Tag Archives: coronavirus

A Cup of Tea With Papa

I met Neelu’s Papa just once, two or three years ago.  I went to her home for a meeting we’d planned. It wasn’t Neelu who opened the door, but a trim gray-haired gentleman.  “Neelu had to step out unexpectedly to pick up her daughter,” he told me, “she asked me to tell you she’d be back in a few minutes.  I’m Neelu’s father,” he introduced himself, as he ushered me into their living room, “please come in and sit down.” He offered me a cup of tea and insisted on sitting and chatting with me until Neelu returned home; telling me about his son, daughter, grandchildren, and how he spent time traveling back and forth between Mumbai and California to be with each of them. In those fifteen short minutes, I got a sense of the man and his love for his family.

Neelu’s Papa died late last month in Mumbai, a victim of COVID-19. I watched as she did her very best to ensure that her father received the best possible care; driven to do the best she could, and distraught and helpless at not being able to travel halfway around the world to be with him, hold his hand, and be there for and with him, in the way she so desperately wanted. 

Neelu could not have dialed up a better day for a prayer ceremony and remembrance for her beloved Papa. It was crisp and sunny in her backyard as she and her family performed the traditional Hindu rituals sitting around the Havan Kund, as the prayers and shlokas invoking eternal peace for the departed soul were expertly chanted and rituals orchestrated and explained by a learned priest dialing in remotely from New Jersey. Fifty-plus relatives, friends, and colleagues of the family watched remotely on Zoom from locations across California, the US, and India. It was a surreal experience – this improbable juxtaposition of ancient Vedic rituals, many thousand years old, with a fledgling technology that enabled far-flung, somber, and grieving onlookers to hold hands in remembrance and prayer in a single virtual room.

The final prayer was complete. Then came the eulogies and the sharing of memories, tears, and laughter; in a trickle that soon became an outpouring of emotion. A picture emerged of Papa and the man he was. A loving father, grandfather, friend, neighbor, and mentor. The adopted ‘uncle’ of many.  A loving, caring father who sacrificed a lot in his own life in order to give his children the education and grounding that would carry them to successful professional careers.  A man who helped look after the grandchildren he loved deeply – a love that was reciprocated by them manyfold. A man who never forgot someone’s birthday or anniversary; who always made time to reach out to people, meet them, talk to them, and inquire about their wellbeing. Invariably over a cup of tea, as evidenced by the number of people who, in their reminiscences, talked about chai with Papa ji!  A simple, decent, hardworking, loving caring soul. One whose loss reverberates through many households, cities, and countries; his influence and memories carved indelibly in the hearts and minds of so many. 

I am blessed and fortunate to be among those whose path through life crossed with his. It is, however, my loss that I did not have the good fortune to share a few more cups of tea with Papa.

We have lost yet another treasured soul to the illness that this scourge, monstrous Coronavirus has inflicted on humanity.  Each death has shattered the lives of so many.  As I write this piece, more than 1.2 million lives have been lost to COVID-19 worldwide – with more than 230,000 of those in the US – staggeringly large numbers that fail to describe, or even begin to measure the impact of their loss on all their loved ones.  How many more stories like Papa’s remain to be told? 

We can all collectively heal as a community, as a nation, and as members of the human race by sharing our memories of these departed souls. Each one of them must be cherished and treasured. We can live our lives better by celebrating theirs and passing on to those that follow the life lessons they taught us.

Neelu’s Papa, we will all miss you!


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

Rising Healthcare Costs Make Patient Care Difficult for Visiting Parents

U.S. President Donald Trump and presidential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, are united by one issue at least – the rising cost of medication.   

This July, prices rose 3.1 percent on average for 67 drugs compared to the same period last year. GoodRx points out that the increases came on the heels of a 6.8% surge, on average, from January to June 30 of this year – manufacturers raise prices in January and July annually. And for many Americans, this means not filling their prescriptions. In a new poll by Best Health and the Global Strategy Group of 4,200 potential voters in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, the main battleground states for the Senate, 22 percent of the respondents said they couldn’t afford medications prescribed by their doctors. More than a quarter (26%) said they or their family members were unable to seek treatment for a health problem in the last year due to cost concerns.

Rising costs have also affected another demographic – parents from India visiting their offspring. Thousands of older Indians have had to extend their stay as a result of travel restrictions amidst the pandemic earlier this year.

“My father is 75 years old and has had benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) for about 10 years. His urologist made the very unwise decision to perform surgery for my father’s BPH right before he came to visit me. He’s been experiencing complications from that ever since,” says Dr. Debyani Chakravarty, a new mother and a faculty member in the department of pathology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “I bought both my parents’ travel insurance but since these are complications from surgery, nothing is covered. I pay $300 per consultation with a doctor here, $300 for my dad’s cystoscopy, $100 for labs, and $200 for his meds so far. In Pune, their medication (alone) would cost at least ten times less.”

Another set of parents visiting their daughter, also a new mother in New York, were Sushima Sekhar and her husband from Chennai. Both had to postpone their return and were running out of their diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medication they’d brought from India. 

Their daughter’s physician, Sekhar says, asked to see them in order to prescribe. “The consult per person was $250, quite steep,” she recalls. “In the meantime, we got the number of a COVID Tamil Task Team which was doing an unbelievably great service to stranded Indians here. They had chemists and doctors in their group. All we had to do was give them our Indian prescription, and they would find the equivalent generic low-cost drug, double-check with their doctors, (and issue us a prescription here). We kept them as a last resort because the price of meds, however low, was way too high when converted in Indian rupees – anywhere between five to fifteen times higher.”

Sekhar eventually succeeded in getting the medication couriered from India, after that avenue opened up following a lockdown there. 

But for many others, obtaining affordable medication in time without missing dosages would have been impossible but for voluntary groups such as the COVID-19 Tamil Task Team, and Non-Resident Indian doctors in the Telugu community. 

Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, a Telugu NRI doctor who is helping parents visiting from India.

“The federal government relaxed telemedicine rules (as a result of the pandemic), and I wanted to help these people stranded here. For one prescription to go out, we had ten volunteers working on it,” says Dr. Saravanan Ramalingam, a trauma surgeon in New York who helped launch the service. The initiative gained momentum after the group had a conference call with Shatrughna Singha, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, who was keen that Indian-origin doctors provide help to visiting older Indians in need of healthcare and medication, Ramalingam points out.  

Vasudevan Kothandaraman, an IT professional in New Jersey, helps to co-ordinate within a group of around 30 volunteers. The quality checks are stringent, he says, and prescription requests are routed through the app Freshdesk. Volunteers verify the Indian prescription and refer patients to a telemedicine team of doctors if required. A group sends the list to local pharmacies to find out if an American equivalent of the drug is available. If it is, the verification team, consisting of doctors, nurses, and pharma PhDs search for a cheaper, generic alternative. The prescription team reviews the process, and a doctor faxes a prescription to a pharmacy nearest to the patient’s home. “If the cost is really high, we provide them with GoodRx type of discount coupons,” Kothandaraman says. “We have issued 400 prescriptions (at the start of the pandemic lockdown).”        

Now, a fall surge expected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could again intensify the struggles of older Indians visiting in the U.S., and those who have extended their visas to be with family. 

Doctors are standing by to help. 

“One Telugu lady, a mother visiting her family in North Carolina, had recurring urinary tract infection. She was stuck here because of the lockdown and had no clue where to go and what to do,” says Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, an internist who was recently awarded a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology by the New York Medical College. “I heard her medical history – she had co-morbidities – and prescribed antibiotics at a CVS Pharmacy close to her. Told her to drink plenty of water and some cranberry juice; her symptoms were gone within a week.”

Lakkasani pauses, adding reflectively: “She is an elderly stranger, she is talking in my language. It moves you.”  


Sujata Srinivasan is a business and healthcare journalist in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @SujataSrini.

Featured Image by Harsha K R.

Teens Ask Us to Save Our Saviours

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, a Bellarmine College Prep junior, Rishabh Saxena, like everyone else, became increasingly concerned. He wanted to do his part and started the Save your Saviors campaign in early March to equip healthcare workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help them win this fight.

Around the same time, Shivina Chugh, a junior at MSJHS in Fremont, was becoming increasingly worried as well. Rishabh and Shivina joined forces to help raise awareness for this cause as both their moms have been at the front line fighting this war and wanted to do their part to save people’s lives at the front line. After researching how the risks faced by frontline workers could be mitigated, they found that, in addition to other PPE, reusable and washable bio-suits helped keep the infection rate low among the healthcare workers in South Korea. Their research indicated that these bio-suits were already used in a few emergency rooms in hospitals across the United States but were not readily available.

They ran the idea of sourcing the bio-suits by their moms, a few Intensive Care Unit directors, and infection control personnel in a few hospitals who saw this project’s great value. At this point, they started contacting a few more hospitals to explore an interest in bio-suit as a way to increase protection for their staff. Not only was this idea well-received by the hospitals they contacted, but they also started getting referrals.  

Health Professionals wearing Bio-Suits given by Save Your Saviours.

Seeing a high demand for bio suits and other PPE, they decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds. Fremont Bridge Rotary Club also contributed to this cause by raising money for this project. Together they raised $4,050 and were able to work with a few vendors to get bio-suits and other PPE promptly and pilot it in a few hospitals.

These bio-suits were delivered to Medical staff in ICU’S of Kindred Hospital and St. Rose Hospital. In addition, handing over bio suits to Alameda Highland County hospital in Oakland, CA, was immensely satisfying to the team because these residents provide care for the indigent patient population and, with bio suits, could avoid the high risk of catching infections that can prove fatal.

Dr. Steven Sackrin, at Alameda Highland County Hospital, said, “I want to extend our sincere thanks to your organization, Save your Saviors. The contribution of personal protective equipment is deeply appreciated. The bio suits are a particularly great addition to our supplies. The bio suits offer a superior degree of protection. It is so nice that they can be cleaned and reused. Most of our patients already have immense challenges, medical and especially non-medical. And our environment is already a bit threadbare and not on many people’s radar. But a sense of mission generally infuses the facility. It was so great that your organization was willing to share its efforts and contributions with this institution. Thank you very, very much for your generosity, thoughtfulness, and the grit/work that it took to accomplish what you have done.”

Dr. Evelyn Nakagawa at Kindred hospital echoed similar sentiments “Save your Saviors has provided bio suits that offer an extra layer of safety and help healthcare workers focus on their work with peace.

Shivina and Rishabh give materials to Highland Hospital.

Save your Saviors campaign initially raised money and helped save lives of Health care workers to buy Bio suits and launch them in several Intensive care units of Bay Area Hospitals. After finishing their first phase of helping Bay Area Health care workers, they have furthered this campaign to help some other segments of society who are greatly impacted in this COVID crisis time. They have done several drives to raise money to provide food and personal items required for the homeless shelter and domestic violence survivors. They are immensely thankful to several families in the Bay area who generously contributed to such a noble cause. One of the drives with their contributions, approximately worth $2000, has been shared with the vulnerable survivors in dire need.

Whether they are health care workers or underprivileged people in society like domestic violence survivors or homeless shelters, the fight to save people’s lives continues forward by these students’ efforts. They continue with their efforts during this unprecedented time. You can help their efforts here


Shivina Chugh is a rising senior at Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, CA. She is very active in her school clubs, Relay for Life, DECA, Peer Support Group and is the co-founder of the Save Your Saviors, which has helped the medical community during times of COVID-19 and continues to do so. 
Rishabh Saxena is a senior at Bellarmine College Prep School in San Jose, CA. He grew up building lego puzzles, tennis, and skiing. He is passionate about helping people. He founded Save your Saviors to serve the community. 

Bereavement in a COVIDian Era

I stood anxiously inside the ICU while my brother spoke to the doctor on duty to confirm that his report explicitly stated that our mom’s death was non-COVID related. Without that report, we had been told that we would run into issues with the city. My brother scrambled to get the report of the COVID-19 test that was taken a few days ago while our spouses tried to book the earliest slot in the crematorium to minimize contact with other mourners. My mom had just died after a five-week struggle in the hospital but dealing with the pandemic took precedence over our grieving process. 

As condolence messages started pouring in, a common thread ran through them: “How fortunate that you got to spend the last five months with your mom!” “You must be so grateful!” “The COVID-19 lockdown was a blessing in disguise for you.” “You’re so lucky.” I thought I heard a note of jealousy in one octogenarian’s voice but soon I realized it was just fear: “Your mother was so blessed. How lucky she was surrounded by her family!” Another message sounded very bizarre when I first heard. “You must be thankful that she did not die during the lockdown. We could not scatter the ashes of my father in the river Cauvery because of travel restrictions.” Rarely, these messages and conversations dwelt on my loss or my grief. 

In February, when the Coronavirus infections were still in single digits in Silicon Valley, my mom was hospitalized in Bangalore and I left for India. My mom came home after a few days. I had a return ticket for a date in March but my instincts were against returning to the US. Then India went into a countrywide lockdown, and all international flights got canceled. I got to spend the next five months with my mom, taking care of her, listening to her desires, her fears and her view of how her life had fared. We played cards, listened to music and discussed recipes.

Anandi’s mother on her birthday.

During this pandemic, some of my friends in the US lost their loved ones in India and were unable to attend the funeral in India. Some in India were also unable to travel to the funeral of their loved ones. There are so many obstacles: lack of flights, travel restrictions and quarantine rules. One friend had to ask a neighbor to take care of the funeral of a loved one. The most harrowing ones I heard were from people who lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and did not get to say their final goodbyes. There were sons who could not perform the last rites. A friend, sobbing uncontrollably, told me that she did not get to bathe and dress her mother, a daughter’s duty after the mother’s death. This coronavirus has not only killed people and financially ruined many but also has left survivors suffering from guilt and having trouble getting closure. Hence, I do understand the significance of the condolence messages I received. Besides getting time to spend with our mom, my brother and I got to do our last duties, which have become increasingly challenging during this pandemic. 

It has been a few weeks and I am home now. Some nights I wake up in a state of panic, struck by the finality of my mom’s death and it feels like someone is sitting on my chest. The other day, when I was sitting at the dining table, I thought my mom would have liked to know who brought us food on the day of her funeral, since cooking is not allowed in the house. That is the kind of question she would have asked me and I would have told her that someone whom she cared about deeply brought us food. As days pass by, often I find something I would have shared with her – a recipe or a song by a rising young singer or a visit by a friend or a relative — on our regular weekly phone calls and I grasp the impossibility of communicating with her and have trouble breathing. I feel the vacuum in my life. None of the positive things people said comfort me. Grief does not care about logic and reason. I have lost a relationship, the longest one of my life, and I do not feel fortunate. 


Anandi Lakshmikanthan is a retired software engineer. She is a co-founder of Sevalaya USA. She tutors refugee women and children. She has written short stories and reviews. 

Tips for Learning From Home

Children face myriad challenges with remote learning, as they are unable to meet with friends and follow a normal schedule during this pandemic. They become restless and unhappy.   

You as parents may be in a conundrum wondering how to teach your child(ren) at home while balancing your work lives. Keep in mind that you have always been your child’s first teacher, You have taught your child to walk, talk, and learn many values. While you may be grateful to each certified educator in your child’s lives you need to step forward with confidence to help your child.

Here are a few suggestions to make your children’s schooling at home more streamlined. These are just starting points that you can adapt to your individual circumstances.

The first thing is to develop a weekly schedule and break it down into a daily structure that you can modify with your own work schedule and that of your children. Consistency is the key here. Wake up, have breakfast, and start the day. Regular sleep time brings about normalcy.  

Your school may teach online or provide assignments and a structured curriculum. This can be very useful for you and your child(ren) to structure your days around it. If you have a teen consider empowering them to work out their own schedule so they will feel more inclined to follow it. Share the duties of household work, teaching, so that each one gets some time and doesn’t get frustrated.

It is likely that you are not the only one dealing with this and there are others at work who are in the same situation – so find a way to discuss this either as a group or with your manager to come up with a plan that allows you to reserve certain hours to help your children with their classwork or homework.

A recess or break time for your child and yourself is necessary. Every person whether a kid or parent needs some time for themselves between tasks. At this time one can unwind, run, jump, have a snack, or just relax.

Sometimes your child may get upset and angry, unable to understand a concept. Do not push them hard or have expectations that everything will work smoothly. You as a parent are new to this and should not be hard on yourself or them. When you hit a roadblock, take a break and return to the concept with a fresh mind. 

Try and work according to your child/ren’s personality. Some children like a rigorous and planned schedule while others prefer flexibility.  Be aware and pay attention to their feelings and wants. Showing compassion is essential in these times. They will always learn and grow but you as a parent need to be by their side in these times. Life will get back to normal one day and they will go back to school but this time of learning at home will make them realize three things; the bond they have with you, the joy of being back with their friends, and holding their educators in high esteem. Till then have patience and stand by them while keeping them positive and productive. 

Technology can play a big role at this time with teaching from home. Choose quality content via the abundant resources for science activities, math, reading, art, music, and also physical education. Do reach out to your children’s teachers and your children’s school parents for more help. 

You may like to ask your child to solve the task in a more creative and exciting manner. Let them be able to imagine, think out of the box, discover, innovate, and design.  

Nutritious food is a part of keeping the family healthy and happy. Plan the week’s menu so you all can sit down to dinner and catch up on the fun, unwind and talk together. Simple, quick pre-prepared lunches would be ideal during this time. Remember to get the children involved may be in setting the table, loading the dishwasher. 

It all seems so overwhelming but you got this!!!!!! Look within and tell yourself that you are competent. We have been given this time to introspect and bond with our families, care for ourselves, learn, and grow. It is time to do our bit to help society and the world come together as one. At this time being a parent is empowering and I know you are doing your best. Thank you from all of us for making the effort to keep your family and ours safe too. 


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.

Weltschmerz

As if flipping pages in a magazine, I riffle through the recent pages of my life quickly and without close attention. Now entering the eighth month of sheltering-in-place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I am tired of it all: tired of social isolation; tired of staying home, tired of reading charts and numbers documenting cases, deaths, and available ICU beds; tired of seeing how we are (or are not) measuring up to the rest of the world; tired of dissent between medical experts, scientists, and politicians; tired of a President who feeds us “really big” lies—“…children are almost immune to this disease…” or, “I tell you, it’s just going to go away…poof.”

And I am sad: sad for our economy; sad for those who have lost their livelihoods and their homes; sad for those who are hungry; sad for those who cannot continue the education they deserve; and sad for those who continue to work despite fear of becoming infected—those who take care of us, feed us, teach us. I am also sad for our vulnerable children and young people who are trying to grow up in this crazy time—toddlers neglected by parents who are working full time from home while doing their best to serve both employer and family. I am sad for teen-agers, bored by months of “lockdown” and social isolation, who are now finding escape in “wilding,” driving too fast, and eschewing masks, and sad for new college grads whose dreams have been dashed. I am sad kids who just want to play ball with their teams, perform with their orchestras, and follow their youthful passions. I am sad for people whose loved ones are dying alone in hospitals, and mothers who give birth, but cannot hold their newborn babies.

I feel sorry for celebrations missed, wedding plans dashed, funerals postponed, college days lost, and vacations that could have been. I feel bad that fear keeps us from doctors, dentists, and therapists, or from going to the grocery store, gym, barbershop, or manicurist. Life is too short, too dear, to put on hold. 

But most of all, I am sad for the lives lost, a multitude of deaths, both in our own backyards and around the world, lives that were snuffed out as quickly as blowing out a candle; some never had a chance to shine. As of today, 1.04 million lives around the world have been taken by the Coronavirus—210,00 in the United States and 102,685 in India.

The thought of continued social isolation, closed access, mask-wearing, illness, fear, and economic collapse is almost too much to bear. To add to this misery, our beautiful America is now on fire. There are currently (September 13, 2020) ninety-four—yes, ninety-four—large wildfires burning across several Western states. In California, most of the fires are due to a combination of drought conditions plus lightning strikes.

President Trump once again incorrectly blamed California for the fires. “…you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” he said, neither seeming to understand that lightning strikes caused a majority of the fires, nor that most of California’s forests and parks are federally managed. He went on to say, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them (California) pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”  It’s all just too much.

There is a German word, weltschmerz, that sums up what I am feeling. It is an amalgam of two words, world plus pain, and means weariness, sadness, frustration, and yearning caused by the reality of the world as it really is rather than the way it should, or could be. I am suffering from weltschmerz, not only due to this pandemic, not only due to the fires, but also due to the current state of our country where the difference between black and white has once again reared its ugly head, and where we can watch…from the comfort of our couches…black people pleading for their lives as they are being murdered or hunted down by our own policemen, and in turn policemen being gunned down by anti-police mobs. We see immigrants fleeing desperate situations being turned back from our borders, their families often separated. How can we ever forget children in cages? 

Then there is the state of the world, our poor, war-weary world, that we can also watch from the comfort of our couches, as it is being destroyed, as people are being killed and babies are dying, as refugee camps are growing. Not a pretty sight, our world right now.

Weltschmerz. A good word, a necessary word. I need a few days to wallow in the misery that now surrounds us, and to pray for better. I need to immerse myself in the sadness of our state, our country, our world. It is not my nature to put on a happy face non-stop for months on end. I need to mourn the losses all around me, and to help carry the weight of the world, if only metaphorically. It keeps me from crying and will help get me through the months ahead.

Weltschmerz.


Pauline Chand is a senior writer who enjoys sharing stories with her grandchildren.

Penning of the 8th Month

The 8th Month

 

lifting myself up repeatedly 

deadweight took over me

lost in days.

nothing to aspire towards 

an eternal cycle and ample grey skies

lost in uncertainty.

a barrier of contact made illness

even time was drunk and we were stuck 

lost in obstacles.

 

dreams were our only transportation 

took us to a remote time before 

lost in our minds.

*****


Rashmika Manu is a 10th grader attending High School. She enjoys using poetry as a form of expression. She is passionate about travel and hopes to fight poverty when she is older. 

Are We Going to Be Normal After This Pandemic?

The answer is NO if “normal” means “status quo ante” or going back to what we were before. The answer is neither disappointing nor a surprise.  It is absurd to expect something to stay standstill in an endlessly rotating planet called Earth which is somersaulting in an immeasurably vast universe. Our impatience, however, in waiting for the dreadful pandemic to end is indisputably natural. Sure enough, It will end because nothing lasts forever.  

So what will post-pandemic pictures unfold to our weary eyes?

We have to watch what follows with cautious optimism. Jumping off the hell is not synonymous with plunging in heaven. The spectrum of the post-pandemic period will be interspersed with new challenges testing our prophetic prudence. Have we mastered our learned lessons or will our fickle memory sequester it in oblivion? If we are intelligent enough, it will prepare us for the future. For the sake of brevity and expediency, let us settle our hopes and fears in two classes.

WHAT WE HOPE FOR:

We hope to have surmised that we are truly mortals who have learned that death does not always visit us in small and scattered incidents. It may as well raid us in a sweeping, devastating way and compel us to feel like helpless prey. As we dreadfully watched the steep rise in brutal mortality caused by the pandemic, science also told us that such catastrophes are not unprecedented.

We have been frequented by episodes of smallpox, polio, plague, cholera, Hong Kong and Spanish flu, and such disasters of diseases propounded by microbes. We feel like running deers chased by a terrifying tiger close behind. The pandemic we are facing is neither the first one nor the last one. A second pandemic could well be preparing itself, waiting for its opportune time. They may be unpredictable but chronologically sequenced with the passage of time.

We hopefully are better prepared each time, cautiously cognizant for the world. We have to communicate faster than the velocity of the worms and combat by a joint endeavor. This is the only way to curtail our mortality imminent upon a visit by unanticipated invaders. Pointing accusatory fingers at who started this microbial massacre will only amputate our aiding arms. United we stand, Divided we fall.

“Let us hang in together, or indeed each one of us will hang separately,” as most prophetically pronounced by Benjamin Franklin.

A bacterial war will be won only by sound teamwork unifying the whole world as a single team. By not learning this lesson this time, we made a serious mistake of creating Divided Countries of the World and paid an exorbitant price for it. History has a pattern of repeating itself unless we are vigilantly watching with a discerning eye.

What we hope not:

We hope not that this pernicious pandemic leaves any sequelae behind. Sequela is a medical term used for complications that emerge long after the disease disappears. This infection is new to us and therefore, we are not completely knowledgeable about the course it may run. We will have to combat all complications as they come. 

Not only the physical but also the psychological damage that the pandemic can leave behind may need to be faced factually. Our particular concern should be centered around our children who have painfully grown through a period of sustained trauma and deprivations.

I met a young man who passed his childhood in a war zone. Years later, he wakes up screaming at night when hearing an ambulance pass by. Children, in general, may be equipped with greater immunity against the disease but they are also more prone to retain a sustained memory of a mental trauma that they were exposed to. No math can predict the extent of the aftermath. It is essential to remember this aspect because children of today will be the deciding fate of tomorrow.

I am also concerned that too many stream sessions and loss of interpersonal interactions may lead us to subordinate the value of human touch and direct encounters. To deal with peoples’ images rather than people themselves can push us downstream fostering a phobia for live human interactions. Our emotional and physical closeness to each other is the very bulwark on which we sustain. Let us not be unmindful that we need each other to survive and thrive.

“Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing, “ said T.S. Elliot.

The social, economic, and emotional impact of this catastrophe should not be underestimated either. Depression, suicidal tendencies, self-effacing and destructive patterns of behavior, and horrors of hooliganism may surface much to our dismay.

Finally, we hope this tragedy does not drive us away from God. God may not protect our Temples and Churches but the secret of our love and happiness lies in God hidden in our hearts. We keep on hoping because Hope is nothing but the constancy of faith. Most faiths have accepted and established a parent-child relationship with God. The more we are disappointed, the more we turn to Him until we are hale and healed. The course of our actions will let us see who we are and who we are not. Our deepest compassion for the bereaved families should never fade.

Peace! Peace!! Peace!


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

Namaste America: Forget the Handshake

Do you remember where we were before the pandemic hit?

Inequality had reached historical records worldwide, Australia had burned for months on end, autocrats were suffocating democracy in Hungary and Venezuela, and a wave of protests had swept across six continents– from Beirut to Paris, from Hong Kong to Moscow. 

COVID-19 is spreading worldwide, confusion prevails, and some of the leaders of the advanced world seem to embrace a casual approach. We offer a simple pathway to guide that will reduce the virus spread. Coronavirus within the last seven months has brought the whole world to its knees. 

Examine the situation in India: Migrant laborers/working populations are stranded with no job prospects. No way to get back to their home villages, many hundreds of miles away. And no access to medical care. This pandemic, affecting the developed and developing nations, has had the same level of impact. 

Preventive steps are now universally encouraged for COVID19, namely “stay at home” and a virtual lockdown of economies, thus separating the infected from the non-infected. Its compliance had been erratic in the US.

It is time to reframe our approaches to daily living activities, more specifically, how we greet each other. A universal, symbolic one is the handshake. We need to reduce the communicability of infections. 

How can we reduce the spread of infection from one human to another? 

Begin to use Namaste universally. With the ever-present paranoia of touching strangers, the gesture Namaste (verbal and symbolic) can be more than just a phrase we hear after yoga.

When someone uses the namaste gesture, it reflects the intended expression of mutual respect for another person’s personality. It means that everyone extended the utmost reverence. Namaste implies that “the divinity within me respects and honors the divinity within you.” You can reflect this profound thought with one physical gesture.

However, the Namaste gesture itself unrestricted, beyond the Indian American culture. As an example, many cultures around the globe fold their hands when worshipping. In Japan, it can mean conceptually, “I am sorry,” “thank you,” or “please.” As a greeting, this gesture is familiar throughout most of Southeast Asia. 

Namaste dates back to the origins of the Indus valley civilization itself. The Terracotta figures and sculptures are depicting this gesture are dated back to 3000 years, even before the Christian Era. As civilizations blossomed and cultures intermingled, the namaste pose became even more widespread. 

The handshake, on the other hand, is used as a standard greeting in Western cultures. It is a way of agreeing to specific terms of the trust, a show of mutual trust. To prove neither side was carrying weapons. As significant life-saving steps evolve, fortunately, this handshaking might have seen its last days with the pandemonium of the Covid-19 viral infections. Dare we live without shaking peoples’ hands? 

Yes, as it is a preventative step in the spread of infections. 

Consider how interpreted grips are, when shaking someone’s hand:

Like gripping their hand too much? Bone Crunching? Too floppy? Are palms sweaty and clammy? Or are they too dry? Symbolically, as we say sometimes, the individual has “cold hands,” here reflecting a not helpful individual. One sometimes feels that someone extending the hand used some moisturizer (or a sanitizer) before that handshake! 

Aside from its simplicity, the namaste posture implicates mutual fairness. There is no prominent or submissive interpretation implied. Whereas, with a handshake, a person with a firmer grip seen as more authoritative. In contrast, a person with a less firm grasp seen as submissive. Namaste levels this field of cognitive conflicts. 

The only expected interactive way to reciprocate to a namaste is with a namaste concurrently. It is simple to remember: respect demands respect. Namaste a universal value packed into a single interactive step. 

Even more important is the social distance Namaste provides. One can greet each other across a conference table as an example. Namaste removes the ambiguity, “should I hug them?” “pat them on the shoulder?” “fist bump them?” or “shake their hand?” “peck on the cheek?” and other dilemmas that we encounter, day in and out.

We now realize that the handshakes and hugs need to take a backseat in light of the current coronavirus pandemonium. It is time that the namaste pose might become a universal form of greeting. It has gained significant traction in western civilizations. This step is a viable alternative to the potentially polluting handshakes, hugs, and fist bumps. 

In Western cultures, we only have seen Namaste used by yoga instructors.

Namaste, its meaning, and significance with its health and wellness benefits make it ready to be universally acknowledged. 

So the next time, when having a neighborly chat, start with a Namaste – no language limitations – even from across the yard with a coffee mug in hand.


Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children. 

Dr. Akkaraju Sarma, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Ph.D., has academic roots in Anthropology and Internal Medicine. He has practiced medicine in underserved areas in Philadelphia (37+ years). He leads the health & human services programs at Bharatiya Temple for a decade and help. 

Hunger Surges During COVID Crisis

Widespread hunger and unemployment drove millions of Americans into food-lines during the Great Depression of 1930; but no one could have predicted that scenario repeating itself some 90 years later, in the land of plenty, plump with the prospect of the American dream.

Today, that dream is fast becoming a nightmare, particularly for minorities, people of color, and marginalized communities.

As COVID-19 wipes out American jobs and the economy, long lines of hungry Americans arrive on foot and in cars outside soup kitchens and food pantries, desperate for handouts to feed their families. In 2020, it’s an unsettling reminder that even a powerful nation like America is no match for a deadly virus trailing dysfunction, death and hunger in its wake.

Experts say that the spike in unemployment and growing food insecurity echo Depression-era levels of job loss and hunger.

The numbers are staggering.

More than 25  million Americans lost jobs due to the pandemic and many of those jobs are permanently disappearing, dashing hopes of a swift economic rebound. Almost 57 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits even as Congress continues to debate the stimulus package. And, a Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey on food insufficiency found that almost 37 million people, including 11 million children, experienced food insecurity sometime in 2018.

That number is expected to rise as the COVID19 pandemic continues to exact a devastating toll on the American public, notes a Feeding America economic model, which estimates that 54 million people, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity in 2020 – getting scarily close to the 60 million who went hungry during the Great Depression.

 

 

People go hungry because inequities like racism, poverty, maldistribution, and other systemic forms of oppression collide to create what Ami McReynolds of the Feeding America Network calls ‘a perfect storm’ that creates food insecurity, despite a global food surplus.

Food insecurity refers to the existence of social conditions, says the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, “that can include household members going hungry because they can’t afford enough food, as well as having to skip meals, compromise on nutrition, or rely on emergency food sources such as food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens.”

COVID- 19 has made these inequities more visible, forcing the hunger crisis to emerge from the shadows.

Right now, farmers are dumping milk even as grocery stores ration dairy supplies, because the pandemic has disrupted crossovers between food supply chains. So, people experience food insecurity because the food supply chain cannot reorient food distribution from the food service infrastructure (schools, restaurants which are closed), to retail outlets such as grocery stores.

“Hunger has surged during the COVID crisis,” said Rev. David Beckmann, President Emeritus of Bread for the World, echoing the concerns of experts at a briefing on food insecurity hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 28,

Individuals at risk of food insecurity tend to work in low-income professions, or the leisure and service industries which have closed and laid off staff, reports Feeding America. Families now endure hardships that will increase their reliance on charitable food assistance programs for the foreseeable future. Across the nation, food insecurity has “doubled overall, and tripled among households with children,” and remains “elevated across all states,” says a report from the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research.

Emerging data analyzed by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 38 to 46 million people including 9 to17 million children aren’t getting enough to eat now.

Families with children are being hit hardest, said Rev.Beckmann, referring to an alarming new study from the Brookings Institute which found that 14 million children ages 12 and under, are not getting enough to eat during the coronavirus crisis – a rate that’s five times higher than before the pandemic.

Lauren Bauer, a researcher on The Hamilton Project at Brookings, examined census data and found that only 15% of children from low income households who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, were getting the food they need. In many cases, census respondents stated that they could not afford enough food and lacked adequate resources to feed their families.

Bauer also found that minority communities – African-American, Latino, and Asian families with children – were “experiencing food insecurity at even higher and extremely alarming rates” than white families with children.

Advocates for food justice want to solve the hunger crisis by changing the status quo for low wage workers, communities of color and the working poor who experience ‘high rates of poverty and  food insecurity.’ That means, fighting the economic disparities and social injustices which are the root causes of hunger, to help people put food on the table. In a pandemic that challenge is even harder.

It will take a coalition of charities, food banks, nonprofits, and government agencies working to develop strategies that build sustainable food systems, to combat the hunger epidemic that people are experiencing in America.

Bread for the World recently published the 2020 Hunger Report, Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow, which examines the structural inequities within food systems and charts a path to ending the hunger.

Rev.Beckmann called for increased nutrition assistance in SNAP benefit levels and extending the pandemic EBT in the COVID relief bill now under negotiation. He also recommended making federal assistance available to immigrants by reversing recent changes to the Public-Charge rule and allowing basic assistance to undocumented people during the pandemic.  As an fillip to its policy reform efforts, Bread for the World urges people to contact members of Congress and demand policy reforms to alleviate hardships for people experiencing hunger and malnutrition .

The USDA enabled schools and community sponsors to set up drive-through pick-ups and meal delivery on bus routes at schools, and, in the summer, offered nationwide waivers that give child nutrition program operators more flexibility in feeding children, while promoting social distancing amid COVID-19 restrictions.

With millions of households struggling to afford the basics, the CBPP is recommending ‘robust’ relief measures like boosting SNAP benefits for all SNAP participants, especially to the poorest households, in order to outlast any fallout from the pandemic.

Local produce at The People’s Nite Market, San Antonio, TX

At the grassroots level, the best way forward is to give communities the power to grow their own food, suggested Jovanna Lopez, a food activist and suburban farmer from San Antonio.  It can be hard for people in so-called food deserts to find healthful food.

Lopez is a co-founder of The People’s Nite Market, a farmers market that makes local produce available to a historically disenfranchised population in the city. Vendors accept SNAP, cash or credit cards.

While food banks and emergency food assistance offer a stopgap solution during the pandemic, it will require more permanent, sustainable strategies to put healthy food options on the table of food-insecure families.

At Bread for the World, the way forward is clear. Their call to action includes “tools and training for improved agriculture,.. roads to get food to market,…empowering women to play more active roles in their communities, and government plans to educate, care, and feed their people.”

“It’s more than just giving people a meal a day.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

I’m Hungry: Shutterstock

 

The New Neurotic Normal

COVID and the daughter’s boyfriend

It’s been a few months now since COVID moved into our neighborhoods and made itself comfortable.  If COVID could be a person, it would be the tattooed, lip-pierced boyfriend your daughter introduced you to months ago, and you commented privately on the ridiculously stiff and spiky black corona of hair where the part on his head should be. And you prayed that he would be passing through, like others before him, gone by summer, incinerated by warmer weather, poof!

Summer rolls around and the spiked Corona is still around, lounging on your sofa, scarfing up your snacks, and moving his toothbrush and hand sanitizer into the spare bedroom. He’s now metastasized into a fiancée, who has been kicked out of his apartment (all of Europe and the Far East and China) and needs a place to stay—the good old USA.

COVID evokes the same feelings as the daughter’s scruffy, disruptive boyfriend turned fiancée, who isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. (There’s also a distant possibility of him murdering everyone and decamping with the family silver in the middle of the night, a scenario which keeps you on high alert, all the time.)

So, what is our “new normal” now that COVID isn’t going anywhere? It’s getting neurotic.

The Sneeze at the Grocery Story

I was at a grocery store when I felt a tickle in my nose under the surgical mask.  To my horror, it was a sneeze, pushing its way out through my nostrils with a final contraction designed to eject the snot baby into the atmosphere. I didn’t have time to think before I went ‘Achooo!’

When I looked up, I was alone in the aisle.  The two people near me had dive-bombed to the floor and were crawling towards the exit.  An assistant came running and shouted at me from a great distance, as if I were at the end of a long tunnel. Are you sick, Maam?

“I’m fine,” I mumbled and slunk, full of shame, out of the store.

One would think I had fired a gun—no wait, that was 2019. Nobody is afraid of being shot anymore. Not with COVID around.

The Fateful Trip to the Pharmacy

I was all equipped for this. We’ve been practicing for months, after all. Mask, gloves, goggles (eyes are susceptible too), tight clothing which doesn’t brush against things or people, boots, crossbody slung close to the hip not a giant bag swinging around inviting germs by hobnobbing with other people’s elbows or arms.

CVS, with its blessed automatic doors that slid open without touching, was a haven of social distancing and plexiglass partitions. The pharmacy counter had an extra table between the counter and the pharmacist to ensure over 6 feet of distance.

I picked up my medications and sailed out, soothed by the completely flawless, touchless, encounter with the pharmacy.

I peeled off my plastic gloves, discarded them in the outside trashcan and sat in the car. I was about to turn the key in the ignition when my beautifully constructed germ-free encounter suddenly collapsed.

I HAD LEANED AGAINST THE TABLE IN FRONT OF THE COUNTER WHILE TALKING TO THE PHARMACIST. THE BOTTOM OF MY T-SHIRT AND MY CROSS BODY HAD BRUSHED AND REMAINED PRESSED FOR A TIME AGAINST A SURFACE WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN CONTAMINATED.

I threw my cross body off and flung it on the seat next to me as if it were a vile thing, crawling with germs. What about the t-shirt? The COVID tribe of viruses could be doing a dance on it right now if it had picked up anything from the customer before me, who, now that I thought about it, was an elderly man looking pale and sick, and who may even have sniffled.  Now that I was jogging my memory, yes, I was pretty sure he had sniffled. And, he’d gripped the table with both hands to keep his balance.

Where was my disinfectant? I fumbled desperately through my bag—I had forgotten it at home! No, I wasn’t going back into that CVS cesspool of possible COVID encounters! To my horror, here I was, stuck in a contaminated t-shirt, upon which the COVID cannibals could very well be doing a dance in preparation for their upcoming feast—me!

Dare I tear off the Corona virus festival shirt and fling it onto my contaminated crossbody? That would leave me in my underclothes – all saucy lace and frills, bought on Victoria’s Secret special sale – driving home two traffic lights away.

This is the USA, the birthplace of toplessness after all, I told myself. No one bats an eyelid. It was just a five-minute trip back home. Who could I possibly run into, in my car, in the middle of the afternoon? I was going to whoosh home, straight into my garage, and charge upstairs for a bath. I tore off my shirt, hunched over the steering wheel and sped down the road.

At the next intersection I tried desperately to sail through the traffic light, but it was too late.  I was staring steadfastly ahead, counting down the seconds and a movement made me glance quickly left. It was my neighbor’s father-in-law Mr. Narsimha, smiling back at me, waving his hand. Mr. Narsimha, who had hosted his grandson’s naming ceremony in early January. He nodded and waved in recognition. Mercifully, the light turned red. I shot out of there like a cannonball and nearly totaled my car speed-swerving into my garage!

COVID almost killed me, but not the way you would imagine!


Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Image by Chetraruc from Pixabay

Ethnicity Matters to Stem Cell Recipients

Indians are dying unnecessarily from blood cancers. There is a shortage of Indians available on the national registry to assist fellow Indians who have been diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers. What’s the solution? To encourage more Indians/South Asians to register as potential stem cell donors.

“Registering is easy,” says Dinesh Chandrasekhar, who along with his wife, registered at the Hindu temple in Livermore, CA. “It only takes about 5 minutes. You can complete the online registration and a swab kit will be mailed to you. When you receive the kit, swab the inside of your cheek and pop the kit in the mail. Postage is pre-paid and you don’t have to leave your home. And, the testing is free.”

Dinesh serves as an ambassador for the Asian American Donor Program (AADP), a 30-year-old nonprofit organization in Alameda, CA that works to educate Indians and other ethnically diverse people about the importance of registering as potential stem cell donors. In the past year, AADP has worked with 10 Indian patients in need.

Joining the Be The Match® registry means volunteering to be listed as a potential blood stem cell donor, ready to save the life of any patient anywhere in the world who is in need of a transplant.

“With the coronavirus pandemic and the need for six-foot distancing, we have canceled our in-person community registration events,” says Carol Gillespie, AADP’s executive director. “So, our community education and awareness efforts, which generate new donors, are suffering and blood cancer patients are worried.”

The coronavirus has had a dismal impact on patients diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and other illnesses treatable by a stem cell transplant. Blood cancer patients are afraid that a life-saving donor will not be found in time. They are scared that if a matching donor is found, that person, because of COVID-19, will not want to go to a clinic to have their stem cells collected.

Locating a stem cell donor and having a stem cell transplant is an example of a health care disparity. For people of color, there is a shortage of donors on the Be The Match® national registry. Patients of South Asian/Indian heritage face challenges, as the population is severely under-represented as donors.

At any given time, there are 12,000 people looking for a matching stem cell donor to help save their life. Patients are from all walks of life and are from numerous racial and ethnic groups.

Dinesh Chandrasekhar’s Story

Dinesh and his wife registered with the AADP as potential stem cell donors. Then, in the fall of 2014, Dinesh was notified that he was a match for a patient. 

“I got very excited about the opportunity of being able to help someone in need, but at the same time, I suddenly got apprehensive about the process,” Dinesh says. “But, after talking with an amazing person at Be The Match®, I was completely clear about what I was expected to do. After that, I had no fear.”

Dinesh liked that the stem cell donation process was simple and convenient for him, the donor. And, there were no expenses for him.

When lab work found that Dinesh had high blood pressure, the transplant procedure was called off.“I was never more disappointed in my life,” he says. “It was a huge shock that I could not donate.

In January 2015, Dinesh was notified again that he was a match for a patient in need. He was asked how his blood pressure was and he said he and his doctor worked on it and it was now normal. In April of 2015, Dinesh donated his peripheral blood stem cells.

Dinesh donating stem cells.

“It ended up that I donated for the same patient. And, interestingly, we are both the same age. It was like destiny,” Dinesh says.

The process at Stanford Hospital took a little more than four hours. Dinesh’s blood was taken out of Dinesh’s arm and then cycled through a machine that separates the stem cells from the other blood cells. The stem cells are kept in a separate bag, while the rest of the blood is returned to the donor. During this time, Dinesh watched TV shows.

“I was mind blown about the science behind this and that this (his stem cells) would produce immunity in another person who was compatible with my stem cells,” Dinesh says.

“Giving your stem cells is not like you are donating a part of your body (kidney, liver, etc.),” Dinesh says. 

Before going to a clinic or hospital, donors are given shots that stimulate white blood cell production. “This production moves blood stem cells from the marrow into the bloodstream so that the stem cells can be collected from the donor,” says Gillespie.  “So you are missing nothing.”

Upon returning home, Dinesh ate lunch and slept for about three hours. “The next morning I felt normal and went back to work,” he says. “I would do it again.”

After six months, Dinesh was told that his recipient was doing well and back to their normal life.

“Registering and, then, donating my stem cells was fulfilling,” Dinesh says. “As human beings, we are here to help each other.”


Join the registry by texting AADP to 61474 or visit AADP. Visit AADP’s Instagram page for upcoming Live Interviews. AADP also hosts special events.