Tag Archives: Covid

Leather Notebook

My Rough Leather Notebook, An Escape From This World

My hands run over my notebook bound in rough leather, slightly wrinkly like my skin after a long hot shower. Its cover is dark black with speckles of shimmering silver flashing under the dappled sun. It looks like staring up at the starry sky on a clear winter night. It invites me inside, pulls me in like a portal to another world where I can write. Outside where the world is dominated by a plague, we stare at the virus trackers, of big red blotches filling the continents, growing bigger and darker. We see the numbers of cases and deaths increase. Only they are not just numbers. They are people who once had families and enjoyed life, maybe they had a notebook just like mine. Outside my door, the world is toxic, tainted and polluted but inside the notebook, my words are pure. Untouched by the chaos, unchanged by circumstance.

My hand slowly lifts the cover as I bring the journal up to my face. My nose fills with the smell of home, comforting and familiar. Old paper pages delicately rustle like leaves dancing when the wind makes them sway. Lines in a subtle sky blue streak across the page, straight and long, asking me to fill them. Asking me to forget, to leave behind all of reality and enter the realm of the imaginary. As I flip through, words adorn the pages of all different shapes and sizes. Some are crisp and clear like a high-definition TV. Others are smudged, smeared from wear and the sweat that drips off my hand. They look nothing more than dirt smeared on a creamy-white page. The pages look like the color of soy-milk, an off-white color with hints of yellow and brown spreading across the edges like food coloring staining water or red blotches on a COVID tracker. Flipping through the pages makes a rustling noise, not unlike opening a bag of potato chips quietly. The pages feel familiar in my hand, feeling like an extra layer of soft, supple skin embracing my hand, gluing my palm to the page like the journal is begging me to write. The smell brings me back to the good old days, as I reminisce of books filing a shelf, old and new the smell draws me in like the smell of fresh coffee in the morning or hot coca in December.

Then, the most extraordinary thing begins to happen as the world starts to fade. The lines between reality blur as my pencil touches the page. When I’m tired of the world, of sad news and coronavirus cases, I fall into my journal’s embraces. Away from this world I leave, the pages acting like my wings as I spread them and fly. Not looking back to say goodbye, I rise as I write.

The journal is my escape from this world when I need to mend. When the days are too short and the nights too long, when I fall back, the pages seem to catch me and lift me up. Telling me that if I write, everything will be alright. That it’s okay if I don’t wear a mask because I’m not leaving my house, they call me, say that I don’t need a plane to travel because this journal is the plane and I can go anywhere I want. It doesn’t even have to be real.

In the harsh world of the coronavirus, unemployment, and giant recessions, my notebook is my life, my world is my words. When counterintuitive reigns, when a positive test brings only negatives, I find my way. Not just a journal but a mentor, a friend, I can hang out with my journal without Zoom or a six-foot ruler.

The first word is written, from my brain, it travels to my left arm, towards my fingers. As I etch it into the page, once again the inexplicable feeling fills me. This is the point where the world of the real and the imagined separate, unable to tell what is fantasy and reality, everything becomes hazy.

As I stare at the vast openness of the space ahead of me, knowing I can fill it with anything fills me with joy. I wonder what will happen during this roller coaster ride because in these lines, anything can happen. As the point of the pencil touches the page, the story starts, venturing out into the unknown. I am full of excitement and joy to see what I can create.

Words just flow like water or liquid gold, the pencil dances across the page, as graceful as ballet. The page sings opportunity, the words spill secrets, the pencil whispers freedom and I, I remember to forget. 

My words build worlds; my pages build palaces. Once the story starts, it’s like a thundering waterfall, pouring, unable to stop. The words are like water, life-sustaining, delicate, yet mighty enough to gorge canyons and carve rivers. The power of the page lies on my shoulders, the power of creating a new world, any new world, now rests in me. A superpower anyone can achieve if only they thought to befriend a pencil and become part of a notebook.

This is the feeling of writing, of opportunities and freedom, of inspiration and wonder, of home and the unknown. And it is beautiful. No amount of words can express; no number of notebooks can explain this feeling of writing and filling a page.

In the world of COVID, of social distancing and being stuck indoors, writing is my way to explore. The notebook and I, are united as one. For me, it symbolizes light and life, shining like a beacon or a star in the night. Never extinguished, like the north star, it leads me back home, which lies somewhere inside.

This simple notebook, made nothing more of leather and paper, is the most amazing thing because everything once started with a word contained in a book just like the one under my hand.

Always with me, the notebook remains. It is there when I laughed and smiled so hard it hurt and it stayed there to dry my tears when I had my messy cries. When we walk together, the weight of the world doesn’t seem as heavy anymore, when I write my fears and worries, sharing it with my best friend, something happens that seems to make me mend.

Slowly, the notebook became my world, now more than ever. Because there are times when the world is tough, life gets bumpy, the road is rough. But the notebook is stable, it’s always there, whenever I need to get some rest or express myself, to help me get rid of stress, it’s always there when I need to decompress. Reminding me to let go, telling me to remember that it’s okay to forget the world.


Diya Kanduri is a sophomore from New Jersey. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade. She loves to read, travel, and spend time with her family. To read more of her work, you can visit her blog or her Instagram @diya_kanduri.

Fork in the road

How Certain Are We About Uncertainty?

Certain and Uncertain

They seem to be separate antonymic words, but they are like Siamese twins. Their separate bodies, facing from opposite sides, are fused together, nurtured by the same sanguineous source. Their interdependence is the reason why they survive. If one dies, the other will follow, sooner or later.

There are many anecdotal stories in Indian, American, and global folktales that give a clear message of how we can be misled by confusion between certainty and uncertainty in real life. Heisenberg, a German physicist identified Uncertainty Principles even in Quantum Mechanics. But how do these considerations apply in our practical life?

Our Recent Pandemic:

Let us trace our own circuity of thoughts developing in the short span of this pandemic.

First, we thought it was a hoax.

Then we were certain it would be confined to China.

“It will pass away on its own.”

“No masks are necessary.”

“Masks are mandatory as advised by highly trained scientists.”

“Only old and previously diseased people die in this Pandemic.”

“Children can die too.”

“The virus kills by compromised respiration.”

“It can affect other systems too.”

“We should keep a social distance to prevent it.”

“No, We find distancing and masks to be an insufferable obstruction!” 

In short, we kept on lengthening and shortening our rubber band of the certainty-uncertainty spectrum while our rings were getting sparklingly shiny because of incessant hand washing! Washing hands was the only acceptable way out! The upcoming generation of children will put an end to this Pandemic’s uncertainties because they will know better by then. That will not stop them, however, from generating new uncertainties since the times, circumstances, and the strain of the virus are likely to alter when the next Pandemic strikes us.

Let us also look at our own selves

Some of the commonest phrases that we generously use every day are: ”Wait and watch,” “ I hardly can wait,” “I changed my mind,” “Are you sure?”, “ How can you be so sure?” etc. We always will be engaged in weaving a web of uncertainties as a modus operandi of our reflex habits.

There is a common aphorism in the Sanskrit language, “Tunde Tunde Matirbhinna,” meaning each head thinks differently. But even the same head can think differently at different times! One night we buy an item with absolute certainty, and the next morning it changes its appeal. Even in a vital matter like choosing a life partner, our certainty fluctuates until marriage seals it. In India, we often try to resolve this uncertainty by “matching horoscopes” to finalize our decision.

”Uncertainty is the very essence of romance,” said Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish author.

There are only two points that are certain in our tenaciously tethered life: Birth and Death. These two extreme points are fastened together by life itself, a miscellany of deep disappointments, Joi De  Viver, and  “delicious ambiguities”, a term coined by the famous actress Gilda Redner who succumbed to ovarian cancer at a very young age. 

 Perhaps we need to undertake a perceptive analysis of what constitutes certainty and uncertainty. 

A different approach to certainty-uncertainty complex

It helped me a great deal just by looking at the synonyms of these two enigmatic words:

Certainty: confidence, trust, conviction, faith, validity, dogmatism, clarity, composure, contentment, happiness, peace, security, calmness

Uncertainty: changeability, variability, anxiety, ambiguity, concern, confusion, distrust, suspicion, trouble, worry, dilemma, oscillation, lack of confidence

Although these synonyms depict uncertainty in darker colors, a closer analysis will reveal that certainty too, can have its drawbacks. It can push us to a blinding dogma impairing our vision. It will be judicious to build a bridge between these two extremes and skillfully traverse from one point to the other, navigated by an internal call, and cautiously master the shades between the two. It is true that the cautious seldom err, but it is also true that those who are excessively cautious seldom move. Many shades of grey connect the black and the white.

All uncertainties are likely to be experienced by someone at some time, but maturity is the capacity to endure and outgrow them. No progress or creativity is ever possible without uncertainty casting its alarming shadow on the road ahead. You pause, you ponder, you proceed, and prepare for an inadvertent result. “ Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability,” said William Osler, a mastermind of practicing and teaching medicine in this country. We all have no choice but to learn how to stay afloat in an ocean of uncertainty. 

An “Aha” or “eureka” moment may hatch after an incubation period spent in a meaningful, self-searching meditation. Many leading psychologists support this viewpoint.

In the end, I will quote our visionary poet, Robert Frost: 

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence,

Two roads diverged in a wood and I– I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.


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

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. 

Caring Long Distance

“Get rid of Annu right away!”

The injunction came from the top.

And then came an oblong package that we hadn’t ordered. It was the implement to lure us into believing that getting rid of Annu wouldn’t be as hard as we were thinking.

Sinister as the plan appears to be, Annu is merely our regular help and the box contained a fancy mop intended to replace her during the scary spikes in COVID positive numbers in India. And the injunction, along with the hair-raising pandemic stories across the world, came from our son, half a world away from us, in the US.

To a person untutored in the ways of middle-class Indians – domestic help is an indispensable part of our lives, our frontline warriors against the daily battle against the dust and grime. And they really aren’t the luxury it would appear to the Western eye, but a necessity at a place where things get coated with dust before you can spell D-U-S-T. The vibrant, vivid Rajasthan that one sees in the travel brochures hides the truth of the unannounced, unexpected dust-storms, the extreme heat with it, which, in turn, necessitates cooking three fresh meals every day, which are rarely one-pot meals.  Pots and pans pile up like mini-mountains with this uncompromising adherence to fresh meals every day, thrice a day. 

A similar command from our White Hope had come on top of our Lockdown 1 and we had obediently followed it. What followed that, was however a nightmare where my dreams were about endless mopping, sweeping and washing, which would make me wake up in a cold sweat. By the end of the month, I’d done my soul-searching – not Corona, this endless drudgery would kill me first. 

“Helloo?” I mumbled when I talked to Sonny the next morning, “Look, Annu is coming from tomorrow…”

The rest was drowned in a “Noooooooooooooo!!!!” as piercing as the siren of an ambulance.

“Listen…” I tried again, “It has been a month, Annu and us, we have all been isolating and are healthy, and….”

“Do you know numbers are climbing in India?”

“Well, yes, we have newspapers (sanitized) and Twitter.”

“So?”

“So, Annu is returning. Yes, we will be supremely meticulous about sanitization and social-distancing and masking but I’m damned if I open and try the contraption that you have thoughtfully sent over!”  

Aditya, our son, is in Illinois, and we are in Rajasthan. If the pandemic hadn’t hit the world, we three would have been together at this time, after a whole year. A visit we had been so looking forward to. We had been gleefully planning family trips, long lists of things we would do in our three months together, longer lists of what all we would be cooking and eating. 

Instead, COVID-19 came.

Overnight the plans, the world went topsy-turvy and it hit us afresh how far away we were from each other. Fear gripped us like nothing we had known earlier. It wasn’t only the unpredictably dangerous novel virus, it was/is also the lockdown and the bans on travel. The thought that we wouldn’t even be able to be close to each other to comfort or console, if, God forbid, something untoward happens was the most unnerving of all. It’s a scenario we try to avoid thinking about.

Children of many Indian families are in the US, either working or studying. Even in the world BC (Before Corona) it was a tough decision to make but the plethora of better opportunities and the first-world amenities appeared to make the separation and the distance worthwhile. After all, we were just a long flight away. But when COVID-19 hit the US and international flights were banned, many of us wondered about the wisdom of that choice. Some went as far as to implore the kids to return and find work in India as it was ‘safer’. An argument which didn’t take into account two things, one, that very soon we, in India, would be hit just as hard, making home as dicey as ‘abroad’ and two, no pandemic could last forever, COVID-19 too would pass and things will go back to normal. 

After months of being in suspended animation and of adapting to the weird reality of lockdowns; obsessively checking the spread of the octopus tentacles of COVID -19, oscillating between unrealistic hope and deep despair, most of us have come to terms with recrafting our lives to a new normal while we wait for the vaccine or the natural demise of the virus.

And during the unpredictable wait, we are finding new ways to be there for each other. One blesses the technology every day when we ‘meet’ twice a day and exchange all the newsworthy, and for that matter, news-unworthy tidbits. Much like he used to as a kid, my son blabbers about all that is happening with him; we discuss what we are bingeing on, on Netflix, and of course, the family-gossip is exchanged with as much alacrity as ever. The only difference is that earlier he used to lean against the door-frame, these days he is propped up against my pickle bottles – the perfect vantage point for him to keep the whole kitchen in his sight while I cook for the day. On the other side, it is we, who do the propping up, while the son gets on with his cooking – another art which he may not have learned as fast had it not been for the lockdown across our worlds.

I finally have the satisfaction of having passed on the family recipes, and the utter joy on his face is evidence enough that he has mastered the art which he, till now, thought to be complex witchcraft. 

He, on his end, looks at us through a microscope, gnaws his nails as he reads up about the number-spike in India and then sends us the scariest articles he can find on COVID-19, and peers at us throughout our calls, maintaining a relentless vigil on whether we are following all safety-protocols and woe betide us if he finds us without our masks when our house-help is around.

From checking up on each other to gossiping to ordering care-packages online when we are physically miles apart is the new-normal we are getting used to and are indeed, so thankful for. The one thing that technology has still to achieve is to transfer the fragrances of home. 

And a way to box our son’s ears, the next time he suggests getting rid of our help again.


Madhumita Gupta is a dreamer, animal-lover, writer, teacher, incorrigible movie-buff.

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’.

Fitness: A Forgotten Remedy

An anonymous author once wrote: “We are living in an era where capturing moments using our phone is more important than actually living the moment with whoever is beside us.”

Last year, in 2019, this quote rang true, where everyone was glued to their devices by choice, not necessity. As the pandemic rages on, our paradigms have continued to shift, forcing us to socialize virtually. If we shut away our screens, we become truly isolated. Isolation brings depression along with lethargy. As more people become glued to screens, health and fitness drop and, in some cases, to dangerously low levels.  

Fitness – the backbone of a strong lifestyle – helps us de-stress and stay healthy and happy, while allowing us to take a much needed break from our screens. But as this dangerous pandemic has engulfed us, the lockdown has constrained most to our homes. CNBC and Psychology Today found that nationally, people have become less active and sleeping more. Within one month of lockdown, the average activity level dropped 48%, while people are sleeping 20% more.

After the national emergency lockdown in March, the national average of those reporting anxiety increased from 29% to 49%, largely due to the restrictions on activities and the health scares. Physical activity reduces temporary and long-term diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety and increases neutrophils and natural killer cells which protect the body from viruses such as COVID-19. Regular exercise can also indirectly reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and other respiratory problems that are prevalent with many who have contracted COVID-19. There is no doubt that staying fit is the best way to shield ourselves from both physical and mental health issues, which bolsters our immunity and helps fight against dangerous infections and diseases. 

During these past six months since lockdown, it has become abundantly clear that fitness, or the lack thereof, has become a major issue. It may seem like a mystery that the national average for activity levels has decreased during this period, even though many people claim “to have started working out.” This can be explained rather easily by the types of exercise most are pursuing under lockdown: unsteady vs. regular. Regular fitness is categorized as vigorous repetitive exercise of 75 minutes to 150 minutes per week over several weeks, as described by Mayo Clinic. Unsteady exercise, on the other hand, while may still be rigorous, does not occur repeatedly enough to cause a noticeable improvement in fitness.

Many of us have tried to adapt to the rising virtual fitness world, turning to virtual products of at-home workouts and exercise, says Fortune. But staying committed to a routine without external support is difficult over a long period of time. Families have eagerly scheduled activity times, such as hiking, family walks, and beach days, but these activities are not defined as rigorous, repetitive exercise, leading to the major misconception that people are becoming more active. Since regular exercise is mandatory to maintain a calm composure, release stress, protect against viruses, and remain focused and alert, we must find a way to bring fitness back to our society.

The proven method to create and manage an exercise routine is to create a planned extensive workout schedule with someone and work together to hold each other accountable. When it comes to your health, never leave anything to chance, so plan out your approach, and take guidance from experts to design the best and safest exercise routine for you. Each individual is unique in their strengths, abilities, and flexibility, so a routine designed around you is best. I personally started with scheduled Zoom workouts with my friends, focusing on building muscles and staying healthy. I joined virtual sports classes for youth and committed to attending them each time. My top sport is Taekwondo and I have incorporated at least one hour of virtual learning and teaching each day of the week. 

In March, I began my own virtual fitness and martial arts classes, mostly for family and close friends. In just a couple of months, I realized the amazing progress my students had made with their martial art learning and overall fitness and health. They had matured in discipline and perseverance. Encouraged, and realizing the benefit my classes provided, I formally started a non-profit on the premise of spreading fitness and martial arts training to youth virtually. The free classes teach general fitness, self-defense, and confidence. Fit4Grit Academy now has nearly 10 instructors instructing over 35 students. We also have multiple partnerships with national non-profits, youth-employment/development organizations, and martial art and fitness academies. We are working to expand nationwide, and globally. Fit4Grit focuses on fitness by teaching students the most effective ways to exercise in a safe environment with commitment, rigor, and discipline. The foundational values of fitness taught in Fit4Grit can translate to creating a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.

With the uncertainty around us, it is important to take care of our health and that of our loved ones. Fitness provides the most benefits to anyone of any age, anywhere. Take your time to understand your body and your needs and prioritize your health, even if it means picking up that electronic device and joining a virtual fitness class.

Let Fit4Grit Academy help you. Try out a class and plan your fitness schedule in the comfort of your home. If you have questions or would like to discuss your fitness needs, feel free to reach out to me, Adarsh Gupta, at fit4grit.adarsh@gmail.com.

 


Adarsh Gupta, a sophomore at Saint Francis High School, a 2nd Degree Martial Art Black Belt, a competitive golfer, and the Founder of Fit4Grit Academy. He loves to be surrounded by fitness but also enjoys relaxing by playing guitar and gardening.

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.