Tag Archives: Advice

Love, Let Us Look At It Again

Love is supposed to be a generic term but we usually associate it with romantic love. Romantic love is distinguished from the rest of its cohorts because of the specificity of the age and stage of life when it arrives, its overwhelming tidal force when it takes over, the creative outflow it unleashes, and the subjective blindness it induces by a combination of myopia and presuppositions. There is no sense in fighting it since it holds our genetic reins.

Is it bad and harmful? The answer will depend on whether you are holding a knife by its handle or its cutting edge. Holding by handle implies your ability to master the hormonal storm by which the romantic love has besieged you, and tame it until your navigation comes under control. It is more difficult than what it appears to be because the tempest is blown by Mother Nature herself who wants you to multiply without any further procrastination. Delay for her is dangerous!

We still have a choice…

Our reproductive instinct has to be tempered by our long-term thinking. That perhaps is how we have learned to curtail unwanted pregnancies all across the planet. On the flip side, however, our divorce rate continues to mount even in our tradition-bound orthodox world. That conflict between the joy of procreation and the responsibility of reproduction continues unabated. The topic of LOVE, therefore, demands continued attention. Smart children, meanwhile, will not be trapped in this parental conflict but seek a profitable exit.

Can love turn into a redeeming experience?

The answer is a qualified yes.

“Love is whole, we are pieces,” said Rumi.

If the right, matching pieces come together, they will help towards building a possibility of wholeness. Love requires every person to strive towards being better than he/she is. Thus, the missing pieces are not pre-calibrated but indeed honed and shaped by deliberation.

The two most widely used expressions – “then they fell in love” and “then they lived happily ever after” – need to have a cautious halt. One has to be watchful not to “fall in love” simply by the force of gravity. Happiness is a learned behavior so the end of the fairy tales need to be modified as: “then they learned to live happily ever after.”

Love, at first sight, is not a falsehood if it does not supplement foresight and hindsight to ensure that love does not proceed blindly. 

Where is the help when you need it the most?

Parents are subjective.

Teachers could be harsh and instructive.

Friends, though supportive, are inexperienced.

Clergy, often, carry a religious bias.

Basically, you are on your own when you take the plunge, unsure whether you will swim or sink.

As a member of the faculty in a school with young and vulnerable people, I decided to take the plunge and cheer up those who will swim and help those who may sink. I was qualified to be a Priest so I started officiating weddings, same faith or interfaith. My mission was to create faith in love and marriage at a time when young people march away from it. They need to know that even a powerful love can perish and mighty marriages can melt when a tough time tests it. 

Premarital Counseling

I know about the premarital meetings required by certain religions and that it remains constrained to religious discourse. Among young people of today, identification by religion is somewhat thinning out. I, therefore, explore with couples, through spiritual and practical exercise, how to unfold their insights. I am told repeatedly how helpful they find this experience to be. 

Young people from a similar age group talking about their own experiences can furnish some acceptably useful hints. In all professional schools, seniors help the juniors. It is amazing how little help we solicit in this way. I have seen several examples of young people in college who have uprooted their social and educational careers when they reach the critical phase of Love. Shakespeare created Romeo and Juliet to highlight a tragedy of volatile love eclipsing young people. Parenthetically, I should add that Saint Valentine was beheaded for his uniting couples in marriage!

Nevertheless, I continue to support and guide young couples determined to tie their sacred knots.

Christian and Hindu Concepts of Love

C.S. Lewis wrote a classical book on The Four Loves to reflect a Christian and a philosophical perspective of this subject. He identified four loves: Empathy Bond, Philia or Friend Bond, Eros or Romantic Love, and Agape or Godward Love. 

It comes close to our Indian concept of love in some areas. Our concept of Romantic Love leading to Agape is best illustrated in Bilvamangal, the story of the famous poet Tulsidas whose Romantic love got converted into Agape. There are numerous stories in India illustrating the metamorphosis of Romantic Love into Godward Love or Agape. That is the very direction to which marrying couples are guided in a classic Indian wedding ceremony.

It is impossible to finish writing all about LOVE. I would sum up by saying that True Love does not divide, but unites and builds bridges rather than walls. I will therefore end by quoting Mother Teressa: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come without being happier.”


