Category Archives: Consular/Travel
Mt. Everest has become a trendy climb for the wealthy. But all is not what it seems at this South Asian destination seemingly at the top of the world. Watch this now!
EDITOR’S NOTE: I visited Sri Lanka as my very first of 10 countries during a 6 month world tour in 2012.
It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. In light of the horrible attacks on Sri Lanka today, I want to remind the world what a great place with great people this is, despite the senseless violence you hear about. Tragically, one of the bomb blasts targeted a hotel many friends and I stayed in and thoroughly enjoyed in Colombo, the Cinnamon Grand. We can hope the cowards who perpetrated this horror will be brought to justice soon.
I would like to dedicate this blog entry to my pal Krishna and his new bride Neesha, to the extent that one can dedicate a blog entry to anyone. The fabulous wedding hosted by the couple and their families in Colombo was four days of joyous celebration for a big group of us college buddies and spouses from abroad, and this mini-reunion was the first bookend of my 2012 tour. For more than 10 years I had vowed to make it to Colombo to witness Krish getting betrothed whenever it might happen. As floor mates, roommates, or housemates, through four years in college we were never very far apart- generally with him barely talking, and me talking too much (shocking). I wouldn’t have missed this important moment.
I touched down in the capital city of Colombo (more big town than small city) on January 25th and was pleasantly surprised to find many differences from the urban India I know. The contrast in temperature was overwhelming- in New York there was heavy snow on the ground as the plane took off from JFK, and Colombo was sunny and low 90’s- a body-shocking 60 degree swing. I was expecting to find a mini-India vibe with similar landscapes, food, and culture but in fact Sri Lanka is unlike anywhere else in South Asia. The people are thoroughly laid-back in the classic island sense, which is good when it comes to relaxing near the beach, but not so good if you are trying to get through immigration at the international airport and the requisite duty officer is sleeping at his desk (true story). Along the road from the airport to the city visitors can observe large Buddha statues, colorful Jesus statues, and Hindu shrines all intermingled in the suburban centers- which were an excellent sign of religious and ethnic tolerance. After two decades of brutal civil war only just ended in recent memory between the Tamil Tiger separatists and the Singhalese-majority government, after blood-curdling atrocities committed by both sides over many years, I was glad to see numerous outward signs of harmony in Colombo, Kandy (the country’s second city), and some of the rural areas that I visited.
There is much positive to say about the Ceylonese folks. Commerce seems to be moving along, tourism is growing rapidly now that it’s safer to travel the small country’s various parts, plenty of new infrastructure construction is underway, and on a related note foreign powers such as China and Malaysia appear to be investing heavily here. Global NGOs have substantial operations performing good work. I was surprised at how clean and organized Colombo was, how nobody was urinating on the streets, how white foreigners weren’t being ogled by everyone as they would be in India. Well-maintained gardens and roads spread through the town. I did not see much of the Sri Lankan beaches but my understanding is that they are comparable in quality to other Asian destinations with the benefit of lower cost for holidays.
To follow the larger theme we’re finding throughout Asia, Sri Lanka is clearly going someplace, forging ahead for the better especially in urban centers, where a thriving middle class is apparent and people are starting to enjoy a higher standard of living, as evidenced by shopping malls, theaters, electronic equipment stores, and fast-food restaurants being frequented by a burgeoning demographic profile. Whether this lifestyle and modernity in general will seep into the heartlands and lift up the rural poor is still an open question, like it is for India, China, and others. I am not so sure and the local elites I spoke with were not definitive, either. The next question is whether Western culture and the local culture can coexist harmoniously- a dilemma for all of Asia.
In Colombo, Team Georgetown stayed at a nice resort called the Cinnamon Grand. While we took advantage of the standard amenities- gym, spa, pool, tennis courts, shopping center, and poolside bar- for me the hotel’s food was most memorable. On the first day I reached the hotel very early in the morning, well before sunrise, and was on my own for a while. When the elaborate breakfast buffet opened up at Taprobane, the in-house Sri Lankan restaurant, I was floored. Here was the bright sun rising over the resort’s shiny goldfish-laden lagoon. What commenced next was a non-stop tour of food consumption featuring both Western and Eastern breakfast treats: an omelet made to order with extra chilies, string hoppers, hoppers, three different kinds of spicy and delicious sambals, sambar, and chicken curry. A wide selection of breads, pastries, and fruit were sampled along with a cup or two of very tasty coffee. The meal was awesome in every respect except one: I was quite sad to find my belly was filling up and there was no more room to eat more breakfast morsels. The heart was saying yes, but the stomach was saying no! There were, however, four more mornings of breakfast buffet to have, these times with company.
But that was nothing. At a different part of the hotel lies the restaurant Lagoon, where several of us agreed we had found that most precious of edible treasures, literally the best seafood I’ve ever eaten anywhere. I can happily say this without an ounce of exaggeration. Customers come by, pick the specific fish, prawns, lobster, squid, or crab they want to eat from the front counter, all incredibly fresh or still alive, and then pick the type of preparation and sauce they prefer. The chefs prepare each item to order right then behind the dining area. Recommendations are given on request, and after sampling 7 or 8 different dishes over two different evenings, every single one divinely fresh, delicate and perfectly seasoned, several of us came to the consensus about what a highlight this place was. Beer and lobster thermidor, dude!
Among the more interesting things I did in Colombo away from the wedding was to shadow my friend who works at an American money management firm as he went to a series of meetings with local company CEOs and CFOs for the better part of a day. At each meeting all of the classic problems with doing business in South Asian countries became painfully apparent: high levels of political meddling in industry by certain individuals, opacity, and the strange propensity for companies to conglomerate into half a dozen unrelated industries under one corporate umbrella. For example, a beverage bottling business might also invest in real estate, telecommunications, and agriculture. The executives were very nice, but also exceedingly casual; none of the meetings started on time, and the staff at the securities firm that set up the meetings often had no idea which room we were supposed to go in, resulting in unexpectedly long tours of buildings. While the war is over, tourism booms and the economic outlook is looking up, without naming names I would suspect that overall corporate management will need to reach for higher standards before they can expect to become world-beaters.
The wedding ceremonies were lively, colorful, loud, and plenty of fun and in that they are similar to weddings in India. The main wedding event was on Saturday during the day at a large Hindu temple in Colombo. Other receptions and parties, all with grand meals served, took place on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday to make it a solid four day affair.
The day I reached, unable to fall sleep due to jet lag, I jumped right into things. As I arrived on Wednesday, I got the chance to spend some quality time at Krishna’s family home during the day, and it was a bustling hive of activity. Workers, maids, delivery people, and numerous relatives were busily moving in and out of the house. I watched Krish make at least 20 phone calls to go over logistics for events and guests traveling from around the world. It was quite hectic, but this surreal tableau was all part of the experience for me, as I was still trying to get over the fact I had been trudging in dirty snow just the day before.
Day one ended with an organized dance practice as I was inserted into a performance by Krishna’s school friends and cousins representing the boys’ side in a friendly competition at the cocktail party scheduled the next day. Representing your side in song and dance is taken seriously in Hindu weddings, so I was putting my all into it, while offering the group some comic relief during practice as well. And of course, we got rave reviews.
The next four days were a blur of activity- wedding functions, meeting up with old friends, making new ones, eating lots of food, and exploring different corners of Colombo. Fancy lunches, high tea, doubles tennis, swimming, and conversations about careers, relationships, and parenthood abounded. The final event was the Sunday night reception, which featured literally the best bharatanatyam performance I’ve ever seen, with India’s leading mother and daughter dancing duo uniquely fused with local Sri Lankan musicians holding a lively drum beat. With a former President and an ex-Prime Minister of Sri Lanka along with a smattering of High Commissioners in attendance, Sri Lankan Special Forces (see left) were standing guard at the Hilton to prevent an international incident.
After Colombo, the newlyweds and a few others of us joined up at Nuwara Eliya, the world-famous tea estates at the top of some steep hills and about an intensely curvy and climbing 6 hour drive from the capital. The altitude brought some very welcome cool weather and mist. We stayed at a beautiful hill resort called the Heritance Tea Factory, which was in fact a tea processing facility operated by the British for many decades of colonial rule. Almost all of the original architecture and machinery were kept intact in this fascinating building, and if you closed your eyes for a minute it felt like being transported back to the 1800’s during the height of the British Raj.
The tea estates make up just about the entire local economy of the region, with hundreds of workers plying the trade of growing, picking, and processing fine teas for the rest of the world to wake up to. The views of the surrounding hills, lakes, and water bodies are downright breathtaking. Thousands of rows of tea plants and other green vegetation at various heights stretch as far as the eye can see, dotted with women in colorful saris working the land. On the first morning at the estate, a couple of us went on a brisk guided trek through the estates and forestry. We visited a local village to see how the locals lived, while learning about the many species of birds, trees and plants that call this place home.
During the trek I also participated in an engaging political discussion with an elderly British gentleman, a fellow traveler who had traversed the length and breadth of America for work over many years. He has observed town after town in the heartland fall into decay from an outsider’s point of view, and we lamented the current state of affairs in Western civilization. From the heights of the Nuwara Eliya tea estates, we both thoroughly denounced the Tea Party, which brought home that educated people around the world were monitoring the phenomenon with great concern just as many Americans are. He had several memorable quotes: “After World War II during reconstruction: that was your country’s best time, I think,” he said earnestly, which made me rather proud to be American. And at the end, “Isn’t it nice how two people of different ages and from different places can share the same ideas?” Agreed.
On the way back to Colombo, from where I’d fly to Thailand, we stopped for several hours in Kandy, the second city with a sweet name, and at one point the capital of kingdoms of yore. Kandy is famous for the most important Buddha temple in Sri Lanka, and allegedly the home of Buddha’s very tooth. Inside the temple is an illustrated account of how that tooth came to be there- and the great hardships taken on by Buddhist devotees to move the tooth from place to place facing massive obstacles. This temple housed the finest collection of buddha statues and artwork I have ever seen- including gold, marble, precious gems and stones, ceramics, and other materials. Kandy was worth visiting just for this, and it was a good halt in the road trip for lunch as well.
There is much else to do in Sri Lanka, but I only had a week. I’ve heard about the amazing beaches, the ruins of ancient civilizations up north, museums, and other trappings of the British Raj that I missed on this trip. One thing is for certain: I will be back. For now I’m satisfied with having come away with the best bharatanatyam performance and best seafood meal of my life within a week.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Editor’s Note: This piece was written in 2012 when WikiLeaks and Julian Assange first became famous. Now that Assange has finally been arrested after all these years, I thought it was worth pulling this up now as a primer. This is all a bit complicated and doesn’t fit a neat narrative, including a left/right one…
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
With the recent document dump by the website Wikileaks.org, 25,000 State Department cables that had been previously classified were released into the public domain in one fell swoop. As with most controversial political issues of the day, pundits and public leaders around the world came out by the thousands to comment on this unprecedented event. The latest episode came on the heals of the previous big Wikileaks story: the release of thousands of secret documents regarding the conduct of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a military video of a tragic killing in an Iraqi neighborhood by American troops from an Apache helicopter. As with the embassy cables, the war diaries run the gamut from the mundane, which is mostly the case, to quite serious and disturbing. I recommend for all of you to read the fascinating New Yorker account of how this came to pass.
The Wikileaks exposures of sensitive government documents that were not meant for public consumption represent societal conundrums that are yet to be judged in either a court of law, or of public opinion. Is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a hero, a whistle blower, a criminal, or a terrorist? Is he a force for good or evil? He has been called all of these things. And in an exceedingly rare case of a person entering the world stage in so dramatic and important a way, he cannot be pigeonholed as any one of these. This would be a gross and unjust oversimplification. For Mr. Assange, ladies and gentlemen, is all of these things at once- defying definitions and straining our moral assumptions.
Whatever the outcome of all this, and whatever your opinion of it might be, Wikileaks has helped alter the course of human history by catalyzing a form of rogue journalism that is impossible for governments to prevent or stop. For a change we have someone throwing caution to the wind instead of erring on the side of caution.
Technology has made it possible to run your website piecemeal on servers all over the world in countries with varying laws about censorship and cyber security. Once Wikileaks documents are published on the web, they cannot be easily taken down, and will never disappear from the public eye once documents have gone viral. The documents are already out there, and the backups of the backups have backups. Finances and operations are decentralized and run by shadowy members around the globe. What’s been done can never be undone. This is the largest shift from how secrets were stolen before- a tape, a person, a room, a computer, a camera, or a notebook with sensitive information can be stolen or destroyed even if there are multiples. Document dumps onto the web cannot.
So what now? The future of the website or the copycat movement it will spawn are hard to fathom. We can only conjecture on what has already happened. It’s time for the good, the bad, and the… highly entertaining.
No Page-Turner. After skimming the site and reading numerous accounts of the supposedly juiciest tidbits that Wikileaks has published, I was disappointed by the lack of truly interesting documents. Far from earth-shattering, most exposed documents describe routine matters and few surprises. So diplomats send cables about Libya’s dictator traveling around with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse, or Putin likes to get drunk with Berlusconi? Less interesting than a single page of any Nelson DeMille novel. I was actually pleased to see that diplomats played hardball when trying to convince foreign countries to accept Guantanamo detainees- offering aid here and a meeting with Obama there. That’s awesome- that’s what they’re supposed to be doing, it’s what we pay them for! Reading any given cable to the extent it’s worth it, is less a surprise than an affirmation that many at State were pushing US interests hard. Good.
Public Service?. Government agencies got a horrific wakeup call that was desperately needed- and of little surprise to most astute observers. For this reason, and the fact that little if anything truly dangerous leaked out yet, Americans should be highly grateful to Wikileaks. If the US Army or the State Department could allow disgruntled runts to simply waltz out of the office with thousands of sensitive documents capable of causing such an international stir, security measures are woefully lacking. There are far too many people with high-level clearances, too many sensitive documents floating around, and too little control of the flow of information we are told is so goddam critical to national security. If this stuff was so critical, it should have been guarded far more jealously. The current situation is unacceptable. President Obama should call an immediate review of US government agencies’ information security practices. Governors and Mayors across the nation need to do the same. This isn’t just for the Pentagon or State; other agencies one wouldn’t usually expect to need worry about such as the Department of Agriculture, Social Security Administration, or the state DMV all harbor documents we wouldn’t want in the wrong hands and certainly not out in public.
The Danger Zone. This brings us to why Wikileaks is potentially a big threat. It demonstrates how a small group of determined individuals seeking to perform chaos can probably manage to do some serious harm, using a small network of inside informants and tech savvy hackers in key places. They could release documents that could get people killed if terrorists or foreign governments got a hold of them. This in itself should worry us. Although there is something fair and even democratic in the end product being seen by website visitors- government documents in their original form for one to judge for himself or herself, something traditional journalism does not give us- Wikileaks self-selects what documents get released and when. The site decides on the sources to use, and they are not made public. However socially responsible their goals may be, and however noble a goal it is to investigate how taxpayer money is really being spent, it is dangerous to wield this power to decide who and what makes the cut. You cannot shine a light from a dark place over a long period of time. It carries the type of potential for abuse of power that Wikileaks is supposed to be against.
Should it be Shut? There is much talk of shutting down the site, arresting its principals, and making an example of them. Clearly a number of U.S. laws have been broken regarding release of classified information. However, Assange and most of his team are not U.S. citizens, and in fact many of them are not known. The information was leaked from the inside of government first, and in the case of State it’s not clear which runt(s) were responsible. While the Wikileaks team could be considered accomplices to the initial crimes of stealing, the unique nature of what the website has done so far will never be stopped. In fact, imprisoning Assange could make him a sort of martyr, which could be exactly what he wants in order to accelerate the movement exponentially.
Spreading Democracy? Although the American media is largely missing this point, closed and corrupt governments such as those in China, Russia, North Korea, Burma, and Iran are much less concerned with what US diplomats are saying about them than what Wikileaks could say about them. In this sense, Wikileaks has done Western governments and people the most important service of all. Autocrats trying to keep things close to the vest are probably pretty worried right now.
At its best, Wikileaks could expose things to the global public that journalists, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement cannot or are unable to. It could even help bring down or alter regimes more easily than a superpower can. If it stays open, I hope Wikileaks does so. And if a byproduct of this is some more accountability at home, then so be it. Those who follow the rules generally have less to worry about.
The FBI recently tweeted about the history of its famous, or infamous, 10 Most Wanted list. Out of curiosity I went online to check out who the current fugitives from the law on the list are. I was surprised to learn one of them is Indian-born Bhadreshkumar Chetanbhai Patel, a man who brutally murdered his wife by repeatedly stabbing her at the Dunkin Donuts where they worked in Maryland, and made a run for it, potentially abroad. Please see video above for more details.
I know that a lot of Indians and others around the world visit this site and don’t like these kinds of headlines giving us all a bad name. If any of you have info about Patel and are willing to call this one in, there is a reward of up to $100,000 waiting for you. I would love one of my readers to be the one to help nail this alleged monster’s ass to the wall.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
One of the many pitfalls of our current climate in America is the severe breakdown in identifying causal links between policies and outcomes. All too predictable in a country where science and logic are being trumped by emotions such as fear.
Let’s take an example from the 2018 frame. Forget the raging immorality of separating 3,000 young children from their parents at the US border and throwing them in cages using my hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Is it at least an effective policy?
The answer is of course, no. It ain’t working. We spend billions to protect our borders, billions to prevent illegal drugs from pouring in, and billions more to protect our cybersecurity. But America is a total and absolute failure at all of these aspects of protecting Americans, which is the federal government’s #1 job. American efforts in these areas are a complete joke and everyone around the world knows it. Locking up kids in cages doesn’t work, either.
Emotions are quite simply the reason why we are in the current state we are in. Americans are overall pretty uneducated, misinformed, and ruled by our lizard brains. We elect leaders who are disproportionately crooks that prey upon our emotions. The solution itself is easy: pursue policies that make logical and scientific sense.
I can end illegal immigration in 1 month. Requiring nothing more than manipulating the simple laws of supply and demand. Pass a law that any corporation, restaurant, bar, farm, cab company, family, or individual who employs illegal immigrants will immediately be thrown in jail for 10 years. Go out and arrest them en masse. Such employers are explicitly breaking the law by hiring workers under the table. Yet nobody ever goes after these criminals simply because they come out of the political donor class that fuels both parties.
But, uh, justice is supposed to be blind right? F*** the political donor class. After this swift administration of justice, let’s see if illegal immigration drops dramatically or not. Yes, the president and his family and his cronies would be even more knee-deep in trouble with the law than they already are, because among other projects Trump Tower itself was built by many- you guessed it – illegal immigrants.
Of course the policy will work. The supply and demand curves don’t lie. Illegal immigrants would be unable to find work in America again, and they’d stop coming here soon enough. But good luck keeping the child care, the factories, the farms, the armed services, the restaurants, the cabs, and the food supply running. Those are different problems for different days.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
I have a confession to make.
For some years I have harbored a far-fetched yet beautiful fantasy about the celebrity chef and writer, Anthony Bourdain.
It was a simple, innocent fantasy: that he would somehow become the US Secretary of State, and set the the table for all of us global citizens to feast on a buffet of global peace, love, understanding, and unrestrained bacchanalia for the next 1,000 years. Who better to lead our nation’s diplomacy, at a time when United States foreign policy is utterly crumbling around us and the world order staggers on, rudderless and broken?
Indeed, who better? Bourdain is thoroughly and uniquely qualified for the job. He doesn’t simply write essays about geopolitical theory in scholarly journals that only 120 nerds read, like many in the halls of power. He was born to be the man in the arena- whether a hot and stuffy kitchen, or deep in the Amazonian rainforest. His work was simple and accessible and could be understood by the common person in any country. Tony has done far more for the American people through his forays into other countries, through teaching and bridge-building, through charity causes and exploration and adventure, than the corrupt two-bit thugs in our government charged with our diplomacy right now. Tony was a better human being and a better diplomat than these douche bags will ever be.
