Tag Archives: #ethnic

Chasing Memories Inside of Santa Clara County’s Desi Grocery Stores

Masala Heroes is a three-part series on Santa Clara County’s South Asian (Desi) grocery stores and their contribution to their community’s health. This first article provides a resource map of all the Desi grocery stores and Desi restaurants of Santa Clara County in 2021.

I’m exhausted after my Kathak dance class but Ma is determined to finish her errands at Kumud Groceries, the Desi store which is now Trinethra on Pearl Avenue. She needs lauki (calabash), karela (bitter gourd), and dhaniya (cilantro) to cook for the week. I try to haggle. “Leave me at home and then go to Safeway. It’s two minutes from our house,” I whine. I’m tired and I don’t want to be seen wearing my Kathak kurtha. Ma tries to bribe me with Falooda and samosas. “You know that I can’t get everything I need at Safeway,” she says. Finally, she promises that I can pick out the Bollywood DVD rental for our family movie night. We strike a deal.

Perched at the intersection of Pearl Avenue and Branham Lane, Trinethra is the quintessential Desi (ethnic) grocery store that emblemizes the sights, sounds, scents, and feelings of South Asia. The bustle inside is reminiscent of the corner bazaar with densely packed vegetables, packets of Kurkure hanging from walls, Parle-G biscuits to pair with chai, and the constant chitter-chatter in some South Asian dialect that, even if you don’t understand, has an intimate warmth. Bay Area immigrants gravitate to their local Desi grocery store to find items essential to their ethnic diet, but they leave with more than just the items in their shopping cart. 

Asha Panday does almost all her shopping online, except for when she makes the long drive to the India Cash and Carry in Sunnyvale. “I go because I want to feel the vegetables, smell the spices, and look at all the stuff. [It] gives me the feeling of being back in India. I used to live in the Santa Cruz mountains and made the 50-mile trip every month. Now I live in San Francisco and still make the 50-mile trip.”

Touching the methi (fenugreek leaves), smelling fragrant MTR spice blends, spotting the familiar Desi face on the Vatika coconut hair-oil bottles — these are the things that provide Panday, and other Desi immigrants, with a sense of solace and belonging, which is invaluable to Desi mental and cultural health.

When Susheela Narayan visits her local Desi grocery store, she’s taken back to the times spent with her father. The combination of fresh Indian vegetables neatly stacked up and the ubiquitous smell of different spices that pervades the store takes me back 50 years to memories of going to the Indian bazaars of my youth with my father. It’s oddly comforting, especially during the pandemic.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when South Asian immigrants were separated from their families — some fell ill and many had to grieve in isolation — the 24 Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County were lifelines to familial memories and home. These Desi grocery stores have continued to serve a population of 1.7 million people, of which 6.6% (112,200) are Indian (2010 census data doesn’t specify other South Asian demographics). Desi grocery stores, small but mighty, are imperative as mediums for diasporic cultural knowledge and diet, for a heterogeneous and robust Desi culture, and for the proliferation of other Desi businesses. Time and time again, we see cultural dilution as a consequence of assimilation. The variety and the sheer number of Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County are unique, recent, and fragile. These stores are the heroes of the South Bay Desi community, actualizing the very identities that define the people accessing them. South Asians and others alike must sustain these businesses as a means for cultural preservation. 

After the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act was reversed and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed, South Asians on H1B visas moved into the hills of Silicon Valley. As a new immigrant base in California, they were subjected to inequitable access to ethnic food and an undercurrent of American xenophobia. Many assimilated and ethnic foods were replaced by food seen as “western”, thus more acceptable. Restrictive immigration policies only allowed for those with ‘highly specialized knowledge and a ‘college degree’ to enter and work in the U.S. under the H1B visa. Devoid of recognizable language, family, and culture, Desi immigrants sought comfort and belonging. It was this desire to grasp at the cultural ties from which the nascent Desi food culture was born. Food was the vehicle to keep a part of their culture in a  foreign land and the Desi grocery store was a means to that end.     

“It felt like home a little bit. It had the same ingredients…the same things you put in your stomach, the same aromas, and you even hear familiar dialects in the background.” Hardeep Setia fondly remembers his visits to Singh’s Video, a grocery store in San Jose that has long since shut down. Setia’s piquant reflection distinctly calls upon the feeling of community, one of many whispered tales that are shelved within the aisles of the ethnic grocery store. A first-generation Punjabi-Gujarati American, Setia has lived in San Jose since he was seven years old and frequents the Desi grocery stores that are sprinkled throughout the South Bay. 

Srishti Prabha outside of Kamal Spice House in South San Jose.

Inside the Desi Grocery Store

“Food becomes the symbol of a people,” says Dr. Lok Siu, a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California Berkeley who studies the correlation between culture and food. The tangential use of misinformed terminology like “curry” and the constant reduction of Indian food to “Chicken Tikka Masala” propagates stereotyping of a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-faceted, centuries-old culture. Dr. Siu poignantly reminds us that, “Food becomes a way of articulating distance, othering, and discrimination.”

As recently as August 19, 2021, Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post opinion article disparagingly referred to Indian food as food that “you can’t make me eat,” inaccurately stating that it was an entire cuisine based on one spice (a statement that was later retracted) — an egregious misstep he wouldn’t have made had he entered a Desi grocery store even once.  

Even before setting foot in Kamal Spice House in San Jose, images of a variety of DEEP’s products, frozen samosas, pickles, and spices, decorate the windows. The DEEP overplayed commercial catchphrase — “Khao to jaano” (only if you eat, you’ll know) — comes to mind. Crates of Alphonso mangoes, a Desi favorite, and local newspapers (India-West) greet shoppers at the door. 

