Tag Archives: myth

Vaccine Myths Debunked By Science

Mahi Wants You Healthy and Happy – A column using science to focus on physical health and myths associated with disease. 

The modern age has seen a surge in popularity and support of the controversial “anti-vaccination” crusade. The study that gave rise to this movement was conducted by ex-physician, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism. While this study and various other claims about the negative effects of vaccines have since been discredited by the scientific community, the perceived fears still exist today. As an effective coronavirus vaccine has been developed, it is critical that it is administered to the majority of the population in order for herd immunity to be achieved and spikes of new cases to be avoided.

Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information 

Myth #1: Vaccines cause autism

A flawed study in the Lancet by Andrew Wakefield claimed that autism could be directly linked to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. An incorrect association between vaccines and autism continues to be used as a major argument against vaccines. However, this misconception has no rigorous scientific backing and the evidence from Wakefield’s study is intentionally skewed. For example, the study claimed that each of the twelve children were “normal” prior to the vaccine. However, five children had pre-existing developmental concerns. Wakefield’s study was proven to be biased because he cherry-picked data that supported his hypothesis. Wakefield has since lost his license to practice medicine and his research has been disproved. Even he admitted that he was not able to find a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The causes of autism stem from genetic and environmental factors, not vaccines.  Spontaneous changes in genes that increase the risk of developing autism can be passed from generation to generation. 

Source: Autism Speaks, The British Medical Journal, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, The Lancet

Image from the Medical Daily

Myth #2: Vaccines weaken your immune system

Anti-vax parents believe that vaccines have the potential to increase the likelihood of contracting other diseases not targeted by the vaccine. This misconception is refuted by a case study that tested children’s immunity to hundreds of different infections. The study examined diseases not preventable by vaccines among children aged 2 to 4. The exposure to vaccines for each child was measured by summing up the number of antigens received in each vaccine dose through the first 23 months after birth. After comparing the cumulative antigen exposure (i.e. how many vaccines have been received) of children who contracted the infections to those that did not, it was determined that vaccines have no statistically significant effect on contracting these infections. In reality, the children who did not contract the diseases were found to have received greater doses of vaccines compared to the children who were infected.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, NCSS Statistical Software, Medical Daily

Myth #3: Natural immunity is more effective than vaccines

Some claim that natural immunity is safer and stronger compared to the immune response from a vaccine. Natural immunity occurs when you become immune to a specific disease after contracting it. It is risky to have exposure to the actual disease because there is no telling who will recover quickly and who will have serious complications (with death as a possibility). Vaccines are carefully developed by scientists to ensure that it contains the smallest dose possible that still provides effective immunity. In fact, the HPV, Tetanus, Hib, and Pneumococcal vaccines actually induce a more effective immune response. 

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Myth #4: Vaccines can cause the disease it is supposed to prevent

Because the majority of vaccines involve injecting a form of the disease into the body, many believe that vaccines cause the very disease they are meant to prevent. Inactivated vaccines like those for Hepatitis A, Polio, Flu, and Rabies, can’t cause the disease or symptoms because the bacteria or virus is killed beforehand. Live-attenuated vaccines (e.g. MMR, Rotavirus, Chickenpox, Yellow fever), which use a weakened form of the bacteria or virus, rarely cause minor flu-like symptoms such as chills, fatigue, or headache. It is likely the body’s immune response to the vaccine, signaling that it is working. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses a more traditional approach of inserting a disabled adenovirus. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA-based which are unlike either vaccine mentioned above; mRNA vaccines use encode protein to induce an antibody response.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Image from Village Point Pediatrics

Myth #5: Vaccines contain harmful chemicals

Paul A. Offit and Rita K. Jew’s study reassures that the risk for harm from substances in vaccines – thimerosal, formaldehyde, aluminum, antibiotics, and gelatin  – is low to none. Based on exposure studies, the quantities of mercury (ranging from approximately 65-425 micrograms per dose, aluminum (ranging from approximately 0.17-0.85 milligrams per dose), and formaldehyde (less than 0.1 milligrams per dose) are far too low to be harmful. 

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

COVID-19 – the pandemic

Combatting the misinformation about vaccines has never been more important. With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the development and widespread usage of a vaccine is paramount to returning to normalcy. Please share this article and help us in our effort to educate others and save lives. 

Here are 3 places to get your vaccine:

  1. Rite Aid 
  2. CVS 
  3. CDC 

Why wait? Don’t hesitate. Get your COVID vaccine today – for free! 


Mahi Ravi is a senior at Saratoga High School who is dedicated to getting more vaccinators in line for the COVID shot. In her free time, Mahi leads a website The Corona Page (thecoronapage.com) for coronavirus research simplified to bite-sized nuggets of science. For a personal chronicle of the coronavirus pandemic, visit bit.ly/tcp101

Alicia Loui is a biology major at the University of Pittsburgh minoring in chemistry and music. Outside of class, she is involved in leading the Healing Harmonies club and finding ways to volunteer in the community. She loves the outdoors, traveling, and trying new restaurants! In my free time, She enjoys playing the cello, running, and spending time with friends and family.

Reviewed by Dr. Amy MacNeill and Dr. Sanjay Mishra


 

Anti-Blackness in a Brown World

The phone rang. It was my daughter. “I can’t talk now, I’m rushing out to join a South Asians for BLM march,” I said hurriedly heading towards the front door. Immediately she asked me, “Are there going to be black people there?” “I don’t know – I think there are only south Asians,” I replied.

It had been two weeks since George Floyd’s death. I sensed her unease and was surprised. Why wasn’t she happy that I was speaking up? “I don’t know if this is a good thing, ma. Do you even understand the problems faced by black people?” she said. My daughter’s parting comment haunted me as I marched along with others near Boston city hall later that day. As a south Asian mother, the last year has been hard in recognizing the rampant anti-blackness and casteism within my community. Harder still is admitting my own silent acquiescence. 

When I talked to other family and friends, their responses were often defensive. “We came to this country with nothing and worked our way up,” said a cousin who is now a venture capitalist. What he actually meant was “I worked hard to be here, and I deserve it. If other people worked hard or harder, they’d get what they’d want.”

I realize now that my own responses to my daughters when they first began questioning me was no different from my cousin’s. Like other middle-class immigrants from India, I’d internalized the belief that America is a meritocracy where anything is attainable if you’re prepared to work hard for it. If I was aware of the racism that black people faced it was only in the most abstract sense. 

This meant when my children were young and still at home, I never spoke of racism and certainly of anti-blackness. Worse yet, like many in the south Asian community, I was fearful of anyone black. This despite having heard numerous stories from my husband of being racially profiled. Like me, he too had been born and brought up in South India and had come to this country as a graduate student.

“I was stopped when I got out of the flight,” is how he’d start the tale usually to a rapt audience at a party. He made his racial profiling experiences, fodder for post-dinner entertainment at parties. Once when he was finishing his spiel, I caught myself saying, “Oh my husband has a doctorate from Berkeley!” Both my daughters, now young adults, laugh like hyenas when they hear this story. “Ma, how can you be so desperate to join the model minority bandwagon?” When I vehemently protest, they ask me, How many black friends do you have?”

The week following Floyd’s death, as my daughters began conversations about waking up to the reality of racial identity, my bubble burst. “We’re the white people in India,” my daughters said. I realized how easy I’d had it till now. In India, I was born into privilege, by caste and class and of course was blissfully unaware and therefore never had to acknowledge it.  

In the US, I belong to the “model minority myth” where we continue to believe and propagate the ‘hard-working immigrants make good’ tropes. This does not allow for any failures or deviation from the straight and narrow. If there are academic failures, mental health issues, job loss, or queerness we tend to sweep these out of sight as anomalies. They are not to be acknowledged when they happen in our families and grist for the gossip mill when they do in someone else’s family. Social media too reinforces this overachieving minority myth.

Hearing the stories of the black community makes my own travails as a brown person seem silly. Even as I began to speak up, I realized there was so much more I had to educate myself about. My growth arc had taken a long time, something that I’d like to see shortened for others. As South Asians, we need to ask ourselves the following questions. Are we having conversations about anti-blackness within our families? Are we listening to our children and other young people when they point out that personal discomfort is a small price to pay for social change? 

Recently I watched a video put out by Northeastern University. In it, for eight minutes forty-six seconds—the time George Floyd was gasping for life as he was held down by a white cop—over a black screen the names of the black lives lost to police brutality appeared.

And what about the many others who have survived the trauma of police brutality like Jacob Blake?

Like many others, I learned that those eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a very long time and we cannot be quiet for even another minute.

As comedian and television host Haasan Minhaj pointed out in his show, South Asians cannot stay silent. It’s time to not just be good listeners but also changemakers as we shout out, “Black lives do matter.” We can begin by asking ourselves “How many black people do I really know?” and follow it up with “Why or why not?”


