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Briefs/ An Indian Monk’s Historic U.S. Visit/ How America & India View Each Other/ Book Matters.

Compiled/ Written by Murali Kamma Email Compiled/ Written by Murali Kamma
August 2023
Briefs/ An Indian Monk’s Historic U.S. Visit/ How America & India View Each Other/ Book Matters.

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY

Harold D’Souza received a 2023 UN Human Rights Hero Award. The Indian American activist, originally from Karnataka, cofounded a nonprofit called Eyes Open International (EOI) to combat human trafficking. It was inspired by his family’s ordeal. D’Souza, who’d come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa, lost 11 years of freedom when he and his wife became victims of labor trafficking and debt bondage. Now their nonprofit helps other victims.

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Anjali Sud is the new CEO of Tubi, a free ad-supported television (FAST) channel owned by Fox. She was previously the CEO of Vimeo, which got listed on NASDAQ during her tenure. A native of Detroit, the 40-year-old Sud earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and management from Wharton and an MBA from Harvard. California-based Tubi, which has 64 million monthly active users, is available in 10 nations, including India.

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Geeta Rao Gupta was sworn in by Kamala Harris as Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department. The first woman of color to hold this position, Rao is a first-generation immigrant who was fully educated in India. A recipient of several honors, including Harvard’s Anne Roe Award, Rao, who earned a PhD from Bangalore University, has held senior positions at the UN Foundation, UNICEF, and ICRW.

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Manjit Singh, just 29 when he died in 2020, is a posthumous recipient of the Carnegie Hero Award, North America’s highest honor for civilian heroism. There are 16 awardees this year, and they or their survivors get a medal and a financial grant. Singh, an immigrant farmer from Fresno, CA, tried to save an eight-year-old girl from drowning, though he couldn’t swim. He used his turban as a lifeline, but neither of them survived.

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Kairan Quazi, born in California to Bangladeshi parents, is a newly minted software engineer at SpaceX. His age: 14 years. After earning a computer science and engineering degree from Santa Clara University, Kairan became perhaps the youngest employee at any major U.S. company. The highly gifted youngster, who zipped through school, began college at 9 and was an intern and the youngest ever AI Fellow at Intel Labs.

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Girish Panicker, a professor at Alcorn State University, is the 2023 recipient of the International Conservation Research Award from the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). He’s the director of Alcorn’s Conservation Research Center, whose work has been useful worldwide for soil erosion prediction, nutrient management, and conservation. Among other honors, Panicker also received the Pride of India Award.

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Nalini Malani, a groundbreaking video artist in India, is a recipient of the 2023 Kyoto Prize. She won in the Arts and Philosophy category, the other two being Basic Sciences and Advanced Technology. Each winner gets a 20k gold medal, 100 million yen, and a diploma. Malani’s videos, paintings, drawings, and installations bring attention to the underrepresented in the Global South and focus on the “decentralization” of art.

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Neal Katyal has been widely commended for successfully arguing an important constitution case at the Supreme Court. It was a 6-3 win for his side. He represented Common Cause, a watchdog group that challenged a legal theory that would have allowed state legislatures to overrule the courts when setting election rules. Katyal, a former principal deputy solicitor general, now teaches at Georgetown Law in D.C.


 

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AN INDIAN MONK’S HISTORIC U.S. VISIT

DesiWorld_9_08_23.jpgA street sign near the Art Institute of Chicago, marking a busy section of Michigan Avenue, reads: Swami Vivekananda Way. It commemorates a famous speech that he delivered 130 years ago at the World’s Parliament of Religions. This event—coinciding with World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago—was held at the Art Institute, then known as the Permanent Memorial Art Palace. On September 11, 1893, Swami Vivekananda, in an opening that brought a two-minute applause, said, “My dear brothers and sisters of America . . .” In short but passionate remarks that mostly introduced Hinduism (Vedanta, mainly) to Americans, he denounced fanaticism and called for religious tolerance and unity. “His unprecedented success opened the way for the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions,” reads in part a plaque that was installed outside the museum’s Fullerton Hall, where Swami Vivekananda had addressed his audience.

 

It was in the Clinton era—on September 11, 1995, to be precise—that Michigan Avenue got the sign honoring the monk. A few years later, the first statue of Swami Vivekananda was erected at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont. In 2011, artist Jitish Kallat installed Public Notice 3, which converted the text of that speech to LED displays on the 118 steps of a staircase in the museum. The world was very different in 1893. It took two months for the ship journey from India (with stops)—and in the U.S., where life wasn’t easy, Swami Vivekananda had to rely on American well-wishers. On a subsequent visit, he established Vedanta Societies in New York and San Francisco. He died in India in 1902, even before he turned 40.

