Quiz, Screen Indians--looking back & looking ahead, the first Indian-American, car bumps, books
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
1. Shiva Oswal, 13, is a home-schooled prodigy who won $250,000 on Who Wants to be a
Millionaire? He aced the SAT at 11, and recently won first place in the National Academic Quiz
Tournament, which featured 192 teams. Shiva’s team had how many players altogether?
(A) One (B) Two (C) Three (D) Four
2. Actress Deepika Padukone was recently included in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential
People.’ So were the following four. Which of them cofounded Ola, one of the world’s largest
ride-sharing companies? Available in over 100 Indian cities, it has also made inroads in Australia.
(A) Kumail Nanjiani (B) Satya Nadella (C) Bhavish Aggarwal (D) Virat Kohli
3. Isani Singh of Colorado won third place ($150,000) in the Regeneron Science Talent Search
for her work on a genetic abnormality in women (Turner Syndrome). This annual competition
began in 1942—and in 2016, Regeneron became its third sponsor. Who was the first sponsor?
(A) Westinghouse (B) Intel (C) Siemens (D) General Electric
4. Comedian Hasan Minhaj won a Peabody Award in the entertainment category for Homecoming
King, his 2017 standup special on Netflix. The awards are presented by the Henry W. Grady
College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is based at which university?
(A) Georgia State (B) Emory (C) Georgia Tech (D) University of Georgia
5. While Akhil Kondepudi of Missouri is the 2018 U.S. Brain Bee champion, Sojas Wagle of
Arkansas was the 2017 World Brain Bee champion. Akhil will compete next month in the 2018
international competition in which European city? It’s the largest among the following four.
(A) Barcelona (B) Brussels (C) Berlin (D) Budapest
6. Sunitha Krishnan, cofounder of Prajwala, is at the forefront in the fight against sexual violence,
trafficking, and gender imbalance in India. Along with two others, she’s a nominee for the
2018 humanitarian Aurora Prize, which is worth how much (in addition to a $100,000 grant)?
(A) $10,000 (B) $50,000 (C) $100,000 (D) $1 million
7. The Obama Foundation aims to empower people to change their world. New Delhi-based
Preethi Herman of Change.org Foundation and Navdeep Kang of Mercy Health in Cincinnati were
picked from over 20,000 applicants. They are among how many inaugural Fellows?
(A) Five (B) Twenty (C) Eight (D) Ten
8. A decade ago, after a financial meltdown, Neel Kashkari played a role in the government’s
response to the crisis. Kashkari is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minnesota. He was
preceded by Narayana Kocherlakota. Which of these cities has a Federal Reserve Bank?
(A) Birmingham (B) Atlanta (C) Nashville (D) Charleston
9. If you’ve wondered what it’s like to see Indian-American families—not just the kids—
compete on TV, you can check out America’s Smartest Family, hosted by Zaid Ali. This desi version
of Family Feud / Jeopardy / Wheel of Fortune appears on which channel in the U.S.?
(A) Zee TV (B) TV Asia (C) Star Plus (D) Sony TV
10. Wild Wild Country, a six-part docuseries on Netflix, focuses on a controversial free-love
cult that flourished in the western U.S. Founded in the ’80s by Rajneesh (aka Osho), this commune
collapsed after it was engulfed by a scandal involving criminal behavior. Where was it located?
(A) Oregon (B) Washington (C) Colorado (D) California
[Answers are at the bottom of this page.]
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SCREEN INDIANS: LOOKING BACK
Before Apu, we had Jawaharlal. And if you go back further, there was Hrundi. In decades past, how did Indian characters with jaw-challenging names (for non-Indians) end up on American screens? Well, the truth is these characters (or maybe caricature, in the case of Hrundi Bakshi, played by the comic master Peter Sellers) didn’t have roles that went on and on—unlike Apu (of The Simpsons), who, being a cartoon creation, is immortal. The never-aging Apu made his first appearance in 1990 and is still going strong in a sitcom that debuted in 1989. And 1989 was the year Jawaharlal Choudhury (Jory Husain, later known as Joher Coleman) ended his run, after only three seasons, on the sitcom Head of the Class. Hrundi Bakshi was the lead in The Party, a film that came out fifty years ago. In case you’ve wondered about Apu’s accent, Hrundi was the inspiration. The Party may still be funny, but it’s dated for more than one reason. Peter Sellers blackened his face, just as Amy Irving blackened hers in The Far Pavilions. This cringe-inducing custom was reminiscent of minstrel shows that mocked African-Americans.
