This month features Shazain Khan, student and Executive Board member of the Umeed Club at Brown University. With Umeed, he raises awareness and funds for cancer patients in developing countries, currently with a focus on India. They also create multimedia that can be used to educate patients and caretakers about symptoms, side-effects, and treatment options.
Here is a message from him about the issue:
Within the last few decades, the nexus of low and middle income countries has experienced a worrying trend. Throughout these nations, along with the traditional “developing country” illnesses like malaria and other infectious diseases, ailments that have typically been linked to the West have seen a dramatic rise in Eastern countries like India.
In fact, 1 in 10 individuals in the developing world will develop a form of cancer in their lifetimes, with 1 in 15 individuals unfortunately succumbing to the disease. In India specifically, more than 1 million new cancer cases are registered each year with almost 800,000 deaths due to the disease per year. This issue is made more concerning by the prevalence of Covid-19 in the country, which has rocked the nation through multiple waves and killed hundreds of thousands.
Covid has specifically been impacting cancer patients by taking away resources from these patients and causing them to be ignored by the medical system. Given that many cancer patients come from low-income backgrounds, the ability to financially sustain themselves with their disease becomes impossible.
It is crucial, now more than ever, for us as South Asians to come together and support our brothers and sisters back home who are suffering from both Covid and Cancer!
Massachusetts tennis state champion Aryan Nijhawan has always excelled in the sport of tennis. At the start of high school, Aryan, an incoming Economics and Mathematics Major and Computer Science Minor at Brandeis University, made the big move to the United States from India where he had been ranked top 3 in the State of Delhi and top 40 in the nation. During his high school career, he played the #1 singles position for all four years, delivering outstanding overall records such as 21-1 in a season. In his sophomore year, he won the Central Mass MIAA Division Championship, and as a senior and a co-captain, he led his team to the State Championship finals for the first time in 4 years. In all of New England, Aryan has ranked top 10 in singles and top 5 in doubles in the under 18 boys category. He has also ranked 240 in the country and was recruited to Brandeis as a student athlete. With numerous national level tournaments as well as other awards and recognitions under his belt, he says, “tennis is a lot more than a sport to me – it has not only helped me make so many memories and connections, but it has also helped me find a goal and purpose in life.”
IAGB congratulates Aryan Nijhawan on becoming the July 2021 Youth of the Month.
The Mystical Land of Sikhs, Seekh and Shish Kebabs
Today we will take a journey, not only to a place but in time. I fondly remember my time growing up in Amritsar.
Amritsar is in the heart of Punjab, the second largest city in Punjab. Amritsar is about 15 miles east of the border with Pakistan and approx. 267 miles from New Delhi. There are various transportation modes to get to Amritsar. The most famous and common is Raja Sansi International Airport. It is the most convenient way as flights to Delhi are just an hour long. Since most of the population belongs to middle and lower class, other more popular option is by Train. Amritsar Junction Railway Station is a well-connected station to all major cities in India. Shatabdi Express; Shan-e-Punjab Express, Akal-Takht Express among others are considered the busiest trains. Amritsar Bus Terminal provides services to all nearby cities such as Jalandhar, Pathankot, New Delhi, Jammu, Chandigarh etc. From US, you can fly via a stopover in Delhi, Dubai and other major hubs. Some of the airline options include Air India, Lufthansa, Emirates.
Amritsar is the home to the Golden Temple… also known as Harmandir Sahib. It is the most visited and spiritually significant sacred place in Punjab. It’s a stunning complex always full of pilrims all over India and abroad. The main entrance called Ghanta Ghar has small pool of water to wash feet in order to keep the temple clean. The bandannas are offered at the entrance of the Temple as its mandatory to cover your head during the visit. The giant pool of water in the center is known as Amrit Sarovar. Sections of it are marked by ropes for pilgrims to bathe in the holy water. The Gold covered sanctum is the most attractive part whose reflection in water at night creates magic. Golden Temple is the house of sacred Adi Granth scripture that is read aloud during the day. It is the most visited place in Amritsar. Thousands of people volunteer here whether its serving sacred Langar; cleaning the marble polished floor; offering water in hot weather to tourists or distributing Prasad to people. 24hour vegetarian Langar is served to tourists regardless of faith, gender or economic background. As you exit Harminder Sahib, the bustiling bazaars offer tons of shops around to satisfy the eagerness of buying Punjabi stuff. You can get the cheapest and the most durable Punjabi juttis etc. Sikh symbols such as Khandas, Karas, swords, daggers etc can be bought from the shops nearby Golden Temple. If you haven’t gone to Golden Temple, you must.
Apart from this major attraction and not too very far from here, is another significant history landmark known as Jallianwala Bagh. Thousands of civilians were killed on the orders of British offices Edward Harry Dyer. During the massacre, there were no escape routes. The narrow passage was blocked by the army and people either ran towards the walls or jumped in the well. Bullet marks can still be seem on the park premises.
Another place that we used to visit a lot in Amritsar was Wagah Border. Every time we had visitors, they insisted on going to the border to see the flag ceremony. Wagah Border conducts lowering of the flag ceremony that lasts 45 minutes and is carried out before sunset. I remember reaching there before time to always get the good seats in front as the place gets crowded very quickly. Ceremony starts usually at 4 pm but if you want to watch the ceremony, my recommendation is to reach the place no later than 3pm. There are no sheds so it gets pretty hot and sweaty unless you go in winters. Security at the border is very high and there are no covered bags allowed. They do have a reserved section for foreign tourists so make sure to bring your passport if you want to skip the line and get the best seats available. The ceremony begins with a parade from both sides (India and Pakistan) and is perfectly coordinated. The boot thumping, eye to eye stare and cheering Jai Hind in the background, leaves such a patriotic feeling in each and every individual. The two flags are lowered simultaneously. Firm handshakes between the soldiers of both sides followed by closing of iron gates makes this an exciting event that you don’t want to miss.
Other places you can venture off to are:
Guru Nanak Dev University
The true spirit of the city is being a local. You know, when in Amritsar, be Amritsaria.
Start with a hearty breakfast of Stuffed Kulcha/ paratha and tea. You are welcome to come to my house, but you can also get your fill at Kulcha King at Ranjit Avenue . For a foodie, Amritsar is heaven. You can visit Kulchey wali gali and try the most delicious stuffed Kulchas with Punjabi choley. Aloo puri is another staple breakfast in Amritsar and you can get the best at Kanhaiya sweets. I fondly remember eating this deliciousness especially during the weekend. Breakfast does not include cereal. No Punjabi can be satisfied without eating a good stuffed parantha along with a cup of tea as the breakfast….its called a Hearty breakfast in Amritsar.
Lunch time…let us go to Kesar da Dhaba. Growing up in Amritsar, I had the privilege to eat the most delicious street food in the town. The Dal makhani with dollop of ghee with crispy baked Lacha parantha is the simplest and yet so delicious food you will ever taste in Amritsar. Served alongside of Achar, onions and yogurt. Don’t forget to visit this place if you want that heart and soul warming food to satisfy your appetite. Along with the meal, having a glass of Lassi is a tradition. Amritraris believe in eating good portions so when you order a glass of Lassi, be sure to prepare for the biggest glass with full of Malai on top.
Golgappa (Puchka), Ice-gola, Chaat papdi and Aloo tikki are very popular evening snacks along with the veggie pakodas that people relish almost every day. Brijwasi Chaat House used to our go-to place to satisfy the snacks cravings.
Next we will go shopping…whether in mood for shopping for your cousin’s wedding or shopping for housewares, or for masalas and aachars, there is a special street for each. E.g for all the fancy clothing, Kaitra Jaimal Singh market is very famous. You can get such a variety of clothes with a huge price range. Guru bazaar is famous for all your jewelry shopping and in Pratap Bazaar you will get all the utensils you will need in your kitchen. Pulkari is very famous form of embroidery and the brightly colored shawls to sarees can be found in Hall Bazaar. Hand embroided ones are the most expensive but don’t be afraid to bargain your heart out. You will get the best deals here !
All this shopping has made us thirsty…get a drink at Empire Lounge or Glassy Junction at Surya Residency.
To see all my friends, I am heading off to Lawrence Road. This is where we would show off latest car or clothes, and meet friends
To end the day, we will head to dinner at any of the following places: mk hotel, quality restaurant, astoria restaurant. The local spots include the Moolchand Fish Shop which is a hole-in-the wall tiny place. You get the most delicious fish here served with spicy green chutney and raw onions. For the most delicious chicken, you can try Surjit Chicken at Lawrence Road. The spice blend is so perfect that you won’t stop eating just one meal. Chicken is served with Naan and chutney.
