Tag Archives: Immigrant

Abha Sharma and her family

Bereaved Mother of Bay Area Resident Unable to Visit the US

A longtime resident of the Bay Area, Abha Sharma suffered devastating losses from the Delta variant in India over the past two months. Sharma’s father and 40-year-old younger brother both succumbed to COVID 19. Her only surviving relative in India, her mother, Prabha Rawat, who was battling COVID, is now stuck there in a recovery hospital.

Mrs. Rawat is not aware of the deaths of her husband and son. Besides COVID, she has multiple medical conditions that need constant medical attention. The deaths of her husband and son have been withheld from her since she may not withstand the news of these losses on her own. The fear is that she may also pass away if she is not nursed back to health by her surviving family.

Sharma and her other brother, who are both in the USA, are unable to secure a visa to bring their mother here due to the freeze on the B1/B2 visas. Her brother is a US Citizen and she is a green cardholder. They are desperate to bring their mother here because she has no support in India.  

The only other option is for Sharma to move to India indefinitely. That will be a huge challenge since she has two children in high school in the Bay Area. 

The only hope right now is for the US State Department to issue humanitarian parole or an emergency visa issued based on these circumstances. But, embassy appointment dates are not available. Sharma and her brother are hoping that the State Department could issue their mom a visa to travel.

To this end, Sharma contacted many Congressmen/Congresswomen and Senators in many states including California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s office. They tried contacting the US embassy in New Delhi but the US embassy did not consider the circumstances exigent enough.

A visa application is filed but no appointments are available at the US Consulate in New Delhi. Abha has been diligently calling the US consulate every day for a month and a half for an appointment.

At this point, Abha’s situation appears to be dire with no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Please sign this change.org petition appealing the State Department to provide a visa to Abha’s mom on humanitarian grounds:  http://chng.it/fWPbZtrLQX


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State.  She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos.  http://www.plantbasedadvocates.com/


 

Cherry Blossom Tree in Sara Garg's front yard.

A Glance at the Raining Flowers, Away From My AP Lecture

Rain is a metaphor in many books and movies. It signifies a baptism, a cleansing, a change. It is said to smell like a thousand different things: roses, grass, smoke, spring. Rain is laughter, rain is peace, rain is tears. Adele sang a song about rain, so did Pitbull and Phil Collins and so many others whose names I can’t remember. In their voices, I’ve listened to the longing of the rain, the screams of the rain, the warm smiles of the rain, and the tippy-tappy feet of the rain. But today, rain is simply beautiful.

The water falls like diamonds from the sky, catching the light and making the front yard of the house glow. The wet grass looks like the plains in the movies where the main characters can lay down as if it’s a bed. This window in my study peers into a world of wonder. 

I want to run outside and be part of the wet, wondrous world, I want to dance in the rain, but I have responsibilities. I look back at my computer, and I get back to AP World History. Rain will come again. 

My little sister gasps, “look outside, Sara,” she tells me, “it’s so pretty.” I look back at the images on my screen: burial mounds as Auschwitz, accounts of the “Rape of Nanjing,” and soldiers lining up for a firing squad. It’s hard to imagine anything pretty after this atrocity. How did the world move on? When the victors wrote the story, was there no mention of the horrors they committed, was there a mass campaign to forget? I sound like a conspiracy theorist and shake my head to clear it, smiling at my sister. I will see the beauty that she does because without that rosy sheen the world becomes a dark place. 

I smile at Savi, nine years old and caught up in the rain. And I humor her, walking over next to her desk. She’s covered it in stickers of hearts and rainbows and a pink nameplate that says “THIS GIRL CAN.” While nine-year-olds are enamored with every little thing about the world, at sixteen, I’m focused on making it to a good college.

In a few years, Savi won’t even remember Austin, the city in Texas we moved from over the summer. I know, because when I moved to Austin from Pittsburgh right around her age, I quickly forgot details, left only with a vague notion of warmth. All I remember is the snow in Pittsburgh, huge puffy pink snow pants, friends I found in our neighbors, experimenting on worms, and evenings spent trying to catch fireflies. 

It’s strange how history repeats itself, a new job, a new home, a new school, and eventually, new memories to replace the old. I left too much in Austin to forget. Austin was where all my friends were, where I diversified my relationships, and where I learned what it meant to grow up. In six years, Savi will be a different person with different experiences. But for now, she’s completely engrossed in the window. She isn’t even thinking about her next class period let alone the next few years. I glance up. 

What a difference those four steps I took to Savi’s desk made. Suddenly, I see rose quartz falling from the sky. The pale pink of a sunset outside the windows. A flurry of springtime snow. And my eyes want to grow larger to take in the whole world right outside that’s pushing its way in. I can almost swear I hear birds. If my life was a movie, a chorus would sing in the background, my hair would fly around my face, and I’d ask, “Is that a different world?” 

Magic can’t hold for long before reality kicks back in.

A petal flies into the window. Light pink and small, and I understand what’s happening. Our front-yard cherry blossom trees bloomed a few days ago, and the hard rain is pushing the petals down to the ground. Even with a logical reason, I can’t help but laugh. It’s raining flower petals. 

In Austin, our front yard was bland. Two big green bushes covered everything and even when they flowered in the spring, their tiny flowers attracted so many bees that we couldn’t truly appreciate it. If I was nine again, I would want to prove that I was better than my friends through empty posturing about having a pretty yard. But now that I have a slice of nature in my yard, I find that I don’t want to share the story of its glory with the world. This will be our memory to cherish.

I watch for a few more moments, looking down at the coating of petals on the ground. I’m enamored of the flower petals. I can’t move. I watch the petals fall, the wind pushing them onto our neighbors’ lawns, then pulling them back onto ours. If fairy tales happened, if princes came, if there is a heaven, they would all look like this. 

“Look, Shiv,” I point my twelve-year-old brother out his window, “It’s raining flowers.” I feel giddy. My smile feels like it could light up the room. He looks away from his computer, his eyes follow my finger, and he smiles too. The big, open smile that only my younger siblings can make. 

“I saw, I’ve been watching it ever since the rain started,” he tells me smiling as he returns to class. Lucky boy, in front of a window all the time. I sit in front of a wall plastered in all of the chemistry notes for the open-note tests. 

I finally tear my eyes away from the window and head back to my desk. But, I’m only half-listening as my teacher talks about the Treaty of Versailles, World War II, and the other legacies of the “Great War.” I’m lucky to be sitting here, the past a distant memory. For me, it’s raining beauty, and for those soldiers, it rained death and chemical warfare. And I wonder what would have happened, if one day, on the bloodied battlefields of the war, it rained flowers instead of bullets. 

My phone rings with the alarm for lunch, startling me into action. I close my laptop, and I run towards the hallway bridge outside my room to look through our giant window. The flowers are still falling, and now I can hear the rain. A torrent that sounds like YouTube Calming soundtracks played at full volume. 

Down the stairs, I turn into Papa’s study. He’s in a meeting with his headphones in, I wave my arms to get his attention and point outside. He smiles and nods, he’s seen the rain. I keep gesturing, and he looks again. His face lights in awe at the pink tornado outside that wants to pull your gaze into its swirling depths and never let it go. 

I loved Austin and felt my heart was tied there by too many strings to ever let go of the past, but I feel my heart making space for the present. Atlanta is where I can look outside and become nine again because it’s raining flowers. 


Sara Garg is a 16-year-old sophomore in high school and a poet. She started writing poetry in 4th grade and hasn’t stopped since. Her works have been read at the Matwaala South Asian Diaspora poetry festival and published in two of the anthologies of Austin International Poetry Festival as well as the Austin Bat Cave 2019 Anthology. She has won multiple awards for her poems including the Youth Poet of the Year Award 2017, Awards of Excellence for her PTA Reflections poems, and her district Young Georgia Writers’ Competition winner. 


 

Indian Americans: A Wedge in the Racial Pie?

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

“Indian Americans, Asian Americans more broadly, have been strategically used as a wedge against other communities of color.” This is Sundeep “Sonny” Singh, in a clip from Mosaic America’s series From Diversity to Belonging. The Mosaic series was created to enable people to understand the history of and potential solutions to the social issues in the US, especially those to do with identity and culture. 

Sonny spoke in an episode that aired conversations with some of the participants in Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s film, FROM HERE. Set in Berlin and New York, FROM HERE is a hopeful story of four young artists and activists from immigrant families redefining Belonging in an era of rising nationalism.

When posed with a question about his activism, Sonny spoke on the massive change in immigration law in 1965 – recruitment of skilled labor was suddenly made easy, the US had a need for a labor pool in hard sciences. Sonny noted, “[That was the time the country was in the] midst of the Black freedom movement, massive social upheaval demanding racial and economic justice.” Basically, the powers told “Black folks, Chicano folks, what are you saying, there is no racism! Look how well they [brown people, ie Asian Americans] are doing! … Too many of us in our community, unfortunately, have bought into this. Anti-Black racism is deeply embedded in our community.”

FROM HERE captures his experiences as a resident, artist, educator over a period of ten years. Also included are 3 other artists, Tania from New York, and Akim and Miman in Berlin. The film accompanies them as they move from their 20’s into their 30’s, facing major turning points: fighting for citizenship, creating a family, surviving violence, and finding creative expression. 

Sonny remembers growing up wanting his name to be John and wanting to cut off his hair-wanting to blend in; heckling about his turban was always just a matter of time. He works with the Sikh Coalition to educate Sikh children about bias-based bullying. Sonny hopes that people will start to think critically about the root causes of social problems, “I dream of a world where humanity comes before profit.”

Christina elaborates, “The design of our systems are the reason for many of our problems. The system is working exactly as it’s meant to be. Who has access to citizenship has always been racialized. Laws have been crafted around preserving the rights of certain groups of people and extracting labor and resources from others. Immigration is not a national issue- it is global. We can’t solve this by protecting our national borders. Let’s see our identity as fluid…Understanding that we are way more complex … we need to stop policing people along identity lines.”

Tania, who finally came out as undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic, says “America loves our food, our language, but they don’t want us.” She talks about the first hate mail she got, addressed to her personally, saying, “Go the f*^& back to where you came from.”

What does solidarity mean in these circumstances, where some of us stand in a Place that somehow, we are told, isn’t Home? How long will it take to reach our Place, when and how can we act to stem this tide of exclusion?

Mosaic America’s series “From Diversity to Belonging” attempts to find some answers. For Indian Americans, demonstrating solidarity is a way to give back to the generations that paved our access to the American Dream. Many of us, as Usha Srinivasan, co-founder of Mosaic America says, “buy into the “model minority”…we believe that we are exceptional, [is why] we are treated differently from other people of color.” We need to question these long-held beliefs. 

We need to work harder to come together as part of a larger community. To stand together as one, to see a world that belongs to each of us, is to be in solidarity. In as much as the word means agreement, it means resistance too. Standing for who I am, for who each of us is; standing up against norms that divide; standing with people who need a voice. In essence, it is a journey that starts with identity and continues through Belonging; fueled by each purpose; marked by each person it scars. We need to live our lives in solidarity, find pathways to build a common, inclusive future. 

As Sonny says, “It is our political duty to remain steadfast and fight another day,” reverberating Antonio Machado’s poetic lines, “se hace camino al andar” – The way is formed by walking. 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.


 

Trinity Cares Foundation fight against COVID-19 in Jangamakote Village. (Creative Commons License 2.0)

Don’t Forget People Are Still Dying In India

It started in mid-March 2021, the many videos of grandparents hugging their kids post-vaccination in the US. Families reunited safely after a year or more of waiting to touch. Pictures of social interaction among vaccinated people started appearing on social media feeds. People sat outdoors in restaurants in the sun. The CDC guidance changed about masks for vaccinated people.  

I live in the NY area. Perhaps, we can go to Broadway shows again soon. Maybe, we can relegate to memory those days of heartbreaking pictures of daughters looking in through the windows of nursing homes to get a glimpse of their mothers through the glass and families trying to decide whether to have Thanksgiving dinners sitting as far apart as possible in different rooms.

I do like the current optimism in the US on COVID. But for some of us, the pandemic is far from over. As an immigrant from India, I wish American media covered more world news.

For me, the pandemic is still very much alive. When I check my WhatsApp in the morning, before the fog of sleep has cleared, there is news from India. It may be that again someone we knew has passed away from COVID. In Facebook groups, someone else is looking for oxygen. The lucky ones are waiting three hours in line for a vaccine, while others don’t know when they will get a dose at all. They don’t need beer, donuts, or million-dollar lottery prizes as incentives to get vaccinated. 

There is a raging pandemic going on in India and in major parts of the world. If you believe in the overarching value of human life, you ought to be worried. 

I have been living in the US for more than two decades. As an immigrant, my threshold for pain is different. Even in regular times in my community, only the lucky children get to physically run and hug their grandparents once a year on a trip to India. We are lucky if we get to attend weddings of close relatives or be present when nephews and nieces are born. Every time we leave home in India, we aren’t quite sure whether we will see the very old ever again. 

No, the pandemic hasn’t ended for me. 

My septuagenarian father in Kolkata, India, who is disoriented after losing his wife last year in August, and has been socially distancing in the pandemic for so long, can neither go to the bank to stand in line or go to the fish market like he used to. He still has not been able to return to a fully independent life of doing the things he used to do. He has been taking social distancing seriously and I just long to hug him after my mother’s passing.

My father sits in a room surrounded by buildings that block the sky on all sides. There is no place to take a walk safely without running into people, even though that number continues to decrease because of COVID-related deaths. One neighbor, who called before my mother’s shradh ceremony (which is similar to a funeral) to inform us that she couldn’t attend, passed away just a few days later from COVID.

I talk to my father on the phone every day and tell him that all this will be over soon without really knowing what to believe myself. So, I switch to a conversation about how things are looking up in New York – at least he is happy that I am safe. 

Cable news channels in the US constantly state that the pandemic is ending. Occasionally, there is some coverage of other countries on the chyron when some complex US political complication is being discussed animatedly on the main screen. While there was never very much coverage of world news through the pandemic, I had hoped that we would hear more about those that are passing, at least from here in the US.

I live in the US and have lived here for twenty years. I am hoping the pandemic ends here. I teach in a college in Manhattan. I’m fully vaccinated. I’m eager to see my students in person just like anyone else. I’m hoping everyone else will be vaccinated when I take the train to Penn Station from New Jersey in the Fall. I, too, am hoping to sit in a cafe and write. I’m glad I can bring in groceries, now, without disinfecting them obsessively. But even as I think of my life here, I’m aware of the suffering of people in other countries. That is not just because I’m an immigrant. It’s because even before I became an immigrant, I grew up with the consciousness of the world through world news in India. 

For the first year of the pandemic, my experience of the pandemic in the US and India was parallel. I was looking in through the glass at my ailing mother last year all through her 5 months of sickness in Kolkata. I couldn’t visit her during the first Indian lockdown and the first wave of COVID in India. The glass in my case was not a hospital ICU wall but a phone video screen. The video was often blurred. Sometimes, I thought she recognized me on the screen. Sometimes, I thought she only saw the phone. She lost speech and then we eventually lost her in August 2020 through indescribable hardship.

For those of us, who lost someone close in the COVID world, the post-COVID world, if and when it comes, will never be the same.

For months I have been planning on how to visit my father in India safely. I have planned various scenarios in my head through the spikes in COVID cases in the US and India, and through lockdowns, flight cancellations, planning local transportation in India, COVID tests, seat availability, vaccination – tracking every little large and small last-mile problem through my mind’s eye. 

Yet, I have only ended up reassuring my father in India over the phone that he will go to the fish market soon, that he will be able to stand in line at the bank soon, that it will be safe for him to walk on the teeming Kolkata streets soon. My visit almost worked out when I completed my second dose of the vaccine in the US, but that’s when the deadly second wave hit India in April. My travel plans are on hold again.

World news should matter. Worldwide deaths should matter. Worldwide deaths should matter and not just because a virus mutating in the developing world can put the developed world in jeopardy. 

Death should matter just because we value human life.


Madhura Bandyopadhyay is a Doctoral Lecturer in the English Department at John Jay College, City University of New York (CUNY) in Manhattan, New York. She grew up in Kolkata, India and has lived in Florida, California, and Singapore. She lives in New Jersey now. Apart from being a teacher and scholar of writing, she blogs in her spare time just for fun on her blog at bottledworder.com 


 

Bindu Desai with colleagues in England (Image provided by Bindu Desai)

A Welcome of Sorts: Stranger In a Strange Land

From April till September 1976, I worked at Newcastle General Hospital in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.

I was a Senior House Officer, the lowest on the totem pole, after having been the Chief Resident of Neurology at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine/North Carolina Baptist Hospital (now known as Wake Forest University School of Medicine), in Winston Salem, N.C.

I had taken up this 6-month stint in England, unsure of my status as a resident in the US which was dependent on the approval of my visa. Thus, I applied for a job at Newcastle General Hospital, having been connected to the head of the Neurology Department, Professor John Walton, by one of my professors in India. His colleague, Dr. Jack Foster, who was in charge of the Neurology ward, wrote back offering a position of Senior House Officer for 6 months to “the young Indian woman of whom you speak of so highly.” 

There I was, flying over the Atlantic to the land that so many I admired had come from – William Shakespeare, Bertrand Russell, Thomas Hardy to name a few. In those days, the baggage allowance for international travel was one suitcase weighing no more than 44 pounds. So I filled my suitcase with clothes and basic toiletries. I planned to purchase more when I got to Newcastle. I had come a day earlier and was housed in a pleasant, many-bedroomed building which was shared by several non-white residents who had come from the far-flung corners of the former empire. There was a large common living-dining area and kitchen. The hospital was across the street on Westgate Road. It was a set of old stone buildings connected by a seemingly endless corridor. After having unpacked, I asked a housekeeper where I could purchase necessities. She suggested a tobacconist’s shop a short walk away. 

I got to the store, made my purchases, and went to the cashier’s area to pay for them. I remember the cashier very well, dressed in a plain light brown frock. She totaled up my purchases and, as she accepted the money I gave her, said clearly and loud enough for me to hear, “Damn black bastards! They’re everywhere!”

I was taken aback. I don’t think I said anything and walked back to the cottage. I had heard from friends and relatives, including my siblings, of the overtly racist comments and behavior that they had experienced in England but I had not expected such a ‘warm welcome’ on my first day in it! Something told me that this was not an isolated incident and I should be prepared for more of them. I sat down at my desk and numbered the days I was to be in England from 180 to 1 and scratched off each day as it passed.

I wrote to my friend, an Irish woman who lived in the US and had trained as a nurse in Dublin and London in the 50s. She wrote back:  “Well ‘black bastard’ now you know how the ‘dirty Irish’ feel!”. I ate at the Junior Doctors Dining Hall and for the 6 months that I was there, not once did a white British doctor sit at our table. The only white people who sat with us were medical students from the US who were doing an elective in Newcastle. It had been the norm for all non-medical staff at the hospital to call us “colored doctors”.

Whenever I took a public bus, a double-decker similar to one I was used to in Bombay, I noticed incoming passengers look to the right and left and go to the upper deck if no other seat except the one next to me was available. I took to walking 3 to 4 miles rather than take the bus.

I found it easier to eat at an expensive restaurant than at a fast-food one, as the rudeness or ‘microaggressions’ were more likely in the latter. 

I began to notice that anytime change was handed to me, the store clerk held the coins carefully so that he or she did not touch the palm of my hand. I wondered if I was becoming paranoid. However, when I returned to the US and the store clerk put coins touching my palm, I knew that the aim of the store clerks in the two countries were different! One wanted to avoid touching me, while the other wanted to ensure the coins were securely placed. 

Once a colleague said to me, ”You speak English very well.” Reflexively I replied, “That is my misfortune!” – Which, in my 6-month stint in England, it certainly seemed to be! 


Bindu Desai is a retired neurologist who in non-Covid times spends 4 months a year in Mumbai. 


 

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.