Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action advocates Kaushik Tota, Radhika Agarwal and Peri Plantenberg are still in high school, but their climate change activism is making ‘clean energy’ waves across the Bay Area! Their team is spearheading climate change reform and has successfully influenced environmental policy in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino, for starters.
Reach Codes mean anything to you? Listen to why these committed young climate change advocates are driving reform to safeguard the environment, and standing up for their future before it’s too late.
Kaushik Tota suggests “If you are interested in joining a youth-led environmental initiative, options run the gamut from community engagement to policy advocacy. The Climate Youth Ambassador Program is a youth-led environmental education organization that aims to equip individuals (especially children) with resources and knowledge to lead sustainable lifestyles. Organizations such as Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and the Youth Public Policy Institute (both of which I’m a member of) are working on all sorts of climate policies with varying scopes—you can join an existing city team or advocacy team, or start a new team if one doesn’t exist yet.”
Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Going vegan or reducing your carbon footprint does not mean you’re losing your lifestyle or giving it up, when in fact you’re actually gaining a better relationship with your health, with nature and especially the environmental legacy you leave behind for future generations.
The facts are simple, says Seema Vaid. Every day a vegan saves one animal’s life, 11 hundred gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 20 pounds of CO2, and 30 square feet of forested land.
India Currents, in collaboration with bioGraphic and the California Academy of Sciences, is publishing a 2 part series on the striking endangered stork known as hargilas, or ‘bone-swallowers’, in one of their last homes – Assam. Read part 1 to the story HERE.
By the time the Women in Nature Network conference came to Purnima Devi Barman’s hometown in early 2019, she had transformed the greater adjutant’s prospects. Not only has the number of storks in the villages of Assam more than doubled since she began her work, from 400 birds to as many as 1,200 (of which 800 are mature), numbers of nests have grown nearly 10-fold, from 27 to 215 in the villages where she has focused her efforts. And there are signs of population growth to come. Not a single nesting tree has been cut down since 2010, Barman says. One colony is producing about 85 juvenile birds a year, half of which survive. And her conservation work has also expanded to include an assisted breeding program that is beginning to show results. After not producing any viable birds during its launch year in 2017, the program released one fledgling in 2019 and five in 2020.
As Barman’s successes have accumulated, she has been able to tell an ever-growing audience about what she has been up to, and Melvin isn’t the only person who has been captivated by the biologist and her work. Another enthusiast is Carla Rhodes, a longtime comedienne and ventriloquist from New York who had recently picked up wildlife photography and developed her own obsession with greater adjutants when she got an unexpected call from a friend in the summer of 2018. The friend was a producer working on a TV pilot for a show called “Rickshaw Run,” which sends people out to navigate some of the most dangerous roads in the world in motorized rickshaws. The next season would soon be filming in India, he told her, and a participant had dropped out of the show at the last minute. Would Rhodes consider going in his place?
Rhodes said yes, if only to get to India where she planned to stay after the filming so she could take photographs. She flew out that September and after surviving the rickshaw adventure, she went to Manas National Park in Assam. It was the rainy season in India, and the park was one of the few in the country that was accessible. She had an incredible experience in the park, where she took pictures of elephants, rhinos, capped langurs, and more. Then, on the drive back to Guwahati, Assam’s hub town, she spotted a giant, blue-eyed, dinosaur-like bird standing by a rice field on the side of the road. She asked her driver to stop. He told her it was an endangered greater adjutant and offered to show her more on their way back to Guwahati.
Expecting to be taken to a wetland, Rhodes was surprised when the car pulled up at an enormous, sprawling garbage dump. Hargilas stood on mountains of trash alongside cows, soiled white egrets, and garbage-pickers—people who make money by rummaging through the landfill. The temperature was stiflingly hot, and the smell reminded Rhodes of New York City on garbage day in the summer—multiplied by 100. The scene was both post-apocalyptic and beautiful, and although she had to fly home the next day, she felt transformed. “I was only there for about 20 minutes, but it just moved me and shook me to the core of my being,” she says. “It was at that moment I decided I don’t want to be a wildlife photographer. I want to be a wildlife conservation photographer.”
