Photo feature

Forget the tech sector – Indian diaspora has contributed to California’s culture in myriad ways

In the community, there is a rich expression of a culture that crosses boundaries.

In India, Northern California is known mainly for Silicon Valley and the successes of the Indian diaspora in the technology industry. Their contribution, however, goes far beyond that. They have brought Indian culture – inclusive, tolerant, and diverse – into the mainstream.

Northern California is home to some of the oldest Indian diaspora communities in the United States.

Sikhs from Punjab first arrived here in the early 20th century to work on railroads and in agriculture, following migration patterns from Canada along the West Coast. Many settled in Central Valley, the geographical centre of California, first working as labourers and then buying and developing land.

A hundred years on, in Sacramento and surrounding areas, the Sikh community has transitioned into roles in business, politics and the arts. Similarly, the Bay Area – from San Francisco to San Jose – is home to the second largest Indian diaspora community in the US (after New York-New Jersey).

The region’s economy grew with Silicon Valley, attracting engineers and entrepreneurs from India as well as Indian-Americans. While the technology sector is central to the community, there is also a rich expression of culture that crosses boundaries, maintains strong ties with India, and is part of the fabric of Northern California.

Milpitas, California: Learning to dance the cha-cha-cha at the India Community Center.
Milpitas, California: Learning to dance the cha-cha-cha at the India Community Center.
San Francisco, California: Protestors gather outside the Indian Consulate for a vigil to denounce the Supreme Court’s upholding of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making homosexual activity a criminal offence in India.
San Francisco, California: Protestors gather outside the Indian Consulate for a vigil to denounce the Supreme Court’s upholding of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making homosexual activity a criminal offence in India.
Union City, California: Eldo George leads the singing with a speaker attached to his phone, as members of St. Gregoriose Orthodox Church sing Christmas carols in a parishioner’s home.
Union City, California: Eldo George leads the singing with a speaker attached to his phone, as members of St. Gregoriose Orthodox Church sing Christmas carols in a parishioner’s home.
Pleasanton, California: Kids play in bubble rollers at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
Pleasanton, California: Kids play in bubble rollers at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
Lodi, California: Mourners attend the flag-draped coffin of Parminder Singh Shergill, a US Army veteran of the first Gulf War who was shot by the police near his home. Officers claim Shergill, 43, who struggled with mental illness, lunged at them with a knife; witnesses disputed the police account. He was buried with military honours.
Lodi, California: Mourners attend the flag-draped coffin of Parminder Singh Shergill, a US Army veteran of the first Gulf War who was shot by the police near his home. Officers claim Shergill, 43, who struggled with mental illness, lunged at them with a knife; witnesses disputed the police account. He was buried with military honours.
Fremont, California: Seniors gather in a park to celebrate the birthday of one of their group who turned 94. Many live in India and spend summers with their children in California while their grandchildren’s schools are out of session. They return after school starts in the fall and the heat in India has passed.
Fremont, California: Seniors gather in a park to celebrate the birthday of one of their group who turned 94. Many live in India and spend summers with their children in California while their grandchildren’s schools are out of session. They return after school starts in the fall and the heat in India has passed.
Yuba City, California: Karm Bains is a fourth-generation California farmer, who grows peaches, prunes, walnuts, and almonds. His father, Didar Singh Bains, worked on California farms as a day labourer, saving his meagre wages and buying land to become one of the wealthiest peach growers in the nation.
Yuba City, California: Karm Bains is a fourth-generation California farmer, who grows peaches, prunes, walnuts, and almonds. His father, Didar Singh Bains, worked on California farms as a day labourer, saving his meagre wages and buying land to become one of the wealthiest peach growers in the nation.
Santa Cruz, California: On a tour of the US, India’s first female professional surfer Ishita Malaviya spends an afternoon surfing with her partner Tushar Pathiyan (far left) and local surfers. Ishita and Tushar founded the Shaka Surf Club in Manipal, India.
Santa Cruz, California: On a tour of the US, India’s first female professional surfer Ishita Malaviya spends an afternoon surfing with her partner Tushar Pathiyan (far left) and local surfers. Ishita and Tushar founded the Shaka Surf Club in Manipal, India.
Mountain View, California: India-born Jasmine Sandlas films a music video for a medley of two of her songs, one in English, the other in Punjabi, which draw on bhangra and American hip-hop. Ajay Singh, a producer for Diamond Lane records, checks the video monitor. With her success in the US, she moved to India and signed recording contracts with Sony Music and Universal Music.
Mountain View, California: India-born Jasmine Sandlas films a music video for a medley of two of her songs, one in English, the other in Punjabi, which draw on bhangra and American hip-hop. Ajay Singh, a producer for Diamond Lane records, checks the video monitor. With her success in the US, she moved to India and signed recording contracts with Sony Music and Universal Music.
Watsonville, California: Mount Madonna Center, a spiritual retreat founded by Hari Dass, a silent monk who came to the US from India in the early 1970s, celebrates Navratri with daily pujas and the ritual destruction of a 12-meter Ravana.
Watsonville, California: Mount Madonna Center, a spiritual retreat founded by Hari Dass, a silent monk who came to the US from India in the early 1970s, celebrates Navratri with daily pujas and the ritual destruction of a 12-meter Ravana.
San Jose, California: During a rehearsal for a high school musical production of the Ramayana, Hanuman comes to Sita’s aid while she waits alone in Ravana’s garden. Mount Madonna School, which is part of a yoga center and spiritual retreat, has performed the Ramayana annually since 1978.
San Jose, California: During a rehearsal for a high school musical production of the Ramayana, Hanuman comes to Sita’s aid while she waits alone in Ravana’s garden. Mount Madonna School, which is part of a yoga center and spiritual retreat, has performed the Ramayana annually since 1978.
Fremont, California: Jewellery models prepare to take the stage during an awards gala.
Fremont, California: Jewellery models prepare to take the stage during an awards gala.

All photographs by Preston Merchant.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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