Tag Archives: #desivoice

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

Dear PostModern Gandhiji:

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

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

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

Dear Friend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Your Friend?

Covid-19’s social distancing protocols have resurrected and increased social connections. It looks like we all have an uptick in the frequency of video calls, large chat groups, and increased social media activity. I know many of us are now in touch with college groups, school groups, family groups, cousin groups, children’s school groups, neighborhood groups and so much more. There really was no reason for any of these interactions to have not taken place earlier – the infrastructure, technology, and people were always there. Only one thing seems to have changed – the incessant demands of the clock on our time. 

For some, caring for younger people or older people in their care, Covid-19 has been doubling difficult. But for several others, Covid-19 has presented us with a curious dilemma: Finding ways to spend time.  Covid-19 has affected people in several ways, and in recent chats and calls, one trend seems to be emerging: What is your friend?

A few months ago, one of our aunts was visiting and the family had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt)? How do you pass time?” I asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile, “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her students later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy. These people seem to be the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream is a book of many marvelous essays. The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. 

Then, there is the Eternal Self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old)

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on to explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

Finding something that makes us want to do something without tangible rewards is the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power. Covid-19 has given us the unique opportunity to pause and evaluate what we do with our time. Some have exceeded themselves on the culinary front, some others with photography, some have taken up gardening. I find it refreshing to see the Creative Self reviving in so many of us who have given in to the power of the time-bound social self for so long.

What is your friend?

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

Coronavirus to Karunavirus

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

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

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

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

Hello Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Friendship … Mangla and Raj

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

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

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

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

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

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

Best wishes,

Megha

*******

Dear Raj Uncle and Mangla Aunty,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. 

That passage was really beautiful.

It made me feel hopeful about the future.

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

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

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

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

Pooja

*******

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

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

Tender Renewal of Spring

Spring has a charm, at once joyous and peaceful, almost unparalleled.

Over the last few weekends, gardens everywhere are coming alive with the tender palette of green and the skies put on their best shows of blues, indigo, saffron, and gold.

The birds that peek soon swell, open up in brilliant colors or earthy shades, greeting the sun and the wind, braving the rain, invite the bees and butterflies to dance around, hum and feed, and share. Cheery little hummingbirds join the dance, flitting and fleeting, lapping and tweeting, tiny arcs of sheen and energy, leaving us mesmerized as they find their nectar in the tiniest of flowers! 

Then there’s birdsong, tuneful, rhythmic, full-throated, right from announcing the arrival of dawn, singing for mates or for sheer joy, forming patterns in company, some bringing notes from other lands and seas and humbling with their graceful might!

The scents of the flowers vie with the riots of hues, some sweet, others emphatic, nonetheless unique to each, perhaps to woo the bees and butterflies.

And….. along come the critters that nourish the soil and garden, mostly at work unseen, at times wiggling and poking out of the rich, brown earth and looking surprisingly clean, smooth! Imagine if we’d had a dirt bath… how much of a wash it would take! There are the nifty hiders with legs aplenty, the husky rollers, the shelled footers who are so clever at their feeding, I almost want to leave them on the leaf or stem!

The nourishing clods, and grains, which with the added sun and rain create the magic of food as has churned on and been the source of energy for creatures large and small.

Vellai Pookkal (white flowers)

The freshness is intoxicating, never tiring, year after year. I wish I’d been keeping track of all that we’ve planted, thrived, liked, disliked over ever so many seasons – like the Algerian tangerine that I had the pleasure of going to a lesser-known nursery with our dear friend and children’s music teacher, Jane. I also learnt of the sprightly Peruvian lily from her, the leaves that have an earthy scent and flowers of happy colors.

More recently, our son planting and grafting fruit trees has given yet another purpose to our garden, with great variety and promise.

As the day moves on, the sun mercifully burns the fog, though the crisp mist and slight chill are refreshing to begin with. Soon the rays beat down on me, the jacket needs to be shed and sweat starts to bead up. I often realize only too late I’ve set out with no hat. I’m quite a mess… wind-blown hair, bronze tanning and sweaty trotting back and forth, clearing, planting, snipping, all the while being almost lost in the garden meditatively with great admiration for all things in nature!

At times it may not look a whole lot different, but the closer I look as the sun begins arcing down, the drier old branches are spread or out to compost, wilted flowers cleared, new plants or seeds in, some flowers, greens discovered, admired and my muscles, joints in a happy well-used tiredness! And certainly with hopes for seedlings to poke through!

Spring this year has a whole new meaning, one of gratitude, for the selfless frontline workers and scientists during this coronavirus pandemic, for loving families and friends, educators, food and farm workers and everyone who’ve been tirelessly adapting! It is one of hope and prayers for new, empathetic and well-reasoned beginnings!

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime.

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

Wooooooosh, a loud exhale, and then a soft inhale. I could hear my young daughter quietly scurry across the hallway calling her brother in hushed tones. Long before I knew it, they both were sitting in the lotus yoga pose, imitating me, with their eyes closed, making those absurd exhale wooshes. Along came a giggle and then another until they fell over laughing holding their tummies, making me laugh out loud while enjoying this strong mother-child bond. 

Motherhood is the noblest of callings and a privilege to be entrusted with a tiny human life. Motherly love is unconditional and is the foundation of a child’s growth. This kind of love helps foster self-confidence and has a long-lasting impact on developing their minds and shaping their conscience.

The role of the mother is to watch, teach, guide, and help in the growth and development of a child. There is an unfathomable, deep, trusting love that connects mother and child.

Motherhood for me is a privilege and an adventure. It is guiding my children to be the best versions of themselves and make good choices. To help them to grow to be kind, confident, caring, and loving. To be their cheerleader, to hold their hand, and at the same time teach them boundaries. Being a mother is ensuring a feeling of safety and love though it sometimes comes with fears, worries, and heartache. Motherhood is a gift to be grateful for and the joy of seeing the wonders through your children’s eyes

Don’t we all come to a realization that “Oh no, I have become my mother.” It is not a bad thing. You start saying some phrases like her and even your expressions take on those of your mothers.  I recall my charming mother who took the time to talk to me about politics, finance, and just about everything. She was full of life and came down to my level of wanting to have fun and a deep bond grew. I am so grateful that she was my guiding light.  I miss and thank you, mom!

You don’t need Mother’s Day to take time to talk with your mom and give her some of your time. We tend to hear about ourselves but do we take time to ask our moms more about themselves? Here are a few questions to help you. 

(i) What’s something you wanted to do but didn’t….why? 

(ii) Who were your role models when you were young and do you have any now?

(iii) Was there a situation that made you see the world differently?

(iv) What was the first year of motherhood like for you?

(v) Describe your perfect day.

Being a mother is a joyous gift, being blessed and also the toughest with its fears and worries. Take heart in the love you receive from your mother…she holds your soul in her heart! 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is also the illustrator of the oil painting used as the featured image. 

Mothering During Shelter in Place

Try entertaining a toddler without shelter in place and you will find yourself exhausted beyond belief at the end of the day. A study has shown that even athletes are unable to keep up with tots. And then try entertaining a toddler with a shelter in place and without external stimulation of friends, playgroups, storytimes, or babysitters involved. The internet is bursting with tips on how to do this. Mothers are looking for outlets to save them, and as a mother, I can vouch for the fact that every mother is asked this question: How can you do this with little ones? To that I say with much thought, as mothers, we can do this because nothing surprises a mother.

For me personally, this time reminds me of my maternity leave. A period where women step into the unknown. I was apprehensive. It was a time when the mind and body were met with unexpected challenges. A time of withdrawal. A time when nothing turned out as it was planned. External stressors such as lack of sleep, learning to care for a new child, and accepting a major life change kept me on my toes. The period lasted way longer than I thought. And even though others had been through it and in that sense it was a collective experience, my journey was my own with its unique set of parts and players. On that lonely ride, I learned to look within for the inner strength that would not only ride me, but catapult me through that time.

Unlike some others facing the general challenges of this time, mothers do not have the time and luxury to binge watch Netflix, or read novels at length or take an online class. Their lives demand action at every moment. But no one is more equipped to do this. Mothers have faced it all. Mothers are always in survival mode and take on a storm because they are always aware of the creeping dangers in the unsettling yet redeeming experience of motherhood. Their instincts to protect their children make them rise to all possibilities. Fear is always on a mother’s mind, she is like an animal keeping guard and ready to fight for her child’s safety.