Don’t forget dessert at Bansal sweets and Novelty sweets. You will get the best Kasatta ice cream here along with Falooda ice-cream, alphonso ice-cream, Fruit cream. While you are there, don’t forget to try Gulab Jamun, Jalebi and boondi ladoos.
Off to bed…but before I go, let me remind you to please come stay with us when you come to Amritsar. Amritsarias are known for their hospitality!
In this month’s issue IAGB is proud to introduce the 5th term President of Sishu Bharati Schools – Dr. Seshi Sompuram. Dr. Sompuram is a scientist and faculty at BU Medical school and has devoted a large part of his life volunteering for Sishu Bharati in a leadership role. IAGB Director Sanjay Kudrimoti met with Dr. Sompuram over the Zoom to discuss his scientific work, his volunteering experiences, his family and his hobbies and other interests.
Perceive, Preserve and Promote
IAGB: Hello Dr. Seshi Sompuram. We welcome you to the IAGB SPOTLIGHT. To start, we would like to know your Life Journey to date.
Seshi Sompuram: I come from a very small village – Sompuram at the edge of Telangana bordering Karnataka. I started my schooling in my village and then for education I moved around – elementary school in the rural side then to Gadwal for my high school and Junior College. I did undergrad in Hyderabad (Osmania University) and finally moved to the US to do my Masters at Boston College and PhD and Post Doc at Boston University Med School. I did my PhD and Post Doc in Molecular Biology and Immunology. My PhD thesis was on Creating Antibodies for Therapy. Immediately after my Post Doc year, I started working as a faculty member at the BU Medical school. I also worked at a startup company CytolLogix, which was soon acquired by DAKO/Agilent Technology. Dr. Bogen and I, along with Vani Kodela, started a new start up: Medical Discovery Partners. Only recently we changed the name to Boston Cell Standards. Boston Cell Standards is a specialized biotech company dedicated to improving Cancer Biopsy Clinical Diagnostic Testing Technologies. I am the Vice President of Research and Development and co-inventor of the company’s core technology. Over the years, as a group we developed a technology solution that would enable the integration of quantitative quality systems to immunohistochemistry (IHC) testing. Along the way, we published over 30 papers, and authored chapters in two books. We were awarded several U.S. and European patents. We have been fortunate to be able to get several National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health) grants (5 – 6 million dollars) over past few years. Presently, we have a product that is being tested in clinical trials in the US (Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, etc), as well as in Canada and Europe. Only recently we sought private investments. Incidentally, TiE Boston through its Life Sciences division is the first outside private investor in our company. The other professional hat I wear is as an Adjunct faculty at BU Medical school (in Pathology Department).
IAGB: How did your association with Shishu Bharati start and how did you progress over the years?
Seshi Sompuram: My association with Shishu Bharati started almost 20 years ago when I enrolled my son at the school and signed up to teach 1st grade Telugu. Over the next few years my role in the administration became more involved and I was elected as a Secretary. Two years later, I was elected as the president of Shishu Bharati. Currently, I am in my fifth 2-year term (9th year) serving the school and community. Looking back over the last twenty or so years, I would say with great joy that my association with Shishu Bharati is the best thing that ever happened to me.
IAGB: What should our readers know about Shishu Bharati as an organization?
Seshi Sompuram: Shishu Bharati is a 43 years old, non-religious, non-profit, and non-commercial institution. We have three-locations: Lexington, Walpole and Nashua (N.H). Some of the Shishu Bharati senior members are still around, and they inspire and make us humble every day. While in my role as the President, I do juggle work across the spectrum for the school. The real work is done by the 200 plus very dedicated, compassionate volunteers. The school runs smoothly because our teachers and administrators recognize their roles and work together. I am blessed to be working with this amazing and selfless group of volunteers who put service above everything else. I am privileged to be part of the Shishu Bharati mission.
We have elections every two years. We elect about 20 directors for each location. This board has a division of labor between various activities such as registration, public relations, education council and so on. Each school has a principal and two vice principals (one for language and one for Indian Culture) and a Director of Admissions as the chief administrators. These four individuals (they are nominated based on experience and skill set and not elected) form the Education Council for each school. At the executive level we have a President, Secretary and Treasurer. The Directors, administrators and the executive committee meet every month to discuss the agenda items. Summer happens to be the busiest time as a lot of planning for the new academic year happens during this time. Grading, graduation, signing up of new leases, teacher sufficiency, training and much more of the behind-the-scenes work happens during these three months. So yes, the commitment is needed for more than just the weekend activity. The volunteers have two main objectives: one is to aid in imparting education about our language and culture to our next generation and the other is to help build a cohesive and kind community. Hence the motto I coined – Perceive, Preserve and Promote. Teachers and volunteers raised the bar when the pandemic hit us and adapted to the challenging new circumstances. Shishu Bharati is what it is today because of our volunteers and I am personally grateful to them. I am also thankful to the parents for their desire and passion to bring their children. I would say I am surrounded by wonderful people.
IAGB: Can you shed light on student experiences.
Seshi Sompuram: We serve about 900 students across these three locations. Experiences of the students has also been extremely heartwarming. Yes, it is true that initially the kids are apprehensive about the school and its curriculum but very soon they adapt and get engaged intensively in the learning. They learn to appreciate our roots and feel proud about it. I have observed that they come in without any biases and learn many cultural lessons with an analytical and critical mind. They understand the good and not so good aspects and promote what they understand are the right lessons.
IAGB: What should a new student (or parent) expect if they are considering joining Shishu Bharati?
Seshi Sompuram: We start with an assembly every Sunday morning where we sing both the American and Indian national anthems followed by a small presentation about India. After this they have two hours of lessons with a small break between the two classes. We have a strict grading scale and require a minimum of 70% overall grade to advance to the next class. Children start at a kingergarten level and graduate by the time they are in 8th grade. In addition to learning culture and language, students of Shishu Bharati form lifelong friendships. Their graduating essays and projects are quite insightful. The association for some of our alumni doesn’t stop with graduation. Almost all of them come back as student volunteers after they graduate. Student volunteers are some of our strongest assets. They assist the teachers and administrators and help younger students during classes.
One of the biggest advantages to our graduates has been that many of the colleges have started to accept our language graduation certificate as a waiver of 3 college credits in the foreign language requirement. Some of the noted schools in this category are UMass, Boston University, Boston College, Dartmouth college, Brandeis University, and a few others. Two years back we even formed an Shishu Bharati Alumni association. We have created a handbook to help the alumni with all the benefits and connections they can develop through this network.
IAGB: What is your revenue model and what are your major expenses?
Seshi Sompuram: We docharge fees to our students. The fee revenue is primarily to cover our biggest expense which is the rental fees for the three high schools we use. We pay almost a few hundred-thousand dollars annually for the school rental fees. Additionally, we spend some money on snacks for children. The other big-ticket item on our expenditure is our Bi-Annual event that combines all three schools. Almost two to three thousand people attend this event and we invite folks from all walks of life. We have no paid staff. We do often reimburse our teachers for any incidental expenses they may incur that aids them with their teaching and on rare occasions we give out token gifts of appreciation to our teachers and volunteers. We also have a formal graduation ceremony and invite both a keynote and alumni speaker.
IAGB: Does Shishu Bharati work with other organizations in the community?
Seshi Sompuram: Absolutely.Shishu Bharati has benefited from an eco-system of likeminded volunteer organizations in the greater Boston area such as IAGB, Hindi Manch and many others. For instance, we coordinated with IAGB to present a Learning Series during last year’s India Day celebrations. Hindi Manch Baal Yuva Bhag has encouraged us to send team entries from each school every year during their annual event. Further, every year they recognize and honor one of our teachers at this event. Similarly, TAGB also recognized many Shishu Bharati teachers. We strongly believe in building our community and our work has helped to add to the rich texture of the New England population.
IAGB: What can you share about your personal life and how has your family supported you in your community work?
Seshi Sompuram: I met my wife Sandhya Raja in college and she too is a Ph.D graduate working for a Biotech/Pharma company. We are blessed to have a son and a daughter. Our son double majored in Economics and Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and he currently works as a Product Manager at a tech company. Our daughter, a rising junior, is working on her undergraduate degree at Northeastern University in Business Administration. They both are Shishu Bharati graduates themselves. I am very thankful for the support of my family throughout the years of my association with Shishu Bharati.
IAGB: Any hobbies you pursue besides being a scientist, faculty and a President of nonprofit organization.
Seshi Sompuram: I enjoy singing and listening to music. I have used every opportunity to work and showcase my singing. I have participated in the Hindi Manch organized Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and once I was the finalist (second runner up). Another hobby I enjoy is painting and sketching.
IAGB: Who and what influenced your life’s philosophy?
Seshi Sompuram: My story starts in a small village. My father had very minimal education. But he was very kind and knew the value and respect for education. Not only did he ensure that me and my siblings got good education, but he also helped anyone in our village who showed interest in going to school. He passed away just before my son was born. Now to keep his spirit and tradition alive, me and my younger brother Jeevan have started a foundation on my father’s memory. My childhood friends, who are the principals at four colleges, identify four students who are economically struggling but have the passion to study beyond their junior college level. We support them financially through their four years of professional undergrad education. We have been doing this for past 13 years. This way I honor my dad’s memory. Additionally, we also hand out 25 merit scholarships as an encouragement to students. Our children are our source of strength. Despite the personal challenges we endured, we have committed ourselves even more to community service as it is the true source of our happiness.
INDIA DAY 2021
August 15th at the Hatch Memorial Shell, Boston
With COVID 19 restrictions lifted off, we are very excited to bring back in-person India Day 2021 celebrations. It will be on August 15th from 3 to 7 pm at the Hatch Shell, the iconic Boston landmark that unites and enriches the Boston community with vital arts, culture, and sprawling open space on the bank of Charles River.
Berklee Indian Ensemble
The Berklee Indian Ensemble is one of the hippest performance acts to emerge from Boston. A global viral sensation with over 230 million views, the Ensemble melds classical, folk, Sufi, and contemporary Indian music, with influences ranging from hip-hop and jazz to Middle Eastern and African flavors.
Founded in 2011 by Indian Berklee alumna and faculty member Annette Philip, the Ensemble provides an open and inclusive creative space for musicians from all over the world to explore, study, interpret, and create music influenced by the rich and varied mosaic that is Indian music today. The Berklee Indian Ensemble has risen to prominence as one of the most storied musical collectives in the country with their unmistakable signature sound, and legendary collaborations with A.R. Rahman, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Shreya Ghoshal, Shankar Mahadevan, Vijay Prakash, Indian Ocean, and Clinton Cerejo, to name a few.
After a year and a half in a pandemic that has affected lives in every corner of the globe this event, featuring the Berklee Indian Ensemble live in concert at the iconic Boston landmark, unites and enriches the Boston community is special in many ways. In addition to the celebration of India’s 75th Independence Day, it is also the 10th Anniversary of the Berklee Indian Ensemble and their first collaboration with IAGB. A clip of one of their performance can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Ap5iqF4DOz4
Flag Raising of US and India at 40+ towns across New England, Honoring India's 75th Independence
As a lead-up to India Day, IAGB will be hoisting flag-raising events in over 40 towns across New England, to raise the US and Indian flags to commemorate momentous India’s 75th Independence Day celebration. IAGB has worked very closely with the town/city administrations to bring these events to respective City/Town Hall and town commons and celebrate amongst the communities.
These events starting August 1st through the 15th will culminate into the grand finale at the Hatch Memorial Shell on August 15th.
Tri-color lighting on the City Hall Plaza building in Boston is scheduled for August 15th at dusk. Enjoy this beautiful scene and India’s pride right in the heart of Boston.
A limited number of booths at the India Day event (Hatch Shell) are still available. Do no miss the opportunity to advertise in our India Day Magazine that reaches thousands of IAGB community and via our social media platforms. For all the advertisement and sponsorship details please visit:
Raising the flags of India and USA
Honoring India’s 75th Independence Day celebration
As we all recognize, this COVID-19 pandemic re-routed our paths having adjusted to various new norms and has changed how we work, learn and interact. As social distancing guidelines have led to a more virtual existence, both personally and professionally.
Last year, in August 2020, we created history by holding successful flag raising events in over 35 towns and cities, by raising and honoring the Indian and U.S Flags in the heart of each town/city.
Continuing last year’s success story in the current year 2021, we will be raising the US and Indian flags in over 40 towns/cities in New England to commemorate the momentous India’s 75th Independence Day celebration.
We will have these events starting August 1st through the 15th, culminating into the grand finale cultural event, “IAGB India Day” on August 15th, which is back to its core, at the Hatch Memorial Shell alongside Charles River.
So come join the festivity as we honor India’s 75th Independence Day celebration with style, pride and vigor!!!