(Featured Image: Michelle Poonwalla and Circle of Life Artwork)
Artist, businesswoman, philanthropist, and socialite Michelle Poonawalla recently showcased a series of her new artworks at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Michelle’s four oil on canvas works—Blue Wave, Desert Rose, Forest Flutter and Flutter Fly—come from the artist’s Butterfly Series, and feature three-dimensional, sculptural elements affixed to the canvas. Painted in bold colors, the works feature gold-effect butterflies.
Poonawalla lives and works between London and Pune. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums, often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors, and other techniques. She has previously exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery, London; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India. More recently, Poonawalla has also begun exploring work with shorter digital format films.
In this exclusive interview, she spoke to us among other things about her earliest artistic influences, nature as inspiration, her favorite art medium, and the butterfly symbol in her works.
Tell us a little about your oil-on-canvas works at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend.
MP: The four works come from my Butterfly Series which evolves beyond traditional 2D painting, incorporating sculptural elements that bring the artworks off the canvas and into the viewer’s space. A lot of my work features the butterfly symbol which for me represents both beauty and freedom–an ephemeral creature that is the result of a metamorphosis.
What was the idea, inspiration behind them?
MP: The works all have different inspirations and stories behind them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by Mumbai and references the city through its free-flowing language and color. Desert Rose, which also features butterflies, represents the inherent beauty in nature’s patterns as I allowed the butterfly sculptures to fall naturally on the work before affixing each one where they landed.
A theme often addressed in my work is the strength and beauty of nature and the importance of preserving it. This is perhaps most obvious in Forrest Flutter. Painted in dark earthy hues and greens, the work celebrates the forest.
You are the granddaughter of the iconic south Mumbai architect Jehangir Vazifdar. Tell us about some of your earliest artistic influences.
MP: From an early age, I was taken to some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. I have always loved art and painted throughout my life and studied Interior Design at university. I was perhaps most inspired by my grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned painter and architect. My grandfather had a very special technique in oil painting with a ruler which he shared only with me, and it is important for me to carry on his legacy.
Your work is known to explore universal, socially engaged topics. Tell our readers about some of these themes.
MP: Art is a universal language with a powerful voice, and I’m conscious my work is used to spread a positive message. For example, I have recently produced a series of video works that explore environmental change and other issues around us today. I want my work to encourage people to stop, think, and introspect. Be it climate change, water scarcity, or violence in our world, people should always stop and think.
Which is your favorite art medium? Do you feel that digital art is the future of art?
MP: I enjoy acrylic and work in acrylic for my butterfly paintings. However, I wouldn’t say I have one favorite medium. I’ve worked in oils a lot and I am looking forward to exhibiting some drawings at the 079 Stories gallery in Ahmedabad soon.
Digital art is certainly something we are seeing more of but I think physical painting will always have a place – it is important to be able to physically engage with artwork in person. I’ve always been interested in combining cutting-edge technology and traditional art forms, and digital art has allowed me to create huge immersive installations where the viewer is completely emerged in the visual image. Technology gives an artist the freedom to explore endless possibilities; it allows a greater feeling. I also think digital art speaks the language of the younger generation, and it keeps their interest in art growing.
What are you working on next?
MP: I’ve got several projects coming up, including showing work in a drawings exhibition at the beautiful 079 Stories in Ahmedabad in February. Later in the year, I will also be showing work in a group exhibition in Delhi. Alongside this, I am exhibiting work online with several platforms including digital work with SeditionArt.com and several new works I have just produced for House of Culture. Hopefully, there are a few international projects on the cards which I will be able to announce later in the year.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.
As I tuned into this topic, I became aware of the internal environment that is created because of the people in our lives and how we perceive ourselves in relation to them. Often keeping others comfortable becomes our comfort zone. Stepping out of it rocks the boat. As we step into this New Year, I invite you to step into the New You.
It is too long that you stayed in a shell to keep others comfortable.
There are some around you who have always loved you, with whom you are amazing and it is easy. You feel safe being yourself.
Then why walk on eggshells with everyone else? Why numb the goodness and brightness in you?
Nobody realizes that you are simply trying to fit in. You value them too much, even more than yourself. You are getting comfortable with that. In your mind, you are being nice to them. And yet often feel miserable. They are also getting used to that. Stop…just stop!
Look at those who really ‘see’ you. You seem to do everything right by them. Break the shell and crack it open. Do what it takes! It’s worth it!
They will find others who feed their comfort. Yes, give them a shock.
They will have to step up to understand you and cheer you in your growth. They will have to know your pain.
You in your truthfulness will mourn your perceived loss of some of them because you truly cared about them. That’s why you kept them comfortable while you suffered.
Yes, I know you also wronged some people. Those too will reach out to you or you to them, in your growth. Just know that you are not accountable to all of them this very minute, so don’t judge yourself too hard.
Go ahead take that step, a small change, break open, fly. The ones ready for growth will grow with you. Some will fall away, as you both cannot see eye to eye now.
Forgive yourself, forgive them, love yourself, love them, allow yourself to Be, allow them to Be. Trust me, it’s worth it. When you feel stuck and choose to wiggle out, it hurts, it’s worth it.
The ones who care for you and the ones you care for will have to accept you as you are today. Let them know you are one of them but be stronger on your own path.
Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life.
The contents of this article first appeared on my personal blog Infinite Living on Jan 5, 2017. Find more inspiration in poetry and prose at the link.
Growing up Hindu in cosmopolitan Bombay, I looked forward to Christmas with a sigh of relief. Christmas for us did not have the bearings and pressures of other Indian festivals, so we could just enjoy its beauty in a laidback fashion through common symbols like the Christmas trees, church bells, decorative snow made from cotton balls, and delicious plum cakes. After coming to America, Christmas became another avenue for justifying material greed that was validated by the culture as a way to celebrate this day. Nothing wrong with shopping, but that just as I had done back in India, I missed seeing the depth of Christmas. The legendary miracle of Christmas was only a fable to me until Christmas acquired a transformed meaning for me and my family.
Four years ago, much to my shock, I spent Christmas at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Florence, South Carolina.
My son was born two weeks past his due date after a strenuous, dangerous, and heart-breaking birthing process. He was taken for a routine checkup when he started having seizures. Doctors informed us that he would have to be rushed to a specialized NICU, an hour and a half away, since that hospital was not equipped to deal with serious health conditions in infants. What health condition I asked. “We suspect meningitis,” said a very concerned doctor.
The next morning, he was zipped up in a see-through bag to be put into an ambulance. I saw him clearly for the first time. Strong, calm, and big at 9 pounds, he looked nothing like a new-born. I blew him flying kisses as tears rolled down my eyes. Because of my own medical recovery, I would not be able to get to him for three days.
Three days passed in agony. I walked through a large room that was the NICU. There were about twenty infants there, primarily premature infants who would be kept in the unit until they reached 40 weeks, the normal gestational period. The slow exploration of miracles started when I saw babies close to two pounds, being kept alive in incubators; surviving, fighting, wanting to taste life. On the far left in the back of the big room was the critical section. That’s where I saw my son. Among others, he looked like a giant. His dark eyes wide open and aware.
I held him for the first time on Christmas eve. At this point, any contact with him felt like a gift. I stroked his hair; did he even know that I was his mother? As I met the nurses that I had been distrusting of (How would they treat him? Would they be kind to him?), I saw how they held him, like their own. They magically appeared every time he cried, as if they were telepathically connected to him. Truth be told, they knew how to care for him better than an emotionally and physically wrecked first-time mother. They had fed him bottles of donor breast milk, another gift in this process by unknown women.
“We were thinking about a feeding tube for him, but he took to the bottle like a champ,” said the nurse. By now I had established my own milk and on Christmas Eve I fed him the first time as well.
We awoke in a hotel room near the hospital on Christmas morning. I had imagined Christmas to be at home with a tree, presents, a fireplace, welcoming our first child. When we went to the hospital, I noticed for the first time that they had a Christmas tree in the ICU. Under it were presents with each child’s name on them. And right toward the front, I saw one for my son. When I headed toward his bed, I was introduced to a woman who had been waiting for me. She introduced herself as a chaplain and that she was here to pray for every child. As she prayed for his health, for a speedy recovery invoking a miracle from God, the nurses held me while I wept.
One of them said kindly, “The best part of our job is that we see miracles every day.”
After the prayers, the nurses serenaded Samuel with Christmas songs: Holy Night, Silent Night, Jingle Bells. My heart melted when I saw these mothers sacrificing their own Christmas mornings with their children to be with these wonderful little souls. It was a glimpse of the selflessness that motherhood calls for, something that, in time, I’d learn myself.
Trolleys of gifts were being rolled around the room and I saw that each child had a small blue teddy bear. When my son received his, I read the tag on it. It was a gift to all the children from a little boy who had spent Christmas, in this very NICU, fourteen years ago. He did not fail to send gifts each year as a reminder of the victory of recovery.
When my husband and I walked out of the NICU, we were met by an unknown couple. They took us aside and gave us a fifty-dollar bill. “We wanted to give forward to the parents of a child here today but didn’t know who to choose. So, we stood here thinking we would give to the next couple that walks out the door.” And that was us. “Go buy yourself a Christmas dinner. Merry Christmas,” they said.
On that Christmas, my life changed. Little miracles opened my heart to a new reality – that of the true miracle of Christmas. The story of Bethlehem was no longer a fable for me. I witnessed the miracle of birth and life, of a soul coming through the darkness. I was following the guiding stars of light into the unknown to experience the magnificence of a child. Through this suffering, my understanding of Christmas was transformed from a consumer to its real purpose.
After Christmas that year, Samuel started to make a miraculous recovery. He fought his lot well, and soon it was concluded that he was fighting E-Coli in his blood all along and was spared any life-threatening circumstance. In two weeks, he was back home with us.
This year, as a four-year-old, he embellishes the Christmas tree and makes stars and snowflakes, his giggles are a rippling reminder of the miracle that he is worth all the trials and joys. A living proof of prayers answered.
Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her writings have appeared in publications including Times of India, Yoga International, Yogi Times, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of fiction and poetry.
This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context.
In the last chapter, Sneha was disappointed when she learned that she would not travel to the positron cloud. Instead, she would be part of the backup team and find refuge on HR 4189-GR. However, her first steps on the planet were anything but boring. She did not know yet, but what awaited her was more than she could have asked for…
Chapter 3: Unfamiliar Past
Sneha’s head hurt as she lifted it to figure out where she was. She had a hazy memory of double vision and at this point, she was convinced she had been hallucinating. She got up and walked around to realize that she was inside the shelter on HR 4189-GR. As she walked out of the room, she entered the regular sleeping quarters in the shelter. She noticed that at the far end were stairs going up…perhaps to the dome above ground that she remembered seeing as they had exited the spaceship.
The shelter still functioned rather well for an old abandoned structure. The technology must have been centuries old and abandoned for as long, but a few years ago, when another spaceship was forced to land here, they found the shelter still functioning. Since then, it had been used as an emergency refuge. Sneha crossed the sleeping quarters and walked up the stairs to enter the fiber enclosure and looked around at the eerie atmospheric display of HR 4189-GR. She was about to turn around and go back underground when she heard a thud on the round wall behind her. She turned thinking it was someone from the crew but felt her throat dry up as she watched floating vapor change shape and come directly in front of her.
She saw the double vision again. The floating vapor transformed into solid shapes that moved and then reconnected back with the floating mass of vapor. She wanted to speak but knew in her mind that her language would be useless in communication. Somehow, this creature had managed to communicate with her telepathically. She reached out her hand, scared, but wanting to touch the floating shape.
She heard footsteps and saw the fluid shape move across the room and disappear into the wall. Sneha was stunned by her realization: there was something else on this planet besides just humans and clones. She waited for everyone to fall asleep and when all was quiet, Sneha walked outside. She picked up the gravity modifier and then almost dropped it in alarm, as she heard a voice in her brain say, “You do not need it.”
She panicked and ran up to see if she could spot anyone or anything through the transparent dome.
For many moments, Sneha stood debating if she should step out of the structure on her own. “Come out,” she heard her brain speak to her again. She stepped back in alarm but then decided to follow her instinct. She had come so far for an adventure …so why back down now?
As she stepped outside she felt surrounded by the floating shape. As her hand passed through the dense cloud it felt heavy and empty at the same time. “Your mother knew us. She was here”….she did not even realize that she was walking away from the structure towards a far-field of shapeshifting stones. As Sneha snapped back to reality, she wondered, how she was able to walk comfortably while gravity shifted constantly on this planet. She had left her gravity adjuster behind.
They arrived at the field and she saw the floating mass transform into two distinct shapes, almost solid and opaque. “Who are they?” she wondered. “We are the Zetarians that inhabit the space your people call Antilla”. “So the legends were true,” Sneha thought. “Yes,” they replied.
“Have you always lived here? How long has your species lived in this Constellation? Why did you approach me?” Sneha asked with absolutely no attempt at pacing her questions. “How do you know my mother?”
The shapes moved closer to her, “Do you not remember yet? We have part of your DNA and you have part of our Fasilogram.”
There was a long silence as if they were waiting for her to suddenly see the light. “Do you mean my mother had your ‘Fasilo’?” Sneha asked confused…her mind was now evaluating a million possibilities…”But how did she get a part of you in her?” She asked.
One of them moved closer and dropped a part of its mass on her arm. She watched in part horror as the heavy droplet disappeared into her skin. “So you are now part of me?” She looked at the shape and asked awkwardly?
“Wait!” it said. “Give your mind and body time to remember”. “Go back now and rest,” the other one told her.
“No, don’t leave now!” she shouted at the disappearing shapes. She thought she heard a faint reassurance. “Don’t worry, we will be back soon,” as they completely disappeared. Sneha walked back to the shelter and lay down to rest. Something was going to change, she knew that. She believed that they would be back but had no idea what would happen then. Should she warn the others? Then she looked at her arm almost hoping to see her skin throw out the mass it had absorbed earlier. Would she die now? Or get some horrible, uncurable cosmic disease?
Why only her? They had approached only her. Her mind bounced around a thousand questions as she fell asleep.
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.
Poetry as Sanctuary – A column where we explore poetry as a means of expression for voices of the South Asian Diaspora.
Poetry was never something I imagined to become this significant to me, it was not even a sliver of a dream of an unimagined future.
I spent the first 3 decades of my life trying to fit into the mold of a perfect, normal life. I moved to the US from India at a young age, always striving to keep a smile, raise 2 sons, and remain optimistic. Something still felt missing. I was drawn to the teachings of yoga & philosophy. That seemed to satisfy my need for continual answers to the meaning of life.
All of that came crashing down when I got afflicted with a brutal skin disease that attacked me in every single way – physical, familial, emotional – I was isolated from society for the next few years. Modern medicine did not have any remedy for me, so I chose holistic methodologies from ancient times to find my way back to life. My new normalcy turned out to be as brilliant, as painful it was to go through dismantling my existing reality.
With very few humans around to know and really understand the drastic choices I made about my healing, I was unaware there would be a subsequent spiritual awakening. The world did not make sense to me anymore. There was this ocean revealed within and I needed to learn to swim.
It took a while to befriend poetry as a gift. It brought alive my relationship with the Universe. I remember the exact moment and setting when the first surge of inspiration began and I started rhyming in my mind. I had to drop everything and type. It was a very strange yet powerful feeling. Even stranger was to look at my writing and think it was poetry.
I thought each one that came was the last. I couldn’t own it or name the place it came from. I started sharing them on my blog and Facebook. I had people message me that these poems were helping them get through the day, giving them hope, peace, courage, guidance. As I stepped into the fourth decade of my life, poetry had become a living, breathing part of me.
People asked me how did you start writing. My reply to them came through this following poem:
Just how did the writer in me get born?
When drippings from a touched soul find their way in writing A poet is born When the beauty is undying and the joy so fulfilling A poem is born When feelings are heart wrenching and clarity is killing A poem is born When a surge comes as discomfort and words pour out A writer is born When the harmony felt is such that there is no choice but rhyme A poem is born When made-up words bring meaning and no-rhyme verse feels musical A poetry is born When living alive to feelings, words come to life A writer is born When clarity becomes more intense than the pain that afforded it A writer is born When no human around can suffice to contain the expression A poetry is born When a release is looking to flow out at an unearthly hour A writer is born When words choose the person as if a channel A writer is born When none can be planned to rhyme or reason A poet is born When human spirit gets broken to million-times-ten pieces, yet finds beauty A poet is born When Life decides to peel back layers of truth down to the core A writer is born When each level of façade is stripped down to bare soul A writer is born When all the suffering was a gift, lived through or let through A writer is born When there is no knowing if there is more from where it came from A writer is reborn When it comes from a place that is hard to own A writer is born When the essence of being is wrung out in best expression A poetry is born When it feels like a soft glove over the brutal thing A poetry is born When the loneliness in truthfulness is more than can enjoy yet A writer is born When inspirations come out of nowhere as if universal cues A poet is born
So if you can just rest In the drippings of the writer’s soul Momentarily let go of the sufferings you insist on A poet would feel content for being born.
– Pragalbha Doshi
After 4 years of this amazing adventure, I had felt a lot of grief when I thought poetry was leaving me.I did write some more after that, and the flow trickled to a stop. It was time for me to visit life in a different way. I trusted Poetry to know that – in time, it will come back to me.
My poetry found a voice and new life within a year when, at the beginning of the pandemic, I joined a local group called Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley. Poetry is that gift and sanctuary that leaves out all supposed normalcy and brings us closer to who we truly are.
Pragalbha Doshi lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in San Jose, CA. As a yoga teacher, she facilitates therapy & change for people who struggle with chronic symptoms of stress, physical & emotional, and who want a productive & fulfilling life www.yogasaar.com
This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context.
Sneha, our hero is one of many clones being raised within a research lab on earth. Unlike the others, she has free will. In the last chapter, we were left wondering if Sneha would get caught after switching places with another clone – a clone that was set to travel into space.
Chapter 2: Sudden Moves
Sneha was surprised how easily she got away with switching identities with another clone. They did not really care to investigate XT87’s death. She was now part of the group traveling to the Positron cloud and ready to get off of this old decaying planet.
Two days later,Sneha sat strapped in the chair with her eyes closed and heart racing. She could feel her head pounding as the equipment whirred around her.
They moved quickly from hypersonic to warp speed and she felt her inners lurch for a split second before a strange calm settled on the ship. She unclenched her hands and dared to breathe. Earth was behind her for now. Instead of being one of 3000, she was now one of 30 traveling to the positron cloud around the Fornax Void. There were nascent pockets of activity and the most recent research showed expansion of dark matter and the existence of multiple infantile positron clouds around voids and dark holes. Space had mysteriously been shifting violently for the last 5000 years with no indication of slowing down.
This was going to be a rough and interesting voyage with the crew navigating many firsts. They had to avoid pathways linked to dark energy filaments across galaxies. Sneha was listening to the crew discussing the upcoming stop in 9 days on the base station close to the Sculptor Wall. Day 2 & 3 were easy to manage but days 4 & 5 got boring with very little opportunity to learn anything new as the crew restricted access due to systems checks.
On day 6, as they were out on the movement deck, Sneha realized something was not right. She overheard snippets of conversation from the crew…..“ new communication”….”old base” … “shelter for few days”…
The main deck hovered with communications. Things felt off and she felt shivers go down her spine. She waited to get back to her compartment and closed the door pretending that she felt disoriented like some of the others. Once inside, she touched the screen on the wall and started typing codes from her memory, hoping to get access to the communication channels. She knew she was shooting in the dark here.
Soon she got frustrated, closed her eyes, and drifted away to sleep. She was jolted back to reality as a shrill voice repeated emergency instructions. They were making an unplanned stop on an old base HR 4189-GR within the Antilla Constellation. She remembered reading about it in the memoirs of some explorers that managed to survive on HR 4189-GR.
What made this constellation memorable were the rumors of alien life on its planets. Never verified, these accounts had become legendary since early intergalactic travels. Despite early romantic visions of interactions between alien species, it had been almost impossible to communicate or understand each other’s language, science, or other critical concepts. What had been documented was the expected life spans, conditions that led to the demise, and unique birthing phenomena for a few species that humans and humanoids could comprehend….at this point, any further conclusions were more art and imagination than science.
She braced for landing. They had warned it would be tough as gravity was fluid in this constellation with the magnitude of its stars shifting constantly. Once secure on the surface, they were assembled on the transport deck and divided into two groups. Ten of them would stay here on the planet as backup and the other twenty would continue their journey towards the positron cloud. Her heart sank when she realized she would be staying on the planet. This was not why she came! She was meant to travel and be out there!
They had lost communication with Earth and a couple of other planets in the Virgo cluster. Incoming reports mentioned that the cosmic ripples traveling through the cluster led to the core of multiple planets collapsing. Sneha sat stunned as they narrated the loss of the research facility and their colleagues. She waited to hear some words of regret for the loss of so many Snehas. None came. There were no tears in the eyes of the crew….They were just samples- numbers in a log…Hundreds of samples lost in a catastrophe. She tried to contain the immense grief welling up inside her.
As they exited the ship, Sneha was sharp again, absorbing everything she saw and sensed. Something told her to look at the far left corner of her vision. She was not sure what she saw but it was enough to shake her up. She felt her breath being torn from her for a second and then it started to become normal. Or so she thought momentarily … but something stayed odd – she had two visions…it was almost as if there were two of her within one body! On one side she was seeing the path she was walking with other Snehas towards the shelter but on the other she saw something she did not quite understand – a vision of a dark path and moving shapes that seemed to drift between transparent and opaque forms. Her head started to hurt and she felt both visions collapse into one as she tumbled face forward, unconscious.
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.
This is not a discussion on conserving energy resources given by Nature like oil and gas. This is a discussion on conserving the energy we human beings possess at the individual level so that we can make the optimum use of the resources that are given to us: the body and the mind. It is too common to miss the obvious and concentrate on things that sound glorious, all the while ignoring that which is nearer to us and that which can be accomplished easily. It is a fad today to speak of conserving energy, of mapping non-conventional energy sources, and of decreasing our use of non-renewable energy sources. In the momentum and intensity of such discussions, most of which do not find practical solutions, we forget that each one of us has been blessed with tremendous sources of energy in the mechanisms of our body and mind. We need to focus on how to harness these sources that we possess to excel in our endeavours.
Our body is a storehouse of energy but unfortunately, we not only do not know how to use it, but often times we waste its energy without bringing any good. Most people use their limbs for purposeless actions. Abusing physical energy is so common that some people think it is the natural course to take. It is really ironical that most of the times people put their bodies to severe stress and misuse its energy in the name of recreation or leisure. In the pretext of resting their bodies, most people just torture it. The ancient sages of India were very particular about the energy of the human body and acknowledged even the minutest expenditure of energy like that which is expended while we blink our eyes. The first step in preserving our energy is to preserve our physical energy, the energy that is produced by and contained in the body. It is surprising how much physical energy can be saved by just doing a rapid mental calculation about the work and motion involved in any action.Yoga begins with the taming of the physical body. Only a body tethered in silence and moving only on purpose is fit for yoga. Needless swaying of heads and moving of limbs creates a strong disturbance that percolates to the deeper recesses of the mind.
Just like a camera consumes energy even if it is just switched on, similarly our sense organs consume energy even if they just stay put on a particular object. The best way to conserve the energy of the sense organs is to restrain from taking in any sensory input that one does not need. Then, the eyes would see only what has to be seen, the ears would hear only what has to be heard, the tongue would taste only what is to be tasted, the skin would touch only what has to be touched, and the nose would smell only what has to be smelled. Trained in such a fashion, not only would the distraction caused by the senses be reduced to a bare minimum, the sensory experience of such trained senses would be accentuated and superfine with a remarkable intensity.
We constantly blame the mind for distractions and for losing focus. Our complaint is that the mind is wandering all the time. Imagine a person who is served several plates of mouth-watering dishes at the same time, all dishes exuding mind-blowing scents, and served with royal dressings. How can that person concentrate on only one dish then? Such is the predicament of our mind. It is constantly being simultaneously fed several sensory inputs. When the eyes see, all the other four senses do not shut down and so is the case with the other sense-organs. Much like a person,who is aware of the usage of electricity,would switch off the electrical appliances that are not needed; we should switch off our sense-organs that we are not using at that moment. That would lead to an enormous energy surplus in our body.
In preserving the physical energy the importance of sleep cannot be overemphasized. Numerous present-day ailments can be cured by a regular and full dose of sleep. Conservation of individual energy has to be done at the level of breathing also. Long and sustained breathing cycles help the body to be calm andand have better reflexes. It is not for nothing that all traditions of martial arts give tremendous importance to the control of breath. This also shows the importance of living in pure and unpolluted environments.To produce a good breathing cycle, we need to also eat nutritious and wholesome food. It is quite common to have one’s body spend lot of energy on digesting unwanted or improper food that was supposed to give energy in the first place!
Human beings possess an exceptional intellectual capacity. Most of it is squandered in unnecessary ruminations on things that are of no use either at the individual or the collective level. To focus our thinking and analysis is an art that has to be perfected in order to get the most of our brains. Precision of thought and a daring to do intellectually daunting tasks preserves and also invigorates our intellectual energy. A thorough grounding in logic helps one to eventually transcend all linear thought. A trained intellect can ably rein the mind.
In the pursuit of the preservation of individual energy the biggest challenge is preserving the energy of the mind, mental energy. Thoughts consume the mind. To preserve the mental energy and also to preserve the mind itself, one needs to constantly question the need for a particular thought to arise in the mind. Brooding on the past and worrying about the future are the most common leaks of the mental energy. When our mind is drained of its energy, it goes into ill-health commonly known as psychological ailments that could range from a minor bout of depression to an acute incidence of schizophrenia. Daydreaming and fantasising also rapidly consume the mental energy. To train the mind from abstaining from activities that needlessly consume its energy, one should root it on a theme of focus that the mind would hold on to when it does not have any purposeful activity to do. Too many attachments clutter the mind. A minimalist lifestyle and a detached attitude help the mind to focus its energy and prioritise its goals. Strong attachments are like forgotten anchors that do not allow the ship of the mind to move forward. Uncluttering one’s mind from attachments and unrealistic expectations helps the mind to behave in a trained and disciplined manner. With less and less of garbage the mind would not have to suffer its stench!
If one can preserve the mental energy, then it leads to the preservation of the intellectual and physical energy as well. Such conserving of energy is one of the first steps towards a spiritual life.
Swamiji is Editor of Prabuddha Bharata.This article was first published in the Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896.
I typed the word – nutrition – in the Google search bar. About 1,480,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) appeared with a display of the first 11 links.
Whoa! I paused, then I typed – Nutrition for South Asians. About 97,700,000 results (0.60 seconds) was the result. I let this number sink in. What could I tell readers about nutrition in 1000 words or less that would actually be useful?
I narrowed my research to four questions. What are the principal do’s and don’ts for nutrition and healthy eating? What restrictions do health conditions pose? Are credible, well-researched guides available to help us develop individualized plans? Can we adapt these guidelines to cuisines we enjoy?
This article is about healthy eating using Indian, South-Asian and other preferred diets. In a nutshell, abide by these overarching rules:
Follow a heart-healthy diet
Reach and maintain a healthy body weight
Always eat breakfast
Don’t follow fad diets
Don’t skip meals
Next, download your free copy of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 published by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA. This authoritative guide provides an in-depth discussion on diet for proper nutrition and good health.
Its key recommendations are: daily consumption of foods and beverages should be within a caloric level appropriate for you. Adopt a healthy eating pattern that includes:
(1) a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
(2) fruits, especially whole fruits
3) grains, at least half of which are whole grains
(4) fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
(5) a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
(6) Oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature and high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats).
These recommendations for healthy eating patterns should be applied in their entirety, given the interconnected relationship that each dietary component can have with others.
The Dietary Guidelines suggest that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates. Fruit, vegetables, all grain-based foods and dairy products all contain ‘good’ or ‘whole’ carbohydrates in the form of sugar and starch and fiber (as opposed to refined or processed carbohydrates). Most carbohydrates get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy; they can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use.
A healthy eating pattern also limits added sugars and sodium. The Guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake should be from added sugars and less than 10 percent from saturated fats. Sodium consumption should be less than 2,300 milligrams per day (slightly less than a standard teaspoon of salt). Your daily diet should include 4,700 milligrams of potassium which offsets sodium’s effect on blood pressure and has other health benefits. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, leafy green vegetables, and potatoes. For example, a medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium, 8 oz of plain non-fat yogurt contain 580 mg and a baked potato about 600 mg. The dietary guidelines provide a detailed listing of foods containing potassium. Meat, milk, and some cereal products contain potassium but in a form that is difficult to absorb. Alcohol consumption by adults should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men.
To help Americans of Indian origin better manage diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, obesity and hyperlipidemia, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) commissioned Dr. Ranjita Misra, now Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at West Virginia University, to edit the second edition of the book Indian Foods: AAPI’s Guide To Nutrition, Health and Diabetes. This excellent resource on nutrition and healthy eating with Indian cuisine includes chapters on East Indian, South Indian, Maharashtrian, Gujarati, North Indian and Nepali cuisine as well as diet and lifestyle recommendations to prevent heart disease, and tips for those living with diabetes and kidney disease.
Dr. Misra recommends the Dietary Guidelines “as the Bible to go by,” and advocates following it to build a personalized eating plan, using the AAPI Guide and similar sources to tailor it to your cuisines of choice. I spoke with Dr. Misra at length, and she offered several tips that you’ll soon see in the sequel to this article.
In conjunction with a healthy-eating plan, everyone – children, adolescents, adults, and older adults – should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Consult your doctor to account for your specific health requirements, and get on the nutritious and healthy-eating bandwagon with these few simple rules. Develop your own healthy eating plate and enjoy varied, tasty, healthy and nutritious meals every day!
Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. Sukham provides information, and access to resources on matters related to health and well-being, aging, life’s transitions including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death in the family and bereavement. If you feel overcome by a crisis and are overwhelmed by Google searches, Sukham can provide curated resource help. To find out more, visit https://www.sukham.org, or contact the author at email@example.com.
When affluent Silicon Valley entrepreneur Neal Kumar’s beautiful, sensitive daughter, Maya, tragically commits suicide during her freshman year of college, no one seems to know why. In his frantic quest to find the truth – and as his seemingly idyllic life and family begins to unravel – Neal discovers many things about himself and his own choices.
“Born in the land of the mighty Roraima/ Land of great rivers and far stretching sea … ” are words sung in drunken glee by relatives of my parents’ generation. The song tells of the land of my birth, Guyana, a place called “back home” by my elders, but which to me had always been merely a source of relatives’ funny accents and the occasional bawdy provincial story; a place lost entirely in the immaturity of infantile memory, and remade incompletely through the borrowed memories of others.But all that changed as I return to Guyana, unexpectedly and unprepared, 31 years after leaving as a baby. “Born in the land where men sought El Dorado/ Land of the diamond and bright shining gold,” the song goes, boasting of the land’s natural wealth, and hinting at the plight of those who had sought it. I return as a recipient of one of Guyana’s national arts awards, undeserving because I am heretofore unable to find a connection to the ancestral land, which now honors me. That would change as the assault of sights and scents, and the camaraderie of locals, conspire to force my acknowledging of that buried organic thread of belonging.
Despite the song’s promises, I see no gold or diamonds, nor do I find the time to explore the great rivers or far stretching sea. But I do taste the sweetness of Guyana’s fruit, remark on the comeliness of her women, the brightness of her tropical sun and the seeming timelessness of her stitch within the fabric of colonial history. This is a place beaten by its history, existing at the rare conflux of a dozen trading nations, yet striving valiantly to pull itself from the status of Third World indigent to modern Caribbean power broker.
Guyana is a frequently misplaced and mispronounced nation in the Canadian travel vocabulary. Formerly called British Guiana, it is nestled longitudinally between Brazil and the Caribbean ocean, and horizontally between Venezuela and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana). A democracy, she remains the only officially English-speaking country in South America, and one of Canada’s most effusive sources of Caribbean emigration.
At the time of Columbus, the region was inhabited by the Arawak and Carib aboriginal tribes whose legacy is the word guiana. It means “land of waters,” testament to the region’s multitude of waterways streaming to and from the Amazon basin. The three Guyanas of history, Dutch, French and British, were a trading and farming delta operated by European powers for the past two centuries. The land was valuable for its rugged frontier against the rich South American jungle, its navigable river system, its potential for a plantation-style economy, and its position on the shore of the lucrative Caribbean shipping lanes.
When the aboriginal tribes were pushed back into the rainforest, African slaves were brought in to work the sugar plantations. With the transition to British rule in 1786, the labor structure, punctuated by violent slave revolt decades earlier, fell under the auspices of British imperial law. Hence, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire 21 years later led to a critical need for cheap plantation labor. That labor was found via the indentured servitude system wherein subjects of the empire, mostly East Indian and some Chinese, were shipped in to work on a supposedly contractual basis. The colorful songs do not tell of this history. That task is left to the pockets of angry subversive writers scattered throughout the diaspora.
Most historians agree that the British violated the service contracts and refused the indentured laborers their promised passage home. The result was generations of large numbers of people, mostly Indians, stranded in a country to which they never truly intended to emigrate. In the twentieth century, with the dissolution of British rule in favor of a fractious parliamentary system, Guyana remains a nation of essentially two races: African and Indian. This racial duality is a persistent social and political theme, occasionally sinking to riotous violence, and sometimes rising to philosophical elegance, as in the establishment of the multi-racial socialist government of the late President Cheddi Jagan, Guyana’s most beloved fallen hero.
Jagan is often called the father of the modern Guyanese nation. His 80-year old widow Janet, also a former President, remains an honored national figure who hearkens to a bygone era of Gandhi/Mandela styled social protest and political sacrifice. Even their 1943 interracial marriage (he was Indian, she a Jew from Illinois) was a daring feat, a template for a coming age.
Despite the Jagans’ heroism, Guyana’s story in the twentieth century is one of corruption and lost opportunity. As the song describes so proudly, it is a nation rich in mineral and biological wealth, devoid of the population pressures of other developing nations (there are fewer than a million permanent residents). Its rugged beauty inspired the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle who fashioned his 1912 novel “The Lost World” after Guyana’s unspoiled jungle primacy, specifically the misty Mount Roraima upon whose paleolithic peak Conan Doyle envisioned Victorian dinosaur hunters and lost prehistoric tribes.
Guyana’s enviable position as an English-speaking literate nation whose expatriate vim offers access to the resources of the West should have propelled Guyana into the role of Southern leader. Yet the nation has languished economically by virtue of recent dictatorial corruption and mismanagement. High inflation, elevated rates of maternal and child morbidity, increased street crime and official corruption, and residents poor access to infrastructure—the textbook signatures of Third World status—have been typical of Guyana up to and including the 1980s.
This was the ominous data I weighed while considering whether to undertake the visit to the land of my birth. I was taken from Guyana at the age of 2, and returned once more for a summer visit 20 years ago. I had joined the great soup of immigrants in Toronto, multicolored, multicultured, and undeniably Canadian. Despite the thickening density of Guyanese expatriates filling the Toronto-New York corridor, I had no conscious desire to return to my motherland.
However, my book of short stories titled “Sweet Like Saltwater” ostensibly about the Indo-Caribbean diaspora, surprisingly won the 2000 Guyana Prize for Best First Book. Just like that, I was on my way back to this lonely tropical waystation.
The existence of the Guyana Prize is itself a window into the psyche of a nation making great strides to re-position itself as a trade-and tourism-worthy modern democracy. It is one of the English-speaking world’s most prestigious literary awards, and the only national book award offered by a Caribbean country other than Cuba.
Though the official literacy rate hovers about 98%, the country only produces a handful of books each year. But in many Southern societies, the written word retains both power and prestige, regardless of the official rate of book production and consumption. The literary legacy left to Guyana from its most culturally influential ancestral places—India, West Africa and England—is one that seemingly demands the recognition of communicative excellence, evident in the oratorical skills of local leaders and in the impressive feats of poetic recitation required from schoolchildren. Given the poor rate of domestic book production, due in part to a hobbled publishing industry, it is not surprising that the nation glories in the artistic achievements of its expatriate children. London’s Pauline Melville and Fred D ‘Aguiar of Florida are but two such non-resident writers oft honored in Guyana.
Arriving in the capital city, Georgetown, I am filled with trepidation. One guidebook describes the place as “the second most violent capital city in South America, after Bogota.” It further warns: “under no circumstances go out at night, and avoid doing so in the daytime, too.” Wariness of violent street crime was the mantra preached to me by friends and relatives, none of whom had been to Georgetown in many years.
But the city is surprisingly pleasant. Nestled against the Atlantic shore, it nonetheless considers itself a Caribbean metropolis, yet its official population of 200,000 would make it merely a large town by North American standards. It was once a colonial gem, still proudly bearing its traditional moniker of “the garden city”, though decades of infrastructure neglect have tarnished its floral vigor. Whitewashed wooden buildings with thatched multicolored roofs still provide a fair amount of charm and elegance, and rebuilt roads encourage the recent inundation of American sports cars and utility vehicles. All about, the signs of an economic renaissance abound.
One is struck by a distinct odor that, to me at least, is ubiquitous across all tropical domains: the scent of damp fabrics, unseen fungal growths and hot, wet sea air. Not necessarily unpleasant, it is womb-like in its familiarity. Eager surveillance from the window of a cramped Guyana Airways plane revealed dazzling green arteries of water that pulse with life, giving truth to the aboriginal name for the place. The odor and the greenery seem complementary, and one is made less aware of the urban concrete, and more sensitive to the nearby ocean and strategically planted foliage.
The streets and highways are cluttered with autos, muscular and loud. The car is a symbol of machismo here, and owners have taken to emblazoning their vehicles with personalized names. My driver has named his for the Backstreet Boys, and gestures to the photo of the cover girl on his dashboard: “That’s the backstreet girl,” he jokes.
Minibuses plow by. Lynn Mangru, a local sitcom actress and my guide for the morning, tells me that the buses are privately owned with fares set by the government. “People choose which bus to ride by the music the driver is playing,” she says. I decide that my favorite bus is one named “Sweetness” driven by a sloppy, big-bellied, very un-sweet man. On the bus’s back, the driver has written the explanation: “Your sweetness is my weakness.”
Crowds of people gather in every public locale in Georgetown. The roars of rancorous Creole, English-based and similar to Jamaican patwa but spiced with elements of French, Dutch, Senegalese, Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese, assault the ear in torrents of musical speech, sometimes joyous and sometimes angry 97the sounds of street commerce common around the world. The Creole of Guyana is a trademark of the place. It was the language of my youth, usually summoned from my subconscious only with the aid of alcohol or family prodding, embarrassing for its foreignness and inapplicability to Canadian life. Here it is refreshingly familiar, heard at last as a living language for an entire people, and not, as the locals would describe it, as simply “poor English.”
Teenage boys, both brown and black, strut along the roadways with New York ghetto attitude. Basketball shoes, fake jewelry and hip-hop mannerisms are common. Judging from fashion choices and the plethora of cheap low-quality consumer products, this could be any American inner city—except that, alongside these thrusts into the banal continuum of the world economy, there are unmistakable nods to both tropical wherewithal and a recent colonial legacy.
Indeed, while modern autos screech through crowded roads, many side streets are the exclusive domain of horses and horse-drawn vehicles. The preferred mode of transport of many goods, particularly construction materials, appears to be via animal sweat. Time does not allow me a foray into the rural countryside to visit the rice-farming village of my infancy, or to the rugged interior; it would have been interesting to see whether supreme reliance is still made upon beasts of burden for all physical tasks too challenging for mere human muscle. It is quixotically ironic, this superposition of agrarian methods against an urban backdrop of somewhat modern buildings, Western outlook and new American automobiles.
More irony befalls me as I check into the Hotel Tower, supposedly one of Georgetown’s top hotels. Half a century ago, my father worked here as a waiter and had alerted the industry minister to the hotel’s unfair treatment of workers; the pro-labor socialist sentiment runs strong in Guyanese of his generation, those touched by the crusades of Cheddi and Janet Jagan. Today, after decades of decline, the Hotel Tower has remade itself into a gateway for adventure tourism, offering “romantic” rainforest tours to mostly foreign couples. Indeed, eco-tourism is the buzzword across the nation. Industrial forces are arrayed to parcel off Guyana’s pristine jungle ecology in the name of debt reduction, and ventures within the city are positioning themselves to provide the necessary support for such activities.
The city’s center is dominated by the clock tower-crowned Stabroek market, a grand old Dutch structure whose contents today can be compared to rural flea markets in Canada. It is probably the oldest building in the country, and an enduring democratic structure in which everyone, rich or poor, shops. Some say it was intended as a railway station for another colony, but ended up in Guyana by accident. Pierre Trudeau once called it a “bizarre bazaar.” Whatever the colorful anecdote, the market is a beloved sprawl of simple commercial reciprocity where anything that can be carried by hand is sold.
In addition to the basic supplies and knick-knacks sold here are the fresh produce brought in from farmers outside the city. The fruits are glorious in their ripeness, and I gladly indulge in a wide array of tropical nectars. Tourists are ill-advised to wander about the market unescorted, so I was pleased to find manning some of the vending stalls relatives whom I had never before met in person: an aunt, a great uncle and several cousins.
The place had evolved since my family’s exodus I was informed. No longer the refuge of impoverished rural agrarians desperate to hawk their undervalued goods, it is now a locus for lucrative high commerce. A vegetable stall like that owned by my aunt would be sold for the equivalent of tens of thousands of American dollars.
That night is the televised ceremony for conferring the Guyana Prizes for Literature; my reason for being in the country. Professor David Dabydeen of England takes top honors for his novel “A Harlot’s Progress”—the trend of rewarding expatriates continues. Harvard student and proud Guyanese native, Paloma Mohamed receives the award for best drama; her rousing patriotic speech would bring the crowd to its feet. While I nervously wait to make my acceptance speech for my Best First Book prize, an elderly woman strikes up a conversation with me about her grandchildren in Canada. It takes a few minutes for me to recognize Janet Jagan, former President and figure of lore. It is surreal to be making disposable small talk with a woman whose name is spoken with quiet reverence in most Guyanese households, my parents’ included. I decide that this is indicative of the informality of the place, where grand historical figures are simply citizens on about their business.
It is therefore not surprising that the sitting President of the country, Bharrat Jagdeo, proves eminently approachable. His mind is understandably elsewhere as a national election looms close. But his popularity almost assures a victory for his People’s Progressive Party, the political party founded by the Jagans. Government stability is an encouraging sign for sustained development and wealth production.
“My job is to pull government into the background and let creative people run with their innovations,” he says, sounding vaguely Ontarian in his politics. He further laments the limited experiences of many visitors to Guyana, wishing more would choose to step beyond Georgetown to see the beauty of the unspoiled interior. “Just a few hours travel and you can meet AmerIndian children who must take canoes to get to school.” Again, there is that ubiquitous dichotomy of the modern alongside the pastoral and ancient. His words remind me that despite Guyana’s bold forays into aggressive world commerce and the increasing affluence of many of Georgetown’s more visible citizens, this is still a country struggling to find its role in the globalized Caribbean milieu.
I recall the growing links between Guyana and Canada: the 1997 flirtation of Saskatechewan’s SaskPower with acquiring the Guyanese electrical infrastructure; the public health program offered by the medical school of Kingston’s Queen’s University to allow their graduates exposure to the truly impoverished in Guyana’s interior; and recent rumblings about debt forgiveness and other sorts of aid. Yet, despite its rural poverty and tiny population, this is a nation with, astonishingly, 23 television stations.
“Anyone can put up a TV transmitter from their front porch,” says John Mair, a BBC producer who moonlights in Guyana as an election consultant for Mr. Jagdeo, and who also writes a popular political satire column for a national newspaper under the pen name of Bill Cotton. The television medium tends to be so unregulated and unprofessional, Mair says, that “if you watch the Berbice news, you can hear the dogs barking on the broadcaster’s front lawn!”
Guyana is a nation much like other Southern countries in this new age, traveling simultaneous paths of spiraling rural poverty and rapid modernization. The vivacity and robustness of Georgetown is promising, though, as is the seeming genuineness of the current government. But one young entrepreneur, the owner of a rice mill, is keeping his enterprise off-line until after the coming election. When asked what difference it makes which party wins, he answers, “I need to know whether they prefer their bribe as a percentage or as a lump sum.”
The chorus of that inescapable Guyanese song seems particularly poignant to me then, testament to a people’s penchant for adaptation and renewal: “Onward, upward, may we ever go/ Day by day in strength and beauty grow/ Till at length we each of us may show/ What Guyana’s sons and daughters can be.”
Raywat Deonandan is the author of “Sweet Like Saltwater” (TSAR Books, 1999), winner of the 2000 Guyana Prize for Best First Book. Visit him online at www.deonandan.com.
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.
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. 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.