Meeting Pratham

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I can thank food poisoning for how I came to know Pratham. I was in Doha, Qatar, in 2012, covering an education conference for The New York Times, writing about the World Innovation Summit for Education, or WiSE, founded by Sheika Moza bint Nasser, wife of the emir of Qatar.

I barely got through the conference. I had an early morning departure for the quick flight from Dubai to Doha, and my digestive system had already made it clear it disagreed with the chicken schwarma sandwich I had consumed for dinner the night before. I managed to work the day with a few bathroom breaks, but toward the end of the day, I was starting to feel feverish. I asked staff in the media room how best to get a cab to get back to my hotel. (In an effort to ensure attendees were able to make the conference on time in construction-filled and traffic-snarled Doha, WISE had arranged bus and car pickup to and from the conference.)

Long story short, there were no cabs available and the media buses weren’t scheduled to pick us up for a few more hours. I told them I couldn’t wait and after some discussion, they decided that I could hitch a ride with one of the VIP cars that run on a much more flexible schedule.

Mom and Dad attend Pratham’s Houston gala in May 2018. More than $2.8 mlllion was raised.

The VIP in that car was Madhav Chavan, Pratham’s co-founder and the recipient of the WISE Prize, the organization’s highest honor. I didn’t know all that when I first stepped into the car, a little green and anxious to get back to my hotel. I thanked him for letting me hitch along and we made introductions, telling each other why we were at the conference. He told me that he had founded an education organization called Pratham that worked in India, and that he was here to accept a prize.

(I realized only later how large Pratham is — it was founded 22 years, has served millions of underprivileged kids, and has chapters across the globe — and that the prize that he was accepting is akin to a Nobel for education. Not a journalist’s finest hour, I’ll concede. In my defense, I got the assignment pretty late and my editor was only interested in a story about Sheikha Moza.)

The timing of the meeting was fortuitous as I was winding down my Dubai tenure and headed to Gujarat, India, for three months before I returned to the US and resumed regular life. I got in touch with Chavan, whose office connected me with the local Pratham chapter in Ahmedabad.

One afternoon I went with the local Pratham administrators to a Learning Center in Allahnagar, a Muslim community in the Behrampura neighborhood in Ahmedabad. This was back in March 2013 and, as it was summer in India, the class only contained five girls and six boys in the tiny two-room classroom. The kids are between 7- and 9-years-old and can read but are still dependent on visual clues to help them remember words and build vocabularies. Everyone in Allahnagar is very poor. There are no iPads or Wi-Fi here. The hope is to keep these kids in school until the 5th grade. For girls, economic and cultural pressures are especially strong to give up their educations and get married.

It’s been five years since I visited that learning center. I sat on the floor with them and joined in some of their exercises. Yes, this 7-year-old (see photo, left) and I are basically on the same level when it comes to reading Gujarati!

I have no idea how many of these kids made it to the fifth grade or what their lives are like now. But I’m fairly certain that exposure to programs like Pratham not only give these kids practical skills that will help them navigate daily life, they also give them an opportunity to envision themselves in a world beyond just the immediate experiences of the people that surround them.

 

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Mom’s Cooking School: Doodhi na debra (Indian squash flatbread.)

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When I was a child, my parents had planted and maintained two vegetable gardens in our backyard in Texas City. One of them was devoted solely to Indian squash. And, under the tutelage of my Mom’s very green thumb, the squash (doodhi in Gujarati) grew like wildfire.

I have to admit, I was not a fan. Whenever I saw the long light-green gourd sitting on the kitchen counter — and given how well they grew, it was often — I unhappily realized what we were eating for dinner.

An while I’m still not a fan of eating the vegetable, typically chopped up into a daal dish, Indian squash is a great addition to bread. Simple, hearty, satisfying. This Indian flatbread — which is not baked but made on a stove — has the added tastiness of grated ginger and chilies and squash. Doodhi na debra comes with its own portion of vegetables.

Eat it alone or with some yogurt and/or chutney as a great light meal or snack. I could also see using the debra as a tortilla-substitute and filling it with some eggs or shredded chicken.

Peel squash and then grated. About one cup. Can use regular squash from an American grocery if you don’t have access to Indian squash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add grated ginger and chopped jalapeños.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole wheat flour, about 1 1/2 cups. (It’s best to source this flour from an Indian grocery: it’s milled differently than the ones in American stores. I don’t know the reason for the difference.) Add in small amounts of flax seed, soy, oat, and barley flours.

 

 

 

 

 

Add spices: cayenne, turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, salt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add sesame seeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and add a little canola oil to bind the flours and spices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add squash mixture to flour. (You’ll want to squeeze out as must moisture from the squash as you can.) Knead the dough. There will still be some water in the squash so mix first and if you need additional moisture, add water sparingly.)

 

 

 

 

 

Add a touch of yogurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the dough looks like when it’s ready for cooking. Pinch out small pieces, about an inch in diameter. Smooth into a ball in your palm. Flatten ball on flat surface area and roll out into a thin circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cook on cast iron skillet on medium heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How each side should look when done.

Basketball … Set to Music: The Catastrophic Theatre’s “Small Ball”

Take a second to wrap your mind around this: Basketball musical. Yes, that’s right. A musical that’s about basketball. OK, now that we’ve absorbed this concept, let’s talk about “Small Ball,” the current production at The Catastrophic Theatre.Small Ball poster

Illustration courtesy of The Catastrophic Theatre.

The plot: Michael Jordan has some problems. First off, he’s not that Michael Jordan. Instead, he’s a melancholy journeyman basketball player who’s found himself bouncing around various obscure international leagues. Second, he’s recently become the star player for the Lilliput Existers — yes, Lilliput, the same one from Gulliver’s Travels. But his teammates are each six inches tall. Jordan finds it tough to pass a regulation size ball to a six-inch player (the ball is larger than the player so …) and the team isn’t doing too well. The post-loss press conferences are getting rough.

The Houston Press had a fun read on “Small Ball” following the premier a few weeks ago.

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Some of the “Small Ball” cast with Houston Rockets players on opening night. (Photo: Catastrophic Theatre.)

We had a sold-out world premier — complete with the attendance of Rockets players Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Ryan Anderson, and Coach Mike D’Antoni; writer Michael Lewis (author of several books, but “Moneyball” is most pertinent in this case); and Rico Rodriguez, a.k.a. Manny on the TV show “Modern Family,” who, I learned that evening, is from College Station and a big Rockets fan.

The person that connected basketball with musical theatre? That would be Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, who is also a member of Catastrophic’s executive board and someone who happens to love musical theatre.

We’ve got two more weekends of performances. If you’re in Houston — or will be by May 13 — please consider seeing a show. Tickets can be purchased here.

My friend CS got me involved with Catastrophic in 2016. I’d been to a couple of performances at her invitation but didn’t know much about the company itself. It was founded 25 years ago by Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper, first as Infernal Bridegroom Productions, which then as Catastrophic.

Our shows are unique to Houston; our plays feature up-and-coming playwrights and actors with stories that are thought-provoking, wildly funny (with a streak of black humor underneath), and something you won’t see anywhere else in Houston, or elsewhere in the nation, I would bet.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 9.56.53 PMOne of the things that I admire about Catastrophic is our “pay what you can” ticketing program. We want art to be accessible to everyone — regardless of ability to pay. Our suggested ticket price is $40 but someone can “buy” tickets for $0 if they really can’t afford it. Luckily, we also have a number of ticket-buyers who pay much more than that suggested price. Together, we’re building a unique theatre community both within and without Catastrophic.

Another thing about Catastrophic that you might want to know is we have one especially notable alumni: Jim Parsons. Even has he’s found success in Hollywood, Parsons remains a steadfast supporter of Catastrophic.

Mom’s Cooking School: Roasted Eggplant, or Baigan Bharta — With a Surprising Tex-Mex twist!

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Eggplant was not high on my list of foods growing up. Slimy and tasteless, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to eat it. My brother and dad were not fans either  So mom would make some for herself and make another vegetable for us.

Eggplants ready for the oven.

But, thankfully, we and our taste buds grow up. Eggplant is smokey, spicy, and hearty enough to be the main part of the meal. And, apparently, the eggplant is actually an Indian vegetable in origin. Hindustan Times journalist Vir Sanghvi writes that, while parts of India’s cuisines are borrowed from other cultures courtesy of trade with the rest of Asia and the Arab world over the millennia, the eggplant is actually indigenous to the subcontinent — dating as far back as the ninth century BC.

“We gave it to the rest of the world,” Sanghvi writes. Even while the Turks, Italians, Arabs, and others have well known eggplant dishes — baba gnoush, anyone? — he says that eggplant is actually indigenous to India. “It appears in all our ancient texts — even our epics — and we have had the first ever name for it: the Sanskrit vrantakam from which the Hindi baingan came. As for the Arabic name of which so much is made, well it looks like Badinjan is derived from the Sanskrit vrantakam.”

What you’ll need:

  • 3 smallish eggplants, about 8 to 9 inches long
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped (about 4 to 5 ounces)
  • slivered garlic cloves to taste
  • 2 cloves of diced garlic
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 dried red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 pinch asafoetida
  • 1 teaspoon dhana jeeru (a mix of ground coriander and cumin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon jeeru (cumin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala*
  • 1/4 teaspoon aamchur powder (mango powder)
  • 1 cup of Ro-Tel (or, if you live in a Ro-Tel deficient area, 1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapenos and about 1/2 cup tomatoes)
  • Chopped cilantro to garnish

*Garam masala typically consists of cumin, cloves cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and peppercorns. The exact mix of spices depends on the tradition of each house, and is typically passed on from mother to daughter, something I will write about for a future blog post. You can buy it in Central Market or Whole Foods but it will be cheaper in an Indian grocery store. Garam masala is not spicy; it’s meant to give food a deep warming flavor.

Cooking instructions:

Lightly oil the eggplants. Cut slits into the skin and insert garlic slivers to taste. Set eggplants on a cooking rack that fits on a baking tray (line tray with foil for easier clean up) and broil on high for about an hour. Rotate the eggplants halfway. At the end of the hour, the skin should look and feel crackly. Take the eggplant out of the oven — and once you can touch them easily — peel off the skin and take as many of the seeds out. The remainder of the eggplant will have the consistency of thick applesauce. Set aside.

For the masala, heat up the vegetable oil, and add jeeru and asafoetida on medium-to-low heat, until jeeru becomes brown-reddish. Add 1/2 medium white onion and saute. Add the shredded ginger. Add Ro-Tel (or Ro-Tel substitute) and reduce heat to a low simmer; allow liquid to burn off.

Add salt, turmeric powder, dhana jeeru, aamchur powder, and cayenne. (Spice levels can be adjusted, so taste as you go, to see if you want more salt or spice.) Add tomato paste. Then simmer until you see the oil separating, about 20 to 25 minutes. Fold in eggplant mixture. Top dish with cilantro and serve.

I usually eat this vegetable dish with Indian breads, thin rotlis or more toothsome naan, but I can see this vegetable topping rice or even a grain like quinoa. Scoop it into lettuce wraps for a vegetarian, masala-style taco that’s topped with finely chopped radish and parsley. Or, what about using it as the filling for a different take on verde enchiladas?

Mom’s Cooking School

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How many meals can one cook in around 60-plus years? I don’t need to do the math to know that it’s a lot. That’s about how long my mother has been cooking. It’s a culinary repertoire that began in India but, upon coming to America, expanded to include Italian-American foods, Tex-Mex, and all sorts of typical American meals families ate in the last 40 years.

My childhood was fairly Normal Rockwell, albeit with Indian-American immigrant touches. My mom made us fresh meals every day; we ate dinner as a family pretty much every night of the week. We mostly ate food from Gujarat, the state where my family is from, a cuisine that is heavily composed of vegetables, lentils and rice. My parents tended gardens during my school years and many of the vegetables we ate — squash, okra, tomatoes — came from that garden.

I didn’t know it then, but those meals set up my own views toward eating and nutrition. I don’t drink sodas and eat very little junk food (ahem, apart from Goldfish and the occasional Whataburger on a road trip.) Healthy eating is important to me.

Of course I didn’t truly appreciate all of that until my 20s, when I was establishing my own homes and living on my own. I didn’t really learn to cook all of our Indian foods when I was younger mostly because I just wasn’t that interested in the domestic arts. (And also, partly because my mom’s sense of perfection didn’t allow for the sort of lopsided and warped-looking rotlis and other breads a novice like me would produce.)

But, for a while now — for likely too long — I’ve been wanting to set about to more formally learn about my mom’s recipes and, more importantly, connect with the family history and culture that these foods represent.

She doesn’t do measurements. She just *knows* how much spice or water or oil to add to vegetables or to a flour mixture to make bread, or how high the stove’s flame should be. She works so fast I can’t try to approximate measurements. So now I’m working to get her to slow down and take measurements — or at least allow me enough time to guess the amounts so that I can take down recipes on paper. I’m sure I’ll annoy her with all of my questions.

This is not about being able to cook like her. I won’t be able to; she is truly a master in the kitchen. (One metric that I cite about my mother’s gifts? She can make delicious dishes, even ones that she’s never even tasted. A strict vegetarian, my mom doesn’t eat meat or meat products and eggs are considered meat. But her omelettes, something that she’s never tasted herself, are amazing.) She made chili and hamburgers for my brother and me when we were kids, though she doesn’t like to cook meat anymore.

But one of my goals for this year is to record this part of my family’s heritage. For many of us, our childhood memories are twinned with meals and I’m no different. The spaghetti lunches after playing tennis on Sundays when an uncle and aunt lived with us in Texas City. The delight I would have upon finding out mom was making one of my favorite foods for dinner or realizing she made chocolate chip cookies. 

I didn’t always like everything that was on my plate; I still dislike Indian squash and don’t really like daal. But, even now, no chicken soup is really as satisfying as mom’s kichardee (a rice and lentil dish) when I’m sick. The foods we ate reflect the lives we lived: our mainstay of Gujarati food, the masala-influenced cheese enchiladas my mom added to the repertoire, the homemade pizza that she makes. They show our journey as an immigrant family with two Indian-American kids as the four of us navigated experiences very different from the ones my parents had in India. That’s worth holding on to.

Wine flight: Saget la Perrière

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I had originally written this for a local publication a few years ago but the editors never got around to publishing it. So I decided to make it a blog post.

Arnaud Saget was just a few months into his role as director generale for Saget la Perrière when the global financial crisis claimed a victim close to home, its American distributor, Chateau & Estate.

That left Saget unmoored to the American market, one of the company’s largest. As he searched for a new distributor, the disruption in supply caused one New York restaurant to drop Saget in favor of other distributors that had stock. That restaurant had been buying 700 cases. “We had to retool and establish the brand again,” he said.

Saget eventually signed on with Pasternak, and steadied its business. But he added that, unexpectedly, Texas, and its maturing culinary culture, played an important role in expanding Saget’s client base. Arnaud’s family has owned Saget la Perrière for nine generations, producing wine from six estates over 890 acres in France’s bucolic Loire Valley

I met Arnaud at a tasting lunch held at Oceanaire Seafood Room at the Galleria that featured seven of the family’s wines. For me, Saget’s strong suit is its white varietals – five of the seven we tasted were white, each with clean flavors of minerals and fruit, stripped of any cloying sweetness. Mostly priced between $12 and $22 – the Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé is the most expensive at $29 — these versatile wines are food-friendly but also full-bodied enough to be sipped on their own, a chilled glass on a Sunday afternoon among friends.

All of the selections were from 2012 and we began with the Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc, which had a creamy taste and an unexpected slight vegetal taste, which I found pleasant. Next was the Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre, made of sauvignon blanc grapes but whose flintiness is reminiscent of a riesling. The Pouilly-Fumé had a much deeper, heartier taste.

We tasted two reds at lunch, a Chinon and a Pinot Noir. Pinor Noir is frequently a go-to wine for me, versatile enough to be paired with seafood and a lot of meats and flavorful enough to be enjoyed alone. Saget’s pinot has the tell-tale ruby color, with a light vanilla taste. The Chinon was full of tannins and spice.

All in all, the Saget wines are easy-to-drink and at price points that encourage consumption.

To complement the white wines, we were served an Alaska Red King Crab salad as a first course, Pan-Broiled Alaska Weathervane scallops, and Seared Wild Alaska Halibut. The pinot noir was paired with a Grilled Bering Sea Wild Coho Salmon.

Saget is now back in France and in between marketing visits, and I messaged him to find out about his Texas tour. Saget called it “very successful,” especially with retailers and restaurateurs in Austin. “I don’t remember working a market for a day, selling wines to every visited account,” he says.

SAGET LA PERRIERE: (Suggested retail price):

— Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie Les Cilssages d’Or ($14)

— Marie de Beauregard AOC Vouvray ($18)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc ($12)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Sancerre ($22)

— Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fumé ($29)

— Guy Saget La Petite Perrière Pinot Noir ($13.50)

— Marie de Beauregard Chinon ($17.99)

Wine flight: Crosby Roamann

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A decade ago, a group of us – co-workers and friends from my Dallas days – traveled to the Pacific Northwest for the wedding of two in the group. Apart from the bride and groom, who hailed from Portland and Seattle, respectively, I believe it was the first time any of us had spent any real time in that part of the US.

As we sat in the outdoor patio of a Willamette Valley vineyard, sipping pinot noir in low-humidity, 70-degree sunshine, we Dallasites began to plot the commune we would establish in order to avoid heading back to the Texas heat.

Sean and Juliana McBride actually followed through on that fantasy. For them, it was ditching New York for Napa Valley, where they founded their winery, Crosby Roamann, in 2010.

Juliana came to Houston last year as part of a marketing tour and I learned about their story – and sampled some wines – over a meal at B&B Butchers restaurant. Crosby Roamann is a small family operation. “Our hands touch every part of the process,” she says, adding that the winery makes less than 1,000 cases in total.

Here are a few notes about the wines she poured. Prices are those listed on the winery’s website:

— 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley: Smells of hay, tastes of lemon, slightly floral, but with a full-bodied “mouthfeel.”* The grapes are fermented in a combination of once-used, twice-used, and neutral French oak barrels and aged eight months in oak. ($28)

— 2013 Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley: The first taste has a sugary bite that gives way to both melon and butter, giving it a rich finish at the end. These grapes were fermented in neutral French and American barrels and aged 20 months in 20 percent new oak. ($34)

— 2012, Merlot, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: This wine was rich, full, and (dried) fruity; I tasted ripe plums and cherries, ripe but not overly sweet. The grapes were aged 30 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, half of which were new. “I’m on a campaign for merlot,” Juliana told me. “It’s time; it needs to come back.” ($50)

— 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley: This was a wine for steak, cocoa and blueberry, with a spicy top note. Full-bodied and rich. The grapes were aged 30 months in all French oak barrels, of which 80 percent were new. ($75)

*Mouthfeel: the sensation created by food or drink in the mouth

La vie en ros(é)

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My first significant memory of “wine” was in 1988, the day after I had landed in Paris on a high school foreign exchange trip. I was there to spend six weeks with a French family who lived in Angers, in central France, but first, a weekend in Paris.

Family friends had hosted a young Frenchman in their Texas home a decade before, and they gave me his phone number, encouraging me to call him while I was in Paris. I remember being reluctant to cold-call someone I didn’t know last-minute on a Friday evening, but he was immediately welcoming and kindly invited me to join him and his friends for dinner.

It was early July, an evening with warm breezes and the lingering daylight of northern European summers. We sat on the patio at a bar before heading to the restaurant, and the group, all around 30 or so, ordered apéritifs. I had no idea what to order, but my host suggested a glass of rosé. I remember sipping my wine, listening to the group chatter in French (and my brain working overtime to try to translate, largely unsuccessfully, the rapid-fire conversation around me). It was probably the first time I was out in such an “adult” fashion, apart from with my family. And what a place for such an outing, a tree-lined terrasse in Paris, the sun setting in the summer sky.

My other memory of rosé is later that summer traveling with my French family from their home in Angers to their summer home in Monetier-les-Bains, a village in the French Alps near the Italian border. On the drive down, we spent the night with friends of theirs, a family that was renovating a small chateau. That evening, both families gathered at a table outside for dinner. It seemed to me to a quintessentially French experience, simple, fresh food eaten en plein air with glasses of rosé.

The memories all have fuzzy edges now, but those were my first lessons in how food and wine interact with culture and community.

In the years since, my wine education has been uneven, largely self-taught, and probably not the preferred path of a true connoisseur. For example, I’ve never been to Napa Valley or visited the famed Burgundy or Bordeaux vineyards in France. But I have been to the Bekaa Valley in the mountains above Beirut (twice), and traveled around Malbec vineyards in Mendoza.

My journeys have introduced me to Willamette Valley in Oregon and its pinot noirs, tempranillo from Rioja, sagrantino di Montefalco from Umbria, and rieslings from the Pfalz. My travel wish list includes checking out the usual suspects, of course, but also detours to less-familiar terroir like those found in Greece, Portugal and Georgia.

Circles Under Her Feet

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I’m the American-born daughter of Indian immigrants, and I grew up in small-town outside of Houston. I’ve never quite fit the mold – American or Indian. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to journalism; the entire exercise is to talk to people, get a sense of their stories and who they are, and share them with other people.

I have traveled on my own since my mid-teens, first, in Europe and America, and eventually to many parts of the globe. I started this blog and called it “Parallel Universe” nearly 10 (!!) years ago when I moved from Dallas to Dubai, where I was a freelance foreign correspondent writing for international publications including TIME magazine, The New York Times and Institutional Investor magazine. I had worked for The Dallas Morning News until late 2008, but newspaper cutbacks meant my chances to be sent overseas as a foreign correspondent were slim. So, I decided to make my own way.

Back then, the idea was to write about a place striving for a place among the community of modern societies while also staying true to its traditions and culture. These objectives, as you can imagine, sometimes clashed. I was there for nearly five years. I took my office on the road as much as I wanted: those places included Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, India, Spain, Paris, Hong Kong, Cairo, Tanzania, Kenya, and Thailand.

Parallel Universe has now been rechristened “Postcards from the Bayou” – though the old posts are still here below. I’ve moved back to Houston, my hometown, where I deal with the culture shock of being back in America and grapple with some of the forces shaping both my country and Texas. I see this blog as my little patch of the Web to muse about that, my travels, food and wine, books, and other interests that I have.

Circles Under Her Feet refers to a Gujarati saying that essentially means someone like me, constantly moving with a pretty healthy wanderlust and curiosity for all things in this amazing world of ours. I suppose the English equivalent is, She doesn’t sit still.

Thanks for reading and please stay in touch: angela.shah(at)gmail.com.

Hindus & Muslims in Gujarat

I’m cross-posting recent blog entries from my blog Journey to Gujarat here on Parallel Universe. Please sign up for updates to my travels there as soon as they are posted!

It’s been a couple of months since I left Gujarat for America but the images and conversations are still very much with me. I am glad to be spending the summer in the relatively cooler Texas than Gujarat but I try to keep up with happenings there through regular phone or web-enabled conversations with friends and family.

An ongoing theme, perhaps one that is never-ending, is that of the conflict between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. The embodiment of this conflict is Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s (Hindu) chief minister, who is blamed with fanning the flames of communal violence in the 2002 riots that claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and destroyed Muslim neighborhoods. He is often touted as a possible future Indian prime minister and so much of the chattering among intelligensia is about Modi’s record in Gujarat, and how it should or should not be a model for the rest of India.

A new biography of Modi, written by Indian journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, is out and seeks to peel back the armor that the CM wears. Modi is clearly contemptuous of any questions that go against the narrative he has chosen, he freezes out journalists who don’t tow the line and has an uber-paternalistic attitude toward his constituents. His supporters say he’s brought prosperity to Gujarat with his focus on law and order and friendly attitude toward business. He’s a polarizing figure either way.

Growing up in America, the only religious differences that I was aware of was how different we were from the Christian families all around us. We were respectful, learned to bow our heads in silence when prayers invoking Jesus were said — even at secular events. Most people didn’t make an effort to get to know more about our religion (though I did have to dissuade some fellow six-year-olds that no the reason that Hindus are vegetarians is not because we worship cows) but didn’t impede our celebrating Diwali or raksha bandhan either.

Visiting my family in Gujarat is to enter an upper-caste Hindu world. Portraits of Ganesh, Krishna and other gods adorn homes and businesses. The greeting upon meeting people is not “Hello” but “Jai Shri Krishna,” or Hail, Krishna. It would be as if Christians went around saying, “Praise Jesus” instead of “good morning.” It’s not a big deal. Just simply how people relate to each other.

I don’t even notice myself navigating between Gujarati-dominated settings, more Western settings where English is spoken or when Arabic dominates the chatter among Muslims either in the Gulf or India. I was surprised and disappointed at the low level of interaction among Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad, however. The people that I spoke to said the separation has gotten more acute in the decade since the riots.

So it was interesting to hear the discussion after a production of “Tales of Tears,” a play about a fictional rape trial set after the riots. The Q-and-A after the play put in stark terms how wary both communities are of each other. Time may have passed since the riots but Gujarat has not moved on.