Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida



By NITISH S. RELE – [email protected]

Florida keeps its ranking as seventh in the United States for number of international students (39,179) attending colleges in the 2020-21 academic year. That’s down 15.2 percent from 2019-20. Most students are from China (16.8 percent), India (13.6 percent), followed by Venezuela (6.6 percent), Brazil (6.2 percent) and Saudi Arabia (3.5 percent). Florida ranked No. 7 among top host states with California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania in the lead.

No Florida university made it into the top 20 national ranking for number of international students. However, University of South Florida in Tampa is the new leader in the Sunshine State surpassing University of Florida in Gainesville with 5,974 students. UF came in at No. 2 with 5,919 students. Florida International University is third with 3,849 students, followed by University of Central Florida at 3,647 students and University of Miami with 2,886 students.

According to the Open Doors yearly report, published by the not-for-profit Institute of International Education, the number of international students, at U.S. universities declined by 15 percent to 914,095.

China sent the most students, 317,299 to the U.S., followed by India, sending 167,582, a decrease of 13.2 percent from prior year. In South Asia, Nepal sent 11,172 students (decrease of 12.2 percent), Pakistan sent 7,475 students (5.8 percent drop) and Bangladesh dispatched 8,598 students (drop of 2.7 percent).

Currently, the leading host institutions for international students are New York University (17,050), Northeastern University in Boston with 15,880, Columbia University (15,015), University of South California (14,992) and Arizona State University in Tempe (13,015).

The number of Indian students in the U.S. in 2020-21 is down 13.2 percent compared to the previous year.

For more details on the study, visit


Ode to my Odyssey

By Anu Varma Panchal

About 13 years ago, my husband and I had just moved back to Florida and were pondering car options. With a baby, a preschooler, and family that visited often, all signs pointed in one, decidedly unglamorous direction — it was time to buy a minivan.

We hesitated. Had we really become those people? Toting around in-laws and toddlers in a moving behemoth packed with snacks and a diaper changing pad? Like no other decision, this one definitively slammed the door on a multitude of other more exciting paths in life.

But I said yes to the minivan, that much-maligned icon of suburban ennui and conformity. And it turned out to be love at first drive.

Who can argue with the ease and convenience of doors that slide open when your arms are full of groceries and your little ones are too tiny to manage a heavy door? Or a trunk spacious enough to lug shopping bags, strollers and grandparents-from-India levels of luggage, even with the third row up?

The American minivan as we know it was born nearly 40 years ago, though Europeans and Asians had driven them since the 1950s. According to Smithsonian Magazine’s History of the Minivan, Chrysler engineers tinkered around with versions of a “garageable van” since the early 1970s, finally rolling out the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in 1984 to instant success.

I spent almost as much time inside my first Honda Odyssey as in my home. It transported little ones to Montessori with five car seats and booster chairs. While waiting for my older one to finish Kumon or dance, I’d fold down the backseat to create a playroom for the baby. After dinner with friends when the kids inevitably wanted to continue the evening at someone’s house, we gathered all of them into one minivan or another. On trips to the beach, we hauled people, umbrellas and coolers, and we didn’t care if the mats got sandy (built-in vacuum cleaner!). On countless nights, the kids fell asleep in the backseat to a DVD as it drove us safely back from Disney World.

Unlike my husband’s spotless car, my Odyssey’s seats were indented with the weight of car seats and booster chairs, often strewn with the debris of life with little ones. The occasional goldfish cracker that got away. Capri Sun straw wrappers. Goody bags from Pump it Up. Hair ties. Those sparkly star-topped wands. Pencils, stickers, flyers from school and receipts from the library. It was our roving home away from home, the back covered in my kids’ Citizen of the Month stickers and school magnets.

If our vehicles of choice reflect our image, the minivan was perfect for this stage in my life. Indeed, when Chrysler debuted the Dodge Caravan, “Road and Track” described the newcomer as straightforward and “honest in the sense that it is designed to be utilitarian. Yet it is clean and pleasant to look at. It doesn’t present to be what it’s not.” Suited me just fine.

When the time came to replace my beloved Odyssey, the choice was easy: another Odyssey! This one carried heavier backpacks and different kids as schools and activities changed. No more car seats; now they vied for shotgun. While waiting to pick up my kids from activities, I’d open up my laptop and work.

Now, one of our kids is old enough to drive herself around. Do we still need a minivan, asked my husband (not a member of my Odyssey fan club)? Absolutely, I said. The little one would be in high school soon, and I’d need all possible seats to attract potential carpools. But the truth? I wasn’t ready to give up the huge chunk of my identity that hinged on being that very-much-in-need chauffeur mother.

Alas, it was not to be. When Chrysler put out that first revolutionary minivan in 1983, people had to wait weeks for one. Now, history repeats itself; this year, demand for the humble minivan soared to the point that dealers can’t keep them in stock. There just wasn’t one for me to have.

Reluctantly, I perused websites of inferior vehicles without sliding doors. Glumly, I test-drove an SUV that could fit as many people as I wanted without sacrificing comfort. Begrudgingly, I gave consent.

I may no longer be a member of the minivan brigade (at least for now), but the unassuming, loyal Honda Odyssey that safely drove this often-frazzled mother and her babies around will always have my heart.

As for that young couple test-driving their new one with a longing backward glance at their vanishing coolness, I’ll tell them this — strap your baby in and slide that door shut. The best miles lie ahead of you.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of


Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –

LEXUS LC500 When it was first introduced in 2018, we drove this supercar – what we call copious frills and high-performance rolled into one. Then it was the coupe version. Recently, we had the immense pleasure to test drive the LC500 convertible, which was launched just this year.

Sharing its engine with the Lexus RC-F, the LC500 can take off from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.6 seconds topping speed at 168 mph. The 5.0-liter V-8 engine in the powerful midsize luxury convertible blasts off 471 horsepower @ 7100 rpm and 398 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. The rear-wheel-drive ride is mated to a forceful but smooth 10-speed auto gearbox. Providing positive brake feel are 15.7-inch vented front and 14.1-inch rear discs equipped with six- and four-piston Brembo calipers respectively. To watch the unfolding of the power soft top, which takes 15 seconds to open and another 16 to close at up to 31 mph, is like poetry in motion.

Up front, a mammoth mesh spindle grille is flanked by arrowhead LED daytime running lights with triple-projector LED headlights to indicate that this is indeed a speed demon. LEDs also deck up the rear, side signal, corner and tail lamps. Step into the well-appointed cabin and you will find an eye-catching shifter knob adorned in leather and satin-plated bezels while gas/brake pedals and footrests show off aluminum. Satin metallic finish touch is evident throughout. Niceties include 10-way power cooled/heated front seats, push-button start, analog clock, drive mode selector, power tilt/telescopic steering column, dual-zone a/c and a Lexus premium audio system. A mouse-like Remote Touch enables the driver to toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls, which are displayed on a 10.2-inch screen. As for the back seat, don’t bother. It’s more for show than for holding even a toddler!

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, vehicle stability and traction controls, three-point seatbelts for all, front/rear crumple zones and side-impact beams, rearview camera, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, active roll bars, daytime running lights and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard.

Lexus absolutely made the right move by launching the convertible version of the LC500. With its power-at-all-times engine for lead-foot drivers and elegant styling inside and out, this high-end sports convertible speaks for itself. Indeed, it is one of a kind, i.e., if the 100g price tag is of little consequence.


Photo credit: BAPS

Diwali Annakut display at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir last month in Tampa.



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