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada, and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

How to Work On Your Relationship During a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has wrought unprecedented levels of distress on an international level. Such global upset can trickle down and translate to a personal level as well, particularly when it comes to relationships. After all, sheltering-in-place with your partner adds extra pressure, while rendering the normal outlets and sources of personal perspective – things like visiting friends, going to school or work, even a trip to the grocery store – altered or entirely moot.

South Asian couples, ranging from those in their teens to right up to the ones hitting their 30’s are suffering a lot. Many South Asians who are in relationships often do so with such secrecy, they themselves forget that they have a significant other. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but still. When your relationship depends on covert dates with backup covers like, “Hey mom, I’m going to stay at Ayesha’s home tonight” and you are struggling to meet even a few times a week, a pandemic situation can be exhausting and difficult.

Whether you are in a long-term relationship, or just getting adjusted to each other, or you are somewhere in-between, here are eight morsels of advice for keeping your relationship healthy during the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Understand how your partner responds to stress and how you do, too

It is often easy to assume everyone reacts to high-level stress in the same way we do. But you and your partner might actually have different coping mechanisms to mitigate pandemic-related triggers – and if those responses are vastly different, your actions stand to baffle each other unless you openly explain them.

For example, you might prefer to stay on top of breaking news updates, while your partner only weathers the larger updates as they come. Whereas you would prefer to spend 30 minutes of quiet time in the morning drinking your coffee and getting up to speed on the news, your partner starts their day with funny videos or silent meditation. Neither of your responses is the “right” one; they are simply your respective ways of getting through the situation.

Being aware of what you both need to process stress can help you learn to grant each other space and respect to honor those needs, without questioning their validity. Plus, popular relationship therapist Esther Perel points out using these differences to balance your perspectives instead of exacerbating tensions.

Keep communication open and ongoing

As scary as the pandemic situation is, it is important to air your worries and fears. While your partner can’t be your sole source of support, they can provide solace about things that are concerning you.

If you and your partner don’t have the vocabulary for this type of open communication, you can set the stage for mutual support by asking each other open-ended questions, like:

  • What are you feeling today?
  • How has this day been for you? 
  • Is there anything I can do to be a better partner?

One exercise from couples counseling, called uninterrupted listening, can help you deepen this type of communication. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes where you are able to talk freely about absolutely any stressors on your mind. It could be work, your health, your future, etc. Your partner can respond with non-verbal cues, but they can’t chime in until the timer ends. Then switch, and take your turn as the listener.

Working on building this communication may help establish what preeminent relationship psychologist Sue Johnson refers to as a “secure bond”. Such an attachment is formed with someone when we know they are emotionally responsive, and that they feel for and with us. It doesn’t mean that they will protect us, necessarily, or that they will do the labor of problem-solving for us. Rather, it means they will face our problems with us (not for us).

Carve out designated space for different purposes around the home

You might have heard that it is helpful when working from home to designate “work” space from “home” space. The same goes for quarantine life!

Since so much of our lives are happening indoors, it’s all the more important to identify and label different areas for distinct purposes.

That might look like a room (or corner) that is just for your or your partner’s work; a table for sharing phone-free meals; or a nook for doing yoga and meditation together. Adding these defined spaces can provide you both with a sense of autonomy and boundaries you might be craving.

Do your best to keep any major decisions on the backburner

If you and your partner had some big choices on the horizon, to the extent possible consider holding off on reaching a decision. After all, it’s nearly impossible to make sound decisions when there are so many universally unpredictable variables, from job security to the everyday health of ourselves and loved ones.

If there is something that’s pressing, you don’t have to ignore it altogether. Instead, try keeping track of your thoughts about the topic in a shared or individual journal. You can revisit those ideas when things have resumed to normal, or you feel you are both in a calm headspace.

If you feel an argument coming on, pause – and plan to revisit it when you have both cooled down

Just as it is hard to reach logical conclusions on any major decisions during times of extreme flux, it can also be hard to fully stay grounded during an argument. Ironically, of course, the upheaval in routine and living conditions can leave us feeling unsettled and may trigger more arguments than we would normally have.

If you feel a spat or full-blown argument coming on, plan to touch base again in at least half an hour and no longer than 24 hours later.

