Tag Archives: Kids

Educational Challenge For Kids – Win Cash Prizes!

Towards the end of the year 2016, I started searching for things that looked like the symbol in nature and in manmade structures. As you may already know,, which is pronounced “Om”, is a very sacred symbol for Hindus.

Initially, I did not find anything natural or manmade that looked like , but my search trained my eyes to recognize other patterns that looked like art. As I walked on paved surfaces, I started noticing art-like patterns in areas that looked a bit dirty, the kind of areas that people normally walk around or unintentionally step on and keep walking. Using the camera in my smartphone, I started taking pictures of these art-like patterns and started showing the images to people I knew.

The collection of photos that I called “Art That People Step On”, because people tend to step on these art-like patterns while walking, started to grow and I was able to exhibit some of the photos in four solo exhibitions. My photos have also been displayed in some juried group exhibitions so far. 

 In the month of February, on a particular day, many people in the United States give and receive greeting cards to express their affection to others who are close to them, such as good friends, relatives, and their teachers.

Do you know what that day is called? Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to show appreciation to those you love. 

In case you are interested, I found the featured image in the photograph on a walkway. To me, it looks like the wear and tear of the paved surface created the image. Does the image look like a heart?

I have a challenge for you:

  1. Find an image in your environment or online that reminds you of the people you love. 
  2. Using crayons or paint and brush, add to and make changes to the image and create a greeting card with your own message. 
  3. Your greeting card can be one-sided or two-sided and can be as small or as big as you want it to be.
  4. If you have the necessary software, you can also create the greeting card on your computer.
  5. Take a picture of the greeting card that you created. Take pictures of both sides if your greeting card is two-sided.
  6. Submit the picture(s) to the challenge via email to editor@indiacurrents.com
  7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, February 28, 2021.
  8. After you submit the picture of your greeting card to the challenge, give it to the person or persons that you like.   

There is no entry fee! Cash prizes will be awarded to winning entries: 

First Prize: US $50 

Second Prize: US $30 

Third Prize: US $20

India Currents Magazine will feature all prize-winning entries and a few other selected entries. Adult supervision is strongly recommended when using scissors or other sharp objects. Have fun, and be creative!


Dr. Mandayam Osuri Thirunarayanan was born in Madras, India. He became a citizen of the United States and currently lives in Miami, Florida.

What If We Don’t Talk About Our Kids?

Lately, there have been many reports about women choosing not to have kids all over the world. Despite the changing times, unfortunately, bearing a child still seems the very definition of womanhood in many sad parts of the world where a woman is deemed “complete” once she “fulfills her purpose of bearing life”. Well, last I checked this is 2020, and isn’t humankind supposed to be more evolved than that by now? 

Before you judge me, let me clarify that I am very much pro-kids and maybe, someday, I’ll have one too. However, I also totally get if someone chooses not to have kids, to each her own.

And yes, it is a choice – some people just don’t want kids

However, this article is not about women choosing not to have kids (you do you, girl!). This article is about those who not only choose to have kids but are also incapable of talking about anything but their kids. This is a real problem. There are online discussions about this with people (including mothers) venting about why some women cannot stop talking about a smiley their kid drew the other day! 

Hold On To Who You Really Are

We all have that one friend whose life circulates around her baby. I understand that having a child is a life-changing event – priorities shift and personalities evolve as we embrace motherhood and learn to parent. But, do we have to completely lose ourselves? Does our life have to be only about the kid’s poop, fart, food, and sleep? 

Women undergo many physical, biological, emotional, and physiological changes in the process of delivering a child. Our appearance, the way people see us, everything changes. I strongly feel that amidst all this, it becomes even more pertinent for us to hold on to who we really are. Women as mothers have been put on these unrealistic pedestals where in some cultures they are treated like Goddesses (I won’t argue that though). However, jokes aside, we are not Goddesses. We are only human and we should have the liberty to freak out, get exhausted, and demand a break when we need, even from being a mum. 

Trust me, I have never met a man who is only capable of talking about his kid. That makes me wonder if the real cause behind this is the deep-rooted heteronormative gender bias in all cultures around the world. The brand of the mother is always associated with care and nurturing while the stud dad goes out and earns a living. Well, this isn’t the 1950s, so women, please chill!

How The Society Is At Fault Here

Sometimes, this can be because of other reasons than just being over-excited about motherhood. If you observe closely, you will see a pattern. First, they obsess over their fathers, then over their husbands and eventually, over their kids. This pattern is alarming because it hints towards a total lack of sense of identity. 

Across many cultures, especially in Asia, a woman’s entire life can be broadly divided into three milestones:

  •     Being a dutiful daughter
  •     Getting married to a fine suitor 
  •     Mothering a child

You must think I don’t know what I am talking about and that this is all ancient news but look around and tell me – is it really? In many parts of China, if women stay unmarried, they are called “leftovers”, and in many parts of India, if women choose to marry someone they love, they are slaughtered in the name of honor killing.

This brings me back to my original point. The fact that some women talk non-stop about their kids is probably because they have been made to believe that their existence on earth is not enough as themselves. They are made to feel that they must latch on to a man or a child whom they serve, care for and nurture to be essential.

I really hope that as we take baby steps towards a more progressive and open world, women are able to feel free and own their identities. 

To those, who just love talking about their kids and disagree, I have only thing to say: “No, I don’t want to know what your child did today. Tell me, what you did.”


Surabhi Pandey, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

 

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

Wooooooosh, a loud exhale, and then a soft inhale. I could hear my young daughter quietly scurry across the hallway calling her brother in hushed tones. Long before I knew it, they both were sitting in the lotus yoga pose, imitating me, with their eyes closed, making those absurd exhale wooshes. Along came a giggle and then another until they fell over laughing holding their tummies, making me laugh out loud while enjoying this strong mother-child bond. 

Motherhood is the noblest of callings and a privilege to be entrusted with a tiny human life. Motherly love is unconditional and is the foundation of a child’s growth. This kind of love helps foster self-confidence and has a long-lasting impact on developing their minds and shaping their conscience.

The role of the mother is to watch, teach, guide, and help in the growth and development of a child. There is an unfathomable, deep, trusting love that connects mother and child.

Motherhood for me is a privilege and an adventure. It is guiding my children to be the best versions of themselves and make good choices. To help them to grow to be kind, confident, caring, and loving. To be their cheerleader, to hold their hand, and at the same time teach them boundaries. Being a mother is ensuring a feeling of safety and love though it sometimes comes with fears, worries, and heartache. Motherhood is a gift to be grateful for and the joy of seeing the wonders through your children’s eyes

Don’t we all come to a realization that “Oh no, I have become my mother.” It is not a bad thing. You start saying some phrases like her and even your expressions take on those of your mothers.  I recall my charming mother who took the time to talk to me about politics, finance, and just about everything. She was full of life and came down to my level of wanting to have fun and a deep bond grew. I am so grateful that she was my guiding light.  I miss and thank you, mom!

You don’t need Mother’s Day to take time to talk with your mom and give her some of your time. We tend to hear about ourselves but do we take time to ask our moms more about themselves? Here are a few questions to help you. 

(i) What’s something you wanted to do but didn’t….why? 

(ii) Who were your role models when you were young and do you have any now?

(iii) Was there a situation that made you see the world differently?

(iv) What was the first year of motherhood like for you?

(v) Describe your perfect day.

Being a mother is a joyous gift, being blessed and also the toughest with its fears and worries. Take heart in the love you receive from your mother…she holds your soul in her heart! 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is also the illustrator of the oil painting used as the featured image. 

Mothering During Shelter in Place

Try entertaining a toddler without shelter in place and you will find yourself exhausted beyond belief at the end of the day. A study has shown that even athletes are unable to keep up with tots. And then try entertaining a toddler with a shelter in place and without external stimulation of friends, playgroups, storytimes, or babysitters involved. The internet is bursting with tips on how to do this. Mothers are looking for outlets to save them, and as a mother, I can vouch for the fact that every mother is asked this question: How can you do this with little ones? To that I say with much thought, as mothers, we can do this because nothing surprises a mother.

For me personally, this time reminds me of my maternity leave. A period where women step into the unknown. I was apprehensive. It was a time when the mind and body were met with unexpected challenges. A time of withdrawal. A time when nothing turned out as it was planned. External stressors such as lack of sleep, learning to care for a new child, and accepting a major life change kept me on my toes. The period lasted way longer than I thought. And even though others had been through it and in that sense it was a collective experience, my journey was my own with its unique set of parts and players. On that lonely ride, I learned to look within for the inner strength that would not only ride me, but catapult me through that time.

Unlike some others facing the general challenges of this time, mothers do not have the time and luxury to binge watch Netflix, or read novels at length or take an online class. Their lives demand action at every moment. But no one is more equipped to do this. Mothers have faced it all. Mothers are always in survival mode and take on a storm because they are always aware of the creeping dangers in the unsettling yet redeeming experience of motherhood. Their instincts to protect their children make them rise to all possibilities. Fear is always on a mother’s mind, she is like an animal keeping guard and ready to fight for her child’s safety.

Anyone who has ever been a mother would agree that mothers are used to not getting what they want. We are used to our lives being run by events and desires outside of ourselves. The universe of children throws curve balls when least expected. Illnesses, accidents, backfired travel plans, failed attempts at showing up at important work presentations, and even more disastrous attempts at working from home! Oh, how could she ever face the day again? And yet she does. Wiser and stronger than ever before, and more in tune with the ebbs and flow of the rhythm of life.

Every mother has gone through some form of deep inner transformation, whether she knows it or not. She knows that even though externally she appears to be in control or has to create her own reigns, that providence is in charge. She is fueled by a power that she digs from within herself. She has all the help and support from God and the universe. And she never takes anything for granted, for she knows the value of freedom and the greater value of bondage. Through this very bondage, she realizes that all things pass and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

As the world faces this challenge, my heart says a deep prayer for all mothers to be during this pandemic. It stands united with all other mothers having to make do at this time. But what I see behind the depth of this darkness is that we mothers have another opportunity not only to protect, provide, love, and entertain, but to be proud and humbled at another lesson, and have another go at being and doing what we never thought we could.

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of poetry and fiction.

Survive COVID-19 with a Cabin Fever Playbook

What seemed improbable a month ago is today a shared global reality. The steady unravelling of COVID-19 has forced us all – across generations and geographies, to stay home. Morale is low and stress levels are high as we work from home, grieve for and worry about those afflicted, homeschool our children, and struggle to make ends meet in a crumbling economy.

While challenges of confinement and the lack of routine have pushed me out of my comfort zone, strangely, this period has also been a deeply introspective one. I have had teaching moments that have helped me prioritize and gain perspective to effectively navigate these difficult and fluid times.

LEARNING TO ROLL WITH AMBIGUITY
The steepest learning curve for me has been accepting unpredictability and rolling with it. I find myself:

  • Improvising. For example, when I couldn’t find any sanitizers anywhere, I was forced to make my own. My favorite recipe is mixing ¼ tsp of bleach with 4 cups of water.
    When getting my daily yoga stretches seemed impossible, I resorted to CosmicKids Yoga. Now, I get a yoga workout with my preschooler in tow since it engages kids through story and movement.
  • Getting creative. I buy whatever fresh produce is readily and easily available and turn to the internet for inspiration. I’ve dug out my formally forgotten cookbooks and am trying my hand at new recipes.
  • Relaxing standards. With everyone homebound, there’s more mess, less tidiness and meals are often prepared on the fly. But that’s to be expected. Once this realization struck, I recalibrated and lowered standards. This helped me stay calm and centered. Beds don’t always get made, but the sheets are clean. Meals may be prepared on the fly, but they’re healthy. I learned not to sweat it. There’s enough to worry about as is.


STAYING ORGANIZED

I am by no means a planner. But, when I saw the panic around me at our local grocery store, I was jolted into action:

  • To create a weekly meal roster to plan grocery runs.
  • I stocked up on non-perishables. Fortunately, being accustomed to eating and cooking Indian food, between atta (whole wheat), rice, Sabudana (tapioca), pasta, flour, sooji (semolina), besan (chickpea flour), poha (flattened rice), bread, and a few packs of frozen rotis and naans, I had an array of grain options. My new favorite comfort food now is a simple and wholesome Sabudana khichri.
  • To bolster our supply of vitamins, ginger tea, and citrus fruits to keep up our immunity.


COMMUNICATING

At a time when schedules are unpredictable with no school and everyone working from home, things don’t always fall in place as seamlessly as they used to. As a result, I found it vital to effectively communicate household rules and expectations.

  • We have a written daily routine and each person is assigned household chores and responsibilities. That way everyone’s on the same page and knows when and how to chip in. This has provided the much-needed predictability in times of uncertainty and has also fostered teamwork.
  • I am also making the most of this opportunity to double down on conversing in my native language (Hindi) with my preschooler and second grader. I can already see some promising results.

MAKING TIME FOR LITTLE THINGS
I find myself making more time for family. A relatively slower pace of life is allowing more time to connect with each other as well as with extended family and community members. More than before, I see us using FT, Skype and Zoom to connect with each other. Most importantly, I’m enjoying simple activities like:

  • Walking. It is Spring after all! If parks are out of bounds, we take family walks. These aren’t long. Sometimes squeezing in a short walk between meetings or a break is good enough. It’s refreshing to marvel at blooming flowers and seek joy in the many signs of new life and activity around us.
  • Playing. We make up silly games, play board games, word games, card games, Simon says, red light-green light, do messy art projects; all of which fuel our creativity and bring us closer as a family.
  • Baking. Instead of composting that overripe banana, we make banana bread. We roll dough and cut out shapes when we make atta ladoos and atta cookies respectively.


LAUGHING

For some time, I had replaced humor with fear, anxiety and stress. One day, my eight-year-old asked me, “Why do graveyards have a fence around them?” Looking at my confused expression, he promptly replied, “Because people are dying to get in!” With all the dread unfolding, it felt like a scene from a dark comedy movie. It lightened the mood and we all had a good laugh.

I realized that it’s ok to laugh even in the face of adversity. Given our current reality, it’s easy to forget to let some humor into our lives. Besides, doesn’t laughter reduce stress-generated cortisol that kills our immune system? So, why not laugh, boost our immunity and flatten the curve!

To get in some laughs every day:

  • I have intentionally added joke books to our children’s daily reading stack. Kids love jokes and rarely miss an opportunity to share something that tickles them.
  • In the evening, my husband and I carve out some time to watch something funny. It’s a wonderful way to relax, connect and laugh together as adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a trying time, stretching our mental and physical capacity to endure fear and uncertainty. Yet, it’s heartening to see folks reach out to provide services like grocery runs or offer free in-home entertainment materials like family games, books and DVDs. We’re connecting with family, friends and our extended community, to make sure we’re all okay. Our children are virtually interacting with cousins, grandparents and friends. I’m reminded of Gilda Radner, who once wisely said – “Life is about…taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

We’re certainly trying our best!

Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan’s pre-kids’ life was dedicated to the complex field of Communication Sciences. After choosing to be a fulltime mother, reading and playing with her high energy boys has been a fascinating journey. It has (re)kindled in her a sense of wonder in all things small. She constantly sees the world through little eyes, applying simple learnings to deepen life’s meaning for herself and her family.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash

Making The Best Of Stress: Silicon Valley’s High School Rap Scene

Evergreen Valley High School. Tucked away in the middle of a quiet neighborhood in East San Jose, the blue and brown walls of the school burgeon with hopes, dreams and perhaps most dangerous — expectations. 

The predominantly Asian-American school is ranked 79 out of 1334, for the best college prep public high school in California, and with an average ACT score of 31, the high academic standards of its students seems evident. In fact, EVHS is one of many increasingly competitive public high schools sending a significant percentage of students to the UC schools. (all statistics from niche.com

But along with the academic rigor of public schools like EVHS come a vast array of mental health issues. According to Dr. Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, the director and founder of Skills for Kids, Parents, and Schools, an organization that offers on site counseling services to children, educators, and parents in the Bay Area, two of the most prevalent mental health issues seen in high school campuses that she has supervised have been anxiety and depression. It’s no secret that Silicon Valley public schools in particular have been brought under severe media scrutiny for the increase in the number of suicides as a result of pressure to keep up with academic expectations.  Of little acknowledgement in the factors influencing anxiety and depression is the impact that video-game and social media addiction can have in the lives of high schoolers today. 

Dr. Marie-Natalie goes on to explain: “Five or ten years ago, we were seeing issues dealing with academic pressure, anxiety, an overdiagnosis of ADHD;  it seems like all of these issues still exist, but the vast majority of calls I receive from schools and from distressed parents turns out to be related to video game addiction.” 

Made to sustain continuous use, video games tap into the reward system of the brain — increasing dopamine, leading to a feeling of validated accomplishment, often resulting in an addicted and obsessed user base. “In the more privileged communities, issues of anxiety, like anxiety about performing academically goes hand in hand with  a disconnection from social interaction. If young people spend all their free time on video games, as opposed to playing with one another, or interacting, or doing sports, then there’s a loss. There’s definitely a loss in terms of personal growth.” says Dr. Marie-Nathalie. 

Video games facilitate a shift in social connections from being in person to online. The dissonance between the two seems to be characteristic of an era of Internet powered interactions, befitting (but not limited to) a Silicon Valley high school. Exchanging the quality of an in-person friendship for innumerable friends on online forums, like gaming communities, or social media platforms compromises the level of conversation between the two parties, and “interferes with the depth of the relationship — how meaningful it is.” The superficiality of the new standard is at the very least distracting — if not disturbing. Students are more likely to feel obligated to respond to a text, or check Instagram, thereby multitasking between their online presence and their academic work, resulting in prolonged hours of school work, and even a decrease in academic performance as a result of constant distraction.

A 2005 Psychological Science study, concludes: “a major reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential (is) their failure to exercise self-discipline,” quite common for today’s high schoolers. Dr. Marie-Nathalie concurs, explaining that the frontal lobe, responsible for self-discipline, is not fully developed until the twenties, leaving teenagers to grapple with the consequences of academic underperformance as a result of extreme distractions and lack of self-discipline without the benefits of a fully rational mind.

But how much do the video game addictions and social media interactions that comprise a majority of a student’s brain power have to do with mental health issues?  After all, distraction doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. Inconvenient yes, but dangerous? This crucial issue is just beginning to be understood. 

With the greater part of a high school student’s day being spent on social media platforms, or online gaming communities (widely considered to be an online social platform due to the elements of gaming chats), perceived validation from peers is often purely online, from the number of likes or comments on a post, often leading to an ascription of importance to maintaining surface deep relationships, and deriving self-worth from them. When the appropriate number of likes are not reached, self-esteem is impacted. According to a 2014 American Psychological Association study, “Social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook, provide abundant social comparison opportunities… indeed, the results showed that participants who used Facebook most often had poorer trait self-esteem, and this was mediated by greater exposure to upward social comparisons on social media.,” defining upward social comparisons as “a high activity social network, healthy habits, etc., .” Blows to self-esteem coupled with academic stress seems to be what drives students towards isolation, while at the same time instigating depression and performance anxiety.

Reversion to online activity, whether it be video gaming, or scrolling through Instagram suggests a sort of complacency, one that is reflective of a loss of agency, as a result of denial of severe academic stress. 

The sheer competition to not only to get into college, but also to increase earning potential has influenced many students in the Indian-American community to ignore a well-rounded education, choosing not to explore other passions and instead focusing narrowly on STEM based career paths. It seems like the overwhelming amount of extracurriculars — DECA, Speech and Debate, Robotics Club — are all being pursued for the benefit of college admissions, rather than out of personal interest. 

In a world where the college application process outranks everything, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for kids to just be kids. The superficiality ensures resume-building prevails over the true pleasure of doing an activity just for the sake of doing it.

It is in the midst of exactly this environment, that a group of unconventional (at least by Silicon Valley standards) high schoolers from EVHS chose to pursue rap. The possibility of a resistance to the stereotypical college oriented journey seems likely in a refreshing take on modern hip-hop. And with their very existence being  unprecedented it seems that they call into question a potential shift in the social norms and culture of Silicon Valley. 

But why rap?

In conversation with Chetas Holagunda, a member of the EVHS rap circles and better known by his rap name BLVSE , the authenticity behind his passion for rap is clear. The name BLVSE itself, a tribute to the caliber of this EVHS senior signifies the “flame, like a blaze, inside of me that keeps me going;  I’m always motivated to keep going and trying new things…I push myself through it even though its not for a college app or anything, I still keep going.

The journey to producing an upbeat and “hype” song has been paved with humility and determination, qualities that BLVSE proudly embodies — the hallmark of his musical experience. Coming from a family of Carnatic musicians, BLVSE’s influences seem diametrically opposed, citing the impact that artists like JUICE WRLD had on his style of music. A note about the importance of blending contemplative, and self-analysing lyrics with a party vibe seems to encompass the goal of many BLVSE songs — a marriage that might not be too far away from the Carnatic focus on sound and lyrics. 

His current experience expands beyond the initial focus on “the melody that came out, the vibe that it spreads,”. Instead he says: “Now I’m trying to incorporate both, so you listen to lyrics that have one meaning, but you also have a vibe that you can party to, where you can have fun.” He tries to keep most of his songs light hearted at “ground level, and pretty relatable,” but on occasion, like any other artist, emotion is too powerful to ignore. “A lot of rappers talk about depression, like JUICEWRLD definitely blew up that idea…I definitely talk about it in some of my songs… I don’t explicitly say it but there’s some stories that end up sad… I don’t directly call it depression, but people can infer what happens.”

Although the blend of Jamaican cultural influences and working-class urban themes has historically characterized rap music as celebrating the African-American experience, its popularity—some may even say notoriety— has led to a divergence from the traditional African-American subject. Over the course of hip-hop history, as rap artists have become more racially diverse, there has inevitably been a shift in lyrical content, and although the original swagger that encompasses the essence of the genre has been kept intact, rap has gone from the discussion of urban issues to more diverse personal stories. Battles with mental health, struggles with poverty, and other topics of cultural relevance and relatability.

But it’s the core of hip-hop, the ability for  raw self-expression combined with the triumph of bringing people together, that seems to be what persuaded these high school rappers to produce music. The goal of BLVSE’s music seems to be a creation of a safe space for the kids of toxic Silicon Valley high schools, where gaming addiction and academic pressures are the reality. 

It is the harsh truth that these students must endure more than their fair share of stress. In addressing the extreme range of emotion regarding academic pressures, BLVSE does acknowledge some school interference, but says that “they have certain events but they aren’t really effective in helping students. They (students) just go to get the credits and leave, so it’s really not as influential as it can be.”

What might be more impactful, and certainly what seems to be more entertaining, is convening outside of an academic context with friends to blow off steam. BLVSE remarks: “I always have that vision of performing in my own concert where everyone is just jumping up and down to a song.” Where everyone is present.

Consistent with the counterculture element of rap, these teenagers are cutting through the intense norm of laser beam focus on structuring all activities around a college application. Coming together to enjoy good music seems to be a rarity in the lives of today’s teenagers —lives that are focused on not only getting good grades, but also volunteering at homeless shelters, and winning speech and debate trophies, peppered with the constant Instagram check in. Moving kids away from their obsession with the activities of the other, the value placed on comparison to peers through social media, might be a challenge, given that platforms like Instagram and Soundcloud might be essential in distributing music, which help  create a fanbase. But even in the presence of such widespread social networking, the intention of bringing people together in real life, is laudable — even reflective of the origins of hip-hop in Bronx house parties. 

In a world where perfection is deliberately demanded, there is little time for recreation. By doing what they do with love, these rappers ensure that high school isn’t just about ignoring stress in an extreme focus to get into college — it can be about celebrating little successes, and taking some time to live in the moment.

But rappers like BLVSE understand that this freedom to create isn’t universal. The undisputable motivational role of parental support seems to be instrumental in the production process. As BLVSE describes it: “The good thing is that my parents actually support this… so that definitely helped me,-  like if my parents like a song, they would push me to share it with other people.” With a chuckle, he says: “It’s definitely not the type of music they listen to, but they do enjoy it, so that motivates me to put it up.” And even as BLVSE acknowledges that his experience in the EVHS rap community has been with full support from his parents, it is understood that this is a luxury some of his peers don’t have. 

Supporting high school rappers might be one way to fight a toxic culture of Silicon Valley disenfranchisement with harsh and competitive academic environments.

The shift towards STEM education seems to be reflective of a body of parents who came of age in a community where there was only one path to escape the cycle of lower middle class life — where the easiest path to guaranteed success was STEM education. And although STEM education, the craze that has taken over Silicon Valley isn’t innately terrible, it forces students to put on blinders, curbing passions like music, design, art, dance before they fully develop into hobbies or even careers. The beauty of the American dream is the diversity on the journey towards success. Forcing students to comply with an outdated standard, emphasizing perfection no matter the cost, has resulted in a generation plagued by the pressure to perform. Retreating into a world of superficial connections through social media or gaming seems to be an apparent attempt to find that affection and validation that have traditionally been a parent’s responsibility to cultivate, through any other means possible.

Rap music is the perfect union of elements of actual social interaction and self-expression, both ideas that are “taboo” in the Silicon Valley high school journey of college preparation. It is reflective of a growing population of students that are no longer complacent — students who declare, like BLVSE: “Any field is of equal value!”

Students who don’t hide behind an online identity, but rather embrace the power of their voice. In the words of BLVSE: “Im putting my feelings out there, if you don’t enjoy it, then that’s up to you. If I express myself saying that I’m happy with myself, then I’m gonna be happy with myself.”

In fact, there is a proven therapeutic effect of the self-expression of rap. The danger of bottling up emotions is something that Gloria Baxter of the Lighthouse of Hope Counseling Center knows intimately. She even uses elements of hip-hop culture in adolescent group therapy sessions, asking students to write a rap about what upset them. Results have been phenomenal.

It is our responsibility as a society to encourage creative expression among the next generation. Together, we have opened up a Pandora’s Box of perfect SAT scores and  5.0 GPAs. In a world where the bar can never be reached, rap is not only a coping mechanism; it restores agency amongst these high schoolers, giving them a sense of responsibility and control over their actions. Up to this point, we have raised children who only knew how to be students. They will be forced to approach the workforce the same way they approach school — desperately rooting around for validation. There is a cultural shift that needs to occur in the Silicon Valley parent community (especially among Asian and South Asian parent groups) to allow students to pursue their true passion while carving their individual  path to success. Encouraging high school rappers in their journey of creative self-expression might be one of the ways to do so.

Sumedha Vemulakonda is a youth contributor at India Currents. This article is the result of a year long quest to expand her music tastes, while learning more about rap and hip hop culture. 

Young Indian Girl Dies While Crossing Border

Did you hear of the death of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur?

Gurupreet’s body was found by U.S. Border Patrol agents in a remote desert outside the Lukeville, Arizona point of entry on Wednesday, June 12th, just days before her seventh birthday.

She died of heat stroke in the Arizona desert where temperatures were 108 degrees Fahrenheit, according to U.S. Border Patrol and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME).

Gurupreet and her mother were reportedly among a group of five Indian nationals who were dropped off by migrant traffickers in a remote area on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her mother and another woman went in search of water, leaving Gurupreet with two others from the group. Gurupreet’s mother was found by a U.S. Border Patrol agent 22 hours later. Four hours after that, Border Patrol agents found Gurupreet’s body.

Seven migrant children have died in immigration custody since last year. Hundreds more have died close to ports of entry while attempting to make the perilous journey through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

South Asian Americans Leading Together SAALT is sending a letter of inquiry to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Kevin K. McAleenan this week, demanding an investigation into Gurupreet’s death and information about her mother and the other migrants in their group.

As U.S. Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount. Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.

Lakshmi Sridaran, Interim Co-Executive Director of SAALT said, “U.S. border militarization, forced migration, and rejection of migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry have created an environment where a child like Gurupreet, can die in the desert, alone. Until this system is completely defunded and a new one is created that upholds the dignity of all migrants – we will continue to see unspeakable tragedies, not withstanding the countless deaths that go undocumented. While ICE and CBP have experienced unprecedented surges in their budgets, their treatment of migrants has plunged to new lows. ”

SAALT has been tracking both the rise in the number of South Asians crossing the border over the last 5 years and their treatment in detention facilities. Between October 2014 and April 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested over 17,000 South Asians.

Of the South Asians who end up in detention facilities, SAALT has tracked a pattern of abuse including inadequate language access, lack of religious accommodations, medical neglect, use of solitary confinement, and unacceptably high bond amounts.

We urge our communities to stay engaged and active on this urgent issue.

Stay updated and active by following our updates and action alerts on Twitter (SAALTweets) and Facebook (facebook.com/talktosaalt).

You can also support by donating to these organizations that provide immediate assistance:

  • The Fronterizo Fianza Fund is a community bond (fianza) fund based in El Paso and serving Far West Texas and New Mexico. Many detained migrants have no chance to be released while they wait the months or years until their trial. When someone does receive a bond, they are often way out of reach for most families, ranging anywhere from $1,500-50,000.
  • The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal and social services to detained men, women, and children under threat of deportation.
  • The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.

The Facebook Group That Your Kids Love To Be Part Of

If you haven’t heard of Subtle Curry Traits by now, either a) your kids aren’t on Facebook or b) they don’t want you to be on it. If your answer is the latter, please click next and ignore this article – I’ll be in big trouble otherwise.

Subtle Curry Traits (SCT), a Facebook meme group founded in October of 2018, serves as a platform for youth from the Indian diaspora worldwide to share humorous content. The page, which receives over one thousand submissions a day, strives to bring people together on topics such as identity, heritage, and family. The group’s official mission is to “Be the voice for the unspoken to eliminating cultural boundaries that distance us from our potential.”

Noel Aruliah, an Australian student and founder of the page, recounts its genesis. “One day I was in my room looking through other popular meme pages, and I realized there was a gap in the market for South Asian content.” He started a Facebook group, intended for his close friends, and saw its membership skyrocket to over 10,000 people in just a few days. Aruliah was shocked. “I had second to no experience with content creation. I just like to crack some jokes.” Today, over 365,000 people worldwide enjoy the online community he has created.

 

The page is a virtual platform to reconcile the challenges of being a part of two cultures. The South Asian diasporic identity spans several countries and continents, but the undercurrent experience is the same. Aruliah says, “Humor is good because there are a lot of things that subcontinental descendants relate to- we are the same, we have similar sorts of struggles.” Subtle Curry Traits often illustrates the good, the bad, and the quirky of South Asian heritage. From reconciling the expectations of the older generation to handling the way the Western world perceives us, South Asians have a unique struggle. Forming community around this experience is a way to show that no one is truly alone.

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Comedy, however, is not without its own slew of challenges. For a page dedicated to an ethnic identity, it becomes difficult to toe the line against “problematic” humor.

Example of meme that was removed

While the moderators have an internal compass that dictates what can and cannot be posted, it is not always easy to predict how people will perceive the content. Aruliah says that they “aim to post wholesome content,” and “try to steer clear of offensive memes. As much as possible, we try to keep it a family-friendly environment to broaden our reach.” However, subliminal racist, colorist, and caste-ist jokes often find their way onto the platform. While the admins are committed to taking such posts off the page, this points to a larger question about the role of internalized prejudice in our culture, which starts within India and is carried over into the diaspora. 

While Subtle Curry Traits exemplifies the good and the bad within the diasporic community, it serves as a technological bridge for the new generation. Ironically, it fills the very role that it often makes fun of. Prime comedic targets of the page are first-generation parents, whose sense of humor and congregation are often laughable to their children. Maybe Subtle Curry Traits is nothing but a glorified WhatsApp group of its own, complete with a worldwide network.

Subtle Curry Traits has developed its own subculture uniquely identifiable by its members. As humorous content evolves within the page, it has become more specific to itself. Memes often build off of each other, and the content’s format develops in a way that only existing members would understand. In other words, the group has become a massive inside joke. This has allowed for people within the site to feel a stronger sense of community with each other. While this subculture has an online presence, it has moved offscreen as well. In Melbourne, the moderators of Subtle Curry Traits organized an in-person meet up, which was very well received. The group continues to build spaces for its members and the diasporic community as a whole.

`Noel Aruliah is thrilled by how far the page has come. “One of the most rewarding experiences was when Hassan Minhaj wanted to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session through the page. That’s when I knew that we had made it big.” Aruliah has also been surprised by how many offshoot pages have stemmed from his original creation. Subtle Curry Dating is a page tailored towards helping young desis find romantic partners, while pages like Subtle Tamil Traits and Subtle Telugu Traits have built even more specific communities. The demand for such offshoots shows how SCT has paved the way.

Content from Subtle Tamil Traits

As for the future of Subtle Curry Traits, Noel believes there is a lot of potential. The group has made a commitment to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness within our culture. They have partnered with renowned acapella group Penn Masala to produce a video “focused on mental wellness in the South Asian community.” Aruliah would like to keep engaging in such content creation and build a stronger, more supportive group. He sees more in-person meetups and maybe a merchandise line in the near future for SCT.

“Subtle Curry Traits is going to be for the people.” 

Swathi Ramprasad is a rising junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

Ingredients
2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Method
Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

Avial
This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Ingredients
Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Method
Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.praba@cookingmastery.com

The Sandwich Generation

The elderly Indian man wanders through the neighborhood, talking to himself and pausing uncertainly every now and then. His clothes are soiled and his eyes are vacant. A neighbor, observing him from behind the blinds of her living room, sighs. This is the third time in 10 days that she has seen him outside, unaccompanied and obviously disoriented. The old man lives next door. His son and daughter-in-law are away at work, their children in school. The neighbor knows that no one will be around till 5:30 p.m. She reaches for the phone to call the police.

Ill and aging parents. A heartbreaking reality that most of us will have to cope with sooner or later. The inevitable reversal of roles, as the hands that once deftly buttoned our shirts and led us confidently across a crowded street, now reach out to us for help in perform­ing the basic tasks of daily living.

It is estimated by the U.S. Administration on Aging that a full 25% of all households in the country are involved in caring for a family member, usually a parent. While the number may not be quite that high in the South Asian community, it is nevertheless increasing rap­idly, as more and more families are choosing to bring aging parents and relatives from their native countries to live with them permanently.

Four generations of an Indian-American Family
Four generations of an Indian-American Family

Typically, the caregivers are adult children with kids of their own, often known in the media as the “sandwich generation”—caught between childcare and elder care. Research has shown that almost 65% of women in this country will have to deal with extensive or partial elder care issues.

 Chandra Deshmukh, a Marin County resi­dent thinks that “sandwich” is an apt descrip­tion of a person in her circumstances. “I have two little kids and a father who is often in hospital with complications from diabetes,” she says. Her father lives in Houston, Texas with her older sister, and Deshmukh has already flown to Houston three times this year to help with his care “dropping into my husband’s lap the kids, their homework, din­ner and piano lessons.” She says she has learned to live with a constant sense of guilt, feeling inadequate at work and incompetent at home. “There is this nonstop worry in my head that I am not doing enough for anyone—my kids, my husband, my employer, or my father, whom I am very close to,” she adds.

According to Rita Ghatak, a Palo Alto­ based psychologist and specialist in elder care, guilt is a very common feeling among adult caregivers. “The feeling of helplessness and guilt can be overwhelming at times and in trying to take care of everything themselves, these women, (and most of the caregiving is done by women aged 35 to 50), fail to look after their own needs,” she says. Ghatak knows, because she has been there herself. For 14 years, she was a long distance caregiver to her parents who lived in India. In that time she flew to Delhi 16 times to take care of, first, her father who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and then her mother who suffered a stroke in 1995. “I was completely stressed out,” she remembers ‘There were times when I was so tired and worried that I could not think straight. I wanted to be in both places at the same time.”

Ghatak is also CEO of Older Adult Care Management (OACM), a private organization founded over 15 years ago, and considered a pioneer in the field of elder care. The organiza­tion provides a comprehensive care program for adults through quality home care services like trained health aides, family counseling, case management services, and elder care education. OACM has virtually no South Asian clients, because, Ghatak says, they are largely unaware of the variety of elder care resources available in the community. “It is not that they want to be ignorant, it is just that they do not know where to go for the informa­tion. Sometimes a parent’s illness catches us unawares and we are unprepared to handle it,” she says. Lack of information led to less-­than-desirable situations like the one de­scribed at the beginning of this story. In this case, the elderly man was referred by the police to the county-run Adult Protective Ser­vices. In turn, OACM was contacted and Ghatak ended up sending an information packet in the mail to the caregivers. She never heard from them but she hopes that the family was finally able to get some help and take care of their father.

When it comes to taking care of one's parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues
When it comes to taking care of one’s parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues

When it comes to taking care of one’s parents, most adult children are lost in a maze of emotional and logistical issues. Some dis­eases like dementia (a common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease) or Parkinson’s disease, both of which are on the rise worldwide, according to the World Health organization, make home-based caregiving especially diffi­cult. Still, how can one send a parent to an outside facility? Will that not amount to aban­donment? How would the parent take it? What about the cost: emotional and financial? Decisions like these are hard to make and even harder to justify to relatives and siblings who are watching from the outside.

Using trained help, strangely enough, is one of the last options considered by many South Asian caregivers. “It is expensive but more importantly it could be seen as pawning off your responsibilities,” remarks Deshmukh, whose has just succeeded in persuading her reluctant sister to hire a door-to-door service to take their father to the doctor for regular appointments. However, using trained help could ward off potentially dangerous situa­tions. “If I had to do it again, I would definitely use trained help,” confirms Inderpal Grewal, a full time professor and mother of two little girls living in El Cerrito. Grewal had just given birth to her second child when her mother, who suffered from acute rheumatoid arthritis came to live with them. To Grewal, it was spotting the little things that could prevent the bigger things from happening that drove her crazy. “I was always worrying about things. Are the bars in the bathroom safe? Is the house too cold? Is the bed okay?” she says. “In spite of all this my mother caught pneumonia, be­cause we had not kept the house warm enough. Old people are more fragile than they appear.” Subsequently, her mother went to live with another sibling in Connecticut where a home health aide came to look after her needs several times a week.

Taking care of a parent can create stress and awkwardness between siblings.

Rashmi Rustagi is a stay-at-home mother of four in Palo Alto. Her children range in age from 5 to 15 and take up much of her energies and time. Rustagi’s parents live with her. Last year, her mother suffered a stroke and became almost bedridden, needing con­stant care. The subject of who would be the main caregiver came up often at family dis­cussions with the other siblings. Though each of them make financial contributions towards their mother’s health care, Rustagi feels that she was chosen because “most often it is the sister who stays at home or is the wealthiest who gets to take care of the parents. The others plead work pressure, or lack of space or money.” Rustagi feels a little taken for granted because she ends up putting in so much more effort and time than her sisters and brothers do. Lately, she says, she has taken to keeping a log of the time she spends looking after her mother’s needs like taking her to doctor’s appointments, or the physical therapist. “Not the expenses, mind you, just the time,” she hastens to add. “And one of these days I am going to show it to my siblings just to let them see for themselves how much effort it takes to just keep things going.”

To many South Asians, taking care of a family member might mean flying half way around the world several times a year. As Ghatak testifies from her experience “it takes a heavy toll on your family life.” Even so, bringing the family member over to the U.S. may not be a logical solution because of the high cost of health care and the emotional cost of uprooting the person from her native cul­ture. In addition to this, says Grewal, the person often finds herself confronting a racist health care system in America, “one that believes that most immigrants are out to rip off the system.”

Pradeep Joshi, a co-founder of the Indo­American Community and Service Center (IACSC), and a commissioner serving on the Senior Care Commission of Santa Clara, agrees that seniors who come over from India have to deal with isolation and a loss of empowerment. “And without MediCal, healthcare is prohibitively expensive,” he stresses. “A recently passed immigration law states that those seniors who immigrated to the U.S. after October of 1996 are not eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or MediCal. This will definitely have a negative bearing on family decisions to bring a parent over.”

All too often, the “sandwiched” adult, torn between making time for the kids and the parent, feels like the rope in a tug-of-war game. Ghatak suggests a few simple guide­lines to make the task easier. Planning ahead is the essential key to elder care management. Confront the situation and talk about it and if the parent is capable, involve him or her in the decision. Scope out the services available in the community, clubs, recreational centers, senior centers, and groups that the parent might be interested in joining. If the parent is handicapped or suffering from a debilitating disease, look into the possibility of hiring home care aides. And above all, make time for yourself, to exercise, socialize, rest and main­tain recreational outlets. Lack of proper care of oneself might lead to stress-related illnesses like chronic headaches, ulcers and depres­sion.

With over 200,000 South Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is inevitable that senior support networks are springing up within the community. Apart from sporadic activities organized by the local temples, mosques and gurudwaras, the Icse in Santa Clara runs an excellent senior program that stresses independent living. The Center hosts lecture programs, yoga classes, computer and writing courses and a variety of social activi­ties for South Asian seniors from day outings to cultural programs.

Looking after a relative or parent can be an enriching experience and the ultimate expression of love and compassion from one human being to another. Deshmukh’s children are learning this valuable truth as their mother packs her bags for yet another trip to see their grandfather. In the Rustagi household, life is just a little richer, as grandparents and chil­dren learn to share their living space and their experiences with each other. “It finally boils down to this-there really is no right or wrong way to do things. Accept your limitations and just do the best you can,” states Ghatak.