Briefs/ World’s Largest Modern Hindu temple/ Indians in the U.S. Set New Records/ Book Matters.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
Jinali Mody, who received a master’s degree in sustainability, founded Yale-based Banofi Leather, which won the 2023 Hult Prize. Worth $1 million, it’s the world’s biggest social entrepreneurship business competition for students. Banofi’s eco-friendly leather, made from banana crop waste, has the texture of real leather. Over 40,000 teams from 120 nations took part in the contest. In 2022, Banofi won the $30,000 Wege Prize.
Aparna Chennapragada, as a new corporate VP at Microsoft, heads its generative AI efforts in Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Designer. She has worked at Akamai Technologies, Robinhood, eBay, and for a dozen years at Google, where she was a VP and general manager for consumer shopping before leading its efforts in augmented reality (AR) and visual search products (Lens). She’s an alumna of IIT Madras, UT Austin, and MIT.
Manu Raju, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent, is now also the anchor of Inside Politics Sunday on CNN. He won a Folio-Eddie Award and the 2016 Joan Shorenstein Barone Award for his coverage of Congress and campaign politics. Raju, who reported from the U.S. Capitol during the assault in 2021, graduated from the University of Wisconsin. His grandfather, Gopalakrishna Adiga, was a renowned Kannada poet.
Gitanjali Rao, who became Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year, was among 15 teens chosen for the “Girls Leading Change” celebration hosted at the White House by First Lady Jill Biden. Now a first-year student at MIT, the 17-year-old from Colorado has received an EPA Presidential Award for her easy-to-use lead contamination detection tool, and she was named America’s Top Young Scientist by Discovery Education/3M.
UmaSofia Srivastava was crowned Miss Teen USA 2023. A high schooler of Indian and Mexican heritage, she became Miss New Jersey Teen USA earlier. She’s involved with the Lotus Petal Foundation, which helps underprivileged children in India, and with the Bridge of Books Foundation in New Jersey. A pianist as well, she wrote a book called The White Jaguar in all the languages she speaks (English, Spanish, Hindi, and French).
Ram Vanji Sutar, the 98-year-old sculptor, is known for his towering Statue of Unity (Sardar Patel) and Statue of Prosperity (Kempegowda). Now the Padma Bhushan winner has designed the Statue of Equality (B.R. Ambedkar). The Dalit leader, who was also the chief architect of India’s constitution, has been honored with two Sutar statues—one in a Washington, D.C. suburb (19 feet tall) and the other in Hyderabad (125 feet tall.)
Sanjay Sami has drawn wide interest in Bollywood and Hollywood as a key grip or dolly grip. His work, especially for the filmmaker Wes Anderson, has made him famous, with some calling him Anderson’s “secret weapon” for being able to maneuver bulky camera rigs with speed, accuracy, and ingenuity. The Grand Budapest Hotel and Hotel Mumbai are two of the films he has worked on. Sami founded The Grip Works in 2003.
Gauri Gill, the recipient of several photography awards, won the 2023 Prix Pictet. Worth 100,000 Swiss Francs, this global award focuses on sustainability. Gill, picked from a shortlist of 12 photographers, was recognized for her work with marginalized communities in Rajasthan and Indigenous artists. Her winning series is titled Notes from the Desert. She studied at Delhi College of Art, Parsons School of Design, and Stanford.
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WORLD’S LARGEST MODERN HINDU TEMPLE
The newest BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, which opened last month in Robbinsville, NJ, is the Western Hemisphere’s largest Hindu temple. The facts can be staggering. Indian workers and over 12,000 volunteers from across the U.S. took more than a decade to build the sprawling 185-acre temple complex. A labor dispute involving some workers caused controversy a few years ago, but that case is now on hold. About two million cubic feet of stone was used to construct a main shrine, a dozen sub-shrines, nine spire-like structures (shikhars), and nine pyramids. On top is the world’s biggest elliptical dome built from traditional stone, and the temple features 10,000 statutes and statuettes, along with carvings of Indian musical instruments and dance forms. Also notable is the Brahma Kund, an ancient stepwell containing water from more than 300 bodies across the world, including all 50 states in the U.S. and many rivers in India. The sandstone came from India; the marble from Italy, Turkey, and Greece; the granite from India and China; and the limestone from Turkey and Bulgaria.
The temple’s opening ceremonies, spread over three days, drew more than 20,000 visitors, including the likes of NJ Senator Cory Booker and NJ Representative Frank Pallone. Of course, the spiritual guru of BAPS, Mahant Swami Maharaj, who turned 90, was the most important person in attendance. The temple was initially conceived by the late Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and the construction began in 2011. BAPS has more than 1100 mandirs and 3850 centers all over the world, according to BAPS Global Network. The conservation initiatives of BAPS include solar farms and the planting of over two million trees in the last few decades.
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INDIANS IN THE U.S. SET NEW RECORDS
The Indian population in the U.S., after rising by over 50% in a decade (2010-2020), is the largest Asian alone group. Going by the data released in 2020 by the Census Bureau, Indians account for almost 4.4 million of the nation’s population. The largest Asian alone or in any combination group was still Chinese Americans (over 5.2 million), with Indian Americans (over 4.7 million) forming the second biggest group in that category. Indians living in California form the largest Indian American group, but now Texas is one of the hottest states (no pun intended) for inbound migration. Indians, however, are not the fastest growing South Asian group. The 2020 demographic characteristics “show that the Nepalese population increased over 250% and was the fastest growing Asian alone and Asian alone or in any combination group among those with populations of 50,000 or more in 2010,” the Census Bureau notes.
In 2022, India overtook China to become the largest exporter of foreign students to the U.S. In 2010, the number of Indian students here crossed 100,000—and by 2020, there were 200,000 Indians (20% of foreign students). As of last year, there were almost 212,000 Indian students in the U.S. “India has more than a million students in 99 countries, including one each in Serbia and Vietnam,” BBC’s Soutik Biswas noted. The U.S. mission to India has reached and exceeded its goal to process a million nonimmigrant visa applications this year. Indians account for over a tenth of the worldwide applications made to the U.S. In the H&L category (employment), 65% of applicants are Indians. Also last year, 1.2 million Indian came to the U.S. on visitor visas.
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Thirst (Penguin Young Readers), by Varsha Bajaj. If you’re looking for children’s books to give as holiday gifts, the 2023 winners of the South Asia Book Award (SABA) are a good bet. Bajaj’s book, honored in the Middle Grade Readers category, takes us to the unequal world of Mumbai, where some have limitless access to water, while others (most of the population) have to contend with a shortage. Minni, troubled by this disparity, tries to find a solution. First published in 2022, the paperback edition of this book came out this year. The winner in the Young Readers category, Shirin Shamsi’s The Moon from Dehradun: A Story of Partition (Atheneum), tells the story of Azra, who, leaving her cherished doll behind, flees to Lahore with her family on a train. In Dur e Aziz Amna’s American Fever (Arcade), which won in the Older Readers category, 16-year-old Hira, born to an immigrant family, deals with challenges like tuberculosis and bigotry. SABA is co-administered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The In-Betweeners: Stories (Braddock Avenue Books), by Khem K. Aryal. This debut collection’s evocative cover, showing Western tourists on the steps next to a Kathmandu temple, is deceptive—for the characters in these poignant stories are mostly Nepali immigrants in the U.S. But there’s delicious irony in the inversion. In “Laxman Sir in America,” the family is here because they won the coveted diversity visa (DV) open to some underrepresented nations. Laxman, who was a respected teacher in Nepal, is ambivalent, feeling more like a visitor in a country where immigrants are outsiders, populism is rising, and he works at an Amazon fulfilment center. Things back home are worse, however, and the American dream is hardly a mirage for DV immigrants. Nobody makes it clearer than Laxman’s two sons, who “had on ‘I Love USA’ t-shirts—‘love’ marked by a heart-shaped US flag—over six-dollar trousers bought at Walmart.” The other stories capture this “in-betweenness” just as engagingly.
Nuts & Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way) (Norton), by Roma Agrawal. London-based Agrawal, an award-winning structural engineer and broadcaster, was involved with the design of The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest tower. In this book (she also wrote BUILT), Agrawal explores seven simple machines and shows how each of them helped to transform our lives. This isn’t a new idea. During the Renaissance, she points out, “the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the inclined plane, the wedge, and the screw” were considered the basis for all complex machines. Updating that list, she has come up with the following list: the nail, wheel, spring, magnet, lens, string, and pump. Her debut book won an AAAS Science Book Award, and the new book was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize. Agrawal was educated at Imperial College London and Oxford. The book is “elegantly structured and full of facts you are unlikely to chance on anywhere else,” says Daily Mail.
This Is Salvaged: Stories (Norton), by Vauhini Vara. Following the success of her debut novel, The Immortal King Rao, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Vara is out with a collection of ten stories, most of which first appeared in publications such as Tin House, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and McSweeney’s. Focusing largely on girls and women, the stories explore grief, estrangement, mental health, and the ability or inability to make connections. But that doesn’t mean it’s gloomy, because the stories are leavened with humor—which starts with 17 lines of “Ha! Ha! Ha!” in the epigraph—and there’s hope for the characters. They come from different backgrounds, though the very first story (“The Irates”) features a 14-year-old narrator named Swati. Remembering her beloved and gifted older brother, who died recently, she says, “His meaning was to love us and be loved by us. This satisfied him. He was at peace.” Vara, who has worked as a journalist, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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