Get to Know: Mona Ahuja, Children’s Book Author

Get to Know: Mona Ahuja, Children’s Book Author

As a young child, Mona Ahuja listened to her mom tell magical stories about the Moon. Through those tales, Ahuja began to understand the importance of the Moon in Indian culture and folklore, an understanding she has since passed along to her three boys. Her love for storytelling and the vibrant imaginations of children led to Ahuja pursuing a career in writing.

Born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in the Bay Area, Ahuja first began her career in, at the time, the new industry of Internet Security. While the work was exciting and new, Ahuja soon chose to pursue her passion of working with children and instead began teaching dance to little ones. Her ability to connect and engage with youth has been much more fulfilling, and the experience even inspired her to explore her creative side. In doing so, Ahuja developed some of her ideas and began writing stories as a way to not only connect with children, but also continue the tradition of storytelling and the sharing of cultural folklore.

Chanda Mama is the perfect bedtime story for families to enjoy together and represents Ahuja’s fascination with the moon, which began when she was young. She shares, “As a child, on road trips, I would spends hours staring up at the sky in wonder of the Moon and its connection and power over Earth.” From wondering whether a “Man on the Moon” truly existed to watching the moon rise, Ahuja’s love for the beauty of the moon shines through the pages of her new book. Her stories about the moon helped to soothe her young boys at bedtime, and later inspired her share these tales with other parents. In Chanda Mama, readers join a young boy as he follows the moon in the night sky. The calming illustrations and gently-told story make Chanda Mama a much-needed addition to any family’s bedtime routine.

Who inspires your writing?
My children are my greatest inspiration for writing and telling stories. Children, in general, have an amazing imagination and are extremely observant. They notice and question everything. I don’t always have the age-appropriate answer for them, so I tend to draw on my creative side and stretch the truth a bit. Some may not agree with this method, but I love to see where it takes them. Often they continue on with my initial ideas and add their own stories. It’s a wonderful way to see how their minds work.

What are your thoughts on the diversity of books currently available in schools and public libraries?
I don’t think that it is as diverse as it should be, but it is definitely more so than when I was growing up. I’m happy to see that and thankful that my kids will be exposed to our culture and heritage through these books. Picture books are an excellent way to introduce different cultures to young children. My own personal library consists of books from Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, India, and many other countries. Stories about animals, the moon and sky gods, and fishing all captivate young audiences and reflect what is important to those cultures. Today, it’s more important than ever that our young children have that exposure and understanding starting at a young age. They need to understand that no matter where you come from, we, as humans, are all very similar in our need for connection, family, and love.


Chanda Mama
Written by Mona Ahuja
Illustrated by Sid Veloria
Published by Lekha Ink

Bask in the moonlight with this sweet tale of a boy’s affection for Chanda Mama, Mother Earth’s loving and protecting brother. Just as a brother watches over his sister and her family, Indian folklore teaches that the Moon, known colloquially as Chanda Mama, watches over the Earth and the Earth’s children. This beautiful picture book continues the Indian tradition of love for the moon. This beautifully illustrated tale is the perfect reading for bedtime.

Visit www.lekhaink.com for more information and to purchase your copy.


About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appears in April 2017 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
Get to Know: Amruta Houde, Public Health Advocate

Get to Know: Amruta Houde, Public Health Advocate

Indians and Indian Americans have long been known for their success across a wide range of fields in the United States. Amruta Houde and Niraj Antani are two young Indian Americans making a mark and paving the way for others to join them in their quest to serve and positively impact their community.

Learn more about what drives these impressive individuals to serve their communities.

Amruta HoudeGet to Know:
Amruta Houde,
Public Health Advocate

By Rina Shah, The Arpan Group

Volunteering comes second nature to Amruta Houde, a young Indian American pursuing her graduate studies at Columbia University in New York. At a young age, Houde, alongside her family, spent countless volunteer hours with organizations such as Sewa International and The Bhutanese Empowerment Project. While working closely with refugee communities as well as young adolescent girls in rural areas, Houde recognized the importance of information sharing, especially with regard to public health issues.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Houde has been a volunteer with various community organizations, including Sewa International, since she was in high school. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Georgia Tech and Master of Science in Psychology from Boston University. During a gap year after earning her Master’s, Houde volunteered with Sewa International in India where she worked with local NGO partners in rural communities to share health information. Her experience during this time inspired her to consider a career in public health, and she is now pursuing her Master of Science in Public Health from Columbia University.

In speaking with Houde, her desire to be an advocate for the Indian American community as well as to influence public health policy globally are abundantly clear. Her enthusiasm and dedication are an inspiration for all who wish to be actively involved in bringing about change on all levels – local, national, and international.

Learn more about how Amruta hopes to make an impact in the public health field in her post-graduate career.

What are some of the public health challenges faced by the communities in which you worked in India? How do organizations like Sewa International make a difference on local and national levels?

The public health challenges I observed in India were related to adolescent girl’s health, which naturally influences their development and access to opportunities. Millions of girls are not receiving comprehensive, accurate health education in school or at home. I spent time in Assam and Hyderabad where Seva Bharati, a partner NGO, conducts weekly sessions and camps for teenage girls. They have created a system where girls become “older sisters” and conduct confidence building activities and health education sessions. Another major concern is lack of adequate bathroom facilities for girls in schools which results in a significant school drop-out rate of female students and teachers. Seva Kirana, a partner NGO based in Bengaluru, is working to increase the female literacy rate by building clean toilets in schools and slums.

What are some challenges you faced while working with local NGOs in India?

As I traveled around to various states in India, I noticed that many NGOs are doing similar work in their local areas. However, there is little to no communication or exchange of resources between these organizations. During my time visiting various organizations around the country, I was able to serve as the connection and share project ideas and health education materials. Strengthening the network of NGOs would allow volunteers to learn the best practices from each other.

Get to Know: Amruta Houde, Public Health Advocate
How has your experience as a first-generation Indian American shaped the way you approach your work?

Most of my previous visits to India involved visiting relatives, shopping, and visiting famous landmarks. Experiencing India outside of the tourist context allowed me to truly understand my roots. Understanding the culture of a community is vital to serve. In the U.S., it is important for our community to have representation in various spheres, from healthcare to education to government. As a public health professional, I aim to serve as a voice and advocate for the Indian-American community.


A year-long study abroad or gap year spent volunteering can be eye-opening and influential in many ways. How did your gap year shape your decisions? Why would you recommend college students/recent graduates consider a gap year?

The most common reactions after telling someone you are taking a gap year are “Won’t this set you back in your career plan?” and “Wow, that’s so cool!” I completed my Master’s in Psychology two weeks before I left for India with plans of returning and doing my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. All the projects I worked on in India happened to be related to public health. If I hadn’t taken this gap year, I may have never realized that public health was my true passion. As for the second reaction, yes, it is an extremely exciting time! But there is another side to it as I saw the reality of the world around me and my true self.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What type of work would you like do once you graduate?

After completing my Master’s, I hope to continue in the field of global mental health. Mental health is a topic treated with caution and often avoidance. Through public health policy and programs in the community, I hope to increase awareness about mental health conditions, increase access to mental health resources, and in turn, decrease stigma.

Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?

As the years go by, I realize more and more that my parents played the most crucial role in shaping who I am today. I observed my parents juggle their careers, family life, and community service throughout my life. More often than not, serving others became the priority. They always reminded me that it was my duty to step outside of my bubble and use the time, resources, and knowledge that I have to selflessly serve all those around me.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly young women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?

There are many points where we have to decide to take a chance on doing something new or not. Take your time to make a decision and evaluate all the possibilities. But once you’ve made a decision, go all in. Do not doubt what you’ve done. If you continue to doubt yourself, you can never be completely committed to your decision. Sometimes things may not go the way that you’ve planned, but this is not failure. You’ve simply gained something out of the decision that you weren’t expecting. Each experience is a learning experience, it’s in our hands to reflect upon this and develop.

All photographs provided by Amruta Houde.

Article appears in February 2017 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.

Rina Shah

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
Get to Know: Niraj Antani, Ohio State Representative

Get to Know: Niraj Antani, Ohio State Representative

Indians and Indian Americans have long been known for their success across a wide range of fields in the United States. Amruta Houde and Niraj Antani are two young Indian Americans making a mark and paving the way for others to join them in their quest to serve and positively impact their community.

Learn more about what drives these impressive individuals to serve their communities.

Niraj AntaniGet to Know:
Niraj Antani,
Ohio State Representative

By Rina Shah, The Arpan Group

At the age of 23, Niraj Antani became the youngest serving member in the Ohio House of Representatives. Born and raised in Miami Township, Ohio, Antani remained in state and earned a Bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University. Now 25, Antani (R – Ohio House District 42) is poised to be an influential force in politics. Recognized by in 2015 by Forbes Magazine, Antani is on the list of top “30 Under 30” people in the United States for Law & Politics.

The young Indian American began his foray into politics first as an intern for his congressman at the age of 16. During college, Antani participated in The Washington Leadership Program (WLP), an eight-week leadership program based in Washington, DC, where young South Asian Americans are exposed to the South Asian American political Diaspora. The opportunity to meet with and learn more about the political process from leading community figures paved the way for Antani to become a changemaker of his own right.  

Learn more about how Antani got his start in politics as well as how his Indian American background influences his work ethic.

Why politics? What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?

I have been involved in politics since I was 16, interning for my congressman. Through politics, and being an elected official, we can make large change for the benefit of our community. I want to be a voice for my community, for my generation.

How has your experience as an Indian American shaped your career and values?

The Indian-American culture has taught me the values that I hold most dear. Hard work, perseverance, independence, among others. It is through these qualities that I have been able to succeed in politics.

Get to Know: Niraj Antani, Ohio State Representative
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?

There have been a lot of people who have influenced me. Harin Contractor, who runs the South Asian American internship program in DC, the Washington Leadership Program, first connected me to the Indian American political community. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her staff gave me the confidence I needed to succeed. Congressman Turner and his staff gave me my start. Scott Jennings and the Romney campaign gave me the grounding and skills I need to thrive in politics.

Get to Know: Niraj Antani, Ohio State Representative
Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly those who aspire to a career in public service?

We need voices who will fight for our generation of Indian Americans. Our parents immigrated here and built successful lives. Now, we need a seat at the table to advance our community to the next level. I’m proud to be the youngest Indian American elected official in the country, but we need more to get involved.

All photographs by Mike Elicson, Ohio House of Representatives.

Article appears in February 2017 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.

Rina Shah

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
Designing the Ultimate Wedding Cake

Designing the Ultimate Wedding Cake

The Artistic Whisk | Photo by Kenzie Shores Photography

The Artistic Whisk | Photo by Kenzie Shores Photography

That moment where the silver lining on the wedding planning cloud has finally arrived – the “design wedding cake” item on your wedding-to-do list! The venue has been selected, and contracts have been signed. You have met with every wedding vendor possible from photographers to wedding planners and décor professionals to hair and makeup artists. You have never been more ready to move on to more delicious tasks – choosing and designing your dream wedding cake!

Everyone in the wedding planning entourage is likely to get on board with this task. Couples may already have favorite flavors in mind and are looking to match the design with the overall theme for the wedding reception. Pinterest is a bride’s best friend during the wedding planning process, and even more so when it comes to designing the wedding cake. The challenge lies in finding the perfect design, while still ensuring the cake tastes delicious. A seemingly simple task is suddenly made more difficult, but at least tastings are involved!

