Navratri is a Hindu festival that is celebrated for nine nights and ten days during the Fall season. The lunar calendar determines the timing of the holiday. Navratri is celebrated a few times during the year, but the festival that occurs during the Fall is referred to as Sharad Navratri, which is the most important one. This year, the festivities started on October 17th.
Navratri is usually a time of fasting and reflection for Hindus and is celebrated differently depending on the region of India in which it is celebrated. When fasting during this festival, many Hindus eat a vegetarian diet and avoid alcohol. Hindus honor goddesses by providing offerings. In many parts of India, worshippers celebrate the goddess Durga on the 10th day of the festival. On this final day, we observe Dussehra, when Hindus acknowledge Durga’s triumphant victory of good over evil.
This Navratri, I am looking ahead to this year’s presidential election. As an Indian-American, it is important for us to recognize candidates that have consistently defended our values and will understand the rich diversity that Indian-Americans and Americans from various backgrounds, bring to this country. Vice President Joe Biden has a distinguished track record as a public servant. As a Senator, he authored important legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, and had the crucial role of serving as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden also exemplified an excellent track record as Vice President during the Obama Administration when he helped America through a crippling recession and successfully led the federal government’s response to the Ebola pandemic.
Biden is the right person to lead America during this uniquely difficult time in our nation’s history. He has a plan to help millions of Americans obtain affordable healthcare. For our youth, he has a plan for people to obtain a quality education by investing in schools and making college more affordable. He is determined to help communities recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19 instead of just giving away taxpayer money to billionaires. Biden also has a vision for clean energy and environmental justice. Most importantly, his leadership is respected worldwide and I believe that as the next President of the United States, he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of this nation to build on our democracy and strengthen world alliances.
This year at the voting booth, let’s show the world that just like in the festival of Navratri, “Goodwill always triumphs.”
Meenu Khanna is a proud New Yorker and active volunteer in Democratic politics. She immigrated from India more than 30 years ago and after becoming a U.S. citizen, she cast her first vote for then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2007 Presidential Primaries.
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.
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.
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
We gave up cable TV over seven years ago and thanks to sites like Netflix, Amazon Video, and HBO Go, we haven’t missed it at all. But, the real treat that resulted from cutting the cord is that it pushed me to seek information and entertainment on sites such as Youtube and Vimeo.
As I am sure most people know, Youtube is a universe of an endless variety of shows, shows that cater to the most niche of interests.
For example, my son sent me a link to Primitive Technology, where a man who builds small structures using only the tools and materials that would have been available in pre-industrial times.
A friend sent me a link to Grandpa Kitchen, a channel of a man in South India who, seemingly single-handedly, cooks food outdoors on a massive scale, and feeds disadvantaged kids. As she put it, “He is so cute… his wrinkles have wrinkles!”
Watching these and other videos provides a mental health break, a creativity inspiration boost, and pure entertainment. Even if I cannot do any of these things, it feels good to know that such creative people exist and also that the technology exists to make it available to me for free (or for the price of internet connectivity). Indeed, I would go so far as to say that at a time when the news is filled with grievances and acrimony, which in turn lead to feelings of helplessness or cynicism, videos such as these as well as their easy availability offer a sense of hope and possibility.
Sometimes I need a culture or nostalgia fix–something that is as familiar and comfortable as a walk in the old neighborhood. The collection on Youtube is vast and I wouldn’t presume to offer a comprehensive survey or even a “best of” list. However, I have found some videos and channels that I recommend repeatedly to friends and acquaintances. So, I am doing the same for the India Currents community.
Old Bollywood songs: remixes, re-recordings, new voices
S. Qasim Hasan Zaidi: A Pakistani professor of engineering and an accomplished musician, his channel has videos of him playing and singing old Bollywood songs.
Mayuri: Russian performers who love Indian dance and practice it with uncommon grace. I especially like their rendering of “mera naam chin chin chu” and “na moonh chhupake jio.”
Within India, a great revival of old hits appears to be in vogue. Pran Katariya’s channelfeatures many accomplished singers, among them Anil Bajpai and Sangita Melekar. Similar groups have sprung up in many Indian towns and cities.
Aam Aadmi Family is like Everybody Loves Raymond, but set in contemporary India and featuring quintessentially Indian situations. It features the middle-class Sharma family consisting of the parents, their two young adult children and Mr. Sharma’s elderly mother. What makes this show remarkable is that the situations are completely believable and the characters are as likeable as the people from one’s old neighborhood. This, even while the show breaks down stereotypes through its gentle sense of humor.
So, for example, the grandmother is not orthodox at all and is completely up on the latest lingo used in texting and other apps. The daughter breaks up with her boyfriend and upends the “girl-viewing” ceremony. The grandmother never misses an opportunity to gently jab at her daughter-in-law. These and similar situations are presented with a quirky and light touch. And then, of course, there are the quintessential Indian situations such as the ever-present, well-meaning neighbor, and the relatives and friends who drop in unannounced for tea. For me, watching an episode of Aam Aadmi Family is like a quick 20-minute trip to India without leaving my house.
The show is truly innovative when it comes to its ad model. Each episode has a passing mention of a product or service, such as a mutual fund or diabetes-friendly oil. The advertisers deserve credit for sponsoring such creative and enjoyable shows and for delivering their message in a refreshingly subtle way.
Another show that revolves around Indian family life, but pushes the envelope in doing so is “Permanent Roommates.” It features Mikesh and Tanya who have had a long distance relationship for several years. When the series opens, they have moved in together and Tanya is pregnant. Alternating between serious and funny, the series offers a what-if and believable depiction of situations that would have been unthinkable a few years ago and are probably unthinkable even today except in a cosmopolitan metro like Mumbai.
As a bonus, here are links to two short films that have very unexpected endings: “Rishtey” and “Jai Mata Di” .
What did you think of the above suggestions? What would you recommend? Do post in the comments. In the meantime, happy watching!
Desi Roots, Global Wings – This is a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience
Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu.