About a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore visited Shanghai where he was hosted by a young Chinese poet Xu Zimo, who had studied at Cambridge. Xu died young but changed poetry in China forever by liberating it from the formalism to introduce free form, and his work was influenced by Tagore.
Tagore wrote a poem called The Year 1400 (Bengali calendar – 1996 in Gregorian) addressing a reader a hundred years into the future. In it, he tells the future reader: “My spring birdsong and breeze fills me with song and I can’t send it forward but won’t you too sit by your open window and think of a poet who wrote this poem for you to share the youthful passion spring brings for all.”
Jing Jing, an immigrant from China, moved to the U.S. and taught herself English, to earn her young American daughter’s respect, and eventually become the current poet laureate of Cupertino (aka the place where Apple has built its spaceship HQ). She heard Tagore’s poem, The Year 1400, late on a Saturday night, when she visited our Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley readings last May. We happened to be celebrating Tagore’s birthday by inviting all our Bengali poets to read. One poet, Jayanta chose Tagore’s poem and its English translation by Ketki Kushari Dyson, from Oxford. It moved Jing Jing to goosebumps and tears.
As Jing Jing planned the Lunar New Year celebrations with poetry reading, she invited the grandson and great-granddaughter of Xu Zimo to read his work. Jing Jing remembered Tagore’s poem and wondered if our poets would be willing to read it at the celebration — to bring the old poets’ works together — like the friends who met in Shanghai a century ago.
I had no recollection of it and wondered who might have read it. Jing Jing had saved a screenshot so I knew it was Jayanta. When I reached out to him, he said “Anything Jyoti asks, I have to do.”
But as it turned out — there was a conflict in his schedule. He found the poem and its translation for us, even though he couldn’t read it. That is how I ended up reading Tagore’s poem and another of our poetry circle members, Debolina, read the original in Bengali.
130 people attended this online event. This is amazing for so many reasons. The China, India, US, and UK connections, the passion and love of poems and ode to spring, old friends connected through poetry, strangers making happenstance connections across the impossible distance and centuries, in springtime for celebrations with verse, and me getting caught up to enjoy it all, without leaving the comfort of my home.
Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.
This story is inspired by a true incident. The names of the characters have been changed.
Mira was barely 16. Excited about life. She had dreams. She was vulnerable. She was impressionable.
A young, bubbly teenager with a big dimpled infectious smile, she was a happy child. She had dreams, Cinderella fantasies; her prince charming would come one day on a well-bred groomed horse and take her away to the land full of pots of gold. She was a hard-working girl, full of grit; however, she was a daydreamer, stargazing and moonstruck with all the hues of the rainbow in her small world.
Mira was enveloped by immense love and support from her family. With her parents living out of the country, she had to settle in a boarding school for her high school years. Routines were very different, but no complaints as she managed to sail through them every single day. Jubilant moments were accompanied by melancholy ones when she would long for one warm hug.
Going to her maternal Aunt Krishna’s house every weekend was the highlight for her. She eagerly waited by the school gate every Friday afternoon when her Uncle Hari would pick her up. The late-night chit-chatting and sharing her innermost secrets with her cousin Simrin was something she looked forward to week after week. Summer vacation was right at the corner, and Mira was super excited to travel and spend time with her family. As always, her favorite Uncle Hari picked her up from school around 6:00 pm that Friday. Mira could not stop talking to him while they drove back home.
It was getting dark at 7:00 pm, the traffic jam was at its peak, and Uncle Hari took a detour with the intention to reach home on time. Mira started feeling a bit distressed and cramped in the car. Her gut was not too happy and was sending signals to her brain, ”Mira, something is not right. Even though there is traffic, it should still not take that much time”.
Uncle Hari came to a halt near an office building and said, “Mira, I need to meet an office colleague for a few minutes. Please wait for me in the car, I will be back soon.”
The few minutes turned into an hour, and Mira was nervous and getting jittery; she wanted to be home as soon as possible. Finally, Uncle Hari made his way back to the car, but in a different form. Mira felt uneasy and was afraid of her Uncle, who was in an inebriated state. His alcoholic breath made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to dash out of the car.
She was numb when she felt her Uncle’s awkward gestures as he tried to get close to her physically. She felt paralyzed as though someone had handcuffed her. What was happening? Mira felt trapped and powerless till some unknown power took over her.