Anyone who has ever been a mother would agree that mothers are used to not getting what they want. We are used to our lives being run by events and desires outside of ourselves. The universe of children throws curve balls when least expected. Illnesses, accidents, backfired travel plans, failed attempts at showing up at important work presentations, and even more disastrous attempts at working from home! Oh, how could she ever face the day again? And yet she does. Wiser and stronger than ever before, and more in tune with the ebbs and flow of the rhythm of life.

Every mother has gone through some form of deep inner transformation, whether she knows it or not. She knows that even though externally she appears to be in control or has to create her own reigns, that providence is in charge. She is fueled by a power that she digs from within herself. She has all the help and support from God and the universe. And she never takes anything for granted, for she knows the value of freedom and the greater value of bondage. Through this very bondage, she realizes that all things pass and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

As the world faces this challenge, my heart says a deep prayer for all mothers to be during this pandemic. It stands united with all other mothers having to make do at this time. But what I see behind the depth of this darkness is that we mothers have another opportunity not only to protect, provide, love, and entertain, but to be proud and humbled at another lesson, and have another go at being and doing what we never thought we could.

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of poetry and fiction.

Radiologist by Day, Poet Laureate by Night

Ohio-based novelist, poet, translator, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist Amit Majmudar has served as Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. In a candid chat, he talks to us, among other things, about his latest book ‘Soar’, how he juggles multiple roles, his fourth poetry collection that is forthcoming in the US, and his favorite Indian American authors and poets.

A diagnostic nuclear radiologist, poet, novelist, and essayist, you were also the first Poet Laureate of Ohio. Tell us how you balance all these different personas.

It’s really just a question of time management. When the shift starts, I’m a radiologist. When the shift ends, I’m a dad. When I can sneak away or when everyone’s asleep, I’m a writer. As for the different kinds of writing, I regard them all as ways of sequencing words. You can accomplish some things with poetry that you can’t with fiction, some things with fiction that you can’t with an essay, and so on. I pick my form based on the effect I wish to have.

Your latest novel ‘Soar’ is about the friendship between a Hindu and Muslim soldier in the British Indian Army during World War I. How did you come up with the story?

I wrote it so long ago—2010, in fact—that I can scarcely recall the specific genesis of the story anymore. I have always been a World War I buff, and I remember the first time I read about Indian colonial soldiers being sent to theaters of war in places like Europe or Africa. How strange it all must have seemed to them! What innocents abroad they were! And yet sent there to shoot and be shot at; there to have their innocence stripped from them. That was probably the starting point for the novel.

Your earlier book ‘Partitions‘ is also about communal differences and harmonies. Is this a theme that you are particularly fond of?

‘Soar’ came immediately after ‘Partitions.’ They treat a similar topic in drastically different ways—one dark and tragic, the other light and tragicomic. I am very interested in the difference between person-to-person friendship and love; and the diametrically opposite group dynamics that can co-exist beside and behind that relationship. That contrast is the basis of so much in literature, going all the way back to Romeo and Juliet. Trust is built easier on the micro-level, person to person, than on the macro-level, group to group.  

Your book ‘Sitayana‘, a retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, focuses on Sita’s fierce resistance. How did you come up with the idea for the book?

The story is well known, but the kernel of the idea was to write the Ramayana epic in many different voices. So, it’s not just Sita’s perspective; her voice is central, but it is one of many. ‘Sitayana’ was a challenge of storytelling architecture that I set myself. From chapter to chapter, I jump, Hanuman-like, from perspective to perspective. Yet the book as a whole maintains a single, rapid, forward momentum.

Tell our readers more about your fourth poetry collection that is forthcoming in the US, ‘What He Did in Solitary’ (Knopf, 2020).

I write in a lot of styles and themes, and that book collects a large portion of my work written between ‘Dothead’ and now. There are poems about identity, love, loss, communal violence, politics, and the solitary nature of being. Everything under the sun.

Who are some of your favorite Indian American authors and poets?

I have one favorite Indian American author, and that is my wife, A. B. Majmudar. Her debut novel is coming out from Puffin Books India. It’s called ‘The Torchbearers’, and it’s a YA novel that’s an action-packed mythological romp that involves three kids (based on our own three kids) as well as Gods and Demons. It’s an astonishing story, but the back story is astonishing too: She had never written fiction before, submitted her first completed draft without an agent, and got a book deal on her first try. The book really is that good; she’s like an Indian-American J. K. Rowling. Between us, she is soon going to be the famous one, and I look forward to standing in her shadow!

What are your creative inspirations?

