Tag Archives: Indian-American

Neanderthal DNA Present in South Asians is a Risk Factor For COVID-19

People of South Asian descent possess a set of genes inherited from Neanderthals that makes them more susceptible to hospitalization from COVID-19, according to a study published in Nature

While certain risk factors affect the severity of COVID-19 – such as age and presence of underlying health conditions – the study noted that many still contract a severe case of COVID-19 without these risk factors, implying the existence of other risk factors in our genetics. Hugo Zeberg and Svante Paabo, the study’s authors, found a core haplotype (a group of genes inherited from a single parent) that increases the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 to occur at a 50 percent frequency in South Asian people. 

The same haplotype is almost absent in those of East Asian descent, occurs at only a 16 percent frequency in people from Europe, but occurs at a 63 percent frequency among Bangladeshi people in the United Kingdom, Zeberg and Paabo wrote. They said Bangladeshi people in the UK also have double the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to the general population, indicating further disparities in healthcare that are compounded by the genetic predisposition identified in the study.  

Pie charts show the minor allele frequency at rs35044562. Frequency data were obtained from the 1000 Genomes Project. Map source data were obtained from OpenStreetMap. (Image from Nature Magazine)

The study comes as COVID-19 cases in India are on the rise and hospitals struggle to maintain the resources to deal with the onset of new cases. Despite being one of the world’s biggest producers of compressed oxygen, the country has dealt with a shortage of supplies due to delays in oxygen storage and production, which in turn exacerbated the COVID-19 crisis.

“With respect to the current pandemic, it is clear that gene flow from Neanderthals has tragic consequences,” Zeberg and Paabo wrote. 

The study states that the fact these genes have endured over the course of history to the present day indicates they must have been beneficial to human survival at some point in time.

“Thus, although this haplotype is detrimental for its carriers during the current pandemic, it may have been beneficial in earlier times in South Asia, perhaps by conferring protection against other pathogens, whereas it may have been eliminated in East Asia by negative selection,” the study states

However, Zeberg and Paabo found that the haplotype is notably absent in those of African descent because gene flow from Neanderthals into African populations at the time was “limited and probably indirect.”

“It is currently not known what feature in the Neanderthal-derived region confers risk for severe COVID-19 and whether the effects of any such feature are specific to SARS-CoV-2, to other coronaviruses, or to other pathogens,” they wrote. “Once the functional feature is elucidated, it may be possible to speculate about the susceptibility of Neanderthals to relevant pathogens.”

Cutting-edge research, like the one Zebery and Paabo conducted, is an important reminder that diversity in research and medicine provides a more comprehensive understanding of diverse populations and how to address their needs.


Isha Trivedi is a journalism student at George Washington University. She enjoys reading and listening to podcasts in her (limited) spare time. 


 

Top: Photograph of indentured Indian labourers at Spring Garden Buildings. Jamaica, 1880 (Image from the National Archive); Bottom: Contrabands at headquarters of Gen. Lafayette, 1862. Contrabands was an expression coined by Gen. Benjamin F. Butler to describe escaped slaves (Photo by Mathew B. Brady courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Yale University via Wikimedia Commons)

Juneteenth Isn’t Enough: How Indian-Americans Can Use Their Pasts to Help Another Present

Though empires abolished slavery in the Caribbean islands during the 1830s, their move to the model of indentured servitude wasn’t much better. From 1838 to 1917, western European governments transported over 500,000 Indian indentured servants to work on their plantations in the Caribbean. Some were brought unwillingly and others consented to their servitude, however, most servants were not made aware of the horrific conditions and treatment that they would face. Really, the “indentured servitude” model that colonizers granted Indian laborers was a fancy word for slavery.

During the same time period, on January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – enslaved individuals in the Confederate States had been freed. Unfortunately, even a document as official as the Emancipation Proclamation was flawed and freedom for all enslaved people would come only after the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

In a Confederate state like Texas, the power balance between the state and federal governments meant that Texas’ leaders could decide if they wanted to put the document into effect. Finally, on June 19, 1865 – hence the term “Juneteenth” – 2,000 Union troops invaded Galveston Bay, Texas, officially declaring freedom for all enslaved Texans.  “Juneteenth” marks the day that Black Texans gained freedom – the last state to adopt the Emancipation Proclamation in America.

Two centuries later, Juneteenth just became recognized as a federal holiday in the United States. July 4th may stand as the country’s day of independence from Great Britain, but Juneteenth stands as the country’s second independence day in recognition of freedom for all citizens. 

Similarly, India may be politically independent, but colonization still manifests itself in subtle ways. In fact, Raja Masood, an associate professor of postcolonial literature and theory, notes that “children are still taught to write an application using words and phrases that endorse a colonial mentality such as “Yours obediently” or “Your obedient servant.” Think of the word “boss” commonly used in the Caribbean and Asian communities. How about the titles Maiam (Madam) and Saab (Sir)? My English professor said, “Don’t call me sir, call me Mike.” Students in India and Pakistan are taught primarily in English and almost every school teaches the language as if it’s their native tongue.

Indian huts on a sugar plantation near Port Louis in Mauritius. (Image by Frederick Fiebig from the British Library)
Indian huts on a sugar plantation near Port Louis in Mauritius. (Image by Frederick Fiebig from the British Library)

Classism and casteism were amplified outcomes of colonization in India. In fact, the stratification and division that colonization brought to India pre-Partition, remains part of Indian ideology and society. Colonization has, also, pushed Indians to disassociate from Black people. The British, having created stratified structures, pit minorities against one another, “us” versus “them,” and unlearning this behavior has been harder than learning it.

June 19th, recognized as the day that slaves gained their freedom, also recognizes that Black people are still fighting for equality and justice. The murders of Black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are clear signs that anti-Blackness is ever prevalent and detrimental in society today. As Indian Americans, how can we use our riddled history to empathize with the plight of minorities in America?

Inter-minority division feels illogical. We often talk about the atrocities that slavery and colonization individually brought, but what we recognize less are the parallels between them. These parallels are proof that hegemonic institutions have inflicted trauma on a range of minorities. The treatment, which both the Indian slaves and African American slaves endured, was horrendous and, unfortunately, very similar. The governing bodies of both India and the United States exploited people for their own benefit.

Bibee Zuhoorun was one of the many laborers who was made to work in the Caribbean. She shares her testimony in an ongoing investigation on the India indenture trade. Zuhoorun says, “the injustice meted out to fellow labourers – a story of overworked men subjected to ill-treatment and corporal punishment. Labourers were often confined within plantations and denied wages if they refused to work. She felt stuck in a foreign land.” Zuhoorun was one of many.

Women were kidnapped off of the streets in India and brought to the Caribbean islands for the Indian male laborers. Kalyani Srinivas, a resident of the Bay Area and a person of Indian-Trinidadian descent, emphatically states, “Isn’t it a travesty that history misrepresents the blatant slave trade of Indians to the Caribbeans. My great-great grandmother was 16 and holding her child in India when she was taken forcibly by the British to Trinidad. She was brought as incentive for indentured male workers.” 

Sexual harassment was a common occurrence and Zuhoorun didn’t receive wages for 2.5 years of her labor. Britain profited largely off of the East India Company and did more harm than good; the British ran the company logistics and financials, and Indians did not get authority nor benefits from the company.  

Contrastingly, I note the words of Fountain Hughes, a slave who was interviewed in 1949 and whose words have been archived by the United States Congress. His story is long, but he emphasizes the idea that the slaves were alone, and the conditions they existed in were not worth living for. He says: “we, no more money, but course they bought more stuff and more property and all like that. We didn’t have no property. We didn’t have no home. We had nowhere or nothing. We didn’t have nothing only just, uh, like your cattle, we were just turned out. And uh, get along the best you could. Nobody to look after us. Well, we been slaves all our lives.” 

Worse of all is the similarity in the devastating number of casualties that both races faced. An estimated 35 million in casualties is said to have come from the irresponsible rule of the British in India and at least 17 million people died as a result of slavery and slave trade. Both times, abuse of power took the lives of millions of innocent citizens. Both times, these casualties were avoidable. 

Our shared narratives have been erased, omitted, and forgotten in written history. Let us remember that Indian-Americans are not far removed from their history of slavery and colonialism.

This year has brought about obstacles for the AAPI community. In fact, AAPI hate is running rampant our society, and in standing up for the AAPI and Black community, we create a united front – one that is stronger than any individual alone. 

Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the freedom of African American slaves, and for Indian-Americans, it is a day to reflect on our ancestry and shared trauma to empower others in our community.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 

Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

Film, 'If I Go, Where Do I Go?' at BAMPFA.

Berkeley’s Film Archive Diversifies History With Films by Amit Dutta

“Cinema becomes a way of searching and learning through culture, history, music, beauty and eventually truth.” — Amit Dutta, Many Questions to Myself

UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is UC Berkeley’s resource for artistic resources and serves the broader Bay Area population. Their mission is to create dialogue and community engagement through art mediums on local and global topics.

In pursuit of diversity in history, BAMPFA is showcasing Indian filmmaker and writer Amit Dutta. Dutta is known for his distinctive cinema through deep explorations of India’s artistic, literary, and cultural traditions, both contemporary and historical.

His recent shorts and features, including the premiere of If I Go, Where Do I Go?, on his five visits with Hindi experimental writer Krishna Baldev Vaid, are now available for viewing on BAMFA’s website.

Dutta’s landmark film Nainsukh, on the eighteenth-century painter, is also a part of the series. The 2010 film first took Dutta back to the Kangra Valley near his childhood home, a land from which he has since drawn much of his inspiration. Dutta, who characterizes his films as research- and process-based, notes: “I became very interested in indigenous knowledge systems and the workings of tribal/folk and classical modes. How could these systems produce such stunning works? What was the source?”

Shambhavi Kaul describes his varied films as “travers[ing] genres, moving effortlessly from crafted scenario to spontaneous encounter, from mindful self-reflexivity to ghostly magic.”

Whether in sensuous tracking shots of past paintings on gallery walls or ancient sculptures in their original setting; animations of artworks that reveal their underlying effects; moments of improvised acting; or expeditions and visits with unanticipated results, Dutta’s evocative films find new and beautiful expression in dialogue with their subjects.

This isn’t the first time Dutta has been featured by BAMPFA. In 2017, BAMPFA presented several of Dutta’s films on Indian art in conjunction with the exhibition Divine Visions, Earthly Pleasures: Five Hundred Years of Indian Painting. View artworks from the BAMPFA collection in the exhibition brochure, written by guest curator Robert Del Bontà.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing 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.


 

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

A Welcome of Sorts: Stranger In a Strange Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Tips to Keep You and Your Family Safe In India

It’s been two years now since the world has been grappling with the novel coronavirus. Yes, the deadly Coronavirus disease of 2019 has trailed well into 2021. Causing global social and economic disruption, devastating millions of people, who are dealing with untimely bereavements, isolation, loss of income. Not to mention the onset of mental health issues. We are at the end of our tether!

Recently, the situation in India has become grim. In a vast country with an immense population, imposing restrictions like social distancing had taken a backseat. And that was a grave mistake.

You may think there isn’t much one can do to improve the situation in the world, but we can surely start by taking small steps to keep ourselves and our homes safe. Charity begins at home! And we all need to walk the talk. We need to change a few rudimentary things in our lifestyle and go back to our wise Indian cultural practices. 

There is no revolution we need to stir, all we need to do is change ourselves. The first thought that strikes us is how changing just ourselves is going to change 100 crore or one billion of us? Not only is it a laudable thought, but I am also convinced it is an achievable one. 

Since this is a difficult time of the pandemic, we will focus only on those lifestyle changes at our level which will make us safer at home.

Namaste greeting 

What do we do when we meet an outsider? A traditional namaste has been replaced by a handshake followed by a clumsy hug or maybe a peck on the cheek. Not to mention which cheek to go for first, creating some comedy-filled moments. Now the world acknowledges the value of folded hands—Namaste—which conveys all your feelings with poise and dignity. We should adopt it not because it symbolizes our civilization, but also because it’s the safest greeting in these difficult times.

Footwear outside

Traditionally, we (including visitors) left our footwear outside the house before entering. This isn’t the case anymore. We wear designer shoes with our designer couture. So, leaving our footwear outside is like being half-dressed. However, on our recent visits abroad, we noticed that it’s quite normal to leave your shoes outside and slip into slippers provided by the host or move about barefoot in a spic and span house. The logic behind being that the members of the family have to clean the house most times, and the parquet flooring doesn’t shine if dust falls on it. This has been picked up by the west from our culture. We should readopt this practice. Patent it perhaps? 

Definitely, during the pandemic, it is essential to keep all invasions of germs, dust, and filth out. In the years gone by, it was customary for guests or any member of the household to wash their hands and feet before entering the house. We must ensure that anyone entering should remove their shoes outside and then either wash/sanitize hands. Seems difficult! You’ll be surprised how easy it will be if you bring it into practice, strictly following the rule yourself first.

Use a spoon when eating snacks

Avoid using hands to eat snacks like bhujia, peanuts, roasted chanas, etc. Use a spoon or serve all the guests in individual bowls. The same goes for serving saunf, elaichi and chooran after a meal. For the same reason, I never take the complimentary sweet saunf that is presented in any eatery after a meal.

Wash hands

Always wash your hands before a meal even if you have not stepped out. Sometimes we unconsciously touch our eyes, mouth, or nose and if there’s an infection lurking about, nip it. This should be strictly followed in every household.

Use cutlery when eating at the dining table

Eating at the table is the norm. Most of us have lost the ability to sit cross-legged on the floor. In certain circles, it’s considered chic to use hands while eating. Which is fine, but let’s not forget that in the olden days we would sit on the floor and eat with our hands, but never touched another vessel other than our own thali, as someone else would serve us.

But now if you are using your hands, you touch the serving spoon to take another helping—in the process, soiling the spoon with your saliva. I feel Indian food like chapattis should also be rolled up and the vegetable or dal should be eaten with a spoon to minimize contact with one’s hands or else after serving yourselves once, the serving dishes should be removed from the table. It may sound rude but all dieticians say that to remain healthy, one must never go for a second helping. And this should be our mantra during these terrible times. 

Are napkins needed?

If we use cutlery, the use of napkins automatically becomes negligible. Westerners often kept the napkin as an adornment, hardly touching it to their mouth after a meal and almost never leaving a stain on it. Our Indian way of eating soils cloth napkins, rendering them useless for further use especially if they are light-colored. 

Some curry marks are difficult to obliterate. During the pandemic, one should use disposable paper napkins if required and completely withdraw the cloth ones. It has become a norm to keep a paper napkin along with a cloth one. Table etiquette demands that you do not even touch the starched white napkin. Use the disposable one leaving the cloth one unsoiled. During this time of infection, showing off table layout is not as important as keeping oneself safe, so do away with cloth napkins.

Limit the numbers you entertain 

Do not entertain more than 4-6 people (depending on the size of your living area) inside your house. As far as possible, entertain in the open—your lawn or balcony—but if indoors, ensure that at least everyone is seated 4-6 feet apart. Invariably, we maintain good social distance practices, and please forgo the photo! To fit everyone in one frame, we break the rule and invariably this is the time we talk/laugh the most in close proximity. A picture on Facebook is avoidable at this stage.

Abide and don’t complain

A lot of exploration and analysis goes into the matter before certain restrictions are imposed. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Abide. It is easy to protest or grumble. Do it only if you have something constructive to contribute. Wear a mask if required, a double mask if needed. Wear it the way it is meant to be worn, covering your nose and mouth. Don’t just wear it on your chin. You are not doing a favor to the authorities but a service to yourself and your self-preservation. 

After receiving the first shot of the vaccine, people thought they had won the battle and defeated the virus. Even after repeated announcements by health officials appealing to people to not drop their guard, you could see bazaars full of people, liquor shops overflowing with masses, large wedding celebrations, religious and political gatherings. The result was the surge of the second spike of Covid, far more dangerous than the first one.

Sneeze in your sleeve

Make small changes in your everyday habits, like sneezing into your sleeve.

Open doors with care

Open doors with your elbow, or while holding a sanitizer tissue or regular tissue.

Care in elevators

Carry toothpicks or tissues to press elevator buttons. These do not require a lot of space and can be easily disposed of, after use. 

Poonam Kirpal practicing prayanam in her home (Image provided by Author)
Poonam Kirpal practicing prayanam in her home (Image provided by Author)

Practice healthy habits

Starting the day with Prayanam or breathing exercises, some stretching, yoga or a brisk walk keeps you rejuvenated for the whole day. Pushing them off for later in the day can sometimes make it difficult to get to. Best to get done with them in the morning when you have more control over your time. These practices, especially yoga which originated in India 5,000 years ago, is becoming a la mode in the western world. 

A full night’s sleep is a must for a healthy body

In the days gone by, we rose with the twittering of the birds and retired at dusk like them. Several studies attribute issues like the risk of a recurrent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, leading to serious health issues including death to lack of sleep. During the pandemic, a lot of us were forced back into this tradition not out of choice but for the lack of opportunity to stay awake. With all theatres, restaurants, nightclubs, discos, pubs, and casinos shut, it was enforced confinement.

Once you get a good night’s sleep, you feel rested and calm in the day. It becomes addictive and besides your beauty sleep will keep your dark circles, puffy eyes, and headaches at bay. Soon you’ll be a slave to this miracle health mantra. Besides, it keeps stress levels low, thereby keeping immunity high. Something that’s a need of the hour these days!

Consume a lot of water

I remember as children gulping gallons and gallons of liquids, especially in the summer. There was always whey water (lassi), nimbu pani, bhel juice, aam panna, jal jeera and many colored drinks like kewra (yellow), khuskhus (green), rose (red), all made at home and roohafza, which we had with water or milk. Even if one had one drink of each, our daily hydration requirement was met. 

Over the years, these natural flavors got replaced by fizzy soda drinks like Coke and Pepsi, which have their own set of adverse effects on health. They were almost addictive and took over the entire beverage industry. Also, with the excessive use of air conditioning and intolerance of heat, people tend to stay indoors and the need for hydration reduces considerably. Just drinking water when the body doesn’t seem to need it seems silly and actually one forgets to drink water. It happens to me often and my kids keep reminding me to drink water.

Water plays a very important role in our body. It takes nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes bacteria from our bladder, aids in digestion, prevents constipation, normalizes blood pressure, and protects our joints and tissues. So many virtues by merely drinking a 5-6 glasses of water! Just worth it. Make it a habit, and in no time, your body will start demanding water.

Eat right to build immunity

Indian cuisine is possibly among the most nutritious and balanced. Every meal of dal, sabzi, rice/chapatti, curd, and green salad takes care of our nutritional needs like proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. Masalas and herbs like turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, carom (ajwain), mustard, asafoetida (hing) and use of ginger, coriander, green chilli, tomato, garlic, onion and desi ghee that go into preparing our normal everyday food add not only a lot of flavor but also boost immunity thanks to each spice’s medicinal value. Having said this, it’s always nice to experiment with something different every now and then. 

Eating out/ordering food at home should not be a norm but a diversion. Eat healthy, remain healthy. The fast food/junk food culture that we have adopted from the west makes life easy but sooner or later we will pay a price for it. 

See symptoms and act fast!

If you experience even bourgeoning Covid symptoms, do something about it immediately. Isolate and get tested. If you test positive, announce it in your community. There are people who can help if you share your predicament. Take active steps to deal with the situation. To protect yourself and your loved ones, maintain an uncompromising quarantine for 14 days. Put in all your energies to overcome your situation by doing the right things. Exercise to keep the oxygen level high and take paracetamol for keeping the temperature in control. If anything goes out of control, consult a doctor for further action. 

Watch your nutrition

Always, but especially during this time, take nourishing food. Often your sense of taste and smell is compromised thanks to the virus. As a result, food is unappetizing. This should not be an excuse not to eat. Do eat enough food to build immunity and get energy for the body to fight the virus.

Become as self-reliant as can be

I contacted the virus and was isolated for a fortnight. During this time, I was washing my own utensils, cleaning my bathroom, and washing my own clothes. After the first couple of days, I used to look forward to this monotonous routine. I realized my bathroom looked cleaner than before and my clothes washed by me had a sparkle that was previously missing. The whites looked whiter and the colored clothes got their gleam back. 

In those 15 days, I wanted to run through my entire wardrobe to bring back the luster into my drab clothes. It’s very easy to slip back into the complacency of throwing all the clothes into the washing machine or ignoring a few lapses in cleanliness. But I resolved to look into some matters actively and taking action personally once my quarantine was over. It gives you a feeling of empowerment and self-reliance. 

Ignore vaccine-related rumors

We have waited for the vaccine for a year, so why the vaccine hesitancy? Hearsay is misleading. Believe in scientists who provide research and scientific proofs in front of you. If required, certainly go for medication or any other medical intervention. But don’t solely rely on home remedies. 

Stay occupied

It is very important to keep yourself suitably occupied instead of only watching the news that can be misleading and anxiety-inducing. However, keep yourself updated on the current scenario through authentic news. You can divide your time doing things you enjoy. Read, catch a film on Netflix, hear music, meditate, or pursue spiritual/religious activities if it gives you peace. You can also get crafty – tatting, knitting, crochet, painting, writing or embroidering, have their therapeutic merits. 

Verify social media news

It’s critical to verify the news that you circulate within your friend’s circle via WhatsApp or any other media to avoid the spread of misinformation and falling prey to it.

Wash away!

Besides following a routine of washing personal effects, it should be a norm for everyone irrespective of whether you have contracted the virus or not to always wash your mask or handkerchief oneself. Mask sanitation should be personalized. Even children should be encouraged to do that.

Wear a mask all the time

Mask wearing at all times, even at home when you are together should be followed. Wear a double mask when stepping out of the house. 

Self-groom

Learn to groom yourself instead of depending on beauty salons for pedicures, manicures, massages, threading, head massages, facials, and haircuts.

Spend less time with gadgets & electronics

Instead nurture family bonds, revel in the sounds and beauty of nature around us. During this pandemic, a lot of people have lost their dear ones. One hopes one had spent better time with them. Don’t miss this opportunity to re-establish these bonds. Over the last year, a lot of people have posted pictures of their gardens, blossoms on trees, and the changing skies. I personally enjoy the sunrises and sunsets a lot more than ever before.

Model!

Instill a sense of discipline in your children and other family members by becoming a role model.

With that said. In a strange way, perhaps the pandemic came to heal the world and its people living on the planet through harsh but valuable lessons. Human beings have plundered the earth, abused nature, oppressed our natural resources, victimized wild and marine life, and overburdened the atmosphere with toxic pollutants. The losses that we have incurred are difficult to obliterate, the lessons we have learned are difficult to ignore. The values that we overlooked need to be reinstated. Let it be a lesson for a lifetime, and not disregard it once the crisis is over.

Let us be the change we want to see.


Poonam Kirpal is a Post Graduate in Child Development from Delhi University.  A freelance counselor, she has three books to her credit: ‘Fast Forward’, ‘Saccharine and a Lot of Spice’, ‘Amma’ and ‘Ma + Ma = Grandma’. You can read her blog at www.midlifeuphoria.blogspot.in


 

India's External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar

From Survival to Revival: Does India Have A Plan?

The world is watching India as it battles a debilitating second wave of Covid-19. How did the pandemic turn the tables on India? How did India go overnight from exporting vaccines to importing them? How will this lethal second wave affect India’s economic growth? What about the status of India’s relations with China? And what is the future for UK India relations following the recent Virtual Summit between Prime Ministers Modi and Boris Johnson?

These were just some of the burning questions that attendees from all over the world posted into the chatbox as India Inc. hosted another high-profile edition of its Global Dialogue Series with Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister.

In an exclusive and candid, hour-long discussion with our Chairman & CEO, Manoj Ladwa, Dr. Jaishankar tackled the tough questions facing India and the world today.

Here are some of the key take-aways:

  • On India’s Covid-19 crisis, Dr. Jaishankar stated, “That with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say we shouldn’t have allowed gatherings of any kind. But there are times when we need to pull up our socks and put the blame game aside.”
  • The Foreign Minister also praised India’s vaccine production, hailing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as a “truly international collaboration”.
  • Dr. Jaishankar admitted that the pandemic had laid bare serious shortcomings in India’s healthcare infrastructure while arguing that it had been under-invested for over 75 years. “This was one of the key reasons for Prime Minister Narendra Modi propagating the Ayushman Bharat initiative,” he countered.
  • India’s Vaccine Maitri program which garnered global recognition and praise has now come in for sharp criticism. Dr. Jaishankar, however, pointed out that “this step of friendship and goodwill from India has now manifested into global solidarity towards it, in its hour of need.”
  • On China, the Minister stated that he was open towards finding a resolution but cautioned that there must be de-escalation at the border. “We can’t have bloodshed on the border and expect good relations in other domains,” he said firmly.
  • The Minister also emphasized the need for more manufacturing security in India, both economically and as part of health security, calling Atmanirbhar Bharat a part of “national security.”
  • On India UK ties, Dr. Jaishankar commented that the “two countries are at an ‘inflection point’ in their relations.”
  • Movement of people has always been one of the core features in the India UK relationship. Towards this, the Minister highlighted the agreement he signed yesterday with the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel that “would encourage more Indian talent to come to the UK and make visa processes easier.”


Manoj Ladwa is the Founder & CEO of India Inc. Group.


 

Oxygen Cylinders being sent to India (Image from the Office of Gavin Newsom)

California Governor Gavin Newsom Sends Aid to India

Governor Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that California will send lifesaving oxygen equipment to India as that country faces a devastating and fast-spreading surge of COVID-19 cases.

“When communities across the world need help, California steps up. As we surpass 28 million vaccinations and continue to see the lowest positivity rates in the country, we must meet this moment with compassion by aiding those that are hardest hit by this pandemic,” said Governor Newsom. “Everyone deserves quality medical treatment against this terrible disease, and California will answer the call and provide aid to the people of India who so desperately need it.”

Specifically, California will send the following supplies:

• 275 Oxygen Concentrators. Concentrates the oxygen from a gas supply by selectively removing nitrogen to supply an oxygen-enriched product gas stream. These units are capable of producing 10 liters per minute of oxygen supplied directly to patients via a mask.
• 440 Oxygen Cylinders. These are large metal cylinders designed to store oxygen that are used for both hospital and at-home use.
• 240 Oxygen Regulators. The high-flow oxygen regulators for H tanks are used to adjust and control the rate of oxygen flow. These devices provide for greater efficiency in the rate at which oxygen is delivered to patients.
• 210 Pulse Oximeters. Small sensors generally clipped to the finger, toe or ear lobe that measure the oxygen saturation within an individual’s blood to determine whether they are getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream.
• 1 Deployable Oxygen Concentrator Systems (DOCS). Capable of producing 120 liters per minute of oxygen and is generally used to fill large cylinders.

The distribution of these lifesaving supplies is being coordinated through the U.S. Agency for International Development and will be provided directly to health care providers and front-line workers. India reported nearly 350,000 new cases on Sunday, the largest single-day total of cases ever recorded by a single country. California’s contributions come as part of a wider effort by the United States to fight the spread of COVID-19 in India. On Sunday, the Biden Administration pledged to provide more medical aid to the country, including raw materials for vaccine production, test kits, ventilators, and PPE. The supplies being sent to India are now being tested, packed and prepared for shipment at state warehouse facilities and are expected to be flown out as soon as tomorrow.

California is in a position to distribute these lifesaving supplies because of the early, aggressive actions that Governor Newsom to combat COVID-19, which has resulted in the lowest positivity rates in the entire country and more than 28 million vaccines already having been administered in California. Even while providing these needed supplies to India, California still maintains a robust state stockpile to rapidly respond to any additional outbreaks that may occur within the state. Previously, Governor Newsom loaned ventilators to Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and Delaware and also sent millions of items of PPE to neighboring states along the West Coast.


Gavin Newsom is the Governor of California, formerly Lieutenant Governor of California, and Mayor of San Francisco. Governor Newsom is married to Jennifer Siebel Newsom. They have four children: Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, and Dutch. Newsom has been a pioneer on same-sex marriage, gun safety, marijuana, the death penalty, universal health care, access to preschool, technology, criminal justice reform, and the minimum wage, which has led to sweeping changes when his policies were ultimately accepted, embraced, and replicated across the state and nation.


 

Dharmic Environmentalism

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

The environment is a universal concern.

Universal environmentalism, however, is myopic, monopolistic, and hegemonic. It overlooks native and Indigenous solutions and, as such, is a recipe for disaster. 

We all relate to our surroundings differently. Present-day environmentalism, however, is based on the Western anthropocentric approach. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, anthropocentrism as a religious and philosophical doctrine holds that “human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”

The destruction of ancient paganism was a turning point in environmentalism. Before the advent of Christianity, both as a religion and as a political power, there was no distinction between nature and the divine in the widespread pagan societies. Pagans believed in God’s transcendence in the elements of nature. The notion of the ‘sacred grove,’ however, is an alien concept in the West. Moreover, Marxism, Liberalism, neoliberalism, etc., too are an extension of the same anthropocentric ideology. They regard humankind as central and the most important in the world. 

What is considered modern and scientific in our day-to-day lives today, is based primarily on Christian theology. Implicit faith in perpetual progress dominates our lifestyle, our habits of action, and our planning for the future. Man’s destiny, within this paradigm, is to be hopeful of a future affected by science, technology, a promise of more progress, and doomsday prophecies. 

Modern technology too ends up being a means to an end. As the attitude and the will to exert dominion over nature becomes all the more urgent, the more technology threatens to slip from human control. We end up empowering our political class as they promise to make things better with newer progressive technologies as well as with catchy phrases and slogans.

Such thinking was unknown either to the pagan Greco-Roman antiquity or to the indigenous civilizations of what came to be known as the Orient. Indigenous care for nature goes much beyond the shrill of environmentalism. Such care is deeply rooted in culture, “religion,” and spiritualism. Native cultures, such as Hinduism, have a long history of living in harmony with their surroundings. They are mindful of ecological limits, constraints, and boundaries of nature and do not take from nature more than what is needed. There is an element of reverence towards the earth and other elements of nature that guides them. Native cultures have developed a complex system of using and preserving the ecology. Native American communities’ use of low-intensity controlled burns, regenerative harvesting, etc are examples of native environmentalism. 

Bishnoi Woman (Image from Permaculture News)

As for Hindus, much before any modern-day environmental protocol was ever signed, it is the Bhoomisuktam (hymn of the Mother Earth) of the Atharva Veda that provides a framework for environmentalism. Composed more than 3,000 years ago, Bhoomisuktam is considered the oldest environmental protocol. The Sukta is composed of 63 verses. These verses provide a framework of understanding as well as respecting Mother Earth and her environment. The Sukta recognizes the Earth for all her gifts such as plants and herbs; rivers and cultivable land for food; and animals for milk, honey, etc. But going a step further, the invoker of the verses declares that despite availing all those boons, he does not intend to hurt Mother Earth in any manner whatsoever. The Sukta gives to Mother Earth an assurance of rational utilization of her resources. 

Much of our interaction with the elements of nature, according to Hinduism, is guided by Dharma: the rules of ethical behavior. Such behaviors are guided not by rights, but by obligations. Pankaj Jain in his book Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities describes three communities in India that have actively and consciously worked to preserve and protect the environment as part of their cultural and religious ideology. Those communities include the Swadhyayis, Bishnois, and Bhils.

The Swadhyayis disavow environmentalism. Their mission is “to generate and spread reverence for humans, animals, trees, earth, nature, and the entire universe in general.”

Similarly, the Bishnoi community was founded by a 15th century Guru Jambheshwara who spread the teachings of conservation and living in harmony with nature. Bhils, on the other hand, have protected their sacred groves for generations. 

According to Indic environmentalist and the author of the book Good News India, DV Sridharan, “one doesn’t restore nature, one just keeps a vigil against interruption of Nature’s relentless act of creating the fair and rightful balance.” Hindus believe that when the imbalance reaches a critical point and equilibrium is broken beyond redemption, an avatār ‘unburdens’ the Earth.

Unless the ecological concerns do not empower individuals and communities worldwide to find their indigenous solutions at a more local level, the answer to such concerns will always evade us.


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

Quilting: PreVedic Folk Art Woven from Saris

I stood outside the Deaf Initiative’s Keepsake Theme Quilts Center in Columbus on a mildly cold September morning. I was in the city attending the India Youth Advocacy & Disability Program under Columbus International Program (CIP). The name Keepsake Theme Quilts Center (KTQ) caught my attention because India also has a living tradition of quilt-making craft dating back 4,000 years. 

Meredith Crane, the super energetic Director of KTQ took us around and introduced us to the staff who were hearing impaired. Their Office Assistant Shonna took us through a brief presentation in sign language which was interpreted for us by volunteer interpreter Jessica.   

The Quiling Team at Keepsake Theme Quilts Center

This unique, personalized quilt-making center specializes in customized T-shirt quilts. We saw one such quilt in the making where T-shirts of various members of a family were cut into equal-sized pieces, then bound and stitched into a beautiful Memory Quilt. On another table, themed T-shirt logos were tacked and pinned to soft flannel fabric in preparation for a birthday present for a customer’s granddaughter. We assisted with the creative process – it was the most enjoyable activity of our program. 

T-Shirt Quilts

Keepsake Theme Quilts reminded me of the quilt-making culture in our country – one of the oldest forms of embroidery whose origins can be traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages. In India, different states produce different varieties of quilt –Koudis in Karnataka, Kanthas in Bengal and Odissa, Sujnis in Bihar, Ledras in Jharkhand, Gudris in Rajasthan, and the Goa quilts, to name a few. Unlike quilts from other parts of the world, Indian quilts are always created from old, discarded clothes. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ , reflecting the fact that kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments or clothes. Old saris, dhotis, and lungis are sewn into layers, first by simple running stitches along the edge and then all across the body. Heavier and warmer quilts use three to four layers of saris sewn together and encased in colorful sari borders. Traditionally, the thread used for stitching comes from the heavily threaded borders of the sari itself. 

Quiltmaking is one of the earliest forms of recycling. 

For centuries, embroidered quilts (kantha)were made in rural Bengal by Hindus and Muslims alike and initially only used by mendicants and fakirs. Much later they became an integral part of the art of Indian textiles.

Indian quilt stitching patterns are a simple but colorful patchwork of printed cloth or intricate designs and motifs.  Early kantha embroidery included motifs derived from ancient art, reflecting nature – the sun, the tree of life, and the universe. Symbols also included flowers, animals, birds, fish, themes of everyday life and geometrical shapes.

The Kanthas (according to expert sources) reflect India’s artistic textile heritage, and served primarily as light wraps, and in Bengal, small kanthas were traditionally used as swaddling cloths for babies. Bengal kanthas range from Lep kanthas (winter quilts) and Sujni kanthas (spreads and coverlets) to the Asan (a spread for sitting), the Bastani or Gatri (a wrapper for clothes and other valuables), the Arshilata (cover for mirrors), the Dastarkhan (a spread for placing food and plates during dinner), the Gilaf (an envelope-shaped kantha to cover the Quran) and the Jainamaz (prayer rug). 

In Karnataka, some interesting customs accompany the completion of a quilt. A quilt is considered a living entity that should not be left hungry, so quilters feed the ‘mouth’ of the quilt a little cooked rice or roti before it’s sealed. Another custom says a pregnant woman should not complete it otherwise her womb will close as well. 

Today, it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this beautiful folk art, even though quilts have grown in popularity and commercial value.  There is a dearth of used materials like saris and dhotis as these soft, flowing clothes have been replaced today by western outfits which can’t be reused to make kanthas. The newer fabrics have a different look, feel, and character. Furthermore, today’s fast-paced life makes it impossible to dedicate the time required for quilt embroidery. Rural housewives in West Bengal played a significant part in the evolution of kantha embroidery. It was customary for them to use the typical running stitch and embroidery techniques to create quilts for their families, as well as embroider personal fabrics and garments such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs with the simple, traditional kantha stitch. 

For centuries, the techniques of this hereditary craft were passed down from mother to daughter. With the advance of technology, the long days of quilt making by the women of the house during leisure hours or lazy monsoon months are gone. Now organized industries and NGOs hire women to make kanthas and earn their living. It is no longer based on personal involvement or individual artistry but a mechanized job of stitching given designs. In modern lifestyles old fashioned quilts have lost their use. Rugs have replaced sujnis, factory produced sheets adorn our beds instead of kantha spreads, readymade machine quilts replace handmade quilts, new shawls are preferred to old sari based kanthas and diapers have replaced the old-time swaddling cloth of babies. 

It is unfortunate that some quilting genres such as balaposh and the more intricate kanthas of Bengal are already vanishing. NGOs are stepping in to preserve this folk art form through revitalization movements, sometimes with State and Central government aid.

In my opinion, the changing lifestyle that caused the disappearance of quilt making has also led to depriving society of its benefits. The concentration and contemplation that goes into the harmonization of color, design and execution of each quilt is similar to that of a spiritual exercise and thus has a therapeutic effect on its maker. The warmth and joy of the quiltmakers get transferred through each seam into their creations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these products are warmer and cozier than other quilts!


Anjana Chattopadhyay is a freelance Translator, Journalist, and Social Worker. Anjana runs her own NGO – Metta Foundation. She has authored two books in Bengali and also is a Member of the Council of International Programs (CIPUSA), an international social workers’ organization. Anjana loves to travel, exploring new places, new people, and new cultures. She lives in Kolkata.

Indian Kitchen Secrets That Boost Your Health

It is not an understatement to say that along with words like quarantine and lockdown, immunity was also one of 2020’s buzz words.  Immunity simply means protection and in the context of the human body, refers to its capacity to fight infections by resisting the action of ‘foreign’ bodies or toxins, thereby protecting the body.  

Immunity is built over a period of time through lifestyle and dietary changes.  Nourishing your body with the right foods, exercising, keeping your mind stress free and getting enough sleep, are just some of the ways you can help keep your body healthy and strong.

Indian Kitchen: a treasure house for immunity boosting foods

There are several foods that help build immunity in the body and with seasonal changes around the corner, it is important to include them in your diet to keep protected against colds, coughs and minor infections of the throat.  

Citrus fruits, whole nuts, leafy greens and fermented foods like yogurt work wonders in nourishing the immune system. 

It’s no secret that the Indian kitchen is replete with foods that boost immunity.  The Indian pantry is full of indigenous ingredients used for centuries to keep the body nourished and healthy.  Traditional recipes, basically the ones grandma always recommended – “haldi doodh” (popularly called turmeric latte in the west), dry fruit ladoos made from ghee, or even the amala (gooseberry) candies you pop into your mouth to fight nausea, are some of the commonly known home remedies to boost internal health.  

While the benefits of pepper, ginger, garlic and turmeric are well known, other commonly used ingredients like cinnamon, cumin, honey, and jaggery also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties that help keep the body healthy.    

Here’s a look at the benefits of these spices:

  • Cinnamon: a delectable spice we are all familiar with, cinnamon is highly effective against bacterial and fungal infections and is known to have positive effects on heart health as well as blood sugar levels.
  • Coriander seeds (dhania): are rich in vitamin A and C, effective in curing coughs and colds, and also aids digestion.
  • Cumin seeds (jeera): a commonly used spice, jeera has several anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and is known to aid in weight loss as well improve digestive health.
  • Carom (ajwain): is yet another elixir for gut health, flatulence and helps aid weight loss.
  • Fennel seeds (saunf): has several nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, potassium etc. and helps aid digestion.
  • Jaggery is rich in minerals like iron and zinc and is a good source of energy.  It is a blood purifier, cleanses the body and is excellent for liver and intestinal health.
  • Honey has healing properties and is a good source of antioxidants apart from having positive effects on cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  It is used to heal coughs, colds and sore throats and builds immunity.

Here are some home remedies that are effective in protecting your body against common ailments.

Home-made mixture for cough, cold and sore throat

  • Ginger powder: 1 tbsp or 2 tbsp freshly extracted ginger juice
  • Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1 tsp
  • Pepper: 1 tsp
  • Honey: 2-3 tbsp
  • Mix the above powders thoroughly and then add honey.  Mix well.  Consume 2-3 times a day.

Home-made Kashayam (herbal tea) that helps build immunity

Dry roast the below ingredients and blend into a fine powder:

  • Coriander seeds: 2 tbsp
  • Jeera seeds: 1 tbsp
  • Fennel seeds: 2 tsp
  • Carom seeds: 2 tsp
  • Peppercorns: 1 tsp

You can increase the quantities and store the powder in an airtight jar.

Take 2 tsp of Kashayam, add it to a glass of hot milk.  Add 1-2 tsp of jaggery per your taste and consume hot. This Kashayam is a perfect panacea if you are down with body ache, sore throat or slight temperature.  

Herbal teas to prepare at home using greens that are a powerhouse of nutrients.

  • Lemon grass: replete with antioxidants, this fragrant shrub has eugenol which is a stress reliever.  It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and is rich in vitamin A, C and potassium.
  • Rosemary: again, an excellent herb known for its aromatic flavor, rosemary is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve blood circulation.  Excellent for the skin and hair, it is also a great stress reliever and helps improve one’s mood.
  • Brahmi: known as the herb of grace, brahmi is intrinsic to all Ayurvedic medicines and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  Apart from being good for the hair and skin, it is a memory booster, effective for reducing fever and is known for its positive effects on patients suffering from diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

For preparing the tea, just brew 3-4 leaves of brahmi (or 1 small strand of Lemon grass or 1 sprig in case of rosemary) in water for about five minutes.  You can add a tsp of pepper, elaichi powder and some jaggery (or honey) for taste.  Mix well and drink when hot.  

Natural mixture for inhalation

Nothing compares to the relief rendered by a quick steam inhalation when you are down with a flu, stuffy nose or headache.  Consider using some ingredients mentioned above to prepare a healthy mix for inhalation.  Take a thick bottom vessel, add sufficient water and add in a tsp of turmeric powder along with one or more of any of the following ingredients:

  • 2-3 used lemon peels left over after extracting the juice
  • Peel of half an orange 
  • Peel of a small piece of ginger 
  • 3-4 strands of lemon grass
  • a sprig of rosemary

Boil the water thoroughly, cover your head with a towel  and inhale for at least 2 minutes. 


Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She mainly writes on lifestyle, culture, food, and decor. She has been published in Indian national newspapers and international publications like NatGeo Traveller.
Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash
Photo by Marion Botella on Unsplash

Shikara – The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pundits

A movie about Kashmir is a natural magnet for me, since my mother was born and brought up in Srinagar. I’ve grown up listening to her stories of this Shangri-La, where every garden bloomed with apple and cherry trees, and where nature was like a gorgeous and generous mother, her bounty of fruit and flowers overflowing on the bosom of a land crisscrossed by crystalline streams and clear blue lakes.

The exodus of my mother’s side of the family from Kashmir during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 wasn’t considered a permanent separation. Like most Kashmiri refugees at the time, they considered themselves Kashmiris first, and Punjabis, second. They were sure things would settle down, treaties would be signed, a peace accord reached, and they would be able to return to their homes, and their beloved Kashmir.

Shikara is a movie about the flight of Kashmiri Pandits to India in the early 1990’s. The same journey my mother’s family had undertaken in 1947 was repeating itself with a different population in 1990, but with a similar, sadly predictable ending – no one gets to go back once a land is dipped in the bloodletting hatred of communalism.

Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan in Shikara

The movie begins in the late 1980’s when unrest is beginning to heat up. The two newcomers who play the lead, Aadil Khan and Sadia Khateeb, are a delightful, romantic pair, and the movie diffuses the brutal, bloody violence of strife between Hindus and Muslims through the soft prism of their young, idealistic love.  Aadil Khan plays Shiv Kumar Dhar, who falls in love with Shanti (Khateeb) after accidentally being paired with her as an extra during a movie shoot in Srinagar. 

This thread of an eternal love story which survives the cruelties and trauma of communal violence by clinging fiercely to each other is one frame of the movie. The other frame is the thousands of letters, one every day, that Shiv writes to the President of America to plead for help when they become stateless refugees. 

In the first half we see the innocence and beauty of an era where Shiv’s best friend, Lateef Lone (Zain Khan Durrani) is the messenger who carries Shiv’s declaration of infatuation to Shanti. Their wedding is simple, involving immediate friends and family and Shiv insists on including Lateef and his father (whom he calls Abbajaan) in his family wedding photo. We see the young couple endearingly in love, finding the perfect place to build their own house, and Lateef’s father bringing stones for the foundation of their future home from his own land. Hindu or Muslim, they are Kashmiri’s first. 

Shiv is a dreamy poet who’s working on his PHD in Literature and plans to teach, while Shanti is content being a housewife and doting on him. Their little piece of paradise is shattered by the death of Lateef’s father, Abbajaan, in one of those ‘unfortunate incidents’ which are all too common in Kashmir – a trigger happy government force fires on a peaceful protest. This trauma turns Lateef into a terrorist, determined to exact revenge for his father’s death, and aligned with the cause of the Mujahedeen who want to make Kashmir an all Islamic state.

The movie tries to depict both sides of this thorny issue, but the weight of suffering is clearly on the Kashmiri Pandit end. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to bring balance by depicting both the ‘good’ Muslim neighbors (who help the Dhars escape when violence escalates) and the ‘bad’ ones (their doodhwaala who openly eyes their house, informing Shanti that he plans to move in when they leave, and then enters and squats illegally once they’re gone). But we are clearly primed to sympathize with the minority Pandits and their burning homes. 

The movie has some very poignant, cinematic moments which capture the pain of forced displacement – the exodus in crowded, overladen buses and cars which jams the highway to Jammu; an old man at the Jammu refugee camp crying incessantly that he wants to go back to his home in Srinagar; and incident when a truck, laden with tomatoes to distribute to the refugees, makes the state of beggary they have been reduced to painfully clear to Shiv and Shanti.

However, Shiv and Shanti’s idyllic love story, which is the prism through which we view the movie, has the reverse effect of diluting its primary message – the loss of dignity and trauma, the displaced feel, and the government’s apathy to the plight of permanent refugees; their helplessness in the face of the political forces twisting an individual’s destiny. It romanticizes and simplifies the experience of becoming a refugee refuge by creating a dream like quality to the narrative, especially in the second half.

The narrative also leaves gaping holes in the story, which beg for answers: 

Why have these refugee camps become permanent? How and where did most of those who decide to leave the camp resettle? How culpable were the Indian forces in stoking anti-India hatred by their excesses. What about Pakistan’s involvement in creating terrorism? Chopra doesn’t address any of these issues throbbing in the foreground of Shiv and Shanti’s invincible love story.

Shikara is an enjoyable, melancholy love story, which doesn’t ask any gritty questions or deliver thoughtful answers—it deals with emotions, but in a sanitized, over romanticized way. Aadil Khan and Sadia carry it on the backs of their excellent performances, and obvious chemistry. It’s watchable, but not memorable.

I would give it two and half stars. Four stars for the actors! Now on Amazon Prime.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

“Often Our Communities Are Pitted Against Each Other” says Manjusha Kulkarni of A3PCON

A rash of hate incidents against Asian Americans is spreading like a virus since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On March 16, eight people were shot and killed at three Atlanta area spas amid growing fears nationwide of anti-Asian bias. Six of the victims were Asian women.

Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.

Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.

The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors)  amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”

At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.

“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,”  declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.

STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).

According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.

In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.

The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while  Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.

The effect on the Asian American community is significant, said Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, referring to a Harris poll that showed three-quarters (75%) of Asian Americans  increasingly fear discrimination related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.

“The surge in violence is creating an atmosphere of  tremendous fear,” noted Cynthia  Choi, Co-Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and co-creator of Stop AAPI Hate.

Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.

Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.

Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.

“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.

Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’

“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.

AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.

“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”

So how is the nation addressing this issue?

“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.

A number of AAPI organizations, including  OCANational Council of Asian Pacific AmericansChinese for Affirmative Action, and Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, have joined forces to unanimously condemn anti-Asian hate crimes. Several civil rights advocacy groups – Chinese for Affirmative Action, SAALT, and A3PCON, offer in language links on their websites, to report hate incidents.

At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.

“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”

Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division.  “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”

Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Originally published February 24, 2021.