks to bring the hose’s end of his plane to the receptacle on the receiving plane.  When they come close enough, powerful electro magnets on the planes quickly brought the two ends into contact and instantaneously locked the hose into its receptacle making it ready for refueling. The Boom operator then worked his buttons to open and close the necessary valves and the jet fuel from his mother ship’s underbelly was transferred to the other plane.  The unloading took may be 20 minutes transferring several thousand gallons of the fuel.

Finally, his job completed, the boom operator instructed the pilots in both ships, he is going to decouple the hose. He detached their umbilical chord, and I could see the other plane slowly receding from my plane both in distance and elevation. After some time, the plane outside veered away from ours.

Having completed our training mission, the pilot returned his plane and brought us back to Pittsburgh.

It was an unforgettable experience.  I was so impressed with all the pilots, boom operators and other staff working with their absolute dedication and professionalism and pride in their skills and abilities in keeping the country safe in times of war, terrorist threats and natural disasters. 

We owe them a huge debt of gratitude though we may never need their services. 

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Voice of the Next Generation: A Response to Deepak Kotwal’s Article

By Sridevi Rao James, McDonald, PA
Email Sridevi about this article.

Sridevi is daughter of Vijaya Rao and the late Raja Rao. She grew up in the Eastern suburbs. Now married and with a daughter and residing in McDonald, PA, Sridevi is pursuing a second career in nursing at the Heritage Valley Health System.

Mr. Deepak Kotwal’s article in the July issue on Hindu-Jain Temple’s 25th anniversary, while complimenting the founders for the excellent job they have done under trying circumstances, also raises important issues that we all need to collectively address.
 
 The article made me think on many issues. My parents were immigrant Indians who came here in 1969. They were very involved in the building of the Sri Venkateswara Temple in 1976. I can still remember all those planning meetings in someone’s basement.
 
As Mr. Kotwal states, as the first generation of founding Hindus slowly fades away, the mantle of leadership will have to pass to the next generation born and raised in the US. These youngsters are quintessentially Americans in their tastes, priorities, attitudes, and pursuits — even in values to a great extent.
That generation is my generation and faces new challenges. Most of us only speak English as our first fluent language and nod our heads when our grandmothers speak Indian languages. As an adult with my own family now, visiting out-of-town relatives or temples is not a “family vacation” we did with our parents. Most of us don’t travel with other Indian families all in one van, stopping at a rest area to eat a nine course Indian meal that came out of one cooler.

Now our vacations involve beaches and amusement parks.

When I was young I spent my weekends at the temple at Bharathanatyam dance class, youth groups and programs that involved singing, dancing or acting. Now my weekends are spent at kids’ birthday parties, softball games and watching the Steelers. I have performed pujas with my parents and still observe Indian holy days. I can recite the Satayanarayan Katha verbatim and tell you the meaning of “eating the prasad” but don’t ask me the recipe for the prasad. I’m not sure that is enough to keep the flame going for years to come.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m not sure my generation will know what to do with that baton if it is passed to us. This is sad but true. Hopefully it doesn’t mean the end of temples or Indian cultures.

One trend we all see in temples is that only new Indian immigrants are getting involved in running the temples. But depending only on new Indian immigrants to take care of the temple is not only shortsighted, but is also likely to further alienate the already disengaged Hindu Indian-Americans born and raised here.My parents tried to make sure I knew about Michael Jackson and Amithabh Bachchan. They made sure I liked Pepsi and Thumbs Up but in raising my own daughter, I haven’t put very much emphasis on her knowing about Hanna Montana and Aishwarya Rai. I take her to the temple for special holidays but we also trick-or-treat, have a Christmas tree and see the Easter Bunny.

We need to find a way to bridge that gap between generations. Mr. Kotwal’s article has given everyone, both the current managers of the temples and youngsters like me, something very worthwhile to think about.

Maybe if we raise and address the issues in open forums, we may be able to redefine the scope and function of these places of worship.  

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Many Happy Returns of the Day, India!

By Meenakshi  Kapoor, Greentree, PA  

Meenakshi Kapoor was born and raised in Saharanpur, UP. After working in Saharanpur and New Delhi, she reached these shores in 2000, reaching Pittsburgh in 2002. After working for several IT companies, now she has her own staffing and consulting business in Pittsburgh. Her hobbies are reading, cooking and listening to light and classical music.

County executive Dan Onorator addresses the gathering.

