Tag Archives: #2021

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

AACI and NBC Bay Area Host Annual Contest

AACI and NBC Bay Area are hosting the Growing Up Asian in America (GUAA) art, essay, and video contest for students (kindergarten – 12th grade) in the nine Bay Area counties. GUAA provides a unique platform for young people to creatively explore and celebrate being both Asian or Pacific Islander and American. GUAA was started in 1995 by the Asian Pacific Fund and NBC Bay Area as one of the largest youth celebrations of Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month in the nation.

Every year, hundreds of Bay Area students – Kindergarten through 12th grade – submit artwork, essays, and videos in response to a specific theme. It encourages young Asian Americans to take pride in their identities whilst discussing dreams for their future, pride in their cultural heritage, challenges they may face, and other complex issues. Furthermore, it helps individuals (both Asian and non-Asian) understand the varied experiences of our youth growing up in the Bay Area’s diverse communities. The program is competitive, and one (1) winner will receive the $1,000 Lance Lew Grand Prize Award and nine (9) winners will receive the $500 “Best in Class” awards, with Honorable Mention awards as well. All winners will have their entries showcased at the virtual awards ceremony and on the AACI website and have a chance to be featured on NBC Bay Area.

2021 Contest Theme: This Is My Time

The year 2020 has left a mark on history. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has battled a difficult time of uncertainty, illness, loss, and inequity. However, we can reflect and implement change to ensure a brighter future. Share what your vision of the future is and what tools and lessons you think will help to propel us into a new era post-pandemic.

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, April 2, 2021.

To access our online entry form or learn more information, please visit aaci.org/guaa. For any questions, email guaa@aaci.org.


About AACI: Founded in 1973, AACI is one of the largest community-based organizations advocating for and serving the marginalized and vulnerable ethnic communities in Santa Clara County. Our many programs address the health and well-being of the individual and advance our belief in providing care that goes beyond just health, but also provides people a sense of hope and new possibilities. Current programs include behavioral and primary health services, substance abuse prevention and treatment, a center for survivors of torture, a shelter, and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, a senior center, youth programs, and community advocacy.

2021 is A Hangover & We Are Facing the Repercussions

Hey, the New Year 2021 is here! Yay! There were a lot of private parties and a few public parties, with both masking and unmasking happening, for sure. A lot of cake was eaten and quite a bit of champagne was drunk. 

Unfortunately, the new year started with a heavy hangover from the previous one. What with the COVID-19 virus mutating and becoming even more contagious, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. About the transition of power in Washington, the lesser said the better. In fact, why say anything at all here? We are all watching it on TV on a daily basis.

Where I live in South India too, the new year is beginning on a weird note. It is raining a lot, when it should actually be sunny but cold. In Coorg, Karnataka, where we have a small coffee plantation, people are very worried. The unseasonal rain is causing the coffee berries to drop and rot on the ground, reducing the yield. Those that have been picked have had no time to dry and may rot on the drying yard, if they aren’t washed away by the water, that is. Paddy harvest too may be affected.

Indians are certainly waking up to the unwelcome realization that global warming and climate change are no longer just subjects for scientific debate, but the reality on the ground. Farmers are seeing it first hand, while consumers are suffering when prices fluctuate wildly due to the unseasonal weather. Onions at Rs. 120 a kilo? Enough said.

Meanwhile, the United States is seeing its share of natural disasters as well. Forest fires decimating large swathes of land and swallowing up neighborhoods, and hurricanes and tornadoes wreaking havoc with barely a pause between successive ones, are impressing the concept of climate change among the people far better than any Government initiative to educate them.

However, the big question is: how are the two countries responding to it and trying to change their behavior? And what are individuals doing? Well, here is a layperson’s perspective.

In my decidedly uneducated opinion, both the US and India are responding identically to the climate crisis. They are spending billions of dollars and rupees having conferences and putting out white papers and other colored papers on the subject. But not one of them is doing anything real or major on the ground that may have the slightest effect on reducing emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and cleaning up the environment that they have laid waste. 

