Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Music Made the Audience Weep Tears of Joy….. - By Shuchita Rao

Pandit Jasraj Concert by MITHAS
write up By Suchita Rao

On a warm spring afternoon, lavender crocus raised their heads in pride and speckled brown

bunnies raced across the lush green grass lawns outside MIT’s Kresge auditorium. The air was  abuzz with excitement as MITHAS (MIT Heritage Arts of SouthAsia) was celebrating 21 years of service to the community with a grand concert by the renowned Hindustani vocalist, Padma Vibhushan Pandit Jasraj on April 13, 2014.
Dr. George Ruckert of MIT welcomed the audience and introduced the artists: Mewati gharana exponent Pandit Jasraj, one of the foremost vocal ractitioners of Hindustani music, his tabla accompanist, the well-known Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and illustrious vocalists, Tripti Mukherjee and Suman Ghosh to whom Pandit Jasraj is esteemed Guru.

Amala Mahadevan, chairperson of MITHAS thanked patrons and struck a spiritual chord with the audience when she conveyed that Pandit Jasraj, through his music, intended to pay homage to the soul(atman) of each and everyone in the auditorium. In Panditji’s words, every atman(individual soul) is a manifestation of the supreme soul (param-atman). 

The concert stage decorated by Shobha Shastry was a work of art. Long panels of pleated cream silk drapes flanked by flowing pink and purple fabric served as the elegant backdrop to a raised stage. Soft pastel purple lights reflected from mirrored panels on the ceiling. The celebrated maestro Pandit Jasraj dressed in an elegant silk dhoti, kurta and red waistcoat looked no less than an emperor surrounded by his accompanists and disciples who were dressed in rich hues of gold, red, chocolate brown and mustard silk ethnic wear. 

The melodious strains of two taanpuras, the harmonium, the swarmandal and the sound of a perfectly tuned tabla breathed musical life into the auditorium. Pandit Jasraj opened his concert with his signature invocation in Sanskrit, Mangalam Bhagwaan Vishnu, composed in the romantic afternoon raga Madhuvanthy. A vilambit khayal, Mehmaan se kaa lariye, set to 12 
beat cycle Ektaal followed with a leisurely and elaborate exploration in the lower and middle octaves. The occasional but deliberate use of rishabh in the ascent revealed the artist’s non-conventional take on the raga and his weaving of intricate solfege patterns with heavy gamak ornamentation created an exquisite and colorful quilt of melodic phrases infused with feeling 
and emotion (bhaava).

In the two subsequent faster compositions in 16 beat cycle teentaal, Kasturi Tilakam and Kaahe Maan Karo, the confluence of sensitive support on tabla, the blending of male and female 
vocal support by Suman Ghosh and Tripti Mukherjee created a sober and beautiful atmosphere steeped in melody.

The next khayal in Raag Din Ki Puriya set to medium tempo cycle of 16 beats, Chalo Chhalo Ri Aali Mandirva described the festivities of the spring season. The artist painted a visual 
landscape of pretty maidens stringing together flower garlands to greet their beloved. 

He constructed an impressive array of fast melodic patterns (taans) together with his accompanying vocalists. Pandit Jasraj’s early musical career as a tabla player was evident in the manner of construction of the taans with special emphasis of beats on accompanying rhythmic cycle. His investment in the progress of his accompanists could be seen in the manner he interacted with them, deftly guiding them sometimes and sincerely appreciating their support at other times.

Post-intermission, Pandit Jasraj sang two compositions in Raag Hansadhwani – the first one in praise of Lord Hanuman, son of Wind God, an ardent devotee of Lord Rama (Pavan Poot Hanuman) and the second one in praise of Lord Rama. The energetic renditions were marked by vigorous ornamented gamaks contrasting with graceful glides in three octaves. A question and answer exchange (sawal-jawab) with tabla artist Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri added variety to the presentation much to the delight of the audience.

Pandit Jasraj conversed with the audience with great love after the rendition of Raga Hansadhwani. “It is not my singing that you are listening to – you are listening simply to your own love” he remarked. Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri drew a chuckle from the audience when he shared that Pandit Jasraj was not too sure that he could sing in his normal capacity right before the program. “I told him GOD would take care of him. Now, I think GOD has taken too much 
care of him….” he said, making the maestro and the audience laugh openly at his humorous comment.

The piece-de-resistance of the evening, an emotionally expressive composition in Raag Adana, “Maata Kaalika” set to 16 beat cycle Addha teentaal was the next item to be presented. Pandit Jasraj sang with devotional fervor and sustained long rests on high notes with uncanny ease. Several imaginative variations on the lyrics added immensely to the prayerful mood. Deepti Nijhawan of Cambridge, ex-chairperson of MITHAS summed up the essence of the presentation. “It was spiritual and sensual all in one! Every member in the first row of the audience sitting next to me had moist eyes. I went home and listened to a you-tube clip of Maata Kaalika rendition several times over” she said.

Pandit Jasraj concluded by honoring the audience’s request to sing a Sanskrit shlok in Raag Bhimpalaasi “Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaaya”. This fitting finale with creative harmony and interactive participation of the audience via rhythmic clapping to the recurring utterance of “Vithalam Vithalam” transported the concert attendees to a higher realm of spiritual consciousness and ecstasy.

At the end of the three hour long program, when the audience rose to salute the performers,a visibly moved eighty-four year old Pandit Jasraj wiped off tears with his sleeve and bid an affectionate goodbye with the words “Jai Ho!”. The voice of a member of the audience rang out loud and clear when she said “You are the greatest Panditji!”. The maestro smiled and waved back in joy, acknowledging the love and warmth of his admirers. The receptiveness and affection of Boston’s audience had brought out his best colors, making the concert the kind that etches itself in the hearts of artists and music lovers for a long time. 

MITHAS could not have asked for more. The Pandit Jasraj concert had turned out to be a grand celebration of twenty-one years of service to the cause of preserving traditional art and music of South Asia. May MITHAS’s mission touch new heights of success in the coming years!

*picture credit - Jay Srinivasan

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Launching Ekal _ ATFS BEE inititaive

Transcribed by Divya Mendiratta

Gauri : Welcome to Foundations TV everybody, our guest today is none other than Ranjani Saigal. Ranjani welcome to Foundations TV.
Ranjani : Thank you.

Gauri : Ranjani is representing  Ekal Vidhyalaya USA. She is the Executive Director. So Ranjani why don’t we start right off with an introduction about Ekal. Tell us something about Ekal.
Ranjani: Thank you very much Gauri for this opportunity to be here. Ekal Vidhyalaya is an organization that brings education to very remote rural and tribal areas in India. But for Ekal, the children in this areas will have no access to education, and will live in darkness of illiteracy. We run these schools at the very low cost of just a dollar a day. Thus for $365 a year an entire village is educated and transformed. We are in about 54,000 villages, reaching out to about to 1.5 million children, in India and in Nepal. And Gauri it really is a pleasure to be here with you, because you are also an educationist. Could you tell me a little bit about your initiative, in the Boston are?

Gauri : Absolutely, that is what I am representing here today, which is our center ‘ATFS learning center’. We have been around for more than 12 years, and we take pride in building the education foundation in this area. We have a lot of students. And right now actually, we have so many students who I meet every day, who have made it into excellent colleges. We take so much pride in being part of the education of those students.  And speaking of that, when I heard Ekal, and what Ekal does, and the infrastructure that Ekal has built over the 25 years, it completely resonates with my philosophy of running this center here. And I think it was such a logical step of partnering with Ekal Vidhyalaya. And today we are very excited to launch the partnership between ATFS learning center and Ekal Vidhyalaya. So Ranjani why don’t you tell us something about this really exciting initiative.
Ranjani : Fantastic Gauri. I can not tell you how excited I am for it. Because what you are doing is improving the lives of children in the Boston area, by providing them with a better way to learn. And then there is Ekal that is doing the same for very poor children, very underprivileged children. What better way there is than to run a competition, an opportunity for students in the New England area to showcase their talent in something like Math, English, or anything else that we can provide through the BEE. And yet at the same time be impacting the lives of some of the very underprivileged children. Thus it is really about children helping children. And I’m very excited about that Gauri.

Gauri : That is super exciting. I think there could have not been a better fit, than ATFS and Ekal working together towards this goal. I think we already set a goal of educating 900 students.
Ranjani : Yes, and we don’t mind going to a thousand.

Gauri : We don’t mind going beyond that. So that is only the beginning. And our first initiative or first contest, under this huge umbrella of Ekal – ATFS BEE Initiative is going to be the ‘Math BEE Contest’ coming up on May 3rd. So that’s where we need a lot of our community members involved.
Ranjani : Absolutely. It is a chance for your child to really shine. And at the same time, while they are doing their homework they know that they are transforming the life of an underprivileged child. So I hope you will consider participating in this, to not only enhance your own intellectual and your mathematical abilities, but also support a young child far away from here.

Gauri : And this is only the beginning. We have something really exciting coming up as we move forward as well. But for now enrollment are open for Math BEE, on the ATFS website, which is www.aftsonline.com. And we are already taking enrollments and we are giving out sample papers. We have enough time for kids to prepare for their tests. And also go in very noble cause in mind to actually be helping out the underprivileged children, in rural and tribal India, through the infrastructure that Ekal is providing. Thank you so much Rajani for this huge beginning, I would say.

Ranjani: Absolutely. Thank you Gauri for coming in with a compassionate heart to help our children. Thank you and may education go forward in New England and in India.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Indian Princess Mansee Sangani talks to The Foundations TV

Transcribed by Divya Mendiratta

Gauri : Welcome to Foundations TV everybody. Our guest today is Mansee Sangani, who has recently won the title of Indian Princess USA 2014, at the Jewel of India event, in Atlantic City. Many Congratulations.
Mansee : Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Gauri : Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you at Foundations TV. And she is here to share her journey with us. So before we actually go to a flash back of knowing, where you were born and brought up. I just want to hear that moment out from you. How was it to win this title?
Mansee : It was great, it was actually amazing. It really didn’t hit me that I had won, up until two days after it had already happened. On Sunday 19th, on stage having your name called out, having the crown placed on your head, it was amazing. Memorable.

Gauri : That is really exciting. Is that something you had dreamed of, being a model, since the beginning? Or is it something just happened accidently for you?
Mansee : I would say it’s something that just accidently happened. It’s not something I had ever dreamed of. I guess I just kept myself very open to all the opportunities that were presented to me. I went with the flow.

Gauri : Wonderful. So I know Mansee has a full time job, and she is also doing post-graduation . So she is studying hard, she is taking two courses at this time; and doing the modelling. So I want to know, which was your first modeling experience? When was it the first time you went on the ramp?
Mansee : My first modelling experience was for a bridal show; in New England actually. This was in 2011. And it was absolutely amazing, at that time I didn’t even know how to put make up on myself. And then from doing that, to going to a show where you have people doing your make up, doing your hair, helping you put your clothes on. And then when you walk the ramp, you look glamorous. It was amazing, it was awesome.

Gauri : Lovely. So now tell us something about your background. Where were you born and brought up? And how did you end up in US?
Mansee :  I was born in India. My family and I were there for about 8 ½ years. After that my parents decided to move to New Zealand, so I practically grew up over there. We were in New Zealand for almost 8 years. And then we moved here. So we’ve been here in Boston for past 6 years now.

Gauri : Wonderful. So you did go to college here?
Mansee : Yes.

Gauri : Great. So all these years you have lived in three different countries, and you are doing three different things in your life. I want to know, who inspires you, who is your inspiration?
Mansee : It’s not one person, I would have to say two people, my mom and dad. From the moment that they wake up, to the moment that they go to sleep, all I see is them working. Whether something is at home, or whether is something outside, they are always working. When you look at such people, when you are around people who are constantly doing that, you look at yourself and you realize your parents are much older than you are, they are doing lot more work, you have no right to sit around and not do anything. They’ve always been not only inspirational, but also they’ve always been my motivation.

Gauri : So have they been supportive about this modelling experience of yours?
Mansee: They have. They have been extremely supportive. Whether it was modelling whether it was pageants, everything.

Gauri : Wonderful. What about challenges though, have you felt any challenges on this road to being Indian Princess USA?
Mansee : Yes, definitely

Gauri : Would you like to share some?
Mansee : Absolutely. This is actually not my first time competing for a title, I had competed last year. I made top 10, and then didn’t make it after that. That was a challenge, but I feel like it was more of a learning experience for me. So I waited, I tried it again, and here I am.

Gauri : So what is that you think made that difference in that one year? From last year to this year, what is that you grew into, or what quality of yours that you developed which helped you win this title?
Mansee : First of all, the pageant itself was a very big learning process in terms of everything. Then going from there, coming back home, trying different projects, different events. You are trying events that are at different level. You are constantly trying to succeed at them. So I think it makes you get better at what you are doing, if not perfect.

Gauri : That’s a great answer. So it not really one goal you are striving for, it’s always trying to improve yourself from where you were. It’s like a journey, a little competition with yourself. And trying to get better each time at whatever you are doing. And that kind of builds that quality that virtue within you for being successful. Is that what you think?
Mansee : Yes. And I think that’s important, because if you’re a doing one thing, that will get boring at some point. You want to try different things. And not just for the sake of trying it but you want to give it your best. If you fail, you want to get up and you want to try again and you want to keep trying.

Gauri : And that’s an experience too. Being resilient.
Mansee : Yaa.

Gauri : So where are you headed from here Mansee?
Mansee : Right now I’m actually completing my masters. So hopefully I will be done in another year. Because I won this title I get the opportunity to go to Thailand. So there’s an International pageant, called Indian Princess International. So I’m excited.

Gauri : Lovely. So when is it that pageant?
Mansee : It’s not actually until January.

Gauri : So you have time to finish up your education, or whatever courses you are trying to finish up before that.
Mansee : I have time to get around to United States now. Before I was limited just to New England. But now with a bigger title I can get around a lot more.

Gauri : So you have any tips for upcoming models, aspiring models, who want to look like you, feel like you, be like you.
Mansee : For sure. I feel like, when I started I was an amateur. I’m not perfect even now. I guess the only tip that I can really give to the people is that, try every opportunity, try everything that comes your way. For me, like I said I was open minded about it. If I had the time to do something I did it. I didn’t think twice. At the end of the day it’s really the experience, and it’s the experience is what makes perfect.

Gauri : I see you are involved in a lot with community events as well, and you are out there helping people for the events and causes. That really builds your confidence as well. That’s great. Thank you so much for sharing your journey today with us.
Mansee : Not a Problem. Thank you for having me.

Gauri : Absolutely a pleasure. And all the best for your pageant in January. And for all the other experiences you’re going to get between now and then.

Mansee: Thank you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


By Thomas Abraham

An Indian American community group led by Dr. Thomas Abraham, Sailesh Naik, Ashok Nichani and Varghese Ninan raised funds for NJ Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula for a his congressional run at a fundraiser dinner held at the Hampton Inn and suites in Stamford, CT on March 27th.

Speaking at the event, Chivukula said he is running a positive campaign and that he has a good shot at the Democratic Primary  for the seat vacated Congressman Rush Holt. Chivukula, who is the Deputy Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, said he would need over a million  dollars before June 3rd Democratic Primary and appealed to the community to provide generous contributions as well as volunteer their time. Over $5,000 was raised at the fundraiser.

Those interested to contribute may do so online at www.chivukulaforcongress.com..

Attached photo: New Jersey Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Upendra Chivukula with organizers at a Stamford Fundraiser for him. From left to R: Shailesh Naik, Raed Ghaly, David Leun, Paul Ahuja, Sangeeta Ahuja, Dr. Thomas Abraham, Upendra Chivukula, Varghese Ninan, Shelly Nichani, Bhom Banta, Ashok Nichani, Anita Bhat, Meera Banta and Jaswant Mody.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Deepti Navaratna speaks with The Foundations TV

Transcribed by: Divya Mendiratta

Gauri : Welcome to Foundations TV everybody. Our guest today is Deepti Navaratna. Welcome to Foundations TV Deepti.

Deepti : Thank you Gauri. Thanks for having me over.

Gauri : Oh absolutely, a pleasure to have you. I’ve enjoyed our conversation off camera too, but now let me introduce you to everybody. Deepti, as most of you know is a beautiful woman of our community, a beautiful Carnatic musician as well. She has a lot of awards in her name, including a lot of ‘All India Radio National Awards’ from India; while she was there. She also is a proud achiever of the ‘Cambridge Arts Council Grants’, which is helping her with some of her unique and entrepreneurial projects that she has taken up recently. And she has also been awarded the prestigious ‘Saint Botolph Emerging Artist Award’, which has helped her. I guess you are part of the ‘New England Conservatory of Music’ as well; so that has been helpful for you as well. And Deepti besides being a Karnataka Musician, you are also a Neuroscientist.

Deepti : Yes, I’m split in the head.(laughing)

Gauri : And she is good at both, I have to say. Because she has authored many papers, and has been cited in many different write ups as well; in her field of Neuroscience. We will touch that later, but first lets come back to Carnatic music. I want to hear a little bit about your journey as a musician. When you began. And just little bit about your roots may be.

Deepti : I was born and raised in Bangalore. I started learning Carnatic music when I was 4. Growing up in Bangalore, Bangalore has a vibrant cultural scene. It was easy to grab a concert of Carnatic music, go concert hopping to another Hindustani classical music show, or chill at a pub with some cool jazz. I think that environment has also shaped some of what I do today. In terms of my parents, there was no immediate musician in the family, but I was born to an Aeronautical Scientist and an Educational entrepreneur, just like you Gauri.

Gauri : Wonderful.

Deepti : So I guess, the impetus on scientific rigors, and the value of lifelong learning, of creative impressions, those are the values that I imbibed from my parents. And I guess those value have gone way in shaping what I do, and what I value even today.

Gauri : So there is little bit of entrepreneurship that you inherited from your mother. And the music and creative side from your mom.

Deepti : That’s right.

Gauri : And then your exposure to jazz, I think is kind of evident in your music. I’ve heard some of your music. There’s a contemporary aspect to it, which is beautiful. That’s a lovely fusion of Carnatic music with contemporary verse.

Deepti : And just like they say, ‘ not all those who wander are lost’. The broader my exposure got, the deeper my appreciation for Carnatic music happened.

Gauri : That does give us a little glimpse of your Indian background. So tell us more about your journey. What brought you to the US?

Deepti : I came to US to do graduate school. I enrolled in the University of New Mexico, for a PhD in cell Biology and Neuroscience. I guess I did never let go of my roots. Moving to the United States actually forced me to value what I had, and what I had already learned in India. So while I was doing PhD, I was also teaching a course called the ‘Music of South India’.

Gauri : So you started teaching right way, when you came here?

Deepti : Right. So I designed and developed the course. It was a music appreciation course for Americans and world music enthusiasts.

Gauri : And where were you teaching that course?

Deepti : That was offered as part of the music department, at the University of New Mexico. So I was pretty fortunate.

Gauri : Wow. That’s impressive. I’m sure you had the drive and zeal to do something like that.

Deepti : I was pretty resolute about two things. One is, I have to move forward, but to fly high you have to dig deep.

Gauri : It has such a beautiful meaning.

Deepti : So I didn’t wanted to let go of my roots, but I also wanted to move forward. And I wanted to bridge a life that accommodates both.

Gauri : Lovely. So that was your first musical endeavor here in US. And then where did you go from there?

Deepti : After my PhD I moved to Boston. And Boston with its extremely thriving Indian community, and all its opportunities, I was like a kid in a candy store. I wrote several grants. I produced my first album ’Aarohanam’, which is just a CD of traditional Carnatic music. I’m thankful that I got the ‘Utah Arts Council Award’ for that. That supported the production of my first CD. As soon as I moved to Boston, I was also very aware of the thriving contemporary and world music scene in Boston. I wanted to join the ‘New England Conservatory’, which is every classical musicians dream; somewhat. And at the ‘New England Conservatory’, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Gauri : And you were the first Carnatic Musician in there, Right ?

Deepti : That’s right. I was really fortunate to have been the first Carnatic Musician in the history of the ‘New England Conservatory’, to join that program. The program itself is designed to catalyze a musical innovation, and scholarship for traditional artist, who want to take the music to diverse audiences, to diverse communities. And the program is designed for, what they say, musical entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Gauri : That’s impressive. You have gone beyond the community, you have represented our community, beyond what anyone can imagine. That is really commendable. You make us all proud.

Deepti : Thank you.

Gauri : I know you have a lot of achievements in your name. Which is your favorite one? What was the high moment of your life?

Deepti : I guess when I was 18 winning the ‘All India Radio National Music Award’ was a big shot in the arm. This gives you a lot of recognition, and sort of boosts your spirit, that if you continue to learn and invest in your own arts, you can do something worthwhile with it. And I think the day I heard from ‘New England Conservatory’ that I had actually gotten into that program, was another high for me. But on more personal note I feel my biggest achievement has been, that I have been obstinate enough to stay close to what my true motivations are. I think my purpose is to engage myself in creative endeavors; be it science or music. I see them as high complimentary activities, which are built on the same urge to be creative. So I’ve been obstinate enough to not let go of that motivation, and not fall into any labels of boxes. I believe if you are outlier, that difference is what will help you make difference. So you sort of learn to be an outliers of sorts.

Gauri : That an amazingly inspiration message. I’m absorbing it as you are saying it. That is something that I’m going to hold onto for the rest of my life. I’m sure people who are hearing you today are going to really be affected by what you just shared. To have that consistency, and that drive and that determination that I’m going to make it.
And in the light of that, in the same sequence of things you have an entrepreneurial project coming up and some workshops. So why don’t you tell us about those.

Deepti : The ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project was born as a musical platform for innovation, sustainability in arts, and to provide a channel that can catalyze community engagements. So like it’s said, it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many hands, both within and outside the community. Arts councils, government, and lot of arts administrative policies which have to work in tandem to actually sustain musical innovations. So the ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project was basically born with the goal to take musical innovations to diverse communities in the Massachusetts area, and beyond hopefully one day.

Gauri : I’m sure.

Deepti : So we will do concerts, we will promote the creation of new music. We already have a concert coming up on February 22nd, which we will get to in a minutes.

Gauri : Yes, I’m really looking forward to that one.

Deepti : And we will also engage in community activities. And we have announced the Carnatic singing circles workshops, wherein we will introduce the ‘Nada Yoga principles’ or the yogic philosophy behind Carnatic Music to Yoga Spiritual audience. So we have a wide range of activities planned around the idea of taking traditional sounds to diverse audiences.

Gauri : So this ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project that you spoke of, is Cambridge Arts Council funded?

Deepti : Yes, definitely. Just two days back I got the news about the grant from Massachusetts Culture Council, basically promotes creative economy, as they call it, in the area, and they invest in artist, whose project goals align with the broader arts policies for Massachusetts. So this is big recognition. I’m deeply grateful.

Gauri : That’s great. Congratulations.

Deepti : Thank you. The singing circles workshop hopefully, in years to come, 
we will see that being held in assisted living centers, in libraries, in prisons and anywhere there’s a need to contemplate with sound.

Gauri :  I think that’s everywhere. Music is language that touches hearts. And makes such a huge difference in people’s lives. So all the places that you just mentioned, I think can really benefit from something like that. That’s great! So this is not just a concert, but is like a whole umbrella that’s going to hold so many different things. Does this project has an end date as well, or is this something like an ongoing motive?

Deepti : Hopefully it will go on and on.

Gauri : That’s great.

Deepti : In addition to the concert, we are trying to take Carnatic music to different communities in and around New England area. We have come up with, what I called the ‘Carnatic Alchemy prize’. And this year’s competition is for children and adults. And it’s based on the musical works of M.S. Subbulakshmi. And as you all know she was the ‘true Alchemist’. 50 years ago she did category spanning work, which is bewildering to me. Sitting here today and going through the wide spectrum of work she has done. So in her honor we have come up with this competition. And I hope that will help raise awareness of Carnatic music, even with North Indian communities, and greater Indian communities.

Gauri : I’m sure. First of all I was totally wowed when I read you biography. And now listening to you today during this interview, it’s kind of a reinforcement. It’s not just beautifying your soul through your own passions, developing yourself, but it’s also radiating that energy out into the community, and even beyond the community. Taking it out to various diverse groups of people, and being able to use that energy, in very constructive and in a very reformative manner. And there’s an encouragement factor with the completion. So there’s a whole lot of different things. What is that you are not doing Deepti, you are doing everything?

Deepti : Not sleeping enough I guess.
( Chukles )

Gauri : You got to take care of yourself, that’s important.

Deepti : And looking ahead, I want to put my mind where my heart is, so when I say this, I’m currently working on a study that involves, using south Indian classical rhythm training for dyslexic children. So you have a learning center here as well. I’m sure it resonates well with your goals as well.

Gauri : It does.

Deepti : In the future, I plan to expand ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project into education developmental challengers. So as a musician, as a student of sound, you are exposed to a certain vantage points. And as a Neuroscientist, you get to evaluate the same human experience on a totally different level. And I plan to make the most of it. And hopefully apply some of my musical training towards learning disabilities for dyslexic children. We’ll have a kick starter campaign coming soon.

Gauri : I love the way you call yourself ‘student of sound’.

Deepti : I’ve always been.

Gauri : Speaking of you a little bit more. You a have beautiful CD that you are also releasing on 22nd. So including that, what else can the audience expect on that fabulous event that’s coming up, which I’m very looking forward to?

Deepti : The concert on the 22nd is called the ‘Cranatic Cadenzas’. It will be a concert for new music, its Cranatic inspired music. If you are world music enthusiast, and you want to check out a whole new form of voice and instrumental orchestration, then this your concert. If you have never heard Carantic music then definitely this is your show. If have never heard any music…

Gauri : This is the place to go, and enjoy, and appreciate it. So whatever you are in this ladder, you better come and experience it yourself.

Deepti : On more serious note the concert will release my first CD of contemporary classical music.

Gauri : Congratulations.

Deepti : So as a traditional musician you use to do the music in a certain model. So as a South Indian classical vocalist, you sing with a ‘Violin’ and ‘Mridangam’. This music takes the same idea, same aesthetics, but cast in a chamber classical format. Western Classical music also has certain models of music making. So we take the music from one model, and switch it to another model, and Bingo, that makes for some alchemist experiences.So that’s the soul behind the CD and the experiment. And so the CD ‘Ka’ was a collaboration with a Indian American composer at Holy Cross college, Shirish Korde. I’m very happy that the first CD of this experiment has actually culminated and is out. Hopefully you all will be able to join me and come to the concert.

Gauri : Absolutely. You’ve done so massive projects, all along, since you have stepped into this country. You have some great achievement. I know it’s not easy to plan something, and be able to execute your plans, and to be able to accomplish so much. Definitely congratulations to you for everything that you done so far. And all the best for your upcoming event, as well as for the release of the CD. I will certainly own a copy of that one.

Deepti : Thank you so much Gauri.

Gauri : Thanks for coming to Foundations TV.

Deepti : My pleasure.

Gauri : And before we end the video, I do want to give credit to ‘Smita’s Boutique’ for the outfit that I’m wearing.

Deepti : You look lovely.

Gauri : And you look so pretty too, I love the way we coordinated. Thank you so much for coming.

Deepti : The pleasure was totally mine

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tara Deshpande speaks with The Foundations TV

Transcribed by : Divya Mendiratta

Gauri :  Welcome everyone to the Foundations TV. Our guest today is Tara Deshpande, who is a celebrity from India visiting Boston right now. She is an actress; I’m sure you’ve seen some of her movies. She has been a lead actress in movies like, Iss raat ki subah nahi, Bombay Boys, Style, Bada Din and many others. And she also been a VJ in MTV, is that right? She has authored a few books. Her recent book just came out. Welcome Tara to Foundations TV. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Tara :  Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Gauri :  Thank you for taking out the time. You do so many different things, you have authored three books, you have played lead actress role in so many wonderful movies, you’ve VJ’d, you’ve modeled, you teach, you do cooking shows and workshops. Just listening to all that, it’s just amazing to know how much one person can do. What I want to know is, what’s closest to your heart?
Tara :  That’s a tough one. You know when you are creative you look for interesting ways to express that creativity. And different mediums give you different kinds of satisfaction. So it’s very hard to choose what you like best. For instance I’m very comfortable in the kitchen, because I’ve been cooking since I was a very little girl. At the same time acting is something I did for many years, I started on stage, and I love it. And writing is something that binds everything together; words bind everything together. I’m afraid I can’t answer your question exactly.

Gauri :  So you love every single thing that you’ve done so far?
Tara :  I do things that I really enjoy. Otherwise I don’t do them.

Gauri :  Now by background you have a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, which is completely different from what you’ve done and accomplished. Writing is not at all related to economics, cooking is not related to it, and acting is not related to it at all. Can you tell us, if you felt a disconnect somewhere, your education was something that you chose, or you got into somehow and then you moved on?
Tara :  My parents gave me a lot of freedom in life to do different things, but one of the thing my dad said to me was that, you have to graduate. That is something you must do, because no matter what you do in life your education will always be there to support. And that’s very important today, especially in India, girls need to have an education, and I cannot tell you how important that is at so many different levels. Moreover education is not just a degree; there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ve always been very interested in what’s happening in the world, and I think knowing about political affairs in the world, knowing about how things are working from an economic point of view, it widens your horizon. I would’ve actually like to study writing, but that wasn’t a subject that you could do a bachelor’s degree in; so I took what was available, and I enjoyed it.

Gauri :  That’s amazing, that you created your own path regardless of what background you had. That’s an inspiration for a lot of people, that you are not really limited by your background, or what you’ve learned through the traditional system education systems, and you can just go with what your heart wants.
Tara :  Confucius said that, “if you do something that you enjoy, you never work a single day in your life”, and it’s really true, that you will find, when you start doing something that you love or you believe in, everything in your life changes. You wake up with a smile on your face, you go to sleep with your smile on your face; well mostly not all the time. But it’s really important to at least have one thing in your life that you really love to do, you don’t do just for money, which is also important, but because it’s your passion.

Gauri :  Now one of the special things we have here today at Foundations TV is some of your fans are here with us. And they definitely want to ask you some questions. So we want to open up the floor to all of those people. But before I do that I want to ask you quickly about the book that you have written. Can you speak about the topic, and what inspired you, and how you got into Konkani food, how does that relate to your life?
Tara :  Well the book is called Sense of Spice, recipes and stories from a Konkan kitchen. I conceived the idea in Boston Common. My grandmother, on my previous trip to India, gave me a collection of cook books, all hand written, and in really bad condition to the point that I couldn’t even scan them; they were falling apart. So I started transcribing them on to word; so I can save them for posterity. And as I started typing them, the story started to emerge. Some of them were my great grandmother’s recipe; the book date back to 1861. And I started asking myself, why do they eat this way, why do they cook this way? So many questions came to my mind. And many of them were in different languages, so they had to be translated. And I became very interested in the culture of why people eat the way they do. And why a certain recipe, or a certain kind of cuisine represent people or a geography? For instance, you take a simple recipe like ‘Varan’, which is basically cooked ‘Toor Dal’. And you break down the ingredient in that recipe, and you’ll be able to tell how old that recipe is. For instance, ‘Varan’ is ‘Toor Dal’, which is indigenous to India, it has ‘Hing’ in it; which came with the Greeks to India, and so you can take that. And turmeric which is again indigenous to the subcontinent, and ‘Gurd’ which is indigenous to the subcontinent. On the other hand you take a dish that has ‘Tomatoes’ in it, you know this dish came after the Portuguese; because the Portuguese brought ‘Tomatoes’ to the Konkan Coast. So that’s how the interest developed, and I sort of became a food detective.

Gauri :  Wow, that’s sounds really intriguing. And very interesting to see that how history and science and creativity can be combined and produce something so beautiful. Great! So let me now invite some of our viewers here today, some of the live audience that we have for a question.

Prathibha Shah:  Hi Tara, it’s a pleasure meeting you, I’ve seen some of your movies Iss Raat ki Subah Nahi and couple others, really enjoyed your acting. I just want to start by making a comment, ‘Hing’ is mentioned in detail in ‘Ayurveda’, which is 4000-5000 years old; so I’m very intrigued that you mentioned that Greeks brought it to India, that’s a very interesting fact for me. The question I had, I think you pretty much answered which was, what was the inspiration for your book? So I think I’ll go ahead and ask you another question, what is your favorite cuisine; from which part of India?

Tara :  That’s a really good question Prathibha. When I talk about the Greeks bringing asafetida to India, it was in Promethean’s time; that more than 4500 years ago. Actually it was Saffron that came in earlier times, when Alexander came to India and planted in valleys of Kashmir. Also if I’m not mistaken I think the ‘Ayurveda’ is among the last ‘Vedas’ written of the five. So it wasn’t really written in 4000-5000 B.C., I think it’s more like 3000 B.C. My favorite cuisine, let’s see, that’s a good one, in India my favorite cuisine, and people are going to kill me for saying this, is actually Andhara Food; I love Andhara Food. ‘Uluvacharu’ is one of my favorite things to eat, I call it the Molehe of the south. With a little bit of warm rice and cream, it’s just yummy. And in international cuisines, I think I like Italian food a great deal. Because it adapts very well for the vegetarian pallet. Some cuisines are little harder, but with pastas you can do a lot as vegetarians. So in India it works really well.

Diky Patel:  Hi Tara, it’s so very nice to meet you, again I’m a big fan of yours. I was a very little girl when I saw you for the first time on Shekhar Suman Show. And that time your three movies where about to be released, right one after the other. And during the interview you brought up your book that you were going to be and publishing; your very first book. And so I’d like to know how did you keep your head strong, in terms of your drives and what you wanted to do next and not to be taken away by the glitz and glams, and everything you had going on at that time. You could’ve just ridden the wave. But for you to be so dedicated towards something you truly wanted and how you focused onto that?

Tara :  I’m so glad that you could be here Diky. I hope I can answer your question. As I said earlier the most important thing in life is to do what you love doing. And writing is something that you can continue to do no matter where in the world you are, no matter what phase of life you are going through. Or how old you are or where you’re living, it doesn’t matter; you can write about experiences in any country. And writing has always been the link for me between all the other mediums that I’m interested in. Of course you know I fell in love in 1999, and I got married and moved to the US. Of course there’s is no Bollywood in Boston, so one of the thing that I enjoyed doing was collecting all the past experiences that I had and putting them down on paper. And this book is actually a result of a lot of the work that I did while I lived here in Boston. It was easy to do what I wanted to do because I loved it so much.   

Sunayana Kachroo :  Hi Tara, welcome to Boston. I’ve been a big fan of your movies and your acting for a very long time. I just have a question, I know you shuttle a lot between Boston, New York and Mumbai. So do you have something about Boston that you want to tell us that attracted you to the city, and you made this city your home?

Tara :  I’m so glad you asked about Boston Sunayana, thank you. Boston is a very beautiful city. Culturally and historically it is very important in the United States. And it’s a great place to live in, because you can have a very middle of the road existence. You can do exciting things, and then you can go home and have an easy relaxed life. Academically this is an extremely important city. It is very rich in Universities. I came here initially because my husband was going to Business school here, and also because have some family here. Boston is a city that Indians really love, they are very comfortably here. They love the food, they love the Red Sox. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Boston. When I’m not here I miss it.

Rohini Iris Pola :  Hi Tara, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person. I just have a simple question, are you currently working on any project for a movie?

Tara :  Hi Rohini, I’m not working on any film at the moment. I’m focusing on the Book. But I am going to start working on the stage play very soon. That’s how I actually began my career, before I got into the movies and into TV, I was a stage actress, where I learned the craft of acting. Nasseruddin Shah once told me, “Whenever you feel your acting machine is getting rusty, go back to the stage, it’s like throwing yourself into the fire”. It’s live, you have to really know your lines, you have to be ready and prepared, because there are no retakes. So I’m actually going to begin work on a production soon and oil my machine. You’ll know very soon if there’s a film in line.

Ilina Shah :  You’ve accomplished so much in your life, but do you have any more future ambitions that we don’t know about?

Tara :  That’s a very good question Ilina. I’ve always had the dream of living on a farm. I love animals very much. I have two dogs. I’ve always wanted to live on a farm where I can grow things; I love to garden. Where I can also have a sort of hospice for animals, especially working animals who are retired or who nobody wants. A place where animals can heal. It’s a pretty big dream because it means you have to devote a large part of your life to that. So I’m working on it, and I’m hoping that it comes true; that’s the future ambition.

Praveen Sahay :  Hello Tara, Boston is a very vibrant expanded Indian community. Given the fact that you have done so much, do you have any plans surrounding any activity in Boston itself?

Tara :  Thanks for the question Preveen. I’m always really happy to come back to Boston. I miss it when I’m not here. I’m hoping that I can do some kind of live cooking show here in Boston. Because I taught almost three to four thousand students when I lived here. Because I did 3-4 classes a week. And I know there’s a great deal of interest in Indian food in Boston. So I would love to come here and do more of those sessions, and may be tape them and put them online or something. Or actually the best part is working hands on with people, because you learn from them and you teach them a little bit at the same time. So I’d love to come back to Boston and do something like that.

Gauri :  Excellent. These are all wonderful questions. Thank you to our audience for being here today, and for asking these wonderful questions. And, these are great answers. They just kind of told the whole story. You did great. Before we end the interview I do want to just tell you the sense that I got from knowing you, and for a little bit of time that I did really interact with you. You have a very positive and a very composed aura around you.

Tara :  It’s Jet lag. J

Gauri :  I’m sure I’m not the first person telling you that. I feel like you are very sincere to whatever you do. And you have passions in life, you have dreams, and you follow them. And you have a very positive energy that keeps you going. That’s my interpretation. But what I want to hear from you, and if there’s a message to our audience and our viewers. Any inspirational message or anything that you would like to convey to them. If they have a dream what should they do about it?

Tara :  I learned a lot while researching this book, about India. One of the things that I learned is that, really our beauty lies in our diversity. We have so many wonderful cuisines in India, and they are all created by people. And just as we can sit across the table, with so many different kinds of people and eat different kinds of food, I think its diversity we should respect, value and cherish. And the other thing that I also learnt, that we are among the few food cultures, left globally, that cook at home more than we eat out. And that’s a very important quality because it keeps the family together. Eating around a table, cooking at home, even if it’s not every day, but maybe once or twice a week, cooking for your family is a great sign of love. You share that with your families. In many cultures today people don’t do that anymore. And I know that women are going out and working in the work force today, and may be men should start cooking a little bit more. But we should really, I think, keep our families together by cooking together, and eating around that table together, it’s something that I really got a lot out of while growing up.

Gauri :  Absolutely. That’s a very valuable thing. And in today’s world where everybody is surrounded with electronic gadgets, and most of the time family time includes texting to each other. But I think this has its own value, which we all need to hold on to. So that’s a beautiful message indeed. So before we end our video I would like to thank a few people. The beautiful set that you see which has been created by Rohini from M A R I G O L D !!!!, she has designed and set this up. And the outfit that I’m wearing is from ‘Smita’s Boutique’. So we do have two sponsors for this videos, thank you very much to our sponsors. Thank you audience. And thank you Tara for being with us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Manick Sorcar speaks to The Foundations TV

Transcribed by Divya Mendiratta

Gauri :
  Welcome everyone to Foundations TV. Our guest today is Mr. Manick Sorcar; who is a very honorable person. All over the world he has been honored by so many different universities and so many different organizations. He has a firm of his own. And he’s a world renowned Laserist himself. And we are sitting here backstage with him getting ready for a laser show in Boston; expecting close to 500 people to come and watch a show on Swami Vivekananda today.
So welcome to Foundations TV Mr. Sorcar. It’s such a pleasure to have you here and to talk to you, and hear all about your accomplishments. It’s just so inspirational just to be sitting next to you.

Manik :  Thank you.

Gauri :  Of course you are such an accomplished person yourself; I’ve been reading about you. You have so many things in your name; you’ve authored books, you own a company, and your have started courses in laser engineering in Universities, and you are doing these phenomenal laser shows all over the world. Of course you are very accomplished yourself, but people always will still associate your name with your father’s name Mr. P.C. Sorcar, the famous magician, so why don’t we start off with that. I would like to hear a little bit about your childhood or a special memory that you have with him.

Manik :  Of course. All that you have mentioned about the things that you’ve liked, the little accomplishment that I’ve achieved, are all because of the hands-on experience I had backstage at my father’s magic show. I was very young when my father noticed I was interested in art, as well as in lighting. He inspired me to paint backdrops of his magic shows; and that’s how it started. When he found out that my art was good, he inspired me to do more. When I saw my own art being appreciated by the audience, I wanted to enhance that with lighting and marry art with science. Dad noticed my efforts, one lead to another, and eventually I found myself doing all the lighting design for his intriguing magic items. So, it was my father who was the inspiration behind all and I learned the basics of lighting and art from, which later of course, I took to different fields.

Gauri :  Wonderful. So it started off as an inspiration from within the family and then you went on to do electrical engineering yourself. And how did the laser part come in, was it some inspiration that suddenly came in, or you watched something, how did you come to USA; tell us about that journey.

Manick :  Absolutely. Being so much attracted to lighting as well as art, I knew that this is the field where I was going to pursue and build my own world of magic. So, I took my father’s blessings and set off on my own. First, I took admission at Banaras Hindu University, which is known as IIT Varanasi now. I studied electrical engineering and got my bachelors’ degree there. I wanted to study more, so I came to the USA after getting admission at University of Washington in Seattle, and a tuition scholarship there. I continued in electrical engineering and earned a Master’s degree, emphasizing on lighting. Along with studies, I was also practicing and displaying my art shows, as art was in my blood and I could never separate myself from it. Things started from there. I remember I ran across an ad in the newspaper by Howard Butterweck & Co, that had published the need for a fresh electrical engineer with artistic lighting background, and I just couldn’t believe it! You see, at the time I was in a Greyhound bus in Denver, going towards New York to look for a job. When I saw that ad, I called them. They asked me if I could come for a quick interview, which I did and I landed the job. Howard Butterweck & Co. eventually became Butterweck-Sorcar Engineering Company a few years later.

Gauri :  Wonderful.

Manick :  At the company, we were using laser and prescribing laser, for multipurpose in the industries. One thing lead to another, and then one day I discovered myself trying to use laser for artistic purposes. I tamed the intensely bright beam of light to a harmless paintbrush; the result now speaks for itself. 

Gauri :  Beautiful. And when did Swami Vivekananda’s idea, creating a whole laser show on Swami Vivekananda’s life, when did that come in to your mind?

Manick:  I’ll mention one more step then I’ll be able to get to that.

Gauri :  Yaa, please go ahead.

Manick :  So what I did was, I took laser and came up with the idea how to do animation with it. My goal in the first project was to combine or marry laser animation with live action. ‘Dancing with my Soul’ was my first laser-live animation show, a short three minutes program, where my daughter would dance.

Gauri :  Lovely.

Manick :  Here the story was, a skilled dancer has lost her confidence just before her actually show and she is sitting very sad on the stage, my daughter was acting this.  When she is sitting sad on the stage, out of her comes the laser soul of her. The dancer sees her reflection in the soul and is stunned, wondering where did it come from – finally realizing it came from within her!

Gauri :  Beautiful so almost like manifestation of inspiration itself

Manick:  Yes the inspiration, which is the soul, actually trying to teach her like ‘here are the steps that you forgot’. It animates the steps and movements to teach her, they become friends enjoying teasing and pushing each other, a true live and laser combination.

Gauri :  That’s just so beautiful. I hear there’s going to be a dance show today as well. Is it close to what we are talking about here or is it completely different?

Manick :  Not exactly, the program we will see is on Swamiji, and I’m coming to that. After ‘Dancing with my Soul’ program, I did several other shows, which were the step stones for a bigger and more challenging project.  Today you will witness the world’s longest laser animated documentary on a human being, which is on Swami Vivekananda.

Gauri :  And he has a such a lovely message to give to the world. So I think this is just absolutely perfect.

Manick :  Just very timely. I was always inspired by him. His messages really have been a huge source of inspiration in my life. In 2006 to be exact, I took my wife to Chicago in Art Institute, where in 1893 Swami Vivekananda had delivered his famous speech. I wanted to see the spot where he stood, gave the speech, and hypnotized the whole world. When I found the spot, it was a thrilling experience just to be standing there. My research on Swamiji basically started from then; I knew that I was going to do a documentary on him with laser. The research had been going on since then. About 2 years ago, when the Art the Institute of Ramakrishna Mission in Golpark, Kolkata contacted me to do a laser animation - a laser documentary on Swamiji, I just couldn’t believe it!

Gauri :  They say if you have a strong passion within you the whole universe will conspire to make it happen. So looks like that’s what happened with you. You had a dream, you had a passion, something you really believe in.

Manick :  Something you really love, you put your heart and soul in it, put so much of hard work especially for a good reason, and I know the God sees all that. This offer from Ramakishna Mission was the biggest reward I could get, I was humbled by it. There was no looking back. I put my heart and soul in it, developed the storyboard, and each and every step in doing the animation and 3-D effects. I’m immensely thankful to the Library of Art Institute, which gave me a lot of help in research. The State of Illinois was also of great help to me. All these, together with my personal research, today we have the show - and in God’s grace, the project has taken off like a rocket.

Gauri :  It’s true that anybody in this whole world can be as successful as they want in the worldly terms, but what touches from heart is actually true success. And what you are doing right now is coming from within, I can see that. I can definitely feel that.

Manick :  We’ve got two U.S. born daughters and seeing them growing up, we realized they needed to learn about our roots and culture. But in the name of teaching the last thing my wife and me wanted was to force them to do something against their will. We realized, it had to be done in a way in which they would be attracted on their own.

Gauri :  Yes, they would want to be part of it.

Manick :  Absolutely, they have to be in love with it from within. That’s the best way we could teach them.

Gauri :  And you have no idea what your are doing to do the rest world, your daughters are feeling it and so many other people who are flowing with it. Because they are also feeling that energy that you are projecting out.

Manick :  Every parent feels the same way. So what I did then was, I made some animation shorts where I had them perform. This was shown in local TVs in Colorado - which was another source of inspiration for all of us. That lead to ‘Deepa and Rupa: A fairytale from India’, based on a children’s story from Bengal and produced in English. What made it special is that this was the very first Indian animation in which live action was integrated, combination of the two, first time ever in Indian history. It received a host of awards including the ‘Gold Plaque’ at ‘Chicago International film festival’.

Gauri :  Excellent.

Manick :  So that was a beginning and it was a huge source of inspiration for my daughters. The film had a national telecast by Doordarshan in India. In the U.S., ‘Deepa and Rupa’ and other animations of mine have been telecast on the PBS channels for the last 20 years in a row. These were the stepping stones of inspirations that are effective even now.

Gauri :  Yes, that its very motivational and very stimulating for all of us to hear as well. All our viewers I’m sure will really appreciate listening to this story a lot. You have in every sense of the word, with every aspect of the word ‘success’. you have achieved it. From within and from a worldly perspective with all the titles, and with all the different accomplishments that you have to your credit. Now my question is, where do you go from here, where are you headed?

Manick :  Actually I feel, since US is my home and I live here, my solemn duty is to bring all the good things that I have learned in my life, and present them in a media and language in which the youth will be attracted. I mean, not only the Indian youth, but also the youth of the whole world. The fables that I use for my animation such as ‘Deep and Rupa’ and others from ‘Panchtantra Katha’, are beautiful, simple stories each with a subtle moral message in it. So, the youth are not only entertained, they also get a message to make it useful in their life. Swamiji’s story is even more fascinating.

Gauri :  Ya, I’m looking forward to seeing it today.

Manick :  As you know Swamiji came in 1893 at the ‘Parliament of World’s Religions’ in Chicago Art Institute where he had given the famous speech. His message was on religious harmony and brotherly love that must exist to be able to enjoy and appreciate each other’s culture. The message is powerful and I felt, in this era of unrest, it is more applicable now than ever. So, that was one of the reasons why I built this show now. The adults perhaps already know or heard of him, but it is their children and other generations who would get the maximum benefit out of it.

Gauri :  That’s beautiful. And what I understand, I did speak to some people from SEWA international; so this is completely in resonance with the guidelines that they are following as an organization. So before we end our interview, would you like to give our viewers a message?

Manick :  Absolutely, first of all I would like to thank SEWA International for giving me this opportunity - not only to do the show in Boston, but around the country in 17 cities. Their motto as you know is ‘to serve humans is to serve God’, and that basically is the moral of my show as well. My message to the public, to the whole world, particularly the youngsters will be to remind what Swami Vivekananda has said in one of his messages,”Arise, Awake and Stop not till the goal is reached”.

Gauri :  Beautiful, Fantastic, thank you so much for being with us today.