Once inside, to the right, fresh produce is available in abundance at low prices. It’s common to see shoppers feel the rough, green bhindi (okra), placing those deemed suitably supple, in their carts. The keen Desi eye scans for vegetables and fruits that are elusive in non-Desi supermarkets — baingan (Indian eggplant), parwal (pointed gourd), haree mirch (green chili), moringa (drumstick), nariyal (coconut), sem (green beans), dhaniya (coriander/cilantro), tindora (scarlet gourd), and more. Against the wall, an overwhelming selection of 10-pound bags with brown rice, basmati rice, long-grain rice, and jasmine rice are stacked against the wall. 

For those unsure of what to cook, how to cook, or short on time, frozen goods — parathas, naans, pre-made meals — are in the first aisle for a quick stop shop. Fridges line most of the back perimeter with more pre-made meals, halal meats, paneer, dosa and idli batter, sweets, and other dairy products. 

Sujata Ramaswamy drives with her family from Emeryville to get her groceries in the South Bay. Today, she comes to Kamal Spice House with a list. Her shopping cart is brimming with dals and spices, a methi leaf peeking out between the packets. She could be in and out in 15 minutes, instead, she spends 30 minutes inside, casually strolling through the aisles and looking at all the options. It’s very relatable,” she says, “And more comforting because you can use Hindi. It’s also a little nostalgic because we lived in India for a while. In the beginning, when we came, it felt easier to go to the Indian store. We didn’t know anyone, so it’s that familiarity that helped.” 

One side of an aisle is mainly spices – jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric), kashmiri mirch, lal mirch (red chili), chaat masalas, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry pathas (curry leaf), panch phoran (five spices), and more. Another side of an aisle is for the many dried dals – moong, kabuli chana, masoor, urad – with a combination of Hindi and English packaging.  

The spice aisle at Kamal Spice House in South San Jose.

And jostling for space within the stores are also different types of chai, biscuits, Haldiram bhujia blends/snacks, oils and ghee, pickles, incense, puja items. Shoppers’ eyes dart back and forth trying to decide between all the options. 

An entryway to the left leads to an in-house food stall which emanates with the delicious scents of freshly made pakoras, vadas, and chaat. In classic Desi bazaar fashion, even the space behind the counter is packed with items like oils, shampoos, and other Patanjali products. Desi goods are in every nook and cranny at Kamal Spice House, it’s almost hard to believe you aren’t in India.

San Jose resident Narasimhan Kasthuri puts it best, “​​The kind of food we eat is available only in our [Desi grocery] stores. Though Costco is selling some of them, our needs are still unmet.” Though big conglomerate supermarkets are convenient and carry some overpriced ethnic goods, they don’t have the imagery, the language, the known embedded in their very blueprint. Kamal Spice House and other Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County archive memories, generational dietary knowledge, dialect, and cultural practice. Ethnic grocery stores function as thresholds to organic introductions of a cultural minority to neighborhoods. 

Nikita, who didn’t want us to include her last name, finds that shopping at Kamal Spice House bridges the 8,200 miles that separate California and India: “Some flavors are linked to childhood memories and comfort. Products from the store allow me to relive that.” 

Around the Desi Grocery Store 

Ali’s Driving School, a room for rent, Shashi’s threading and waxing business are just a few of the flyers that adorn the outer facade of Trinethra in South San Jose. Surrounding Desi businesses in SCC find a space on the walls at the Desi grocery stores. This is a common phenomenon, says Dr. Lok Siu, “[Desi grocery stores] help with the expansion of restaurants and other ethnic businesses.” 

Desi grocery stores in five major cities in Santa Clara County – Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose – spurred the evolution of other Desi businesses such as restaurants, temples, wedding service providers, clothing, catering, and publications. 

“India Currents magazine was always in the corner [of the grocery store] and I remember my dad would pick it up,” Ritika Kumar (25) recalls and smiles — a memory meandering between the spice shelves, a dispersing aroma. “I was 10 and I have this very vivid memory of opening an India Currents magazine and they had interviewed the chef of Amber. I remember that butter chicken recipe!” Kumar’s story is evocative, bringing forth the remnants of a physical print version of India Currents (now fully digital) and the content within it, one which elevated Desi restaurants (Amber – one of the first Indian fine dining restaurants in the Bay Area) and their cuisine. 

Creating pipelines for the distribution of South Asian goods and services, Desi grocery stores are the key to burgeoning Desi entrepreneurship and wealth creation. Jasmine Patel, a third-generation Gujarati-American, is part of a household of Desi entrepreneurs. “My grandfather’s brother came in the late 60’s as a student. He and his other brother got jobs as engineers in the U.S. and brought their families. I think at that time non-work-related visas were easier to get. Once family members became citizens, they were able to open businesses. That’s how my family began opening [Indian] warehouses and [Indian] grocery stores in the Bay Area and across the U.S. My aunt was the previous owner of Kumud (now Trinethra in South San Jose) Groceries.” 

Just across the Santa Clara County line, Santa Cruz County has just one Desi grocery store, showing how unevenly ethnic grocery stores are distributed. As a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, Arindam Sarma attempted to replicate his family’s diet. It proved to be a little harder. He comments that “in Santa Cruz, there is exactly one shop in the entire city. It is this tiny one-room shop that has Indian clothes, Indian music, Indian food. It was the only place in the entire city to get spices at a reasonable price. Although I couldn’t always get all items I needed at this store, it was nice to have somewhere to get Indian ingredients.”

The map below indicates the high density of South Asian grocery stores in Santa Clara County and the restaurants surrounding them. Desi grocery stores facilitate a well-rounded, inclusive understanding of the various diasporic differences within the community, as can be deduced from the origins of the cuisine offered in Santa Clara County – Uttar Pradesh, Chettinad, Chennai, Mysore, Punjab, Gujarat, Pakistan, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh. Within the map find locations of active grocery stores with locations, quotes, and transit lines. 

Future of the Desi Grocery Stores

India Currents conducted a survey on the significance of Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County. We received 106 responses from a cross-section of society, 86 of which were from people in Santa Clara County. Despite people talking about how meaningful Desi grocery stores were to them, 69% of South Asians who regularly access the Desi grocery stores responded to the question, “Why is coming to this grocery store meaningful to you?”, with “no story”, “unsure”, “nearby”, or that it had “fresh vegetables.” 

Ancestral knowledge of nutrition, health, and cooking practices becomes harder to impart in immigrant communities: partly because of the removal of the individual from a consistent cultural environment where one is inundated with knowledge from aunts, uncles, and neighbors; and partly because of the limited access to ingredients. 95% of people accessing the Desi grocery stores are South Asians in search of traditional vegetables, spices, and snacks. New and old immigrants sustain the ethnic groceries stores with their subconscious cravings for the familiar. However, a glaring discrepancy appears when surveying the Desi grocery stores in SCC — the next generation of Desi Americans appears to be absent. Have the cravings shifted from roti and aloo bhujia to burger and fries?

In-depth interviews with 10 Desi-Americans, ages 25-32, living in the Bay Area, reveal that nine of them intellectually understand the existence of Desi grocery stores as cultural hubs. Their memories are graphic and vivid, communicating a universal childhood experience of seeking spicy snacks, DVDs, and music in these spaces. But eight out ten of them say, they don’t frequent these stores, unless they are running errands for their parents. 

Sarma (26), a second-generation Assamese-American, recalls the formative moment in his adult years when he went to Trinethra: “When I was a little older…my mom asked me to go pick up rice. This is the first time I had gone to the store to do a grocery run on my own…So I go to the store and I’m like, rice shouldn’t be too hard to get. In Safeway, there is one area with one type of rice. I go to the [Indian grocery store] and there are walls of rice. Different kinds everywhere. And I think to myself, which rice do I get? There are 50 types. What have I been eating for most of my life?” 

Patel (29) relays a similar experience of “being told to go get something and being very lost – not knowing what it looks like. Something ground in a bag?” 

Fortunately for Sarma and Patel, a quick call to a parent or a chat with the grocery store employee can solve their problem. These stories expose the crucial role of generational knowledge, the bearers of which are either family members, or those working in the store sourcing the ingredients needed for an ethnic diet. Nine out of the 10 respondents relied on their immediate family for ancestral food-related knowledge.

Radhika Swaminarayan (28), a first-generation Gujarati-American, adds more context to her experience after having lived in places like Seaside, Oregon with little to no access to Desi grocery stores: “Growing up, my family moved a lot. Wherever I lived, [my family] was the only Indian family in the area. It wasn’t until I came to San Jose that I embraced being Indian. I had no one to share those experiences with before .” Swaminarayan finds that, in her experience, the higher density of Desi grocery stores promotes tolerance for ethnic diversity. In San Jose, she feels she can be her most authentic self – wearing madailu (symbolic Gujarati jewelry), eating pau bhaji, and drinking Bournvita (Indian milk supplement) every morning. 

All of the first and second-generation Desis said that they would feel a “loss of belonging” if Desi grocery stores were inaccessible. But while the next generation of Desi-Americans intellectualizes the importance of ethnic grocery stores as cultural hubs, they aren’t shopping there. “I do not cook Indian food. I’ll go to the [Desi grocery store] with my mom sometimes but I usually don’t go on my own,” Patel notes. She appreciates how Desi grocery stores are invariably also cultural hubs. 

As children of Desi immigrants and their progeny become further removed from the roots of their heritage, the Desi grocery stores in Santa Clara County serve as consistent lifelines to their identities and lineage.

On a recent COVID grocery run to Trinethra, Dimple Ben, the manager, says to me, “Is bar ma ne bheja?” (This time your mom sent you?) She knows that my brother and I have been alternating grocery shifts for our parents. She recognizes me even behind my mask, I feel special. Once inside, I try to make my grocery run quick but that proves to be difficult. I video call my mom to clarify which dal she wants. What used to feel like a chore, now is enjoyable as I pick out items from the Desi grocery store that my stomach desires. Falooda kulfi ice cream goes into my car. My mouth waters at the thought of bhindi bhujia and so in goes the okra. During the pandemic, ma and I have been exploring recipes together, so I try to find the spices for Paneer 65. As I check out, I find comfort in knowing that I always find Dimple Ben and her no-nonsense demeanor at Trinethra. She has seen it all — from my Kathak kurthas and petulant attitude to my first solo grocery store trip and numerous questions. She hands me my groceries and I come to the realization that she is my Masala Hero. 

This article was produced as a project for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2021 California Fellowship.


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

This article couldn’t have been written without the help of Editor Kavitha Cardoza.


 

De-Colonizing the System: The Core Divisiveness Between Minorities

I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin. 

When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us. 

At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US. 

Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district. 

EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.” 

Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives. 

Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.

The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society. 

San Jose Districting (Courtesy of University of Maryland’s T-Races project)

Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.

The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing. 

It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives. 

I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…

As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

In Solidarity Against AAPI Hate: Bay Area Poets Look Back at Tagore and Xu Zimo

(Featured Image: Rabindranath Tagore in China)

About a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore visited Shanghai where he was hosted by a young Chinese poet Xu Zimo, who had studied at Cambridge. Xu died young but changed poetry in China forever by liberating it from the formalism to introduce free form, and his work was influenced by Tagore.

Tagore wrote a poem called The Year 1400 (Bengali calendar – 1996 in Gregorian) addressing a reader a hundred years into the future. In it, he tells the future reader: “My spring birdsong and breeze fills me with song and I can’t send it forward but won’t you too sit by your open window and think of a poet who wrote this poem for you to share the youthful passion spring brings for all.”

Jing Jing, an immigrant from China, moved to the U.S. and taught herself English, to earn her young American daughter’s respect, and eventually become the current poet laureate of Cupertino (aka the place where Apple has built its spaceship HQ). She heard Tagore’s poem, The Year 1400, late on a Saturday night, when she visited our Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley readings last May. We happened to be celebrating Tagore’s birthday by inviting all our Bengali poets to read. One poet, Jayanta chose Tagore’s poem and its English translation by Ketki Kushari Dyson, from Oxford. It moved Jing Jing to goosebumps and tears.

As Jing Jing planned the Lunar New Year celebrations with poetry reading, she invited the grandson and great-granddaughter of Xu Zimo to read his work. Jing Jing remembered Tagore’s poem and wondered if our poets would be willing to read it at the celebration — to bring the old poets’ works together — like the friends who met in Shanghai a century ago.

I had no recollection of it and wondered who might have read it. Jing Jing had saved a screenshot so I knew it was Jayanta. When I reached out to him, he said “Anything Jyoti asks, I have to do.”

But as it turned out — there was a conflict in his schedule. He found the poem and its translation for us, even though he couldn’t read it. That is how I ended up reading Tagore’s poem and another of our poetry circle members, Debolina, read the original in Bengali.

130 people attended this online event. This is amazing for so many reasons. The China, India, US, and UK connections, the passion and love of poems and ode to spring, old friends connected through poetry, strangers making happenstance connections across the impossible distance and centuries, in springtime for celebrations with verse, and me getting caught up to enjoy it all, without leaving the comfort of my home.


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.

This article was first published on American Kahani.


 

Mira Had to Fight Back: A Common Woman’s Story

This story is inspired by a true incident. The names of the characters have been changed.

Mira was barely 16. Excited about life. She had dreams. She was vulnerable. She was impressionable.

A young, bubbly teenager with a big dimpled infectious smile, she was a happy child. She had dreams, Cinderella fantasies; her prince charming would come one day on a well-bred groomed horse and take her away to the land full of pots of gold. She was a hard-working girl, full of grit; however, she was a daydreamer, stargazing and moonstruck with all the hues of the rainbow in her small world.

Mira was enveloped by immense love and support from her family. With her parents living out of the country, she had to settle in a boarding school for her high school years. Routines were very different, but no complaints as she managed to sail through them every single day. Jubilant moments were accompanied by melancholy ones when she would long for one warm hug.

Going to her maternal Aunt Krishna’s house every weekend was the highlight for her. She eagerly waited by the school gate every Friday afternoon when her Uncle Hari would pick her up. The late-night chit-chatting and sharing her innermost secrets with her cousin Simrin was something she looked forward to week after week. Summer vacation was right at the corner, and Mira was super excited to travel and spend time with her family. As always, her favorite Uncle Hari picked her up from school around 6:00 pm that Friday. Mira could not stop talking to him while they drove back home.

It was getting dark at 7:00 pm, the traffic jam was at its peak, and Uncle Hari took a detour with the intention to reach home on time. Mira started feeling a bit distressed and cramped in the car. Her gut was not too happy and was sending signals to her brain, ”Mira, something is not right. Even though there is traffic, it should still not take that much time”.

Uncle Hari came to a halt near an office building and said, “Mira, I need to meet an office colleague for a few minutes. Please wait for me in the car, I will be back soon.”

The few minutes turned into an hour, and Mira was nervous and getting jittery; she wanted to be home as soon as possible. Finally, Uncle Hari made his way back to the car, but in a different form. Mira felt uneasy and was afraid of her Uncle, who was in an inebriated state. His alcoholic breath made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to dash out of the car.

She was numb when she felt her Uncle’s awkward gestures as he tried to get close to her physically. She felt paralyzed as though someone had handcuffed her. What was happening? Mira felt trapped and powerless till some unknown power took over her.

She assertively requested, “Please behave, Uncle. You are not in your right senses, just drive me back home.”

The man who she idealized all her life turned into a villain, and Mira felt betrayed. It was like a bomb had blasted with full speed. The respect came crashing down, and in her full senses, she slapped the man sitting next to her—the man whom she had put on a pedestal and had glorified all these years.

Uncle Hari was shocked and dumbfounded. A timid man who tried to take advantage of his niece was stunned and felt impotent at Mira’s undaunted behavior. He was baffled at her militant and lion heartedness act. Quietly, he started driving back home in awkward silence.

That night onward, all changed for Mira. She had this unseen cloud of tension between her cousin Simrin and Aunt Krishna. It was not their fault. However, the gap widened.

She detested her Uncle; there was intense repugnance towards him, and she wanted to punish him for his misdoing. She tried a few times to confide in Simrin but held back with a feeling of shame and guilt. She started chastising herself internally as though it was her fault. Her house visits reduced and came to a stop when Mira decided to take their name off the list as her local guardian. It was a tough decision and hard to explain to her parents, but they abided by it.

The secret got buried in her heart with no mention to anyone. She often questioned herself, “Did I do anything wrong?”

She never got a concrete answer to her question and let it go by. She embalmed her innermost feelings and mummified them. The point of contact with her aunt Krishna and Simrin was all gone. The gap widened till there was no communication between the families. Mira’s mother once asked her, “Please tell me what happened, let me help you.”

” No, mom, I am fine. I have grown apart from Simrin. Leave it.”

That was the last time they ever spoke about this topic.

Years passed by, Mira was in a happy place in her life. Actively chasing her dreams, attaining her life goals, she was married and had a fulfilling family life. One evening her phone rang and she heard the news that her Aunt Krishna had passed away in a horrific accident. Mira was dismayed, and a colossal teardrop rolled down her cheek. Her most loving Aunt was no more and she had not spoken to her for almost two decades. Her mind flashbacked to all the priceless memories of their times together.

The phone rings again after a few years, with Mira’s mother on the other line, ”Your Uncle Hari is on life support. He is dying alone with no one by his side.”

Mira felt a sigh of relief and said to herself, finally, he will be gone forever. Her anger and detest seemed to vanish away suddenly in the air. It was as though a gargantuan burden had been lifted off her chest.

Uncle Hari passed away. He was in physical pain during the last few days of his life. However, Mira always wondered, did he have any remorse or shame? Did he ever want to redeem himself for what he had done? Did he have any realization of his hideous act? Was she right in her thought process? Should she forgive him?

Mira never got her answers. She decided to forgive herself for having held on to the feelings for so long. She gathered her guts, opened up the skeletons from the closet, and confided in her sister Ahana. She bawled her eyes out, cried for hours, and finally escaped from the chrysalis. All these years, she wanted to be heard but evaded the truth, and finally, it happened. Mira was relieved and felt comforted in the arms of her sister Ahana.

The bold and beautiful Mira decided to educate her daughter Sia to be a vocal, balanced and competent woman. She felt she owed it to her, and it was her duty to encourage her sense of autonomy to handle all the trials and tribulations within the circle of life.

Mira’s message is loud and clear, walk like a queen and never take any abuse. Speak up at the right time, take risks, be gentle but not too nice to be taken advantage of, and lastly, you get to decide your worth – not the world around you.


Dr. Monika Chugh is a resident of Fremont and a doctor by profession. She has an undying love for blogging and actively shares her personal experiences with the world on different topics. An active Rotarian, nature lover, coffee-fitness-yoga-hiking enthusiast, domestic violence advocate, in her free time, you will find her reading in her Zen sipping coffee working on her writing. 

A Foreigner Unpacking Social Stigma Toward Pune’s Queer Community

(Featured Image: Image taken by Dan Soucy at the Pride March in Delhi)

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct research on the pervasiveness of heteronormative expectations toward gender in Pune, India. I sought to understand how these expectations influence the Queer community’s daily lives and experiences. As a second-tier city near Mumbai with a remarkably young population, I expected Pune to be far more inclusive than some more traditional locations. It has a vibrant night-life scene, many exceptional universities and generally a feeling of youth and progression.

Despite these expectations, conducting my research was jarring. I confronted deeply held beliefs about the importance of heteronormative family structures. While I tried to maintain a neutral approach to my research, merely discussing LGBTQ identity rarely came with ease due to the discomfort and taboos surrounding sex and in particular homosexuality.

Of course, it is also important to note that I am white and in conducting this research, I was also a foreigner. These identities certainly shaped both my own expectations for the importance of LGBTQ rights and inclusivity as well as my respondents’ sense of trust and confidence in my work. Elderly individuals, in particular, challenged my research, saying that it was not right to indoctrinate youth with such “abnormal and dangerous” ideas. In many ways, I was viewed as the epitome of a negative, Western and foreign influence on the city’s sense of tradition, spirituality and stability.

Furthermore, I conducted this research before the Indian supreme court made the decision to decriminalize homosexuality by deeming section 377 of the Indian penal code unconstitutional, thus further exasperating the social stigma surrounding queer identity. With that said, I tried to approach this research in recognition of my privilege as a foreigner and the familial and social implications that LGBTQ rights have on both queer and heterosexual, cisgender individuals in Indian society.

Author, Dan Soucy at a Pride March in Delhi

In spite of the discomfort that came with my research, I was still able to engage in what I saw as valuable conversations regarding sexual taboos in Indian society. I was particularly surprised to learn that such a large number of young people in Pune viewed gay relationships as immoral.

More specifically, 62 percent of the people I interviewed agreed that marriage should only be between one man and one woman while 19 percent were unsure or remained apathetic. Similarly, 45 percent of respondents believed that homosexuality was actually a mental illness that required medical treatment to resolve. These numbers increased to 70 percent and 47 percent respectively when I only considered the respondents 31 years of age or older. 

I was encouraged by the fact that young people seemed to have slightly more progressive views regarding the queer community, I was still disappointed to learn just how stigmatized LGBTQ identity remained. 

Equally as important to me was learning where these social attitudes and lack of acceptance came from. As I asked respondents about their opinions regarding the “cause” of LGBTQ relationships, many individuals pointed to the idea that queer identity results from a subpar or confused upbringing as a child. More specifically, of the respondents who conformed to the notion that a man’s responsibility is to be the ‘bread winner’ of the family while the woman should care for the children, 75 percent also viewed homosexuality as a mental illness while 44 percent believed it reflected the fact that the queer individual’s parents did not raise them “correctly.”

Based on this information, the stigmatization of India’s queer population seems to result from a place of concern. Concern over traditional family values. Concern over what should be ‘normal’ in Indian society. In other words, the LGBTQ community symbolizes a disruption to the norms and expectations inherent in a heteronormative family, neighborhood, city, and society. Broadly speaking, these respondents experienced a sense of discomfort when it comes to talking about sexuality and in a particular a sense of moral discomfort when ideas about LGBTQ identity were raised. 

The pervasiveness of this discomfort became even more clear as I interviewed members of Pune’s queer community. In fact, all of the individuals I interviewed expressed fear about coming out not because they were concerned about their own safety but because they were afraid of the way their families would be perceived and stigmatized as a result of their identities.

In this light, homosexuality was viewed not just as a burden and a point of contention between the queer individual and their community but as stigmatizing to the queer individual’s entire family. Aside from demonstrating just how isolating it is to be queer in Indian society, this also elucidates the deeper reasons for queer exclusion. Namely, people fear and become upset by the broader destruction of heteronormative familial and community values.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Rather, the LGBTQ community has made strides toward acceptance and inclusion. I had the privilege of attending Delhi’s pride parade and conference in 2018 and was overjoyed by the enthusiasm and excitement that came with Delhi’s first pride parade in the wake of the end of Section 377. People were overjoyed by their ability to be out and proud, surrounded by love and marching for freedom from oppression. It was a stunning and remarkable scene to be a part of. One of the main rallying cries of this event was a call for continued conversation. Although there was a recognition that advocacy should not be the exclusive responsibility of queer individuals, ultimately, only through exposure, honesty, and open conversation, is change possible. People will continue to cling to their deeply held beliefs in the sanctity of the heteronormative family and society unless queer individuals step forward to express their dissatisfaction with this norm. This research and the Pride celebration taught me that a better, brighter society is only possible through continued discussion that exposes society to the beauty and normalcy of an openly queer India and its diasporas that exist outside of India.


Dan Soucy currently supports refugee resettlement and advocacy efforts throughout New England as a case manager and employment specialist with the International Institute of New England. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University where he conducted oral history interviews with South Asian migrants to the United States. Dan has also studied, lived, and worked in various parts of India for 2 years. 

San Jose’s Virtual Cinequest 2021 Features Indian Origin Films

Every year around this time, the community of film lovers mingles with film creators, directors, and artists at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose downtown’s many theaters. Giving film artists and film lovers a rare opportunity to connect at nightly soirees, the fun part about attending the film festival is a chance to talk to other people about the experience.

However, Covid times call for a pivot, and though there won’t be any in-person screenings, Cinequest is coming back with a virtual edition. Cinejoy, as the online edition is being called, will run March 20-30, with more than 150 U.S. and world premiere movies featured in the Showcase lineup and several high-profile movies in the Spotlight portion. The Showcase films can be viewed anytime by passholders but the 12 Spotlight movies will be shown at specific times.

Zoom parties can never really replicate the magic of the nightly parties, where you converse with like-minded film lovers, filmmakers, and performers, but Cinejoy is attempting to create a sense of community with Zoom-hosted “screening parties.” Ticketholders can host one or join in someone else’s.

Here is a sneak peek into films of Indian origin:

Thaen  

A glorious love story about transformation and giving in to the things we want most. While on her journey to fetch medicine to treat her sick father, a woman falls in love, gets married, and hopes to lead the life she wanted. But, even the Gods of Nature disapprove. A journey that explores the unexplored and challenges what we view as “normal.”

Horse Tail 

An alcoholic bank employee from Chennai has to solve a strange mystery: why did he wake up one morning with a horse’s tail?

Ghastly Fowl 

A stark, beautifully animated short story that sheds light on what human destruction is doing to our beautiful planet.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: [email protected]

Preeti Vasudevan Dances Stories of Ethnic Folklore to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello

New York-based award-winning choreographer and performer Preeti Vasudevan is known for creating provocative contemporary works from Indian tradition. Founder and artistic director of the Thresh Performing Arts Collaborative, her mission is to create experimental productions that foster a provocative dialogue with identity, and our relationship with heritage cultures and contemporary life. 

Preeti has been recognized by a number of prestigious institutions in the US for her outstanding contribution to dance. Cultural diplomacy is key to her work through education. As an artist alum of the US Department of State, she leads groundbreaking educational initiatives encouraging self-expression and artistic risk through cross-cultural creative exchange among artists and the community.

Preeti partners her educational and creative leadership with world-impacting organizations, such as Silkroad founded by legendary musician Yo-Yo Ma and the National Dance Institute founded by celebrated dancer Jacques D’Amboise. Recently, she started The Red Curtain Project (RCP), a new initiative from Thresh dedicated to sharing stories from around the world. Born during the NYC Covid lockdowns, RCP’s innovative digital stories highlight universal tenets, inspiring children to see connection and unity between cultures, while also encouraging them to live by the principles featured.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about her earliest influences, her new operatic musical theater production, and the process of presenting ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop.

How did you get interested in Bharatnatyam, and who were your earliest influences?

I was always interested in dancing, any dance would motivate me. My mother always says that she saw me dancing even before walking! I had this high energy that would make me want to move all the time. As we are from the south of India, I think my mother wanted me to learn the culture from where we are. At that time, I was growing up in New Delhi. So, it was all the more reason not to lose the connection to one’s roots. 

My earliest influences were dances I saw through the cultural exchange programs between India and China and India and the USSR. Living in the capital, we were exposed to some of the most incredible dances, something I had never seen before. The dynamism and costumes all were mesmerizing. I grew up watching some of the Indian greats as well from Kelucharan Mohapatra to Birju Maharaj to the Jhaveri sisters, teachers from the Kalamandalam. 

My first proper influence was my own teacher, the late Shri U.S. Krishna Rao who made me see dance for its own beauty and didn’t make it over precious. He loved cricket and was a chemistry professor, so he put it all in perspective as something all humans must do – dance! My own gurus, the Dhananjayans, were like my second parents. I owe a lot to them beyond dancing. They taught me how to look at life and where movement can come from. These further opened my eyes to the world of human expression through movement.

How did your dance evolve with the influence of a western and eastern range of dance and theater forms while you were teaching in Japan?

Japan made me grow up! I was used to traveling by then, touring and performing a lot. But these were mostly in India or the west. The Far East was still a mystery to us in the 90s. When I got a cultural scholarship to go there, I was partly nervous and excited – I love adventures! Japanese dance, Nihon Buyo made me experience my own body differently. The kimono, which first confined my body, taught me how to use my spine to liberate myself from the inside; the fans held during dance taught me how to channel the energy of emotions through my fingers onto them as an extension of my body. Thus, when I did perform the Bharatanatyam, I felt all these changes from the inside and made my dancing more three-dimensional and alive than before. 

Prior to Japan, I was a cultural delegate at the India International Dance Festival where the American dance festival came to New Delhi for three weeks to teach Indian dancers modern dance. Almost everything was new for me – falling, lying down, and moving, touching another dancer…between giggles and shocks, I learned to open my eyes to see movement as one of the most amazing energies there is! After these two crucial influences, I felt it seamless to collaborate and continue investigating my own approach to dance. Over the years, I have cross-trained in various forms of movement, theater, and voice to keep searching for the next meaning.

Preeti Vasudevan Choreographing at the Joyce Lab.

What is the idea behind your company Thresh, and tell us about some of the work that you do with it?

Thresh is like the threshold – it is about the present – the now. We come with a past and we go into an unknown future. What’s important is how we see and experience the present. It’s the liminal zone. That’s how Thresh came about in 2005 after I completed my Master’s from the Laban Centre in London. It’s an experimental platform to bring international artists together to create a provocative dialogue on identity and our relationship between our contemporary lives and heritage cultures. It’s about finding the universal experience and truth from the diverse voices as a collective.

Tell our readers about the Red Curtain Project, your recent initiative of sharing stories from around the world that was born during the NYC Covid lockdowns.

The Red Curtain Project (RCP) was born due to Covid. When all performances shut down, we had to find out what we stood for and what we could do for the larger society. Digital storytelling came out of this. My husband, Bruno Kavanagh, does online learning and therefore, he jumped in to help Thresh develop this amazing online platform. We have created 14 stories to date including one of our highlights with the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Through RCP, we have also done similar work for a Lebanese organization on stories from the war. Now, we are embarking on a new social impact venture called First Voices where we are working in partnership with the Indigenous people of Montana in the US to create a series on ancestral creation stories. This will lead into school workshops within the reservations to empower the youth with leadership skills through the arts.

Describe the process you use to present ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop?

Thresh has a great network of artists globally who share a common mission of sharing a story. For RCP, we work with children’s book publishers to select stories based on chosen themes and then license them. We then seek composer and visual artists to work alongside me as I do the choreography. This year, I have been the sole dancer due to distancing and restrictions. But from next year, I will be seeking other dancers who can be a part of this incredible sharing. The Red Curtain is a metaphor – in theater, we reveal everything once we open the curtain and the color red has multiple symbolisms the world over. In my apartment in New York, we have a red curtain. I simply used it, and it became the indicator for our project!

What are you working on next?

As mentioned, we have created our project First Voices. On December 10th, we launched the first performance online. We welcome everyone to come to see this and be part of our new adventure. Apart from this, we are also in residence creating a new operatic musical theater production called L’Orient: Search for the Real Lakme. This is a 21st-century take on the 19th-century French opera, Lakme. It looks at gender and Orientalism, and plays with Bharatanatyam, ballet, opera, and Carnatic music. It hopes to be a really fun production with a lively cast of unusual performers. We have received a residency commission from Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, NY.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box.

Dinesh Mohan Is Busting the Age Myth in Indian Fashion

As someone whose work has always been in front of the camera, I must admit that as the years went by, I expanded my horizons (and waist) to have my kids. I often felt the need to catch up backward. It was now time for me to find some much-needed inspiration from people whose stories inspire me for my future.

Dinesh Mohan, a 62-year-old male model, walks for India’s top designers. That’s enough of a stand-out story but there’s more to him, I realized, as he spoke to me about self-love and beauty standards. Dinesh Mohan recognizes that he is an exception in the fashion world – he went from being overweight and confined to his bed to becoming an actor and a model.

His journey of personal transformation began when most other models were well into their retirement. It started at 53.

“It is easy to change on the outside by wearing clothes and makeup but on the inside, if you are defeated, nothing can save you.” Says Dinesh who at 62 says he feels 26. 

But it wasn’t always like this. Far from it.

I ask Dinesh why he described himself not long ago as‘ fat and sick’ – was he being unfairly harsh on himself?

“I indulge in no age shaming of any kind but in my case, I was eating to punish myself and the result was that for 5-7 years I needed assistance even to walk, and was fully bedridden for 10 months. So in my case, I was being brutally honest.”

How did he go from being unable to walk to walking runways, modeling, and then acting in movies as if to the role born?

“ It might sound like a cliché but it was spirituality that really helped and I told myself why not give myself a chance at life. I had given up in front of the negative circumstances around me, forced to retire from a comfortable government job. But then it was a choice between living like this for ever or giving life a chance. I started by going out with great courage, even though some people would look at me and laugh. Then I joined a gym and started swimming again. Doing all this while being seen by  judgmental people made me very strong.”

With a local newspaper carrying his ‘before and after’ journey, Dinesh was spotted and soon appeared in some big ads including one for BMW, where while taking a break during the shoot, his signature look was captured and went viral. He is now also known for his own brand of insta-swag and a mass following.

“I live on social media,” says Dinesh. “I love observing people, stepping out, going out for coffee and watching the world go by. There was so much I couldn’t do that I can do now. The first step on the ramp and people went crazy. So yes, I guess I am an exception in the fashion world.”

The world is hungry for more exceptions. It’s the kind of inspiration everybody needs. Dinesh is both exception and inspiration with style and heart.

“I am so grateful to all the negative circumstances and people I met. It is because of them that I am where I am today.”


Amrita Gandhi is a Lifestyle TV host who interviews inspiring personalities on her show ‘So, What’s It Really Like‘ on her Instagram

South Asian Sex Workers’ COVID Struggle For Survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Power of Visualization: A South Asian Dream

Are you ready to achieve your goals and ideal life? 2021 is the year to renew, refresh, revitalize and move towards achieving your goals. Visualization is a tool you can use to realize your goals and attract what you desire. I use this tool regularly and would like to tell you more about it.

A Vision Board is a tool that is used to represent your intentions and goals to create your ideal life with images, pictures, symbols, numbers, positive words, and affirmations. It helps you clarify your goals.

Define your goals in your relationships, work, family, finance, or more by writing them down. To make it simple and more effective, let’s build yourself a Vision Board. Choose pictures and images that bring forth objects and experiences that you want to attract in your life. Take a board, or if you prefer things online, you could also use an online tool like a ‘Pinterest’ board. You can cut out pictures from the newspaper, magazines, and the internet which may speak to you about your goals, ideas, vision, and success. 

Add a happy picture of yourself to this collection! 

Try to organize your pictures to make them appealing to yourself. Bring forth your creative juices while working on your vision board. You can use markers or metallic pens to write quotes, positive words, and affirmations. 

Your vision board could be oriented towards a short-term or long-term goal or a specific area. I tend to create different boards for the various aspects of my life; relationships, health, job goals, finance, travel.

Place your vision board in a place that is easily visible to you. You may like it on your nightstand, worktable, fridge, or even on the lock screen of your phone.

I have learned that seeing it for 5 minutes when you awaken and just before sleeping are the most powerful times of the day. Seeing the images the first thing in the morning helps in creating what you want to happen or have. In addition, seeing these images one hour before bedtime keeps these images running through your subconscious mind at night in a replay mode.

What is Creative Visualization? You start to create mental images vividly and repeatedly in your mind of what you want to happen, in order to help that event come about in real life.

We have all heard the quote, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We picture the images we want as IT HAS HAPPENED. Our brain and subconscious receive the message of what it is we desire and set the wheels in motion to make that wish come true. When we learn how to visualize correctly, the images we generate become a reality.  

Image from www.berries.com

Once you have created your Vision Board you can select and focus on one image. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you won’t be interrupted, and begin picturing in your mind what it is that you want. It could be an event you want to occur, a goal you want to achieve, or a personality trait, such as self-confidence or compassion, that you want to develop more fully. It may also be that you want to improve your health, relationships, or work life. 

See it clearly in your mind’s eye and really get into the experience. Give your imagination free reign, Imagine all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations you would expect to be there when your dream finally manifests as reality. Picture yourself inside the story, not outside looking in

Feel as it has happened, not happening. 

If, for example, you wish for your children to be healthy and well-balanced. Picture them in front of you – laughing, happy, caring, and loving. Listen to the sounds of laughter, the smell of the scent of the soap after the kids have showered, and the aroma of a home-cooked meal. Feel the joy of reaching out and hugging your children and the bonds of being together. 

For instance, a Bharatnatyam dancer who wants to achieve her goal to be an accomplished dancer has to have ambition, dedication, and a want to achieve her dream. While closing her eyes she imagines herself on stage in front of people, dancing with confidence and grace. The dancer can hear her heartbeat and the elation of the crowd. She feels the swish of her colorful attire against her skin. Her ‘abhinaya’ or the expression in motion should be felt like a warm feeling coursing through her body. In the ‘tilana’, she explodes into leaps and jumps, moving in all directions with the fast tempo of the music. The Bharatnatyam dancer hears the three clangs of the cymbals and knows that she has given it all. The more she visualizes this with all her senses, the more she will be able to achieve her goal. 

Athletes use visualization to help them achieve peak performance By picturing themselves flawlessly executing a difficult maneuver, they are more likely to execute the maneuver flawlessly when the time comes to actually do it. Speakers visualize in order to stay calm during speeches. 

The more real and detailed the experience is in your imagination, the more powerful the visualization will be and the sooner it will happen in your life as a reality. Repeat this a few times during the day. For extra oomph, try combining an affirmation with each visualization. The practice of visualization will help you achieve your goal. Have patience, focus on this powerful tool, and learn to enjoy the beauty of this magical resource. Go on to try building your Vision Board and using Creative Visualization and see the results!


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

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


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