They say, you can take us out from India but you cannot take out India from us.  The proof for this, if one needs a proof at all, was India’s Independence Day celebration gala — some say, it is a mela — in Pittsburgh.  August 15th is a very important day in the lives of Indians in almost all parts of the world. The Indian American community, spread across the United States takes pride in celebrating India Day every year, as we too do here under the aegis of the Indian Nationality Room, University of Pittsburgh.

Children dance at the gathering.

This popular event attracted a large number of Indian-Americans with several hundred people gathering to witness and participate in showcasing the India’s rich and diversity. The atmosphere was charged with festivity and vibrancy of Indian polyglot culture with many people waving the tricolor, participating in the parade that started from Bigelow Boulevard and went across the Cathedral of Learning.

Kirti Gulati sang “Vande Mataram” in her melodious voice, followed by “Jai Ho.”  People passing by were fascinated by the Garba and Bhangra dances performed on the road during the procession by the young men and women draped in bright, colorful dresses.

Inside the Cathedral of Learning, flags of US and India were hoisted, followed by the national anthems of both countries respectively sung en masse. The ceremony saw Indian American youths dancing to peppy Punjabi and Bollywood music and classical and folk dances.

Various organizations, groups & dance academies – all based in Pittsburgh Metro area — presented dances of India performed by our youth in vibrant costumes. Some of the entrepreneurs of the area had set up trade tables to sell beautiful sarees, kurta, jewellery and other knick-knacks.  The food served was so delicious that many items got over in no time.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg from University of Pittsburgh, Dan Onorato, Chief Executive of Allegheny County and Councilman Bill Paduto from the City Council  addressed the gathering stressing the growing presence of Indian community in Pittsburgh and their diverse contributions to the Metro area in many ways.

As we celebrate India’s Independence and freedom, we remember the long course of history and the men and women who made it possible for India to celebrate this anniversary.

Long live India and her independence. Indians throughout the world salute the martyrs who made it possible for us to see this beautiful day.  Jai Hind !!

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Asians’ Prosperity Masks The Poverty in the Less Fortunate Among Them

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The recent US Census Bureau’s study shows a disturbing feature of poverty among Asians that does not typically draw our attention.

The Bureau defines $22,000 annual household income as the threshold for poverty. On this basis, despite their high median family income, Asians also have relatively high percentage of their population living below the poverty threshold. Here are the poverty statistics:

Asians: 11.8%; Whites: 8.6%; Blacks and Hispanics each around 23%. A disturbing trend is that the percentage of people in poverty in all demographic groups has increased between 2002 and 2008, the increase being sharpest among Asians.

Therefore, just because we don’t see our poor cousins in social desi gatherings, let us not assume that we don’t have too many poor among us. One in nine or ten among the Indian-Americans lives in poverty in the US. One needs to analyze this census data and understand the whys.

But the material success of Indians in the US is also due to their skewed demography. An overwhelming majority of Indians are cherry-picked by US for immigration for their education and skills that are in shortage here, which, these immigrants acquired through their access to resources (wealth, connection, influence, their mostly middle class background or better) and the highly subsidized education in India.

With the center of gravity of the global economy shifting towards Asia, Asian populations in the US have come under the media glare. How these relatively new immigrants have succeeded in the US despite their distinctly non-Caucasian looks, languages, foods, faiths, and ethos has been the topic in stories in Business Week, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Look at these 2008 numbers from US Census Bureau on the median annual household incomes:

Asians: $66,000; Non-Hispanic Whites: $56,000; Blacks and Hispanics each have median incomes around $35,000; Entire US: $50,000.

Asians’ — including Indians’— high incomes and net worth, the desirable ZIP codes of their homes, and their Spelling Bee performances are commented upon endlessly. One common theme in these stories is Asians’ strong family identity and honor, respect for elders, thrift, and stress on education, all contributing to their material success.

Understandably, Indians, feel pretty glib about this favorable media glare, even though they subliminally would also like to attribute their success to their supposedly better genes and DNAs. So, among Indians, the working axiom is: If you are a desi, you ought to be well educated with a high-paying job; you ought to live in a desirable ZIP code. If you don’t, then something is wrong with you. ♦

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Protesters Get the Cold Shoulder at G20

By K.S. Venkataraman

The group of G20 nations is a disparate lot. In addition to industrialized democracies, it includes China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and Russia, among others, hardly a compatible group. These 20 nations, accounting for nearly 80% of the world population, may account for even a larger proportion of world’s economy.They have conflicting interests with each maneuvering for better deals to parade as their accomplishments when they go home, and to strategically position themselves in the geopolitics of the world. This is particularly true among emerging economies — some of them have already emerged — as they try to counterbalance the overweening domination of the industrialized nations during the greater part of the last century.