She assertively requested, “Please behave, Uncle. You are not in your right senses, just drive me back home.”
The man who she idealized all her life turned into a villain, and Mira felt betrayed. It was like a bomb had blasted with full speed. The respect came crashing down, and in her full senses, she slapped the man sitting next to her—the man whom she had put on a pedestal and had glorified all these years.
Uncle Hari was shocked and dumbfounded. A timid man who tried to take advantage of his niece was stunned and felt impotent at Mira’s undaunted behavior. He was baffled at her militant and lion heartedness act. Quietly, he started driving back home in awkward silence.
That night onward, all changed for Mira. She had this unseen cloud of tension between her cousin Simrin and Aunt Krishna. It was not their fault. However, the gap widened.
She detested her Uncle; there was intense repugnance towards him, and she wanted to punish him for his misdoing. She tried a few times to confide in Simrin but held back with a feeling of shame and guilt. She started chastising herself internally as though it was her fault. Her house visits reduced and came to a stop when Mira decided to take their name off the list as her local guardian. It was a tough decision and hard to explain to her parents, but they abided by it.
The secret got buried in her heart with no mention to anyone. She often questioned herself, “Did I do anything wrong?”
She never got a concrete answer to her question and let it go by. She embalmed her innermost feelings and mummified them. The point of contact with her aunt Krishna and Simrin was all gone. The gap widened till there was no communication between the families. Mira’s mother once asked her, “Please tell me what happened, let me help you.”
” No, mom, I am fine. I have grown apart from Simrin. Leave it.”
That was the last time they ever spoke about this topic.
Years passed by, Mira was in a happy place in her life. Actively chasing her dreams, attaining her life goals, she was married and had a fulfilling family life. One evening her phone rang and she heard the news that her Aunt Krishna had passed away in a horrific accident. Mira was dismayed, and a colossal teardrop rolled down her cheek. Her most loving Aunt was no more and she had not spoken to her for almost two decades. Her mind flashbacked to all the priceless memories of their times together.
The phone rings again after a few years, with Mira’s mother on the other line, ”Your Uncle Hari is on life support. He is dying alone with no one by his side.”
Mira felt a sigh of relief and said to herself, finally, he will be gone forever. Her anger and detest seemed to vanish away suddenly in the air. It was as though a gargantuan burden had been lifted off her chest.
Uncle Hari passed away. He was in physical pain during the last few days of his life. However, Mira always wondered, did he have any remorse or shame? Did he ever want to redeem himself for what he had done? Did he have any realization of his hideous act? Was she right in her thought process? Should she forgive him?
Mira never got her answers. She decided to forgive herself for having held on to the feelings for so long. She gathered her guts, opened up the skeletons from the closet, and confided in her sister Ahana. She bawled her eyes out, cried for hours, and finally escaped from the chrysalis. All these years, she wanted to be heard but evaded the truth, and finally, it happened. Mira was relieved and felt comforted in the arms of her sister Ahana.
The bold and beautiful Mira decided to educate her daughter Sia to be a vocal, balanced and competent woman. She felt she owed it to her, and it was her duty to encourage her sense of autonomy to handle all the trials and tribulations within the circle of life.
Mira’s message is loud and clear, walk like a queen and never take any abuse. Speak up at the right time, take risks, be gentle but not too nice to be taken advantage of, and lastly, you get to decide your worth – not the world around you.
Dr. Monika Chugh is a resident of Fremont and a doctor by profession. She has an undying love for blogging and actively shares her personal experiences with the world on different topics. An active Rotarian, nature lover, coffee-fitness-yoga-hiking enthusiast, domestic violence advocate, in her free time, you will find her reading in her Zen sipping coffee working on her writing.
SP: India Currents is fortunate to collaborate with local, diverse, community organizations. One such organization is SF-based nonprofit, Ethnic Media Services, which aims to inform minority media on issues relevant to them. At one of their media briefings, the topic discussed was Arts and Culture on Life Support Because of COVID-19 and panelists relayed their personal experiences, as artists impacted by the pandemic. I began to reflect on my own connection with my culture and art. Despite not relying on the arts as a source of income, I would be devoid of my identity without art. That is how I began to frame my article. Indians in America grasp at sources for identity and performing arts are the magical bridge that can teleport us to our motherland.
VK: What was the most surprising discovery you made while reporting it?
SP: The performing arts were the first industry to shut down as a response to COVID and will be the last to reopen. This sounds intuitive and may not be surprising for people to hear, but the sheer breadth of what that means – the economic loss, individuals with no foreseeable income, and possibly, the erasure of culture – is something that wasn’t being addressed in mainstream media. Subsequently, it wasn’t where resources were being allocated. Since the Great Depression, federal funding hasn’t been given to the Arts. I became fixated on the potential loss of minority arts.
VK: What was the message of your article?
SP: My hope was to reinvigorate interest in minority-run cultural arts, even in those that meander away from the South Asian culture. My article had a three-fold purpose: first, to shed light on South Asian arts and artists that were undergoing a strenuous time; second, to have the reader actualize their relationship with the arts and its connection to cultural identity; and third, I wanted the article to be a poignant reminder for those that take interest in the arts, to sustain it.
VK: Why do you think this article resonated with readers?
SP: One can never be sure of what resonates with a reader, but I write from a place of empathy and advocacy for culture and minority voices. I can only speak to my own experience, as a first-generation Indian American, yet I find cross-cultural narratives on identity humanizes what people consider an “other”. As Americans, we benefit from exposure to multiculturalism and can create inclusive spaces. India Currents facilitates such discourse. I write for the readers – I write for myself. You are all on the journey with me, of self-exploration and pandemic pursuits.
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We often hear from readers that our reporting truly makes a difference in their lives—that no other publication covers Indian narratives like we do, or with such integrity and transparency:
“Thank you for your media presence in these difficult times…America gave us the opportunities to grow and we are now giving back in the knowledge and resources we acquired. These coming months will challenge people from India. We have unique opportunities to lift, support, and lead in more creative ways than we ever imagined. Please continue to do what you are doing for the community and country at large.” – Satish and Surekha Chohan
Your mail surely touched my heart, so simple and yet genuine. It is a period of deep anxiety as we strictly follow the Government’s decision for all to stay indoors and maintain a fair distance from one another…In the meantime, thank you all for the cheerful introspection you give us.” – Nita (Dave) Jain
“We follow your daily updates, good—keep it up. WE ARE IN IT, WITH YOU, WITH OUR COMMUNITY.” – Sunil Tolani
Journalism with this kind of impact is free to consume but expensive to produce.
Presently our lives are topsy turvy and we are dealing with the reality that the coronavirus will be with us for a long time. The whole world has paused. The new normal is one of uncertainty as our lives have been disrupted. We are unable to meet our friends, vacation, go to work, or school. We wake up hearing more disturbing news of the stock market, unemployment, rising number of cases, and deaths.
Before the pandemic hit us, we took things for granted. We did not value the simple things of life. Being able to walk and breathe without a mask, meeting friends and family, hugs, eating at restaurants, shopping at stores, have become luxuries.
Many of us felt fear for our lives and our loved ones when we heard of the COVID -19 virus, then came a feeling of frustration and irritability which led to the anger of being locked down. Gradually our communities have started to open and some of us step out cautiously with paying attention to social distancing and wearing a mask. Life has changed!
This has been a difficult time for me too, but as time goes by I have realized that I have to make the most of what I have. I nurture my mental physicaland spiritual health. This lockdown has made me aware of my inner strength, resiliency, and compassion.
We are caught up in our busy schedules and many of us are unaware of who we are. During the pandemic, things have slowed down and we have time to tune in to our thoughts and feelings. Use this as a time of self-discovery, to dive deeper into understanding who you are. This time of self-isolation is to search for answers to get to know your true self.
Many of us are naturally anxious or unhappy at this time and find it difficult to move towards balance and peace, but it is possible. Consider making one or more of these methods an integral part of your life. They may help you with your own self-discovery.
Meditation: The practice of mindfulness, a practice for mental health and clarity. Self-discovery meditation could be done in a simple manner. It is a way to calm the mind and body with relaxation and to get in tune with your inner self. By regularly meditating you will be able to live a more thoughtful and introspective life.
Find a quiet place with no distractions. Do switch off your electronics.
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
Breathe naturally, in and out.
In your relaxed yet alert state, ask yourself a few questions to stay focused.
Questions you can ask yourself could be, “ I would like to know my strengths; I would like to know my weaknesses; who am I: how do I achieve my goal, etc.
Or you can use one word or mantra such as discovery, belief, knowledge, etc to help you focus.
Focus your attention on the mantra and drop into the depths of your inquiry where the answers arise. if unable to do that then bring yourself back to your breath.
Feel the sensations in your body of each inhalation and exhalation and let it flow.
After 10 to 15 minutes open your eyes and sit still. Try and recall if you felt anything that helped you understand yourself just a little bit more.
This requires daily practice, time, and patience to move towards the path of self-discovery. As you move towards this goal, meditation will help calm your mind.
Journaling:During this unprecedented time, try to pay attention to your mental health. Journaling is a very effective and simple manner of tracking yourself over a period of time. You just need a pen and paper or you can journal on your phone.
Journaling helps you look back and see your progress, patterns, emotional triggers, and what you have overcome. If you see yourself feeling negative often then journaling will help you identify this pattern. You can train yourself to write positive affirmations and think with a more hopeful attitude. It can help you identify your aspirations and overcome your fears.
I have found journaling to be like self-counseling which has put me on the path of self- discovery and getting to know the authentic me.
Walking: An exercise for our physical well-being and also for our mental health. Walking in nature, absorb what is around you through your senses Do not have any distractions with headphones or any electronics. Get more introspective and let your thoughts wander. If your thoughts continuously move to the negative then try and bring it back to the one thing which made you smile.
For example, you are irritated with something happening at work and it keeps expressing itself repeatedly. What do you do? While walking, observe your breath and focus on it, till you are calm. Then start appreciating where you are and enjoy that moment. When your mind goes back to the irritability bring it back to the breath and the beauty around you. It takes practice but soon you will find that you are in the present moment while walking.
Gratitude: As life has changed for us, it is not easy to feel gratitude.
Try and have compassion for yourself at this time and when you are able to do this, you will feel that you are able to express gratitude for yourself and others. Gratitude is a positive emotion and can help let go of the negative emotions which we feel during this time.
I have a gratitude jar in which I write the simplest of things I am grateful for. After a week I look at them and feel that I am fortunate in so many ways and this helps me move forward.
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is when you take notice of what is happening right now and when your mind wanders, then you bring it back to the moment. I urge all of you to engage in mindfulness throughout the day. Be in the moment of what you are doing and observe it and your feelings but do this non-judgmentally.
Some of us don’t realize the strong emotions of sadness, fear, and anxiety which the pandemic has brought on. With the practice of mindfulness, we can reduce these triggers slowly and move towards feeling more balanced.
Get in touch with your soul. Keep searching for answers, look within, and find your courage, passions, dreams, and happiness. Keep introspectively exploring till you find your true self. Go on, raise your consciousness, and be a higher version of yourself.
The COVID-19 spell has left governments, markets, and civil society wobbling through disruptions and damage. The ambiguity that envelops not only the evolution of the disease but also its impact makes it a challenging and complex task for policymakers to devise a suitable policy response.
The pandemic has brought to the forefront some key ethical questions that we must explore. The ‘Human gene’ is thought of as the most skilled of making a choice based on ‘free will’, on ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’. From the study of human behavior, it is widely known that the current setting can be related to the behavior of people, the choices they make, and the human tendency for cognitive error, to be able to forecast patterns and design effective interventions.
Today, the whole world stands on the edge, geopolitics at a cusp, policymakers in a dilemma, to generate an appropriate policy response. This is the classic case for strategic thinking and can, therefore, draw on insights from behavioral economics and game theory. The former is a field of social sciences that is a blend of economics and psychology and looks into human decision-making behaviors, whereas the latter is the study of models based on strategic interactions between players, on rational choice and on maximizing behavior by the people.
In the context of the pandemic, the questions that come to one’s mind are:
How to encourage – and sustain – cooperation?
How to incentivize social distancing amongst people?
How to get various organizations and authorities to better coordinate?
How to get countries to cooperate and coordinate?
Game theory is the science of strategy that deals with outcomes that are produced by interactions, based on the behavior of the players. It is a tool to study interactions in the context of interdependencies.
A “game” is any situation involving two or more “players” in which the “fate” of each player depends not only on her “actions” but also on the actions of the other players. Some notable points are:
A “situation” can be economic, social or political, etc. (e.g., social distancing).
