Tag Archives: activism

Raising A Rennu: What Parents Should Know

Genius Kids founder Rennu Dhillon says our greatest fear after death is public speaking — unless we make some incremental changes in our education system while we’re alive. 

“Confidence is critical,” Dhillon says. “You have to learn how to take control of your life. Compassion, communication, eye contact — these are the kinds of soft skills that we as parents and teachers need to instill in our kids today.” 

Her personal odyssey — long before she became a Bay Area education mogul, Radio Zindagi talk show host, and community activist — is its own story of confidence and coming into one’s own. Dhillon grew up in a tightly-knit Kenyan suburb, much like our Bay Area cities littered with extracurricular activities and educational pursuits. 

“My mother, being the typical Indian mother that she was, enrolled me into practically everything from music, art, piano, and sports,” Dhillon says and laughs. “But my father, a medical practitioner and the local Deputy Mayor was very deep into politics. So one of the big things that he really wanted us, kids, to focus on was communication. They enrolled me into a drama school called the Little Theater Club at the age of three.” 

Dhillon’s childhood in Kenya marked the intersection of so many rapid changes, from an early wave of the feminist movement to political unrest in India following the death of Indira Gandhi. The young actress put pen to paper, drafting impassioned poems and letters for the local newspaper.  

“I was a very, very controversial figure in my town,” Dhillon says. “I mean, I was always expressing my views, especially when it came to women’s issues. And my dad didn’t even know half the time when I was writing to newspapers. It would only be when we would get anonymous phone calls at home threatening me about something that my dad would look at me and say, ‘did you write that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘yep.’ God, I caused so much drama at home.” 

Twenty years later, the outspoken Kenyan pre-teen, after completing her Pharmacy Degree in the United Kingdom, and Doctorate of Science,  launched into two very successful businesses of her own – a matrimonial dating agency and recruiting firm in the United States. She then ventured in Recruiting CEO’s for start up’s and went from hooking people and people to people and jobs. As a single mother navigating the labyrinthian American Dream, helping young men and women find love offered startling insight into the role of ‘soft skills’ within the South Asian American community.  

For Dhillon, the devil was in the details. From critiquing her client’s fashion choices to providing advice on eye contact and tone, she realized how the simplest features of personal interaction paved the way to success. Her experience as a dating coach and recruiter molded her vision when she opened up a Fremont-based daycare and accelerated learning center named Genius Kids. 

Unlike mainstream education programs, Genius Kids instills public speaking and collaborative skills in students from a young age. Founded in 2001, the organization quickly caught on among Bay Area parental circles. Dhillon’s effortless relationship with kids, paired with her knack of combining learning strategies with the latest technology, brought in more families than ever. 

“I think kids learn with smart and interactive technology,” Dhillon says. “We were actually one of the first preschools to ever introduce smart boards into the classrooms. Even the toddlers will come up on our stage, look at a screen, and point to the answer with their little fingers. These are our ways of teaching children. To stimulate students’ curiosity, I don’t want anyone memorizing stories in my classes. I want discussions. I want kids to tell me the story back in their own words — add their own flavor to The Three Little Pigs and use their own imagination. This is how we access a child’s voice and build on their confidence.” 

For the second time in her life, Dhillon embarked on a writing journey, this time penning a parenting book titled, Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. The book has different sections dedicated to Dhillon’s ‘Cs’ — compassion, conflict resolution, charisma, control — the different elements that shaped her experience in both teaching and parenting.

“There’s a need to simplify parenting into its basic ingredients,” Dhillon says. “It’s not something that always comes naturally — especially now that we have all these distractions. The world was very different for my great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents. Now, we’re living in a crazy world — completely insane. And if you don’t prepare your child to be able to face a world of the unknown, your child won’t have any control over their life. So I’m a huge one for books. I’m always on the search for new material and information because learning never stops.” 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time for Dhillon to release Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. As lockdown restrictions force schools to adapt to a virtual learning environment, every parent must challenge their preconceived notions about testing, college admissions, and academic life. And perhaps there may be no better writer to release this book than Dhillon herself. As a woman who ventured across borders, within new industries, and into the lives of hundreds of children, Dhillon seeks to embody the very experience she chronicles in her book — a journey into the precarious unknown, where learning and adapting is always essential. 

“Don’t underestimate your children,” Dhillon says. “Let them pursue and find their path. And most of all, listen to what they have to say.” 

Stay tuned for Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders, which releases on October 6th on Amazon! Click here for further details.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor for India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as the Executive Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak. Connect with Kanchan on Instagram: @kanchan_naik_

South Asian Queer Voices Fill The Void

“Not straight, not gay, not girl enough,

miles away from man. Just queer, man,

as in queer.

I dentif i

As queer.

I like the way it sounds like the start

Of ‘weird’. The way I don’t have a plan.