The huge problems facing the planet are complex needing concerted efforts by all the 160-plus nation-states. The G20 nations will try to shape the agenda for the rest of the world to follow even as they jostle to influence each to their mutual benefits driven by self-interest.

 

 

Amidst the gala surrounding the Pittsburgh G20 meeting, the region’s elected officials are eager to project to the world how the region has transformed itself in the last four decades to attract new businesses. We support their effort. But that does not mean that elected officials need to be churlish in muzzling the G20 protesters. Some of them have legitimate concerns over the impact of the decisions the G20 leaders will take. After all, Pittsburgh has a long history in trade union movement, an inevitable response of organized labor to the unbridled capitalist economy of the 20th century. One cannot run away from one’s own history to bring about change. The pictures of the Old Pittsburgh hanging in the lobby of the Inclines on Grandview Avenue is a stark reminder where we were. 

 

Consider these: The farm subsidies in the US, Europe, and Canada are ruining farmers in Africa where overwhelming proportions of the population are subsistence farmers. The commercial fleets of the G20 nations have destroyed the food resources of poor fishermen in coastal Africa. One wonders who will speak for them in the G20 meeting. (September 10,2009).

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What goes with Masala Bhindi? Burgundy?

 

By Premlata Venkataraman

The flowery overblown descriptions of wines amuse me; I guess I just am not the type to go overboard over a glass of wine. While living in the Bay Area decades ago it was chic to go to wine-and-cheese tastings. Also at their peak of popularity were fondue parties — but that is another story for another day.

Recently Palate Partners, a specialty wine retailer at the Strip run by Deb Mortillaro and Mike Gonze, held an open house to demystify all the verbiage — body, bouquet, aroma, vintage— in the wine vocabulary. Their simple message: learn to enjoy wines by experimenting with different types. They do this through their affordable ($12/person) wine appreciation classes with six wines to explore.
The teaser in their e-mail was: Do you know which wine to serve with special foods? This has been a sore point with me, as I am sure it is with most readers. How do you pick wines to go with spicy Indian dishes? Even though wine is not routinely served during Indian dinners, we would still like to know which wines go with our spicy dishes for those rare events. Seeking some enlightenment on this, I went.

To my pleasant surprise, Mike and Deb, our wine gurus, were practical, friendly and helpful. Emphasizing that there is nothing objective in matching food with wines, they offered a few broad general ideas:

 
 

 

l Opposites attract. Spicy food needs fruity wines. Textures should match. Light foods with light wines and heavy foods with heavier wines
l
l Popular wines don’t always match with spicy food.
l Try a new wine even if it isn’t the most popular du jour. It’s fun to try new wines and see what you like.
Mike says, “Get a wine that tastes good to your palate. Do not worry too much about the year of vintage simply because it only tells you the vineyard and year in which the grapes were harvested. Many other factors influence the character of the wine.” After such a straight approach, he touched on several pointers for choosing wines, and on the wines available from traditional places like France, Italy, Germany, and California, and also from South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia. Of course the evening also included blind tasting.
For spicy Indian food Mike and Deb recommend Rieslings, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir… … When asked them for more specifics, their reply:
  
California Chardonnay with prawn curry,

l German Riesling Spatlese for samosas,

l Shiraz with spicy eggplant,

l Zinfandel with tandoori chicken, and so on.Obviously, Mike and Deb know about desi food too

California Chardonnay with prawn curry,

l German Riesling Spatlese for samosas,

l Shiraz with spicy eggplant,

l Zinfandel with tandoori chicken, and so on.Obviously, Mike and Deb know about desi food too

 

 
 

In addition, their store is chock full of gadgets you probably didn’t even know you need to complement your wine collection.

 
 

 

Contact details:Palate Partners
2013 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15222

, in the Strip District.

For class details and other information, call (412) 391-8502 or visit http://www.palatepartners.com
 

 

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So the next time you feel the need to polish up your wine information while having fun sampling wines, try one of Deb and Mike’s wine appreciation classes. You will enjoy the experience.

But remember this: When you have good company and engage in good conversations with repartees and banter, the verbiage around the wine is, well, ephemeral, relevant only during the first two sips. And once you’re slightly inebriated, the wine’s pedigree may not matter at all.

 

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