Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
As some of you know, I entered the following draft first chapter of a potentially longer work into the Katha Fiction Contest 2017 run by India Currents and got second place. You can read the whole chapter and the other winning entries at the contest website. Hope to have the complete novel out soon with help from the Wellstone Center.
The first time that I met her was in the conference room on the top floor of the Septagon. Well, top floor sounds a bit misleading when you work in a secret bunker somewhere deep underground below Silicon Valley, California. Even those of us who work down there have no idea exactly where it is. Not only are the coordinates classified, it also takes a hyperloop vacuum tube ride through a labyrinth of underground tunnels to get to the Septagon, from any of some 35 hidden ground level entrances equipped with retinal and fingerprint scanners. The entire subterranean system was designed and built by free-thinking construction robots and 3D printers that were immediately wiped of all data and decommissioned for scrap as part of the grand opening ceremony for the building in 2024. I’ve read several credible Russian spy-hunter blogs on the Dark Web who somehow conjectured we work directly under the seventh hole of Shoreline Golf Links. I don’t know, comrades, your guess is as good as mine; try digging around that seventh hole putting green and if someone blows your head off, there’s a good chance you’re right.
Uncle Sam seems to be into the number seven these days. Seventh hole. The Septagon, for a bunker with seven walls. Only seven living people at any time know exactly where the United States Cyber Force (USCF) Headquarters is, and the executive suites are on the top floor, which is- you guessed it- the seventh floor. Maybe that’s because Uncle Sam’s luck had been running real low.
The USCF (pronounced “uskeff” for those in the know) was formed after several crippling cyberspace debacles for America that helped level the playing field of asymmetrical warfare, including China’s cyber theft of every single U.S. conventional weapons system by 2014, including detailed plans for the F-35 joint strike fighter jet (since discontinued), Russia’s successful hack of the U.S. Democratic Party during the heavily compromised 2016 presidential election cycle, the time a still-unidentified group blew up the international space station in 2019 through an elaborate climate control systems hacking operation, and the time Al Qaeda brought down the entire Internet for two agonizing days in 2021. This of course wrought more havoc on the United States and the world than any day since 9/11. I was in college at the time. It was terrifying to be amongst 7,000 college students with useless smartphones and smartwatches and zero idea how to function in real life without a working Internet. Those were dark days.
Naturally it took two years of bureaucratic nut flexing, study groups, investigations, commissions, and Congressional committee hearings to figure out that the United States needed a new military branch, a Cyber Force on par with the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard to have some capability to defend from and retaliate against folks in the cyber arena threat matrix. It took another year to decide to place its headquarters somewhere in the sub-vicinity of Silicon Valley, which to me was always a no-brainer as I followed along the debates in the news in high school and college. Why in hell would you put it anywhere else?
In a predictable sequence of events and affairs, the USCF had steadily gained in stature, to the point where it was considered the most prestigious and critical of all of the branches of the military- and also most secretive, and least understood by an American public that mostly didn’t even know what HTML was. That’s why I decided to enlist, along with thousands of other intelligent patriots. It’s why the USCF commander was considered the most important military leader of our time. Rumor has it that during a heated argument at the White House in the presence of the President, USCF General Nirupama “Nero” Patel was being dressed down by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over something. Within minutes, irate as hell, she had orchestrated the power-down of every single US Army tank in every single corner of the globe simply by typing orders into her USCF smartphone while sitting there getting yelled at, and wouldn’t power the tanks back up until she received a satisfactorily profuse apology. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was involved in that friendly little US Army tail-pulling exercise.
Now back to the original subject. I was summoned to the fancy oak-paneled conference room with huge computer screens that spring day in 2025, having no idea what was in store. Here I was, an Indian-American, a fresh-faced Cyber Force geek recruit straight out of boot camp, 24 years old, 33 days on the job, attending my first 7th floor meeting. These usually only include the honchos unless something major was going down. Two seats away from me was a very pretty Indian girl, with long jet black hair tied into a tight ponytail, a form fitting gray suit, and that caramel tone I tend to like on my candy and on my women. The seat between us was empty. I stared at the ceiling, concentrated on keeping my heart rate down, and bravely pretended not to notice her as we all waited for the emergency meeting to start.
“Hi, I’m Manisha,” she said with a sultry Indian accent. I looked over. She was looking right at me with her hand extended in my direction. Stay calm, dude. Compute?
“I’m Bart,” I replied, taking her hand. Man, it was a strong grip. What was this pretty young foreign national thing doing so deep in the Septagon?
“You’re… Indian, no?” she asked after a pause, doing that Indian head shake thing where you can’t tell if it’s a yes or a no, approving or disapproving. A no with Indians can be a yes, as in, she could be saying, “You’re Indian, right?”
“Right, I’m Indian-American. Real name my parents gave me is Bharat,” I stammered, guessing that the name Bart threw her off. Either that or she was wondering if I was named after Bay Area Rapid Transit.
“Nice to meet you. I’m representing India on the new inter-agency task force.” Wait, there’s a new task force? And this Indian chick knows about it before I do?
The USCF General walked in the door, and everybody shut up and stood. There were about 30 people in the room, including the General, two Lieutenant Generals, and the rest of the brass, along with a few drones like me. General Patel began to speak.
“I’d like to welcome Manisha Gayatri from India here today,” she began. “Manisha is on special assignment with us. She was hired by the Indian Cyber Army after graduating first in her class from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, and top scored her Indian Cyber Army training class as well.” Whoa. Pretty impressive resume to go with those looks. IIT and the Indian ICA are both considered top-notch globally these days. I was nowhere near the top of my own USCF class (insert sheepish face emoticon here) or my Georgetown class. Too busy socializing with the other recruits, while playing and designing video games. Perhaps shockingly to you, designing video games is a hobby of mine.
General Patel continued. “As you know, the Russia-China alliance was able to successfully shut down an entire US Navy carrier group on patrol in the Indian Ocean last week, and the Indian Navy stepped in and helped us keep the carrier group secure during this episode while we got back up and running.” There were some snickers in the room. Ah, the Navy. The seamen let a carrier group go dark over basic sixth-grade malicious code. Should have had a few of us USCF boys on board. The U.S. government tried hard to keep the situation under wraps from the public, but some excitable Sri Lankan fishermen in the area started a ginormous global Twitter storm with photos of six powerful US warships and a nuclear submarine just drifting around in the water like sitting ducks without even their lights working.
“I just got off video conference with the President and the Defense Secretary. As you know, President Gabbard considers this an act of cyberwar and wants us to retaliate, exceedingly quietly and with extreme prejudice. There will be zero public mention of a retaliation, or even acknowledgement of the Navy incident. The Indian government was pretty pissed that this happened in their own backyard as well, and so have offered their utmost assistance. I am here to brief you on the mission, which will entail a secret joint US-India offensive operation to hack into and disrupt all Chinese military base activities on the islands in the South China Sea, over a long time horizon.” The room seemed to let out a collective gasp. I nearly choked on my latte and almost fell out of my seat. But Manisha sat there, perfectly calm with a self-satisfied smile on her face. She already knew. Before most of us. Including me. “Agent Manisha Gayatri will be leading the Indian side of the task force,” General Patel continued amongst the murmurs, “and Officer Bart Joshi will be running point for the US side.” At that point, I did really choke on my latte. And BJ never chokes.
Manisha slapped me on the back patronizingly while I coughed. “Time to put your big-boy pyjamas on,” she said sweetly. Leave it to the Indians to screw up how to say pajamas. OH, and how in the world was I chosen to co-captain one of the most important military missions that the USCF had ever taken on in its brief yet important history?
* * *
Talk about a tall order. Or: how my life was practically guaranteed to be a failure from between the next few years to the rest of my life, assuming I even survived this perilous mission. The artificial islands in the South China Sea had turned into a beastly network of real and virtual fortresses. Close to 10,000 Chinese troops and an unknown quantity of cyborgs were stationed on them in a series of naval and air force bases. These assets had been under construction basically since I was born in 2001 in order to deter China’s neighbors like Vietnam or the Philippines from making competing claims on the rich resources of the South China Sea. Russia had a bunch of troops, cyborgs, ships, aircraft, tanks, and drones based there too, and the whole thing was wrapped in a tight cybersecurity net manned by several hundred bad hombres. While neither China or Russia was officially an enemy state, their 2023 formal military alliance had been seen as an act of hostility by the United States, and set the stage for the US-India treaty alliance of 2024, the same year the USCF was formed. And just like that, there was a new bipolar world between the two axes of power forged just before the US carrier group was hacked into and shut down- the first major “hot” incident of the new 21st century Cold War. While the Indian Cyber Army (ICA) and USCF had an active personnel exchange program going, I hadn’t yet had a chance to work with one of my subcontinental cousins on anything. Manisha was to be the first. Fate and all of that.
It’s probably pretty obvious already, but I instantly developed a sort of thing for Manisha in that seventh floor conference room. Right off the bat, I always loved the Indian accent. It reminded me of Bollywood, my dear grandparents who immigrated to this country, and chicken biryani. Or a good day, during which I watched Bollywood on TV with my grandparents while eating chicken biryani as a kid in Fresno. Totally unfair to use that accent on me, right?
Of course, I had to play it cool. I had to prove to her that Indian-Americans were cool. Plus, national security and the new world order and stuff were at stake, so I couldn’t be focused on playing tongue hockey with my co-captain. It would be too big a distraction. We had an example to set for the interagency task force, which was to include over 300 full time cyber-warriors from both countries.
Apparently I had been chosen for this leadership role based on a sophisticated analysis of my keystrokes on the job. A UCSF computer program called Keystroke Analysis & Integrated Fusion (KAIF) took every single thing I had ever done on any device at work, including the speed at which I wrote emails, wrote code, hacked through systems, scrolled through reading materials, called, video conferenced, messaged or emailed other people, and even the pauses between activities, to determine my aptitude to lead and to take on a cyber mission versus everyone else. Creepy, right? I’d be more comfortable knowing that I was just being chosen as a patsy for an impossible mission that needed a fall guy. Which is what it still felt like this was, not KAIF.
We weren’t just all geeks all the time, though. In USCF basic training we had to do the physical stuff too, like running, swimming, obstacle courses, wilderness survival, making beds, and firearms training just like the other branches of the military. The difference being, we had by far the lowest physical requirements, and by far the most difficult IT skills testing. We came to be known throughout the services as Geeks with Guns.
Manisha asked to join me for lunch that first day, a get to know you sort of thing, and I obliged. The Septagon cafeteria wasn’t half bad, featuring a team of Indian chefs making authentic subcontinental chow in real tandoor ovens for the some 25% of the USCF headquarters staff of Indian origin, and whoever else. These guys spent the days pounding Johnnie Walker Black Label in the kitchen and making killer food. Don’t ask me how they get their security clearance, or avoid burning the naan.
“So you grew up in California?” she asked me as we munched on some bhel puri.
“Right. Fresno. Pretty standard upbringing. Gamer. Hacker. Tennis player. Went to Georgetown for college. Enlisted in USCF pretty soon after.”
“Similar to me. ICA recruited me out of IIT with a bunch of my classmates,” she said. “I won’t tell you my age, but I’m a bit older than you are.” Nice. I liked older women.
“How’d they pick you for this mission?”
“They put a few of us on a plane to the United States with very little notice, and said we’d be briefed when we got there. I spent some time at the Pentagon, Indian Embassy, doing a bunch of Washington meetings. Some other members of my team stayed on in Washington to do some other things.” Wait. What was that? Was she? Yes, champ, that WAS her foot rubbing up on my leg.
“Co-captains…can’t focus tongue hockey…on 300 cyber warriors,” I stammered.
“Want to get a beer with me after work tonight?”
