Tag Archives: #ethnicminority

Erase Your Carbon Footprint. Save Our Earth, Says Seema Vaid

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Going vegan or  reducing your carbon footprint does not mean you’re losing your lifestyle or giving it up, when in fact you’re actually gaining a better relationship with your health, with nature and especially the environmental legacy you leave behind for future generations.

Climate Reality Activist Seema Vaid

The facts are simple, says Seema Vaid. Every day a vegan saves one animal’s life, 11 hundred gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 20 pounds of CO2, and 30 square feet of forested land.

Do you want to figure out your own carbon footprint? Go to footprintcalculator.org

 

Bay Area Climate Reality activists Seema Vaid and Erin Zimmerman, Ph.D,  tell DesiCollective why reducing our carbon footprint will help save the environment.

 


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Bay Area Activist Erin Zimmerman Checks If Biden’s Climate Agenda Stacks Up On Earth Day

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?
Bay Area Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman, Ph.D (she has a doctorate in Political Science), talks to DesiCollective about President Biden’s executive actions on climate change and what the political and financial implications of his ambitious agenda  will mean for all of us.
Will it drive more technological innovations for green tech in Silicon Valley?

 


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Going Vegan With Bay Area Climate Reality Activist Seema Vaid

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Seema Vaid grew aware of veganism when she joined a campaign by Beatle Paul McCartney to save an Indian temple elephant. It was a change that lead to her vocation as a climate change activist who walks the walk to incorporate sustainability in her daily life.  Seema has lived in the Bay Area for a long time with her family and has 3 children, and works at Intel. She talks to DesiCollective about her choice to go vegan and why. 

Bay Area Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman joined the discussion.

Do you have questions about what vegan vs. vegetarian means and how exactly does that affect climate change? 

Find out more!

 


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash


 

Green Jobs Could Save The Bay Area, Says Climate Change Activist Justine Burt

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Will green jobs help solve the unemployment crisis? 

 We are in a worldwide pandemic, dealing with a climate crisis and an unemployment crisis, but we have an opportunity to use this disruption – to use a Silicon valley term – to create something even better.

Could green jobs pay as much as fossil fuel jobs ( $70 to $80 thousand a year)? And how can ordinary people make a difference to help avert a climate crisis?

Justine Burt – a Bay Area climate change activist wrote The Great Pivot –  a roadmap on how to decarbonize and dematerialize the economy.

She explains how creating millions of green jobs could lead to a sustainable future, for the Bay Area and beyond.

 


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Ralph Hutter on Unsplash

In Mumbai or Japan, Mother Nature Can Calm A Restless Mind

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.

Learning to unwind in nature – A life-saving skill that can help us survive not just the pandemic, but the ups and downs of daily life.

In the early months of the pandemic, I consoled myself by saying that all the drastic changes demanded by the Covid-19 virus were short-term measures. The inconvenience was temporary; a test of resilience that was best borne with a smile. A year later, the once-surreal situation that has now become an unpleasant but accepted reality for the foreseeable future, makes me grimace. 

As an unabashed urbanite who thrives in crowded spaces and fast moving environments, I doubt whether I can endure being cooped up on an island for much longer. Singapore is Covid-free but reluctant to risk outside threats, particularly in the form of returning residents who have visited other countries. Therefore travel, my preferred form of rejuvenation, is not an option. I need to find other ways to survive. 

Mysteries of nature

Growing up in Mumbai, I assumed milk came in glass bottles or plastic bags, delivered to the doorstep each morning. I knew the names of common vegetables and fruits that were easily available at the store down the street but I had no idea whether they grew on creepers or shrubs or trees. Textbooks references to four seasons, particularly autumn and winter, seemed to be theoretical constructs, much like physics. The water cycle however, played out in front of my eyes each year in the form of a sultry summer that gave way to monsoon rains. 

My first introduction to changing seasons came in my first year on the east coast of the US. Arriving on a cold December day in Washington DC, I was aghast to see wide avenues lined with tall tree trunks that resembled giant skeletons. The barren branches shocked me as much as the unfamiliar cold. 

When warm spring days arrived with spots of color on tree branches and sprouting tulip bulbs in the ground, I felt a lifting of my spirits. Finally the homesickness that had plagued me all winter seemed to melt. The breathtaking view of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial in full bloom in early April is indelibly etched in my memory. I hoped to one day visit Japan, the country that had gifted these Yoshino cherry trees to the United States.

Dreams take time, so do flowers

In March 2018, almost three decades after that original wish to travel to Japan, my dream came true. My husband and I arrived in Tokyo in late March. We had made arrangements to walk part of the Nakasendo trail, a path that runs between Tokyo and Kyoto. 

Since the sakura usually blossoms in April, we wondered if we would catch the peak of the blossoming. But we were lucky. Tokyo looked like any densely populated city with it’s crowded trains and high rises, except for the majestic flowering trees lining its busy thoroughfares. 

Side-effects of Shinrin-yoku 

On the trail, we walked through picturesque villages and mature forests with well-marked paths. Each evening we checked into small ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. The hosts gave us cotton yukata robes to wear and served freshly-cooked food made using seasonal, local produce on exquisite crockery. To our delight, ryokans were able to accommodate special requests from vegetarian and vegan guests. After spending several hours each day absorbing the refreshing energy of the forests, we fell fast asleep on futons laid out on tatami-matted floors. 

Although I had often visited the California redwoods in summer and admired the glorious colors of Shenandoah Valley in the fall, this entire experience was unusually soothing. It was my first foray into nature for a prolonged period. 

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing, involves soaking in the atmosphere of the forest by mindfully absorbing its sights, sounds, textures, smell and taste. Invented in 1982 in response to the increasingly stressful life that the Japanese were leading, as well as to protect its forests, the practice gained prominence after studies proved its health benefits that included stress and  blood pressure reduction and ability to promote better sleep. 

The act of immersing myself in nature forced me to slow down, be observant, and acknowledge the trees, the sky, and the gurgling river that kept us company for most of the trek. As a city slicker, it was an unfamiliar experience. Yet, it was exactly what I needed – an orientation to the therapeutic and restorative benefits of the natural world.

Escaping everyday life

In April 2021, I’m looking forward to receiving my Covid-19 vaccine shot and keeping my fingers crossed for the possibility of a vaccination passport to ferry me to foreign lands. But what can I do until then?

The accumulated stress of living and working from home demands a release. Last year we found creative ways to work from home. This year we need to find new ways to get outside

My kitchen window offers a verdant view of a nature reserve that is literally in my backyard. Sometimes after a rain, the dense foliage is slick and shiny. At other times, trees topple, branches collapse and it’s a glorious green mess. During a dry spell, the trees shed leaves, the grass dries up and everything looks forlorn, like an abandoned project, begging for mother nature’s grace.

In April, hot mornings are often followed by afternoon thunderstorms. I step out for a stroll after the rain dies down, enjoying the gentle drip-drop of rain falling from saturated leaves. A meandering walk through paths littered with fallen leaves and creeping vines, amidst thick shrubs and trees, slows down my heartbeat. The green canopy soothes my tired eyes. 

My solo nature walks are a mindful pause that invite mother nature to do what she does best, provide a nourishing environment for things to grow. These mini recharge breaks help clear my mind and allow budding ideas to take shape.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a time when I can travel to a faraway place to have a rejuvenating break. For now, I’m glad to have a quick serenity fix, right in my neighborhood.  


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

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

 

Being Sheela: The Life Journey of an Immigration Lawyer

Being Sheela” is a biography of Sheela Murthy, an immigration lawyer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist based in Maryland. It charts her journey from a childhood in the bosom of a middle-class, military family in India, to a highly successful career as a Harvard-trained lawyer in the United States.

Author Adithi Rao beautifully brings to life the dynamics inside families – Sheela’s own as well as her husband’s, highlighting the unique qualities and subtleties of relationships, while exploring the conflicts and ambiguities within what are clearly very loving families.

Sheela’s personal story of growing up in a family of three high-achieving sisters (two of them are doctors), is a delightful tale weaving together the charms and challenges of Indian middle-class life.

Sheela’s story is one that needs to be told. In an America where immigrants have been under siege during the last four years, this memoir is particularly significant and meaningful.  It’s almost a primer on how to navigate a complex immigration system and counter discrimination against H1B visa holders, or dependent EAD-4 spouses, green card families awaiting decisions that determine their future, and immigrants whose lives are on hold in the wake of aggressive immigration reform initiated by the Trump administration.

And therein lies its weakness. Rao does a terrific job stitching together the rich anecdotes that form Sheela’s early life. She understands the nuances of Indian culture and expectations and articulates those stories from an insider’s perspective.

That richness of detail and color is lost when the book turns its attention to Sheela’s professional life and philanthropic work. Rao seems intent on recording the minutiae of cases that form the cornerstone of the Murthy Law Firm which Sheela founded. But the narrative feels less compelling. Rao painstakingly covers case studies of Sheela’s work as an immigration attorney but pays less attention to the human side of Sheela as she makes decisions and does not fully explore why Sheela makes certain career and professional life choices.

It feels as though Rao is in a hurry to pay homage to achievements that are richly deserved, rather than offer insights into the transitions that propelled Sheela into her career and philanthropic journey.

Why did Sheela switch jobs or what made her finally decided to start her own firm which became the powerful Murthy Law Firm? The story skims the surface of her reasoning in a way that makes some of Sheela’s decisions, unfortunately, seem somewhat contrived.

Sheela found unique ways to deal with her client’s dilemmas. She has a reputation for helping women who are victims of violence and has made a difference in people’s lives. But Rao does not dig deeper into Sheela’s personality – the thinking and motivation that drives Sheela in these scenarios.

The book is similar in style to Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” – but unlike “Becoming”, it is not reasonable to assume that the reader is familiar with Sheela’s track record as a lawyer and philanthropist.

Her work for women’s causes and philanthropy is mentioned in passing throughout the book, but these significant contributions are quickly summed up within a few chapters.  Adding more layers to this catalog of accomplishments would enrich the narrative with the same sensitivity and depth given to her personal story.

None of this, however, takes away from the remarkable tale of an intelligent, engaging, empathetic woman who has dedicated herself to others in what she calls ‘labors of love’.

Being Sheela is an inspiring immigrant success story that offers intriguing insights into the complex inner workings of American immigration policy.

Being Sheela: The Life Journey of an Immigration Lawyer; Adithi Rao, HarperCollins India,$34.87, 260 pages


Svati Kania Shashank is a lawyer practicing in New York for over 20 years. 

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor, at India Currents

Oil-free and Plant-Based Food Serve Up A Healthy Desi Diet

Two years ago, I could not imagine cooking and eating oil-free food. Cooking good food was synonymous with a liberal splash of cooking oil in everything from simple sabji to biryani.

I loved cooking all my recipes  with lots of oil, though I knew it was bad for my health. Every dish began with a bottle of cooking oil right beside me.  As a foodie I relished food glazed with oil.

Homemade chakalis were my favorite. As a vegetarian, I assumed that oily snacks were okay, given my healthy vegetarian diet of fruit smoothies, brown rice, sambar, vegetables and beans.

But I often wondered why I was putting on weight despite my plant-based diet. In Atlanta, I met Shobha, and my perspective drastically changed. Shobha is an advocate of plant-based foods, inspiring folks to thrive on plant-based fare with zero oil!  That simple conversation with her had a profound impact on me.

I joined Shobha’s WhatsApp group and my plant-based health education began.

I discovered that the persistent ache in my knees was inflammation from the excessive oil in my diet.

I was shocked to find out that all cooking oils, from soybean to canola oil are highly processed. High temperature and chemicals are used to extract oil, a  process that make their nutrients go rancid.

When I learned that one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories, I nearly fainted. I felt so guilty! All that processed oil in my everyday food!

The more I discovered, the more I realized how little I knew about how cooking oil affects the body.

Processed oil is responsible for so many health issues – obesity, constipation, inflammation, heart attacks, and more.

And yet, the information you read on websites and news articles is really so confusing and overwhelming.

Are cold pressed sesame oil and coconut oil safe? Is olive oil as healthy as  nutritionists claim?. And what about using “just a little oil’. Vloggers and sharers of recipes suggest 4 to 5 tablespoon of oil per pound of vegetables. Doctors and nutritionists urge folks to include oil in their diets, as oil fat is essential in the absorption of some vitamins, and the healthy functioning of cells and tissues.

So what’s the truth?

Our modern diet and lifestyle is driving the upsurge in diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure. The reality is that oils have extremely low nutritive value. Both the monounsaturated and saturated fat they contain is harmful to the endothelium, the innermost layer of the artery, and that injury is a gateway to vascular disease.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s olive oil, coconut oil, or canola – my takeaway is to avoid all oil. And since diabetes and heart disease run in my family, I made an intentional decision to drastically cut back on oil in my everyday cooking.

At first, it was hard. I automatically reached for the oil when I started cooking. I had to really make a conscious effort to stop myself!

Magically, my WhatsApp group delivered. They shared amazing pictures  of oil-free recipes and dishes.

In the span of few months I was cooking up a storm of  tasty, zero-oil dishes, from upma to masala vadas, and cookies to cakes. No unhealthy oil!

Now, I’m on a roll. Here’s how.

In delicious cakes and cookies, I substitute applesauce and banana for oil .

I get healthy fats from fresh coconut, guacamole, almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds. My zero-oil channa masala and rotis are delicious. To sauté onions, I just use a tablespoon or two of water instead! Going oil-free has helped me to explore so many interesting food items and cooking techniques .  Fortunately, my family loves it too!

I’m simply awed by the tasty and nutritious dishes I can make without a drop of oil!

Growing up, I loved deep-fried peanuts and spicy lentils. Now I simply roast sprouted green gram, channa dal and peanuts in the oven, and while it’s still warm, I mix in chili powder and salt. Yummy! My husband couldn’t believe it had no oil at all!

Studies show that Indian Americans have high rate of heart disease. In fact many vegetarians assume that they are thriving on a healthy diet, even though their food is rich in carbohydrates, fats, cholesterol and sugar. Sugar and all-purpose flour are white poison. I realize that cooking oil is colorless poison.

Once or twice in a week, I  use cold-pressed sesame or peanut oil as they offer a healthier option than highly processed vegetable oils.  Occasionally, I have a deep fried treat, during festivals and on special occasions, but no longer need to open my chakali box!

My mindful eating habits have produced a happy result – fortunately, I no longer suffer from knee pain  and my weight has stabilized.  I know my new plant-based diet with zero oil, and thirty minutes of exercise, is playing a pivotal role in my leading a healthy lifestyle.


Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash
Photo by Jo Sonn on Unsplash

San Jose’s Ash Kalra Gets An ‘A’ On Climate Change

San Jose Asemblymember Ash Kalra (CA-27) got an ‘A’ from the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), winning a 99% rating as a climate change champion when CLVC released its annual California Environmental Scorecard this year.

Unfortunately, the state of California got a dismal C.

The Scorecard is a comprehensive analysis of where the state’s leaders stand on the environment and climate change.

Kalra was named Nature Defender  by CLVC for championing AB 3030 in the state assembly, to preserve biodiversity and access to nature. He  was recognized as “someone the environmental community can always count on to be the progressive leader and environmental champion that California needs.”

Kalra’s  track record supporting a range of environmental bills on the assembly floor (buffer zoners for oil and gas safety, clean cars, and transparency within the Department of Toxic Substances Control), earned a 100% rating for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018), and a 99% in 2019.

Most recently he co-authored AB 1289, with Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), to help smaller family farms stay in business by transitioning from animal agriculture to sustainable plant-based agriculture.

Kalra stated that CLCV was his ‘go-to group “ for environmental leadership because they were helping combat the climate crisis with new, innovative proposals designed “to strengthen clean air and water for our communities.”

Mary Creasman, CLCV CEO, said that though California had a reputation for being progressive, 2020 was largely a year of ‘climate change inaction.’

Only 11 (nine Assemblymembers and two Senators) out of 120 legislators scored 100%.

Governor Gavin Newsom earned a score of 87% despite California’s poor track record on climate change initiatives last year, only because he issued executive orders  at the year end to conserve biodiversity and boost climate resilience

CLVC said that the climate crisis took a back seat in Sacramento last year. For the first time, the annual Scorecard revealed that 70% of the California Legislature accepted campaign contributions from oil companies and major oil industry Political Action Committees (PACs). According to their analysis, 60% of Democrats and 100% of Republicans took these dollars.

Even though Kalra and a small band of legislators fought for climate justice, they failed to convince a majority in the legislature to pass bold policies. In reality, corporate interests are still calling the shots in Sacramento when it comes to the environment and public health, added Creasman.

“Corporate polluters continue to have an outsized impact on policy in Sacramento.”

With less than nine years left to address the most severe impacts of climate change, the California League of Conservation Voters is calling for renewed action in Sacramento and, in particular, the development of a comprehensive climate action plan for the state.

Mike Young, Political and Organizing Director at CLCV urged the Governor and the legislature to work together to renew their focus on the climate crisis. He pointed them to the Biden Administration’s climate action plan, with justice, jobs and public health at its center, nothing that “We need a vision for the future that centers the health and safety of Californians.”

CLVC called for California to create a clear climate action plan of its own, because “the country and the world is looking to California for leadership.”

California’s Overall Score: 74%

Governor Newsom’s Score: 87%

Assembly Overall Average Score: 71%

Senate Overall Average Score: 73%


Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents

A Tale of Two Sumi(s) – When COVID19 Flatlined the Desi Beauty Business

Sumi Patel opened Sumi Beauty in 2007 and ran a thriving cosmetology business

Sumi Beauty Salon in Mountain View

on El Camino in Mountain View for more than 13 years. A single mom with two children, Sumi built a steady stream of customers seeking beauty treatments designed with desi clientele in mind. On offer were services like threading, waxing, skincare, and facials, as well as special heritage henna treatments and make-up for brides to be.  Her salon was popular.

“I’ve been going here for over a year and have always been so pleased with the results! The women who work here….both do great jobs at the Indian beauty salon,” says a testimonial on her website.

As Sumi’s clients became regulars, she hired an aesthetician to help with the increased workload.

And then the pandemic hit. On March 15, 2020, Sumi Beauty shut down as Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic regulations were enforced, flatlining Sumi Patel’s source of livelihood.

In Southern California, Sumita Batra, the CEO of a successful, family-run chain of beauty studios called Ziba Beauty, made a tough decision even before Newsom issued his statewide lockdown orders. She shuttered all 14 branches of her stores and laid off her entire team of 144 employees so they could file for unemployment benefits. Batra used her personal savings to fund their final paychecks and to keep her business afloat.

Threading service at Ziba Beauty

As the pandemic placed communities of color under siege, minority-owned small businesses like the ones run by Sumi Patel and Sumita Batra were among the hardest hit.

While workers of color were impacted by job losses, women’s job losses were significantly higher than men’s, reported Chad Stone, Chief Economist at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), at an ethnic media press briefing on March 12. Stone co-authored a study which found that “Workers born abroad, especially women, were more likely to work in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and have suffered disproportionate job losses.”

For both Sumi(s), the impact of losing a lifetime of work was devastating.

Ziba Beauty had been in business for 33 years since it first opened shop in Artesia, CA.  It had served more than forty-five thousand customers out of its 14 studios. Batra describes the experience of closing her stores as going “into a complete meltdown.” Losing her business felt “like losing a family member.”

Sumita Batra, CEO, Ziba Beauty

Batra applied for PPP funds “using every contact in her book and everything in her power,” but it still took several weeks to arrive.

In Mountain View, Patel negotiated a deal with her landlord to pay a lower rental rate to tide her over the pandemic and applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection program for Small Businesses.

“But my business is very small, so I did not get that much,” said Patel, who had to let her aesthetician go.

One year after the pandemic hit, the business has dwindled at Sumi Beauty. Before the pandemic, Patel would see at up to 20 to 25 customers a day. “Today, I saw one person,” she notes, after which she waited for 3 hours for a walk-in customer. Customers aren’t calling to make appointments Patel added. She does not understand why.  On weekends, business picks up a little. “Maybe I’ll have 4 or 5 customers.”

Her salon can only accommodate one person at a time, as pandemic restrictions are still in place.

She briefly reopened last year when restrictions were lifted before shutting down again as infections rose. “My business is reduced to only 10% of what it was before the pandemic. We’re not back to 100 %. This whole year has been very hard.”

Ziba Beauty remained closed, announcing that its priority was the safety of customers and employees.

In March 2021 Biden signed off on the ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ -a  $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill which the CBPP predicts will help millions and bolster the economy.

Chad Stone reports that the coronavirus relief package and its new round of stimulus payments are aimed at “getting the virus under control,” so that life can get back to normal, reducing the levels of hardship many Americans have endured over the past year, and which has been particularly acute among people of color and immigrants.” It will provide a stimulus for an economic recovery that had stalled “only halfway back to full employment,” he added.

But the Congressional Budget Office projects that the economy won’t return to its full potential until 2025. Today’s labor market, says the CBPP analysis, is much weaker than the headline numbers suggest.

According to the CBPP, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently testified that “The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain. . . . There is a long way to go.”

Sumi Batra agrees.

“Touch services coming back too soon will be one of the things that end up spreading COVID.”

At the risk of losing her 33-year-old brand after shutting down last year, Batra was adamant that she would not reopen until it was safe to do so. “I’m not going to feel comfortable opening up my stores and risking my team as well as my customers.”

Touch services like threading operate in ‘intimate spaces’ says Batra, where aesthetician and client sit in close contact. So a ‘phased opening is the right approach’ because a threading artist works differently from a hairdresser.

Unlike e-commerce companies, touch service industries need a phased reopening to facilitate a safe recovery post pandemic. Batra is calling for a separate stimulus for the beauty and nail industries, and suggests they need to come together to create a recovery plan that will ensure the safety of practitioners and clients.

Sumi Patel says though her salon now is fully open her customers are ‘scared to come back,’ even though she has implemented health and safety changes. When threading eyebrows on a customer, for example, she wears a mask and anchors the thread around her neck instead of holding it in her mouth, which is the traditional technique. She attributes the drop in clients to the fact that many of her customers from the IT industry, may not need beauty services now that many work from home, do not socialize, or travel.

At Ziba Beauty which has gradually reopened about 6 stores, Batra is using  PPE and stringent safety measures. At the start of each day, each studio is thoroughly sterilized by a UVC robot, and bookings, payments, check-in and check out are contactless.

For Sumi Patel who has two kids to support, the loss of income has been a challenge

“Right now it’s a tough time. My only hope is that my business will come back – I hope.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Anjana Nagarajan Butaney contributed to this report.


 

My Bones Just Lit Up Says Indira Ahluwalia About Her Battle With Cancer

Indira Ahluwalia is tall and graceful with a warm, welcoming smile. She’s the picture of wellness and good health, or so you’d think.  Her story, however, is about an illness that inspires dread, but it’s a remarkable and inspiring one.

In 2007 Indira was told she had metastatic breast cancer which had spread to her bones. She did not have long to live. But since that devastating diagnosis 13 years ago, Indira has beaten the odds and has not simply lived, but thrived.

Her  forthcoming book, Fast Forward to Hope, describes the tortuous, but ultimately awe inspiring journey through the dark crevices of her disease, and the toolkits for survival she developed which she firmly believes, contributed to her recovery.

“I remember the day I went to my gynecologist’s office so well,” Indira says. “I had coped with a terrible back pain for weeks and was walking around with a cane. I had an appointment with an orthopedic doctor but then a new symptom appeared. I felt this awful shaft of pain from the underside of my right nipple all the way up my arm; it was a live, electric wire thing, and it prompted me to make an appointment with Dr. Maser, my obstetrician-gynecologist, immediately.”

That trip led to an immediate mammogram which diagnosed her breast cancer and her doctor insisted she get a PET scan.

“I had already been through an MRI for my back pain, but without contrast, and it didn’t show anything. But when I had the PET scan, my bones just lit up,” Indira recalls. “Dr. Maser, an incredibly supportive doctor, came out and held my hand and said to me “promise me you’re going to fight.”

The full meaning of what it meant to have the cancer in your bones didn’t hit Indira till later.

“I visualized a tiny, pinkie size spot somewhere, and was horrified when I saw the spread.”

The process of getting the right diagnosis is one of the first lessons in Indira’s book.

“My father had colon cancer and we were very conscious of taking care of our health and testing on time. I began having colonoscopies when I was 35. But I was 38 and had never had a mammogram. I simply didn’t see the connection or imagined it was a risk at my age. I didn’t know at the time that there is a genetic connection between colon cancer and breast cancer. It’s important not to underestimate your risk in any area, was the first lesson I learned. It’s also important to get every technologically advanced current diagnostic test done. My MRI without contrast hadn’t picked up the cancer in my bones.

Her second lesson was about the will to survive. At the time, her children were young: her son was 3, her daughter had just turned 5. After going through every stage of grief – denial, shock, anger and finally, acceptance, – Indira came to the conclusion that dying before she raised her children was simply not an option.

“You have to believe in what you want the outcome of your illness to be,” Indira says. “I had a simple choice – living or dying – and I was determined not to die. You also have to commit yourself to healing and not let a feeling of powerlessness or helplessness overtake you. I had some very low points in my treatment, when I had to actively cultivate my faith in the positive outcome I wanted – beating back the cancer. There is an enormous capacity all of us carry within us for self-healing and we need to believe in it, with gratitude and humility.”

 Indira’s strong conviction about the healing power of positive thinking is borne out by recent research that supports the power of optimism and faith in changing the course of serious illness.  She also found that being open about one’s suffering and disease brought enormous rewards.

“The first thing that comes to my mind from my ordeal is the goodness of people,” Indira declares. “I knew there was a stigma associated with cancer, but I was open about my illness and I was overwhelmed by the response I got from all sorts of people – friends, family, staff, clients, my children’s Montessori teachers, unknown strangers. She believes that given and opportunity, even random strangers offer unconditional kindness and compassion.”

She recounts a particularly moving incident. On a cab ride from her office in Ballston, the cab driver surprised Indira with a, “Oh, my God, it’s you!”  He explained he’d driven her home some months ago, “…. you were talking to your doctor and you’ve been in my prayers ever since.”

“It was the simple humanity of his words which really touched me,” Indira says.

“Another of my primary anchors was my faith,” affirms Indira. “I believe in the Sikh tenet of Chardi Kala which is, essentially, cultivating a state of eternal optimism as one goes into battle. And I was going into battle with my cancer, with all the resources I could muster, including my state of mind.”

Her doctor told Indira he had used her first diagnostic scan from thirteen years ago and her most recent scan, to teach a class of medical students. He presented them as scans for separate individuals. His students diagnosed the thirteen year old scan as that of a patient unlikely to live, but gave the latest scan a great prognosis. His students were astonished when they heard that both scans belonged to the same person.

“My doctor told me that they needed to bottle the magical elixir I’ve used to beat back my cancer and distribute it to all his cancer patients,” Indira recalls.

 “I’ve tried to share what I learned about my magical elixir in the book,” Indira says.” Writing it was a cathartic process and it lays out the essentials in terms of harnessing the science of your disease along with your faith and your social network, and creating your personal anti-cancer army. I really hope I can help others who may be going through a similar trauma. My advice to them: choose yourself and visualize your cure with all your heart.”

Indira’s book, Fast Forward to Hope, will be out in late April 2021 and will be available on Amazon and in Barnes and Noble and local bookstores.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

 

Indian Inspired Curries Make it Easy to Go Amok With Cambodian Cuisine

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

Pre-Covid, when my son was visiting Cambodia, he described his visit to Angkor Wat saying he noticed parallels with Indian temples that we had visited, seen in movies and read about. His guide showed him twin bas reliefs, hundreds of meters long, depicting sculpted scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Devas and asuras exist in the form of gigantic sculptures, standing, enormous legs braced on the ground, as they pull the serpent Vasuki as a rope, and churn away at the Ocean of milk. 

This got me thinking about Cambodian food and my son said that it was all about contrasts-sweet and bitter, salty and sour. Influenced by their neighbors, Cambodian cuisine includes noodle soup similar to Vietnamese phở, salads and sour soups commonly found in Thailand, noodles and stir fries handed down from years of Chinese migration and Indian-inspired curries.

Cambodia’s national dish is Fish amok, a fish curry that gets its signature flavor from kroeung, an aromatic curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and a little chili. The kroeung is mixed with coconut milk, which turns a beautiful golden yellow. Mild white fish and shredded kaffir lime leaves are added to the curry, which is steamed in a banana-leaf cup. Being vegetarian, I made a meatless version.

So, till we can visit Cambodia and immerse ourselves in its culture and fascinating history, stroll through the night markets of Siem Reap, and get lost in the famous Russian market of Phnom Penh, let’s experience Cambodia through its food with recipes we recreate at home.

Nime Chow (Fresh Cambodian Spring Rolls with Peanut Dressing)

Nime Chow

INGREDIENTS

Rolls:

  • 1 ½ ounces uncooked cellophane noodles
  • 12 (8-inch round) sheets rice paper
  • 2 cups thinly sliced lettuce
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 12 medium basil leaves

Peanut Sauce:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (for vegetarians omit the sauce)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts 

PREPARATION

  • Combine bean threads and 2 cups hot water in a bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Drain; cut into 2-inch lengths.
  • Add cold water to a large shallow dish to a depth of 1 inch. Place whole rice paper sheet in the dish of water. Let stand 30 seconds or until soft (but don’t over soak because then it will tear easily and be harder to work with). Remove sheet from water.
  • Place rice paper sheet on a flat surface. Place lettuce, arrange 2 tablespoons grated carrot, 1 ½ tablespoons bean threads, 2 tablespoons bean sprouts, and 3 basil leaves over lettuce. Fold sides of rice paper sheets over filling; roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Gently press seam to seal; place, seam side down, on a serving platter (cover to keep from drying). Repeat procedure with remaining rice paper sheets, lettuce, carrot, bean threads, bean sprouts, and basil.
  • Cut each roll in half crosswise.
  • To make the sauce, combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Cool completely. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve with the rolls.

 

Meatless (Vegetable) Amok 

All my ingredients are from Angkor Foods. They are local, fresh and authentic in taste and texture. 

Vegetable Amok

INGREDIENTS

Curry Paste Ingredients:

Amok Ingredients:

  • Veggies of your choice: Tofu, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower florets, bell peppers
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into long slices
  • 400mL can coconut milk
  • Soy sauce or salt

For added spice: Chrouk Metae – Cambodian Chili Paste

PREPARATION

  • Make the Paste: Peel the onion and garlic. Roughly chop all the ingredients and toss them into a food processor or blender. Blend until they all become a paste. Add oil/lime juice as needed.
  • Fry the paste for 3-4 minutes until the aromas are released. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 20 minutes. While simmering, add additional Keffir lime leaves and lemongrass to really infuse those flavors into the Amok.
  • As the paste is simmering, pan fry your tofu. Add soy sauce or salt and season to preference.
  • Add the vegetables to the curry. Let the mixture simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add additional milk to keep the consistency from getting too thick. 
  • Taste as it is cooking and season as needed. Add more sugar if the mixture is too bitter.

 

Cambodian bai cha (fried rice)

Bai Cha

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 eggs beaten (optional)
  • ½ cup carrot finely diced 
  • ½ cup  french beans finely diced 
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups cooked rice separated
  • 1/4 cup spring onions sliced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional but preferred)

PREPARATION

  • Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok add the eggs to the wok and swirl around to make an omelet. When the omelet is just cooked through, remove from the wok, allow to cool a little and slice into bite-sized pieces. (If you don’t eat eggs, leave this step out and proceed to the next step)
  • Heat the sesame oil, add the garlic and fry for one minute, add the carrots and beans, cook till they’ve softened a little but still have a bite to them (al dente).
  • Over high heat, add the rice, sugar, salt and soy sauce and stir-fry until all the rice has been incorporated into the mix and has taken on a little color.

 


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]

I Decided to Paint and Give 100 Ganeshas After COVID Hit the Bay Area

2020 has been a challenge for all of us and will be etched in our memory for our lifetime.

Painting was always on my bucket list and in February  2020 I decided to enroll in art class. But as luck would have it, just after 3 classes, COVID happened. My art teacher asked me to continue practicing painting with the advice “Just believe in yourself and you will do it”   

March 2020 arrived and gave the whole world the gift of time with nowhere to go. After much soul searching, I decided to devote an hour or so every day to pursue my passion for painting. I realized there is nothing to lose and I would improve by learning from my mistakes. I decided to paint for an audience of one – myself. 

My first painting was in March 2020 when ‘Stay at home’ was first announced around the globe.  I decided to paint to bring calmness and peace to my anxious mind about the uncertainty looming around the global pandemic.  I decided to paint Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, as I always visualized that Ganesha up there was guiding me and watching out for me. Painting was like meditation and was truly therapeutic, engaging the brain cells in a very unique way.  

The best part was that I was very inspired by my first effort and decided to continue painting. I am truly grateful for the encouragement from my hubby, daughter-in-law, daughter,  and son. Their honest feedback and the perfect gift of an artist table on Mother’s Day helped me to better focus on creating artwork. 

I shared pictures of my artwork with friends and family via social media. My next-door neighbor was very impressed and asked if I could paint Ganesha for her. Suddenly my passion and free time had a purpose. One thing led to another and in the span of 365 days,  I have created over 100 paintings and shared or gifted over 85 paintings with neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends around the globe. 

Beside Ganesha, I challenged myself to line art with topics that evoke serenity – like ‘Newborn bond,’  ‘Meditation,’ and ‘Gratitude.’ 

My newfound passion was a perfect win-win situation. I had an outlet for my creativity and found purpose while hunkered down at home, while my family and friends enjoyed my artwork in their home.  

I was touched by their comments; ‘Your aura comes through in the paintings of love and laughter,” “The meditation painting reminds me that no matter what is going on in my life, I can find peace,” “You inspired me to start painting again,” and, “I will keep your Ganesha painting next to my Allah to bring peace in this world.” 

It was humbling that my artwork could bring joy and happiness to brighten the life of my near and dear ones. The icing on the cake was when my Mom asked me to paint a Ganesha for her 80th birthday celebration.  

While we cannot control what life throws at us, we can control how we react to it. Life is all about finding joy and happiness in those situations.  

I have transformed my very lonely dining room into a lively art studio. This corner of my house energizes and brings serenity at the same time. The vivid colors remind me of the blessings of beauty from Mother Nature, and serenity comes from the knowledge  that a superior power  is always giving me the strength to face any obstacles in life or removing them for me 

Twenty years from now, I hope to look back to my COVID phase as the time I discovered a new passion in my life and proudly say that I am a COVID-born artist!


Hema Alur-Kundargi is a registered dietitian, culinary artist, and is determined to be a lifelong learner. Find her at @theculinarydietitian