Other writers, usually dead ones. I am stirred to create my own work in the spirit of emulation and competition, yes, but above all, I am stirred by the ways in which other writers show me what can be done with the language. Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy, Borges, Hilary Mantel, Ovid—countless others. Everything I read and love inspires me in some way.

What are you working on next?

I have a lot of works planned, and a few new books already completed and currently submitted to publishers. But I’m very superstitious, so I won’t be too specific—I want to avoid jinxing my chances. But I am always working on poems, even when I’m not physically writing them; that work is always ongoing. Language possesses infinite generativity, and I try to take advantage of that in the finite time I have. 

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

An Ode to Women of Color

Skin of Soil

Nature’s first vision is brown 

her first awakening upon the nascent earth, 

a blur of tawny and bronze 

and walnut and wheat.

 

Nature’s first memory is soil 

spilling from the ends 

of her matted mane, 

spilling into empty oceans, 

filling a parched planet 

who never even knew its

own thirst. 

          

Nature’s first footsteps forge dusky craters, 

her rage and her fire bubbling beneath, 

threatening to turn even dewdrops dark, 

to slay sunlight and stars both,

 

but,

 

Nature was patient, 

sewing tree trunks 

into the ground’s silent scars. 

 

Where nature roams there is brown, 

unblinking, unyielding and endless. 

 

So how can i think to reject

the color of the skin 

that clothes me, that shelters

all my thousand creatures 

and flowers and roots,  

how can i bear to soften 

the pigment that endures

my lightning and tears 

and inborn fury.

How can i dare to 

hate the brown that is all

but the rippled 

reflection of nature herself.

——

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.


Artwork by Feminist, Sravya Attaluri.

A Woman Must Make Up Her Own Mind

You might think it’s strange, but I chose having an arranged marriage in the midst of an era with dating apps like Tinder.

And I love my husband.

Generally people find it hard to reconcile these two things.

When I turned 24, my parents decided that it was time they made ‘arranging a daughter’s marriage’ as their top goal in life. As with any arranged marriage, entire families were enlisted to convince me that it should be my top priority as well. Although I was young, I knew that marriage would be a giant leap for me. It has always been thus for women – from moving into a new house and adjusting to a different environment, to changing her last name and finding her place in a new family; the institution of marriage was something not to be entered into lightly. I was not ready. 

I managed to dodge and escape for a year and a half before I caved in. But I made it clear that I would not meet gazillion boys in the dance of acceptance/rejection that plays out in the arranged marriage system. No problem, my parents said, and created a profile for me on a matrimonial portal. I had complete freedom to screen and choose proposals based on my personal preferences. After scrolling through multiple profiles, Gaurav was the first boy whose digital proposal I accepted, and after two-three months of ‘courtship’ in the virtual world, we decided to tie the knot.

Although still sceptical of marriage, with both of us being based in India at the time of our engagement, we looked forward to the wedding, unaware of the change in dynamics that would occur in a few weeks. G was offered a job in Singapore, an offer that was too good to refuse. This added to my dilemma. I had not considered the possibility of leaving my full and fulfilling life behind to travel abroad to join my husband. 

After the wedding, I chose to stay behind in Delhi, ostensibly to take care of pending matters. I had been working as a TV presenter at Doordarshan for the past three years and was on the cusp of a promotion. My second book ‘Saturated Agitation’ had recently been launched, and I was busy with book readings. I had just completed my Master’s degree in journalism, and was waiting to collect my original mark sheet. I was teaching journalism as a part-time lecturer and was reluctant to abandon my students in the middle of the semester. One of my dogs had given birth to seven pups. The other one was sick. 

Nine months after my wedding, I kept adding more excuses to the already long list of valid reasons for me to linger in Delhi. Despite the distance, G was very considerate in not insisting that I move to Singapore. Was it because he was as tentative as me about our union? Things seemed fine on our occasional short meetings. We often connected over various digital devices and channels. But we did not share a home; we had no history together.

*****

It is the month of August, the month of my husband’s birthday. This is his first birthday as my husband, and I do not want us speaking over flat screens. For some reason, I feel compelled to be with him; I want to make this day special. Is this love? I make plans and buy gifts. I am flying to Singapore tomorrow morning to see him. This is not a surprise visit because I cannot afford the risk of him being elsewhere if I arrive unannounced. I know that G has also made plans. We are both excited to see each other. It has been three months since our last rendezvous. 

I pack my bags and lay out my favourite white cotton Anarkali suit for the flight in the morning. I wash my face, kiss my pups and dogs good night, apply night cream and sleep. 

I wake up with a mild sense of excitement when my alarm goes off at 4 in the morning. I have to leave home at 5:30 to reach the airport on time. A I am getting ready, I sense a commotion outside our home, and the TV news confirms my misgivings.

A sleep-deprived, tired reporter screams out news about fire, mobs and roadblocks. People have turned violent to protest the rape conviction of Baba Ram Rahim who had subsequently been jailed. Oblivious to the implications of this news, I get ready to leave for the airport only to realise that I cannot step outside. People are walking the streets with swords and fire torches. It is a communal riot-like situation. There are half burnt vehicles on the roads with mobs screaming “Baba bekasoor hai, Baba ko riha karo” (Baba is innocent, release him from prison.)

I have a long phone call with G; I don’t want to disappoint him. I argue with my father about the unfairness of his demand that I stay home. Before long, I have to accept defeat. There is no way I can safely make it to the airport in time for my flight, thanks to the harsh reality of things beyond my control. 

“The important thing is that you are safe at home. It is alright; we can always plan for next month or the month after.” G is incredibly sweet and understanding. He is the one consoling me even though I am the one throwing tantrums for not making it to his birthday.

As I sit with my head in my hands, my sick dog walks towards me, lifts his leg and pisses on my bag. And something finally snaps.

“Am I taking advantage of my husband’s understanding and supportive nature? Is this a punishment for being a terrible wife? ”

I see my father leaving for his clinic despite the unruly situation outside, knowing that there may be additional patients who need his help. I have grown up seeing him devote his entire life to the welfare of the people. His passion for his work and dedication towards helping others has been an inspiration for me. Being the youngest one in the family, I was naturally close to my father. What I hadn’t realised was how interdependent we have become in the past few years… I am so much like him. His preoccupation with work had always kept him away from his family. Am I doing the same thing?

A woman’s life changes entirely after marriage, and so does her opinion of it. Before marriage, my focus was more on the “wedding”- clothes, jewellery, make-up, events, music and whatnot. However, the next morning, when the band baja baraat was over, I found myself transformed from the kid of my family to the eldest bahoo of my husband’s family, a promotion of sorts that required significant adjustments to my outlook about my life ahead. With the completion of the rituals of marriage, I had wondered what other literal and figurative changes lay in store but had not ventured to find out.

Today, thanks to Baba Ram Rahim and his followers, I can finally see that it is not my career nor my dogs, not my students nor my mark sheet holding me here. I got married and was ‘given away’. From kanyadaan to bidai- every ritual confirmed my departure from my maiden home and guided me towards the road to becoming a wife. The only thing that is holding me is me. I haven’t mustered the strength to leave my father, my home, and begin a life with my husband, to become a wife in its real sense. Only I could correct this unfair situation. I had to let my marriage take shape, even though I had no idea how to create it. It was time to fly.

*****

In the next ten days, I resigned from work, completed my assignments as best as I could and started looking for work in Singapore. When G came to Delhi to escort me to Singapore, my father waved a tearful goodbye. I knew then that my father was happy for me – he would not have asked his daughter to go away because he wanted me to take that step by myself. He would be fine, and so would I.

As the aircraft gained momentum and trembled with new-found energies to take off, I felt a gush of overwhelming emotions soaring within me that gave me the courage to start my married life. 

Sometimes it takes more than mere rituals for a daughter to accept the position of someone’s wife, but it is never too late to start, and there is nothing wrong in allowing yourself some extra time to graduate to the idea of being a Mrs After all, marriage is one small step for man and a giant leap for womankind.

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Surabhi’s work has appeared in various publications in India, Singapore and Australia. Website | Blog | Instagram


A version of this essay was published in Desi Modern Love- An Anthology published by Story Artisan Press, Singapore.

Why Do I Feel a Kinship With Ash Kalra?

Why do I feel a kinship with Ash Kalra, D-CA 27?

Maybe because we are both Indian, Canadian-born, Bay Area transplants? Though 20 years my senior, Ash Kalra speaks my language. He mirrors my experience, taking a non-traditional path of social justice. 

Not an engineer or a doctor? You are already a deviant. Let’s take it one step further, pursuing career paths that are not lucrative or linear, that of community-based work – perplexing, shameful. These pressures are not unbeknownst to Ash. A UCSB graduate in Communications, Public Defender turned Assemblyman, paying off his law degree takes a backseat to his passion for uplifting others. 

“My whole career has been about reducing suffering” – a poignant sentiment. Kalra has settled on this theme for his life’s work. Serving California’s 27th assembly district, Ash Kalra is the first Indian American to serve in California’s state legislature. 

In his three years in office, he has been prolific, having 27 bills signed. He has fought for affordable, low-income housing and against homelessness as a co-author of SB 50 and AB 330. He is also the Chair of the Labor and Employment Committee for the State Assembly and has championed for Union rights. Kalra takes action to protect the environment, co-sponsoring bills such as the Clean Air Act, Coyote Valley Conservation Program, Deforestation-Free Procurement Act. He has been honored by the ACLU of California as a Civil Liberties Champion- one of five legislators in the Assembly who received a ‘perfect score’ on championing civil liberties issues. 

But I wanted to know more than just his political platform. He is speaking for Indian-Americans on a large scale, does he feel representative of who I am – a San Jose raised, Indian-American, low-income woman? My shoes are small and hard to fill. Is Ash Kalra ready for this responsibility?

Books on a coffee table in Ash Kalra’s office.

After having met him, I would say yes. His work moves beyond just progressive bill measures; he educates Assembly Members and constituents on Indian heritage and history. What I’m finding is that Ash Kalra’s movements transcend just education and are his way of life. 

Ash articulates that growing up Hindu, the very ideals and morals that his parents ingrained in him when he was young, were antithetical to their views about his career pursuits when he was older. 

That hits home. 

Atithi Devo Bhava,” this translates to “Guest is God” and it is a phrase that is thrown around Indian households. Giving back to those around us and foregoing materialism is an inherent part of Hinduism. So why is this, that which becomes second nature, at odds with an inquiry for a career, lifelong happiness, and ultimately success?

Ash gets it. He gets the consistent struggle of being Indian AND American. He may be the role model I’ve been seeking for so long but had a lack of exposure to. He is genuine, well informed, engaged but most importantly, doesn’t shy away from his culture. He redefines the vision of an Indian-American. 

When I asked him about the political responsibility of the Indian-American in the Bay Area, Ash emphasized that “our responsibility is to our community” and that we must remember that as Americans. It can be confusing for immigrants, split between two cultures. We will never feel connected to this country if we don’t become engaged community members, yet, at times we feel disconnected due to the lack of representation. Ash reminds us that civic duty goes beyond being Indian American. And if we never start, we will not conceive the reality we seek. 

Being the first Indian-American in California State Legislature, there are many antiquated archetypes that are projected on him and people that look like him. When I ask him about this, he dispels the myths about Indian model minorities in one statement, “the myth erases those that are struggling”. Indian-Americans are working jobs in the labor sector and they are quickly becoming the highest growing undocumented population in the US. There are many Indians that need people that look like them, to give them a voice. To shed light on their misgivings. To create policy that is inclusive of them. 

I asked him one last question before I left, and this one is for my SVC- Palo Alto Youth and Government kids who were in Sacramento just a few weeks before, taking over the Capitol building, sitting in the very seat that Ash Kalra was in a day before: Is cereal a soup? 

Kalra gives me a hard NO. 

I disagree. 

Though we align on almost all things, I guess even we can have our differences. A gentle reminder and a sentiment Ash mentions earlier, we need to be inclusive of people that may seem unlike us. 

Ash Kalra is the now, forging the path for people like me. 

He keeps moving but not away from his community or upbringing. He can very easily be found eating at Loving Hut, listening to Iron Maiden, before heading to a walk for candidates supporting the Labor Council. 

Ash Kalra is up for re-election this Presidential Primaries cycle on March 3, 2020. He represents California’s 27th State Assembly district which encompasses Downtown San Jose, East San Jose, and parts of Southeast San Jose. Kalra has served one term of his two-term limit as State Assemblyman. To learn more about him and his platform, check out his site and his voting record.


Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

5 years + 5 more = Marriage With America

The mantra of many Indians who left their homeland, for the longest time was – I will return to India in 5 years. The magic number 5 was almost unanimously agreed upon by many NRIs who moved to any part of the 5 of the 7 continents. Probably because only 5 were habitable, or because 5 years were enough to earn a degree, work a couple of years, and maybe even save $5K to get back home and start a new life! Whatever the reason, the promise was one of return to the motherland.

Back in the ’80s, college and job applications were non-existent. Applications had to be requested via regular postal mail. They had to be filled out by hand and mailed back. It was a time consuming and tedious process. 

The arrival of the acceptance letter was followed by a series of phone calls to family and friends, distribution of sweets, and a party where sometimes entire neighborhoods were invited. After the initial ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs, came a torrent of tears. 

As the departure day came close, the word ‘packing’ would send mothers in tears. Packing two suitcases with the maximum weight allowed was the most challenging and dreaded experience. Mothers wanted to pack not only clothes but food as well. In went processed condiments, homemade pickles, savories, and sweets. Fathers made sure documents, finances, and papers were in order. Suitcases were weighed, unpacked much to the dismay of mothers, repacked, and reweighed. After heated arguments, sobbing, complaining, cajoling, and hugging and making up, the final packing was done. And, after receiving a barrage of phone calls and reading numerous telegrams wishing ‘Bon Voyage’, ‘Best Wishes’, and ‘Happy Landings’, fatigue took over but sleep eluded, for it was the last day spent together before the great departure. 

Anita Mohan captures the University of Colorado in the 80s

 Upon landing on the new soil and clearing US Customs without any hassles, the migratory students adjusted to their new surroundings by flocking together. They forged bonds with other Indian students. From sharing dorm rooms, apartments, and even cars, to hunting for Indian grocery stores, Indian restaurants, places of worship, and procuring membership for Costco (earlier known as Price Club) they began their life here. All this coupled with coping with the new routine and rigor of academics, was the challenge of finding assistantships, on-campus jobs or other odd jobs to sustain a living. 

Calls to India in the late 1980s were $3.95 for the first minute and $1.95 for every minute thereon. Parents and students agreed that outgoing phone calls would be made only once a month and talk-time would strictly be limited to no more than 3 minutes max. Almost every phone call would begin and end with tears and sniffing on both sides. 

Letters to and from home would take three to four weeks to be delivered! (These were the days before the birth of the World Wide Web, Social Media, and Mobile phones) Aerograms or Airmails were used. USPS and Indian Postal Service were lifelines that held families together. Though the news and events (of birthdays, weddings, festivals, births, and deaths) relayed in the letter were long over, reading about them renewed all the excitement and also made one emotional. 

Mothers checked in to see how their fledglings were doing, but it was actually a double-edged sword to drive one on a guilt trip for making the decision to study/work abroad, though it was a point of pride for them as well. It was always – “a cousin, a neighbor, or a friend’s son or daughter has gone to study in the US and is doing so well, so must you.” 

The new students were in awe of the life here. Things that were unheard, unseen, and regarded as a luxury back home were basic needs here. Hot and cold running water 24/7, supermarkets carrying frozen breakfast and cut vegetables, ready to eat meals, shopping malls, washer/dryer, dishwashers, etc. was all thought to make life easy. 

After the initial awe, shock set in, Chores! They were required to be done! No mother to provide fresh hot meals, no vendor bringing the vegetable cart to your door, and no domestic helper to help you clean and do the dishes. Every single chore had to be done by the student! It was time for the juggling act. 

A brief period of stress followed graduation, the phase of changing the practice, a temporary F1 student visa into an applicable, permanent H1 work visa. Once that was settled, parents and students heaved a big sigh of relief. Parents proudly showed off photos of their sons and daughters, talked about their first car, H1 visa approval, and how they managed to find their first job. 

It was now time to get married and settle into family life. If one was in love, it was time to take a favorite cousin, uncle, or aunt into confidence and have them convince the parents. Perhaps the parents were open and there were no issues, otherwise, after a lot of reluctance and melodrama, permission for marriage was given. If there was to be an arranged marriage, it required word to be spread about prospective brides and grooms, alliances would start to pour, photos exchanged, and matches made. The groom would then proudly bring his bride to this country and after the initial struggles, begin to settle down. 

Once children were born, a new phase would begin. The free K-12 public school education, clean environment, excellent and prestigious universities for higher education, and so on acted as incentives to extend the 5-year dream. But soon the 5-year dream would be shelved, and a new dream, the vicious cycle of voluntary entrenchment would begin – obtaining a Green Card, buying a home, and becoming a citizen of the USA.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and freelance writer from Fairfax, Virginia. 

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.