And what an interesting guy. Anthony Bourdain would go anywhere, eat and drink anything, meet anyone, and “risk everything” in his own words to satiate his hunger and thirst for MORE knowledge and human connection through food, history and culture, no matter how unfamiliar, hard, gelatinous, raw, strong, smelly, dangerous, or difficult. He strove to challenge his beliefs about the world, and ours. He encouraged us to eat offal. On the flip side, in Kerala he marveled at how good vegetarian food could be- and that if he lived in India, he could even BE vegetarian, that eater of intestines, tripes, and sweetbreads. Tony destroyed accepted narratives about nations and people, and eviscerated those celebrity chefs and politicians who promoted vanilla and small-minded fear of the other. He floated in and out of friendly and hostile countries alike, the common thread being that he ALWAYS made new friends along the way, eating their food or graciously making them his own.
At achieving the goals of unity and love, Tony was the best among all of us. He bucked the stereotypes. He was the opposite of the “Ugly American” most of us who have been fortunate to travel the world often encounter, eating at a T.G.I. Friday’s and drinking a Budweiser during a trip to India of all places (or a F***ING T.G.I. F***ING F***DAY’S as Tony would have said, with extreme prejudice).
Tony’s work was also personal for me. In 2001, I read his first book Kitchen Confidential, a wonderful spinoff of his seminal 1999 essay about NYC resto secrets in the New Yorker magazine. During this time, much was going on in my life. I had just moved to New York City to begin my full-time local government career, and also worked in a West Village restaurant at night, harboring earnest dreams of running my own restaurant one day soon. I was fresh-faced out of college. 9/11 went down and shook the ground all around me- and became the main topic of conversation at the restaurant bar I tended for the next few months, walking distance from Ground Zero. I served people who lost their best friends and family members, or cops who were finding flattened and bloody dead bodies in the rubble. I poured them badly needed drinks. It was here that I learned what New York was made of and why it would forever endear itself to me. Tony was the quintessential New Yorker and restauranteur. And from Tony’s eloquent words I learned everything I would ever need or want to know about the restaurant business, the most important lesson being that I would never own one after all, a decision reinforced through my real-life view of restaurant hardships and challenges.
On the other hand, it wasn’t just back-breaking work and sweat. I experienced so much of what was positive about restaurants too: busy shifts flying by with a room full of dinner guests enjoying the food, wine, and music. Wild birthday parties late at night with the rest of the staff after closing down a long and hard shift, new friendships with people from around the world, overhearing weird and inappropriate dinnertime conversations (“the best way to stop the terrorists is to bomb the shit out of Mecca in retaliation for the Twin Towers…”), big tips from flirty gay men, gorgeous girls writing down their phone numbers for me on napkins, taking orders from a number of celebrities, and the team’s constant experimentation with new food and drink recipes. The chefs constantly attempted to bribe me with my favorite food in exchange for more whiskey than they were supposed to get for their shift drink. All of the good, the bad, and the ugly about restaurant life was happening right in front of me, and Tony reinforced it all by writing every single thing I experienced, such as the universal “barter system” between chefs and bartenders, better than I ever could. He nailed the life for millions of us who were in and out of it.
Around that time Tony hung up his chef’s hat, renewed his passport, and became America’s premier jet-setting ambassador for the last 17 years of his life. Even casual fans knew there was something dark and painful inside Tony. He went through crippling addictions and bouts of depressions and terror. Despite the laughs and the joys, the darkness was always there just below the surface if you peered closely at the man’s facial expressions, his weather-beaten features, his self-deprecating jokes about death, his near perpetual state of mental and physical hangover, and even his ambling gait. Tony had quite obviously been through the wringer and back a few times. Just like so many other rock stars who shone brightly and flamed out too soon, Tony’s pain and battles with his inner demons, which he openly spoke about to the public, made him the talented firebrand that he was, larger than life but still relatable to anyone from President Obama to a tribal warrior living a lifestyle unchanged since the 17th century.
The best lesson he gave must also go down in history as a foreign policy North Star, if those of us who live on care to listen. Imagine a world where critical political negotiations only started after a few hours of delicious food and drink, accompanied by talk of more food, friends, families, pets, songs, jokes, and holidays. Treaties and peace and love would flow down like a waterfall. The best way to warm up to a people, a tribe, a country, and a culture is through putting stuff, no matter how strange, into our mouths together. Tony was the perfect vessel for this message, completely giving up his ego and his personal safety to deliver it. Tony’s gift to us lives on, because he has painstakingly climbed that mountain in the darkest night and pointed out the North Star for all of us to follow. He is still enough here to be made our Secretary of State after all.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
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!
Editor’s note: Anup Pai is an entrepreneur based in Bangalore, India. Pai is the co-founder, head of US operations, and COO of the financial technology company Fintellix, formerly known as iCreate. He recently completed an adventurous journey even most Americans have never attempted: a road trip across the contiguous United States from the East Coast to the West Coast, in 9 days, with his wife and daughter. Below is the story of their experience during this bizarre and important election year of 2016 in the United States.
Following in the great tradition of France’s Alexis de Tocqueveille and others, Pai has captured this special moment in time in the United States from a uniquely foreign perspective. He also shared some of his favorite picks for sights, food, wine, beer, and lodging below.
Unlike most Indian IT folks who started their careers in the 1990’s, my first trip to the USA didn’t happen until April 2015. Boy, did I have a lot of catching up to do. Till that point, I had travelled to over 40 countries in the Asia Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Middle East building and selling software using technologies developed in this country. Most of the countries I had been to before (barring Australia) had cultures rooted in their traditional medieval or even earlier histories, whereas the USA had rapidly developed a unique culture through the pioneering tradition of its people. We’re talking about a culture which was unmistakably a part of me just as I was unavoidably a part of that culture. Read the rest of this entry
Those of us who have met women from India know that they are capable of accomplishing anything. This week was simply further proof of that, as the world witnessed the toppling of barriers for International Women’s Day and the start of Women’s History Month.
Air India on March 8 executed an extraordinary and unprecedented feat: completing the longest possible commercial flight, a 17-hour jaunt from New Delhi to San Francisco with an all-female crew in the air and on the ground, encompassing the pilots and cabin crew all the way to the check-in staff and baggage handlers. This is a new record in the aviation industry, and one that women (and men) everywhere can be proud of regardless of background.
This great news was followed by another aerospace-oriented announcement of a more martial kind. The Indian Air Force (IAF), for the first time, is inducting female fighter pilots into action this June as part of the next fighter pilot class. Until now, female IAF pilots were relegated to other roles such as helming helicopters and cargo planes. But Bhuwana Kanth, Mohana Singh, and Avani Chaturvedi will be the first to shatter this glass ceiling on their way to the sky.
“They will be treated as fighter pilots rather than women pilots,” air chief marshal Arup Raha told NDTV.
Congratulations are in order to Air India and the Indian Air Force, two government organizations that have seen their fair share of problems lately, but who are flying in the right direction this week.
And the nation of India, which the world has come to know as a sweltering hotbed of battered and gang-raped women preyed upon daily by disgusting men in a culture run amok, has made a few baby steps toward becoming a civilized global power. There is still a very long way to go- but also hope.
Kudos are most of all in order to the ladies who are paving the way for future generations to aim for nothing less than the sky. I have perhaps become as emotional writing this piece as any in the last 3 years. We are humbled and inspired, and have some hope for the future now in an environment of seemingly endless bad news.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Editor’s Note: Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel. She is a fellow alumnus and friend from NYC Parks & Recreation. We recently had a nice discussion about US-India relations over at NewsWhistle. Below is the account of her maiden voyage to India to attend a friend’s wedding.
A few years back, I took a trip to India for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time visiting Asia, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the bride promised that she and her family would take good care of all of their out of town guests—and they did. It started with the mother of the bride asking me for my measurements because she was ordering saris for a whole bunch of us to wear to the ceremony. As I needed to get back to her at short notice, I found myself in my office restroom wrapping myself up in measuring tape—fortunately, strict accuracy was unimportant, as saris are very forgiving. Read the rest of this entry