Is The Simpsons showing its age, given the debate centering on Apu? Passionate arguments have been made on both sides, so it’s unclear how—or if—there will be changes in this beloved sitcom. What’s clear, though, is that the TV landscape has changed dramatically. And some of that credit goes to earlier Indian-American actors like Kavi Raz. As Vijay Kochar in the hit show St. Elsewhere, he played the role of a doctor from 1982 to 1984. Incidentally, he was a good hockey player who had to miss the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles because of his acting career.
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SCREEN INDIANS: LOOKING AHEAD
So what can viewers look forward to? Plenty, if the new shows can survive the inevitable hurdles of the ratings game. One highly anticipated series is ABC’s The Great American Hero, a reboot of a hit from the early 1980s. Meena, played by Hannah Simone, is no ordinary hero. In this breakthrough role, her life in Cleveland takes a dramatic turn when she’s asked to safeguard a super suit that protects the planet. Simone, who appeared in New Girl, has an Indian father and a mother of European descent. A CBS sitcom called Pandas in New York holds promise. Scripted by Ajay Sahgal, it focuses on a successful Indian-American medical practice. Pushpa (Gita Reddy) may be pushing the boundaries of research (she specializes in anterior cruciate ligament surgery), but her family values are strictly conservative. The cast also includes Nishi Munshi, Hina Abdullah, and Dan O’Brien.
Then there’s an NBC pilot (Bright Futures) featuring YouTube sensation Lilly Singh and four others in the main cast. Think of it as a remake of Friends, except you’d call it Female Friends. Singh plays Sid, a 20-something who’s a recent medical graduate with other plans for her life. False Profits, an ABC sitcom, is also focused on the lives of women, though the action moves to the cosmetics industry in Arizona. Kosha Patel and Kapil Talwalkar have roles. Mouzam Makkar will star in an ABC legal thriller named The Fix, while Sarayu Rao (aka Blue) has a role in an unnamed NBC comedy from Aseem Batra. And from CBS, we have two more shows: History of Them, a comedy, and Red Line, a drama. You can expect to see Amit Shah in the former, and Vinny Chhibber in the latter.
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THE FIRST INDIAN-AMERICAN
Waris Ahluwalia & Bhagat Singh Thind
Imagine that you fight for your adopted country, and in the same year the war ends victoriously, you receive your citizenship. It’d be a proud day. Now imagine that your citizenship is revoked—twice—because you belong to the wrong race. That’s exactly what happened to Bhagat Singh Thind. The first time this happened, a century ago, his citizenship was revoked just four days after he got it. While the year 1918 didn’t end happily for Thind, he never gave up. And in 1936, his quest for U.S. citizenship ended triumphantly, paving the way for other immigrants from the subcontinent. Tanveer Kalo, a 21-year-old student at Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York, read about Thind while doing an internship at the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission. Doing further research, Kalo uncovered a wealth of material on U.S.-based Indians who’d fought in the First World War. Besides Thind, the U.S. Army’s first turbaned Sikh, there were at least 30 other Indian soldiers, he found.
Not only was Thind a path-breaking soldier, but he was a scholar who earned his Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley and became, through his lectures and books, a proponent of Indian and Western spiritual practices. As an early supporter of India’s freedom struggle, he joined the Ghadar Party, even becoming its general secretary. Thind’s second attempt for citizenship, in 1919, was initially successful—but again, the timing wasn’t good because of anti-Asian sentiment. It took another attempt to become a U.S. citizen, and in 1940 he married an American woman. A short film called All Quiet on the Home Front honors his achievements, with Waris Ahluwalia in the lead role. Thind died in 1967 at the age of 75.
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ALL ABOUT BUMPS
For the fiscal year 2017-18, the Indian auto industry reported a considerable bump in sales. Having overtaken Germany to become the world’s fourth biggest auto market, India now lags behind only China, the U.S., and Japan. If we include all vehicles, India produced 29 million units in that period, representing a 14.8 percent growth from the previous fiscal year. Domestically, Maruti Suzuki captures almost half the auto market share. It sold over 1.6 million vehicles in India, and exports are also on the rise. As for the U.S. market, the iconic Royal Enfield is the only Indian vehicle that’s had any impact here, though it remains modest (under 1000 units annually). And recently, the Indian-made Ford EcoSport entered the U.S. market.
Speaking of bumps, if you’re getting frustrated with the rough ride you have to endure because of bad roads, help is on the way. Self-driving cars may be years away, but smooth-driving ones are well within reach, thanks to ClearMotion. It actually began with the Bose Corporation, which pioneered a proactive suspension technology that held promise for a less bumpy ride. Using sensors to read the road ahead, the Bose system allowed the wheels to rise and fall on their suspension. But the technology wasn’t ready for commercial use. That’s when ClearMotion took over and, among other things, miniaturized the technology. Founded by Shakeel Avadhany and Zack Anderson (they met at MIT), the company designed the Activalve, which makes shock absorbers obsolete. It’s a software-centric, electrohydraulic device that makes adjustments constantly.
Soon, hopefully, those potholes won’t take a toll on your car, not to mention your body.
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Nisha Sharma’s My So-Called Bollywood Life (Crown) seems to be the ideal YA novel for the lazy days of summer. The narrator Winnie Mehta, a high school student, is a film buff, not unlike the author. Winnie prefers the New Bollywood period (late 1980s to early 2000)—and in an engaging twist, every chapter and the last section of the book have short blog entries, often funny or revealing, on the films she has seen. Bombay “is the reason I love Bollywood films,” she notes, and here’s her pithy review of Maine Pyar Kiya: “Friends who fall in love. A man who must prove his feelings by giving up all of his wealth. A gang of hooligans. What more do you need?” Winnie is disappointed in Raj, her boyfriend, but there’s also Dev, her loyal friend, all featuring in a novel that is—and more important, isn’t—like the movies she enjoys watching. Sharma earned a law degree, but apparently, the lure of fiction (and films) was irresistible.
Deepa’s Secrets (Skyhorse), a cookbook by Deepa Thomas, won a 2018 James Beard Award and a Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Think of it as a memoir in the form of recipes. Thomas, who ran a highly successful textiles business for about two decades, turned to this project mainly because of her husband, a diabetic. The low-carb diet his doctor recommended inspired her to experiment and draw on family traditions for what she calls her New Indian cuisine. The ingredients are healthier and the methods sensible, but there’s no compromise on taste, making this diet more of a ‘non-diet,’ according to her. But it was so effective that, within six months, she and her husband lost 20 pounds each and he stopped taking insulin. You’ll find recipes for Deepa’s Indian pesto, Nawabi tuna kebab burger, a pilaf called heritage barley, avial, Chukku’s yogurt salad, Sosamma’s basic broth, and many more. Interspersed with family pictures and family lore, the book is an advice-filled guide to healthy living, not just eating.
Amal Unbound (Nancy Paulsen), a new book for middle schoolers, is by Aisha Saeed, an Atlanta-based attorney and Pakistani-American author who drew attention as a founder of the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ campaign. Her well-received debut, Written in the Stars, was for older kids. In the new work, Amal may be feisty and hardworking, but she’s poor and stuck on a feudal landlord’s estate, where injustice and inequality rule. How does Amal find her way out? If she reminds you of Malala Yousafzai, it’s no coincidence. Malala was an inspiration for the book. Another worthy book for the same age group is Jennifer Bradbury’s Outside In (Atheneum). Although published last year, it’s in the news because it won a 2018 South Asian Book Award. Ram, a 12-year-old boy living on the streets of Chandigarh, stumbles on Nek Chand’s Rock Garden. While it may remind you of The Secret Kingdom, Bradbury’s book is actually a novel that was inspired by Chand’s sculptures and stories from the Ramayana.
Vivek Wadhwa’s Your Happiness Was Hacked (Berrett-Koehler), co-written with Alex Salkever, is nicely timed. If “tech is winning the battle to control your brain,” as they note, Wadhwa’s tips on “how to fight back” are worth our attention. The Silicon Valley Forum recently picked him as one its four Visionary Award nominees. The authors zero in on the problem, and offer solutions, by analyzing the addictive mechanisms of technology in four broad areas: Love, Work, Self, Society. Not long ago, Wadhwa admits, he was “a starry-eyed optimist about the possibilities of social media.” But things move at warp speed in the tech world—and in an era of hacking, fake news, trolls, online addictions, bullying and stalking, fraud, and other breaches of trust, we need a new way forward. This book offers it. Wadhwa admits that the message would resonate more with the over-35 crowd. In fact, his own sons urged him not to write an “out of touch” book. Of course, they might have changed their minds by now.
[Answers to the quiz: 1= (A). 2 = (C). 3= (A). 4 = (D). 5 = (C). 6 = (D). 7 = (B). 8 = (B). 9 = (A). 10 = (A).]
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