Tag Archives: #indiacurrents

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.

Our Planet To Save: Teens Educate

Many say that we have seen three wars in our lifetime: 9/11, the housing crisis, and the most current one, Coronavirus.

In the background, looming like an avatar for death, are cities covered in billowing smog from factories, blackened skies, and people gasping for the last bit of fresh air.  

Let us not forget the ongoing battle for clean air, fuel, and water….

In the race for power among competing foreign nations, many have pushed for industrialization to develop economic and social prowess. Toys, weaponry, and clothes all became commodities as a result of mass production, delighting many. 

It has been about 250 years since the industrial revolution and not much has changed in the fight to mitigate what we now call the climate crisis. Profits have been prioritized over well-being, as safety has taken a back seat to ease of life.

Climate change is something that is often overlooked by many who view the phenomenon as a “hoax” and question its existence due to lack of awareness and miseducation.

Is what we have done to our planet acceptable given the benefits of industries? What more can we do? Was this a problem waiting to happen?

These are questions we must ask ourselves daily, and frankly there isn’t a straightforward answer. Every individual, however, can make a change, and that’s what The Incentive, a climate change news publication built by a team of bay area high schoolers, is tackling head-on.

Founded by – Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, and Sudhit Rao – juniors at Monta Vista High School, The Incentive joins the climate change movement and shakes things up.

The Incentive’s goal is to create a platform where people can receive reliable information regarding the implications of climate change. They are moving away from the average, uninspired, and repetitive news site that only reports on how climate change is impacting the environment. The Incentive’s angles on climate change are novel, as they take a look at the economy, societal culture, and local policy to frame their narratives. 

Imaged pulled from The Incentive website.

Part of their mission is to raise local awareness on the more subtle impacts of climate change by involving the next generation. In order to accomplish this, they have worked with middle school teachers in their community to increase the environmental literacy of their students by engaging with articles on The Incentive.

The organization strives to expand across the United States and turn their non-profit into a global institution. Currently, they have two affiliated chapters – one in New York and the other in Virginia – that are working to make an impact in their respective communities. They encourage their chapters to attend city council meetings, reach out to schools in their area to incorporate our website, attend climate change rallies, or create a club at their school. 

Due to collective efforts, the publication has managed to garner thousands of monthly viewers. Next steps include creating more chapters of The Incentive across several states and countries. If you are interested, here is a link to learn more about their outreach program.

The Incentive team hopes that through their publication and outreach, they will be able to make a significant impact on mitigating climate change and are strong believers that any individual, no matter their background or power can make an impact on mitigating climate change. All it takes is focus and dedication for any individual to make an impact.

Sudhit speaks on behalf of his organization, “We encourage all readers to get on social media and post ways they are mitigating climate change, whether it is planting a tree, telling your friends to do so, or being a full-on activist. It is our planet to save, and we are its last lifeline.”

For more information on The Incentive, follow their Instagram.

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.

Benefits of a Tiny Wedding

Coronavirus still rages. Businesses shuttered. Restaurants closed. Flights canceled. And weddings postponed.

In such times, have we any right to bemoan the cancellation of weddings? After all, what does a wedding matter against the backdrop of a global pandemic?

Except, in some essential way, it does. At a time when we’re all so isolated, it’s more important than ever to honor the ways we come together. And what is more important, in the face of death, devastation, and fear, than the celebration of love and commitment?  

In the past few months, friends and acquaintances have had to cancel, postpone, or completely rethink plans for their big Indian weddings. Relatives can no longer fly in from distant places. Banquets and destination weddings are completely out of the question.

So how does a couple in love cope? Of course, one option is to postpone until large gatherings are allowed again. We don’t know when that date will come, though, and it could be a year or more away. You could put down a large deposit and hope for the best, but that’s a thorny path. 

How about another strategy? Have a flexible, tiny, socially distanced wedding that minimizes contact with those beyond your immediate family. 

At this moment, your options for a socially distanced tiny wedding may be limited. Your county clerk office may not be issuing marriage licenses. Your family may live far away. But this type of small gathering will be allowed far sooner than any large-scale event, requiring far less planning and allowing far more flexibility.

And here’s the thing – I’ve done it both ways. I’ve had a 300-person destination wedding in India with three extravagant events, and people flying in from around the world.

I’ve also had a super tiny wedding that would abide by many of the rules of social distancing. There were six guests in total: all immediate family members, including one newly-ordained sister. Everyone wore something they already owned, did their own makeup, and styled their own hair. I wore my mom’s old wedding sari. Our three-minute ceremony took place outdoors and was captured by an iPhone on a tripod. We exchanged garlands by the water and wrote our own vows. A photographer took a few portraits from a distance.

The first wedding cost tens of thousands of dollars, culminating in months of stressful planning and aggravated family tension. Two years later, the marriage was over.

The second wedding cost under $500 (the cost of a license and 30 minutes of a photographer’s time) and was planned in under a week. It was the most romantic day of my life. Two years later, that marriage is a daily source of comfort and joy. 

A socially distanced tiny wedding means no hair stylist, no makeup artist, no florist, no wedding planner, no caterer, no dress fittings, no dance floors, and no banquets. It means minimizing the number of people you come in contact with, outside the few people most dear to you. But this style of wedding offers an unparalleled opportunity to fully be yourself on your wedding day. You will be far less concerned about pleasing all the distant aunties on your guest list. You will have full control over the way you look, and you’ll get married looking like yourself.

At the time of my tiny wedding, my fiancé and I worried that friends and relatives would feel excluded and hurt. We came to realize that everyone who loved us, understood. I can assure you that no friends were lost as a result of our tiny wedding. 

We had friends come to us after our wedding and say, “I wish I could do what you did, but my Indian mom just wouldn’t understand.” Even in the best of times, I assure you – moms inevitably come around to these types of decisions. And quite frankly, if you really need a reason, what better excuse than a global catastrophe?

So, if you’re excited to be married but feeling doubts about big wedding plans, consider the socially distanced tiny wedding when the time is right. You will spend less money, less time, and less emotional energy. And honestly, what better way is there to spite a pandemic, than to celebrate love?

Bhavya Mohan is a marketing professor and Bay Area native.

Escapist Cinema of South Asia

Sister film festivals DFW South Asian Film Festival and NYC South Asian Film Festival proudly co-present a seven-week online film series called “Escapist Cinema of South Asia” to entertain, engage and educate cinephiles around the world who are observing shelter-in-place during the pandemic.

Every Saturday night (7 to 10 p.m. CDT) from May 16th to June 27th, audiences can live stream a festival-quality South Asian film(s) that will be curated around a specific theme.

For every person who registers, we will donate a 3-layer, microfiber mask in his/her/their name to NYC or Texas hospitals in need. Watch a film, save a life!

The line-up includes globally acclaimed films like:

Hellaro – During the Emergency in India, a group of suppressed women from a village in Kutch, find someone in the desert and their lives are changed forever.

3 Days To Go – When their father passes away, four grown siblings come together with their collection of husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Together this crazy family needs to survive each other, under one roof for 3 days, before they spread their father’s ashes and part ways again.

Venus – Venus, is the witty tale of Sid, a transitioning woman, whose life takes a surprising turn when a 14-year-old boy named Ralph arrives at her door with the surprising announcement that he is her son.

For the full line-up and tickets, check the full schedule here!

 

#WashTheHate

As lockdown orders begin lifting across the United States, the Asian American community is not only concerned about protecting themselves from exposure to COVID-19 but also their physical safety. Since the outbreak of the virus, hate incidents against persons of Asian descent have surged throughout the country with reports of harassment, vandalism, and violent assaults. In March, the FBI assessed that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans would likely increase due to the spread of the virus and the assumption that certain individuals may associate COVID-19 with the Asian American community. 

#WashTheHate was launched in March following a series of violent assaults against Asian Americans and is a social media campaign created to raise awareness about COVID-related bigotry and xenophobia. It features videos of Asian American celebrities, leaders, and influencers, as well as community allies, washing their hands in accordance with CDC recommendations while sharing personal stories about how the pandemic and racism has impacted their lives. Notable participants include Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), Panda Express founders Peggy and Andrew Cherng, Opening Ceremony co-founder Carol Lim, actor Ludi Lin (Aquaman), actor Osric Chau (Supernatural), singer AJ Rafael, actress Amy Hill (Magnum, P.I.), recording artist/producer Shawn Wasabi and former Miss America Nina Davaluri. Over two dozen national advocacy organizations have also endorsed the campaign. 

Comedian, Maulik Pancholy, on #washthehate

Due to the nationwide quarantine and social distancing restrictions, each of the PSA participants shot their portion of the spot in their homes using nothing but their smartphones. The self-shot footage was then compiled, edited, and transformed into the final product by Asian American communications agency IW Group, creators of #WashTheHate. To promote the PSA and social media campaign, #WashTheHate organizers and participants have embarked on a virtual speaking tour throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. 

“As someone who’s come face to face with COVID-related bigotry, I understand the concern that many Asian Americans feel as the country begins to reopen and we start stepping back into the world,” said Tzi Ma, who experienced a racist encounter outside a supermarket near his home at the start of the outbreak. “We hope this PSA allows the public to see this situation from a different perspective while underscoring the need for solidarity during this critical time.” 

“Throughout history, there’s been a tendency to single out and cast blame on certain groups of people during difficult times. We must be vigilant in preventing this from happening again, not only to our Asian American Pacific Islander community, but to any community,” said Celia Au. “This PSA reinforces the need to stop bigotry and create solidarity, so that we can all come out of this pandemic standing stronger than ever before.”  

“A self-shot spot is usually the result of creative experimentation but, in this case, it was an absolute necessity,” said Telly Wong, Campaign Director of #WashTheHate and IW Group Chief Content Officer. “We needed to get this message out promptly, and this was the only way to do it. Our PSA was the result of a group of amazing individuals working together to address and elevate a serious concern within our community.” 

Valarie Kaur: What If Maternal Love Extended to Our Opponents ?

“As many mothers know, love is sweet labor — a choice that we have to make over and over again, every single day. What would it look like to extend a fraction of that love, to ourselves, to others who don’t look like us, and even to our opponents?” 

– Valarie Kaur

Valarie Kaur is a mother, lawyer, and progressive activist who is grounded in her culture and religion, much like Gandhi and MLK. She is the author of the upcoming book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, releasing on June 16, 2020. Here I am in conversation with Valarie Kaur, as she comments on loss, love, and the power of forgiveness.

GPJ: A lot of activists are seen as angry, yet you have talked about loving your enemy. How do you do that?

VK: I believe that revolutionary love is the call of our times. I became an activist after the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was a family friend. Since I was 20, for more than 16 years, I have gone from community to community working on a range of social justice issues. I began fighting hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and other South Asian Americans, and soon realized that our issues were bound up with other communities of color. So I’ve worked with: Latino communities fighting immigration detention; worked with black youth fighting stop and frisk; on prison reform and solitary confinement; marriage equality and trans rights. 

My son was born at the end of 2015, and we began to see hate crimes skyrocket, reaching levels just as high as they were in 9/11. 

I had a small existential crisis — I thought, I’ve been a lawyer for 15 years — I thought with every campaign, we were making the country safer. My family had been in the country for 100 years and I believed we were making linear progress. I looked at my son and realized that I was raising a brown boy, keeping his hair long in accordance with his Sikh faith, in a country that was even more dangerous than the world that my grandfather lived in. I sat in a torrent of tears. I left my job. I took a period of deep introspection. 

After so long, what actually creates change for the communities I serve? It always came down to a critical question: is there love here? Communities that received love in the wake of atrocity were able to respond with love and sustain struggles against institutions of power. I began to think about love as a revolutionary force and began to speak publicly about it. 

When the elections happened in 2016, I was flooded with messages from people saying, “now more than ever, we need this message of revolutionary love.” When my speeches went viral, I felt I had a mandate. 

We built the Revolutionary Love Project — the vision of the project is to make love a public ethic in American life, but also globally. I’m really thinking about how social norms take hold in 25-year cycles — what might it look like in education, criminal justice, politics, as well as our homes and schools. Our mission is to produce thought leadership, stories, and tools to equip people to practice love, particularly in the fight for social justice. 

Activists are usually stereotyped as being angry, and there’s a reason for that. They traditionally work in the frame of resistance, and while resistance is necessary — it’s important to have a strong line of defense against the policies and executive orders that this administration is issuing — it is insufficient to produce lasting social change. When it’s all about resistance, we as advocates tend to mirror the dysfunctions that we are fighting. We tend to mirror the stress, anxiety, fear, and even hate that we are resisting. 

So my call is instead to adopt a frame of revolutionary love. As many mothers know, love is sweet labor — a choice that we have to make over and over again, every single day. What would it look like to extend a fraction of that love, to ourselves, to others who don’t look like us, and even to our opponents? When love is poured in these three directions, it can become revolutionary. 

GPJ: We seem to care a lot about people who look like us, but the leap to care about our oppressors seems difficult. How do we love our oppressors?

VK: To me, the ideal in the Sikh faith has always been that the warrior fights, the saint loves — hence, a revolutionary love. I see Guru Nanak’s path as one of revolutionary love. We’ve inherited a history of, not only martyrs, but also soldiers and warriors. What does it mean to adopt that religious imagination of warriors against political injustice in modern times? 

The first Sikh woman warrior was Mai Bhago in 1705 — when 40 soldiers abandoned their post, she donned a turban, she took a sword in her hand, mounted a horse, and said, “We will return to the battle and I am the one who will lead you.” She became the one she was waiting for. She’s my inspiration, and I believe we need to become the Mai Bhago of our time. 

That’s why I created the Mai Bhago Retreat, to bring together Sikh women justice leaders every year so we can see ourselves and reinterpret our faith in this way. This is fierce religious imagery — sword and shield — but I believe we do not need literal weapons to fight the war before us. We may have needed them years before, but not now with the institutions of democracy we have before us. 

My sword is my law degree, my shield is my film camera. I look at my Sikh sisters using their pens, doctors’ scalpels, pocketbooks, as their shields. Nobody goes into battle alone, so it’s important that we come together to fight the good fight together. What does it mean to love your opponents? My core practice is to heal the wound. I have never come across anyone who I have seen as wholly evil. 

Every perpetrator of violence or supporter of violence is doing it from their own sense of woundedness, fear, and insecurity. They don’t know what else to do with their insecurity but to aim it at us. They are wounded. We point our swords and shields at the cultural-political institutions that allow them to hurt us. I am less interested in unseating this particular president, and more interested in the social and political conditions that led to this presidency. That’s what I’ve battled against — it changes how we fight. 

Whenever we focused on putting bad actors behind bars, it never changed very much. But when we focused on transforming institutions of power, or transforming a corrupt police department, or changing federal hate crimes policy, or winning net neutrality, that’s when we began to see systemic change. I believe that loving our opponents simply consists of tending to their wounds. Changing how we see them, from monsters to people who are wounded, opens the possibility of forgiveness, and even possibly reconciliation. 

Frank Roque, who murdered Balbir Singh, was about to receive the death penalty when his sentence was commuted to life in prison. On the 15 year anniversary of 9/11, Rana Balbir and I stood at his memorial, and he said, “nothing has changed.” I asked him, who is the person we have not yet tried to love? 

The last thing we had heard from Frank Roque was at his trial, when he had said he was going out to shoot some towelheads and their children too. So we called him up and asked him why he agreed to speak to us, and he began to tell us how he was sorry for what happened to our family but was also sorry for the lives of the thousands of people killed in 9/11. He failed to take responsibility, and I began to get angry, but Ranaji kept listening and wondering about the wound in Frank. 

He says, “Frank, this is the first time I have heard you say you’re sorry.” And Frank says, “Yes, I’m sorry for what I did to your brother. And when I go to heaven to be judged by God, I will ask to see your brother and I will hug him.” 

Forgiveness is not forgetting, it is freedom from hate. Then we can begin to see and challenge the cultural forces and the institutions of power that allow violence to happen. It took us fifteen years to make that call. If you are still hurting, and you can still feel that rage and pain and loss in your body, the best and most loving thing you can do for your opponent is to tend to your own wound. Forgiveness is really about freedom for yourself, and opening yourself to the possibility of reconciliation. 

I don’t believe I will ever reconcile with Donald Trump, but I do believe that thinking about what drives his insecurity and fear, what makes him feel so alienated and lash out against all of us who look different from him, helps me fight him better and helps me to talk to those who support him, to understand why they are fearful, and hold up a vision of a country that includes them too. Loving our opponents is strategic, and savvy. It’s how we are going to build a movement that’s not just about resistance but about transformation.

Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D. is grateful to Kartik Jain for transcribing this unpublished interview with Valarie Kaur. When she is not writing or teaching yoga, Geetika can be found enjoying the great outdoors. She is currently working on a book called “50 Voices From South Asia.”

Tender Renewal of Spring

Spring has a charm, at once joyous and peaceful, almost unparalleled.

Over the last few weekends, gardens everywhere are coming alive with the tender palette of green and the skies put on their best shows of blues, indigo, saffron, and gold.

The birds that peek soon swell, open up in brilliant colors or earthy shades, greeting the sun and the wind, braving the rain, invite the bees and butterflies to dance around, hum and feed, and share. Cheery little hummingbirds join the dance, flitting and fleeting, lapping and tweeting, tiny arcs of sheen and energy, leaving us mesmerized as they find their nectar in the tiniest of flowers! 

Then there’s birdsong, tuneful, rhythmic, full-throated, right from announcing the arrival of dawn, singing for mates or for sheer joy, forming patterns in company, some bringing notes from other lands and seas and humbling with their graceful might!

The scents of the flowers vie with the riots of hues, some sweet, others emphatic, nonetheless unique to each, perhaps to woo the bees and butterflies.

And….. along come the critters that nourish the soil and garden, mostly at work unseen, at times wiggling and poking out of the rich, brown earth and looking surprisingly clean, smooth! Imagine if we’d had a dirt bath… how much of a wash it would take! There are the nifty hiders with legs aplenty, the husky rollers, the shelled footers who are so clever at their feeding, I almost want to leave them on the leaf or stem!

The nourishing clods, and grains, which with the added sun and rain create the magic of food as has churned on and been the source of energy for creatures large and small.

Vellai Pookkal (white flowers)

The freshness is intoxicating, never tiring, year after year. I wish I’d been keeping track of all that we’ve planted, thrived, liked, disliked over ever so many seasons – like the Algerian tangerine that I had the pleasure of going to a lesser-known nursery with our dear friend and children’s music teacher, Jane. I also learnt of the sprightly Peruvian lily from her, the leaves that have an earthy scent and flowers of happy colors.

More recently, our son planting and grafting fruit trees has given yet another purpose to our garden, with great variety and promise.

As the day moves on, the sun mercifully burns the fog, though the crisp mist and slight chill are refreshing to begin with. Soon the rays beat down on me, the jacket needs to be shed and sweat starts to bead up. I often realize only too late I’ve set out with no hat. I’m quite a mess… wind-blown hair, bronze tanning and sweaty trotting back and forth, clearing, planting, snipping, all the while being almost lost in the garden meditatively with great admiration for all things in nature!

At times it may not look a whole lot different, but the closer I look as the sun begins arcing down, the drier old branches are spread or out to compost, wilted flowers cleared, new plants or seeds in, some flowers, greens discovered, admired and my muscles, joints in a happy well-used tiredness! And certainly with hopes for seedlings to poke through!

Spring this year has a whole new meaning, one of gratitude, for the selfless frontline workers and scientists during this coronavirus pandemic, for loving families and friends, educators, food and farm workers and everyone who’ve been tirelessly adapting! It is one of hope and prayers for new, empathetic and well-reasoned beginnings!

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime.

Mercy, Oh Microbes!

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

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

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

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

Lesson 1 – Microbial World

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

Lesson 2 – Indian History and Mythology

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

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

Lesson 3 – Social Distancing

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

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

Lesson 4 – PTSD

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

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

Lesson 5 – Nature

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

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

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

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

As I watched the Netflix documentary that follows Michele Obama’s book tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming”, I was reminded of a former American first lady who published a book while her husband was in office. 

When Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, was first published, I read about it in the Washington Post. Intrigued by the unusual title, I wondered about her credentials to write with conviction about raising children. After all, she had mothered only one child. 

During the Clintons’ tenure at the White House, I was first a graduate student, and later, a postdoctoral fellow at a university not far from Washington DC. I knew nothing about motherhood and parenting. Judging Hilary Clinton’s expertise to write a book (that I had not read) was presumptuous on my part.  

About a year and a half later, as I cradled my newborn daughter in Silicon Valley, I asked a friend who came by for a visit – “How will I bring up this tiny baby into adulthood? I don’t know anything about parenting.”

A mother of a preschooler, she smiled knowingly and replied “Don’t worry, they come programmed to survive and grow. You don’t have to know anything.”

I heard her but did not believe her. I had devoured What To Expect When You’re Expecting, during my pregnancy. Knowing my penchant for turning to books for advice, someone had thoughtfully gifted me the sequel to help me figure out the first year of my child’s life. 

During my short maternity break, I could foresee how much more difficult my life would become once I returned to work. With growing demands on my body, emotions, and time, I wondered if I would lose myself as I slowly dissolved into the ocean of caregiving that is motherhood. 

Children consume you in ways few other things do. They coerce you, bind you, and trap you with their heart-melting smiles even as you change diapers and pick up toys innumerable times. Coming on the heels of years of infertility, for me, motherhood, like my Ph.D., had been a long-drawn project, a goal that I had desired and aspired for, and my child, the reward for my prayers and effort. 

In the two decades since that initial expression of doubt regarding my mothering ability, I have discovered, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, that I am just the string that connects every person who crossed my path and provided me guidance and assistance along the way to raise my child. 

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

This year Mother’s Day was especially poignant because, in a few weeks, that tiny baby who used to fit in my lap, will fly out of the nest and head back to America, the country where she was born.

I think back to the village of people scattered across the globe, who not only directly impacted her growth but also influenced my journey as a mother. 

Some, like my mother, Amma, held my hand in the delivery room and took care of me in the early days. Amma rescued me several other times when I was in a pinch for childcare, struggling to remain in the workforce. Always supportive, but not necessarily indulgent, she followed the ‘tough love’ style of mothering, long before the phrase was coined. 

Catherine, the gentle, silver-haired British lady who took over as the local grandmother when Amma returned to India, was the first person outside the home to bond with my child. Using only organic ingredients to cook fresh meals and creating personalized birthdays for the kids in her care, Catherine was a loving, no-nonsense woman. It was impressive how she managed to carve out time for self-care, swimming thirty laps in the community pool after a long day watching a handful of babies and toddlers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Catherine for providing reliable childcare, the prime reason I was able to focus on my budding career.

Bill, my boss, who looked the other way when he saw me slouched over my desk in the early days of motherhood, first introduced me to a lunchtime yoga class, and later supported all of my part-time or flex-time requests, ensuring my progress through the ranks. I shudder to think of how my life would have turned out without Bill as my boss.

In California, a circle of women friends gathered around me to provide assistance to a working mother in a dysfunctional marriage. When I moved to India, another group of female friends came together in Hyderabad to help me find my feet as a single parent. Loaning me a gas cylinder when I moved into my own place, watching my child if I was late from work, accompanying me to court, or to the doctor’s office, many kind women propped me up. 

When handling everything alone felt overwhelming, I remembered the wise words of a colleague who told me at my baby shower, “Parenting is a series of threats and bribes.” 

When I doubted my decision to quit my well-paying job with long working hours and choose a freelance consulting path that paid less but offered greater flexibility, I remembered my aunt’s advice to make whatever minor changes necessary but to not give up my financial independence.

I am indebted to a large global network of individuals who have shared my journey as a mother. It has not been smooth. I have been far from perfect. 

From our shaky first steps in California to the rocky patch in India, and now in our new blended family in Singapore, motherhood has been a delicate dance. The two of us held onto each other, flowing with life as it detoured into uncharted territories. We are at a point where our paths must diverge. My time of intense parenting is coming to an end. 

The river of life will take her in its fold, whisk her to unknown destinations. But I will send her away with the confidence that there is a village out there, to pick up where my direct influence ends. Just as a village came together and sustained her thus far, I have no doubt that she will build another one for the next leg of her life. 

Even without reading Hilary Clinton’s book, I learned first-hand the powerful lesson embedded in the African proverb that she chose as the title for her book. It does take a village to raise a child. And I stand humbled by the experience. 

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 co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Shashi Tharoor and Others Read You a Tagore Classic

The coronavirus pandemic is a story shared among so many different generations, nationalities, and ethnicities. Although this moment of crisis has physically separated us from our friends and family, it has also bound us all within a joint reality. And what better way to spend the extra time at home than by returning to an endearing glimpse into South Asian literature? To encourage solidarity despite self-isolation regulations, digital publishing house Juggernaut Books and the celebrated Hindustan Times have created the video project, One Story, One Nation. 

India Currents’ very own writer, Raji Pillai, is featured in Part 10 of the readings, alongside South-Asian celebrities. Each has volunteered their time to read a section from Rabindranath Tagore’s classic, The Kabulliwallah

One of Tagore’s most acclaimed literary works, the short story focuses on a young daughter’s love for an Afghan Kabulliwallah, a merchant who often made trips to Calcutta. Tagore’s heartwarming narrative, which demonstrates how love crosses all borders and circumstances, is fitting during these dividing times. Although I read Kabulliwallah amid a flight home from India a few years ago, I found that revisiting this short story made me appreciate the simplicities of self-isolation.

A screen separates me from my friends and teachers, but I still have my parents beside me — just how protagonist Mini has the love of her father and the Kabulliwallah despite everything. And it certainly did not hurt to hear this tale narrated by the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Aditi Mittal, Chetan Bhagat, and Barkha Dutt. Each and every one of these narrators have poured their heart into bringing Tagore’s characters to life, from the charming naiveté of a young Mini to the devoted affection of the merchant. 

“Read more books during this lockdown. Read more books on humanity, because they will inspire you to become a better version of yourself,” said Sabyasachi Mukherjee, as he opened up his own reading of the short story. Hopefully, we can all learn to celebrate a sense of belonging and unanimity by listening to Kabulliwallah.

To find the entire series click here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

6 Indian Habits That Travel With Me

When it comes to leaving India – there is a storm of mixed emotions. I want to fill up my pockets with all the beauty that exists here and leave behind the few things I hate. Global Indians and NRIs understand the duality of leaving a place like India. Having lived in India my whole life, there are a few things I’m unwilling to give up. Digging deeper on what influences my life, here are six habits acquired from Indian culture that stick with me, regardless of where I go. 

CHAI – THE MIGHTY CUP OF TEA!

 ‘Chai’ should be declared as the national drink of India. The joy of drinking the carefully brewed tea with milk in clay cups is beyond this world. With a dash of spices like ginger, cardamom, holy basil, pepper, and cloves – it’s not just healthy, but mystifying. There is nothing as soothing to the senses and calming to the mind as a hot cup of tea in the morning. It rejuvenates!

World food chains like Starbucks and Teavana have gloriously adapted to the Tea Culture and now serve Indian Style tea labeled as ‘Chai Tea’ around the world. Being an Indian knowing the drill of making a mighty cup of tea it’s difficult to love the taste that is brewed abroad. My love for chai stays with me wherever I stay in the world!

INDIAN FOOD & THE HABIT OF EATING WITH HANDS

Unlike the world, India doesn’t have a cutlery or fork & knife culture. Most of the Indian cuisines are designed to be eaten with bare hands, lapping up the essence of the taste. While the luxury of using the fork and knife shall remain in restaurants, the habit of eating the food items like Rice, khichdi, chapatis, etc., with hands, shall remain.

The certain communion with the food, enhancing the digesting abilities is the main aim for the use of hands. Hands help in texturing the food, making the partaking of sustenance, more intimate. Seeing it scientifically, the use of hands for eating is advisable to a certain extent, as the flora present on the fingers is swallowed, beneficial for the health of various parts of the body like mouth, throat, and intestines as fingers release various digestive juices. This practice of eating with hands is something I look forward to, as I go around the other parts of the world, for its benefits and digestive advantages.

BARGAINING AT STREET SHOPS

Street shops are the powerhouse of all things fashionable at budget-friendly prices. In India, all the latest home décor, clothes, and jewelry are available at great quality and cheap price at the street shops. ‘Cheap’ because the hefty prices quoted by the shopkeepers are bargain-able. Travel anywhere in the world, the most authentic shopping experience lies in street shopping. Being trained in slashing down the prices by almost half in street shopping, the ability to bargain stays as a habit for me. No matter where I go, the trips to street shops would come as a choice, and bargaining will be something I will stick to.

YOGA – THE ART OF LIFE!

Yoga originated in India centuries ago. From ancient yogis to the modern-day yoga instructors, Yoga is a gift of Indian history. The benefits of Yoga for health and life balance have been mind-blowing. It aids in the balancing of the body, mind, and soul for a fulfilled life.

Having grown up in India, Yoga has become one of the daily rituals that keep a check on my physical health and fitness alongside my mental health. The ritual to spread that yoga mat and start practicing with an intention is something I would not give up for anything!

Yoga is fast becoming popular even in the West, for its ability to secure spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, not all its aspects have been tapped in the West; with physical fitness regime widely practiced, to attain body flexibility and stability.

AYURVEDA – SECRET OF NATURE!

Deepest darkest of nature’s secrets rest into the arms of nature! Ayurveda, the science of nature has been of close relevance in India. From home remedies to ayurvedic supplements and medicines – it is something that treats us to live a healthy life.

My Indian living has brought me closer to ayurvedic recipes like that of Turmeric milk, neem leaves, aloe vera extracts, etc, for a healthier life. While the world is educating itself on Ayurvedic benefits, my little world of ayurvedic knowledge stays with me.

The major benefit of Ayurveda is its ability to not harm the patient’s body with the side-effects of the prescribed medicine. Apart from its natural and organic way of healing, it also prescribes better eating habits for a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. 

ADDRESSING PEOPLE WITH RESPECT

Indians are used to calling every other man as ‘bhaiya’ or brother, especially when they aren’t related to you. This brings in a sense of respect and affection for the person. So when I address a driver, cleaner, shopkeeper, or any man of service around me – it would go as brother or uncle.

For women, the words are didi (sister) and aunty. Instead of addressing people by their names or surnames – I would stick to this personalized call to utter respect in conversations. And yes, ‘Namaste’ wouldn’t be forgotten too!

Greeting and meeting people with warmth is the basis of such a practice. It also binds two (or more) people, with sheer kindness through soothing words. Another way of looking at it is, giving respect to every human being, irrespective of their status, and creed.

Some habits inculcated from childhood are a gift of being born as an Indian. No matter how much I travel or turn into a global citizen – the 6 habits stay with me when I leave India!

Abhishek Bade is a writer and a rover with a passion for writing. He is adept at writing travel-based content which is informative and insightful. 

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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