Tag Archives: identity

Mind Matters.

Mind Matters: Mental Health in South Asian Americans

A recent article in India West reported that a higher percentage of South Asian Americans, especially between the ages of 15 and 24, had been found to exhibit depressive symptoms and a higher rate of suicide among young South Asian American women compared to the general US population. Likewise, studies have spoken of how South Asian immigrants have high rates of mental health disorders that go unaddressed.

Asian American Connect

Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan
Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan

Other studies have shown that immigrants from South Asia to the USA and their children face numerous mental health challenges.

“This could be on account of acculturation, that is cultural or psychological changes that occur as a result of prolonged first-hand contact between two different belief systems or cultures. Stress predominantly originates from their attempts to incorporate ‘American’ traits in their own culture. This eventually shows up as a cultural conflict. Multiple other factors contribute to this stress, including alienation and separation from their families and loved ones, language barriers preventing true socialization, uncertainty around their immigration status, financial stressors, as well as in certain cases, overt or perceived discrimination, and more generally, barriers to cultural integration,” says Dr. Priyanka Thukral Mahajan, Consultant Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital.

Conflict Concerns

Eventually, this cultural conflict leads to uncertainty around belonging. This is particularly more visible in the workplace. The effects of prolonged acculturation and discrimination result in a wide spectrum of psychological disorders over time. These include depression (primarily due to isolation, financial stress), somatization (i.e., self-interpretation of mental health symptoms as physical symptoms and not seeking help), anxiety (again on account of alienation), substance abuse disorders, especially alcohol.

“Such disorders have a dark underbelly, as they are one of the key reasons for increasing rates of suicides among South Asian immigrants in America. The tragedy is that all the above is neither widely known nor acknowledged. The issue is accentuated further by the challenges associated with seeking help from mental health professionals in the form of psychological counseling. If one gets into the weeds of the issue, one realizes that such immigrants have limited means of confiding their feelings with mental health professionals in the USA, given cultural barriers and differences. It is difficult for professional mental health professionals to understand their feelings and challenges, correlate with their culture and truly empathize with them,” adds Mahajan.

Ethnicity Woes

Dr. Sahiba Sethi
Dr. Sahiba Sethi

South Asian countries have been right in the center of the pandemic conversation throughout. Though the impact for South Asian Americans is even more convoluted. At the height of the pandemic, last year xenophobia gripped multiple countries and this community bore much of the backlash for no fault of their own. The lingering effects continue in a lot of pockets. The impact that it would have had on their mental health would be enormous. 

“Personal stories shared by individuals across the world via my online counseling sessions gave me an insight into the South Asian American community and their fears. The last 14 months, we have seen an increased prevalence of nonpsychotic depression, pre-anxiety, somatic concerns, alcohol-related disorders, and insomnia in general. Parents worried about their children’s safety have given rise to psychological symptoms correlated more with physical complaints of fatigue and pain in older adults. This was directly related to social media use, misinformation, xenophobia, and social distancing. The resulting isolation made a lot of people see the bad rather than the good in a community. Frontline workers reported guilt, stigma, anxiety, and poor sleep quality, which were related to the lack of availability of adequate personal protective equipment, increased workload, and discrimination,” says Sahiba Sethi, Counseling Psychologist, Ummeed Healing.

Apps as a Tool

Dr. Nabhit Kapur
Dr. Nabhit Kapur

Apps are just a click away, so are easy to access. 

“And some may already be socially isolated and experiencing loneliness which can worsen mental health. COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke,” says Nabhit Kapur, Founder President of PeacfulMind Foundation.

Apps help people connect in their native languages to a therapist who understands their culture and can empathize with their situation. Some of these apps are powered in the background by Artificial Intelligence.

“These apps help such immigrant patients deal with their mental health issues in a much better way. Their biggest advantage is the patient’s perceived lack of being judged by a third person, resulting in lower stigma towards using them as against meeting a mental health professional in person. This stigma is a huge barrier especially in the South Asian community given the cultural background. A key issue with such apps, however, is in certain instances the patients may not feel truly connected with the device, which can result in a decline in their usage over time. A recently launched app for this purpose is SAMHIN (South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network). Another one that has been in existence for a longer duration is SASMHA (South Asian Sexual and Mental Alliance). These apps can help connect people who need psychological counseling, with various platforms, to seek support and find mental peace,” says Mahajan.

COVID Angle

Dr. Prakriti
Dr. Prakriti Poddar

Statistics reveal that only 23% of non-Americans in the USA seek mental health, against the 40% of Americans born in the USA. Patients from such communities find it arduous to find a mental health professional from their own community, who can understand their situation and truly support them. Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the above dynamic. As is very well known, the sheer incidence of mental health issues has gone up significantly through this pandemic due to heightened financial insecurity, lack of social contact. For the immigrants, seeking medical help in these times has become even more challenging.

Prakriti Poddar, Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation says, “a 2018 study found out that stress related to acculturation, trauma, and discrimination has been linked with depression, anxiety and substance abuse among South Asian Americans. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected South Asian American communities by increasing stress and anxiety levels in terms of health concerns and issues such as employment and housing.  Due to the uptick in violence and hate against the South Asian American community, racism has also severely impacted the mental health of the community.”

Breaking Taboos

Dr. Aparna Methil
Dr. Aparna Methil

In India, it is an uphill task to change perceptions related to mental health predominantly due to the stigma associated with it. The challenge lies in creating the right kind of awareness about mental health problems and encouraging people to seek the right kind of help from mental health professionals.

“Mental health crisis can be attributed to the outbreak of Covid-19 and resultant loneliness, isolation, fear of loss of life, financial insecurity, job cuts, salary cuts, and overall economic uncertainty. The common mental health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger, and fear reported among Indians. Stress, anxiety, and depression have been closely related with the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Aparna Methil, Vice-President, Operations, Mpower. Mental health issues faced by South Asian immigrants in the USA are immense and one of the ways to tackle the challenge is to take the help of technology. After all wellness in a click matters the most.

Mental Health App List


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

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. 


 

IC Live: A Vibrant Community of Desi Poets

IC held its third Desi Poetry Reading, in collaboration with Matwaala, on December 3, 2020, which was moderated by Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik. The topic was certainly timely – Uncertainty and Change.

After a quick introduction by Pramila Venkatewaran, the co-founder of Matwaala, the Desi Poetry Reading was kicked off by a prolific and accomplished high school poet.

Sara Garg started the evening with a reading of an experiential poem called 2020, that captured the universal feeling of waiting, waiting for the count to go to zero. Another tender poem was about the mini sparks of light that are the front-line workers who face darkness, terror, and monsters while just having each other while they cope with uncertainty. Blood Questions was hard-hitting, speaking dramatically about BLM and our common humanity as it took on the voice of blood as it poured out of the chest of a Black young man as he is killed by blue and brass. In Sunset Sunrise, she gives eloquent voice to the uncertainty we live with during the pandemic, finally admitting she cannot see if the sun is rising or setting, whether hope is ascendent or not. In an answer to a question, Sara attributed her sense of rhythm to the early influence of Usha Akella (co-founder of Matwaala) when she was in 4th grade, as she learned to write a poem about a banana. This was a story of affection that Sara shared with the listeners, a sweet moment of connection, one that most of us can engage with, and that lifted the weight of uncertainty to one of positive change.

R. Cheran, a poet and professor, writes creatively in Tamil. He shared four parts of a powerful translated piece called On the Street, Anytime. His poem had vivid images, of jackfruits, leaves, and bodies run over by tanks on the street, blood seeping into paddy fields, and leaves being the only witnesses to bodies getting together anytime. Repetitions of Anytime, built into a crescendo as he conjured images of extreme contrast – blood, sperm, and poems written on colored pieces of paper, on the street, anytime. He sets the stage in memories of experiencing and witnessing slices of the genocide in Sri Lanka. The poet shifts to potholes in snowy weather, covered in ice, that refill with the blood of 2 boys who could be his sons, shot by the white policeman. Black brave boys whose blood fills the pothole, not once, but twice. In the final fourth part of the poem, Cheran speaks of poverty of the soul, of being left by a lover, one who takes almost everything away with her, but the poem refuses to go with her, the one whose first line is, On the Street, Anytime.

R. Cheran shared another short poem that was equally evocative of remembered trauma as he sketched out the scene of Indian soldiers, a woman held down, a child thrown into a well, and the well that is now without a voice to even say Aiyyo. Cheran’s poems are certainly not “easy listening” but instead pull the listener into a well of traumatic memories and images, the work of a master story-teller, craftsman, and poet. In response to a question by Srishti Prabha about how he balances violence and beauty, Cheran said that the genocide he witnessed and survived cannot be written in words or taught through a lens of sociology or anthropology, that he has portrayed but the tip of an iceberg and such horror can only be begun to be experienced through an art form such as poetry.

I have to take a break in writing this now, and walk around, as I try to shake off and metabolize the intensity of revisiting and closely listening to this part of the reading.

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, a poet, writer, and film-maker, continued the evening. In a poem about the pandemic, one of the stark images she drew was of the Faceless One stealing all the faces that have disappeared behind masks, likening it to Kabuki dancers magically stealing faces and tucking them away in their kimonos. In a hard-hitting poem titled E.R., she speaks of holding the ground like a tree in a storm, not collapsing or vomiting, but holding in her internal injuries, and dying inside without being noticed. In The Salt of a Woman, anger and outrage jump off the words, her story older than civilization, questioned, blamed, conquered, gifted, dismissed, shamed. In IF, she writes of the only power a survivor of sexual assault may have, in telling others what not to do if she is killed, do not hang the perpetrators, she says – they will be born again and do it again. Hopelessness permeates the poem but ends with dignity. Tell your sons about me, she asks of women, preach me as a sermon, she asks of the preachers, write me as an epic, she asks of the writer.

I believe the BLM movement’s rise in the summer of 2020, empowered many of us in the desi community to finally speak openly of our own experiences of racial discrimination in the United States. Microaggressions are carried in the body, held on to for years, taken out every now and then, and re-examined through various lenses such as – why did the teacher not speak up, why did I not speak up, as if it would have been easy, as if it would have found validation at the time. I think many will identify with the process, the self-doubt, the worry of being heard, being believed, and the fear of having our experiences being discounted

Singh-Chitnis bravely shares a poem 25 years in the making and birthing. In this final poem, Kalpna addresses these excoriations – I am sitting there like the stump of a tree, still sitting there like the stump of a tree, still sitting there in that classroom. The lectures begin and end, she says, but the question remains. She is still waiting for the professor to speak up for her – she was voiceless and powerless at the time.

As these wounds get more light and air, as more people hear our experiences, as more speak up, as more poetry and art is used to communicate, the more hope there can be. I fully understand how it took 25 years to write that poem.

Indran Amirthanayagam, an author and poet read from his recently published book, Uncivil War, continuing the theme of trauma, displacement, war, and unbelonging. In Fire Department asks displaced refugee peoples from all over the world – Where is your Village Burning even if your home is not in the list. Ready to Move was a poignant ode to those who are witnesses to the only truth worth repeating – ready to move with a toothbrush, a fresh set of clothes. In Father, Indran eloquently mourns his father, moving from speaking of personal loss (watching geese honking on their way to the other side of the sky, poems to survive the fires, he has left us his name we wear it today) to the theme of universal experiences of the death of a father. Indran moved on to poems of upliftment as he hoped that the world would be inspired by the outcome of the American elections, in spite of something rotten in America, life pressed out of George Floyd, there is still hope he said – ordinary decent Joe has my vote – ending by saying he is an American optimist, and that the next war needs to be one that can unite humanity – saving our planet.

Varsha Saraiya-Shah continued the evening with a reading of I Speak from Towers of Silence in which she likens 6 feet of social distancing as a coffin length apart, observing that babies pop out like flowers, and being moved in different ways by the reality of bodies piling up in refrigerated trucks in New York. In Neither Hope nor Miracle, she speaks of science being necessary, that it needs to be unfenced with countless windows, that climate will throw earthly tantrums, warning, exhorting, and pleading with people to heed science. In When the Wind Blows, Varsha goes back to music, drawing inspiration from Miles Davis, saying, listen to what you can leave out. In Headlines, she playfully alludes to hair at different life stages, bound, unbound, and finally to a time to reshape the wildness even if Broadway will be closed till June 2021.

Saleem Peeradina’s poems submitted for this event were read by Pramila Venkateswararan. In The Body in Question Saleem Peeradina examines the world through striking images of different bodies and their symbolizing the various states of humanity, power and inhumanity –the bud of infancy to maternal bloom, migrating bodies washed ashore, body behind bars in solitary, body in whose soil is grown cotton, cane or tobacco, bodies from which coal is mined, in genocide, counted in numbers. In Song of the Makeover, he embodies the split he experiences as someone who never fits in where he is, always travelling, seeking himself or what appears to be himself through vivid phrases like full circle renewing the past, most at ease in a state of passage, two tongues, over there another face goes by my name, and, whose shadow doubles behind me.

In The View from 70, Saleem Peeradina draws playful and delightful images for us of interlopers who take over our bodies and are finally successful. The interloper enters stealthily with unmarked baggage, practice(s) hit and run arts, is the seducer who played for years on the swings slides and seesaws of my heart, a seventh sense, even with a no-vacancy sign. Finally, he concedes that it is best to befriend them, learn about them and co-exist until they (armed and dangerous) eventually win.

I am so glad I made the time for this new (to me) listening experience. It opened my eyes to a whole new vibrant community of poets and lovers of poetry, as well as those who enjoy hearing about the desi experience that we bring to the world of poetry. It seemed generally agreed upon that there has been more poetry written and made available to people all over the world, and that more people turned to poetry during the pandemic. Whether people had more time, needed poetry to make sense of the world, or whether technology brought poetry to more people, the increased interest has been one of the more welcome outcomes of the pandemic.

Desi Poets

Here are all these people

 

Who look like me Sound like me

And they read, and they love

Carry their hearts outside

Like me

speak the same languages

 

Languages

Of love and poetry

Of loss and separation

Of longing and dreams

Old homes and new

Old words renewed

 

Speak the language

Of Jack fruit, mango piquant as

Cilantro and green Chilis

Chai and samosas, sweet as

Jasmine with Thulasi leaves

 

Dusty tropical heat

Musty corner memories

Uncles, aunts, cousins

Clammy hands of first loves

Awkward fumbling kisses

 

Drenching thunderous monsoons

Umbrellas collapse in submission

 

Veins singing 

Gathering with hope

Hearts together 

rising in affection

 

Speaking old tongues in these newer lands

Using our Indlish to praise, protest, love

Finding connection in skin, language, country

 

Are these new cousins I see here?

Watch the Desi Poetry reading below!


Kalpana Asok is the author of ‘Whose Baby Is It, Anyway? Inside the Indian Heart’ and ‘Everyday Flowers’.

An Inauguration That Awoke My Ancestors

(Featured Image: Screenshot from CNBC coverage of the 2021 Inauguration)

I was pouring my coffee and almost spilled it when I heard Senator Amy Klobuchar’s words, “Our first African American, our first Asian American, our first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris” waft from my TV. As nonchalantly as I had been watching the inauguration, that moment – those words violently ran through my body, as though all my ancestors were asking me to listen. 

Kamala Devi Harris.

I was happy to hear of the Democratic shift in our Executive and Legislative branches of government and had voted accordingly, yet I remained skeptical. Skeptical if the words matched the vision. 

I accepted Vice President Kamala Harris as a person of color, but I’m not sure why, I hadn’t rationalized the identities she presented. Her Indian-American identity was one she had disengaged from early in her career, rightfully so, only to reach out conveniently when she needed votes. I still voted for her, advocated for her. Not because of her Indian heritage but because of her qualifications, her recent policies, her passion, her willingness to adapt, change, and grow. She was a powerhouse and deserved a position that matched her abilities. This was the narrative I spun for myself and others. 

But…it wasn’t until those words were uttered at the inauguration that I felt myself shudder. Shudder in disbelief. Shudder at the significance. Shudder at the thought of my connection to her.

A Lotus Goddess. 

And there she was…like Lakshmi Devi, ready to sit upon her throne. Her purple garments, vibrant like the purple lotus. Rooted in America in the most American way – a child of immigrants from two spaces and places. I could not will that away and neither could she. 

For so long, I denied seeing myself in Kamala in the interest of seeming impartial; to not be criticized for voting based on resemblance. I cannot deny it any longer. Our Vice President, Kamala Devi Harris is an Indian-American and I love her for it. I love myself for it. She will be a part of my history and I, hers.


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


 

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.

SandiSpell: Spelling Bee Champ to Tollywood Remix Artist

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

After a hectic day in high school, comparing notes with classmates to understand derivatives and limits to traveling to various suburbs in central Massachusetts to play tennis, nothing grounded me more than resting my forehead on the window of a moving school bus listening to my favorite song. The melodious vocals of Sadhana Sargam on her award-winning song ‘Manasa’ from the Telugu movie ‘Munna’. Fast forward 10 years, I still find comfort listening to Desi tracks every morning on my way to work. Recently, I came across a mix on SoundCloud called “A Decade in Rewind: Tollywood Edition“. A mix of familiar Telugu classics I grew up with blended with hip hop vocals and beats by a name familiar to those in the desi dance circuit, SandiSpell aka Snigdha Nandipati. Having seen her name as the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion, I knew I had to speak to her and find out how she was breathing new life into songs that of us grew up with.

My interviews on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ primarily focus on identity. What has been a constant amongst the different personalities I encounter is this – this generation finds its own unique way to express their South Asian Identity. For Snigdha, one such outlet of her identity was through her music. Like many, she grew up singing and continued to hone her craft at Yale through her campus acapella group. While she learned how to harmonize with others, dissect melodies and beats, she wanted to implement the same techniques to the Telugu classics she grew up with. In between recording covers and acapellas of Telugu songs, she found herself in a community that many young South Asian creatives find their roots – The Desi Dance Network Forums. Check out my interview with Snigdha Nandipati on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ to hear about what her Telugu identity means to her, and how she expresses it through her music.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

Fresh Insight Into the Making of the Mahatma

Uma Majmudar’s Gandhi and Rajchandra shine a light on the seminal yet often overlooked influence of Shrimad Rajchandra— a Jain mystic, poet, and businessman—on Mohandas Gandhi.

Neither his critics nor his admirers would dispute that Mahatma Gandhi’s status as a historical figure is virtually godlike. As Lord Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy, said in his tribute, “Mahatma Gandhi will go down in history on par with Buddha and Jesus Christ.”

Given such standing, it is hardly surprising that the human side of Gandhi has largely been downplayed in discussions about his life and message. It is easy to get the impression, after all, that Gandhi came into the world already as a Great Soul. Clearly, there is a tendency for us to presume that he was free of the internal struggles and challenges which so commonly characterize the lives of us “everyday people.” These kinds of impressions are unfortunate; they ultimately keep us from seeing that Gandhi’s life story includes much that we all can relate to as well as successfully apply to our own life situations. In Gandhi and Rajchandra: The Making of the Mahatma (Lexington Books) Uma Majmudar does much to fill this dearth of insight.

In Gandhi and Rajchandra, Majmudar explores the distinctive, indeed unparalleled, influence of the great Jain businessman, mystic, poet, and scholar, Shrimad Rajchandra, on Gandhi. She, in fact, compellingly makes the case that without Rajchandra, the man who the world would eventually revere as the Mahatma could never have come to be.

In discussing Rajchandra’s influence, Gandhi wrote, “I have met many a religious leader or teacher . . . and I must say that no one else ever made on me the impression that Rajchandbhai did.” While many scholars have emphasized the significance of Western intellectual giants, such as Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin, have had on Gandhi, the impact of Rajchandra on his life is not as well known. Though it is indisputable that Gandhi’s influences were eclectic, this work shows that he was, above all, groomed and fermented by cultural currents that were distinctly Indian.

Author, Uma Majmudar

Majmudar comparatively discusses the role that various “heavyweight spiritual champions” played in the Mahatma’s development and concludes, “Rajchandra alone would have the distinct honor of winning Gandhi’s heart and soul.”

She states: “The distinct contribution of Rajchandra as a teacher was to be the first faith figure to recognize Gandhi’s yet unarticulated spiritual aspirations and to help them grow… By his own example, Rajchandra taught Gandhi how to conduct one’s business with truthfulness. Also, from the poet, Gandhi first learned the art of integrating the spiritual, ethical, and worldly spheres of life with equilibrium and without sacrificing the main goal of Self-realization.”

Majmudar nicely provides a comprehensive historical narrative of the evolution of Gandhi’s relationship with his beloved teacher and mentor. Along the way, she illuminates particular struggles Gandhi coped with while he was on his way to becoming one of the greatest, most influential spiritual and social leaders in human history.

Members of the Indian diaspora can find, in these pages, a genuinely relatable Gandhi who (particularly when in South Africa) encounters serious difficulties in maintaining his own cultural identity, while at the same time seeking to incorporate the best aspects of the dominant colonial culture that was aiming to change him.

Majumdar cogently shows the indispensable place Rajchandra had for Gandhi in resolving such challenges. In the first of the two Appendixes provided, she reproduces 27 questions, along with the responses they evoked, which a religiously conflicted Gandhi posed to Rajchandra. These exchanges occurred after Mohandas had arrived in South Africa and encountered relentless pressure from non-Hindu friends to change his religion. Majmudar shows the vital significance this dialogue had for the formation of Gandhi’s identity by citing his own assessment of it:

“(Rajchandra’s) replies were so logical, appealing, and convincing that I regained my faith in Hinduism and I was saved from the conversion of religion. From that moment onwards, my respect and admiration for Rajchandra increased by leaps and bounds and I considered him to be my religious guide till he died and even after.”

In addition to underscoring points related to inter-religious dialogue, this Appendix provides a helpful context by which the reader can better understand those aspects of Gandhi’s life (most notably his attitudes toward human sexuality) that have long struck others as eccentric.

While the area of Gandhi studies has been saturated by many great works that are worthy of our attention, Majmudar gives us a genuinely unique and valuable addition to this always relevant field.


Sanjay Lal, author of Gandhi’s Thought and Liberal Democracy (Lexington Books, 2019), is a senior lecturer of philosophy at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia.

This article was originally published in Khabar Magazine.

I Refuse to Be Called an ABCD

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

“I like pizza, and I like camping, and hiking with my dad”, my classmate shared with me on the very first day of first grade in the United States.

I remember thinking to myself in Telugu (my mother tongue) that I had no idea what he had said. “Pizza? Camping? Hiking?”. It was the first moment I realized that there was something different about me.  I felt lost. The feeling was a visceral one that would become a familiar and frequent feeling over the next 26 years of my life in the United States. A feeling that can only be described as a mismatch between my external perceptions and my internal being at my very core.

As I grew older, I obviously grew to love the savory Italian dish, and I even grew to love walking through nature and appreciating its beauty while sleeping in tents overnight. But as I met others like me, I soon learned that this feeling was the seedling of the identity crisis that will continue to cause a chasm in the souls of many young South Asians growing up outside of India.

My confusion with identity did not stem from a lack of awareness of food items and outdoor activities, but rather from confronting my parents’ core values compared to mine. I’ve since adopted what they’ve considered “American Values” while still keeping some of my “Desi Values.”

I am part of a generation that is only now recognizing and accepting its new identity. This identity is far greater than the once common yet cringey acronym, “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi). What led up to this self-acceptance? A slow rise in visibility of the South Asian identity in community and media spaces. It spurred the never-ending conversation about identity amongst first, second, third-generation immigrants.

‘Masalainurdosa’

What was once an Instagram handle that my cheeky 21-year-old self came up with to arrogantly describe the spice and the “stuff” that makes the beloved South Indian dish has now inspired the identity of my new platform to showcase the “stuff” that makes up South Asian diaspora.

I hope to bring on people from all walks of life, all South Asian backgrounds, and speak with them about their journey with their identity. Through meaningful conversations and discussions, I hope to address the complexities and nuances that exist in how our South Asian culture and heritage mixes with our daily lives. I want to showcase conversations from South Asians who are exploring and defining their identity through their careers, art, music, and writing.

While acknowledging that our families have introduced us to our cultures, the platform prioritizes the voices of the younger and newest generations to show the ever-transforming ways people are resonating with South Asian culture – beyond language, behaviors, regions, or caste.

My hope is for the South Asian diaspora to realize that one’s unique and individual identity should be celebrated unmarked by cultural or generational expectations of the country you are born in. If any of this strikes a chord with you, check out my Instagram for regular updates, and my YouTube channel.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

Indian-Americans Must Resist South Asian Identity

The South-Asian identity of the Indian diaspora is inherently biased and it is fraught with inaccuracies. It also constitutes part of a deliberate attempt by leftist groups to deny and subsequently erase from the consciousness the memory of a glorious non-Western indigenous pagan civilization.

The question of identity and how we, both as an individual and a group, relate to the rest of the world has been explored by social scientists, anthropologists, and spiritual scholars alike. Most consider identity as linkages of social structure and/or an internal process of self-verification. Whether in affirming group identity or in resisting assimilation and digestion, this notion forms the core of identity politics. 

Bharatvarsha – as the indigenous inhabitants called their subcontinental sacred land – is a land of major rivers (the Sapta-Sindhu), high mountains (the Himalayas), vast forests (the Vindhyas), and unfathomable seas (Samudra). It has a recorded history spanning well over 5,000 years. This land “bears traces of the gods and the footprints of the heroes. Every place has its own story, and conversely, every story in the vast storehouse of myth and legend has its place.” (Diana Eck, A Sacred Geography). 

Foreigners – travelers, and invaders alike – later called this land as India and Hindustan (the land of the Hindus). When Columbus sailed to explore the ‘new world’, the land of big fortunes, he was going to India, not South Asia. The European colonizers named their trading companies East India Company, not South Asia Company.

In fact, South Asia did not enter the Western lexicon until the 1940s. It became an identity marker for immigrants in North America from the Indian subcontinent, including Myanmar and Tibet in some cases. In its simplest form, this marker represents a certain cultural and historical background of US immigrants from the Subcontinent in general and India in particular. Post-1947, ‘South Asianism’ in the US emerged as a form of political activism. This notion of belonging to a borderless larger geographical entity was promoted primarily by the leftist intellectuals and activists.i

In the graph below, you will see the term South Asia unused until the 1940s.

Source: Google Ngram Search

The ‘South Asian” label itself, however, was first used by American politicians and academics, not the immigrants themselves. In 1948 the first department of South Asian Regional Studies became functional in the US at the University of Pennsylvania that offered courses in geography, linguistics, Hindustani, sociology, etc. The emergence of such departments in US universities, however, owes primarily to the political and strategic objectives of the US government during and after World War II. Many South Asia departments were funded, among others, by the US intelligence apparatuses, and many of the South Asian ‘scholars’ were actually spies of the US government. Prominent among them include Olive Irine Reddick and Maureen L. P. Patterson. Reddick was an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services and worked as an undercover operative in India during the war (1942-1946). Later she ran the Fulbright Scholarship program for 14 years. Patterson, who worked in the US Government’s War Department, is credited with developing the world-famous collection at the University of Chicago South Asian Library. 

Picture credit: The University of Chicago Library

The other purpose served by these South Asia departments was to train the missionaries about to go off to do “church work” in India. Combined, the legacy of these South Asia departments still haunts every aspect of the study of India in the US and beyond.

The South Asian identity is highly contested and has never been universally accepted. Many consider South Asia as a representation of India’s cultural, geographical, and economic hegemony. Leftist groups, academicians, and politicians opposed to the identity of the Hindus and people belonging to other indigenous faiths of the Indian subcontinent have used the South Asian label to delegitimize the genuine concerns of these religious minorities in the US.  The same group has also worked hard to remove most references of India and Hindu from the California high school textbooks

The socio-political goals of the Indian-subcontinental diaspora in the US are diverse and varied. India is the second-most populous country as well as the fifth-largest economy in the world. While Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are constitutional Islamic theocracy, India is a Hindu-majority secular state. Indians are among the most educated and their average household income is among the highest of any ethnic/national group in the US. 

It is time for Indian-Americans to carve out a separate non-South Asian identity for themselves to advance their social, political, and cultural agenda in the US.

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Death of the Lipstick?

In this crisis hour, social media is keeping us entertained. Last month, a Facebook friend who lives abroad posted on her wall “Lipstick under my Mask…Must”. Another former colleague posted a photo of hers wearing a light brown lipstick and wrote “Lipstick after ages” using the lipstick emoji. Another FB friend in my list posted a photo of hers in a red lipstick bought in the midst of COVID-19.

Ever since humans have been forced to wear a mask as a precautionary measure against Coronavirus, the lipstick is facing an existential crisis. Its dirge has been sung. A visit to a leading cosmetics store in South Delhi on the occasion of my birthday in the first week of August revealed that sales have drastically dropped in the past few months from April to July. The salesgirl in charge of the Lakme counter, Babita Chauhan, informed that customers are showing a preference for nail polish and eye makeup. 

In this new world order, makeup lovers may find solace in eye shadows and nail varnishes, but these hardly equal the lipstick in status. In fact, lipstick addicts will agree that a dash of lip colour in bold reds, pinks and oranges, or even demure shades like peaches, browns and nudes, instantly lend sophistication, mystery and glamour to our everyday look. After all who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s bold red lips voted the most iconic beauty trend of all time.

A powerful statement

The lipstick is a cultural icon and stands for women’s sexuality, sensuality, desire, ambition and even femininity. In fact, references to the lipstick have been repeatedly used in writings and in cinema to convey important suggestion about women’s liberation. While Agatha Christie talks about the modern women in the throes of great social transformation in post-war British society, there are constant references to the lipstick. In fact, in one of Hercule Poirot mysteries, the little Belgian detective, who is well aware of female fashion and beauty trends, suggests a particular shade of lipstick to a woman character. 

In Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar, in a scene which speaks volumes about female camaraderie, Madhabi Mukherjee, who plays Arati Mazumdar, tries on a lipstick urged by her colleague, the Anglo Indian Edith Simmons. Later, she wipes it off with her saree before entering the home, as middle-class Bengali women applying lipstick was unthinkable in the 1970s. In the film, the lipstick symbolises the heroine’s initial hesitance and then gradual acceptance of her role as a working woman.

The lipstick as the symbol of freedom has also been used in the Bollywood movie Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava. In one of the initial scenes, the character of Rehana Abidi played by Plabita Borthakur first steals a lipstick from a mall in Bhopal and then applies it after discarding her traditional burkha. In the very next scene, she is seen wearing jeans and her bright red lips denotes a newfound confidence.

During my childhood, the lipstick was a forbidden thing lying in my mother’s dressing table drawer. Sometimes, when mum was not around, I would surreptitiously open and see the colours and even smell the beautiful pink bullet. Seeing my mother applying it before the mirror was enticing, but it was not for little girls, as she constantly reminded me. 

Walking down the streets wearing one’s favourite lip shade with the wind playing in the hair is one of the best moments many of us can think of. But sadly this is at stake with masks covering our faces.

Will lipsticks survive?

So, is it the death of the lipstick, one of the most potent weapons denoting self-love and strength? As masks in various colours adorn the shelves of shops, the lipstick has been eclipsed, temporarily going out of view. But the desire to apply it remains as strong as ever.

In my reply to the Facebook friend, I told her that I hate to see my lipsticks lying idle in makeup boxes. So, I am unabashedly wearing lip colours at home and also beneath masks. After all, one can still post pretty pictures wearing them on social media, isn’t it? Maybe many of us are thinking the same with Chauhan revealing over the phone a week later that lipstick sales are picking up slowly. 

Though the lipstick made its appearance by the end of the 19th century, in the 20th century it became popular, especially in the West. The powerful, sultry and seductive red lipstick, which was associated with prostitution and loose morals, became one of the symbols of the Suffragette movement which demanded women’s right to vote.

Over the years, the lipstick has witnessed countless revolutions. From matte finish to glossy to creamy textures, the colour palette has also undergone dramatic changes. Apart from the classic red, one can choose from bold pinks, neons and fuschia to dark wine shades and even black.

All said and done, the mask cannot defeat the lipstick forever, though it has certainly been covered up for the time being. When the scenario improves, it will be back with a vengeance and triumph over the current adversity. As lipstick fans themselves are proving that life without the super bullet is unthinkable.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Uppa is Made of Momos

Uppa calls it the Mainland. For most people living outside of South Asia, India is nothing more than the mainland. India’s recognizable triangular shape is just a part of the story.

Uppa’s India snakes into the Himalayas, toward the North-East part of the subcontinent. Not only does it touch China, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar but it is also home to hundreds of thousands of individuals who despite being ethnically and culturally very diverse from other parts of India, are Indian citizens.

She comes from one of the many tribal communities that fill this northeastern region of India. Not long before the spread of COVID-19, she migrated to the United States and has been living in New York City. When I asked about her transition to the United States, one of the first challenges she brought up was just how difficult it is to get the foods she craves. Her story, her life even, is, like many of ours, defined by her access to and emotions around food. 

Despite these challenges, Uppa still takes great pride in her favorite meals and often grows nostalgic for them. Living in the U.S., she particularly misses momos: a quasi-dumpling from Northeast India and Ladakh. Think gently masala-spiced meat and vegetables, delicately rolled into a delectable, far-less processed and certainly less sickly-sweet Hershey kiss package, steamed or flash-fried in jumping, shimmery canola oil over a wood fire or massive gas burner that will surely burn your eyebrows off if you stand within six feet of it! Served on a flimsy piece of tinfoil, these bundles of joy are often viewed as a Delhi-street food staple. Bumble some broken Hindi phrases like bahut accha (very good) or svaadisht (delicious) to the momo-wala (momo seller) like the foreigner you are and he may even slip you an extra one!  

But when Uppa spoke of the momo, this simple meal became something far more poetic and perhaps a little less sweat-inducing… 

Far from being fast-paced or born on Delhi’s sweltering streets, momos are slow, delicate, and almost like family to Uppa. She describes them as a painter might describe a long-lost piece of art. It is about the family connections and the creative process, not just consumption. Respecting this process is just as important as the bite of momo itself. 

“Momos are not a one-person task. It becomes a family thing. Like everyone is doing their bit… One person is making the dough… I tried making them on my own but when my mom makes them, they remind me of happy times.”

While I might try to make dumplings at home merely for the fun of it, Uppa seemed hesitant to try preparing them during her time in the U.S. Why make something when there might be a missing ingredient or spice made by an unfamiliar company? Why make a momo when half of its taste comes from mom’s expertise, the other half from Dehradun’s fresh green chili? For her, the U.S. momo will inevitably be lackluster.

“Momos are a treat, they were a happy occasion food. Okay, you were sick, you just got out of being sick? Let’s make momos.”

Aside from her anxiety about differences in taste, it seems that Uppa’s craving for momos is also connected with her love for her community. The people, the place, the experience: these are the modes through which food shapes who we are. 

“I look at food slightly differently than a lot of people. Coming from a tribal community… our food is definitely different from the mainland. Food is best when it is still in its natural essence… not changed at all like the mainland’s cuisine.” 

For many people in the U.S. and Europe, India conjures up images of colorful chalk, deep dishes of buttery, oily chicken, elephants, and a flyer asking them to “feed the children.” These sentiments are particularly apparent in the ways people think about food. Food constructs Uppa’s identity as much as her swanky clothing choices, move to New York, or upbringing in the Himalayas. 

“India is so much more than just kebab and naan. If people only just opened themselves up to more than what just the stereotype of Indian food is in the west, they would see that Indian cuisine is so diverse, it’s amazing. I definitely think the west needs to open up its mind to Indian food beyond kebab and biryani.” 

Uppa, like all of us, identifies with the differences, the nuances of her place, her food, her people. The mainland of India, despite its diversity, feels too homogenous to encompass her preferences. The momo is a journey to Uppa’s world and an understanding of herself. A journey into her upbringing and identity. It captures the essence that makes Uppa.


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

LoQ, Sci-Fi Column: In Conversation with an Artist

Legends of Quintessence – A column which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context.

As I look around myself, I feel inspired by the talent surrounding me. I am inspired by my South Asian culture.  I am inspired by Sci-Fi.  So the conversations I have with those around me have a natural proclivity to include all the facets of my identity.

And what better company than chai, pakoras, and friends?

So sit down with me, Srishti Prabha (IC Assistant Editor) and some chai, as we explore the themes of Hanifa Hameed’s artwork for the LoQ column. 

Hanifa is a UI/UX designer and is also very active in creating digital art with underlying South Asian cultural influence. Her art takes inspiration from real life and highlights concepts that are beautiful, real, thought-provoking, and essential. She and her art have recently been recognized by ELLE India. Her art dedicated to the movie ‘Sheer Qorma’ recently featured on the movie’s Insta page. You can find her art on her Instagram page

Watch the interview below!

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Sci-Fi Column, Legends of Quintessence is poised to introduce you to some great South Asian talent. We aim to bring you closer to South Asians doing creative stuff and breaking new grounds. So get ready to be wowed by some amazing artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, poets, and other creatives. 


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.