Tag Archives: divide

Two States of America

To borrow from the vast vocabulary of my favorite Democrat – shellacking – that’s what the Republican’s delivered to the Democrats. No, dethroning Trump was not a victory, it was merely a natural phenomenon like a volcano that ran out of lava. But folks, please don’t rest on your temporary laurels, for we know there is plenty of red livid magma, seventy-two million to be precise, that is still boiling within and can spurt again. In this brief respite, the need of the hour is a cooling President, and looks like what we have picked is the best bet from the pack we were dealt.

We, the marginal majority, have to wake up to the stark fact that nearly half of our countrymen really want the guy to continue to do/not do whatever the blighter was doing/not doing for the past four years. I know, I know, the normal human reaction is – What the hell?

To stay away from profanity let’s resort to Shakespeare to express the same sentiment.

O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.

Although Mark Antony laments in a different context, we can relate to the feeling of being let down en masse. How could they, Why are they, Can’t they see, similar-sounding questions keep reverberating at our dining tables. This tug-of-war has been going on for too long and the strands in our social fiber are tearing apart and hurting both sides. Need a full stop.

Honestly, I must confess there are some valid points that the Red party is fueled by and the Blue side is too pacific about. What our Master Conman did is make the right sounds like a Pied Piper and the meek and easily swayed crowd followed.

The man is gone but the void is still out there, unfulfilled – call it the elephant in the room. Terms like “We are better than this, E Pluribus Unum, Soul of the nation and other lofty tenets will not fly at this advanced stage of our malady. This is crunch time, we need to address it head-on and pay heed to our brethren. It’s like the Parable of the Lost Sheep but this time it’s a whole darn flock.

There is a story that emerged after the Holy Mosque in Mecca was occupied for a fortnight by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979, an incident that killed hundreds. It goes like this: to the total shock of the government officials, King Khalid invited to his palace the leaders behind the attack and he had only one question for them: What the heck do you want? Apparently, the Wahabi leaders complained the Saudis were losing their original values by embracing western culture and their own traditional way of life was becoming endangered. The King partially agreed and that’s how he started to implement stricter Shariah laws, so it goes.

Biden could do a diet version of King Khalid’s chess move by inviting to the White House all the so-called good people on the other side too and listen to them. Maybe bring Michael Moore as a mediator as some of his school buddies are White Militia and friendly with him. Must rope in AOC, Taliba, Omar, and their ilk, for them to hear firsthand the fears and demands of those on the other side of the fence. Being heard is half the remedy.

Speakers Common by Axel Mauruszat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Down the road, we should consider what the British have – Speakers Corner. Every Sunday morning at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park in London men and women from different persuasions show up with their soapboxes. Anyone can speak at any decibel, discharge their bile, vent their anger and grievances in reckless abandon. The English abuse Indians, the Indians scream about Pakis and vice versa, the Irish thrash the English, the Africans go after all of Europe, the Arabs shower epithets at the Israelis, and on and on goes the fireworks of unbridled cursing. By early afternoon they all then return to their humble abodes, spent and serene.

When I first experienced this phenomenon, fearfully worried violence would erupt any moment, I asked a British Bobby, who was carrying no firearms, why they even allow this. He answered wryly – had it since 1872, this is British democracy, my son. If we could import that from England and practice it in our parks we won’t need them rallies people rush to for release.

I think Albert Camus was the one who said the root cause of all evil is ignorance. There is an even worse strain, being misinformed. It’s amazing that over the years with technological advances we can say it will rain tomorrow at 10:00 AM and surely there will be a downpour. Also amazing is that over several centuries mankind’s basic qualities remain unchanged: lust for power, jealousy, desire for revenge, territorial ambitions, and then there is this tendency to blindly latch on like a leech to what we inherently like to hear. Why some watch FOX only or follow a certain Tweeter only: Muslims are bad for the safety of our country, Mexicans are all thugs, China should be punished and put out of business, Lock her up, Gays should be thrown out of the armed forces, tell your governors to open the economy and get your jobs back. This is like Manna from heaven for the multitudes as these are the exact simplistic solutions they talk in their living rooms. This is the biggest challenge with democracy – the majority of the electorate is naive and so can be led astray, like that colorfully dressed chap with a tweeting pipe from the Middle Ages.

It must be noted in passing that in Australia there is a grassroots movement to curtail the dominance of Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly – in some cities 100% of the newspapers are owned by the feller. Citizens are demanding they don’t want to be brainwashed like the Americans. Let’s try a metaphor here. Say we neglected our normally beautiful lawn for too long and now it has become infected with all kinds of weeds, some as dangerous as poison ivy. But thankfully we have Roundup that can kill them all and bring back the lush green grass back – green moola. 

We all know it’s high time the country invested in revamping our infrastructure, but even more, screaming urgent at this juncture is the multitude of jobs that must be quickly regained. We need to get carpet-bombed with all forms of low-tech work opportunities – road construction, bridges, Wind Mills, Solar, or whatever, so that none of us have idle time for the misinforming devils to use our minds as their workshop. Even the most gullible ones at the extreme virulent end of the right-wing arc, when they are earning say 40K or 50K, will be stone deaf to any dog whistles. So, like the topless Cuba Gooding Jr. says in that Cruise movie: El Presidente, show me the money, the moni, the monii………..

To borrow my favorite Republican’s expression, “fervently we pray and fondly we hope” that Joe will deliver in good time.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

A House Divided

A household with four people – two parents and two children – is akin to the sea. There are high tides and low times, turbulence, and quiet days. Now morph the kids to teenagers and the picture becomes more chaotic – the same sea analogy, but with more stormy days than pleasant ones. But throw in an election where the members are on opposite sides and you get – the perfect storm.

Our household is as normal as it gets, given that all four of us are very vocal about our feelings and thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Over the past four elections, life was relatively normal as we were all on the same side, more or less. Up until 2008, we weren’t US citizens, so elections were mostly a spectator sport. Granted, we discussed them so much that our little ones lisped ‘Haba Dean’ when Howard Dean made his short but memorable run, and spoke about ‘Superdelicates’ during the much-contested 2000 election, but that was about the extent of it.

We got our citizenship in February 2008 after a long wait, just in time for the elections. That April, I had surgery for ACL repair and had to be on crutches for a while. Just then, Barack Obama came to a rally in a city nearby. Of course, we went, kids, crutches and all. Seeing me on crutches, a volunteer-led us to seats right behind the podium. Listening to a presidential candidate speak, and that too someone as articulate as Obama, was awesome. We shook hands with him afterward, and our vote was sealed. No contest there. He was our two-term president, no question about it. I even volunteered during the run-up to the elections, making calls to people in our state of Montana. They must have thought that they were receiving calls from a call center!

Then came the election of 2016. Here we ran into a weird problem. No one in our family, including our two young daughters, liked either of the main choices. After some discussion, we voted for an independent candidate with heavy hearts. It felt like we were throwing away our votes.

And now comes the election of 2020. This year has seen so much drama that everyone is buying next year’s calendars in September, in hopes of seeing this year-end. Politics too has played no small part in it. There is so much bad blood, so much hatred, fear, and nastiness that the country of the United States of America stands divided like never before …

And so does our family!

For the first time, our family is split in our votes. Also, for the first time, all four of us can vote, so we began to have discussions as soon as the candidates were announced. And that was when the cracks in our household began to show.

Well, nobody liked one candidate, that was for certain. We might all have voted for the other candidate if he had been younger or more dynamic. As matters stood, some in the family felt that the obnoxious one may be a better choice to fix the economy, seeing as how the other one seemed almost out of it. They also disliked the way in which the liberal media was openly taking sides. One of the family, however, just couldn’t stand the obnoxious one, so that person’s vote was headed elsewhere. 

At the beginning of October came another shocker. Both COVID-19 and the elections, which had been cutting parallel paths through the year, suddenly merged, with one candidate contracting the disease. Honestly, if anybody had written a fictional piece like this, they would’ve been laughed out of the publishing business for having Kafka-esque imagination. It has also become obvious to all that however these elections end, whichever candidate wins, it is going to be a knockdown, drag-out, ugly mother of a fight, and the repercussions of which will last a very long time.

As for my family, we are still having discussions/arguments/fights over these elections. Luckily, we don’t take these skirmishes seriously. Hey, we may even unite to vote for an independent candidate. Therefore, hopefully, our house will still be standing after the elections. 

As for the country … only time will tell!


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

STEAMPower Bridges the Digital Divide

The coronavirus pandemic has penetrated nearly every sphere of public life, including our educational system. While many students can afford the work-from-home setup, young people in rural or marginalized communities are bearing the consequences of our current digital divide. To learn more about how to support equitable education, I had a chat with Avighna Suresh, founder, and president of nonprofit STEAMPower, which offers virtual tutoring sessions to students all over the world.

What prompted you to start STEAMPower? Why is equitable education important to you? 

Growing up in a family that has always provided me with educational opportunities and having always gone to private schools, I lived in my own little bubble of educational privilege for most of my life. The first time I was really faced with the reality of educational inequity was when I worked at an afterschool program in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco called Up on Top. Seeing the vastly different opportunities these children had in contrast with the opportunities I had at their age changed my perspective on the issue completely. I quickly realized that sitting around and being complacent was not an option; I had the privilege and resources to do something, and I felt the responsibility to do it. 

Equitable education is incredibly important to me because it’s such an important asset for success and really shapes your attitude towards the world in many ways. The fact is that it isn’t enough for simply education to be a right; everyone deserves the right to quality education, and we are seeing that now more than ever. 

What is your teaching philosophy? How do you structure tutoring sessions, workshops, and curriculum?

Our teaching philosophy is centered around the student. A typical first tutoring session is preceded by contacting the student about what previous experience they have in the subject matter they want help in, asking for any resources they would like us to use, and then using those resources to craft personalized learning plans. Our other programs like STEAMChangers, our curriculums, and our videos are structured around demand: how much do students and parents want to see the topic, and how will it change the landscape of STEAM? 

All of our work is done online through Google Meetings or Zoom, and we are always open to communicate through text or email. The beauty of technology is that it widens our reach in ways that just wouldn’t be possible physically. Tutors in Brazil are able to tutor students in California. It’s a really unique and wonderful way to experience understanding of universal concepts regardless of where in the world you are.

What challenges did you face in founding STEAMPower? Do you find it difficult to establish regular clientele because you’re a high school student? What resources did you tap into to form the robust nonprofit you have today? 

Founding STEAMPower was one of the most challenging things I have ever done: from finding people to help me run and advance the initiative to spreading our reach to impact as many people as possible, there were definitely many bumps in the road to get where we are now. The first biggest challenge was finding a leadership team and tutors who were really passionate about what they were doing.

After finding a lot of students, the next challenge became organizing and matching students and tutors. I was able to do this through email and Google Calendar, which is a great way to visualize how many tutoring sessions are happening in a day, and notify students and tutors that there is a session coming up soon. Our largest challenge was scaling our initiative, and broadcasting it worldwide.

As a high school student, it was initially difficult to pitch my idea to local leaders and adults. I knew that they were the best way to get the word out about STEAMPower to communities that needed us most. I sent around 70 emails, and only got responses and help from around 5, but that was more than enough to get the support I needed. 

The main resources that helped me the most in establishing STEAMPower were: 

  1. Local leaders who spread the word and enabled us to establish local presence.
  2. Social media and Instagram that allowed us to go worldwide and help students from around the globe.
  3. A nonprofit and startup accelerator called Hack+ that helped us achieve 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status and secure funding and sponsorships.

How did the coronavirus change the scope and purpose of your nonprofit? 

With school closures came a lot less support and resources for those who need it. Many students need structure and guidance to effectively learn, and the compromised conditions of school during COVID-19 made it difficult for a lot of students to continue studying. Due to the coronavirus, STEAMPower’s purpose shifted completely to supporting students with remote learning through virtual tutoring and free educational videos to help some of those hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Currently, you’re developing curriculums for students in India, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. How do the curriculums differ along geographical boundaries? 

The primary differentiator for curriculums in different countries is the variance in classroom resources available to them to complete experiments and demonstrations that we weave into our curriculums, though we try to keep demonstrations largely accessible to everyone.

What is teaching students from different countries like? Do you face any linguistic and cultural barriers while teaching?

Having students and teachers from different countries is a great experience as it allows for a peek into the ways others live their lives, learn, and experience education. So far, there have been no linguistic barriers in tutoring. However, there are certain cultural differences as some countries and school systems may teach a certain formula that another doesn’t, or may have a different name from a concept. These small peeks into these subtle differences don’t inhibit the quality of learning or instruction, but it is interesting to acknowledge those differences.

What policies and programs do you think governments need to initiate to provide equitable education? 

It’s important that schools start providing unique, personalized support to students to help them succeed. We need to understand that students are diverse, and as a result have diverse needs. It’s not practical to assume that every student starts off at an even playing field. 

Schools need to stretch possibilities and challenge status quos that prevent certain students from achieving to the utmost of their ability. This begins primarily with teachers and faculty who are well-trained to address these issues and approach these problems with the intent to achieve the end goal of equity. There should also be specialized college access programs in schools/communities where there may be no access to college and further education opportunities otherwise. In addition, having diverse faculty to reflect a diverse student body is important. There are many steps schools can take, and while they may not eradicate the problem of educational inequity completely, any progress is a stride in the right direction.

Do you have any advice for students who want to help bridge the gap that plagues our education system today?  

My advice for students who want to bridge gaps in education is to take matters into their own hands. Whether it’s tutoring your siblings or neighbors, donating your old textbooks to those who can’t afford them, joining and supporting nonprofits and initiatives like STEAMPower, or reaching out to local representatives to propose solutions to problems you see, it’s important to turn dissatisfaction into action and do what you can, no matter how big or small. Though you may feel like you’re too young to make a difference, your voice is incredibly powerful.

With the coming academic year, schools are considering many possibilities in terms of teaching styles, attendance, etc. What are your thoughts on another year of distance learning? Should schools in the Bay Area open their doors? 

It really depends on the state of the pandemic and whether or not it is safe for students, teachers, and families. While another year of distance learning is not ideal, it may be what is necessary to protect lives and lessen the impact of the virus. In the meanwhile, it is imperative that schools ensure quality learning experiences for their students, whether it is virtually or in a hybrid environment. To me, quality learning means interactive instruction where students can get one-on-one help and clarify questions. In the meanwhile, STEAMPower is here to support anyone who needs us!

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton.

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

Worlds over, the COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the creative potentials of millions of the people. Numerous anecdotes have been shared in the media about how migrant workers were returning to their homes on foot walking hundreds of kilometres, a mother from Telengana making a solo motorbike trip of 1400 KMs to Nellore to bring back her son stranded there, and a host of similar experiences. Our family had one such real-life experience to share. 

My brother’s daughter and her husband are residents of Australia and living in Melbourne. She was expecting her first child by the end of April 2020. February 2020, her mother left for Australia to be with her daughter during the period of delivery, as many of us have been doing for our children living abroad. In Australia, the parents of my brother’s son-in-law had gone to Sydney where their elder son was residing. They were also awaiting the happy news of grandparent-hood. Come COVID-19, the whole world appears to have come under a single-command universe. All around the world, there were lockdown of all shops, malls, offices, and advising the staff to work from home. Social distancing has been on everyone’s lips. Wearing a mask has become mandatory. A uniform pattern has been emerging in fighting this COVID-19.

On 22nd March 2020, I received a WhatsApp call from my brother’s wife. I wondered if her daughter’s delivery date had advanced and she wanted to share the good news of the newborn baby girl. 

“Hope, the delivery was OK!” I asked, as I was trying to cope with my onslaught of thoughts.

“No, Mama, I have come back to Chennai and so have our son-in-law’s parents. We traveled together from Australia.” 

“What about the delivery of the child? Why did all of you come back?”

“In view of COVID-19, the Australian government as an abundant precaution has advised those foreign nationals who are above 50 years of age to go back to their respective countries. So, our son-in-law and our daughter expressed their concerns that if we fall sick under COVID-19, our medical expenses will not be covered by the insurance policies and the hospitalization expenses will be prohibitive. We decided to return, leaving both of them to manage themselves during this critical period,” she reasoned.

I was shell shocked. My thoughts raced back to my childhood days. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, childbirth events in our home used to be facilitated by a mid-wife visiting us; she would help the woman in labor pains delivering the child. Later, this system was replaced by a nurse doing the same tasks. Slowly, taking women to hospitals became the norm. But, almost in all these cases, the entire support system will be from the girl’s parent’s side, everyone chipping in to reduce the rigor of the tasks. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a child’s delivery in the absence of this familial help. 

“Hey, in your absence, who will take care of her?”

“Don’t worry, Mama, she is a real courageous Mumbai born woman. They are confident in handling the events themselves. Fortunately, COVID-19 has made both of them quarantine at home and they have stacked their house with staples and vegetables for one month. The hospital is just a ten minute drive away from their home. So, let us hope things will turn out good for us.”

“Offer your prayers to our Kula Deivam (family deity) and keep a ten rupee coin tied in turmeric water-soaked cloth. Keep me posted. I will also speak to both of them.”

“OK, Mama. I will do as advised by you.”

On 27 April 2020, my brother phoned up and conveyed the happy news that his daughter has delivered the girl baby at 08 09 hours. Both the mother and the child are safe. A cute photo of the child was immediately shared through WhatsApp with our family members.

Adversity is a blessing in disguise and it brings out the best in us. These young couples have proved it. While COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers, it has a flip side too. It makes one stronger. See, my brother’s daughter is the first woman in our family who has delivered a child and managing chores without any support from the parents. Hats off to this 21st Century woman and her newborn girl.

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

A Jewel in a Sparkling Connection

I was a teenager when I first read V.S. Naipaul’s A House For Mr. Biswas. That was 17 years ago. It was an assigned book in my Toronto high school English class. Ours was a program of rare multicultural outlook, thanks to my teacher, Anne Carrier. You see, back in 1984 it was unheard of to be exposed to Asian or Caribbean literature in a North American high school, an oversight which still seems trivial to white or non-immigrant Americans and Canadians today. But make no mistake, then as now, there is inherent value in an enriched global reading list. Written in 1961, Biswas was an unanticipated treasure of validation, a fresh alien gem atop the well-thumbed Faulkners, Salingers, and Twains.

My family had immigrated from Guyana 15 years earlier during a time when Asian Indian culture was mysterious enough to the mainstream. Indo-Caribbean language, history, and behavior were yet years away from entering the awareness of the general public, and would prove a near impossibility to explain or to describe to friends and teachers. As any immigrant child will attest, there are few things more isolating than cultural loneliness. It serves as an impenetrable barrier that separates one from friends and colleagues, and compels both a heightened closeness and subtle resentment towards family members, ironically the only people who truly share the condition.

So the discovery of Indo-Caribbean literature at such an impressionable age was doubly important. I recall well the awe, nervousness, and excitement elicited from Biswas’s opening pages. It was set in Trinidad, mere miles from my birthplace of Guyana! Its major characters were Indians descended from indentured servants, the same as me and mine! The book’s cadence of angst and subdued anger—an alternation that ripples through all post-colonial societies, yet is missing from most American literature—kept beat with the displacement in my own heart. And, most interesting, the rhythm and tonality of the characters’ speech was the singsong Caribbean patois with which I had grown up. You see, that way of talking was a source of shame to many early immigrants; Jamaican cool was yet to reach North America and give public resonance to the Caribbean modality. To have discovered its usage within the pages of a book validated by no less than the Toronto Board of Education was to truly realize personal cultural arrival.

A drawing of 'A House for Mr. Biswas'
A drawing of ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’

The book itself tells a simple story. It begins with the emergence into this world of Mohun Biswas, “six-fingered and born in the wrong way,” foreshadowing the bad luck he would have and cause. A poor journalist turned civil servant, Biswas lives a brief humorous life punctuated by battles with his in-laws and a strained relationship with his writer son, the essence of his angst symbolized by his quest for a house of his own. Naipaul’s genius is in elevating the seemingly mundane and comedic to themes of timeless importance, injecting his writing with subtle imagery and allegory. His hated in-laws the Tulsis, for example, live in a home called “Hanuman House.” That Hanuman is the Hindu monkey god is Naipaul’s sly intimation of the house’s more zoological or chaotic nature.

The allegory of Biswas is an inspiring one. Mohun Biswas is compelled toward a rebellious nature through various cultural traditions for which he has little patience. Biswas is at the bottom rung of society because of his work, family history, and poorness. He is further at the bottom of the pecking order in his extended family, kept there by the weighty demands of his culture. But a modern hero infected with frequent emotional outbursts, his aspirations are never quelled. After enduring a beating by an in-law, Biswas declares, “I am going to get a job on my own. And I am going to get my own house too. I am finished with this.” The goal of any descendant of indentured servants has yet to be better or more simply stated.

In many ways, Biswas is the Indian-Caribbean archetype, a man from an ancient cultural tradition of castes and unnavigable religions whose sudden proximity to the world of Western modernity fills him with hope for more. His behavior is sometimes reprehensible, but his predicament is one with which so many of us, particularly Indians caught up in a new world, can relate. His quest for a house of his own mirrors well the quest of colonized peoples for a nation and an identity of their own. To appreciate the plight of Biswas is to understand the history of his nation and that of the entire Indian-Caribbean milieu: a people uniquely positioned between the rich traditions of the East and the commercial demands and promises of the West, yet tragically benefiting from neither.

East Indian Coolies in Trinidad
East Indian Coolies in Trinidad

V.S. Naipaul, knighted in 1990, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, taking his place among literary immortals like Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway, and Rabindranath Tagore. They say he was honored “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” Certainly, A House for Mr. Biswas is but one jewel in the sparkling collection of the life’s work that earned him the award, as it slyly tells of Indian-Caribbean emotional history within the modern dynamic of cultural collisions.

It is generally agreed that the story of Biswas is largely autobiographical, with Biswas’s writer son being Naipaul’s literary avatar. Hence Biswas is likely the tome for which this great writer will be most fondly remembered throughout the ages. For those unfamiliar with his books, Biswas is an excellent beginning point. It was certainly mine, and started me on a marvellous path of literary adventure and self-discovery.

Raywat Deonandan is the author of Sweet Like Saltwater (TSAR Books, 1999). www.deonandan.com.