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HOW AMERICA & INDIA VIEW EACH OTHER

 

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Indians, according to a Pew Research Center survey, have a generally favorable view of America, although 68% of Indian respondents believe that the U.S. interferes in the affairs of other nations. The American view of India is more mixed. While 65% of Indian respondents view the U.S. favorably, only 51% of American respondents say the same about India. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, at 56%, are likely to view India more favorably than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (48%). Indians, with their preference for Democrats, return the favor (64% say they trust Biden to do the right thing). How do Americans view PM Modi? Well, a substantial number (40%) didn’t even know about him. This number has gone down, most likely, given that the survey was done before Modi’s state visit. Among U.S. nationals who know about Modi, according to Pew, “37% have little or no confidence in his ability to do the right thing regarding world affairs, compared with 21% who are confident in him.”

Although most Americans (64%) think India’s influence hasn’t changed in recent years, another 24% believe it has become stronger. In another finding, which may surprise some people, 72% of Indians think the U.S. takes their country’s interests into account before making decisions. Only Israelis, at 80%, believe that by a higher percentage than Indians and Kenyans (also 72%). On the other hand, many European nations—including Germany, the U.K., and France—believe that the U.S. disregards their interests when making decisions in foreign policy.

& & & & & & & & & &

BOOK MATTERS

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Moth (Harper Perennial), by Melody Razak. Published earlier in hardcover, this novel’s paperback edition, being released in August, comes not long after the paperback release of Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices: Untold Stories (Bloomsbury). Makes sense—because Razak, a British Iranian writer who owned a café in the U.K., was inspired to write her debut novel while listening to Puri’s award-winning audio series (Partition Voices) on BBC Radio 4. After earning a master’s in creative writing, Razak, who also worked as a pastry chef, made the switch to her true passion. But before she hunkered down to write her acclaimed novel, which focuses on a Hindu family in Delhi just before Indian independence, Razak, long fascinated by India, traveled across the nation. The major trade journals gave the novel starred reviews.

 

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South to South: Writing South Asia in the American South (Texas A&M University Press), edited by Khem K. Aryal. In this fascinating anthology comprising eight short stories and eight narrative essays, writers of South Asian descent explore the immigrant experience in the Southern United States. We have two Atlanta-based contributors—Soniah Kamal and Anjali Enjeti—along with Athens-based contributor Aruni Kashyap, who teaches creative writing at the University of Georgia. Contributor Sindya Bhanoo, who now teaches creative writing at Oregon State University, is an Atlanta native who will be familiar to longtime readers of Khabar. The other contributors are Jenny Bhatt, Sayantani Dasgupta, Ali Eteraj, Tarfia Fiazullah, Anuja Ghimire, Rukmini Kalamangalam, Shikah Malaviya, Kirtan Nautiyal, Chaitali Sen, Hasanthika Sirisena, Jay Wagle, and Khem K. Aryal. Nepali-born Aryal, who put the anthology together, is an associate professor of English at Arkansas State University. Noting that “the book provides a fresh imagining of the complexities of displacement,” author Samrat Updhyay, also originally from Nepal, adds: “This is the new South.”

 

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Late Bloomers (Random House), by Deepa Varadarajan. This trade paperback novel, written by a Yale Law School grad and legal academic based in Atlanta, is ideal for the dog days of summer. After 36 years of married life, an Indian-born couple in the U.S. call it quits, throwing their family into turmoil. The two children—Priya and Nikesh—are adults, and the long marriage was one of convenience more than happiness, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Suresh and Lata Raman, who have much to learn for their second acts. Priya is agitated by her father’s clumsy romantic pursuits online, and Lata is troubled as well when a professor shows interest in her. Then there is Nikesh, whose marriage to a colleague in his law firm could be more complicated than it appears. The author “deftly weaves modern-day problems like internet dating and complicated living arrangements with the eternal yearning for acceptance and the ageless desire to live up to family expectations,” says novelist Katherine Heiny.

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The Sea Elephants (Flatiron Books), by Shastri Akella. The status of gays in India has improved in recent years, though it’s an evolving process. One doesn’t have to go back very far—the ’90s should suffice, as in this debut novel—to get a different view of their place in Indian society. Knowing he can never be the son his father expects him to be, Shagun joins a circus rather than a conversion camp. Actually, it’s a traveling troupe that helps him find love. Shagun, who has a stint in a boarding school, seems to be running away from an unsympathetic father and from a tragedy that overwhelms his family. Did he have anything to do with the unexpected passing of his much-loved twin sisters? “Read this novel not only for its vibrant forbidden romance but also for its summoning of ancient mythology through street theater, where old myths find new ways to be reshaped,” notes author Jai Chakrabarti. Akella earned his MFA and PhD from UMass Amherst.


 


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