Determined to find a way back to India and the birds, Rhodes began researching as soon as she returned home to Brooklyn. She learned about Barman, who she contacted by email in early 2019, around the time of the WiNN meeting there. Drawn in by the contagious nature of Barman’s single-minded passion, she was soon offering to help out. With a small grant from WiNN, Rhodes returned to Assam for five weeks in February and March, 2020—just before the world shut down because of COVID-19.
Even though Rhodes was a stranger, Barman invited her to stay in her home, where she lives with her biologist husband and two now-teenage daughters. Rhodes spent those weeks following Barman everywhere. They went to the market, where the conservationist stuffed her cloth bag to the brim with vegetables, refusing to use plastic. They went to schools and villages, where people treated Barman like a celebrity. Rhodes even attended a wedding with Barman, who somehow convinced the couple to adorn their ceremony with statues of hargilas and to paint images of the birds on guests’ hands with henna.
Rhodes repeatedly marveled at how much influence Barman had on just about everyone, including the police. If someone reports an injured hargila, officers help them transport the birds to zoos for rehab. “You call the police about an injured animal in my area, they’re like, ‘We can’t do anything,’” Rhodes says. Barman’s group is also working with government officials to build nets under trees to catch any nestlings that fall.
Watching Barman at work, it was clear to Rhodes that Barman was the reason why the storks were thriving in a community that had had once hated the birds. Rhodes took thousands of photos, some of them featured in this story. “I thought it would just be like, you’d see a hargila here, you’d see one there. But there are so many, it’s insane,” Rhodes says. “And she is responsible for bringing them back because she convinced people to take ownership of this bird—that it’s a privilege that this bird chose your tree to nest in, and to not cut these trees down.”
Historically, greater adjutants thrived in the vast wetlands of India and beyond, where they fed on abandoned carcasses and nested in wild trees. As wetlands have disappeared and been paved over by development, the birds have shifted their habits, building nests in the village trees of Assam and eating in the nearby landfill. For Rhodes, the landfill offered striking imagery full of symbolism: birds scavenging alongside people on mountains of discarded items. For Barman, the garbage dump is just another place to spread the word about bird conservation. One day, Rhodes watched as Barman walked through the dump, talked with people, handed out posters, and gave sweets and coloring sheets to kids.
Biologists, too, have a growing interest in places like these—often overlooked habitats in urban landscapes, where wild animals are finding new ways to adapt. And dumps aren’t necessarily all bad, according to a 2017 review of 159 studies that looked at 98 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians found on garbage dumps all over the world, especially in Europe, North America, and Africa.
The analysis turned up plenty of negative effects, including elevated risks of infection, poisoning, and human-animal conflicts in the dumps. According to a 2016 study of white storks, birds that fed in landfills were more likely to stick around throughout the year, drastically reducing their migratory range. Living around landfills also increases a stork’s chances of picking up an E. coli infection, according to a study published in 2020.
But dumps have also become important sources of food in changing environments. And compared to animals living in natural areas, the review found that polar bears, island foxes, bald eagles, and other creatures that fed in dumps did better than other individuals on a number of measures that included body condition, reproductive success, and survival. Among the effects that dumps had on various species, more than 70 percent were positive. In one study included in the review, dump-dwelling white storks produced more eggs compared to birds that didn’t have access to these food resources.
What rapid and urban development means for the future of any given species is still unclear. But acknowledging the hargila’s adaptability to a new kind of ecological landscape has the potential to highlight novel approaches to conservation into the 21st century, Tracy Melvin says, in part by helping people relate to species that live in their midst. “What’s so endearing about them is that they survived through habitat degradation, through illegal persecution, through everything. And they are just like, ‘Well, I’m going to eat in the dumps, and I’m fine with it.’ They’re a rugged, persistent thing,” she says, adding that there are parallels between the birds and the human garbage-pickers, who have also had to adapt to incredibly difficult circumstances. “They’re a remnant bird from this vast, once-functional landscape, and here they are. This is reality. This is what they’re dealing with now.”
Barman’s approach accepts the reality of the world as it is right now, Melvin says. Her work incorporates the idea that pristine wilderness is a false construct and that saving species requires involving the people who live alongside those species. It also illustrates how persistence and a focus on raising awareness can rapidly transform the way people think about animals: from reviled to adored in just a decade.
It’s hard to imagine ranchers in the American West adopting wolves as their mascots, but Barman’s work holds lessons for conservation projects around the world, Melvin adds. She made conservation mainstream from the bottom up—going door to door and person to person, hearing people out, helping people develop livelihoods, making it all happen without waiting for the government to take charge. Those are steps anyone could take anywhere. “It’s truly an example of how doing a small lift for people in their home countries can make conservation truly effective,” she says. “Maybe that’s what the world needs is people to just think less and do more.”
Enacting change doesn’t have to cost much, Flores says. With a clear objective and genuine connections, it is possible to do a lot with a little for any species. Barman has made great strides with limited resources. “As a conservationist, I used to visit fantastic, very high-level projects in Africa and other places,” Flores says. “This is a simple community project, but everyone in the community is engaged. You can see the commitment in women and the kids. Everybody is very, very proud of having that project in the community. To me, that is amazing.”
For Barman, saving hargilas by involving women has been a personal mission as much as a professional one. When her daughters were little, she used to take them into the field, where they would stay with an assistant and watch as she climbed 85-foot trees to study the nesting birds before coming back down to feed her own kids. As her daughters grew, they began to accompany her on community outreach efforts. In 2018, they watched her finally achieve her dream of earning a PhD. “I think they saw all the struggles. I think that helped them to know the life, to know in depth about wildlife,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Every day your heart should be an environmentalist. Every day you wake up, you should live like an environmentalist. It doesn’t mean you have to be a biologist by profession. But every work you do, it should be for nature.’ And they agree. They really love it.”
Emily Sohn is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis whose stories have appeared in National Geographic, Outside, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Nature, NPR, and many other publications.
Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer. Formerly a ventriloquist, she brings a plethora of unique skills to her new career. Photographing with passion and a sense of humor, her published work includes pieces for SmithsonianMag.com. Ultimately, she aspires for her photographs to educate viewers while inspiring positive change. You can see more of her work at carlarhodes.photography.
This story originally appeared in bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and sustainability powered by the California Academy of Sciences.
Please do not try to rush back to the pre-Covid normal. Indeed, drop the idea altogether. It will be the best thing you can do for the planet, for your residents & employees, and for the overall US economy.
To the Mayors of large metros –
Many of you are leading your cities to become more environmentally friendly and demanding Congressional leaders take bold action to protect our planet. One of the boldest actions you yourself can take for the planet is to stop pushing for businesses and people to come back to your city as soon as possible. Your large metropolises have for decades drawn resources from the surrounding areas facilitated by cars, buses, and trains – each mode of transportation relying predominantly on fossil fuel. Cities can facilitate lower carbon lifestyles, being densely packed they reduce miles traveled for city-dwellers and most of that travel is on public transport, which is easier to electrify. However, there is a serious counter-balancing externality of daily travel in and out of cities for suburbanites. The same engine that has spurred your cities’ spectacular growth has also imperiled the planet and choked areas with air pollution. Scientists had been warning about the potential of a global pandemic, now they are warning us that going back to pre-Covid normal, when normal is what has brought us to the brink of disaster, is simply untenable. We don’t have much time left and your actions/inactions will help seal the fate of our planet. Why must you then push for an anti-planet agenda?
Your cities haven’t just fueled climate emissions; they have also been funnels of economic activity sucking jobs and wealth from their surrounding suburbs. In many ways, your cities have imbibed the logic of the market with competition dominating the sphere. In pre-Covid times, the country was littered with listless towns, their sole purpose being feeders of human resource to your illustrious cities. Covid-19 changed that. Suburban house prices have gone up all across the country, especially as many city-dwellers flocked to the suburbs in search of more spacious housing. People already living in the suburbs, unencumbered by the rush of getting to work each morning and returning exhausted at night, find themselves with time to relax, so they spend it enjoying their own neighborhoods, eating out more often, revitalizing their own localities. Our own little Long Island town’s Main Street is buzzing like never before; even during weekdays and weeknights, when it used to be nearly deserted before, is now swarming with people at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the vibe is superb. If these people are again forced to go back to their sordid commutes, it may bring more economic activity to your cities, but it would be at the expense of the suburbs. Why is it that for the benefit of your large cities so many small towns across America must suffer?
To the CEOs of big corporations –
For decades, there existed a model of business and management that assumed employees’ physical presence in an office a prerequisite for growth and profitability. Covid-19 has finally proved this to be a fallacy. Corporate profits are skyrocketing and an overwhelming majority of employers acknowledge that remote work has been successful. The best example of remote-work success is the software/tech industry. This success is now possible because by 2020, the technology to work remotely had matured in the form of high-speed internet access and myriad video conferencing software. Any remaining kinks in technology will soon be sorted. Towering skyscrapers with their gleaming glass offices have already started to resemble monuments of the past. Many employees have discovered that not having to spend 2-3-4 hours each day driving in rush hour traffic or riding on trains & buses offers a much higher quality of life. Sleep deprivation has been a major detriment to the health of long-distance commuters, napping being the most common commuting activity. Imagine having an extra 2-4 hours added to your daily life; you can sleep more, play more, spend more time with your kids, have more time to think creatively, or just ponder. This prized gift of time improves productivity and makes for happier employees. Why would you then try to upend this superior work-life balance?
Of course, some employees, especially young people, might want to come back to the office. Others, especially older ones, who have homes & roots in the suburbs and/or are raising young children may vastly prefer to either fully or mostly work from home. It is not so difficult to find ways to facilitate these shifts. Those who do not desire to go back to a daily commute should be allowed to come to the office once or twice a week as per need, potentially for a day of meetings or if a new employee on-boarding requires physical presence. Even those employees who would mostly prefer to work in the office are more likely to appreciate being able to work from home 1 or 2 days a week, especially if the home is no longer a cupboard size apartment. Pre-Covid, the living arrangement in some of these “wealthy” cities was close to inhumane for most people, tiny apartments carved up into “flexes” converting living rooms into extra bedrooms to add another roommate. The sole objective of renting such an apartment was to get away from it for most of the day. Facilitating more employees to live and work from homes in the suburbs not only adds to their quality of life, but it also relieves housing pressure in cities allowing the employees living there to be able to afford humane housing conditions. Why not embrace this win-win for both employees and employers?
To all reading –
You might ask the fundamental question – if people start working right where they live and if corporations close offices in large cities, what does it do to the stature of a big city? What would “New York, New York” mean if the suburbs in New Jersey, Long Island, and the other NYC boroughs no longer funnel all their resources to the tiny island of Manhattan?
While you may not like the answer, the truth is that there is nothing sacrosanct about the stature of a big city. History shows that crises and disasters have always set the stage for new paradigms of thinking and living. Mega-cities have long been considered the engines of human progress, but they have also brought immense misery to countless areas through depopulation & brain-drain, and commuting to and from cities is a huge source of sleep deprivation and carbon emissions. For far too long, scientists’ warnings have been ignored by governments and corporations alike, both unable to see beyond the next fiscal quarter’s growth figures. And the abomination of “business as usual” has continued unabated.
Covid-19 has brought the world immense tragedy but it has also given us a glimpse of new possibilities. It has shown us that even cherished old paradigms have an expiration date. For the sake of the planet, our own well-being, and for the greater good, we are counting on you for the right kind of leadership.
Swati Srivastava and Mark Bartosik
Long Island, New York
Swati Srivastava is a filmmaker and an environmentalist. Mark Bartosik is an engineer and an environmentalist. Together, they try to lead a sustainable life and live in a Net Zero Energy Home in Long Island, NY. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]
If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact [email protected] with a submission or note.
Bay Area Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman, Ph.D (she has a doctorate in Political Science), talks to DesiCollective about President Biden’s executive actions on climate change and what the political and financial implications of his ambitious agenda will mean for all of us.
Will it drive more technological innovations for green tech in Silicon Valley?
Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Seema Vaid grew aware of veganism when she joined a campaign by Beatle Paul McCartney to save an Indian temple elephant. It was a change that lead to her vocation as a climate change activist who walks the walk to incorporate sustainability in her daily life. Seema has lived in the Bay Area for a long time with her family and has 3 children, and works at Intel. She talks to DesiCollective about her choice to go vegan and why.
My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.
And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.
Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms.
Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.
Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:
Before the start of travel:
(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.
You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy.
(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family.
Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.
During the flight:
I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.
Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.
(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul
(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing
Arriving in India:
We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers
Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.
At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form.
By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!
Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.
Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters.
There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.
Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.
So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!
UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries.
The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.
Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.
Will green jobs help solve the unemployment crisis?
We are in a worldwide pandemic, dealing with a climate crisis and an unemployment crisis, but we have an opportunity to use this disruption – to use a Silicon valley term – to create something even better.
Could green jobs pay as much as fossil fuel jobs ( $70 to $80 thousand a year)? And how can ordinary people make a difference to help avert a climate crisis?
Justine Burt – a Bay Area climate change activist wrote The Great Pivot – a roadmap on how to decarbonize and dematerialize the economy.
She explains how creating millions of green jobs could lead to a sustainable future, for the Bay Area and beyond.
Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
In a decision that is expected to significantly ease the process for re-issue of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, the Modi Government has decided to simplify the process. This decision has been taken on the directions of the Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah.
The OCI Card has proved to be very popular amongst foreigners of Indian Origin and spouses of foreign origin of Indian citizens or OCI cardholders, as it helps them in hassle-free entry and unlimited stay in India. So far about 377,200 OCI Cards have been issued by the Government of India.
A foreigner of Indian origin or a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen or foreign spouse of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder, can be registered as an OCI cardholder. OCI card is a lifelong visa for entry into and stay in India with a number of other major benefits attached to it that are not available to other foreigners.
Presently, the OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age, in view of biological changes in the face of the applicant.
It has now been decided by the Government of India to dispense with this requirement. A person who has got registration as OCI cardholder prior to attaining the age of 20 years will have to get the OCI card re-issued only once when a new passport is issued after his/her completing 20 years of age, so as to capture his/ her facial features on attaining adulthood. If a person has obtained registration as OCI cardholder after attaining the age of 20 years, there will be no requirement of re-issue of OCI card.
To update the data regarding new passports obtained by the OCI cardholder, he/she can upload a copy of the new passport containing his/her photo to the online OCI portal, each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder within 3 months of receipt of the new passport.
However, in the case of those who have been registered as OCI cardholder as the spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or an OCI cardholder, the person concerned will be required to upload on the system, a copy of the new passport containing the photo of the passport holder and also the latest photo along with a declaration that their marriage is still subsisting each time a new passport is issued. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder spouse within three months of receipt of his/ her new passport.
The details will be updated on the system and an auto acknowledgment through e-mail will be sent to the OCI cardholder informing that the updated details have been taken on record. There will be no restriction on the OCI cardholder to travel to/ from India during the period from the date of issue of new passport till the date of final acknowledgment of his/ her documents in the web-based system.
A recent comment over women wearing ripped jeans by an Indian politician has once more thrown open the misogynist mentality prevalent in our culture.
On March 18, my journalist friend Sid Shukla wrote a post on Facebook which read: The problem lies in your genes, not in my jeans. RIP #Ripped_Genes. This wasrightafter a storm broke out across the country over the ripped jeans comment made by Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat, who wondered what values women wearing ripped jeans would pass on to their children. Following his insensitive comment, several women posted pictures of themselves wearing ripped jeans on Twitter and other social media platforms. Female politicians like Jaya Bachchan and Mahua Moitra also condemned the chief minister’s comments heavily.
Such careless and thoughtless remarks by politicians are not new in India where women are often blamed for inviting rape by their choice of dressing, conveniently forgetting the fact that children fall prey to pedophiles in this country.
Jeans have always been the bone of contention and in many homes, women are not allowed to wear them.
Early on in my life during high school, I have fought for the two Js in my life, jeans and journalism. My mother wanted to restrict my choice of clothing. She was dead against my wearing jeans, citing her conservative family members and their value systems. Seriously, I have never come across such bizarre logic in my entire life, the very fact that relatives can dictate the choice of a woman’s dress.
I was adamant and the day I first owned two pairs of jeans, I knew I had scored a point. Later during my college days, whenever I bought jeans, my mother made her sentiments clear.
Back in college, friend Devi Banerjee (name changed) admitted that wearing jeans was a big issue in her house, but her mother was supportive of her choice. Devi told me that some of her relatives nurtured the idea that only bad women wear jeans. Another college friend was never allowed to wear jeans, always arriving to classes in salwar kameez. While salwar kameez is never an issue, debarring a girl from wearing jeans because hips and thighs become pronounced is the most baseless argument I have ever heard. However, while Devi was content in Indian wear and I rebelled against my mum.
College days are long past. But to imagine that someone in 2021 can remark on how women in jeans can fail to impart the right sanskaar (value system) to children can take India back to the medieval ages and nullify all the achievements it has made till now.
With globalization, many things have become a part and parcel of the Indian culture or that of South Asia as a whole and jeans are one among many. To criticize women for wearing jeans or ripped jeans while letting go of men attired in the same outfit is shameful and deeply disturbing. It points to the fact that society always wants women to be the torchbearer of tradition even if these are regressive.
Jeans, which originated in America in the late 1800s, are often associated with western culture and value systems. It has a certain sex appeal and an association with rebellion. Hence, those indulging in moral policing think it should be shunned by women in conservative cultures. But ironically in our society, people feel proud of their sons settled in the US and it becomes a point of discussion. Even in the US, the culture pervades the thoughts of the Indian community. India Currents very own, Srishti Prabha spoke to me about her experience. She said, “When I first wore ripped jeans in middle school (my mom was pretty progressive and let me wear them), the parents of my Indian friends would comment on how I looked like a beggar or trying too hard…”
In the Bollywood movie, Lipstick Under My Burkha, one of the female characters out of the four portrayed in the film wears jeans under her burkha because of restrictions at home. While it may appear to be a trivial issue for many, for Rehana Abidi’s character, it is the first step towards independence.
I love wearing jeans and often remember how hard I fought to have them in my wardrobe. If jeans have to be indeed shunned, avoid it because it uses a lot of water to be manufactured and not due to stupid morality issues advanced by regressive minds…
Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.
Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.
Learning to unwind in nature – A life-saving skill that can help us survive not just the pandemic, but the ups and downs of daily life.
In the early months of the pandemic, I consoled myself by saying that all the drastic changes demanded by the Covid-19 virus were short-term measures. The inconvenience was temporary; a test of resilience that was best borne with a smile. A year later, the once-surreal situation that has now become an unpleasant but accepted reality for the foreseeable future, makes me grimace.
As an unabashed urbanite who thrives in crowded spaces and fast moving environments, I doubt whether I can endure being cooped up on an island for much longer. Singapore is Covid-free but reluctant to risk outside threats, particularly in the form of returning residents who have visited other countries. Therefore travel, my preferred form of rejuvenation, is not an option. I need to find other ways to survive.
Mysteries of nature
Growing up in Mumbai, I assumed milk came in glass bottles or plastic bags, delivered to the doorstep each morning. I knew the names of common vegetables and fruits that were easily available at the store down the street but I had no idea whether they grew on creepers or shrubs or trees. Textbooks references to four seasons, particularly autumn and winter, seemed to be theoretical constructs, much like physics. The water cycle however, played out in front of my eyes each year in the form of a sultry summer that gave way to monsoon rains.
My first introduction to changing seasons came in my first year on the east coast of the US. Arriving on a cold December day in Washington DC, I was aghast to see wide avenues lined with tall tree trunks that resembled giant skeletons. The barren branches shocked me as much as the unfamiliar cold.
When warm spring days arrived with spots of color on tree branches and sprouting tulip bulbs in the ground, I felt a lifting of my spirits. Finally the homesickness that had plagued me all winter seemed to melt. The breathtaking view of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial in full bloom in early April is indelibly etched in my memory. I hoped to one day visit Japan, the country that had gifted these Yoshino cherry trees to the United States.
Dreams take time, so do flowers
In March 2018, almost three decades after that original wish to travel to Japan, my dream came true. My husband and I arrived in Tokyo in late March. We had made arrangements to walk part of the Nakasendo trail, a path that runs between Tokyo and Kyoto.
Since the sakura usually blossoms in April, we wondered if we would catch the peak of the blossoming. But we were lucky. Tokyo looked like any densely populated city with it’s crowded trains and high rises, except for the majestic flowering trees lining its busy thoroughfares.
Side-effects of Shinrin-yoku
On the trail, we walked through picturesque villages and mature forests with well-marked paths. Each evening we checked into small ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. The hosts gave us cotton yukata robes to wear and served freshly-cooked food made using seasonal, local produce on exquisite crockery. To our delight, ryokans were able to accommodate special requests from vegetarian and vegan guests. After spending several hours each day absorbing the refreshing energy of the forests, we fell fast asleep on futons laid out on tatami-matted floors.
Although I had often visited the California redwoods in summer and admired the glorious colors of Shenandoah Valley in the fall, this entire experience was unusually soothing. It was my first foray into nature for a prolonged period.
The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing, involves soaking in the atmosphere of the forest by mindfully absorbing its sights, sounds, textures, smell and taste. Invented in 1982 in response to the increasingly stressful life that the Japanese were leading, as well as to protect its forests, the practice gained prominence after studies proved its health benefits that included stress and blood pressure reduction and ability to promote better sleep.
The act of immersing myself in nature forced me to slow down, be observant, and acknowledge the trees, the sky, and the gurgling river that kept us company for most of the trek. As a city slicker, it was an unfamiliar experience. Yet, it was exactly what I needed – an orientation to the therapeutic and restorative benefits of the natural world.
Escaping everyday life
In April 2021, I’m looking forward to receiving my Covid-19 vaccine shot and keeping my fingers crossed for the possibility of a vaccination passport to ferry me to foreign lands. But what can I do until then?
The accumulated stress of living and working from home demands a release. Last year we found creative ways to work from home. This year we need to find new ways to get outside.
My kitchen window offers a verdant view of a nature reserve that is literally in my backyard. Sometimes after a rain, the dense foliage is slick and shiny. At other times, trees topple, branches collapse and it’s a glorious green mess. During a dry spell, the trees shed leaves, the grass dries up and everything looks forlorn, like an abandoned project, begging for mother nature’s grace.
In April, hot mornings are often followed by afternoon thunderstorms. I step out for a stroll after the rain dies down, enjoying the gentle drip-drop of rain falling from saturated leaves. A meandering walk through paths littered with fallen leaves and creeping vines, amidst thick shrubs and trees, slows down my heartbeat. The green canopy soothes my tired eyes.
My solo nature walks are a mindful pause that invite mother nature to do what she does best, provide a nourishing environment for things to grow. These mini recharge breaks help clear my mind and allow budding ideas to take shape.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a time when I can travel to a faraway place to have a rejuvenating break. For now, I’m glad to have a quick serenity fix, right in my neighborhood.
Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is presently working on a memoir. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.
If you appreciate the vastness of the sea, boat rides, and heritage temples of India, then this place is for you. A place where you feel immersed in serenity one moment and the adventure in the next.
Okha is a small coastal town in the Dwarka district of Gujarat. It is surrounded by the sea on three sides and has a sandy beach on the Arabian Sea coast. BET Dwarka Island situated 3 km across a small creek from Okha port and reached by ferry, which was a memorable experience for me. For the about 20-minute journey, you only have to pay Rs 20 per person. If you want to hire a personal boat, you will have to shell out Rs 4000.
For me, amidst the clean blue sky, hovering seagulls, and the coos of birds, the soothing cool breeze was like a tranquilizer.
Indeed, Bet Dwarka is a magical, beautiful, untouched, and enchanting island. This is a place on the western coast of India where I get the opportunity to see both the sunrise and sunset from the ocean. It is a lifetime memory. The long stretch of the Bet Dwarka beach is perfect for a long walk. The best part was that I did not find a lot of commercial activities here and it might be because Bet Dwarka beach was the first in Gujarat that the Government earmarked for eco-tourism development.
The place derived its name from the ‘bhent’ or gift that Lord Krishna received at this place from his friend Sudama. The island is also called Shankhodhar as it is dotted with a huge number and variety of conch shells. Archaeological remains found under the sea suggest that there were settlements of the Harappan civilization from the Late Harappan Period or immediately after it, from the Indus Valley Civilization. It was an important shell-working center during the Harappan period. During the explorations in and around Bet Dwarka, a large number of antiquities of late Harappan period which include pottery, a seal, coins, etc, were found.
That is the reason Bet Dwarka has always stirred the curiosity of archaeologists. Probably because of the mythical claim that points that this place had been Lord Krishna’s original house in the yesteryears.
The Beauty of Nature
While getting to the jetty to board the boat, I saw people selling packets of bird feed. Not knowing why, I also bought some packets. And as soon as the boat left, seagulls flocked to the boat for the feed that’s in our hand. It’s was an incredible experience to see the gulls flying extremely low at such close range and even picking the feed from your palm. After getting down at the jetty, I walked for nearly 700 meters to reach the Lord Krishna temple. I saw hand-pulled trollies taking elderly persons to the temple. The main temple which closes at 12 noon, is believed to be built by Rukmini, wife of Lord Krishna. This is the place where Mirabai, the devotee of Krishna, disappeared at the feet of the Lord’s idol.
Story of Sudhama and His Gift
The main temple here is Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple. Interestingly, here the idol holds the shankha (conch) in an oblique position. The temple is like a palace, built in pink limestone and filled with carvings. Small shrines are built for every queen of Krishna. Rukmani who is believed to have carved the idol here is not found, instead, Satyabhama, the second wife of Krishna, is very prominent here.
Devotees offer ‘rice’ here, which reminds one of the legendary tale that tells how Sudama, a friend of Krishna, had bought him ‘rice’ as a gift.
When Sudama decided to seek Krishna’s help, to come out from his poverty, his wife packed him a handful of Poha to offer to the Lord. Sudama was hesitant about how to give his gift to Krishna. Krishna asked what gift his friend has brought for him. Sudama tried to hide it but Krishna took it and ate the Poha and offered it to his wife. Sudama returned without asking for help. But a surprise awaited him back home! Instead of his broken hut, there stood a palace and his wife and children were dressed in expensive clothes. That’s when he realized of Lord Krishna’s magical powers.
Apart from the main temple, there are various small shrines dedicated to Radha, Rukmani, Jambavati, Lakshmi-Narayan, Devki, Matsya form of Lord Vishnu, and many more. Hanuman Dandi temple of Bet Dwarka enshrines idols of Lord Hanuman and that of Makardhwaja – Hanuman’s son. According to myths, a drop of sweat from Hanuman Ji’s body was gulped by a fish who later delivered a son known by the name of Makardhwaja. Interestingly, the Bet Dwarka region has two Dargahs – Sidi Bawa Peer Dargah an Hajo Kirmil Dargah.
Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple, so better leave either in the hotel or you will have to keep them in the lockers specially made for this purpose.
Suman Bajpaiis a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi.