Tag Archives: Immigrant

Artist, CoMo, recording music.

After Immigrating to Cupertino, I Found My Place Through Rap Music

6 schools in 5 years across 2 continents is no easy feat for any adolescent…

I was constantly trying to pick up on the likes and dislikes of my peers, trying to find a crowd that would remind me of home.

After coming back from India and starting 6th grade at Kennedy Middle School, I found myself in a position I had been in far too many times for my liking. I met a couple of friends and my mom was ecstatic! She wanted to know everything about their families and have dinner with them, as is in Indian tradition.

I stepped into my friend’s house and his parents direct me to his room where all the other kids are. I hear a heavy bassline, horns enunciating each downbeat, and a man’s voice riding the instrumental effortlessly. I was instantly enamored and wanted to know what this music was. That is the first time I listened to In Da Club by 50 cent – an introduction to rap music. 

From there, my journey into rap took me to artists like Eminem, Dr. Dre, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, and so much more. I felt like I finally belonged. I spent hours on end listening, I felt like I had a voice. I was obsessed.

Going Nowhere Fast Album Cover
‘Going Nowhere Fast’ Album Cover

It never occurred to me, until after college, that I could try and start making music. Now, it’s been four years and I have released over 100 songs. Most recently, I put out my debut album ‘Going Nowhere Fast’

My pursuit of Hip Hop stems from those feelings of wanting to find a home. I have written music about subjects like being a first-generation Indian American and cherishing a good time with friends on a Friday night. That’s the beautiful thing about music, songs truly just encapsulate moments in time.

We are all multi-faceted creatures making our way through life and what it presents. I have found my music helps me document these instances and provides me an outlet for self-expression and realization that I haven’t found anywhere else in my life. I can get completely lost in a chord progression because of the triggered emotion. My music is my scrapbook on display for the audience to take as their own and create their own world in. I hope everyone finds a place in it. 

 


Amogh Changavi, or CoMo, is a hip-hop musician based out of the Bay Area that’s been making music for the past 4 years. Rapping about everlasting topics on moments in time that are here to stay. Instagram| Twitter | Facebook


 

Nose In Books, Feet In Socks: On Dr. Seuss

Growing up in the misty mountain valleys of South India, I relished every moment spent with my nose in books and my feet in socks.  Nestled in the range of Nilgiri hills, in a place too small to merit a dot on the map, is a place I was lucky enough to call home when I was growing up. The rainy climes and lack of digital entertainment options meant that we read as many books as we could, and used our imagination to come up with innovative games and entertainment options.

Enid Blyton lifted all of us children into clouds above The Magic Faraway Tree or whisked us away on the Wishing Chair. Tinkle comics & Champak took us for a spin (I am trying to remember some of the characters without the aid of the Internet – a cheap thrill in the current times – Kalia the crow, Chamataka the fox, Doob-Doob the crocodile, Tantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Naseeruddin Hodja, Vikram & Betaal and of course, that vague huntsman who should be the mascot for gun control laws, Shikari Shambu).  

As we grew older though, we moved away from Children’s comics and fantasy books. As more serious fare gradually replaced this wonderful array, I never expected to revisit that wondrous feeling of picking up a children’s book where you know not what magical world opens up to you, and when. But that is exactly what happened when I had children here, and we journeyed into these marvelous worlds together. I had never read the Thomas Train series or the Curious George series or the Berenstain Bear series or any of the books by Dr. Seuss as a child and I got to experience all of this with them for the first time. Oh! The simple pleasures of reading a book like any of these for the first time are gift enough, but to be blessed to be able to read it for the first time as an adult is surreal. It was like growing up all over again. To that, I am eternally grateful.

One morning, the old body was off to a slow start, and I was yawning sleepily in the car. The elementary school-going son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches The Egg” and we did. The son & I were soon cracking up with loud laughter in the car – sleep had flown, and the nonsensical plot had truly woken me up surer than caffeine could. It is a marvelous book and takes one through the hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg. 

I don’t think the little fellow knew about Dr Seuss’s quote on nonsense waking up the brain cells, but it worked like a charm:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Today, some of Dr. Seuss’s books are being pulled back to have a more inclusive perspective. We know the world changes, but the underlying sentiment he sought to share with the world is one of inclusivity, as he knew first-hand what it was to be ostracized. He knew what it meant to not feel welcomed, and most of his books encouraged us to open our minds and embrace the world. 

March 4, 2021 Article in the NYT.

The current news about the books makes for a great conversation starter on racism with children – for some of his books such as Sneetches examine racism, and how we are more alike than different in spite of our physical differences. I remember being shocked to learn Enid Blyton’s books came under similar criticism. When I was a child reading these books, all they did was transport me to a magical place. I was a brown-skinned girl growing up in South India, but that did not stop me from imagining the 90-ft Eucalyptus tree at the end of our street poked its topmost branches into the revolving worlds in the clouds. But when I re-read them now, I see the point: I must confess that this has led to many interesting discussions with the children.

As the world evolves, and we continue to grow as individuals, it also gives us an opportunity to look for places in the writing that were reflective of the times. For instance, what we identify as unacceptable today was considered acceptable 20-30 years ago. This, in my mind, is a hugely positive aspect of human-beings. Isn’t being able to stop, evaluate ourselves and become better versions of ourselves one of the greatest accomplishments of being human? 

I read Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr. Seuss

Ted Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in a well-off family. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother had a knack for reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Ted was a school-going child in Springtown, Massachusetts, when the First World War started. The Geisels were first-generation German Americans and though they were citizens at the time of war, the world around them did not treat them kindly. It is disheartening to read that young Ted Geisel was persecuted for his lineage. This boy went on to write books that are loved and adored by children of all races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds. His books only ask for an open mind whether it was imagining an elephant gingerly climbing up a tree to hatch an egg or eating green eggs and ham. 

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work. 

Excerpt from the book:

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!”

Praise from the one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

I am truly grateful for Dr. Seuss’s books. He and so many authors gave me the gift of finding wonder and magic in an immigrant’s journey.  Read Across America Week was started during Dr. Seuss’s birthday week, and continues to enthrall children. In my son’s school, this year was the multicultural reading week. He told me about some excellent books they read in school this week:  Under the Hijab, The Roots of Rap, My Papi has a Motorcycle, etc, and I am looking forward to reading these myself.


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

The Good and Bad of Living as an NRI

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Sitting beside a window in my house in West Singapore, as I stare thoughtlessly at the view of lush green trees and a verdant Bukit Timah hill, I see a family of yellow parrots playing around enjoying the tropical weather. When we moved to this house two years ago, they were a family of two. Now, they are three- mom, dad, and baby parrot. The sight of this lovely playful family makes me nostalgic, it makes me sad. It makes me miss my family back in India even more.

Where I come from, living in a foreign country is considered fashionable and glamorous. While I don’t deny the better lifestyle and surplus savings, the fact remains that living abroad comes with its own set of challenges. You can feel displaced and lonely. With a pandemic imposing travel restrictions, it can very easily cause anxiety, stress, and even depression.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the realities of living away from the Motherland are not necessarily that glamorous and fun as portrayed in popular culture. In Yash Chopra and Karan Johar movies, we see Indians abroad in big landed homes, driving fancy cars, and living a life of luxury. What is rarely depicted in pop culture is the other side of the coin. Living away from India can take a toll on you emotionally and psychologically. The lack of a robust community support system, similar traditions, and enthusiasm for festivals and important occasions can be very alienating and daunting. However, in many parts of the world, Indians have managed to build a community for themselves. 

House used for the Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham Set (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

It can take some adjustment and a lot of patience to “settle down”, especially if you are a new immigrant. One tip I can give to my readers planning on moving abroad soon is to seek help. Start looking at online forums and groups based out of the place where you are moving, connect with people, and be open to putting yourself out there. 

Having some connections and being open to new relationships always helps. But in your head, be prepared. Even something as small as different weather at a given point of time of the year can take some getting used to. For example, when I moved to Singapore, initially, it took me a while to adjust to summers round-the-year as I’d grown up enjoying four lovely seasons in India. 

The blind race to marry an NRI and its ugly consequences

For me, the struggles have been more on the psychological front caused by the displacement and lack of a sense of belonging. I have been lucky to have a supportive and loving husband and some great friends.

For some, unfortunately, the repercussions can be worse, even life-threatening. That is why, people, especially, women should think twice about how badly they want it and for what reasons. I know a lot of girls who specifically seek NRI husbands just for the sake of the coveted label of being foreign-settled. In this blind pursuit, sometimes, women end up marrying the wrong guy landing themselves in abusive families – sometimes they are subjected to mental torture, sometimes they are abandoned, and sometimes they even end up dead.

In a case that came to light in 2017, highly-educated and well-qualified Usha Parikh left her lucrative job in a top-drawer IT company in Ahmedabad to marry a US-based NRI engineer only to realize later that her husband was an unlettered ordinary mechanic and an alcoholic. In another case the same year, Rekha Shah, daughter of a silk-stocking Surat diamantaire, married a Singapore-based doctor and within three months, the 29-year-old pregnant woman was desperate to come back to India from the physical abuse she faced from her husband and in-laws for dowry. 

In the first seven months of 2017 alone, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs received over 300 SOS complaints from Indian women stuck abroad in fraudulent marriages. According to a 2020 report, there are over 30,000 ‘honeymoon brides’ in Punjab who have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage this year alone.

According to a 2018 article by Reicha Tanwar, Former Director of Women’s Studies at Kerala University, there has been a steady rise in cases of Indian women being deserted after marriage or tricked into fraudulent marriages by husbands and their families who are residents of a foreign country in the past ten years. She writes that between January 2015 to November 2017, the MEA received 3,328 such complaints. Most of the complainants were from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana followed by Gujarat. This year, amidst lockdowns and stay-at-home impositions worldwide, cases of domestic violence- both mental and physical- surged.

What’s worse is that these NRI husbands leverage the gaps in the laws and policies, and generally go untouched. Fraudulent NRI marriages are also cases of rape, torture, human trafficking, violence, and extortion. Between September 2009 to November 2011, around 800 cases have been registered in India’s National Commission for Women but not a single NRI husband was extradited back to India as of July last year. 

The problem lies in the implementation of Article 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code wherein cases of domestic violence, the presence of NRI husbands cannot be secured in Indian courts. There is no strong law to help bring them back and that is why most of them go untouched.

Know your rights and weigh your options

It is important for every adult woman to know their rights, weigh their options, and seriously consider if they want an NRI husband at the risk of not knowing enough and going in blind. Generally, there are some red flags and patterns that can help catch the trouble early in the process of meeting the families and the boy.

Are they in a hurry? Is the boy not around and will directly come over at the time of the wedding? Have you seen the legal documents like passports, visas, etc? Are you in touch with any relatives, friends, and foreign acquaintances of the groom’s side?

Living in a foreign land seems dreamy and glamorous but at what cost?

Women and their families must do their due diligence and think twice before entering into a union with a foreign-based boy. Having said that, I completely understand that there are many scenarios where the person is smooth and there are just no alarming signs ahead of the wedding and a woman can find herself in trouble after landing in a strange country.

At that point, it becomes crucial to know where and how to seek help. Reach out to the Indian embassy or High Commission in your country. Go to the Ministry of External Affairs website or Twitter handle and reach out to them. Reach out to government organizations like NARI or non-government organizations in your area.

Here are some relevant links for readers in California: 

I am saddened by the lack of family visits this past year amidst the pandemic and as we usher into the new year with uncertainties and bleak hope, I feel even worse. However, my struggles are nothing like these thousands of women who go abroad with dreams of starting a new family, a new life, and are faced with such atrocities. It is important for us all to remember that life is not about the material side of things but in the end, it is the people and the relationships that matter. If anything, this past year we have all learned the value of having loved ones in our lives. 

I wish and pray that the new year only brings happiness and health for all of us- in India and abroad. Happy, safe, and healthy 2021!


Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Looking At The Brighter Side Of A Pandemic Year

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

In December of each year, my family sits around a glass jar for our annual appraisal ritual. The ordinary jar purchased from Ikea and previously used for storing mango pickle, contains notes and index cards, quickly scribbled and dropped in by each member of the family at various times during the year. It holds the trivial details of our individual lives and serves as a short term repository of our collective memory, before they are transformed into our annual family newsletter.

The four of us sit cross-legged on the carpet and take turns to pick out one short hand-written message each. We read it aloud and hand it to the person who has written it. Every message captures an event, accomplishment or significant moment, typically documented soon after it happens, and narrated in a format that represents the different personalities of each family member. 

Messages come in various formats and lengths. From a cryptic “No more Hindi exams” (younger daughter) to tweet-sized “Yayy, landed my first paying internship, can’t wait to spend it” (elder daughter) to longer ruminations – “went on weekly treks, played squash twice a week, and swam everyday for 16 weeks”(husband). Mine read like tiny letters to myself, annotated with a date, sometimes a listicle, and always a signature.

It’s a fun way to close the year, reminiscing about small things we had forgotten about because memory suffers from the recency effect and life has a way of expanding the once-in-a-lifetime kind of moments while obliterating ordinary ones. 

In years past, our newsletters have captured memorable moments like skydiving in New Zealand, watching an unforgettable sunset from a beautiful hotel in Santorini and spending a night in a tent in the Serengeti. Individually and collectively, we have challenged ourselves with yoga teacher training at an ashram (elder daughter), climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (husband), launching a book (me) and obtaining scuba-diving certification (everyone but me).

The husband glues together these disparate, often sparse notes with his wacky sense of humor, adds a few choice photographs and sends it to our large group of extended family and relatives. We receive heart-warming feedback from our readers, usually mentioning our fabulous travels and overachieving tendencies. The exact reason why we dreaded gathering this year for an annual ritual that we all used to look forward to.

How could we put together an interesting writeup for a year that has ‘pandemic’ as the word of the year?

Our jar, not surprisingly, was almost empty. A few notes from the first two months reminded me of the successful launch of my book in Hyderabad back in January. And the pleasure of watching ‘Little Women’ in the movie theatre with my daughters. There hadn’t been much to report for the rest of the year. Travels to Bhutan and Europe had been cancelled. Plans for a party to mark the elder daughter’s college graduation had been put on indefinite hold. Diwali gatherings had not materialized. We hadn’t seen family members for months. In fact, even familiar faces had become hard to recognize while hidden behind masks. 

We had not only missed splashy outings but also the simple joy of sitting across with a group of friends. We had witnessed job loss, deferred dreams and positive Covid cases within our inner family circle. We had conveyed condolences to friends whose loss had been compounded by their inability to say goodbye in person. Thanks to unsatisfactory work-life balance I missed a highly anticipated live-streamed wedding that I had hoped to attend in person. 

The list of all the things wrong with the year was long. Finding something to celebrate was going to be tough. But treasure lies exactly where you least expect to find it.

At the bottom of the jar, we found four little gems that we had forgotten about. In response to an NPR post back in May, I had convinced my family to participate in a group project – to create a “quaranzine” – a record of pandemic life. It was suggested as an activity to engage little kids by asking them to respond to certain prompts with words and pictures. 

My teenage daughter and her older sister rolled their eyes but good naturedly brought paper, pens and color pencils. Each of us created a mini-diary capturing our version of the life we were living. We didn’t share our creations with each other then, so when we pulled the booklets out months later, they looked like little time capsules.

Our responses to the prompts like “what was the hardest thing about pandemic life”, “what had changed the most”, “what was most surprisingly delightful” were unique to our stage in life. I tried using fewer words but failed in comparison to my younger daughter whose one-word responses accompanied by cute cartoons spoke volumes.

Despite our best hopes, the end of 2020, had not brought an end to the Covid-19 ordeal. Our lives are still curtailed. Although we had no great outer achievement to share, we had all grown. By adopting new exercise routines, demonstrating interest in new hobbies and even embracing existing technologies such as audiobooks, each of us had progressed. We couldn’t host large parties, but we had made small contributions to our neighborhood. Like in previous years, we found that we were not the same people we were at the beginning of 2020. 

Our newsletter project taught me the true value of tradition. The simple act of gathering for a common purpose gave us exactly what we needed during these trying times, faith that even though we may not know what the year ahead will bring, we will grow, individually and together, as a family, and as a community.


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

 

Two States of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Support the Art of Writing, Support Your Community

Dear Readers,

Your inbox is probably overflowing with #GivingTuesday appeals, so we’ll keep this brief. On #GivingNewsDay, we join other news organizations in celebrating independent, and fact-based community journalism like ours—and appeal to our readers to raise the funds that make it all possible.

We often hear from readers that our reporting truly makes a difference in their lives—that no other publication covers Indian narratives like we do, or with such integrity and transparency:

“Thank you for your media presence in these difficult times…America gave us the opportunities to grow and we are now giving back in the knowledge and resources we acquired. These coming months will challenge people from India.  We have unique opportunities to lift, support, and lead in more creative ways than we ever imagined. Please continue to do what you are doing for the community and country at large.” – Satish and Surekha Chohan

Your mail surely touched my heart, so simple and yet genuine. It is a period of deep anxiety as we strictly follow the Government’s decision for all to stay indoors and maintain a fair distance from one another…In the meantime, thank you all for the cheerful introspection you give us.” – Nita (Dave) Jain

“We follow your daily updates, good—keep it up.  WE ARE IN IT, WITH YOU, WITH OUR COMMUNITY.” – Sunil Tolani

Journalism with this kind of impact is free to consume but expensive to produce.

Will you consider making a donation to India Currents today, in honor of #GivingNewsDay? From now until December 31, NewsMatch will match your new monthly donation 12x or double your one-time gift, up to $5,000.

We hope to $5,000 by the end of the day today. Can we count on you to help us reach our goal? 

This #GivingNewsDay, support reporting that’s for the people, with the people. Give now. 

We know you have a lot of worthy choices when it comes to making your year-end donations. We hope that, as a reader of India Currents, you’ll demonstrate the value we add to your life by making a donation today. This #GivingNewsDay, invest in us.

With gratitude,

Vandana Kumar
Publisher
India Currents

P.S. Don’t keep #GivingNewsDay all to yourself! Celebrate with friends and colleagues by helping us spread the word and forwarding this email.

Making Space For the Unknown: Desi Poetry Reading

Join India Currents and Matwaala, once again, in our Desi Poetry Reading Series. This time we bring you six poets addressing the ever-present uncertainty and change. The South Asian diaspora is perpetually evolving, breaking new boundaries and forging new connections in every sphere. India Currents presents its third Desi Poetry Reading to discuss how South Asian communities interacting with a year of inconsistencies, trauma, growth, and change.

To join the FREE poetry reading on Thursday, December 3, 2020 at 6pm PST and 9 pm EST, register here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/desi-poetry-reading-uncertainty-and-change-tickets-130829912791

Or check to find our Facebook Live Stream at the time of the event here:

https://www.facebook.com/IndiaCurrents/videos

This poetry reading will feature notable writers from various pockets of the South Asian community, including Indran Amirthanayagam, Varsha Saraiya-Shah, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, R. Cheran, Saleem Peeradina, and youth poet, Sara Garg. India Currents staff, Srishti Prabha and Kanchan Naik will moderate the event, facilitating questions from the audience on Zoom or Facebook Live.

This is effort is in collaboration with Matwaala, a South-Asian poetry collaborative designed to provide immigrant and POC writers with a literary platform. In their own words, Matwaala represents “voices that dare to say the unsaid and hear the unheard…voices that break down barriers…voices that dare to be South Asian, American, and simply human.” Since their formation, they have hosted a number of poetry festivals and writing workshops. Most notably, they recently spearheaded Smithsonian’s Beyond Bollywood Project, where they created a Poetry Wall in honor of South Asian writers at the Irving Museum and Archives.

We hope to see you there!


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.

Maitri at Sevathon 2019

Cultural Norms, A Generational Curse For DV Victims

(Featured Image: Maitri at Sevathon 2019 walking to support Domestic Violence Victims)

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, India Currents presents a 2-part series discussing abuse and its impact within the South Asian American community. This is the second and final installment, which discusses the cultural implications of domestic violence, and how these expectations have changed amid the pandemic. Find the first article here.

I know of people who are being subjected to a lot of violence and they are people you wouldn’t even suspect”, emphasizes Kasturi Basu.

Immigrant women often don’t walk away from abusive marriages because they fail to recognize the abuse. Rather, toxic and aggressive behavior is miscoded as spousal affection. In a phone interview, domestic violence survivor Mala Sharma recalls forgiving her second husband “many times” despite his threats and derogatory language. 

“I convinced myself that he wasn’t so bad,” Sharma says. “My first husband used to hit me, this one only swears.” 

According to Neelofer Chaudry, Executive Director of New York-based nonprofit Domestic Harmony Foundation, South Asian American victims are taught to internalize their abusers’ attacks from a young age. Cultural taboos create troublesome expectations for immigrant families. 

“These women grow up in a South Asian household and are [told] not to say anything about what happens in the house. Do not talk to anyone about it, even relatives,” Chaudry says, echoing the stifling attitudes within these households. “Because it [domestic violence] is so taboo and shameful, there’s this internalization — ‘what’s wrong with me, is it my fault that I’m being abused?’” 

Kasturi Basu echoed Chaudry’s thoughts in her own narrative, discussing the prevalence of domestic violence in her own social circles. “My friends knew, but in the South Asian community, people don’t want to talk about it. I would put makeup on my bruises and go to parties” says Basu. Guilt and community expectations also work against abuse victims. “If the children didn’t perform to his expectations, he would make our lives miserable with verbal, physical, and emotional abuse.” 

America’s Model Minority Myth, the expectation that Asian Americans represent financial and familial success, further restricts victims from speaking out. In a 2017 op-ed published by the New York magazine, political commentator Andrew Sullivan attributed Asian American “prosperity” to the maintenance of the ‘solid two-parent family structure.’ The assumption that all South Asian American households are ‘solid’ and monolithic, Chaudry suggests, is problematic. 

“It’s been hard,” Chaudry says. “There’s this pressure on our community to be perfect. When we first started talking, we were heavily criticized by [fellow] South Asians. We were called home wreckers, asked ‘why are you airing out our dirty laundry?’ We’re scared to discuss what’s considered a ‘private issue’ between husband and wife. Abuse is never private. It’s the responsibility of the community to speak up.” 

Organizations like the Domestic Harmony Foundation offer emotional support services for their clients, where trained professionals can address survivors’ conflicted emotions about their relationships. They also host annual youth leadership programs to empower the next generation and dismantle toxic social norms. 

“When it comes to abuse, there’s a tendency to repeat behavior,” Chaudry adds. “If a son sees his mother being abused, he is more likely to repeat that. It’s a social moray, which is [why] we want an opportunity to break the cycle. When you bring survivors together and have them share experiences with one another, they see that they’re not that different.” 

Reaching out, moving on 

In 2017, Sharma ‘nervously’ reached out to Houston nonprofit Daya after divorcing her second husband. She had no source of income. Her phone was flooded with desperate messages from her ex-husband, many of them threatening or pornographic. She removed his name from their apartment’s lease and changed the locks, prompting further harassment. 

“Daya really helped me,” Sharma said. “They first helped me secure a restraining order against my husband, who later went to jail after I filed a complaint with the police. Daya worked hard, offered me counseling services where [I learned] that I am not wrong,  that this is not my mistake.” 

Sharma is an exception. According to the US National Library of Medicine, only 11 percent of South Asian women who report domestic violence actually receive counseling services. 3 percent are successful in obtaining a restraining order against their partner. The numbers are low, says Daya Executive Director Rachna Khare, because mistrust and disillusionment run high in the South Asian American community. 

“It’s discouraging because there are some immigration protections for survivors of crime,” Khare says in a Zoom interview. “But they’re difficult to access. For example, if you’re married to an H1-B visa-holder and you’re a dependent..it could take years to get a U-Visa, if ever. Is it safe to wait?” 

Khare is referring to the U Nonimmigrant visa, which permits victims of crimes such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking to remain in the United States. Although U-visas are designed to protect the immigration status of all abuse victims, only 10,000 of them are accepted a year. Those denied are “given priority” for the next year, which is why so many South Asian women who apply are expected to remain undocumented for years. 

Law enforcement across the country also has a history of undermining U-Visa petitions, as indicated by an assessment from The Center of Investigative Reporting. According to their analysis, U-Visa petitions have dropped since 2018 because “nearly 1 of every 4 [agencies] create barriers never envisioned under the…program.” The effects, Khare says, are devastating — and not just for the victims. 

“It’s interesting that people look at domestic violence work as just charity.  In reality, our work is about keeping our community safe,” Khare says. “Abusers are likely to continue their violent behavior if we ignore this crisis… Their children will need extra interventions and support at school and their families are more likely to experience negative health effects… Domestic violence prevention and services  are investments in public safety and healing that hold abusers accountable and allow survivors to stay in their homes safely and flourish.”

COVID-19: Locked in with an abusive spouse

The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably aggravated the situation. Lockdown restrictions have forced victims into a vulnerable space with their aggressors. The usual support systems, such as neighbors and family friends, are no longer available. 

Boston-based organization Saheli reported an increase in 911 emergency calls where their advocates had to assist non-English speaking South Asian Americans.

Meanwhile, the advocacy organization Domestic Violence Women United says that the coronavirus pandemic has added “multiple layers” to the atrocities of violence that are permissible within South Asian American households. DV Women United was formed by three women — Kasturi Basu, Sushmita Dutta, and Ms. Ghosh. Some being domestic violence survivors themselves founded the organization eight years ago as an anonymous support system for other victims. 

“When you have children in a violent relationship, they are not going to school or having any other outside interaction during COVID,” said Kasturi, a principal at Alum Rock Elementary School. “When they’re at home more often, they witness more abuse and may also be subjected to more violence themselves. It’s a completely different environment.” 

Kasturi also said the virus itself can be weaponized against victims of domestic violence. Many abusers prevent their spouses from seeking any outside support, using the pandemic as their rationale. In some relationships, Kasturi mentioned that aggressors even threaten to spread the coronavirus to partners, thus adding to an unhealthy power dynamic. 

After the fact 

Three years ago, Sharma was alone and unemployed in a country she says she did not trust. Today, Sharma is a qualified beautician and proud business owner. With Daya’s help, she established her own salon in Houston where she pursues her passion within the beauty industry. 

“Daya really worked for me, to show me how to do business. They helped me to get a business loan, taught me how to run a business, find clients, meet with people…they taught me [the way] you teach a schoolchild,” Sharma says. 

Although financially independent, Sharma’s fight continues. She is the mother of two children who are still living in Nepal and is struggling to obtain green card status in the United States. Sharma lived with domestic violence for more than 13 years, an experience that has colored her vision of South Asian marriage and cultural expectations. 

“Asian men need to compromise,” Sharma says. “Even my own father and brothers never gave my mother any respect. And [Asian] women need to speak up. They need to connect with other people. I want them to know how much power they really have.” 

She ends the call on a hopeful note. 

“I’m not afraid of anyone anymore,” Sharma says and laughs. “I feel like I’m flying in the air.” 

If you or someone else is struggling with domestic violence, please refer to the resources below. 

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

Maitri Helpline: 1-888-862-4874 (https://maitri.org/)

Narika Helpline: 1-510-444-6048 (https://www.narika.org/

Domestic Harmony Foundation: 1-516-385-8292 (http://dhfny.org/

My Sister’s House: 1-916-428-3271 (http://www.my-sisters-house.org/


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the Youth Editor of India Currents, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, and the Global Student Square editor for Newsroom By the Bay. Follow Kanchan on Instagram at @kanchan_naik_

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.

Nostalgia and Other Maladies

It has been two thousand eighty-eight days since I entered a classroom full of expectant faces waiting for me. I am a teacher, or previously, was! On a chilly December night, in 2014, I bade my best friends adieu at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, to embark on a journey that would change my life. Looking back at the foggy landscape of the city I loved, one last time, I boarded the plane with my seven-year-old daughter and four juggernaut suitcases stuffed with an abbreviated version of my life in India. Twenty-eight hours later, I landed in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a golden sunset reminiscent of an HD wallpaper greeted me. I shook my exhausted daughter out of sleep, thanked the onboard staff, and got off the plane, to start a life in a city at the other end of everything and everyone I knew.

It has been almost six years, since, and in all fairness, I have fallen in love with this country. I have grown to love the “honestly, it’s not for everyone” state of Nebraska. The humble midwestern city with its warm welcoming people, hot, dazzling summers, and bitterly cold, snowy winters, sneaked its way slowly into my heart. Miles upon miles of trails running through the city became my source of sustenance. I love walking! Being raised in a small town in West Bengal by the river Bhagirathi, I grew up walking miles every other evening, along its banks, with my father, listening to him talk about the rich ancient history of Bengal, embroidered with betrayal, bloodshed, and glory! It went on to become an unshakable habit that stayed with me! 

Trails running through Lincoln, Nebraska (Image by Saswati Sen)

Life moves slowly for the wife of a research scholar. It gave me ample time to appreciate the innumerable moments suspended in sunlight, the incredible, intricately shaped snowflakes that stuck to my windowpanes, the unbelievable double rainbow that unfolded in front of my eyes during a walk one evening after a thundershower!.

I wholeheartedly jumped into the new role of a stay-at-home mom and wife! I read voraciously, baked cakes, planned my daughter’s Halloween outfits, listened to my husband’s research goals, cooked specialty Indian dishes for the Department parties. But from the nooks and crannies of my new life, peeped my old one! Assignments, worksheets, Shakespeare, Joyce, and Conrad struggled for predominance in my leisure-languished mind. I woke up in the middle of the night, one day, worried about my next day’s lecture, only to realize that there were no classes to teach… 

I remember one of my favorite Professors talking about roots, how it spreads inside us without warning. We all carry bits and pieces of our childhood, our culture, our beliefs, and practices deep inside us. We realize this only when we migrate.

It is when an atheist’s heart skips a beat watching a video of “Dhaaker badyi” on a forgotten Ashtami evening. It is when you wish that the tall grass of the prairies were “Kaashphul”. Or when you suddenly desperately crave “phuchka” after a particularly heavy grocery run. Or when you run out in the rain, out of years of habit, only to run back inside shivering, realizing its Fall and you are in Nebraska!

A year ago, we moved to the East Coast. It has been a ‘sea’ change of surroundings. Today, I miss Lincoln like I miss India. I miss walking along the trails, waking up to tornado sirens going crazy, or snow days. I miss the old lady on the trail who had the kindest smile in the world. I miss the fragrance of chlorine and sunscreen as I lay lazily by the pool watching my daughter race her father to the deep end. I still miss teaching like an amputee misses a body part. The pain is gone, but the emptiness persists.

Nostalgia is an uninvited guest! It has a peculiar habit of finding out where you live and turning up there. As you adapt, your roots grow wings. The context changes, the music shifts to different chords, but the longing remains. You pine for different things. The subjects change, the needs change, but the ache remains constant.


Saswati Sen is a former English teacher, an avid animal lover, a food enthusiast, who runs on coffee and long walks on the beach or on the trails. When she is not holed up in her den, writing or reading, she always looks for an excuse to travel to quaint little towns with her husband and daughter to sample the local food, art, and music scene.

This Diwali, We All Could Use Some Light

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Dressed in an orange salwar kameez, donning a small black bindi, as I sat on the floors of the verandah in my maiden home in Begusarai, finishing the last bits of the rangoli, it suddenly dawned on me that this was my last Diwali here. I was getting married soon, later in the month of November, and I did not know for sure when I would get a chance to celebrate Diwali in my hometown again. Nostalgia struck and I could see a carousel of images flash in front of my eyes—vibrant speckles of light livening the colony and the entire town, little kids spinning in euphoria around the chakri or ghirni, girls twirling their sparkly ghagra cholis, boys playing around in their best ethnic attires and arrays of sweets spreading the aroma of desi ghee in the air. 

As my entire childhood flashed before my eyes, a drop of tear trickled down my cheek and smudged a petal off my floral rangoli. I quickly fixed it and heralded inside to clean up and get ready for the pooja. I decided to enjoy every bit of it, and cherish every moment with my family. We all got dressed, offered our prayers, lit diyas, and burnt a few ceremonious crackers. This was four years ago. 

This year, as we gear up for yet another Diwali abroad, I miss home. I miss the smiling faces of friends and families. I miss the special desi ghee laddu and barfi. I miss the ambiance of the festival in the air. But most of all, I miss the quintessential Indianness of coming together as a community.

India’s unmatched sense of community

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month of Kartika. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. 

One of the best things about growing up in a small Indian town is that you get to experience the sense of community at an altogether different level. For major festivals like Diwali, the entire town decks up and the air fills with ubiquitous love. Every shop, big or small, is decorated, every house, the poor’s or the rich’s, is lit with lamps, and people all over the town visit each other to exchange sweets and gifts.

One of the aspects that makes suburban and rural India unique and special, is the unmatched sense of community. Sadly, in big Indian cities, the essence of the community is slowly diminishing. Having grown up in a small town for 18 years of my life and then having spent a decade in the national capital, I can say this based on my personal experiences and observations. In the blind race to embrace everything modern (read western), we are becoming more and more closed. We have started living behind shut doors. We question all existing traditions and mock centuries-old rituals in the name of modernity. However, this notion cannot be generalized. 

Fortunately, there are still thousands of people who are keeping these traditions alive even while living away from their motherland. I know a lot of Indians, both friends, and families, based outside India in countries like Singapore, the UK, and the US who are actually more traditional than a lot of Indian friends living in cities like Delhi and Bangalore. Only last month, here in Singapore, I was invited to a friend’s place for Navratri celebrations where we offered prayers to Goddess Durga and enjoyed homemade traditional prasad.

On a personal level, I too try my best to celebrate festivals like Holi, Teej, Diwali, and Dussehra with my friends here in Singapore. We visit the temple together, cook traditional dishes, exchange gifts, and bask in the glory of our rich Indian culture. On that note, let me share how I celebrate Diwali in Singapore.

How I celebrate Diwali away from India…

Surabhi lighting a diya for Diwali.

Singapore is a multicultural country with a considerable Indian population. The mecca for Indians like myself looking for specific Indian supplies is Little India. So, naturally, all my festival preparations involve one or two trips to the markets to Little India where I get everything I need- from desi ghee laddu and pooja samagri to diyas and colorful earthen lamps. Besides, whenever I visit India, I make it a point to get sarees for myself and new clothes for my husband, keeping the upcoming festivals in mind.

As the festival approaches, I follow the drill that I grew up watching in my mom’s house. From thorough cleaning of the entire house to replacing old sheets and mats and buying new clothes and garlands for the divine images in my home temple.

Following a generations-old family tradition, one night before Diwali, I light the Jam ka Diya. This mitti ka diya is traditionally lit to keep the evil away and invite prosperity and happiness into the house. Lit at midnight, this diya is kept outside the main entrance of the house on a base of five essential grains or anaaj.

A day before Diwali, we celebrate Dhanteras, also known as Dhanatrayodashi. This day is dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari, Kubera, Yama, and Devi Lakshmi. There are several folk tales associated with this festival. 

One of the most popular ones is that of King Hima and how his wife laid all her gold and silver ornaments at the threshold of her husband’s sleeping chamber and lit an oil lamp in the evening upon hearing about the prediction of his death. The story entails that when Yama– the Lord of death arrived disguised as a serpent to kill King Hima, his eyes were blinded by the shining jewelry and the brilliance of the lamps. Yama returned without taking the life of King Hima. Another story goes that Dhanvantari-— the Lord of Medicine was born on this day following Samudra Manthan, a cosmic battle between Gods and Demons over Amrit or the holy nectar of immortality. 

I get really excited about this pre-festival celebration as we go out and buy gold or silver coins as a sign of prosperity to mark this day.  

On the night of Diwali, we deck our house with floral decorations, lamps, lights, and diyas, cook special dishes and offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha. I generally get my desi ghee laddu from Kailasa Parbat in Little India and try to make some sweets at home as well. We meet with some of our local friends and exchange gifts. I love dressing up in a saree and taking pictures for the families back at home.

Another key aspect of celebrating Diwali, or for that matter any festival abroad, is video calling everyone back at home and exchanging greetings and good wishes.

The next day, we celebrate baasi Diwali where we clean up the diyas that completely used up the oil and light the diyas that still have oil left in them using the baasi (old or stale) oil. This brings the three-day celebrations to an end and leaves us with lights twinkling in our eyes and smiles on our faces. I feel that as Indians, we are lucky to inherit a rich cultural heritage. Our traditions are thousands of years old and we must take pride in celebrating them no matter where we are. If we look at everything that is happening around the world right now—from natural disasters to health pandemics and increasing crime rates to the unnecessary spread of hatred—I think we all can use some knowledge over ignorance and some light.

May this Diwali enlighten us all with love, compassion, and kindness.

Shubh Deepavali!


Surabhi Pandey is a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

Rising Healthcare Costs Make Patient Care Difficult for Visiting Parents

U.S. President Donald Trump and presidential candidate, Vice President Joe Biden, are united by one issue at least – the rising cost of medication.   

This July, prices rose 3.1 percent on average for 67 drugs compared to the same period last year. GoodRx points out that the increases came on the heels of a 6.8% surge, on average, from January to June 30 of this year – manufacturers raise prices in January and July annually. And for many Americans, this means not filling their prescriptions. In a new poll by Best Health and the Global Strategy Group of 4,200 potential voters in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, the main battleground states for the Senate, 22 percent of the respondents said they couldn’t afford medications prescribed by their doctors. More than a quarter (26%) said they or their family members were unable to seek treatment for a health problem in the last year due to cost concerns.

Rising costs have also affected another demographic – parents from India visiting their offspring. Thousands of older Indians have had to extend their stay as a result of travel restrictions amidst the pandemic earlier this year.

“My father is 75 years old and has had benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) for about 10 years. His urologist made the very unwise decision to perform surgery for my father’s BPH right before he came to visit me. He’s been experiencing complications from that ever since,” says Dr. Debyani Chakravarty, a new mother and a faculty member in the department of pathology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “I bought both my parents’ travel insurance but since these are complications from surgery, nothing is covered. I pay $300 per consultation with a doctor here, $300 for my dad’s cystoscopy, $100 for labs, and $200 for his meds so far. In Pune, their medication (alone) would cost at least ten times less.”

Another set of parents visiting their daughter, also a new mother in New York, were Sushima Sekhar and her husband from Chennai. Both had to postpone their return and were running out of their diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medication they’d brought from India. 

Their daughter’s physician, Sekhar says, asked to see them in order to prescribe. “The consult per person was $250, quite steep,” she recalls. “In the meantime, we got the number of a COVID Tamil Task Team which was doing an unbelievably great service to stranded Indians here. They had chemists and doctors in their group. All we had to do was give them our Indian prescription, and they would find the equivalent generic low-cost drug, double-check with their doctors, (and issue us a prescription here). We kept them as a last resort because the price of meds, however low, was way too high when converted in Indian rupees – anywhere between five to fifteen times higher.”

Sekhar eventually succeeded in getting the medication couriered from India, after that avenue opened up following a lockdown there. 

But for many others, obtaining affordable medication in time without missing dosages would have been impossible but for voluntary groups such as the COVID-19 Tamil Task Team, and Non-Resident Indian doctors in the Telugu community. 

Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, a Telugu NRI doctor who is helping parents visiting from India.

“The federal government relaxed telemedicine rules (as a result of the pandemic), and I wanted to help these people stranded here. For one prescription to go out, we had ten volunteers working on it,” says Dr. Saravanan Ramalingam, a trauma surgeon in New York who helped launch the service. The initiative gained momentum after the group had a conference call with Shatrughna Singha, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, who was keen that Indian-origin doctors provide help to visiting older Indians in need of healthcare and medication, Ramalingam points out.  

Vasudevan Kothandaraman, an IT professional in New Jersey, helps to co-ordinate within a group of around 30 volunteers. The quality checks are stringent, he says, and prescription requests are routed through the app Freshdesk. Volunteers verify the Indian prescription and refer patients to a telemedicine team of doctors if required. A group sends the list to local pharmacies to find out if an American equivalent of the drug is available. If it is, the verification team, consisting of doctors, nurses, and pharma PhDs search for a cheaper, generic alternative. The prescription team reviews the process, and a doctor faxes a prescription to a pharmacy nearest to the patient’s home. “If the cost is really high, we provide them with GoodRx type of discount coupons,” Kothandaraman says. “We have issued 400 prescriptions (at the start of the pandemic lockdown).”        

Now, a fall surge expected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could again intensify the struggles of older Indians visiting in the U.S., and those who have extended their visas to be with family. 

Doctors are standing by to help. 

“One Telugu lady, a mother visiting her family in North Carolina, had recurring urinary tract infection. She was stuck here because of the lockdown and had no clue where to go and what to do,” says Dr. Saraswathi Lakkasani, an internist who was recently awarded a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology by the New York Medical College. “I heard her medical history – she had co-morbidities – and prescribed antibiotics at a CVS Pharmacy close to her. Told her to drink plenty of water and some cranberry juice; her symptoms were gone within a week.”

Lakkasani pauses, adding reflectively: “She is an elderly stranger, she is talking in my language. It moves you.”  


Sujata Srinivasan is a business and healthcare journalist in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @SujataSrini.

Featured Image by Harsha K R.

1776 Words From an American Immigrant

My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.

My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US president George H.W. Bush is a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.

That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.

Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.

I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.

Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders. 

I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser.  He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes. 

The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.

November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.

Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit. 

Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”. 

For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.

Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one. 

But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.


Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and swati@TiredAndBeatup.com