Go for a walk alone in the meantime, or engage in self-soothing practices like a breathing exercise, practicing self-compassion, or calling a friend to check-in. Revisit the argument when you have both had the time and (mental) space to cool down.

Avoid criticism of your partner; along with contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, such behavior is considered one of the “four horsemen” of the apocalypse for romantic relationships by esteemed relationship psychologists John and Julie Gottman.

Go overboard with compliments and appreciation

In these times of absolute tumult, many of us are craving kindness and comfort. Your small notes of appreciation will go extra far in keeping your relationship strong.

Be sure to thank your partner for the little things, like boiling water for your tea, making the bed, giving your partner an extended hug, or putting away the dishes.

Resume your regular romance to the extent possible

You have likely heard it before: Keeping some semblance of structure is helpful for staying balanced when everything seems topsy-turvy. If you had a regularly-scheduled date night, for example, make time to incorporate that into your quarantined life, too.

Here are some at-home date night ideas to try out:

  • Take a virtual tour at one of the many museums making exhibits accessible online
  • Try your hand at creating art together! If you are not crafty, this can be as simple as drawing your houseplants with a pencil and paper
  • Learn a new dance routine together. Getting silly and laughing together can be a great distraction from global and personal stress  

Try to eliminate outside distractions, just as you would if you were on a normal date! Put your cell phone on airplane mode, and focus on creating these new memories together.

You might just discover a new ritual of connection, a term that the Gottmans refer to for small but meaningful habits that you and your partner regularly incorporate into your daily routine, which can help you grow closer over time.


Vindhya PV is a passion-driven journalist who hails from Calicut, Kerala.

Your Trash, My Memories

During my usual spring cleaning, I was throwing all my clothes on the floor, taking the trash out of drawers that haven’t been touched in ages, and organizing all my personal belongings. Every year, I tend to skip over two shelves in the back of my closet. The thought of cleaning all the endless junk of failed dioramas from elementary school all the way to the newest addition, the Hy-Vee receipt that I found in my wallet from three days ago, made my head hurt more than a sprained ankle.

After years of my mom pestering and nagging me to clear it all up, I finally thought to myself that this was the year. This was the year I would plow through all the pieces of Butterfinger candy wrappers that I was too lazy to put into the trash and all the loose beads that have fallen off my Indian clothes over the years. I grabbed three heavy-duty trash bags, blasted my “Hype Up” playlist on Spotify, and got down to work. 

As I opened my closet door, I felt instant regret. I was defeated even before the task had started.

Nevertheless, I proceeded. I pulled my old movie ticket stubs, crumpled up pieces of paper with random math problems, and an assortment of different colored pencils and pens. But through all the miscellaneous junk, I stumbled upon my seventh-grade art projects.

I started to look at them for a bit. The longer I looked, the more memories came back. I saw my art teacher, Mrs. Castillo, demonstrating how to draw a flower on the SMART Board while I tried to recreate it with my unskilled hand. I heard my friend whisper about how cool the seventh-grade dance was going to be and how sparkly her dress was, and I smelled the pizza sticks in the cafeteria being cooked for all the hungry preteens in the upcoming period. 

I started to look more intently through the massive mess to find even more thrown away memories. Everything I grabbed had a different meaning, each item brought back moments of joy, sadness, regret, anger, and fulfillment. Stuff that I assumed was junk and trash turned out to be something meaningful and sacred. I found the first book that taught me how to read. I found my plans to throw the best birthday party which involved cotton candy covered clowns and puppy playpen. I found my kindergarten yearbook filled with people I had completely forgotten about. I found a shirt I had tie-dyed all by myself during summer camp. All these moments were right in front of me and I didn’t even notice. All the moments that I once thought were insignificant turned out to shape me the most. After an unsuccessful attempt at drawing in the seventh grade, I took several art classes in high school to help improve my ability. 

Most of my friendships in middle school and elementary school started to disappear once high school started. Having these moments to reminisce about those others helped me reconnect with so many intelligent and kindhearted people. Not only that, I learned so much about myself as well. I saw how much personal growth I had made in the last ten or so years. I saw all my mistakes and defeats which have helped me tremendously move forward in life. I learned micro-concepts like slowing down when you talk so that people can understand, but I also learned lifelong truths like trusting yourself before trusting others, being patient will lead to the best results, hard work is vital in any situation, and facing your fears isn’t as bad as it seems. 

It has been a couple of months since the shelves have been cleaned. However, the other day, as I subconsciously started to toss a straw wrapper to the back of my closet as I was too lazy to walk to the nearest trashcan, an epiphany hit me. I glimpsed at my two cleaned shelves and I was greeted with properly sorted middle school art projects, summer camp props, tacky participation awards, baby memorabilia, which reminded myself how much I have truly grown and how much progress I still need to make in order to become a more well-rounded person. I can’t wait to commence the journey of my next chapter!


Ishani Adidam is a high school senior who lives in Nebraska. She plans on studying medicine in college in order to tend to the underserved patients. In her free time, she loves to bake and cook various Indian foods to grow closer to her heritage and culture.

Without My Dad

This is the first Father’s Day without my dad. 

I reflect on his advice, “Son, don’t hate. Never be a victim and give in to anger.”  

Advice that could not be more relevant in today’s political climate. I see my father’s importance and the positive role he played in my upbringing, my sense of self, and my commitment to my work.  

To fully appreciate the philosophy behind dad’s life, you need to know one thing about him – he lived a life with an Attitude of Gratitude

He raised us not to feel entitled. We learned, early on, the subtle joys of appreciating the good in our lives with daily prayers of thanks. It was a common bond that connected us as family.

He taught us to never compromise on our values and principles and to take accountability. He pushed people to do their best and pushed us outside of our comfort zones, which really helped us grow. He said “We are humans and mistakes can be made. But we’re not going to make mistakes of character or integrity.”

When other fathers were bragging about their wealth, their children’s grades, clothes, and success, dad never boasted. He said “be a good human being in life,” and that is all that will matter in the end. He brought everybody together.

Dad was a caring, thoughtful, and gracious man. He was always quick to recognize and express his admiration for the skills and accomplishments of those around him. Dad believed that giving back to the community was of utmost importance. This was demonstrated by his extensive involvement in civic and community activities.

I am filled with incalculable joy at the thought of the many lives my dad touched. Reflecting on his life reminds me of all the ways my father is still with me after death. I am not without my dad – I am filled with his wisdom and values and while I live, so does he.

Sunil Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization and a devoted son to his father, Arjan Tolani. He writes this in memoriam of his father, who inspired him to be the person he is today.

Dear PostModern Gandhi: What Is the Right Response to Coronavirus?

Dear PostModern Gandhiji:

A decade ago, when I was a first-year medical student, I worried that modern medicine and pharmacology were based on animal products.  I had been raised in a strictly vegetarian Jain household and had been taught to respect all living things.  Thus seeing monkeys and dogs in cages used for experiments and dissections disturbed my belief system.

Fast forward to 2020.  First the good news: physician training in American medical schools no longer requires animal dissection. But with the tragic coronavirus pandemic, my old concern about animals seems quite trivial.  It seems that we should do anything and everything to save humans from suffering.

Because I practice sports medicine, I’m not with the frontline of clinicians tending to those with COVID-19.  As such, I’ve been struggling to understand what Gandhiji would be doing if he were alive today.  What should I be doing?

Dear Friend:

Here are a couple of quotes from Gandhiji that you might find of value.  My own sense-making of Gandhian principles follow the quotes.

“There is a divine purpose behind every physical calamity.”

“I do not want my house to be walled in all sides, and my windows to be closed. Instead, I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Thank you for this opportunity to consider Gandhiji’s response to the coronavirus.  I imagine that he would have taken a multi-disciplinary approach.

Young Mohandas Gandhi had been both a trained and untrained nurse.  As a child, he had tended to his ill father by sitting at his bedside and perhaps massaging his father’s head and legs.  As a young man returning to India at the end of the 19th century, he confronted the Bubonic Plague and served his brother-in-law; while the ayurvedic treatments could not save his sister’s husband, he learned something about himself:  “my aptitude for nursing gradually developed into a passion.”  He famously used this aptitude for the healing profession during the Boer War in South Africa as the founder of the Indian Ambulance Corps.  And through the rest of his life, he nursed himself through many fasts and served those with serious illnesses.  His patients ranged from his wife and other immediate family to members of his ashrams and lepers whose stigmatized condition he championed.  I recall this medical biography to suggest that, as a man of science, Gandhiji would have surely been at the frontline today serving COVID-19 patients in the ER or the ICU. 

But Gandhiji understood that science has its limits.  He wrote, “To state the limitation of science is not to belittle it.”  I imagine that he would have recognized this crisis as an opportunity to head off larger crises. To be sure, he would have used his political talent to support organizations like W.H.O. to mitigate the socio-economic risks of future pandemics. But I believe that Gandhiji’s greatness lies in his multi-generational vision for humanity. The earth – all of it, and all of its creatures – was a Gandhian home.  Not only would Gandhiji have directly faced the respiratory challenges of the coronavirus, but he, also, would have used the present danger to open windows and minds to confront even greater ecological, social, and spiritual catastrophes like climate change, enduring inequality, and cruelty to animals.

Using his tools of satyagraha, swaraj, sarvodaya, and ahimsa, Gandhiji would have encouraged us to be in satyalogue with each other, in truthtalk, about what we’ve learned about ourselves and each other during this pandemic.  

Regarding your question about what you should be doing, I suggest using all of the gifts bestowed upon you from your religious upbringing and your medical studies; kindly consider how you can use that knowledge for your private spiritual growth and our public universal uplift.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza has published a compilation of similar Q&A pieces addressing dilemmas that we face in the 21st century.  His book Satyalogue // Truthtalk is available on Amazon.

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.

Coronavirus to Karunavirus

Feeling like the “wrong kind of doctor” (I have a doctorate in organization change), I initially felt helplessly inadequate in my response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Thinking of all the family, friends, and colleagues I knew who were fighting in the front lines of medicine, I questioned my career choice.  With the exponential increase in COVID-19 patients across the globe, what was I doing with my life?  

Instead of consulting, teaching, and writing, shouldn’t I have been practicing?  Thinking of the brave souls who practiced medicine, I wondered about my contribution.  To be sure, for big chunks of my career I had used my biomedical engineering background and my doctoral studies to guide leaders in healthcare, but when I asked myself what would Mother Teresa be doing, I recalled my meeting the saint a month before her death.  A life lesson emerged from that experience:  “We can lead best by serving the needs of our community and by following the lead of those we serve.”

So my heart turned to those I knew in healthcare – at Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, UW Health, UCSF, SF General, and Stanford Health Care – and I found my own way of serving them:  with compassionate and supportive listening.  I recalled a review I had written a decade ago about Dr. Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for StoneThat India Currents review, titled “Hippocrates Made Human,” centered on the following question from this empathetic novel:  “Tell us, please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”

I realized that by being in dialogue with my family, friends, and colleagues, by sharing my words and listening to theirs, I could support those who were fighting the good war.  Finding my voice on email one early morning, I checked in with all those I knew who were fighting the good fight for my own family. Later that week, my wife (Mangla) and I looked beyond our own circle of healthcare providers and sent varying versions of the following email to friends whose children were at the front line:

Hello Friends

We’ve been thinking about you all and praying that all are keeping well.  

Here’s a note that we’ve sent to the many clinicians who take care of our family 

“Thank you for the outstanding care you always provide to our family.  During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I’d like to also thank you for heroically being of service to all of your patients.  Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.”

We know that each of you has at least one family member or friend who has been similarly heroic.  Of course, we are all so blessed (or at least we hope each of us is) to be taken care of by doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and the countless others (public health experts, researchers, biomedical engineers, administrators, supply chain clerks, et al) who serve behind the scenes.  A heartfelt thank you to all!

Friendship is truly a lovely word.  And words are keepsakes, keeping us close in good times and distressing ones.

And here is a word from Sanskrit that is always much needed:  karuna.  Given that we can all use more compassion in our lives, you might find of interest this website highlighting compassionate acts: karunavirus.org.

In Friendship … Mangla and Raj

Some responses came immediately as if from next-door kin:  “Thanks for sending this note, Papaji! Yes, [we] are staying healthy.  I’m trying to see the positives. [When we] go on our daily walks, I can’t help but be reminded that Spring is happening all around us. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the birds are chirping louder every day, my indoor seedlings are just about ready to be planted outside, and the air is cleaner.”

Some emails read as if they were Western Union telegrams – surgical sentences and grammatical errors suggesting distracted medical battlefield urgency:

  • “Thank you so much my friend … desperately needs this as it has been certainly overwhelming for all of us.”
  • “Will catch up soon … knee deep into COVID-19 as I and in our command center this and next week.”
  •  “So thoughtful of you to reach out … much appreciated … more careful response to follow.”
  • “Doing fellowship in Infectious disease at Stanford … warning … worst is yet to come … brace yourself.”
  • “Thank you … I hope you and the family stay safe.”
  • “In the front line now treating patients and attending on them … but praying and hoping for the best … work has doubled.”
  • “Thank you for this thoughtful note … I’m doing well (on nights right now, delivering babies) and have been in good health.”
  • “Coronavirus is causing a lot of stress for us … Stay safe and wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.”
  • “Thanks … that’s very nice of you to say.”
  • “Sorry for not responding sooner … keep waiting for a moment I can put some thought into my response … silly me.”
  • “Thank you very much for the thoughts, the support, and your friendship … hope you and your family continue to all be healthy … hope isolation doesn’t keep you from the grand baby!”
  • “Until calmer days…”

And then there were the responses from Dr. Megha and Dr. Pooja.  In these letters from two sisters whom my wife and I had known since they were little girls in frocks, I could hear the distant thunder of war against an invisible enemy:

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for your very kind words and touching email, and for thinking of us during these uncertain times. This has truly been a humbling experience thus far and I can only pray that this is soon behind us with minimal loss….

Best wishes,

Megha

*******

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. 

That passage was really beautiful.

It made me feel hopeful about the future.

I am working in the ICU for a month and am grateful for the opportunity to learn from this pandemic and care for patients.

I am especially inspired by nurses and respiratory therapists, as they have the most contact with patients. 

Their bravery, compassion, and selflessness inspire me every day.

Wishing you and your family all the best now and always!

Pooja

*******

Gentle reader, even if you are not a doctor or planning a career in the caring profession, as a consumer of medicine you may be wondering about that question from Cutting for Stone:  “Tell us, please, what treatment, in an emergency, is administered by ear?”  Perhaps we can all embrace this universal response — “words of comfort.”

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant working with clients across the world, has written this for all of those in healthcare, including his nephew, Avinash, the first MD in the Oza Family.

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

As I watched the Netflix documentary that follows Michele Obama’s book tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming”, I was reminded of a former American first lady who published a book while her husband was in office. 

When Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, was first published, I read about it in the Washington Post. Intrigued by the unusual title, I wondered about her credentials to write with conviction about raising children. After all, she had mothered only one child. 

During the Clintons’ tenure at the White House, I was first a graduate student, and later, a postdoctoral fellow at a university not far from Washington DC. I knew nothing about motherhood and parenting. Judging Hilary Clinton’s expertise to write a book (that I had not read) was presumptuous on my part.  

About a year and a half later, as I cradled my newborn daughter in Silicon Valley, I asked a friend who came by for a visit – “How will I bring up this tiny baby into adulthood? I don’t know anything about parenting.”

A mother of a preschooler, she smiled knowingly and replied “Don’t worry, they come programmed to survive and grow. You don’t have to know anything.”

I heard her but did not believe her. I had devoured What To Expect When You’re Expecting, during my pregnancy. Knowing my penchant for turning to books for advice, someone had thoughtfully gifted me the sequel to help me figure out the first year of my child’s life. 

During my short maternity break, I could foresee how much more difficult my life would become once I returned to work. With growing demands on my body, emotions, and time, I wondered if I would lose myself as I slowly dissolved into the ocean of caregiving that is motherhood. 

Children consume you in ways few other things do. They coerce you, bind you, and trap you with their heart-melting smiles even as you change diapers and pick up toys innumerable times. Coming on the heels of years of infertility, for me, motherhood, like my Ph.D., had been a long-drawn project, a goal that I had desired and aspired for, and my child, the reward for my prayers and effort. 

In the two decades since that initial expression of doubt regarding my mothering ability, I have discovered, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, that I am just the string that connects every person who crossed my path and provided me guidance and assistance along the way to raise my child. 

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

This year Mother’s Day was especially poignant because, in a few weeks, that tiny baby who used to fit in my lap, will fly out of the nest and head back to America, the country where she was born.

I think back to the village of people scattered across the globe, who not only directly impacted her growth but also influenced my journey as a mother. 

Some, like my mother, Amma, held my hand in the delivery room and took care of me in the early days. Amma rescued me several other times when I was in a pinch for childcare, struggling to remain in the workforce. Always supportive, but not necessarily indulgent, she followed the ‘tough love’ style of mothering, long before the phrase was coined. 

Catherine, the gentle, silver-haired British lady who took over as the local grandmother when Amma returned to India, was the first person outside the home to bond with my child. Using only organic ingredients to cook fresh meals and creating personalized birthdays for the kids in her care, Catherine was a loving, no-nonsense woman. It was impressive how she managed to carve out time for self-care, swimming thirty laps in the community pool after a long day watching a handful of babies and toddlers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Catherine for providing reliable childcare, the prime reason I was able to focus on my budding career.

Bill, my boss, who looked the other way when he saw me slouched over my desk in the early days of motherhood, first introduced me to a lunchtime yoga class, and later supported all of my part-time or flex-time requests, ensuring my progress through the ranks. I shudder to think of how my life would have turned out without Bill as my boss.

In California, a circle of women friends gathered around me to provide assistance to a working mother in a dysfunctional marriage. When I moved to India, another group of female friends came together in Hyderabad to help me find my feet as a single parent. Loaning me a gas cylinder when I moved into my own place, watching my child if I was late from work, accompanying me to court, or to the doctor’s office, many kind women propped me up. 

When handling everything alone felt overwhelming, I remembered the wise words of a colleague who told me at my baby shower, “Parenting is a series of threats and bribes.” 

When I doubted my decision to quit my well-paying job with long working hours and choose a freelance consulting path that paid less but offered greater flexibility, I remembered my aunt’s advice to make whatever minor changes necessary but to not give up my financial independence.

I am indebted to a large global network of individuals who have shared my journey as a mother. It has not been smooth. I have been far from perfect. 

From our shaky first steps in California to the rocky patch in India, and now in our new blended family in Singapore, motherhood has been a delicate dance. The two of us held onto each other, flowing with life as it detoured into uncharted territories. We are at a point where our paths must diverge. My time of intense parenting is coming to an end. 

The river of life will take her in its fold, whisk her to unknown destinations. But I will send her away with the confidence that there is a village out there, to pick up where my direct influence ends. Just as a village came together and sustained her thus far, I have no doubt that she will build another one for the next leg of her life. 

Even without reading Hilary Clinton’s book, I learned first-hand the powerful lesson embedded in the African proverb that she chose as the title for her book. It does take a village to raise a child. And I stand humbled by the experience. 

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Mother Says So…

A mother’s love is that divine gift that enables a child to do their best.  Mother is not a noun but a verb that personifies unselfish love. We are all connected to our mothers through a special bond even after the umbilical cord is cut. Sooner or later we all start emulating our maternal traits, some of us more than others. 

I remember my mother every morning when I wake up. I open my eyes to my palms and recite the morning prayer. During the day the Rudraksh beads of practical wisdom from her rosary guide my actions. At night when my head touches the pillow, it is her voice that calls upon me to surrender myself to the creator: “Om Hari Sharna”.

I am fortunate like many of you to have a very loving, kind, courageous, talented, and devoted mother. How I wish I could be with her on this Mother’s Day but I cannot travel to India because of the COVID pandemic. It breaks my heart but assembling the pieces of my love for her into a collage, I share this writing as an homage to all our mothers. In my conversations with friends and family on the phone, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, and zoom, I have gathered stories about mothers all over the world.

One of my friends said that her mother has a rule, “Never leave the house without saying I love you to your brothers and sisters. You don’t know when you would be together again.” She also said, “Contentment is a difficult virtue but not unattainable” What good advice.

Another lady’s mother went by, “Beauty is what beauty does!”

One mother bade her child to stay organized and she obeyed by keeping an immaculate home. 

A lovely southern belle shared her mother’s advice: “Always be polite and well dressed”. Your good manners can take you around the world. 

My aunt advised her daughters not to do everything themselves even if they knew how to do it. Let your children learn for themselves. Excellent advice, I wish I would have heeded this one. Because of her teaching, my friends and cousins have become experts at delegating their chores to others. Very convenient indeed! 

My aunt always had useful culinary advice. This came in handy before instant cooking and googling recipes was a fad. She said, “If you don’t want to spend your time in the kitchen, rolling rotis for your brood, just make them all rice eaters.” Although I love a fresh chapati with ghee on occasions, we generally cook rice to go with our vegetables.

My son admits that I taught him to be polite to everyone. I think somewhere, in all the telling of stories and reciting poems during his childhood, my sweetness might have taken hold in his nature.

My mother told me not to openly voice my opinion about others but I have not followed this advice. In my personal life, I am known to speak my mind, like my dad. My daughter overlooks my stubborn streak most of the time and we enjoy creative activities together. I paint and write and she creates my Instagram and web pages. My daughter is an honest critic. When I really need advice I go to her.

My grandson had some interesting inputs. He said, “My mother has taught me to say thank you, sorry and to cover coughs and sneezes”.  All helpful tips indeed.

I asked him what I had taught him? He said, “To say Hanjee instead of Haan.” I still think that he does not understand that it is meant as a sign of respect to others and not a mere grammatical appendage that he constantly forgets. 

My mother also said that save your money because ultimately it will help you in any dire circumstance. This is so true in the time of the pandemic when so many of us have to rely on our savings for food, shelter, healthcare, and helping the needy.

Mother taught a lot through her actions. She started her day early, in “Brahma Muhurta”. This good habit gave her an early start into bathing, prayers, gardening, cooking, and reading the morning newspaper. By the time other members of the house woke up, breakfast was ready on the table. She knew that a way to everyone’s heart was through their stomachs. We had fresh food every day: parathas and pickles, poori aloo, omelet toast, upama, idli sambar, and seviyan. 

At home, we kids did not have a natural inclination to learn cooking or help her in domestic chores. She never complained working on her on but was most particular about her afternoon siesta. She took a thirty-minute nap every day and no one could disturb that. We kids squirmed and protested but that was a ritual we all had to follow. Mother was very determined but her effect was gentle and angelic. She never laughed or cried loudly. Very ladylike was her expression and perhaps because of that she has a smooth unwrinkled face to this day. She was able to sense my dad’s moods and always cautioned us, kids, to behave accordingly. We had wonderful conversations at the dinner table which are dearly missed but I don’t miss having to gulp down spinach with water.

My mother often said, “Apne Hath Jagannath.”

As I was explaining the meaning of this cryptic phrase to my friends, I realized that my mother literally took my hands and put them to action. She gave me the gift of an industrious life when she presented me with a sketchbook and colors. Wherever we went, we carried our hobby bag with us.

Ever since then, I have tried to create my own world through medicine, art, and writing. Creativity is my life mantra. I gaze upon the elegant visage of my mother as she tries to bless me by touching my forehead through the phone, I feel humbled. There are not enough words, phrases, poems, or songs in this language that would encompass my feelings of deep gratitude for my mother. But I don’t have to…

There is a woman in the house

Her breath rises and falls

She rests her head on my shoulder 

We both read from the same page

Our eyes close

We hold kindness

We are happy…

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Legal Advice for Traveling Back to the US

In a major shift to U.S. visa policy, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry into the United States by Foreign Nationals” on January 27, 2017.  The order went into effect immediately. Numerous lawsuits were filed and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has currently banned the implementation of the order. Because the situation remains fluid, I thought that it is critical that when traveling, you are aware of your rights.

1. U.S. Citizens
U.S. citizens have the right to enter the United States, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is required to allow U.S. citizens entry. U.S. citizens should always travel with a valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens also have the right to have an attorney present for any questioning.

2. Non-U.S. Citizens
The U.S. government clearly has the authority to determine whether a non-U.S. citizen is “admissible” under the applicable regulations. Non-U.S. citizens generally do not have the right to an attorney after arriving at an airport or port of entry while being questioned by CBP. However, there is a limited right to legal counsel if the CBP’s questions do not relate to immigration status.

3. Searches
CBP can search (www.cbp.gov/travel/cbp-search-authority) all persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the United States. CBP can also examine computers and cellphones, to obtain information about prior travel, eligibility for visa category, and/or evaluate admissibility. However, there is no requirement to unlock an electronic device, or to provide CBP access to social media accounts or passwords to mobile applications.