A “player” can be a person or a group such as a firm, a political party, a country, etc. (e.g., a citizen).
The “fate” of a player is what she cares about such as profit, happiness, winning an election, growth, money, pay-offs, etc. (e.g., catch the virus or not, and keep one’s job or not).
An “action” is a choice or a strategy. (e.g., to social distance or not).
The main ingredients of a Game:
Who are the players?
What strategies does each player have
What are the payoffs for each player?
The novel Covid-19 pandemic seems like a real-time situation that can be fitted well into the basic game theory model called the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’. The prisoner’s dilemma is basically a game in which there is an incentive to make a choice that may not produce the best possible or optimal outcome for the group as a whole.
Some aspects of this pandemic reflect the same premise, such as the decision to maintain social distancing during a pandemic looks a lot like a move in a multiplayer form of this game. One can either cooperate, and do something that costs a little while helping those around, or deviate, and bring one, a small benefit but at a greater cost to those around oneself.
If one maintains social distancing, it is not necessary that he/she will not contract the virus as it also depends on what others are doing. Thus, it is a ‘game’-there are strategic interactions.
Let us say, we have a two-player Prisoner’s dilemma game. Both players ‘A’ and ‘B’ have two choices. Choice ‘C’, in which both choose to maintain social distancing and hence cooperate and, choice ‘D’, where they both deflect and do not social distance. The payoff matrix is given below:
5,5 (C, C)
0,8 (C, D)
8,0 (D, C)
1,1 (D, D)
The efficient outcome is (C, C) with respective payoffs (5,5). This occurs when they both agree to cooperate and maintain social distancing. This is the result of ‘Collective rationality’.The outcome “(5,5)” is preferred by both (everyone) but is unstable in that each person has an “incentive to cheat” – there is a temptation to go out when everyone is locked inside their respective homes. However, here both the players have a unilateral incentive to deflect and this outcome becomes unstable and fragile. Each player becomes vulnerable to the so-called ‘selfish gene’ inside of him and has an urge to cheat and deviate and thus get a higher payoff for oneself. If ‘A’ falls prey to this temptation, thinking that ‘B’ would have done the same and drops the precaution of social distancing, then he gets a small benefit (8,0) but at the cost to others in the society. If player ‘B’ is led off by the temptation to deviate assuming that ‘A’ would have reacted in the same way and decides not to distance himself, then likewise his payoff is (0,8).
Thus, the Unique “dominant” (or “rational”) strategy for each person is ‘Not to Cooperate’. There arises a tension between“Individual Rationality” and “Collective Rationality”. Individual Rationality leads them to settle at the ‘optimal’ outcome, where both them end up in deviating with lower payoffs for themselves at (1,1) and a higher risk of getting the virus. This in fact is what is called the ‘Nash equilibrium’. Cooperation gets destroyed by the ‘Art of War’ and paradoxically non-cooperation becomes the dominant strategy.
Ironically, the biggest debate rattling the world is that which political power would emerge as the winner in this ‘COVID stirred race’ for dominance.
Questions that come to the ground are, whether a country should cooperate with others and share the results of its innovative practices or not?How to get from “(1,1)” to “(5,5)”? That is, how can one make a good outcome happen? This requires Cooperation and Trust.
Is there a need for a “third” party to enforce the peace, to enforce cooperation, to enforce a lockdown? Yes, perhaps and the “third” party can be the Sovereign (i.e., the State)?
What are the payoffs and the costs?
What should be the geo-political policy response?
Here lies the ‘tight-spot’ faced by policymakers today…
In the current times, the main players are the citizens and the governments whose choices make a difference and to a large extent play a vital role in checking the pandemic, which had constructed the game theory model in question, in the first place. COVID-19 will reshape our world. We don’t yet know when the crisis will end. But we can be sure that by the time it does, our world will look very different. How different will depend on the choices we make today. Every stakeholder’s choice is an externality for others.
Global pandemics need global solutions. ‘Radical scaling up of international cooperation among scientists, economists and policy-makers is the need of the hour’. A cooperative strategy by all the players in the ‘Covid-Game’ is the optimum one. It is the Nash equilibrium, in the ‘Covid-induced policy-cogmaire’!
Malini Sharma is the Senior Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi in India.