Queer.”

—From the poem ‘Queer As In’ by Delhi-based non-binary, femme disabled poet and journalist Riddhi Dastdar. 

The World That Belong To Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia is a first of its kind anthology that brings together the best of contemporary queer poetry from the subcontinent. The collection, which has been jointly edited by poet, writer and artist Aditi Angiras as well as poet, translator and teacher Akhil Katyal, took more than a year to put together. The themes in the poems range from desire and loneliness, sexual intimacy and struggles, caste and language, activism, the role of families, heartbreaks and heartjoins. 

In the book’s Preface, Angiras and Katyal write that the call for the anthology was widely circulated online, emailed to friends, copied on Facebook groups and WhatsApped to acquaintances. Over a period of time, the text of the call kept evolving from what it was to what readers wanted it to be. In order to increase its reach and spread, it was also translated into several South Asian languages. In no time, submissions began trickling in from cities across the globe—Bengaluru, Vadodara, Benaras, Boston, Chennai, Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Dublin, Kathmandu, Lahore, London, Karachi and New York City.

Aditi Angiras (left) and Akhil Katyal (right)

The more than hundred contributors, poets and translators in the book are all varied in terms of their language, region, caste, gender, sexuality, class and publication history. While many are established queer poets from South Asia, many are also first-time poets. Apart from English, the book features poetry translated from a number of languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi and Urdu.

In his poem ‘What is Queer?’, Chand, a queer, agender trans research scholar, sets about trying to explain to his mother what queer is: “Queer is being the lowest of the low/ The absolute scum of the sexual pyramid/ And somehow still taking pride in it.”

Nepal based Phurbu Tashi elaborates further on the plight of queer people like himself in his poem ‘This World Isn’t For You’: “This isn’t nature’s fault, these are your own desires/ Why would I embrace desires that make life harder for me”.

US based Sehrish Rashid, a bisexual woman from Pakistan, writes in her poem ‘Shame’: “What for you is a thing of shame, only spells my truth, my name.”

Gee Semmalar, a queer trans man from Kerala writes in his poem ‘Resistance Rap’: “New skin stubbornly/ Grows over old and new wounds/ Proud scars/ That tell stories of tender love.”

Coochbehar based Arina Alam, writes in her poem ‘I Know’: “When I revolt against this construction of gender, I will keep my head held high.” 

Lahore based Asad Alvi’s poem ‘La pulsion de mort’ talks among other things about the impossibility of queer love “for whom the only future carved out is death,” which he illustrates by citing examples of famous writers Tennessee Williams and Virginia Woolf, both of whom committed suicide. 

Abhyuday Gupta, who identifies as agender, non-binary, writes about the angst of growing up in his poem ‘Bildungsroman’—one that feels like “the ache of the attic floor which squeaks at the slightest touch and dissolves into a wallflower to apologize for its insolence.”

Shaan Mukherjee Ghosh, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, writes in his poem ‘Pantomimesis’: “I can’t be gay or trans or depressed./I won’t hurt my body even when it hurts me. I will not abuse others as I have been abused. Everything I thought was wrong. I suppose. I was too young to know.”

Sahar Riaz, a psychiatrist from Pakistan living in Dublin, writes in his poem ‘Do you want to get to know me’: “All day I wait for the night to come/ So I can wipe off this mask, Reveal something real, If only to myself/ I know 3 a.m. like the back of my hand.” 

Though an anthology of separate poems, this unique collection advocates a singular voice—of diversity, compassion and justice for this historically marginalized community—one that thrives within the complex multiplicities of South Asia and its religions, sexuality, cultures, and languages.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

High Schooler Takes a Stance Against Flavored Tobacco

Ninety percent of adult smokers develop a tobacco addiction as teenagers or earlier. Since 2009, e-cigarettes have become a worrisome gateway to regular smoking. Addressing this dangerous habit early is critical in the journey towards a tobacco-free generation. In 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States.  Now is the time to take action.

The fight against smoking is personal. Having grown up in India surrounded by smokers, and losing family members to smoking, my mother taught me the dangers posed by tobacco usage. Her argument was effective since I have never really considered trying a cigarette. And I think their generation did a good job at discouraging cigarette use. When I ask my friends they are likely to express disgust at the idea of using cigarettes, and youth cigarette usage is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, this disgust doesn’t seem to transfer to e-cigarettes, which are seen as cool and hip.

Flavors are a big reason my peers start using e-cigarettes. In fact, 4 out of 5 kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Juul and other e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of kids and reversing decades of progress cutting youth tobacco use. The flavors lure them in, and the nicotine keeps them hooked.” I know many classmates and friends who vape. My neighbor’s son is still only in middle school, but he’s already become addicted to e-cigarettes. He started because he saw a chocolate flavored e-cigarette and thought it was fun to try. How bad can something that’s candy-flavored be? And I have a classmate who started vaping because his grandfather tried to quit using e-cigarettes. He tried his vapes. He still smokes cigarettes, and now, he’s addicted. Some of my friends talk about comparing peach and strawberry flavors and which is better. And every high school kid knows about that one bathroom where you can vape in secret. The fact of the matter is, flavored tobacco and exposure to it makes it far more likely for kids to get hooked. And Big Tobacco doesn’t care.

But the CA legislature can make a difference now by putting the lives of youth ahead of the profits of Big Tobacco. As a passionate anti-vaping and anti-tobacco activist, I am pushing the California lawmakers to prioritize youth health by supporting SB793, the bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco.

 In May 2020, as a National Youth Ambassador representing California for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Legislative Ambassador I testified in front of the California Senate Health Committee this May, along with CA Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Stanford professor Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, urging for a Yes vote.

Senate Bill 793, written by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), makes it illegal to sell flavored tobacco or tobacco flavor enhancer products. This include tobacco products such as cigarettes including Menthol flavored, cigars, cigarillos, and chewing tobacco, as well as newer products such as e-cigarettes, vape juice, and vaping systems.

Thankfully, the bill was passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom after months of advocacy and hard work from young people and adults alike. I was extremely grateful to have participated in the signing process via Zoom. 

Governor Newson signing the legislation over Zoom.

 It’s not easy being a Youth Advocate for quitting tobacco. At the 2020 National Symposium for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/what-we-do/youth-programs#ambassadors I addressed over 100 youth activists nationwide, sharing details about the harassment and attacks I faced on social media for speaking up against vaping. However, I am not deterred and will continue to find ways to help reduce the spread of tobacco in the communities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, that affects lungs, placing smokers and vapers at especially higher risk of complications


Aditya Indla is an emerging community leader with Breath California, a non-profit organization and he has spoken in front of Dublin, Hayward, and Pleasanton City councils in support of a flavored tobacco ban. He is working to improve the tobacco retail policies in Union City and Newark as the Co-founder of Project Aegle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he raised over $10,000 to 3D print PPE for health care workers and was recognized as one of the U.N. Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s Leaders who Inspire you to Change the World.

Learning to Belong: Desi Poetry Reading

To join the poetry reading on Monday August 24th 2020 at 6 pm PST and 9 pm EST, click on this LINK

The South Asian diaspora is perpetually evolving, breaking new boundaries and forging new connections in every sphere. India Currents presents its second Desi Poetry Reading to discuss how South Asian immigrant communities have changed over the years, as well as attitudes surrounding diversity, multiculturalism and belonging.

This is effort is in collaboration with Matwaala, a South-Asian poetry collaborative designed to provide immigrant and POC writers with a literary platform. In their own words, Matwaala represents “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Since their formation, they have hosted a number of poetry festivals and writing workshops. Most notably, they recently spearheaded Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood Project, where they created a Poetry Wall in honor of South Asian writers at the Irving Museum and Archives.

This poetry reading will feature notable writers from various pockets of the South Asian community, including Geetha Sukumaran, Ravi Shankar, Ralph Nazareth, Kirun Kapoor, and youth poet Kanchan Naik. India Currents staff Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik will moderate the event, facilitating questions from the audience via email.

Use this BigStage link to login: https://zoom.bigstage.online/index.php?event_id=DesiPoetry&client_id=C000004

To find out more about this event and its panelists, stay tuned for updates on our Facebook and Instagram!


Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, a Global Student Square editor for Newsroom By the Bay and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak

Windows to the Soul

Windows to the Soul

As hugs turn into virtual high-fives

And pajamas become our cocoons,

As sanitizer turns into a balm for our weary nerves

And TP becomes our most prized possession,

 

We lumber out of hibernation every morning

With nowhere to go but the couch.

The only thing we’re creating these days

Is a six feet force field around us.

 

As we fight to flatten the curve,

This insidious little bug flattened our lives.

Zoom-ing through our days is ok, 

But i-contact is not eye contact.

 

As I walk around I see a sea of masks

Like extras in a dystopian movie,

Their eyes constantly scanning for threats, avoiding mine

I can’t read them, can’t tell what they’re thinking.

 

“Windows to the soul,” they said.

Not anymore.

I’m not afraid but sad,

As our humanity falls victim to social distancing.

******

Riya Arora is currently a sophomore at The Harker School. She finds her passion in social advocacy and giving a voice to those without one. Already involved in several non-profit organizations, she is also the founder of her own called Touched By MS. Outside of school, she is a 2x national medalist in figure skating and is on the San Jose Sharks synchronized team.

Desi Poetry Reading Hits Home

Can you think of major experiences of your life and community, whether it is to celebrate birthdays or weddings, or to mourn a loss or even at the rituals around a funeral, without some music and song, be it folk traditions or prayer chants? Poetry is so seamlessly woven into our lives that we may turn to its wisdom by sheer instinct, to find what comforts and elevates.

The Indian epics of Mahabharata with the Gita, literally the song of the God, contained within it, and the Ramayana, or the more recent religious text from the five-hundred-year-old Sikh holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib, are all written in verse. These verses are memorized and still sung aloud or chanted privately, as they were before the written word was invented.

Poetry belongs in the community, especially now, as the world goes through these transformative times.

On June 30th, India Currents(IC) and Matwaala held a poetry reading event with five award-winning South Asian women poets addressing activism. Matwaala director and poet, Usha Akella, said that it’s time to bring poetry, a minority art amongst arts, out from the university halls and into the community.

Two of the poets read poems about the Nirbhaya incident of the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of Jyoti Singh, showcasing how poetry can be activism by bearing witness. Sophia Naz, a poet on the panel, described each poem to be an experiment and an act of activism. She sees the process of subjective meaning as a democratic act of a dialog between the poem and the reader. The activism is inherent in poems as the reader must engage to make sense of it, with the meaning changing with every reading. At the end of the 90 minutes, Srishti, IC moderator, said how she found the session cathartic and was glad that several poems gave expression to what she felt.

Poems read in community have a way of connecting us to our spirit and with each other.

This is the first in a series of articles for the new column – Poetry as Sanctuary. Poetry for the poetry lovers and the poetically curious in our community. The articles will be written by our diaspora poets who are from the FB group Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. This group meets weekly, on Saturday nights at 8:30 pm, to read and listen to poems, in all languages, with impromptu translations. We have poets who read in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Telugu, Sindhi, Farsi, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean, and other languages.

About a half a dozen years ago, Mahendra Kutare, started meetups and formed a group that now goes by the name Kaavya Connections. Many of us met at the monthly gathering in San Francisco that Mahendra hosts. Three years ago, we started meeting once a month in Mountain View and has morphed into a weekly group since the shelter-in-place started in March.

Weekly social distance poetry meetup.

Although the group is open to all, it is not an open mic, since we are not a performance space. Ours is an art practice space for poetry lovers who have a deep and old commitment to poems. Unlike some other poetry groups, we do not expect or provide a critique of poems. Our intention is to connect people through the love of poems, and we end up co-creating poetic conversations. It is an affirmative space by intention, following the Hindustani tehzeeb (protocol/tradition), where praise for the poets attending a mushaira or mehfil, poetry recitation event, is called, ‘daat dena’, where the listeners repeat words that the poet says or ask the poet to re-read some lines (mukarar), as a way to set the pace and punctuate the poems with generous praise, by saying ‘Wah! Wah!’ (great!) or ‘irshad’ (repeat please), depending on the response evoked by the poem being read.

We will be in touch with poems, and until then check out the recordings of the event.

I can recommend Sophia Naz’s the United States of Amnesia, where you might find yourself wanting to soak up phrases like “I know the smell of Genocide” or “I have fallen in your uncivil war of a thousand and one episodes. This beast you thought you tamed? He prowls the profiled night wearing a police uniform.”

Zilka Joseph’s poems on 25 responses to everyday racism, or the ghazal about Jyoti Singh, were immersive and evocative. She calmly stated the obvious, “Poets, words are witness, make darkness burn.” I was taken by her simplicity.

I heard poems about mothers who lost their sons and a reminder that George Floyd was a spark that ignited cataclysmic events brewing for hundreds of years – “take a breath brother because you are more than 400 years of hate and hurt”.

Usha Akella’s phrase, “Sanskrit mantras in my veins” or the poem Enough demanding “bring back our caged children to a field of sunflowers” kept me wanting more.

 “How much of knowing do we need before we say it.” –  I poignant end to a thought-provoking session. I knew I was ready for the next reading, as soon as this one ended.

Thank you, Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik for using the IC platform to elevate these minority voices that speak for the disenfranchised communities. I look forward to the next poetry reading.

This article is part of the column – Poetry as Sanctuary – where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora. 


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is on a mission to humanize management using the arts, specifically poetry and improv, as a founding member of the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley, a co-founder of the US chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association and an associate professor of business at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Commencement 2020: A Letter to Our Future Leaders

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today, to join this Class of 2020 with the World.  2020 has been such a surreal year that your graduation will certainly remain remarkable.  Staying in place has made in-person toasts a tedious task, so we raise a symbolic glass in your honor.  Congratulations!

Finally, it is your commencement

I remember when I was in Second Grade when studies seemed endless and I asked my teacher how long it would be before we stopped learning. The answer has stayed with me till today – “NEVER!”  What a shock when you are 7 to hear that studying is never over!  She said life is a continuous learning process. And perhaps that is what has inspired me to keep learning till today. 

University of life

Of course, one does not have to sign up formally to any course for learning.  You are automatically enrolled in the University of Life which gives admission to people from all walks, irrespective of their grade with no discrimination of age, color, creed. 

Sometimes you get a gentle guru and at other times a tyrannical taskmaster. Both teach you different things.  Keep an open mind so you learn from your experiences.  Keep an open heart so that you take others under your wing and give to those who might need a hand.  And never forget those who have extended you a hand, in your time of need.

Speak up

Recognize other’s struggles. The role of being a Knight in Shining Armor has become less dangerous and genderless. It doesn’t require the skill of horse-riding, or slaying dragons – just that you raise your voice with and for others when you see injustice.  

Never let someone tell you your place. Never have someone have you questioning your self-worth or your worth as an employee. 

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your sisters and brothers. Stand up to injustice. Just be upstanding and outstanding in whatever you do.

Don’t undersell yourself, but don’t be a sellout either.  It is better to rise to the top with others rather than alone. 

Lift each other up. Remember you are stronger as a tribe.  

Changemakers

I have great hope for the current generation.  It is more open, more accepting, and more tolerant than the previous generations.  We are headed in the right direction.  Your asset is your idealism – guard it against a cold and cynical world.  Idealism is what leads you to fight for changes – big or small. 

Recent events, such as Black Lives Matter, have shown us that the world still needs radical change. You are the changemakers. Do more than sharing news on social media. Sign petitions, protest, talk to your City Council Members, get involved in politics – find ways in which you can make a difference.  

We must look beyond the comfort of our own communities to speak up for others facing dire situations.  While there is a sense of belonging within any individual culture, there is no greater strength than feeling a sense of oneness with the larger community of the world – a recognition, that we –despite our color, race, gender identity, nationalities– are all human. Our happiness and freedoms come from the happiness and freedoms of our brothers.  A cry for help must not be quelled. 

Money talks

You have all been blessed to have an education. Some of you will be earning sooner than others. You’ve earned your right to spend!  Money used for yourself gives you pleasure.  Money used to buy someone else a gift doubles in value.  Money invested wisely in the stock market may triple in value. 

But money given to someone in need or money invested in humanity, now that is priceless!  How much is the value of your money multiplied by Infinity? 

Money has great buying power.  But know also that what cash CANNOT buy is what is TRULY valuable.  Love, peace, happiness, friendships, and health – invest in these. 

It’s your life

You have one life – so live it up.  Live it to your fullest!  Yes, you have one life – make sure what you do counts.  Some of you will no doubt create huge waves, but others will affect the world with gentle ripples. You get no certificates from the University of Life, except for the Karmic kind, and the satisfaction that you have served. 

To quote from the poem Incredible Woman written by Yours Truly, “Your beauty is not in your height, but the heights YOU will reach…”  So, be inventors, game-changers, set a spark – no, not as arsonists!  Spark debates, spark changes, make your mark on this world.  And while you are blazing trails, we, your Bay Area community, will leave the light on for you. Shine on!

Yours truly,
Meera Rao Prahlad

Meera Rao Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer, and volunteer with a variety of interests.  In addition to writing and teaching Language, she wears the hat of Director of Top Form Academy, which provides training in Business Communication and Etiquette to professionals, as well as life skills for youth. She is currently working on writing a book on Etiquette.

Finding Our Voice: Desi Poetry Reading

To join the poetry reading on Tuesday June 30, 2020 at 6 pm PST and 9 pm EST, click the button below!

[button link=”https://ncc-zoom.zoom.us/j/97345591211?pwd=ekdQdnZ2ZFNJWkpXSkpsemh3b0dwQT09″ type=”big” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] ZOOM Poetry Reading[/button]

With America on the precipice of landmark socio-political change, India Currents invites you to celebrate activism through a virtual poetry reading! This effort is in collaboration with Matwaala, a South-Asian poetry collaborative designed to provide immigrant and POC writers with a literary platform.

In their own words, Matwaala embodies “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Since their formation, they have hosted a number of poetry festivals and writing workshops. Most notably, they recently spearheaded Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood Project, where they created a Poetry Wall in honor of South Asian writers at the Irving Museum and Archives. 

Poetry has always represented rebellion — against injustice, against hierarchy, against the status quo. And this event, complete with live readings and a stimulating Q & A session, seeks to honor this sense of rebellion by addressing topics such as women’s rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. This discussion features an all-female panel of Desi poets, who will reflect on their own experiences to analyze these issues from an immigrant perspective. 

Poets: Usha Akella, Pramila Venkateswaran, Zilka Joseph, Sophia Naz, Monica Ferrell

Moderators: Srishti Prabha, Kanchan Naik

Use this ZOOM link to login.

To find out more about this event and its panelists, stay tuned for updates on our Facebook and Instagram!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak

I Went to Take Photos, I Left Empowered

It is a disheartening reality we live in where people won’t attend protests in their community due to misinformation. The reporting and headlines have highlighted the few instances of violence, instances that may have nothing to do with the protest itself. I was also very hesitant about going to the protests in my community. I saw news channels, YouTube videos, and articles all over the internet explaining how violent these protests are.

I wanted to take photos, so against my better judgment, I attended my first protest. Quickly I realized that protests can be very peaceful and that a majority of them are.

At the protest, I was astonished to see so many members of my community come together in solidarity to fight racial injustices in our nation. I had expected to see students, young adults, and the black people in my community show up to the protest, but to my surprise, I saw Indians and Asians in my community show up as allies as well. I have never seen these many Indians and Asians in my community actively speak out about the racial injustices within the black community. It was really empowering to see older members of my community come together in solidarity. 

My photo journey began as we marched around the city. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to capture. I took shots of people marching peacefully around our community and different protest signs.

Image taken by Ashwin Desai

One picture stood out to me as I went through my camera roll. It was of a speaker, carrying an Indian flag and advocating for Indians to help their black brothers and sisters. 

The theme of Indian allyship continued.

One speaker was a middle-aged, first-generation Indian man who helped black men and women out of the judicial system in Oakland. He talked about how the Indian community needs to be there for their black brothers and sisters because, without them, many immigrants wouldn’t be here today.

The Immigration Act of 1965, the law that allowed many of our own parents to come to the United States, was made possible because of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without black people fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights Movement, there would be no Asian-Americans in the United States.

He then spoke about the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the notion that since Asian-Americans are doing well in the United States, all minorities should be able to achieve the same level of success, perpetuating that racism does not exist. But as the name states, this is just a myth.

He concluded by talking about the biases within the Indian community. There is a stigma within the Indian community about dark-colored skin. Since the time that India was occupied by the British, Indians have continued to adopt the same beauty standards as the British, i.e lighter skin is more beautiful. Indians actively oppress and chastise those with darker skin. The problem still persists as many celebrities endorse skin bleaching products. This innate bias towards people with lighter complexions has caused a divide between Indians and black people, keeping Indians at an arm’s distance from black people – never allowing us to truly understand them or their struggles. 

At the end of his speech, he told us to self-reflect. He asked us, “What can you personally do, with what you have, to make a difference? What type of member do you want to be in this community?”

In this process of self-reflection, I knew that I couldn’t just attend this one protest to fight racial injustice. At that moment, I finally had a purpose for my photos. I can spread awareness about racial injustices by using my current photography platform, Desai Photography, and use it to show others how peaceful protests are and capture the Indian-Americans in my community who are doing their part in supporting the cause.

I will try to influence others that think protesting is inherently dangerous and change their minds, and I want to inspire other Indian-Americans in my community to be allies. I want to make a change and I can start by using my photography as a means to do so.

This is just the beginning…

Ashwin Desai is currently a Junior at Monta Vista High School. He has a passion for photography and business.  He also operates as a pro-bono marketing consultant for businesses suffering from COVID and is the marketing lead for a climate change newspaper called theincentive.

Environmentalism Through Kid’s Kathas

Living in the world that all of us do today, it goes without saying that children across the spectrum need to read books that create awareness surrounding the environment and its inhabitants. 

When I think of an Indian publishing house for children, the name that first comes to mind is Katha. What sets Katha’s books apart from others is that it is known for facilitating learning through the power of storytelling. Storytelling is a beautiful way to address some of the most pertinent issues related to the environment and climate change, and the 32-year-old publishing house has time and again called for attention towards our planet through this distinctive approach, in books such as Tigers Forever!, The Mysteries Of Migration, and Polar Bear

Books that Make You Fall in Love with Nature

Sonam’s Ladakh

One of the most effective ways of getting children to care about the environment is to simply help them fall in love with it. Some of Katha’s older books instill a love for nature with their stories and themes. Each of their books has a varied message: In Run Ranga! Run!, one gets to explore the grasslands with the fearless baby rhinoceros who needs a friend; Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah and Walk the Grasslands with Takuri are tours of rainforests and grasslands with a hornbill and an elephant, respectively; On the Tip of a Pin Was… uncovers the science behind wormholes; The Gift of Gold is a mythical story from South African folklore is about a little girl who saves her village from drought. 

Manish Lakhani’s Sonam’s Ladakh tells a story through exquisite photography about a girl belonging to the semi-nomadic Changpa tribe, wandering shepherds in Ladakh. Young Sonam informs readers about animals in the Ladakh region that are her closest friends and “better than boxes of money”. She mentions goats, dogs, her father’s pashmina herds of sheep, and yaks that help grow food and whose wool make their tents. She also points out other animals in the region—the rare Eurasian otters, horses, and Himalayan wolves. The story that is bound to fascinate most children with its sheer novelty and imagery. The books ends with a section that discusses Ladakh’s many glaciers that are gradually melting due to the earth’s global warming, increasing pollution levels and the cutting of trees. The questions posed are aimed at making children think of ways in which all of us in our own way can contribute to caring for the environment.

Keeping it Simple

In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information on environmental degradation, young children are most likely to gain sensitivity about the situation most through personal experience. Katha’s books have constantly aimed at bringing out simple storylines with characters that relate to most children.

In Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?, Geeta Dharmarajan explores a mother’s obsession with her potted plants kept in her verandah. When her plants start mysteriously wilting and drooping, her husband researches the subject of how to keep them happy, leading him to attempt re-potting them. What follows is a comical saga, however, the key message has been surreptitiously slipped in—that the roots of plants get tangled up when their pots become too small for them.  

More recently, in The Mystery of the Missing Soap, Tobakachi, the wicked Asura and GermaAsura, along with their Coronavirus Army, make soap disappear in Dakshinapur, one of the happiest villages in the country. By tricking people in this way, they ensure that no one washes their hands, which makes them all very sick. That is until the helpful elephant, Tamasha and the fearless girl, Lachmi, show everyone how to make soap in order to win the battle against the Virus Army. The story, beautifully illustrated by Suddhasattwa Basu and Charbak Dipta, is followed by a simple recipe for making soap at home using reetha berries. By explaining the importance of washing one’s hands in order to prevent coronavirus, the book then dives into Katha’s famous “TADAA” (Think, Ask questions, Discuss, Act, and Take Action for the community) section which details what coronavirus actually is and what one can do to prevent oneself from getting it.

Big Ideas with a Heart

After getting kids to fall in love with nature through simple stories—and hence, getting them to care for the environment—the next step is to focus on concepts that help them think about pressing environmental issues that are affecting the world. Every narrative in Katha’s books is filled with common themes—or what the publisher likes to call ‘big ideas’. For instance, all of Katha’s environment books have recurring themes such as empathy, affection, kindness, collective action, and cues to switch to alternative eco-friendly habits.

Ma Ganga and the Razai Box weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion, and desertification with mythology. The Magical Raindrop humanizes and gives emotions to Mother Earth, formulating her character in a way that the readers feel she’s a person who feels happiness, sadness, anxiety, and joy just like all of us. Katha’s Thinkbook Series has been designed in a way to introduce young readers to big ideas such as “climate change, gender, and kindness through stories that inspire, aspire, and engage.” 

Educating through Stories

Katha’s founder, Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, is an award-winning writer, editor, and educator. Her published works alone include more than 30 children’s books, many of which are Katha publications. Needless to say, environmental issues are very close to her heart. She is credited for having created Katha’s unique concept of StoryPedagogy, which combines India’s oral traditions and the 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text on the performing arts, Natya Shastra; an idea that she has seamlessly integrated with an earth-friendly curriculum.

While the stories get children to empathize with the characters and their situation—and thus, understand and imbibe an environmental concept—Katha’s final goal is to make children think deeper and take initiatives to act and make a difference. The insightful exercises that appear at the end of each book are created using the SPICE model (Student-centred, Problem-based, Integrated, Community-based, Electives, Systematic) as well as observations, teachers’ feedback, and research among children in the Katha Lab School.

Katha Lab School is a model and a center of creativity for the slum cluster of Govindpuri in New Delhi. Thus, Katha takes the storytelling approach a step further beyond its books too. The Katha Lab School, for instance, uses no traditional textbooks or a one-size-fits-all syllabus. Instead, its system of education is based on StoryPedagogy, a technique that is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning, which helps children to learn language, science, and mathematics, while developing general awareness and critical thinking skills through various stories and activities.

Katha’s StoryPedagogy is the new age of education – one that we can all benefit from adopting.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

I care so deeply and strongly for the minority communities in America. This is not a question of a singular time point but a story that transcends time and geographical location. I dedicated my life to the cause when I began to see how profoundly entrenched the problems were within our government. 

In just a few short months, compounded factors have exposed that network.

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

You will find that the same people can be grouped into the answer to many of those questions. 

Violence creates a response. I see that. I understand that. I am with that. When Trayvon Martin died unarmed, at the young age of 17 in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and I saw a path forward.

“I can’t breathe”, said Eric Garner as he was ruthlessly murdered by cops in 2014 – for what reason – possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

And so many more have died. Here were are today – #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, #JusticeForAhmaudArbery, #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.  

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

In 2016, I felt helpless when I was pulled over in Alabama and asked to step out of my vehicle and come to the back of my car to speak with a white officer. The person in the passenger seat had no view of me and was not allowed out of the car. I was cited for driving 5 miles below the speed limit but my stop had nothing to do with my driving and more to do with my skin color, a brown-skinned woman traveling with all her belongings on a road trip home to California. She must be an illegal immigrant.

I was let go but so many aren’t. I feel the injustice. I want to protest. But now I find myself asking the question, in the middle of a pandemic, is that the smartest move?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it seems that every person I know is engaged in the BLM movement – even the ones who have been apolitical till this point, the ones rapping the n-word without being part of the black community, and the ones who have shut me down for being too “political” for talking about these issues. 

I’m unsure how to feel. 

Is this a product of unrest or restlessness of being at home? 

Unfortunately, killings by police are not isolated to a few times a year. Mapping Police Violence is a great resource and presents a reality that is not surprising to me. Out of 365 days last year, there were only 27 days that the police did not kill someone – an indication of oversight in due process.

This is not a singular time point. We are not in this for instant gratification.

So we quickly share the information we see on social media, join the cause, spread awareness. We see something happening and we are quick to act, rightfully so. BUT then the next hashtag comes around and we forget the last one…

Social media activism can be beneficial, as we’ve seen with #MeToo and #BLM, but with #BlackOutTuesday, there was criticism, almost immediately. People began the day by posting black squares but soon after, black and brown activists were cautioning people to spread information rather than suppressing it by blacking out Instagram feeds. 

Even as an engaged, politically active person, I was confused about what stance to take. Eventually, I took down my post with a black square. I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which I will execute through my actions, spread of information, donations to groups, and dialogue with my family and friends. It doesn’t need to be on social media. 

What I AM seeing: people coalescing in a way like never before. 

Who cares if you were unaware before. I’m glad you’re part of the movement NOW. 

Social media doesn’t need to be performative. But it can remain informative. Take the time to reflect and find the best way for yourself to get involved. Keep in mind your social responsibility with the ongoing pandemic:

  1. Protest with a group of fewer than 6 people at your neighborhood street corner. Maintain social distance.
  2. If there is a curfew in your city, like the one in San Jose, go outside and walk around for 10 minutes after curfew (only if it is safe for you to do so).
  3. Start conversations with people you normally would not.
  4. If you don’t currently have money, the AdSense revenue from these following videos will be given to organizations working on black movements:
  5. If you have money, donate to these following organizations:
  6. Find local black organizations to support (here are some for my SJ community):
  7. Email your local representatives.
    • Email Mayor Sam Liccardo and Chief Police Garcia using this template.
    • Report what abuse you see here.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and could not have written this piece without the help of all the black and brown activists sharing valuable information. Most of the information within this article is compiled with the help of Ritika Kumar. Thank you to all the black and brown people committed to change! 

Fierce Helpers

Fierce Helpers, started by two Bay Area teens, is a Cupertino-based organization aiming to help vulnerable populations get through the COVID-19 pandemic.  A key struggle, for those susceptible to the virus, was obtaining groceries and supplies. People who are at-risk, the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, are especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and thus, risk their lives whenever they enter public spaces. In places like grocery stores, it is difficult to maintain social distancing due to the confined space. 

Ramana Kolady dropping off groceries for an elder.

Alex and Ramana started the organization to help alleviate the stress placed on those in at-risk groups by offering free and safe delivery of groceries and supplies. Ramana had prior experience working with seniors through his nonprofit organization, Students and Seniors United, and understood many of the seniors’ concerns. After observing threats to high-risk groups, Alex and Ramana could not simply sit back and watch.

The delivery of groceries drastically cuts down on the risk of exposure to the virus; instead of being exposed to potentially hundreds of people, the customer is only exposed to one person – the deliverer. Furthermore, the deliverer is checked to be in the low-risk bracket of contracting COVID19 and deliverer takes precautionary measures when shopping and delivering supplies.

Alex and Ramana have both observed the issues people in high-risk groups may face and wish to help keep the community close together by making everyone feel safe and secure during this unprecedented time.

Volunteers are in the low-risk category which includes those who are young, without respiratory conditions. Many of the current volunteers are college or high school students who are looking to fill up their free time by helping their community.

Do you know anyone who would like to help out or anyone in need of some help? Volunteers can easily register at Fierce Helpers and begin helping their community immediately. Requesting a delivery is just as easy; all you have to do is visit the website and fill out a simple form. Customer orders are usually fulfilled within 3 days.

Ramana Kolady is currently a Junior at Cupertino High School and is the founder of Students and Seniors United, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the elderly and learning more from them, through research and community service. Ramana aspires to become a geriatric physician in the future and is extremely interested in the geriatrics field.

Alexander Wang is currently a Junior at Cupertino High School and started Fierce Helpers to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic after he noticed the struggle that those in at-risk groups faced when trying to carry out everyday tasks. 

This piece was edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.