 

 

Factors to Consider
You will likely have a design in mind as you begin the process of selecting the baker who will make your dream wedding cake come to life. You may have sampled scrumptious cake at a previous wedding or event or have seen incredible designs on Pinterest. As you begin the task of narrowing down choices for your design and baker, some of the same factors that play a role in selecting the venue, décor, and other wedding components are also important in this selection. Mercedes Blackwell, Owner of and Cake Designer at The Cake Studio agrees and says “[your cake designer] will be able to suggest the best options in order to achieve your vision for your wedding.  Today’s dessert and cake options are so unique and varied, that you will surely find several alternatives that will make your wedding a memorable experience.”

Photo Provided By Zehra's Cupcakery

Photo Provided By Zehra’s Cupcakery

Budget: Your budget will impact how intricate the design of your cake as well as the number of tiers. Using fresh flowers vs. sugar flowers, Styrofoam layers, a sheet cake for serving, all of these are options for optimizing budget. Speak with your cake designer to determine the best way to achieve your dream vision without breaking your budget.

Venue: Is the wedding reception outdoors or indoors? The temperature and serving time will influence the choice. Some frostings can withstand heat, whereas others need refrigeration. With the right details, your baker recommend flavor and frosting pairings accordingly.

Guests: The guest count is crucial as many bakeries charge per serving. The number of guests will also help determine the number of tiers needed for your cake. Will other desserts be served leaving the cake to present the “wow” factor? In either case, your baker can suggest ways in which to maximize serving size and still amaze your guests.

Flavors: With so many flavor profiles from which to choose, couples can feel inundated. Trust your baker, s/he is the expert and can recommend complimenting flavors. For couples who want to offer a variety, Zehra Laljiani and Saba Hasnain, founders of Zehra’s Cupcakery, suggest they “opt for dessert tables featuring a variety of miniature desserts or cupcakes along with a smaller wedding cake, or feature a groom’s cake along with the wedding cake.”

Theme: Consider the overall theme of your décor, invitations, and event in general when selecting your design. Jovana Boksen, Owner of and Chief Pastry Artist at The Artistic Whisk suggests that “the bride and groom should research what styles of cake they think suits their theme. We recommend coming to the tasting with some sort of inspiration, i.e. color swatches, invitations, Pinterest boards, dress photos, etc.”

Prepare for Tastings and the First Meeting
The list of possible bakers has been narrowed, and now comes the fun part – the tastings! The experts all agree that keeping an open mind during the process is key. Tastings give couples an opportunity to not only sample the baker’s specialties, but to also understand flavor pairings and profiles. Boksen shares “We prepare 21 unique flavor combinations at our tastings, which is a lot of cake! Remember to choose which flavor you think is best. Don’t try to please everyone, it’s impossible.”

Photo Provided by The Cake Studio

Photo Provided by The Cake Studio

Coming to the tasting with the right people is just as important as bringing your appetite. Laljiani and Hasnain advise couples to “bring only the people who will have a final say in the decision regarding the cake design and flavors. While it may seem fun to have your bridal party, parents, and in-laws at your tasting, it can result in too many varying opinions and make the experience more daunting for the couple.” Staying true to what you as a couple enjoy will be important as you make the final decision. Though your guests should enjoy the cake, ultimately, the cake is one of many memories you will remember from that day.

The first meeting also gives bakers and cake designers to get to know the couple. An understanding of the bride and groom’s personalities as well as their likes/dislikes will shape the final design. Blackwell shares that “getting to know the couple a little bit is also very important to me. I enjoy getting a glimpse of their individual personalities and finding out how they met. This conversation usually reveals something interesting and unique that can be incorporated into their wedding cake.” 

As you venture out to tastings, some additional questions to keep in mind include:

  • Can the baker accommodate dietary restrictions?
  • Will the baker be preparing other wedding cakes the same day?
  • How far in advance should orders be placed?
  • Will the baker offer recommendations on the best to way serve?

The Perfect Wedding Cake
The experts share their thoughts on the perfect wedding cake.

Jovana: My idea of the perfect cake is probably what I made for my own wedding!  I particular like classic cakes, but with a twist. Something original that hasn’t been seen before, those are my favorites. As far as flavor goes, I enjoy cakes that are made from scratch while using all-natural ingredients. I can always tell the difference!

Mercedes: My cake preference is a simple, clean design with some height and a very marked focal point, such as a large bloom. I like muted shades with a touch of “bling” such as gold or silver. My flavor preferences are complete opposites because I always like to offer two flavors. The first would be a light Raspberry Lemonade combination, which is Lemon Chiffon cake with Raspberry and Cream Cheese fillings, and second would be Dark Chocolate cake with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Ganache fillings. Offering completely different flavors makes it more exciting!

Zehra and Saba: We always enjoy a cake that is unique, exotic, and daring. The one we enjoyed creating most was our dragon cake, which was a coconut cake with a mango buttercream and mango, passion fruit, and basic reduction as a topping. This cake was the perfect blend of sweetness, tanginess, and spice and would be a wonderful choice for a bride who is looking for an exotic dessert.


Featured Experts
Special thanks to the experts who contributed their advice and tips for designing a wedding cake.

The Artistic Whisk
Jovana Unietis Boksen, Owner & Chief Pastry Artist
www.theartisticwhisk.com
Tel: (727) 560-5662

The Cake Studio
Mercedes Blackwell, Owner & Cake Designer
www.weddingcakeorlando.com
Tel: (407) 614-2860

Zehra’s Cupcakery
Zehra Laljiani and Saba Hasnain, Co-Founders
www.zehrascupcakery.com
Tel: (678) 640-6415


About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. Based in the Bay area, The Arpan Group works with clients across the US. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appears in the September 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

While studying the human impact of coral reef ecosystems in Cairns, Australia, during her undergraduate years at Virginia Tech University, entrepreneur and environmentalist Shilpi Chhotray discovered a newfound respect for the integral role played by the oceans in the overall well-being of our environment.

An East Coast native, Shilpi earned a Master of Earth and Environmental Resources Management, with a concentration in Marine Affairs, from the University of South Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from Virginia Tech University. Now located in San Francisco, Shilpi thrives on the innovative and creative spirit of the Bay Area, where she has had the opportunity to work on a range of projects dedicated to addressing marine environment issues.

Shilpi ChhotrayShilpi was further inspired by a trip to India in 2014. While there, Shilpi met with local seaweed farmers, many of whom are women, and learned more about the sustainable harvesting process and the health benefits of the plant. Channeling this knowledge and her passion for preserving and sustaining the oceans, Shilpi founded Samudra Skin & Sea, a skin care line that is 100% organic and natural and uses seaweed harvested off the coast of California. Through Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi hopes to bring awareness to ocean conservation and the sustainable seaweed processes.

In addition to Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi also works for Future 500, an NGO that specializes in stakeholder engagement, where she direct the oceans program with a focus on coalition building, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

Learn more about her what motivates Shilpi as well as her newest endeavor, Samudra Skin & Sea.


What was the inspiration behind Samudra Skin & Sea?
My work with seaweed was game-changing and something I’ve continued to pursue learning more about. When I was researching the environmental, economic, political and conservation aspects of seaweed, I also learned of its incredible health benefits , especially for skin, the biggest organ in the body. Seaweed is rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals that feed and nourish the skin. I was amazed by its inherent sustainability characteristics , as it needs only water and sunlight to thrive and can be grown without pesticides or harmful contaminants. And the more sustainable, the healthier it is for our bodies and planet.

I was also inspired by it’s ability to help provide farmers, specifically women, with green jobs that can help combat the pressures from climate change and over fishing. After a trip to India in 2014 where I observed the harvesting process used by women seaweed farmers, I was determined to incorporate this sustainable harvesting process to produce high quality, organic skincare. Samudra, which means ocean in Sanskrit, was born from my dream of blending global economies, cultures, and environments as well as the mind, body, and spirit.

Why focus on ocean conservation? What is the importance of oceans in the overall schematic of our environment?
Our oceans need more attention. The oceans cover more than 70% of our planet yet only 2.8% is protected. I’ve always been fascinated by and deeply respectful of the diversity of marine life, from charismatic whales and dolphins to colorful corals and seaweed, which provide food and shelter for countless marine species. Our monumental, dynamic, blue planet requires greater protection by governments, citizens, and especially the private sector, which is responsible for the extraction of marine resources and pollution through chemicals and plastic contaminants. Samudra’s role in providing clean, organic, and pure skincare is just as much about healthy skin as it is about healthy oceans. We want to educate consumers and encourage other companies to do the same. I believe the interconnections of people and planet connecting the dots between environmental and social issues, which are more in sync than we know. Through seaweed we can empower people and communities, and safeguard our marine resources for generations to come.

DCIM104GOPRO

How do you harvest seaweed? How do you transform the seaweed into the end product?
Our seaweed is local, edible grade, hand harvested, and dried in the sun. We calculate our harvest volume based on growth rates and densities that do not interfere with the marine environment. By working with a commercial harvester who has innate knowledge of the marine ecosystems (he has been harvesting on the coast of Northern California for over 20 years), we know exactly what goes into the process first-hand. There is only so much you can learn from books and experts that spend more time in academia than actually in the water. I am a firm believer in integrating local and traditional ecological knowledge wherever possible. Furthermore, by harvesting myself, I have learned more about the ecological integrity of the process- providing assurance that our seaweed is handcrafted with conservation at the forefront, which goes hand-in-hand with producing the highest quality attainable.

Tell us more about the products offered by Samudra.
We have four introductory products which are 100% organic and natural, vegan, cruelty free and handmade without synthetics, fragrances or dyes, GMO’s, glutens and parabens. Products and packaging are plastic free to reduce environmental impact, especially stressors facing our oceans like single use plastics and microbeads. Our products include:

  • Healing moisture-rich body butter. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, shea butter, and avocado oil.
  • Rejuvenating facial cream. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, hibiscus extract, jojoba seed oil, and rosemary hip extract.
  • Detoxifying facial mask. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, betonite clay, activated charcoal, and colloidal oatmeal.
  • Lather-rich soap bar for hair and body. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, avocado butter, shea butter, maracuja and argan oils. Biodegradable.

Facial MaskWhat is your favorite product offered by Samudra?
I love all of the products, but I’d have to go with the body butter. It’s been an incredible solace for my dry skin and eczema. I have a number of food sensitivities and allergies that cause skin rashes so the Samudra line has been a turning point in my skincare routine since it’s plant based, consisting of high quality essential oils and pure ingredients. I’m not one to wear makeup, so having healthy and glowing skin via my soaps and creams is important to me.

What can we expect from Samudra in the next year?
We debuted our introductory products in April this year and are now in four San Francisco-based locations. We’re planning to launch our online shop this August and continue to expand our retail locations. We look forward to continuing our NGO partnerships – to date we are working with The Marine Mammal Center to raise awareness about the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of seals and sea lions on the California coastline. Secondly, we are partnering with 5 Gyres on a consumer action campaign to call attention to the state of microbeads and plastics ending up in our oceans.

Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
My parents, like most Indian immigrants are extremely hard working and have a strong work ethic that has been engrained in my sister and me. They have also supported me as I followed a not so traditional career path – I think they recognized from the time I was a young professional that I was not going to be fulfilled in a traditional 9-5 or following someone else’s direction forever. In the early days, it was more challenging, but they’ve really opened up to my ideas and approach to social entrepreneurship.I have an incredible network of strong women in my life- friends, family, and other female entrepreneurs who constantly provide me with inspiration and confidence in a heavily male-dominated society. Finally, my fiance who is a creative soul- an artist and engineer, is Samudra’s biggest fan and constantly encouraging me to follow my dreams and reach my goals, however unattainable they seem at the moment. I respect his views and opinions immensely so it means the world to me when we share ideas and collaborate.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing nontraditional careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?
Listen to your inner voice, more often than not, society and the status-quo will tell you otherwise. Do what makes you You. With hard work and a supportive community, you can make your dream a tangible reality. Especially for women of color, the time is now to demand gender-equality in the workplace and this goes towards entrepreneurship too, we are still fighting an uphill battle to earn the same opportunity, pay and arguably respect, for the SAME work to our male counterparts. A united voice alongside female-led entrepreneurship networks are necessary, if not essential, to paving the way forward.


About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit www.thearpangroup.com or call (703) 651-6670.

Images provided by Samudra Skin & Sea and Shilpi Chhotray. Article appears in August 2016 Desh-Videsh magazine.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
Get to Know: Scott Haas, Psychologist and Author

Get to Know: Scott Haas, Psychologist and Author

Scott-Haas1 Five years ago, clinical psychologist Scott Haas began interviewing Indian Americans and Indians living in the United States. Raised in both an immigrant family and a heavily immigrant community in Plainfield, New Jersey, Haas has a clear understanding of the challenges faced by individuals seeking both opportunity and the desire to assimilate in their newly adopted homelands. Haas became interested in understanding exactly why Indians in particular have made great accomplishments in the US compared to other immigrant communities.

In Those Immigrants!, Haas shares interviews with 30 prominent Indians, all of whom have excelled in their fields. Though his publisher initially pushed for interviews with well-known, celebrity Indian Americans, Haas chose to focus on individuals with whom the average person could connect. In looking to identify the traits beyond the typical stereotypes, Haas uncovers some commonalities related not only to culture and tradition, but also to shared value of education and sense of entrepreneurship.

From Vijai Nathan, comedian, to Gita Gopinath, economist, and Maya Ajmera, education advocate to Saatvik Ahluwalia, public servant, among others, each of these personal stories explores the catalysts behind the many achievements of the Indian American community. The passion, drive, and self awareness exhibited by those featured in Those Immigrants! engages readers and inspires them in their own pursuits.

Haas is also the author of Back of the House, Hearing Voices, and Are We There Yet?. He is co-author of The Da Silvano Cookbook. His work appears in several publications, including Saveur, The Boston Globe, Wine Enthusiast, Travel + Leisure (North America and Southeast Asia), among others. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and maintains an active consultative practice emphasizing diagnostic work in psychiatric hospitals and urban communities of color. Follow his work via his blog, www.shrinkinakitchen.com.

What inspired you to write Those Immigrants? What was the impetus behind the writing of this book?

Each year more and more colleagues are from India or with Indian backgrounds. I wanted to know more about my community, and dispel myths of success. To understand the pragmatic reasons for extraordinary achievement in one community and to discover lessons applicable to all communities, whether immigrant or “native born.”

Those Immigrants!
The book profiles an impressive group of 30 individuals from varying backgrounds, and each with a unique story to tell. How did you compile the list?

Through friends and friends of friends. Through research on the internet. I wanted a range of people — some wildly successful and others at the start of their careers. Well known careers in tech, and surprising careers in stand-up comedy and jazz singing.

What commonalities do these individuals share that have made them successful and thrive in the United States?

Access to mentoring, understanding of hierarchy, skilled culturally with diversity, strong and supportive families, deep value for education, an ability to focus on long-term goals, entrepreneurship.

If you had to pick three to five profiles as the most inspiring or unique, which would you choose?

Oh, that’s so hard to say! I wouldn’t want to exclude others. Honestly, I learned an enormous amount from each person.

Immigration is clearly a hot button topic right now. What are your thoughts on challenges faced by immigrant communities now versus those that arrived in the United States 30-40 years earlier?

The infrastructure is better now, there is more exposure to many types of people in U.S. cities, presumably there is greater tolerance, more “mixed” marriages, and lawmakers whose backgrounds are immigrant. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is enormous fear mongering occurring that I think will get worse before it gets better — we are at an historical crossroad as we shift from old school manufacturing to high tech, and as women and people of color take more of the reins of power. The resentment of those who’ve run things up until now needs to be addressed through strict enforcement of laws and protection of all of us. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable members.

Article appears in the July 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin