Tag Archives: Family

Publisher Vandana Kumar and Managing Director Vijay Rajvaidya, traveling to India.

Experiencing Two Lockdowns: Traveling to India During a Pandemic

My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.

And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.

Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms. 

Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.

Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:

Before the start of travel

(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.

You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy. 

(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family. 

Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.

During the flight:

I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.

Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.

Tips:

(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul

(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing

Vijay Rajvaidya
Vijay checking out the snacks at the airport lounge

Arriving in India:

We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers

Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.

At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form. 

By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!

Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.

Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters. 

There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.

Vandana & her Mom
After a LONG journey, Vandana gets to hug her mom

Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.

So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!

UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries. 

The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.


Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.


 

An Imperfect Street: The Delhi Airport Race

When I step off the plane which I have been on for the past sixteen hours, I am immediately hit with the biting cold that is Delhi winter. The smell of pollution and smog drifts into my nose. For most people, freezing and polluted air is the opposite of a comforting experience, but the air is refreshing and the smell is what I associate with my favorite place in the world. I drag my carry-on off the sky bridge, and my shoes are met with the familiarity of the faded orange carpet decorated with geometric patterns. After sleeping for the majority of the flight, my sister and I are energetically skipping with excitement to see our loved ones, oblivious to the fact that it is three in the morning, local time. We speed walk through the quiet airport, chatting about what we are looking forward to; I think about the way my grandma’s chicken curry tastes or the afternoons I spend chatting hours away with my other grandma. 

As I exit the sky bridge, I am reminded of what it feels like to be home. The feeling of warmth and comfort that consumes me is something that I only feel when I am in Delhi. Exiting the plane in San Francisco gives me a sense of relief of being literally home after a long vacation, but often feelings of sadness emerge knowing that my vacation is over. Walking into Indira Gandhi International Airport only brings excitement, comfort, and genuine happiness to my soul. 

Though the airport is quiet, as we approach immigration you can feel the bustling excitement of children anxious to see their cousins and grandparents, and college students itching to eat home-cooked meals again. I stand at the top of the escalator at immigration, staring at the four hands above the cubicles; the giant rose gold hands are representative of different poses that are done during the traditional Bharatanatyam dance. These hands feel like a warm hug. Those hands mean that I am just one door away from hugging some of my favorite people in the world. We make it through immigration, continuing to speed walk through the maze that is Duty-Free, a new series of strong scents from perfume and alcohol hitting us. Once we reach baggage claim, we anxiously await our numerous large suitcases which are filled with our clothes for our month-long trip as well as gifts for our family. With smiles on our faces, winter jackets on, and a full trolley of suitcases in hand, we head outside to the meeting area. 

Ayanna’s grandparents at the airport in Delhi.

My sister exits the doors first, and though I can’t see her face, I see those of my grandparents, uncle, and cousins, lighting up. My grandpa walks towards us, and my sister and I abandon our bags in the middle of the walkway so that he can wrap us both in a bear hug. My grandpa is always the first to hug us, but certainly not the last. We make our rounds, embracing whoever has braved the cold, early morning to welcome us, getting smiles from strangers who are also about to see their loved ones. 

After a quick tussle with my grandfather, who insists on dragging the heaviest suitcases, we make our way to the car. There is a broken sidewalk which we must overcome before we can get the luggage into the car. Every time a trolley full of bags goes over it, we hold our breath to see if a suitcase is going to fall and lie in the middle of the road until my dad can come to pick it up. Though it is the most stressful experience trying to get eight heavy suitcases across a busy street with a broken sidewalk, it makes us all laugh and despite the chaos, I would not trade that moment for the world. My sister and I pile into the car with our grandma and she pulls out our favorite biscuits which she knows we crave and miss. The whole way home to my paternal grandparents’ house, we crack jokes, catch up, and eat our snacks as the sun rises. Our annual trip to my favorite place in the world has commenced. 

I didn’t grow up in India, nor was I born there, but this annual pilgrimage has not only made it feel like my second home but my happy place as well. However, it has not always felt this way. This same airport routine takes place every year and the sensory experiences I can describe in my sleep have always existed, however, a few years ago I was too focused on the negative aspects of this experience to value the comforting ones. All my life, I have spoken and understood Hindi fluently and well.

However, as an American, a local can pick my accent out of a crowd. My cousins, parents, grandparents, and babysitters would lightheartedly tease me about certain pronunciations, and I used to take that so seriously that I wouldn’t even try to speak the language. Even the immigration officer would see my Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and American passport and ask me if it was my first time in India. People would think of me as spoiled or privileged and ungrateful because I am from America and still calling myself Indian. It was wrong on their part, but that is just how nuances in identity work. While these were small events, as an impressionable young child, I would start to question my belonging and negate the extreme happiness I felt in India with the small jokes about my dual identity. 

Ayanna with her younger sister at the Delhi airport.

I still have difficulties with my identity, but the difference is that now I have learned how to embrace both parts of my identity. Being Indian and spending so much time in Delhi has taught me that identity is not uniform and legal documents don’t define me.

Now, when people ask me about America and how “my country’s government is so crazy,” instead of getting annoyed or feeling mocked, I embrace it. I recognize that I have the privilege of living in an extremely different country and people are genuinely interested, so I happily answer them. In fact, sometimes I like to make it known that I’m from America; I will deliberately talk in English or wear a Bay Area sports jersey because I have learned to have pride. In fact, it has even made me friends even in India. I have struck up conversations with multiple tourists who have heard my accent or seen my jersey and we have connected on one part of my identity. 

Adding on, due to COVID-19, I have not been able to visit India in almost two years. The absence of these feelings of comfort and happiness has made me better appreciate and understand how much those experiences and that place mean to me. It’s unfortunate that the absence of a feeling, and not the presence of it made me grateful for Delhi, but nevertheless, I no longer take that sense of true happiness for granted. 

India is “my place” and not only because of the comfort it gives me but also because of the challenges it has thrown at me. Challenges that have taught me to be resilient, and have also helped me find myself and better understand my identity. I hold India near and dear to my heart because of the people and experiences it holds. No one can take that feeling away from me. A passport determines citizenship, but emotional attachment and love are what dictate identity. It is also what keeps pulling me back to my favorite place in the world – Delhi.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 


 

A Turn At The Age Of Fifteen

An Africa saying is: ‘The River may be wide, but it can always be crossed.”

Well, I have sailed from Bombay in India to Mombasa in Kenya. I have not crossed a turbulent river, I have crossed the mighty Indian Ocean.  A measureless bridge between India and Africa.  And I have sailed through on the wings of my parents’ initiative to take me back home with them.  They wanted to take care of me, to bring me ‘back to health’! 

My small, delicate frame and underdeveloped body must have given them the impression that I was ‘sickly’! I, who had never been sick at the Boarding School!  Had, occasionally, pretended to have a tummy-ache, or ‘fever’. We, girls had recognized a bush in the garden that would temporarily raise the body temperature. All an excuse to be pampered in the sick-bay by two kindly nurses.  And a reprieve from the daily drudgery of the school routine. In exchange we were well-rewarded with nourishing porridge, rich and sweet, milky with raisins.

I was, in a mysterious, excited way, glad to be going back home. To get to know my family again. I had even forgotten that I had a family – outside my friends and the community of the Boarding School, since the age of five. 

For now, my ‘new’ original family gives me some misgivings. I expect many challenges. I eagerly want to see who I would consider as my friends.  After all, at the school, I had many friends to hold hands with, to guide and support each other trekking on the Himalayan hills of Mussorie and Dehradun.  I had climbed trees to throw red, ripe, luscious mangoes to be caught and relished by my friends.  The uplifted, eager faces bursting in joyous glees! 

But since the moment, I had lost the friendship of my close friend Neeta, I never was keen to have one special friend, with whom I could share my heart’s secrets. And trust me, as a growing teenager, there were many questions or answers which you share with only in a cozy, trusting relationship of a special friend.  After all, I did not have a mother or sister or father to confide in, to feel I could trust their judgement, in good faith.  

On board the ship for fifteen days, with my Mother and Father and my three brothers and two sisters, I had come to appreciate the family bond. My siblings’ joyful escapades and games on the deck, the intimacy, the trust, the reliance on each other – all in a joyful setting!  It was beautiful revelation to me: This is what ‘family’ is! And this whole is my family! My very new family.  And my very own!

But with queasiness caused by the rock and rolling ship, sailing through the Monsoons in the Indian Ocean, mother was busy day after day, taking care of father and me- the two who had succumbed to sea-sickness. I felt weak, sickly and unsteady on my feet.  A concerned mother’s constant care, her worry of limited choices on the ship’s menu that I might find palatable, and retain to get some nourishment – kept her awake. I felt sorry to be so much trouble to my new-found mother. It also felt wonderful to be nursed by a ‘real mother’. 

One morning, she woke up with a sudden realization that the ‘Gujrati’ menu of sweet and sour lemony Curry and rice, ordered from the Gujrati P.C.’s Kitchen, might just be the dish that I would relish enough to try.  And more importantly, to hold!  In small doses, of course. To her great relief, it worked. Father and I had often been reluctant to try the first morsel. Throwing up liquid, in the absence of food, was a torturous experience.  Now, we were slowly regaining strength.

After twelve days of ‘rocking and rolling’ on turbulent waters, we sighted palm trees of the island of Seychelles, at last. As the Monsoons abated, my queasiness eased.  My younger sister Toshi, who had been my support all through this new turmoil in my life, was smiling again.  

I looked forward to find a safe niche within that circle.  Looking for a friend, who I could confide in, satisfy my needs in my new home in Kenya. I felt blessed in my newly structured life. My loving sister’ support, mother’s nourishing hand, gentle father’s constant concern and medical advice to mother for my care during the voyage, I was hard pressed to decide.

Who should I choose as my Best Friend?   

 

Desi Upbringing Prepares You For Rejection

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PST/ 9pm EST!

Are you brave enough to face rejection?

Whether it’s a job, ideas with friends or co-workers, a romantic crush, or even your pet running away from you – we face rejection ALL THE TIME! My cat, Balasubramanyam never wants to cuddle with me. 

….But there is no rejection like your “amma” saying “NO” even before you finished asking your question.

Growing up Desi, sometimes, rejection feels like the NORM.

We eventually develop this fear and refrain from speaking up, sometimes even lying or hiding things from our families. And then the whole guilt trip after…oh boy. 

Oftentimes, the Desi family structure is very different from other cultures, which oftentimes contributes to the narratives we have in our homes. 

Desi family structures depend heavily on the concept of security.

Security includes financial stability, generational wealth, familial relationships and duties, religion, and education. Desi family decisions are based on these factors more than individualistic freedom.

The benefit of this choice is that you are guaranteed money, a long term partner, a home, and kids. Oftentimes I think to myself, if it was not for my father pushing me to pursue my Ph.D. in Engineering, I may not have the money to be independent.

But there can be downsides. In 1st grade, I wanted to do a science fair project on flowers but instead, I did a project on how a water wheel is used to generate electricity. It was a rejection of my idea and push towards something that I couldn’t take ownership of. The unhappy memory stayed with me for a lifetime. Without insight into my parent’s history, our relationship was strained by such experiences.

Things my parents did or said, just did not make sense.

Why couldn’t I have a sleepover like the other American kids?  Why couldn’t I date? Or have a boyfriend in high school? Or get permission to go to sex-ed class?

And now, 20 years later, I think I know why. Because it was the UNKNOWN.

Our parents did not grow up with that level of freedom and are, now, acting out of fear. That which is risky should be left alone. 

With the Desi upbringing, you get security at the expense of freedom, perhaps happiness. And straying away from that, you get freedom at the expense of uncertainty. But somewhere in the mix, I think there is a sweet spot, where you can have the best of both worlds. You can have security, happiness, and freedom. That all starts with effective communication

For parents, I think the key is to listen and then respond. Not react, but respond.

For the kids, let your parents know what you are feeling, but also be open to listening to what they have to say, cause it is most likely true. My mom always says, “I have been the age you are, so I DO know what it feels like.” Day by day, I’m starting to realize how true the statement – hindsight is always 20/20 – can be. 

So take a minute and appreciate your parents, for all the protective measures they took out of Love. By being engaged, possibly controlling, parents in our lives, they found a way to ensure that many of us were staying away from things that could be potentially problematic. I am grateful for my Desi upbringing and I am, also, proud of the choices I have made for myself. I still make mistakes and disagree with my parents, but I do not fear rejection anymore. 


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.

A Memory, 2020

My best memory from 2020 isn’t necessarily my happiest. This year I felt no simple, one-note emotions. And so my best memory is one that encompasses the complexity of a harrowing year, glutted with loss. 

I returned to India at the end of December 2019 after a ten-year absence. On New Years Day I was in Chennai, after the drive from my family’s home in Pondicherry. I brought my three children along for this trip, now pre-teens and teenagers. They were toddlers on our last visit. 

Sunset in Pondicherry - Image taken by Author
Sunset in Pondicherry – Image taken by Author

As we drove from Pondy to Chennai, I devoured every scene of this country I’d missed for nearly a decade. The thatched huts, the overloaded lorries, a family standing in impossibly green grass, flanked by their taciturn cow. A woman posing for a selfie on the side of the road while balancing a great steel pot atop her head. Coconut groves, rice paddies, pilgrims wearing red saris that matched the blazing flowers on the nearby Poinciana trees. 

I went to the temple on New Year’s Day. Our driver guided us through a maze of people, thousands of them, a fact I can hardly contemplate now. That profusion of humanity is something I love and miss about India, and it’s one of the cruelest aspects of this pandemic—the inherent peril of India’s ubiquitous crowds. 

But at the beginning of this year, I could relish the throngs. What a different world it was.

Past the entrance of the temple, people waited in line to see the various deities. They pushed and complained, or fanned themselves with folded newspapers. Our driver presented an inscrutable, flimsy paper enabling us to advance in the queue. 

I stood at the front of the line, ready to receive my blessing, when an old woman, no higher than my elbow, strong-armed her way through the clot of people, shoving me aside. I let her pass. She was cracked and broken-earth old. And beautiful—in India such advanced age deserves reverence. 

In creative writing classes, instructors often advise us to “tell it slant”, a concept denoting the odd and intriguing detail that makes a story memorable. On this trip to India—my last real trip of 2020–the entire visit felt “slant”. From my uncle’s hilarious stories to the old woman at the temple, to the rickety stand on Marina beach selling dubious curry shrimp pizzas. 

Our prayers finished, I made my way back to my shoes, left outside the temple entrance. It had rained, and puddles collected on the uneven pavement, slimy on my bare feet. An old woman implored me to buy a garland of jasmine flowers. Another hawked damp, battered children’s books. 

As I exited the temple and approached our car, oblivious to what awaited us all just a few weeks away, I noticed a tiny, emaciated stray kitten, shivering as it crawled to one of the puddles. It lapped up the fresh rain. I wished I could hold the kitten in my hands. I doubt it survived more than a few more days.

But the image of that forlorn creature stays with me, slant indeed, and painful. In this year, so thick with loss and missing, I feel a kinship with that poor animal, stumbling forward, searching. When this is over I will have lost three semesters’ worth of connections with my students, along with the birthday parties, dinners, and the celebratory plans I had for my debut novel’s publication. 

And then, just weeks ago, the worst news of all. I lost my beloved uncle—the one I’d just visited in India for New Year’s. None of us could say goodbye to him. He could not even die in his hometown because the ICUs in Pondicherry were full. 

I often think the world provides me with poignant images that have little meaning for me in the present, but are planted in me to decipher later for some future lesson. And indeed, throughout this year my mind has returned to that kitten—now gone, I’m sure—because I feel so much like that creature these days. Stumbling forward, relentlessly aware of my fragility, but still grateful for whatever reprieve life offers. And sometimes, that reprieve is memory itself—of a time when life was easier and less freighted by loss. 

The pandemic will be over, and hopefully soon. I will return to India. My uncle will be gone, his flat in our family house empty, and I will be consoled instead by the palm trees and mangroves, frangipani flowers, bougainvillea, and other Pondicherry flora in which my Botanist uncle delighted.  And I will think back on that kitten, that New Year’s Day, when fragility belonged to something else, and not to me, or us.


Samantha Rajaram is the author of the novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS and lives in the Bay Area. 

A Holidays Must Watch: Brand New Dawn

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (PPK), the Tamilian short story anthology, is the sine qua non of the 2020 emotional roller coaster.

“Memories of a brand new dawn” are five short films completed during the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown in March, in India.Five short stories by five accomplished filmmakers take us into the homes of people locked in the early days of the COVID pandemic in India. It was released on October 16, 2020, on Amazon Prime.

The stories are a lyrical peek into love, family, despair, and friendly shenanigans. To me, they bring back tender memories of Malgudi Days.

In my zoom interview with Rajiv Menon for India Currents (find it at the end of the article), I was hesitant to say the name out loud for the fear of mispronouncing it but ever since then, I have been happily recommending Putham Pudhu Kaalai to everyone! I love the “skirted” Tamil script, the dialogues, and the music!

Rajiv Menon said it reminded him of “film institute” days. All of them brought their inherent creative talent and expertise to stories of new beginnings, bruised relationships, and dreams with a buoyant playfulness.  

#1. Ilamai Idho Idho: Directed by Sudha Kongara with Jayaram as Rajiv Padmanabhan and Urvashi as Lakshmi Krishnan, is an effervescent champagne cocktail! How two quinquagenarians are transported to their teenage years with the chime of a doorbell is endearing! Like their squabbles over domestic chores over “spoons, dishes, and wet towels.” I wonder if Kalidas is developing Parkinson’s because he drops cups and saucers while offering tea to his girlfriend! Composer GV Prakash’s music of this short inspired by a Kamal Hasaan song is lilting! Will their kids approve of their rendezvous after the lockdown is the question.

#2. Avarum Naanum / Avalum Naanum: Directed by Gautham Menon with MS Bhaskar as“tatta” grandfather and Ritu Varma as “Kanna ” granddaughter. Kanna visits her estranged tatta, a nuclear physicist but is pleasantly surprised by him. I cried with the octogenarian in a checked shirt who can dice mangoes, fix routers, berate rude managers, and pine for his daughter’s melody! Art deco mirror, gramophone, family photos, and the Bodhi tree tie into the narrative. The flashback of two girls in their silk skirts holding sweets reincarnated childhood. I think of this and singBachpan ke Babuji the, acche acche babuji the..

#3. Coffee, Anyone?: Directed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam. On the eve of their mother’s seventy-fifth birthday, two daughters come home to a mother with a pontine stroke and a father is treating her at home!  Suhasini has opened a Pandora’s box of family dynamics, aging parents, fertility, and dyslexia. The mother reminds me of my mother with a “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth”  but stronger in her resolve as a cup of potent filter coffee! The home with a mango tree, a wrought iron gate, and swarming feminine energy is familiar too! Squabbles, selfies, kumkum, birthday wishes at midnight will make us all sing Tu kitni acchi hai, tu kitni pyari, hai, bholi bhali hai. O ma, o ma…”

#4. Reunion: Written and directed by Rajiv Menon with a cast of Andrea Jeremiah, Leela Samson, and Sikkil Gurucharan is wonderful! Rajiv Menon was surprised that I had not watched the anthology but once he knew I was a physician, he shared the backstory that prompted him to write the script. Carnatic musician Sikkil Gurucharan is a doctor who after being exposed to a COVID-19 patient is quarantined with his mother, an elegant Leela Samson, and an old school friend Sadhana (Andrea). He discovers that she is a drug addict! The feng shui of the sloping red-tiled Kerala style home with black and white photographs of palm trees, temples, and fishing nets is beguiling. There is an echo of a popular song “Ooo la la…  by the director, and lyrical poetry reveals Rajiv Menon as an incurable romantic. The best poems are always those written to our childhood sweethearts. I want to wear a Kerala saree, drink deep from the fresh mint mojito, and dance on the blue-tiled courtyard! Rajiv Menon writes in English/Tamil but his dialogues are in Malayalam, his matribhasha.

As a physician, I give him full marks for taking cues from his own arthritic mother, Apollo hospital’s ICU is packed with patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal in lockdown, and doctors treating patients without proper PPE. Rajiv Menon got this right! Once a doctor- always a doctor at home or in the clinic! An unexpectedly tender love story of redemption and joy. I remembered “ Taare hain baraati, chandni hai ye barat

#5. Miracle: directed by Karthik Subbaraj with Bobby Simha as Devan K. Muthu Kumar as Michael is about an Indie filmmaker and two hoodlums who want to make quick money inspired by a spiritual “Baba” with a scripted message: Miracles do happen! This quixotic comedy of errors crescendos to a climax with rolls of crisp rupees rolling out from proverbial Sheikh Chilli’s imagination!  Who loses, who wins is the question? Karthik Subbaraj has certainly won my applause with an uncanny knack to conjure a hilarious tale with an iPhone with awesome night scenes! This last short is radically different and perhaps that makes it more memorable. The fact that I was able to narrate it to my grandson in India in one breath says a lot!  These “Do deewane shahar mein.., may not have found their biryani but they are content in eating puliyodharai and hoping to catch reruns of Mahabha…rat on a stolen laptop.

I have watched the PPK anthology on Amazon Prime thrice, to familiarize myself with Tamil words, music, and the ambiance of Chennai! I am indebted to the wonderful personal advice given by Rajiv Menon about making good stories! Putham Pudhu Kaalai is relatable like dishes created from a snake gourd-like pachadi, raita, curry and sambar, similar but deliciously different! This analogy does make me hungry! 


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

A Cup of Tea With Papa

I met Neelu’s Papa just once, two or three years ago.  I went to her home for a meeting we’d planned. It wasn’t Neelu who opened the door, but a trim gray-haired gentleman.  “Neelu had to step out unexpectedly to pick up her daughter,” he told me, “she asked me to tell you she’d be back in a few minutes.  I’m Neelu’s father,” he introduced himself, as he ushered me into their living room, “please come in and sit down.” He offered me a cup of tea and insisted on sitting and chatting with me until Neelu returned home; telling me about his son, daughter, grandchildren, and how he spent time traveling back and forth between Mumbai and California to be with each of them. In those fifteen short minutes, I got a sense of the man and his love for his family.

Neelu’s Papa died late last month in Mumbai, a victim of COVID-19. I watched as she did her very best to ensure that her father received the best possible care; driven to do the best she could, and distraught and helpless at not being able to travel halfway around the world to be with him, hold his hand, and be there for and with him, in the way she so desperately wanted. 

Neelu could not have dialed up a better day for a prayer ceremony and remembrance for her beloved Papa. It was crisp and sunny in her backyard as she and her family performed the traditional Hindu rituals sitting around the Havan Kund, as the prayers and shlokas invoking eternal peace for the departed soul were expertly chanted and rituals orchestrated and explained by a learned priest dialing in remotely from New Jersey. Fifty-plus relatives, friends, and colleagues of the family watched remotely on Zoom from locations across California, the US, and India. It was a surreal experience – this improbable juxtaposition of ancient Vedic rituals, many thousand years old, with a fledgling technology that enabled far-flung, somber, and grieving onlookers to hold hands in remembrance and prayer in a single virtual room.

The final prayer was complete. Then came the eulogies and the sharing of memories, tears, and laughter; in a trickle that soon became an outpouring of emotion. A picture emerged of Papa and the man he was. A loving father, grandfather, friend, neighbor, and mentor. The adopted ‘uncle’ of many.  A loving, caring father who sacrificed a lot in his own life in order to give his children the education and grounding that would carry them to successful professional careers.  A man who helped look after the grandchildren he loved deeply – a love that was reciprocated by them manyfold. A man who never forgot someone’s birthday or anniversary; who always made time to reach out to people, meet them, talk to them, and inquire about their wellbeing. Invariably over a cup of tea, as evidenced by the number of people who, in their reminiscences, talked about chai with Papa ji!  A simple, decent, hardworking, loving caring soul. One whose loss reverberates through many households, cities, and countries; his influence and memories carved indelibly in the hearts and minds of so many. 

I am blessed and fortunate to be among those whose path through life crossed with his. It is, however, my loss that I did not have the good fortune to share a few more cups of tea with Papa.

We have lost yet another treasured soul to the illness that this scourge, monstrous Coronavirus has inflicted on humanity.  Each death has shattered the lives of so many.  As I write this piece, more than 1.2 million lives have been lost to COVID-19 worldwide – with more than 230,000 of those in the US – staggeringly large numbers that fail to describe, or even begin to measure the impact of their loss on all their loved ones.  How many more stories like Papa’s remain to be told? 

We can all collectively heal as a community, as a nation, and as members of the human race by sharing our memories of these departed souls. Each one of them must be cherished and treasured. We can live our lives better by celebrating theirs and passing on to those that follow the life lessons they taught us.

Neelu’s Papa, we will all miss you!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents.

Communication in Desi Households

Desi Talk – A column that works on embracing our brown background and unique identity using Coach Yashu’s helpful tips. Find her talking to IC Editor, Srishti Prabha on Instagram LIVE Tuesdays at 6pm PST/ 9pm EST!

Recently I saw a post that seemed like a cry for help and reminded me of the need for a Desi Mental Health Community.

We need to be a Desi Resource for one another and because we are the only people who can understand the implications of desi culture, lifestyle, and health. 

I want to let people know…Yashu is here! I know how challenging being desi can be.

Tip 1: Most conflicts within desi households revolve around communication style.

In the end, it’s necessary to remember that the most important person is YOU and you must protect your energy, whether you are the parent or the child. Sometimes protecting yourself can feel like an impossible task, so you have to break past the cultural guilt and learn to redesign your relationships and communication styles. YES, it does work!

This is a very real issue, but one that has a resolution!

Oftentimes, children may feel shut out or denied their feelings. As a result, they stress themselves out trying to convince their desi families to listen and not dismiss them. But how many of us have truly had luck with that? Where we just talk it out and the parents just get it? Explaining the same thing, over and over again, can be discouraging and even hurtful. 

Now, all you desi kids, You must remember that when the other person, be it a sibling, or a parent,  is not ready to receive you, there is no point in imposing your thoughts on the other person; investing energy on convincing a parent who is not open to hearing you is meaningless. This can ultimately lead to giving up on our dreams or even worse, shutting ourselves off to our parents. 

And if you are a parent, even if your child is making a mistake or doing something you do not agree with, allow your child the space to express and then have a respectful conversation – allowing your child to come to a space of realization or find where their thinking was not thorough. At that point, if your child refuses to listen, you may try again but if they are not in a space to listen, let it go. Because desi families are protective, and it is in our culture to be closely knit, make yourself available to your child so that you are a resource and a safe space. 

To all my desi kids out there, I hope this helps! Slip this article on the living room table, where your parents sit to have their afternoon chai (Don’t forget to act all casual about it). 

Parents, see if this helps you become even closer with your children and create more beautiful memories with your family!


Yashu Rao is the first South Indian-American plus-size model and doubles as a Confidence Coach. She is the Founder of #HappyYashu, a Confidence and Lifestyle Coaching Service, specializing in desi family structures. She’s here breaking down stereotypes and beauty standards as well as inspiring and empowering people to lead a life with self-love, confidence, and genuine happiness. Find her on Instagram giving tips and modeling.

Support to Help Your Children and Family During these Difficult Times

The current state of our country and world has been hard for us all, including the children in our lives. It is important that we all do what we can to take care of our overall wellbeing, including our physical and emotional health, and support our children to do so as well.

If your child has lots of worries, difficulty concentrating, is withdrawn or getting upset or angry more easily,  this may be impacting their ability to do well in school, in their relationships with family and friends, and sometimes even with managing daily activities.

Counseling can be a great support for them and AACI is here to help.

AACI provides individual counseling, family counseling, parenting support, case management and medication evaluation and support services through telehealth and in person, if needed. Contact us today to determine which of our programs best fits your needs.

For general program information, please contact Nira Singh, Psy.D., Director of Behavioral Health: Nira.Singh@aaci.org<mailto:Nira.Singh@aaci.org>

Eligibility for Family & Child Specialty Mental Health Outpatient Programs:

*   Child or adolescent between 6-21 years old
*   Must have full scope Medi-Cal and meets program parameters
Visit www.aaci.org/behavioral-health/family-children<https://aaci.org/behavioral-health/family-children/
Eligibility for ADAPT – Adolescent Outpatient Substance Abuse program

*   Adolescent between 13-21 years old
*   Struggling with Alcohol and Drugs and meets program parameters
visit: www.aaci.org/behavioral-health/family-children/adapt<https://aaci.org/behavioral-health/family-children/adapt/

Or call (408) 975-2730 and ask for our any of our Family and Children Department program managers for more information.

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The Bedner Family Presents: BYE CORONA!

On Friday, March 13, 2020, a crazy idea popped into my head, and I began writing down some lyrics to convey it. This was the day the news of SIP (Shelter In Place) became official, and I thought, “YES!  A silly family project and an outlet to be creative during this unknown time period.”  As I delved in, I had an aha moment. I wanted this project to be more. I wanted it to mean more.  

I took a deep breath because I knew my realization involved confronting the daunting Beast known as iMovie. I warily explained how I would need its cooperation to help my inspiration come to life. The Beast did not respond kindly.  In fact, I would say it was downright cruel: taunting me with overwhelming features, with no explanation on how to use them, and then throwing them repeatedly in my face as I gingerly attempted to learn. “DAMN YOU, BEAST!,” was a frequent wail, accompanied by embarrassing temper tantrums that would rival those of a two-year-old. And, as in dealing with a toddler, I did the dance of countless time-ins and time-outs. At one point the time out was so long that I thought this brainchild was a thing of the past. A fleeting flash of imagination.

Lucky for me and unluckily for the Beast, I have many flaws, but being a quitter isn’t one of them. With the support and permission of incredible friends and family, I carried on. And nine weeks later, here we are – metaphorically, if each week symbolizes a month – I am now giving birth to this project.

A time like this flushes all essential realizations (pun intended) to the surface. We are more alike than we are different, and we are more together than we are apart.  

I share this video/message with you and the world because I believe in for what it stands. I believe we will all be in this together, push through this together, and come out of this together, even stronger than ever before. From my heart to yours…..

Sangini Majmudar Bedner is a former Miss India USA, Stanford University graduate, teacher, writer, and professional actress, dancer and choreographer. Sangini thrives on connecting with her roots and incorporating them into her life adventures. Her greatest purpose is collaborating with her imagination; her greatest pride is being a passionate mom to her two boys.  

Mercy, Oh Microbes!

Tigers killed the prehistoric animals, man killed the tigers, and now microbes kill the man. This sequence has been a part of our planet. Our mortal enemy is historically shrinking in size but the destruction caused by IT is getting progressively more devastating because of our lifestyle. A sweeping annihilation of human beings was neither unprecedented nor entirely unexpected.

I remember the words of our Previous Dean at Emory Medical School, who joined us from the National Institute of Health some years ago, that our most threatening enemy is going to be microbes because they have been on this planet far earlier than us and we can never compete with their rate of reproduction.

The only advantage of their vicious visit this time is the lessons they are leaving behind. I do not want to enter the details of the devitalizing vital statistics of this pandemic. Everyone knows them beyond our choice. They will be talked and written about for decades to come.

Some Lessons To Be Learnt: The tragic toll of life that the pandemic has taken will not go entirely in vain if we draw some harsh but needful lessons therefrom.

Lesson 1 – Microbial World

We are surrounded by and inhabited by a microbial world. We have to recognize the good ones from the bad ones. Giving them names such as “evil”, “monsters”, etc. makes no difference to them. They are totally blind to gender, nationality, race, age, and any such outer epithets. We saw how this pandemic eclipsed many royal members, politicians, and physicians. They have no respect for Churches or other religious places either. Many churches were their starting places. They besiege and kill indiscriminately. To keep such Bacteria at bay with the help of scientists is our only available recourse.

Lesson 2 – Indian History and Mythology

I find our Indian History and Mythology to be very instructive in this regard because we have survived many diverse disasters and catastrophes. When we find our disassociation from society so unbearable, remember that Lord Buddha, Shankaracharya, Lord Swaminarayana, Shree Rama, Pandavas have had all their share in living a secluded life. If we are talking about deaths of human beings en masse, we have witnessed many grim tragedies of smallpox, cholera, plague that frequented our country. AIDS still lingers in our memory.

If we are talking about the sudden loss of wealth, India has seen it perhaps more than any other country. I specifically think of Rana Pratap who lost everything he had and was in an exile when his wealthy businessman Bhamasha offered all his wealth and rejuvenated his spirits. I mention this particular episode to remind us that we should follow such an example to support the rebuilding of our adopted country. I believe this is a splendid opportunity for us to pay back our dues to this country by helping restore our sagging economy.

Lesson 3 – Social Distancing

I stand corrected if I am wrong, but we needed to reaffirm our familial cohesiveness. Let us evaluate how we handled our continued togetherness while in seclusion. How cohesive, supportive, and mutually fulfilling were we as a family. 

Let us create a scoreboard of self-assessment. Did the familiarity breed conflict or care? I was so happy to see children playing and couples freely walking on the street…People talked to each other while walking. I rarely saw this before. Maybe we need to restructure our life to promote togetherness.

Lesson 4 – PTSD

 Watch out for PTSD Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder. During and after this excruciating experience, our deeply felt exhaustion is bound to come on the surface.

Many of us would be compelled to recognize the loss of lives and jobs that we sustained. Wounds often bleed later after the trauma is inflicted. Depression, suicidal thoughts, addictive tendencies, a lingering fear may push us to a state of psychosis. We may need to nurse each other with kindness and compassion to promote our combined healing. No social distancing at that time!

Lesson 5 – Nature

Let us also have a critical look at ourselves. There is a precise and piquant Indian saying that when one points one finger at others, three fingers are automatically pointing at him. We have violated the fundamental Laws of Nature over the last several years. From the time of Rigveda on, we have stressed the five elements of Nature, which deserve to be respected as our basic constituents – water, wind, fire, earth, and sky. These should be maintained in harmony to retain our planetary homeostasis. We have thoughtlessly violated the respectful restraint that we should have exercised over them. This is not a superstition but an obvious proof of our violation of the Laws of Nature. There is a rising Global outcry to revert our course and trace our steps back from this grievous misdemeanor. We are OFFLINE now but need to be ONLINE to secure our future. Recognize our faults and repair them. 

Our slumber has been long enough. Let the dawn break.

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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