In India, new cars are flying off the shelves. All the money that couldn’t be spent during the lockdown days is being splurged on new and fancy cars. So much for reducing dependence on fossil fuel. 

Public works are still being conducted for the welfare of PWD contractors and not the public – in short, resources being wasted on shoddy work, such as water pipes that break and bleed hundreds of gallons wastefully into the earth. Water wastage and electricity theft is rampant, and there is no earnest effort to clean up invaluable water resources, even after the shocking water crisis faced by Chennai city. 

And forest management is absolutely non-existent. If you are a wild animal, or a human whose land is being encroached by wild animals (many parts of South India are seeing an unprecedented number of people being affected by the entry of elephant herds into cultivated land), or a tribal whose very livelihood is at stake, you are on your own. Meanwhile, blocks of flats keep appearing and land is being cleared to build new townships. 

In short, very little is happening on the ground to actually combat the climate crisis. 

As for the trend in the US, I had an opportunity to observe a few things when my husband and I visited the US this August. And what I observed was shocking, especially after having become used to the Indian way of life.

Again this is my humble opinion, but I think the US is seriously over-consuming. During our stay, we were stunned by the amount of trash we ended up generating each day…and this was mostly non-recyclable stuff. We stayed at a motel for an extended period, so we bought a bunch of silverware and some microwavable plastic and porcelain dishes. We had to depend on microwavable food from grocery stores, as eating every meal at restaurants was neither to our taste nor feasible due to COVID. We found that the frozen dinners were packaged in plastic that was of such durable quality that we actually washed a few and reused them as microwave bowls. 

Every store used plastic bags. At large chain stores especially, they would literally put just a pack of socks in one bag and a t-shirt in another. It was as if they’d never heard of limiting plastic. I dearly love the US and am nuts about the stores, but I wanted to weep when I saw the sheer amount of plastic waste that was being generated.

In India, plenty of plastic waste is generated too, especially with Amazon, and Flipkart, Big Basket, and Swiggy, Zomato, and other food delivery companies. But a lot of it does get reused at least a little. Plastic containers are washed and used to store food. Many use cloth bags for shopping, and as for the plastic bags that are used for things like rice, dhal, etc., they get reused too. Small kirana shops use these to package their goods. Milk covers are given to kabadiwaalas who resell them to recyclers. Newspapers are also sold to recyclers, or used to package things or used around the house, or even to wrap used sanitary pads before discarding. 

Some cities like Mysore where I live also force citizens to segregate their waste into dry and wet waste. Some apartment complexes like ours have their own composting units, and give only their dry waste to the municipality. 

Of course, in India, we have the overwhelming problem of public cleanliness – what garbage we have is usually in plain sight. Now after COVID, there might even be less will to clean up the country. Everyone feels that it was our daily exposure to all kinds of pathogens bred in our own neighborhoods that gave us lower susceptibility to COVID-19 virus. So God knows what will happen to the Swachh Bharath initiative.

The New Year has dawned. We’ve had to change a lot of our habits and behavior last year. Hopefully, we will change our behavior regarding many environmentally-sensitive practices so that 2021 will see a healthier planet emerging from shadow of COVID-19.


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Women at sunset

Step Into the New…You

Renewal: You and The World Around You

As I tuned into this topic, I became aware of the internal environment that is created because of the people in our lives and how we perceive ourselves in relation to them. Often keeping others comfortable becomes our comfort zone. Stepping out of it rocks the boat. As we step into this New Year, I invite you to step into the New You.

It is too long that you stayed in a shell to keep others comfortable.

There are some around you who have always loved you, with whom you are amazing and it is easy. You feel safe being yourself.

Then why walk on eggshells with everyone else? Why numb the goodness and brightness in you? 

Nobody realizes that you are simply trying to fit in. You value them too much, even more than yourself.  You are getting comfortable with that. In your mind, you are being nice to them. And yet often feel miserable. They are also getting used to that. Stop…just stop!

Look at those who really ‘see’ you. You seem to do everything right by them. Break the shell and crack it open. Do what it takes! It’s worth it!

They will find others who feed their comfort. Yes, give them a shock.

They will have to step up to understand you and cheer you in your growth. They will have to know your pain.

You in your truthfulness will mourn your perceived loss of some of them because you truly cared about them. That’s why you kept them comfortable while you suffered.

Yes, I know you also wronged some people. Those too will reach out to you or you to them, in your growth. Just know that you are not accountable to all of them this very minute, so don’t judge yourself too hard.

Go ahead take that step, a small change, break open, fly. The ones ready for growth will grow with you. Some will fall away, as you both cannot see eye to eye now.

Forgive yourself, forgive them, love yourself, love them, allow yourself to Be, allow them to Be. Trust me, it’s worth it. When you feel stuck and choose to wiggle out, it hurts, it’s worth it.

The ones who care for you and the ones you care for will have to accept you as you are today. Let them know you are one of them but be stronger on your own path.


Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life. 

The contents of this article first appeared on my personal blog Infinite Living on Jan 5, 2017. Find more inspiration in poetry and prose at the link.

Top 10 Hindi Movies That Got Me Through 2020

When we moved to Bombay from Amritsar in the seventies, my mother had her heart set on a bungalow on the Juhu beach but my dad did not agree. He wanted us to be far from the “Bollywood types”. We settled in the suburb of Chembur but as luck would have it we were in Atur Park, a stone’s throw away from the legendary RK studios.

We had a handcrafted childhood: A good school. A beautiful home. The good company of friends. Bushels of books. Television was noticeably absent. My dad knew some Bollywood families. We visited Prem Chopra’s home and Anil Kapoor’s grandpa came to our apartment but we were not star-struck! We watched a few films at the Regal, the Art Deco cinema hall at Colaba causeway. My first movie and all-time favorite was The Sound of Music

I enjoyed a few Hindi movies too like Bobby, Guddi, Amar Akbar Anthony, and Parichay.  We memorized the songs and dialogues and emulated hairstyles and dresses. Much to the surprise of my friends and family, I managed without a TV in my home for over ten years but when COVID-19 forced us to remain indoors, I had to turn the TV on. I have couch-watched more movies than ever before. Some movies were entertaining more than others. A few raised important social issues. My list is not exhaustive but includes the movies I watched. There are one or two that will be committed to long-term memory. Enjoy!

1. Thappad: A resounding slap on Indian male-dominated society that believes: It’s acceptable for a husband to slap his wife. But is it? Not everyone agrees if the wife (Taapsee Pannu) should leave her marriage because of the thappad.  It’s about time the women say NO to any form of abuse!

2.Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl: A biopic on the life of a female fighter pilot’s personal war against a male chauvinist mindset and sexist discrimination. Pankaj Tripathi shines as a supportive father and Janhvi Kapoor is believable as a girl next door who has higher aspirations. 

3.Panga: A film about a kabaddi champion who accepts the challenge of following her dream to participate in the national championship. Kangana Ranaut breaks all stereotypes supported by her cute husband Jassi Gill and her son. Neena Gupta is delightful as always!

4.Gulabo Sitabo, Is an unexpected quick-witted “Punch and Judy” satire directed by Shoojit Sircar. Amitabh Bachchan‘s character as the greedy miser Mirza is one of my all-time favorite roles. Pitted against him is Ayushmann Khurrana who delivers sharp and quixotic dialogue! But the show-stealer hands down is Farukh Jaffar, who is the insouciant begum of Lucknow.

5. Shakuntala Devi: Vidya Balan flawlessly enters the titular character and the titular role scintillates!  An award-winning performance about a larger than life “math” genius and her fascinating “rags to riches” story. Amit Sadh adds an interesting facet as the one man she marries.

6. Dil Bechara: This was released a few days after the world was shocked by the most tragic death of a sensitive actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. I could not bring myself to watch this remake of “The Fault in Our Stars”. The score and soundtrack composed by Amitabh Bhattacharya and A. R. Rahman are haunting.

7. Ludo: This was released on the Diwali weekend. I watched parts of it because I love Ludo, the board game, and play it often with my grandson. Although the story is ruggedly whimsical, I had a difficult time trying to get into it. It seemed like a chaotic chimera of four wildly disparate themes!  Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkumar Rao, Aditya Rao Kapur, Pankaj Tripathi, and Sanya Malhotra had the advantage of not playing Ludo together! 

8. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan: A parody with a twist that encourages parents (Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao – a terrific onscreen pair) to shrug off their judgemental saris and lungis and accept their children in new gender roles and life choices. Ayushmann Khurrana is brilliantly flamboyant. Jitendra Kumar’s tentative performance is endearing. Maanvi Gagroo as the irrepressible “Goggle” adds to the fun!

9. Chhapaak: A heartrending film exposing another heinous crime against women. Why the deplorable perpetrators get away scot-free is an expose about the Indian justice system. A must watch! A bit of a Cracker Jack performance by the glamorous actress Deepika Padukone. Vikrant Massey and Madhurjeet Sarghi don’t fail to inspire,

10. Raat Akeli Hai: An unexpected dark family secret is uncovered by the misfit cop played by the suave Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is determined to solve the murder of a landlord on his wedding night! The intense Radhika Apte, Ila Arun, and Shweta Tripathi rock it!


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books: My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Here to Stay: Important Phrases of 2020

The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future. 

HEALTH

Covid-19. 

Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019. 

Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?

Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.

Related movies: Virus (Malayalam film); Contagion; Outbreak; The Andromeda Strain; Panic in the Streets;…  Actually, it may be better for the nerves to watch happy, pretty, totally escapist Emily in Paris on Netflix.

Social Distancing.

Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.

Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.

Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.

Related movies: Think Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And Home Alone 6 is in the works … but not coming soon to a theatre near you because production is delayed due to covid-19.

The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.

Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.

Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil

Synonyms: rollout strategies; COVAX initiative

Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.

Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”. 

POLITICS

Polarized.

Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats. 

Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values

Related phrases: hyperpartisan; narrow-casting; identity politics; populism

Related movies: Friendly Persuasion; Glory; Sarkar (Hindi film); Lincoln; Sarkar (Tamil film).

The election was stolen.

Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.

Origin: President Trump. 

Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.

Antonyms: The election was legitimate; international election monitors; Peaceful transfer of power; The Election Commission of India

Related movies: The Candidate; Kissa Kursi Ka (Hindi film); Good Night, and Good Luck; Swing Vote; All In: The Fight for Democracy; Whose Vote Counts, Explained

JUST LIFE

Essential workers.

Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.

Origin: Covid-19.

Related phrases: frontline workers; ragpickers; migrant workers.

Related movies/shows: Superstore; Scrubs; Anbe Sivam (Tamil film); Norma Rae.

Black Lives Matter.

Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.

Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.

Related phrases: anti-racism; No justice, no peace; Dalit Lives Matter.

Related movies: Nothing But a Man; Malcolm X; Periyerum Perumal (Tamil film); Stay Woke

Zoom meetings.

Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.

Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.

Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..

Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.

THE FUTURE

The next normal.

Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.

Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.

Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.

Related movies: (to be released in the next normal): No Time to Die; Black Widow; Mission Impossible 7; Laal Singh Chaddha (Hindi film); and of course, Emily in Paris season 2

May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.


Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.

Sunset

Pause and Look Back: 2020 Wellness Themes

Sukham Blog – A monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.

As we draw the curtains on a tumultuous year and look forward to better times in 2021, we should pause to take stock.  Let’s reflect on the year we’ve endured; acknowledge and accept the tough, troubling, earthshaking times we’ve lived through – buffeted by the pandemic, and the economic, social, and familial hardships so many of us have endured.  Grieving for the loss of a loved one and for the forfeiture of a way of life, while living through a rising tide of social and racial injustice, intolerance, and hate. Let’s acknowledge these difficult times and accept them. Accept, acknowledge, then look forward.

Let us prepare ourselves for the better times ahead with a new sense of purpose. Determine to look after ourselves and those whom we love better than we did this year. Let’s not make another New Year’s Resolution that is sure to fall by the wayside in two weeks; instead, let’s make an implementable plan we can follow every day.

Each of you knows where you must look to develop your own personal, tailored wellbeing plan – one that addresses Body, Mind, and Spirit.  To get you started, I offer some learnings from the Sukham Blog articles I wrote for India Currents this year for your review and reflection.

Article: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (Image by Hal Gatewood at Unsplash)

In Love Your Body: Mitigate Chronic Inflammation (February 2020), I described how inflammation is part of our immune system’s defensive mechanism, playing an essential role in healing and controlling infection. However, when this immune response is constantly and repeatedly triggered, this chronic inflammation can cause cumulative damage that could lead to diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression. I described what we should do to prevent chronic inflammation or mitigate its effects. Social isolation, psychological stress, disturbed sleep, chronic infections, physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity, and exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to increased chronic inflammation. Review this article, consult your doctor, and create your own 2021 roadmap to combat chronic inflammation and make lifestyle changes for a better tomorrow.

Article: Just Write, It’s Good For You

I discussed writing as therapy in Just Write, It’s Good for You! (July 2020). Research tells us that writing can improve physical wellbeing by boosting immune functioning as well as mood. Writing about your thoughts and feelings for just 15 to 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week can ease stress, grief, and loss. The benefits include better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among both adults and children.

The following month, in Learning to Embrace Aloneness (August 2020), I described the difference between Loneliness and Aloneness. While loneliness is a manifestation of missing someone or something, aloneness is a state of mind where one takes advantage of being by themselves and uses the opportunity to draw strength, peace, and connectivity with oneself and with nature, to seek our own inner light. Take steps to explore your aloneness!

Article: Lonely In a Crowd (Image by Aziz Acharki at Unsplash)

Loneliness that is left unaddressed, on the other hand, can be harmful. It is an epidemic in our society, as discussed in my second February 2020 article: Lonely in a Crowd. We now understand that loneliness is an emotional state created when we have fewer social contacts and meaningful relationships than we’d like; when we feel no one knows and understands us.  We feel disconnected from people even though they are all around us.  Research shows that it is a risk factor for many illnesses.  Understanding this and learning to watch for signs of loneliness both in ourselves and in those around us should be part of our wellbeing action plan for the coming year, paying special attention to both the young and the elderly in our lives.

An increasing number of us are becoming caregivers for a family member or a friend, as I describe in my May 2020 article The Caregiver Crisis, becoming responsible for his or her physical, psychological, and social needs. While caring for a loved one can be an enriching and rewarding experience that brings out the best in us, long-term care demands sustained attention and is physically exhausting and emotionally draining for both the giver and receiver of care. This leads to increased stress and anxiety and affects relationships.  Understanding this, and planning ways to get respite and avoid burnout is an essential part of any wellbeing roadmap.

Article: Can I Find Happiness? (Image by Zac Durant at Unsplash)

Finally, an upbeat note to round out this brief survey. Earlier this month, in Can I Find Happiness? (December 2020), I talked about my own quest for this elusive state of being. While it is different for each of us, happiness is a combination of frequent positive emotions, plus the sense that your life is good. Each of us can develop that sense by seeking to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond just surviving to flourishing. By building practices into our lives such as cultivating kindness, regular exercise, healthy eating, pursuing goals, discovering spiritual engagement, staying positive, and showing gratitude, we get improved life satisfaction and wellbeing, and learn that the happiness we seek is not out there – it is within ourselves, waiting to be found!

Notice how it’s all interconnected? 

I wish each of you peace, joy, good health, and success in developing and implementing your wellbeing roadmap. See you in 2021!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents. 

With sincere thanks to Dawid Zawila at Unsplash for the use of his beautiful photograph.

Math teacher writing on the board.

My Big Dreams Involve Math

It is the first day of school and I am rushing to school with my bag and laptop. I arrive at 7:30 am, ready for students to start arriving at 8:00 am. I will be teaching 7th & 8th-grade Algebra and have planned out my first day: getting to know kids, letting them get to know each other, and some fun Math activities to get an idea of their academic Math level.

My goal is to foster a love for Math.

I am interrupted by the pressure cooker whistling and am rudely reminded that this is all a dream. I am close to turning 40, just standing in my kitchen, imagining what could have been. 

Some people have dreams to change the world, reduce carbon emissions, find a cure for cancer, but I just want to teach middle school Math. It is a culmination of many things over many years that has led me to my purpose.

I was an average Math student in elementary and middle school. In fact, my parents feared I would do very badly in high school and hired a tutor. I think having my two dear friends with me in Math tuitions was a transformative experience. All of a sudden, my attitude towards Math changed. I put in hard work and reaped the results of getting a good grade in 12th. It was around that time that I also figured I enjoyed studying Computer Science and eventually, I started working as a Programmer.

I got married and moved to the USA during the dot-com boom. I was in a new country, in a new marriage, and with a new job in tech. Math was on my mind.

After the birth of my son, I stayed home and did not get much of a chance to practice Math or Programming – I had to trade it for storytime and park dates.

My son’s elementary school was a parent-participative school which meant parents could be in the classroom helping teachers. In 2005, I signed up when my son started Kindergarten and although at first, it was my way of learning the American School system, I soon found that it brought me fulfillment. I looked forward to the day where I would attend school with my son and would prepare for it. I knew that if I ever went back to work, it would be in a school setting teaching Math.

Once the goal was set, it was about continuously doing things to reach my target. With my husband traveling for work, I could not afford the time to go to college to get a degree or a credential in teaching. So, I continued to volunteer every single year and honed my teaching, communication, and lesson planning skills by observing and helping the teachers.

As I was helping my two kids, I came to a very big realization – that as fortunate as my kids are to have me teach them at home, not all kids have this luxury.

I shifted my focus to teaching kids who are falling behind or those that just need that extra help. I offered my services to teachers to help such students. It made me become patient and be a non-judgmental parent to my own kids. I definitely learned a lot from the kids I taught and I suspect, sometimes, more than what I taught them.

With my son in his senior year of high school and my daughter just a few years behind, I could not put the burden of another college degree on my family. Life is strange in that when you have time, money might be an issue and when you have money, the time might not be right. 

I decided to start at the very beginning and when an opportunity came up last year to be a middle school Math Intervention Aide, I jumped at it.

This is my second year working and I love every bit of it. My goal is to take the Single Subject Math exam which consists of three parts. Passing this exam and getting a Master’s degree in teaching will give me the certification needed to be a full-time classroom teacher. I am keeping this one in the pocket for the year 2021, a year of new possibilities. 

Now, I am in my Zoom classrooms in the morning and the pressure cooker is exchanged for an Instant Pot. Cooking and teaching can happen at the same time.

I have a long way to go to have a Math classroom of my own and but for now, I am happy. Math makes me happy. 


Vasudha Ramanrasiah is an Instructional Aide in a public school and a mother of two. She enjoys all things food, hiking, and volunteering and is passionate about helping students understand math.

Two States of America

To borrow from the vast vocabulary of my favorite Democrat – shellacking – that’s what the Republican’s delivered to the Democrats. No, dethroning Trump was not a victory, it was merely a natural phenomenon like a volcano that ran out of lava. But folks, please don’t rest on your temporary laurels, for we know there is plenty of red livid magma, seventy-two million to be precise, that is still boiling within and can spurt again. In this brief respite, the need of the hour is a cooling President, and looks like what we have picked is the best bet from the pack we were dealt.

We, the marginal majority, have to wake up to the stark fact that nearly half of our countrymen really want the guy to continue to do/not do whatever the blighter was doing/not doing for the past four years. I know, I know, the normal human reaction is – What the hell?

To stay away from profanity let’s resort to Shakespeare to express the same sentiment.

O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.

Although Mark Antony laments in a different context, we can relate to the feeling of being let down en masse. How could they, Why are they, Can’t they see, similar-sounding questions keep reverberating at our dining tables. This tug-of-war has been going on for too long and the strands in our social fiber are tearing apart and hurting both sides. Need a full stop.

Honestly, I must confess there are some valid points that the Red party is fueled by and the Blue side is too pacific about. What our Master Conman did is make the right sounds like a Pied Piper and the meek and easily swayed crowd followed.

The man is gone but the void is still out there, unfulfilled – call it the elephant in the room. Terms like “We are better than this, E Pluribus Unum, Soul of the nation and other lofty tenets will not fly at this advanced stage of our malady. This is crunch time, we need to address it head-on and pay heed to our brethren. It’s like the Parable of the Lost Sheep but this time it’s a whole darn flock.

There is a story that emerged after the Holy Mosque in Mecca was occupied for a fortnight by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979, an incident that killed hundreds. It goes like this: to the total shock of the government officials, King Khalid invited to his palace the leaders behind the attack and he had only one question for them: What the heck do you want? Apparently, the Wahabi leaders complained the Saudis were losing their original values by embracing western culture and their own traditional way of life was becoming endangered. The King partially agreed and that’s how he started to implement stricter Shariah laws, so it goes.

Biden could do a diet version of King Khalid’s chess move by inviting to the White House all the so-called good people on the other side too and listen to them. Maybe bring Michael Moore as a mediator as some of his school buddies are White Militia and friendly with him. Must rope in AOC, Taliba, Omar, and their ilk, for them to hear firsthand the fears and demands of those on the other side of the fence. Being heard is half the remedy.

Speakers Common by Axel Mauruszat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Down the road, we should consider what the British have – Speakers Corner. Every Sunday morning at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park in London men and women from different persuasions show up with their soapboxes. Anyone can speak at any decibel, discharge their bile, vent their anger and grievances in reckless abandon. The English abuse Indians, the Indians scream about Pakis and vice versa, the Irish thrash the English, the Africans go after all of Europe, the Arabs shower epithets at the Israelis, and on and on goes the fireworks of unbridled cursing. By early afternoon they all then return to their humble abodes, spent and serene.

When I first experienced this phenomenon, fearfully worried violence would erupt any moment, I asked a British Bobby, who was carrying no firearms, why they even allow this. He answered wryly – had it since 1872, this is British democracy, my son. If we could import that from England and practice it in our parks we won’t need them rallies people rush to for release.

I think Albert Camus was the one who said the root cause of all evil is ignorance. There is an even worse strain, being misinformed. It’s amazing that over the years with technological advances we can say it will rain tomorrow at 10:00 AM and surely there will be a downpour. Also amazing is that over several centuries mankind’s basic qualities remain unchanged: lust for power, jealousy, desire for revenge, territorial ambitions, and then there is this tendency to blindly latch on like a leech to what we inherently like to hear. Why some watch FOX only or follow a certain Tweeter only: Muslims are bad for the safety of our country, Mexicans are all thugs, China should be punished and put out of business, Lock her up, Gays should be thrown out of the armed forces, tell your governors to open the economy and get your jobs back. This is like Manna from heaven for the multitudes as these are the exact simplistic solutions they talk in their living rooms. This is the biggest challenge with democracy – the majority of the electorate is naive and so can be led astray, like that colorfully dressed chap with a tweeting pipe from the Middle Ages.

It must be noted in passing that in Australia there is a grassroots movement to curtail the dominance of Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly – in some cities 100% of the newspapers are owned by the feller. Citizens are demanding they don’t want to be brainwashed like the Americans. Let’s try a metaphor here. Say we neglected our normally beautiful lawn for too long and now it has become infected with all kinds of weeds, some as dangerous as poison ivy. But thankfully we have Roundup that can kill them all and bring back the lush green grass back – green moola. 

We all know it’s high time the country invested in revamping our infrastructure, but even more, screaming urgent at this juncture is the multitude of jobs that must be quickly regained. We need to get carpet-bombed with all forms of low-tech work opportunities – road construction, bridges, Wind Mills, Solar, or whatever, so that none of us have idle time for the misinforming devils to use our minds as their workshop. Even the most gullible ones at the extreme virulent end of the right-wing arc, when they are earning say 40K or 50K, will be stone deaf to any dog whistles. So, like the topless Cuba Gooding Jr. says in that Cruise movie: El Presidente, show me the money, the moni, the monii………..

To borrow my favorite Republican’s expression, “fervently we pray and fondly we hope” that Joe will deliver in good time.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA.