Tag Archives: Covid

Publisher Vandana Kumar and Managing Director Vijay Rajvaidya, traveling to India.

Experiencing Two Lockdowns: Traveling to India During a Pandemic

My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.

And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.

Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms. 

Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.

Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:

Before the start of travel

(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.

You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy. 

(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family. 

Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.

During the flight:

I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.

Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.

Tips:

(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul

(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing

Vijay Rajvaidya
Vijay checking out the snacks at the airport lounge

Arriving in India:

We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers

Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.

At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form. 

By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!

Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.

Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters. 

There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.

Vandana & her Mom
After a LONG journey, Vandana gets to hug her mom

Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.

So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!

UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries. 

The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.


Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.


 

South Asian Sex Workers’ COVID Struggle For Survival

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

Covid-19 has impacted many but the sex workers across the globe have been the worst affected. The entire industry has come to a standstill amidst the protocol, with their livelihoods at stake. Most of them are on the verge of starvation and struggling to make their ends meet.

Alarmingly, there are over 800,00 sex workers in India. Spread across eight large red light areas and over 16 small clusters scattered across the country. The lockdown and covid norms have made thousands of them penniless prone to deplorable conditions. The social stigma and discrimination deny them basic moral support or cooperation from the nearby communities.

With no proper government documents or basic identity records, like adhaar card and ration card, the community does not qualify for any of the government subsidies released during the pandemic. Majority have failed to pay rent for months and are threatened with eviction by rowdy landlords. With school going kids and family to support at their hometown, the plight is daunting, leaving them helpless.  

Abandoned at the mercy of various non-governmental organizations, their ordeal for basic needs is horrifying to note.

In Oct 2020, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) proposed to recognize sex workers as ‘informal workers’. However, many organizations came forward citing the risk of decriminalization of prostitution. After a month-long legal battle, the NHRC advisory, which was issued by a panel to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the human rights of women sex workers, included them under the section – ‘women at work’. But whether the provisions under the government scheme would reach them in time remains a question to ponder.

Not just in India, the sex workers worldwide are among the hardest hit in pandemic and continue to suffer destitution. Unknown to many, March 3rd was the International Sex Workers Rights Day.

In 2001, over 30,000 sex workers in India staged a protest to raise awareness of their rights. Organized by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, they gathered in Calcutta for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who wanted to revoke their permit. The event had a huge impact globally and since then sex workers across the world commemorate the day every year. Programs are organized to spread awareness about the abuses sex workers face and the violation of their human rights.

This year, unfortunately, it’s a fight for survival. In the wake of International Sex Workers Rights Day 2021, Tell-A-Story unveils the appalling story of Indian sex workers, the hidden truth, and the harsh reality behind the red light areas of India.


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020

Far and Wide, Shared COVID Stories of Desi Americans

(Featured Image Source: Papaji Photography)

The year 2021 started with high hopes that COVID-19 will vanish as it came. Vaccines were found with competing forces by various multi-national companies. A few failed to take off, a few of them showed some promising hope and some are still on the drawing board stage of development. Ultimately, we are now gripped with new variants of the Virus trying to show its ugly head, shutting the people indoors. Our grandchildren used to sing, “Rain, rain go away….Come again another day.” With COVID, they have slightly modified it with their creative ingenuity and sing, “Pandemic go away…Never come another day.”

Here, I share two life stories of Desi Americans coming to terms with the reality of their lives. The names of the people associated with my story have been changed.

My family friend has fixed the wedding of his daughter, Seetha, a professional doctor in Boston. Earlier, the family wanted to conduct the wedding during 2020 and had made all the arrangements including fixing a marriage hall, catering, etc. and paid an advance to each of the suppliers of these services. But, alas, March 2020 and COVID-19 came as a blow to the wedding. They had to cancel all the arrangements planned. They waited with the hope that things would ease before long. Till the end of December 2020, there was no respite from the severity of the pandemic.

January 2021 brought some hope and travel restrictions eased between India and various countries including the US and European countries. So, my friend has now rescheduled the wedding date to February 28, 2021. But, the bride and groom were stuck in the US, with their flight to reach India only on 21st or 22nd February. A couple of days before boarding their flight to India, they had to get themselves tested for COVID and get a negative report. Again, on arrival, they had to clear the COVID test and they were quarantined for a period of two weeks. The wedding was a virtual one with just a few family members from both sides attending. Zoom link was provided to the friends and family members who viewed the event from the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, the groom’s brother, who was stuck in Singapore, could not attend it.

Of course, adversity like this has come as a blessing in disguise for most of us. It became an excuse for not being able to attend such events. No gifts were also received from the friends and relatives who could not attend it. For the first time, what would have been two and half days, took just a few hours. Soon after the kanyadhan and the tying of the mangal sutra, the wedding ended and in less than an hour, the wedding hall was vacated. This is the long and short of a pandemic wedding that actually happened.

Another story is more disturbing…

My relative, Suppuni, aged 80 years old, was living in a single-bedroom flat in Mandaveli, Chennai. Suppuni’s daughter was married to a gentleman in the US and moved there. Luckily, his son Bebu had relocated to Chennai to take care of his parents. A few years back, Suppuni’s wife passed away and since then, Suppuni was staying in his single bedroom flat while his son stayed in another apartment with his family in the neighborhood. Suppuni used to spend his time between his own home and his son Bebu’s.

Last month, after staying with his son, Suppuni returned to his flat in Mandaveli. After he returned, he had a heart attack and collapsed while having his dinner. He called his son to come, who rushed, but it was too late and Suppuni had passed before any first aid could be given to him. Frantic efforts were made by Bebu to reach his sister in the US but they soon realized that her chances of coming before the cremation would be impossible. So, without waiting for her return to India, the last rites were performed by the son. 

Surely, these two stories are not unique. Yet, they are agonizing and painful for the families, whether it is the time for celebration or mourning. COVID misery does not seem to end soon. Oh God, please show mercy on this Mother Earth and listen to the prayers of our little grandchildren and make the COVID go away forever. 


Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, he studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

A Shot In the Arm Against COVID: On Record With Gavin Newsom

After one of the most challenging years of our lives, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—the COVID-19 vaccines are here, and my administration is working to ensure that no community is left behind.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They are our best hope to end the pandemic. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is free, even if you’re undocumented or don’t have health insurance.

After the federal government authorized the use of the vaccines back in December, our own Western States Scientific Safety Review Group confirmed that the vaccines are safe. The Panel includes nationally acclaimed scientists, many from California, with expertise in public health.

Although supplies of the vaccine are limited right now, we’re working in close partnership with the federal government to get more vaccines into the state. And we’re working hard to build a system for swiftly and safely vaccinating Californians with equity at the forefront.

While the supply of vaccines is constrained, we’re prioritizing vaccines for the Californians most at risk–including healthcare workers, individuals 65 and older, and workers in education and childcare, emergency services and food and agriculture. That means grocery store workers, restaurant workers, farmworkers, those who work in food processing facilities and many others may now be prioritized. And we’re working to ensure that the communities most impacted by COVID-19–so often the communities of color and essential workers who have been sustaining us through this crisis–can access the vaccine.

We’re investing in community-based organizations and partnering with trusted messengers who have been providing critical services and information to California’s diverse communities during the pandemic so that they can help educate, motivate and activate people to get vaccinated when it’s their turn. We’re also building messaging through a public education campaign, creating in-language content with cultural humility and meeting Californians where they are—literally, through the mobile vaccination sites that have deployed throughout the state to community centers, places of worship and health clinics.

Vaccination sites are being set up throughout the state, and we’re working closely with community partners to make sure that vaccines are distributed to those who have been hit the hardest by this virus.

You may see people in uniform or police protecting vaccine sites. They are here to help Californians get vaccinated and are not immigration officials.

The federal government, under President Biden, has confirmed that they will not conduct immigration enforcement operations at or near vaccine sites or clinics. You should not be asked about your immigration status when you get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Also, your medical information is private and cannot be shared with immigration officials. And, vaccinations do not count under the public charge rule.

All Californians can sign up on myturn.ca.gov to be notified when they are eligible for a vaccine. Eligible individuals in several counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, and San Francisco, can also use My Turn to schedule an appointment, with more counties expected to begin using My Turn for scheduling in the coming weeks. My Turn is also accessible via a toll-free hotline at 1-833-422-4255. Operators speak English and Spanish, and third-party interpretation is also available in 250+ languages. You can also ask your physician or your pharmacy about scheduling an appointment.

After you’ve been vaccinated, it’s still important to wear a mask, wash your hands often and continue to stay six feet apart to protect others in your community who have not yet been vaccinated.

I encourage every Californian to get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn. Together, we can end the pandemic.


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.

This article was first published by Ethnic Media Services.

Eat Yourself To Health

Viruses are smart, they are masters of survival. They can hijack our body’s own mechanisms to live and multiply. During a productive infection, viruses hijack, multiply and destroy the cell that they call home for a very short time. Bacteria and parasites have also devised various intelligent and opportunistic methods of attacking the human body. To protect ourselves from these infectious agents, the immune system is the frontline of a preemptive defense, while some infections may be controlled by therapeutics. 

Vaccines are the most overtly and urgently effective route to control these infectious agents as they specifically direct the body’s immune defenses against these intruders in multiple ways. However, we can take the initiative to maintain a strong healthy baseline. In addition to stress alleviation and staying active, we can consciously incorporate a few things in our diet to hone our intrinsic defenses. One aspect of this could be accomplished with a few spices, herbs, and condiments that we are familiar with. 

Spices and herbs have fragrant oils that impart the flavors that we know and love, but they also pack alkaloids and other compounds which can have specific effects on the human body. Although detailed ayurvedic knowledge about the effects of these dietary inclusions exist, this article is meant only to raise awareness, and not delve into the depths of beneficial and harmful aspects of the few spices mentioned below. 

Black pepper

Dubbed the ‘queen of spices’ and ‘black gold’, pepper is native to the Malabar coast of Kerala, and was the original spice that fueled the European spice trade. It was the mainstay for introducing pungency and heat in Indian cooking until the Portuguese introduced chillis to India in the 16th century. Among other effects, pepper has antipyretic properties. However, another important property of piperine, an alkaloid in pepper, is to increase the bioavailability of other compounds. That is, it increases the absorption of other chemical entities that are by themselves not readily absorbed. This leads us directly to the next spice, turmeric.

Turmeric

Hailing from the ginger family, the root of turmeric is used as a spice with a familiar hue. In addition to imparting a rich yellow color to food, turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-infective properties. Curcumin, an alkaloid in turmeric, also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and has been studied extensively for its properties in ameliorating diseases, and in promoting general health. However, curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body, and combining its use with black pepper improves its absorption.

Tulsi

Otherwise called Holy Basil (appropriately called Ocimum sanctum in latin), tulsi is more associated with religious ceremonies and Ayurveda than with cooking. It is related to, but distinct from, the basil used popularly in Thai cuisine. I have often wondered why tulsi is not used in Indian cooking given its amazing flavor, but it appears its religious associations preclude its use in something as mundane as food. Tulsi is an adaptogen, in addition to having several other medicinal properties, including antibiotics, and blood pressure control to name a couple. As an adaptogen tulsi is advocated for general wellbeing and stress reduction. Tulsi when added to tea imparts a soothing flavor, and occasionally adding a couple of fresh leaves (for those of us who have a plant at home) or a pinch of dried tulsi leaves while brewing a cuppa makes for an excellent beverage.

Oregano

Since we are in the age of fast food, and Italian food can be a popular healthy option, oregano is a spice that we are all familiar with although it is not commonly used in Asian cuisines. In terms of flavor, it is a close cousin to ajwain belonging to the cumin family that is used in Indian cuisine, but the plants are not related. Oregano packs an intense flavor and has several essential oils, including thymol, which are thought to be antiseptic among other properties. Oregano can also be taken for general well-being, and both tulsi and oregano can potentially boost the immune system. Not surprisingly, they belong to the same super-family of fragrant herbs, Labiatae.

Garlic

The medicinal properties of garlic were known to several ancient cultures, and its health benefits are thought to range from digestive to respiratory and circulatory systems but, of current relevance, it is anti-microbial. The pungent odor and taste of garlic are due to sulfur-containing compounds that are released when it is cut or crushed, and the best known of these is called Allicin. In addition to being anti-bacterial, allicin is also thought to have anti-viral properties. Other members of the garlic family, including onion, share the same compounds, but in reduced amounts.

This article is not advocating the ingestion of these spices at the level of a therapeutic or dietary supplement, but only regular inclusion of these as spices in day-to-day cooking. It is also not an exhaustive list of all the benefits these spices are thought, and known empirically, to confer. Several other spices and condiments that we are familiar with also have beneficial health effects: cumin (jeera– anti-parasitic), ginger (anti-inflammatory), fenugreek (methi seeds– anti-bacterial and laxative), yogurt (pro-biotic), cardamom (blood pressure control), cinnamon (anti-microbial), green and red chillis, and so the list goes on. Finally, it should be mentioned that cooking could destroy a percentage of the active principles and the ensuing health benefit, and frying (including seasoning or tadka) would inactivate a higher percentage.

So, a periodic shot of rasam may not be a bad idea. In fact, variations on the theme of this thin soupy concoction are found in most Asian cuisines. Mix in different spices for variety: pepper, turmeric, lemon, cilantro, lemongrass, oregano, basil, neem leaves, garlic, red chilies, and others to complement your daily creativity and menu. It adds variety, in addition to providing an excuse for an excellent sinus-clearing aperitif! 


L Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar and at www.liyengar.com.

Harjeet’s Family Suffers the Aftermath of COVID

(Featured Image from left to right: Harjeet, Asha (sister), Avtar (brother)) 

Harjeet Singh Zhim was born on May 17, 1983, in Panama, Central America. His family migration to Panama dates back to the early 1900s, originating with work in the Panama Canal construction. His parents, Parkash and Sushila Singh Zhim raised him as a man of good, who valued his cultural and international heritage.

Harjeet and his daughter, Gracie.

Harjeet moved to the United States in 1998 and resided in San Jose, CA with his elder sister, Ashinder. He graduated from Silver Creek High School in 2000 and Heald College in 2003. Affectionately, he was also known as Panama to family and friends because of his interesting background. His ethnicity was Indian but he was born and raised in Panama. He was fluent in Spanish, Punjabi, and English and enjoyed the blend of Latin, Indian, and American cultures, including different music genres, among his favorites: Reggaeton, Bhangra, and Hip-hop, as well as, movies from Hollywood and Bollywood, and Punjabi and Spanish movies too. He adopted religious views from both oriental and occidental cultures, visiting Christian churches, Sikh gurdwara, and Hindu temples.

He was an entrepreneur, frequently trying new business ideas. His last initiative in the US was Oh Pizza & Wings in Dublin, CA, a restaurant he opened and managed with his cousin from 2015 through 2018 with original recipes starting from the dough and pizza sauce through the creation of many customers’ favorite pizzas, such as: chicken tikka, oh siracha, turken, and hot smokey chicken. Always providing the best customer service such that customers felt welcomed and enjoyed hosting events at the restaurant.

In 2018, he went to India, got engaged, and married to Sonia Chumber, following the Indian tradition of an arranged marriage. They had a beautiful baby girl, Gracie, in 2020. He temporarily moved back to Panama in 2019, where he was also loved and welcomed by family and friends and he continued to expand his network through his entrepreneurship. With his elder brother, Avtar, he managed a family-owned restaurant, Salsa Parrilla, sharing delicious Panamanian dishes with customers. 

He was a kind and gentle soul who brought joy, laughter, and warmth to all those around him. He was happy to babysit his nieces and nephews, as well as, family and friends’ pets, spending quality time with them and quickly becoming their favorite uncle and babysitter. He enjoyed hobbies such as installing music systems and being a DJ. He contributed to society by donating his time and resources to charitable organizations. During his life, Harjeet lived life to the fullest by traveling the world, befriending those he met, and creating amazing memories with all those he knew. He visited many countries following his passion to travel the world: Canada, Colombia, Dubai, Germany, India, Mexico, Dominican Republic, South Africa, and more. 

He passed on January 15, 2021, due to COVID complications. Harjeet’s good-hearted spirit and presence will live on through his wife and their daughter, who will turn one on February 20. If you wish support them, please visit: www.gofundme.com/panamasgracie


Ashinder Singh Zhim earned an A.A. from Florida State University, Panama Canal Branch, and a B.S. in Business with an emphasis in Accounting from San Jose State University. She is a CPA licensed in the state of California and works for a big four accounting firm in the Bay Area.

Slick Malayalam Language Thriller “C U Soon”

The real deal

Having read the disclaimer about COVID-compliant measures during the making of C U Soon and with all the social media and dating app screen grabs at the start, I wondered if this was just a creative attempt at making a movie during these unprecedented times. But as it progressed, I found myself captivated by the movie and its memorable characters, told to us through the lens of computers and smartphones. While conventional cinema titillates us with manipulative slow-motion shots, C U Soon does it with long takes captured in real-time on static camera angles. When a gut-wrenching backstory needs to be told, conventional cinema would do it with flash cuts. Here, you see events organically unfold in front of our eyes through audio-video recordings on a social networking site. A few more movies like this one and I’ll find myself alien to big-screen cinema.

All things to all people

Steeped in realism, the movie itself works at many levels and has something for everyone.

For the drama purists, the movie is not just about a relationship between two youngsters who meet on a dating app, but also about a poignant one between a mother and a daughter that surfaces towards the end. Of course, there’s also the “supposed” father-daughter relationship that leads to the shocking twist in the end.

For the connoisseurs of Independent cinema, the movie resembles flawed everyday characters we encounter in our real lives. These characters talk over each other and argue endlessly; they type texts in their native tongue, in shorthand, and with typos. For the activists in us, the movie shines a light on the organized multi-national crimes that happen even in today’s day and age. C U Soon also carries a subtle message about class issues, what a cruel thing financial debt is, and how it can wreck innocent lives.

And for the thrill-seekers, this is a nail-biter from start to finish. When a soulmate doesn’t answer the phone, we start getting worried. When a character vanishes from the scene, our minds wander in a million directions searching for clues. And heck, never have I found myself fibrillating so much, glancing at the bouncing dots on a chat screen!

Fastest finger first

The movie is also a tribute to the gadget-happy generations of today. While it was heartening to see a movie centered around social media using emojis and emoticons so sparingly, its characters use creative ways to communicate instead. I was impressed by how often they use voice notes to reply. I guess it makes sense; it’s easier to hit a button once and speak your heart out rather than type scores of characters. The characters also never forget that their phones have a camera. A software engineer asks his mate if she is still at work, who responds with a stylish selfie.

The movie also tells us about the fast lives we live in, and how quick our reaction times need to be. Between watching a character speaking with a stranger on the phone about an invoice that needs correction, and the simultaneous texts to his beloved, alongside the confusing backdrop of the desktop screen, I was struggling to keep pace myself. Spare a thought for the man in the center of this 100-meter dash called life!

The missed experiment

It would be boorish to complement C U Soon merely as a brave experiment. It has the potential to redefine how Indian cinema is made, watched, and perceived. It’s also a universal example of how an effort with the highest level of conviction can find its way to fruition regardless of the circumstances. However, I wondered if director Mahesh Narayanan may have missed a trick with the use of the background score. Make no mistake, the background music supplements the scenes very well, but the movie may have been even more ambitious if he had eschewed the temptation to use background music. It may have just added an extra layer of authenticity to the experience. Maybe Mahesh can go the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi-way next time and go sans a background score. Until such time, we’ll savor this gem.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.

AACI and NBC Bay Area Host Annual Contest

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

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

2021 Contest Theme: This Is My Time

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

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

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


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

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

Pfizer’s Vaccine Expert Discusses Allocating Doses For Low Income Communities

Dr. Advait Badkar, Senior Director of Pfizer’s Drug Design Team.

Radha Rangarajan, CSO of a medical devices company, and healthcare journalist Sujata Srinivasan, interviewed Advait Badkar, a Senior Director in Pfizer’s Drug Product Design and Development organization. Badkar is leading the efforts on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine program with respect to the formulation and process development, scale-up, technology transfer, and registration across global markets. The team Badkar heads specializes in novel delivery technologies with emphasis and expertise in nanoparticle-based modalities.

IC: Are there any differences in immunogenicity in subpopulations? 

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 clinical trial data demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95% in participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (first primary objective) and also in participants with and without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (second primary objective), in each case measured from 7 days after the second dose. Efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics. 

IC: Participants enrolled in Pfizer’s clinical trials were known not to have been infected previously with COVID-19, for obvious reasons. But now that the vaccine is publicly available, it is not possible to test every person before vaccinating. In India, 70%-80% of people have the asymptomatic disease and are unaware of their COVID-19 status. Are any studies planned to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in previously exposed populations? 

Yes. Immunity after vaccination is a question we continue to explore in our research. The duration of immunity after COVID-19 requires observing a large number of people who have had the disease once until some get it a second time. Because the first known cases of COVID-19 only occurred in December 2019, there hasn’t been enough time to observe a significant number of second illnesses to know the duration of natural protection. 

We will better understand transmission when we have data on protection for those who were previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or infected with COVID-19, asymptomatic disease and severity of the disease. Our trial will continue to study those areas to determine the full protection and potential of the vaccine. 

IC: Even though the science behind mRNA vaccine is not new, some fear that it might alter the genetic makeup, or cause other irreversible side effects. How is Pfizer’s outreach arm dispelling these myths?   

There is no evidence to support that notion. To the contrary, the mRNA platform is well suited for a pandemic response on many levels.  

First, one aspect of safety – unlike some conventional vaccines, mRNA vaccines are non-infectious, and there is no need for a viral vector to deliver the mRNA vaccine. Second, because no viral vector is used, mRNA vaccines pose no risk of an anti-vector neutralizing antibody response, thereby permitting repeated boosting, which may be important if additional vaccinations are recommended in the future.  Third, speed, mRNA technology enables rapid development if the vaccine needs to quickly adapt to potential mutations. mRNA vaccines have an efficient, fast production process, without the need for complex mammalian cell systems.

IC: Is there any plan to simplify the vaccination protocol to one dose? 

No. Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 study for the COVID-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days. The study concluded that the two doses are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95 percent. 

IC: What are your thoughts on how to choose between the different vaccines?

At Pfizer, we understand that mitigating this global pandemic will require more than one vaccine and more than one company’s efforts. In March of 2020, Pfizer announced a 5-point plan calling on the biopharmaceutical industry to join the company in committing to an unprecedented level of collaboration to combat COVID-19. The industry responded. We are rooting for each other’s success and are confident that science will win.  

IC: What is the plan for a global supply? How will these be administered?

Pfizer and BioNTech are firmly committed to equitable and affordable access for its COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world. That commitment includes the allocation of doses for supply to low-income countries at a not-for-profit price. We are actively working with governments all around the world, as well as with global health partners to work towards fair and equitable access to our vaccine. We are also partnering with global health stakeholders to provide expertise and resources that can strengthen healthcare systems where greater support may be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines.  


Radha Rangarajan, Ph.D., is Chief Scientific Officer at HealthCubed Inc., a medical devices company. Prior to this, she was the founder and CEO of Vitas Pharma, a drug discovery and development company focused on novel drugs to treat multidrug-resistant infections. Radha has also worked in the Drug Discovery division of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health before moving back to India in 2003.

Sujata Srinivasan is an award-winning, independent business and healthcare journalist with the nonprofit Connecticut Health Investigative Team, whose grant-funded, data-driven reporting is carried by media outlets statewide. Previously, she was the Connecticut correspondent for Crain’s Business, business reporter at NPR’s regional station WNPR, U.S. correspondent for the Indian edition of Forbes, editor of Connecticut Business Magazine, and Interim Chief of Bureau at CNBC-TV 18, Chennai, India. You can follow her on Twitter @SujataSrini

Monita's mother and daughter

A Story of Luck and Luster

Not a ray of hope, but a mountain of light emerged from the Kohinoor. A dazzling rock carved out from the Golconda mines. A mighty jewel for an emperor’s crown!

I steal a look at her chiseled profile, head bent over a book. Black lashes cast sweeping shadows.  A twinkle of a tiny, but brilliant diamond in her nose. A glittering mustard seed. A diamond mined from the Kollur Golconda mines in Guntur district of Andhra. The mines that produced the legendary 100 carat diamond in the coffers of Babur, the founder of Mughal Empire. I touch the tousled hair splayed on my shoulder. The diamond gleams softly, reassuringly. My girl’s light may not be as lofty as a mountain but it warms my heart. Her limpid eyes are twin Manasarovar lakes in Mount Kailash. Her still waters are cool and sweet to quench my longing for life, born with an emotional acre of her own. Sunflowers, moonbeams and white diamonds bursting on rolling tides. A waxing, gibbous moon rising. The Pink City awakening to a fragrant deluge. My mother, warm and eager to hold her by my side. Her beauty summoned tears of joy. We laughed through our tears. She was here. Our own bundle of perfection. Made of sugar, almonds, makhanas, moonstones, tender secrets, clarified butter, cardamom, laughter, white clouds, musk and iridescent peacock feathers. 

Today she stands tall and lithe, with a delicate bone structure. Mango-bark tresses gleam on her shoulders. She curls them around her face, delighted in the effect. I smile. She twirls a silky strand on her finger, sifts her thoughts through a sieve of memory. I love the parts of her that are familiar. The unfamiliar aspects of her aptitude intrigue me. Melodies speak to her, her sense of style, her attention to detail. Simple pleasures of baking a perfect pastry. A shriek of delight at a “pun” unintended. Her competitive spirit in chess, golf and scrabble. “I take after my nani” she sighs in relief, when she surveys a well made bed, a gleaming kitchen, a tidy home. Different from my hurly burly ways. I thank my sweet mother as her gentle goodness gleams in the brilliant facets of my daughter’s soul. Together they shine brighter than the Kohinoor. An inimitable quality. Soft, supple, strong. Focused. Minimalists, both. Comfortable in vintage jeans, a well-cut soft blouse, small hoops.  Her waif-like face, huge eyes and an aura of effortless beauty makes heads turn. My mother was also stopped in her tracks. Her regal bearing still inspires awe. They do not belong to a tribe. They have agency. Their combined Myrrh envelops me. She ties and unties the knots in her hair and heart. Her lustrous eyes search for a safe place. A garden to call home. Where her moonflowers will take root and grow.

She has a hint of “his mother”, in her knotted brow but lacks in worldly ways. She does not gesture with her eyes. Nor engages in endless banter with the motley multitude. The world wants to engage her in conversation. She looks up from her inner reverie, and politely responds to mundane questions: When will the flight take off? Are you traveling alone? What are you reading?  She has her wits about her, to evade personal intrusion. She is good at concocting “travel identities”. My mother-in-law never even lifted eyes from her knitting, when we drove from Jaipur to Agra. But my moonbeam loves to go places. They avidly absorb history, art, culture, museums, gardens. This COVID lockdown has doused our wanderlust. We can’t fly to be with her ‘nani’, but we walk. We reminisce. We read, sing, paint. Tell stories.

I tell her the story of Kohinoor because it is an important story. A story of our land. Plundered by Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, retrieved by Babur after a bloody battle. Fell into the ill-fated hands of Humayun who tumbled to his death. Sher Khan coveted it, but was blown up in the siege of Kalinjar Fort. It’s the story of Shah Jahan who honored his love by building the Taj Mahal. The Kohinoor was installed in the Peacock Throne. Aurangzeb seized the throne and imprisoned his own father, who died pining. A story of passion and pain. Nadir Shah of Iran, the plunderer carried the Peacock Throne to Persia. Only to be assassinated. It’s a tale of greed, betrayal and conspiracies. It’s the story of Kohinoor. The diamond changed many hands and was ultimately endowed to  Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. When Ranjit Singh died, the British East India Company usurped it for Queen Victoria. Now it is part of the British Crown jewels where it fulfills the strange prophecy: ‘He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, may wear it with impunity.


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

A Memory, 2020

My best memory from 2020 isn’t necessarily my happiest. This year I felt no simple, one-note emotions. And so my best memory is one that encompasses the complexity of a harrowing year, glutted with loss. 

I returned to India at the end of December 2019 after a ten-year absence. On New Years Day I was in Chennai, after the drive from my family’s home in Pondicherry. I brought my three children along for this trip, now pre-teens and teenagers. They were toddlers on our last visit. 

Sunset in Pondicherry - Image taken by Author
Sunset in Pondicherry – Image taken by Author

As we drove from Pondy to Chennai, I devoured every scene of this country I’d missed for nearly a decade. The thatched huts, the overloaded lorries, a family standing in impossibly green grass, flanked by their taciturn cow. A woman posing for a selfie on the side of the road while balancing a great steel pot atop her head. Coconut groves, rice paddies, pilgrims wearing red saris that matched the blazing flowers on the nearby Poinciana trees. 

I went to the temple on New Year’s Day. Our driver guided us through a maze of people, thousands of them, a fact I can hardly contemplate now. That profusion of humanity is something I love and miss about India, and it’s one of the cruelest aspects of this pandemic—the inherent peril of India’s ubiquitous crowds. 

But at the beginning of this year, I could relish the throngs. What a different world it was.

Past the entrance of the temple, people waited in line to see the various deities. They pushed and complained, or fanned themselves with folded newspapers. Our driver presented an inscrutable, flimsy paper enabling us to advance in the queue. 

I stood at the front of the line, ready to receive my blessing, when an old woman, no higher than my elbow, strong-armed her way through the clot of people, shoving me aside. I let her pass. She was cracked and broken-earth old. And beautiful—in India such advanced age deserves reverence. 

In creative writing classes, instructors often advise us to “tell it slant”, a concept denoting the odd and intriguing detail that makes a story memorable. On this trip to India—my last real trip of 2020–the entire visit felt “slant”. From my uncle’s hilarious stories to the old woman at the temple, to the rickety stand on Marina beach selling dubious curry shrimp pizzas. 

Our prayers finished, I made my way back to my shoes, left outside the temple entrance. It had rained, and puddles collected on the uneven pavement, slimy on my bare feet. An old woman implored me to buy a garland of jasmine flowers. Another hawked damp, battered children’s books. 

As I exited the temple and approached our car, oblivious to what awaited us all just a few weeks away, I noticed a tiny, emaciated stray kitten, shivering as it crawled to one of the puddles. It lapped up the fresh rain. I wished I could hold the kitten in my hands. I doubt it survived more than a few more days.

But the image of that forlorn creature stays with me, slant indeed, and painful. In this year, so thick with loss and missing, I feel a kinship with that poor animal, stumbling forward, searching. When this is over I will have lost three semesters’ worth of connections with my students, along with the birthday parties, dinners, and the celebratory plans I had for my debut novel’s publication. 

And then, just weeks ago, the worst news of all. I lost my beloved uncle—the one I’d just visited in India for New Year’s. None of us could say goodbye to him. He could not even die in his hometown because the ICUs in Pondicherry were full. 

I often think the world provides me with poignant images that have little meaning for me in the present, but are planted in me to decipher later for some future lesson. And indeed, throughout this year my mind has returned to that kitten—now gone, I’m sure—because I feel so much like that creature these days. Stumbling forward, relentlessly aware of my fragility, but still grateful for whatever reprieve life offers. And sometimes, that reprieve is memory itself—of a time when life was easier and less freighted by loss. 

The pandemic will be over, and hopefully soon. I will return to India. My uncle will be gone, his flat in our family house empty, and I will be consoled instead by the palm trees and mangroves, frangipani flowers, bougainvillea, and other Pondicherry flora in which my Botanist uncle delighted.  And I will think back on that kitten, that New Year’s Day, when fragility belonged to something else, and not to me, or us.


Samantha Rajaram is the author of the novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS and lives in the Bay Area.