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
usindiamonitor was overly underwhelmed that the position of US Ambassador to India had been left vacant for many months since January 2017. That’s when former Ambassador Richard Verma last roamed the halls of the US Embassy and left behind not only the hot air of New Delhi, but also a legacy of forward progress in the US-India relationship. Obama’s pick was also much appreciated by many Indians worldwide as the first Indian-American to hold the post. Trump promised less than one year ago that India would be America’s best friend as he lit up a Hindu diva in New Jersey, stoking the hopes and dreams of innumerable Indian-American voters along with a wonderful lamp.
Do best friends leave Ambassador posts to one another unfilled for that long, especially if the relationship is as superlatively non-controversial and bipartisan as the US-India nexus today? Maybe not. But in June, promising murmurs circulated about a certain Kenneth Juster being appointed to the post, an unexpected announcement which nearly served to make up for the time lapse. Senate confirmation based on Juster’s qualifications seemed a given due to his tried and true negotiations with India. Opposition either domestic or bilateral seemed unlikely to cause real impact.
Yet several more long months of silence on this matter followed, as the White House and its attendant media were consumed by other, baser affairs. On September 5, Juster was finally nominated to be the 26th US Ambassador to India. We urge rapid action by the US Senate to confirm Juster without delay when he comes up to vote this week.
So, who is Kenneth Ian Juster?
Juster had overseas proclivities generally, and toward Asia specifically from an early age. As a Harvard undergraduate he studied abroad in Thailand, and served as a research assistant to Samuel P. Huntington, one of the foremost political science gurus in United States history. Juster’s resume includes substantive stints in both the public and private sectors, and in each area the work took him beyond the water’s edge. He came to know the levers and pipelines of federal bureaucracy at the White House, State Department, Department of Commerce, National Security Council, and National Economic Council. On the other side, Juster was respected by private sector colleagues at entities such as salesforce.com, power law firm Arnold & Porter, and private equity shop Warburg Pincus, all of which have global operations.
When it comes to US-India diplomatic relations, Juster is among the limited pool of Americans who have found themselves deep in the arena over the years- and yet became accepted as true friends of India by Indians. This pool is relatively small, shared by members such as previous Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the aforementioned Richard Verma, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz, and former Ambassador Robert Blackwill. Unlike many in the US foreign policy establishment and particularly in the US State Department, these figures generally didn’t condescend towards their counterparts even if they had to play hardball. Indians have never viewed this as a given. Small wonder that Narendra Modi and his team approved of Juster’s nomination.
Juster is known for helping initiate a High Tech Cooperation Group between the two countries in the early 2000’s, at a time when technology trade and transfer were nowhere near the powerhouse level they have now reached. Today, it’s impossible to keep up with the daily flow of US-India tech deals, mergers, and acquisitions. Some of this is finally creeping into the military realm, including the potential for big-ticket US toys such as the Marine One helicopter and the F-16 fighter jet to be made in India, while American drones and other cutting-edge hardware may be sold to the Indian military, all for the first time.
Juster is even better known for what followed, playing a key role in the multi-year negotiations that culminated in the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal, to this day a jewel in the crown of bilateral trade, but one which still has a long way to go to fulfill its promise. Nuclear exchange is nowhere near where it could be. Even so 2008 represented the end of a long and difficult climb since 1998, a year when India secretly tested nuclear weapons in the sands underneath the Pokhran desert, angering the United States, prompting sanctions against India, and setting the relationship back by years. There has been a steep climb since 2008 as well to address a myriad of concerns with the deal.
It won’t hurt that Juster has Trump’s ear and has for some years especially on economic matters. There are many challenges in play. A rising China and the bitter escalation with North Korea are going to affect the entire Asian neighborhood for the foreseeable future in this, the Asian Century. The nuclear exchange could stall on matters such as liability. Reduction in the flow of Indians coming to the United States to work and study under the Trump administration should be of serious concern to both countries. Intellectual property and the monitoring quality of drug manufacturing in India for US sales are in need of mutually agreed upon swim lanes. Afghanistan, which has been in turmoil for 40 years will rely heavily on US-India cooperation if it’s ever to stabilize. Future cooperation will also depend on how the United States and Pakistan deal with each other, an issue that India will study more closely than all others.
It is possible that Juster will be part of a much anticipated seismic shift, toward the first mutual defense treaty between the United States and India, befitting for the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest. There are many steps and pitfalls along the way, but we consider this eventuality to be inevitable the way things are going. Might as well get on with it.
Juster will have his hands full upon arrival in New Delhi. But for now, it’s time for the Senate to do its job and confirm the qualified nominee. This is also a very good time to thank Mary Kay Loss Carlson, the US Charge d’Affaires in New Delhi, for holding down the fort during the long interim period. We also applaud the Trump administration for making a good decision in this critical area of foreign policy. If only there were more of them.
Any objective observation of Washington in 2017 reveals a cross-aisle dysfunction and hatred which have risen to legendary levels even by the swamp’s constipated standards over the Potomac River of time. The word ‘bipartisanship’ is now a cruel joke, and most Americans don’t even remember what that word even means. It’s not our fault. Whether it’s immigration, law enforcement, healthcare, taxes, foreign policy, women’s rights, or education. agreement between Republicans and Democrats- voters or politicians- on any major issue not only doesn’t exist, it isn’t even allowed by party leadership. The partisan wounds have had their scabs ripped off.
The shooting of a sitting Congressman at a softball game, a tragedy which should have brought Americans together, instead predictably devolved into a partisan Mexican standoff between the gunfuckers and gun control advocates. Quaint 20th century stories circulate about genteel lawmakers from both parties sharing shrimp salad and a scotch with their spouses, and we laugh at those hazy Washington recollections as they fade from institutional memory.
Yet there is one area on which the sides are in complete agreement, even lockstep (shockingly). It also so happens to be the area of my expertise. Yes, improving US-India relations is today a bipartisan priority- and probably the only bipartisan priority we can manage to come up with. Democrats, Republicans. Governors, Representatives, Senators, Trump, Pelosi, Ryan, McConnell, Sanders, Tillerson, and Schumer all agree that India should be a better friend. Even Nikki Haley stumbled into a good idea, by advocating India’s permanent entry onto the UN Security Council. US politicians are falling over themselves to say nice things about India. As did Obama and his entire cabinet. Trump has repeated the mantra of India’s friendship himself.
It’s not hard to see why. A closer relationship with India is critical for America’s corporations, national defense, anti-piracy counter-terrorism efforts, immigrant diaspora, universities, and balancing against China. Trump, who is on a mission to crush all other aspects of Obama’s legacy at all costs, has embraced Indian Prime Minister just as Obama did.
There are several factors at play making the current environment conducive to closer ties. Chinese saber-rattling. Modi’s open arms to both US political parties and all corporations. US exasperation with a failing Pakistani state. A crumbling Europe.
The situation with all other friends is much more fluid: Trump has bashed Australia and Mexico, distrusts Germany, is jealous of Canada’s Justin Trudeau, has a bizarre male-dominance complex with France’s Macron as demonstrated by creepy handshake rituals. He is afraid to visit the UK, the indispensable US ally, because they will protest him there. Meanwhile, relationships with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia are all over the map- from inexplicable, to chaotic, to bipolar schizophrenic level dangerous, and worse.
The only functional and steady bilateral and bipartisan relationship in Trump’s America is with India. There’s a bipartisan agenda of substance, as demonstrated by Malabar 2017, the largest US-India-Japn trilateral naval exercise ever conducted. And this scrap is the last uneaten morsel left on the table of bipartisanship after the attack dogs have ravaged all else. This is a good thing.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Time will eventually tell us whether Trump goes down as the worst president in US history. At least some competition for that particularly ignoble prize exists, as several other losers from the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s come to mind who could give the current occupier of the White House a run for his money.
But we need not wait for the judgement of historians sitting in their ivory towers to reach a very different conclusion right now: six months in, Donald’s Brood is already irreparably and inarguably the worst first family ever seen in US history. Their vileness is impressive in its united and ugly uniformity (for fairness, young Barron, ex-wives, and grandkids must be exempt from this rubric, and they will be mentioned no further). No matter. There is simply no competition, no close second, when discussing the nuclear version of the Trumps vs. any other first family that came before them.
Unfortunately for us all, sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In the case of Trump’s adult children, they are rotten to the very core. Each one is a parasite on America, competing with one another for daddy’s attention, and to see who can most convincingly suck the most blood out of the country and the world, licking it off the silver spoon they were born with. Indecent, entitled, and simply bad human beings, Trump’s perverse legacy will sadly outlast him.
Don, Jr. welcomed Russian help in winning the election with open arms just as his dad was inviting Russia to hack Hillary. Completely lacking a moral center, his only lament from the affair, which blew up this week, is that the Russians brought no dirt on Hillary to the fateful meeting after all following promises of the same. Like Donald, this man is uglier than he thinks he is, a compulsive liar, a spoiled brat, a tool, and a fool. Perfect material for the president’s namesake.
Ivanka plays this dirty game of pretending to care enough about climate change or women’s issues to take away five minutes from her main life’s work, selling third-rate sweatshop slave made apparel at astronomical prices, to talk about these political issues in Vogue magazine. Only for us to find she has no effect on policy whatsoever as her dad proceeds rapaciously to quicken environmental destruction and dismantle women’s health programs. Ivanka is a poorly made up cover front, smiling and dolling up for the magazines and fooling nobody on the right side of things.
None of this is Ivanka’s worst. She brought in yet another prince of darkness, as if there weren’t enough of those little Fauntleroys sitting around already, in the creepy form of her half-baked husband, Jared Kushner. Shockingly, he might be more incompetent and entitled than his siblings-in-law. He repeatedly lies about everything he does, including on national security paperwork. Barely qualified to run a corner ice cream store, the failed real estate magnate-scion wannabe has been given widespread responsibilities encompassing many aspects of domestic and foreign policy, for which he shows zero aptitude or original thought beyond family loyalty. It is a brazen nepotism play that is highly unethical, if barely legal.
Then we have Eric Trump, the wannabe tough guy big game hunter, who uses charity fundraising as a way to make more money for the Trump organization. This is a perfect metaphor for all the Trumps and how they use the organization for self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. There was one area where the family lacked any clout, the political, and they descended on the carcass of the Republican party like a pack of hyenas. The rest is history.
There is one small bright spot in the family. Tiffany isn’t half-bad for an Instagram model whose main job seems to be taking photos in Europe with other trust fund babies. If only the others stayed out of the way like she did!
Finally we have Melania, who represents a treason within a treason. Not only did she enable, protect, and defend her husband as he ushered dark foreign forces in to help win the 2016 US election, despite her own birth in and escape from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain; she betrayed all wives, daughters, mothers, and girls in general by consistently excusing her husband’s unrestrained sexism, misogyny, and abuse of women that became a shocking and unprecedented hallmark of the 2016 presidential campaign season. She openly plagiarized Michelle Obama’s speech and blamed it on an unheard-of staffer. Then she tried her own hand at dirty politics by pretending to want to address “cyber bullying” even as her husband ripped women to shreds on twitter.
It will be such fun to see these people take themselves down.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
It seems that Indian comedians are ascendant these days.
We saw that the first SNL monologue in the Trump Era was performed by Aziz Ansari, who hit a deep home run during a time of great anxiety for many around the world. His fellow Muslim Indian-American comedian, Hasan Minhaj, was on the mic at the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which did not include President Trump, who is a poor sport utterly lacking a sense of humor. Trump has no self-awareness and doesn’t want to admit it, but his bumbling around the corners of our federal government is pretty easy to make fun of.
For those of us who didn’t know much about the young and talented Minhaj, this is a good introduction. Minhaj carries the event well, despite some awkward half-hearted applauses. The writing and delivery are spot on in a pressure packed environment featuring top journalists, politicians, and celebrities. In this era of American darkness, we need more brown men to step up and poke fun at our leader- and our crumbling media landscape. They are two cracking pillars of an American society in rapid decline, right before our very eyes.
Roopa Shree is a Special Correspondent for usindiamonitor
In the small South Indian town where I grew up, the festival of Holi wasn’t exactly a big deal. That’s not to say that Udupi, Karnataka wasn’t festive. We knew how to put on a great show. The town had a world famous Krishna Temple, amongst many other temples, and Lord Krishna’s birthday was celebrated in a grand manner and on a far more epic scale than Holi was.
Holi was still recognized in a relatively small way. We used to see groups of 10 to 15 village farmers all dressed up in white with turbans, drums and other musical instruments singing village songs in their local dialect, going door to door to collect tips. As a tradition they used to lift up and carry the youngest ones in each household and dance. But there was no splashing of colored powders in our home town, which is what most people associate with the Holi festival.
India is like many countries rolled into one. In modern India, the traditional lines of culture, cuisine, dress, and language have blurred especially in its diverse cities. The colored powder version of Holi is today celebrated all over: on college campuses, temple grounds and street corners. And now, it’s gained some footing in the United States as well.
When we came to the United States in the early 70’s, not many Americans knew much about India or Hindu culture. I was pleasantly surprised when they showed International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) characters in American sitcoms such as All in the Family or Barney Miller. For many Americans, ISKCON was probably responsible for introducing Hinduism to them.
Fast forward to 2016. After moving to Salt Lake City from California, our friends the Kamaths took us to the ISKCON Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. What a sight.
We arrived to see a magnificent all white temple sitting on top of a hill on a serene 15 acres surrounded by gorgeous snow capped mountains…thanks to the unrelenting efforts of two devotees, Charu Dasa and Vaibhavi Devi. This lovely temple modeled after KUSUM SAROVAR of India is a must-see among the amazing and unusual places not just in Utah, but in all the United States. There are beautiful peacocks, llamas, and cows maintained by this temple. You can even rent the llamas for an outing in the mountain landscape. Every week, hundreds of visitors take the temple tour from senior groups to school children, from tourists to locals to get a glimpse of Hindu temple culture.
Wait. Is that right? A Hindu temple deep in Mormon country?
Yes, it’s true, and that’s not all. This temple nestled in the mountains hosts the biggest celebration of Holi in the entire world.
Holi, also known as the festival of colors and festival of love, has become a favorite amongst fun loving Indians, Americans, and others alike, celebrated across many American states these days during springtime including Las Vegas, NV on April 15, 2017, and Oceanside, CA on May 6, 2017, etc.
I finally got to see Holi in Spanish Fork in March with our friends the Gokarns. It was everything they said it would be and more. Such a well organized event, with paid parking spaces close to the temple, security, crossing guards, traffic police, and safe walking for kids and adults alike. Vendors were selling scarfs, colored powders, Indian snacks, and masks for the festivities.
There were thousands of people going in and out, all of them drenched in beautiful colors on their faces, hair and all over their bodies. For a second I thought, is this for real, am I in India or am I dreaming?!
We entered and merged with the huge crowd. Thousands of people were dancing merrily, music was projected by DJs singing along with the bands, little kids rode on mom and dad’s shoulders right in the middle of beautiful surroundings, while the white temple on the hill top glowed in the soft shadows cast by the sun.
There were yoga sessions, interactive fusion dances, live mantra bands, and food stalls. Everybody seemed to be in good mood around the open air amphitheater. So many smiling faces. How could you not smile in this atmosphere?
As I walked around trying to capture some pics on my iPhone, friendly people came over and before I knew it, they smeared and threw colored powder all over me. There was no escape for anyone, of any age.
The two days of Holi festival at Spanish Fork draws fun loving people from all around, including the bordering States of Idaho and Wyoming. Perhaps upward of 100,000 people, mostly Americans, attended and the festival continues to rise in popularity each year. Holi is traditionally a time for cleansing, renewal, and starting over. Everyone is an equal participant. It’s also a time to welcome people from any background who have a curiosity about Hinduism to learn more. Congratulations to ISKCON for putting on a great show.
Some festivals are too much fun to miss regardless of your background or religion. This is one of them, like Baisaki in California, Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY, Artichoke Festival in Castroville, CA, the Persimmon Festival in Indiana, or WOMAD in New Zealand. These things must be seen with your own eyes, and felt for yourself with all your senses. Take a bite out of life, one festival at a time. Come taste samosas and masala chais. Come enjoy the colors of Holi with your family and friends, to celebrate the arrival of spring in all its glory.
It’s springtime in America, year 2017. As the purple, pink, turmeric yellow, red gulal, and orange scented corn starch powders covered all the skins and clothes of thousands, white, black, brown, yellow, and all other types of human being all merged into one massive rainbow colored ocean of people!
This video says a lot. Watch it. Whether or not you agree with the line or tone of questioning, it’s quite telling that Sean Spicer opines on whether Indian-Americans are “allowed” in this country in response.
In the words of Sree Chauhan, a US-born education advocate in Washington D.C. who took this video of Spicer at an Apple store:
“I was not polite. But when does being impolite mean that I should be thrown out of the United States of America? The country I was born in, the country I was raised in, the country I love despite its flaws.
I have spent enough time online to encounter rabid Trump supporters. Many of these folks see my brown skin and question my citizenship. They question whether I am here legally. They tell me to leave the country. They have told me to go back to where I came from. To which my snarky reply is often, “Go back where? New York?”
“Such a great country that allows you to be here.”
It’s one thing to have a Twitter egg tell say you do not belong in America, it is quite another to have the Press Secretary of the United States of America do so. I am still astounded. And while I am fearless, I wonder how this administration will use its power to silence ordinary people like me.”
I am a real human. I live in India. I love India and Narendra Modi (NaMo) for his vision for a clean, developed and economically vibrant India. I also love beef, pork, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and rock’n’roll (in no specific order). I also follow US politics because it affects us.
MoNa will now take your questions!!! Today, we have a shy, frightened Indian IT professional working in New Jersey who is wondering whether to stay in the United States or not- the latest installation of MONA KI BAAT.
I work for Infosys in New Jersey and am making a good salary. However, since the 2016 election I have been fearful for my safety and wondering whether it’s worth being in the United States. I am going to train in Silambam and tough it out-but it depends on what happens in 2020 or up till then. Who is your ideal candidate for the 2020 US election – using the power of your 20/20 vision?
– Sleepless in Secaucus
Dear Sleepless (I know your real name is probably Srinivas Somnath Shivashankaran):
It doesn’t matter who leads us anymore other than the fact that she should be a good man. Someone who is humble enough to listen to all the people before making decisions that affect us all and someone who is smart enough to take tough decisions even if it means temporary hardships for some of us.
I like Ashton Kutcher – he’s humble, smart and has a heart. I urge Mr. Kutcher to lead us and I also urge the other constituents of civil society to let Mr. Trump lead for the next 4 years based on the mandate he has received. For people in public life – increase explosive, divisive debates instead of shying away from them. For the media – increase the quantum of news and opinions and not become guarded in the face of fake news. For the rest of us – urge ourselves to read more and listen more and not succumb to catchphrases and generalizations. Once this happens, Social Media and Big Data can help get real time, transparent views of the People’s decisions on all matters – Micro-local, local, regional and global thus making it easier for leadership to steer the ship. Mr. Kutcher is already connected with the tech elite through his various investments and hence should know how to use tech to enhance democracy.
I endorse Ashton Kutcher for President of the USA in 2020 as the leader of all the people anywhere who put Mankind before self, people who believe that We can achieve anything if we think of all of us.
It’s another matter altogether whether Mr. Kutcher is ready for public life. I hope he is.