Chitra Srikrishna is a writer and musician living in Boston

Racial and Caste Apartheid: Are They Similar?

“No one is free until we are all free.”

Dr. King’s words continue to be a powerful message for South Asians throughout the U.S. 

Over the past month and a half, our country has been jolted by recent acts of violence against black folks. While systemic injustice and racism have existed in this country for centuries, there is renewed political engagement with the entrenched issues of race in our country. 

For the South Asian community, it is more important than ever to be “accomplices” in the fight against white supremacy and racism. Several South Asian activist groups and nonprofits are paving the way to help our community uncover some of its entrenched prejudices. Through education and civic leadership, these groups are helping the community discover how to participate in today’s movement. 

Why does this matter to the South Asian community? 

The human dignity of black folks is something so fundamental that has been repeatedly ignored by our country. South Asians have often ignored their complicity in this reality by hiding behind the bootstrap myth or perpetrating harmful anti-black ideologies

However, our communities are more interdependent than people might initially believe. 

“Our stories are very much interconnected and to deny that it is the doing of white supremacy and colonization that tries to keep our people divided,” says Sabiha Basrai, a member of ASATA, a grassroots South Asian activist organization in San Francisco. 

South Asians and black folks have a long and shared history. Black leaders have long fought for the liberation of South Asian communities. In the 1960s, the activism on the part of the civil rights movement banned national and racial quotas on immigrants, enabling the vast majority of today’s South Asian immigrants to come to America. 

Solidarity with communities of color is more than merely a thought, it’s been exemplified throughout the course of history. 

ASATA protests

“A specific example of that kind of solidarity is demonstrated through Bayard Rustin who was a civil rights leader. He actually committed an act of civil disobedience in support of the free India movement in the forties. He locked himself to a British embassy in the United States to protest the British occupation of India,” says Basrai. 

But over time, the South Asian community has forgotten about that solidarity. In today’s moment, it’s important to hear the call to action, Basrai advises. 

What’s Caste got to do with it? 

Equality Labs 2018 Research on Casteism in U.S.

“We must examine and reflect on our own complicity with hierarchical systems, like caste, which enables so much police violence within our communities and within home regions,” says Mahn, communications director at Equality Labs. Equality Labs is an organization that fights against oppressive systems in South Asian communities through political education and collective organizing. 

Holding complexity is an important part of this conversation, Mahn says. 

“Caste isn’t just a theory. It’s a real experience of hegemony for a lot of people.” Black and South Asian experiences are both tied to hierarchies of power. 

“Racial apartheid and caste apartheid depend on both racial abolition and caste abolition. They’re corollaries, they intersect in a lot of important ways for the South Asian community, but they’re parallel. They’re not the same thing,” Mahn says. 

Caste continues to be crucial to the conversation about the South Asian diaspora. Last month, technology giant Cisco Systems was sued for discrimination against Dalit employees. The employee experienced verbal harassment and fewer workplace opportunities due to caste. These systems of harm are real and have tangible consequences in diaspora communities. 

Progressive organizations like Equality Labs are encouraging South Asians to reflect on different vectors of privilege. While South Asians may be harmed by white supremacy in some respects, the community also benefits from the model minority myth. Similarly, it’s critical for South Asians to understand how they may propagate systems of harm. 

That’s great, but what do I do now? 

Being an “accomplice” to the movement can be framed in multiple ways, says Sree Sinha, cofounder of the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA). 

“The incredible thing about activism is that there are so many different ways to be involved and each of them matter, each of them are important in terms of what the work is that needs to be done and the change that we need to see happen,” she says. 

Getting involved can range from a variety of different activities, from attending protests, to donating to black non-profits, to starting conversations in one’s own community – the critical piece is personal education. 

“None of us are born with bias against anyone. It is taught to us. And the beautiful thing about that is it means that it can be unlearned as well.” Sinha says. 

Sinha says action is like a ladder. We have the personal-level, targeting biases in our own minds. We have the community-level, where we help people in our communities fight against these injustices. And finally, we have the policy level. It’s important to hold political systems accountable, “whether that’s through calling into different congressional offices and police departments, and being able to use your voice in whatever ways is comfortable to you.”

It’s important for South Asians to mobilize against anti-blackness. 

“Where I really want people to understand that rather than being a source of fear or holding you back or paralysis that in fact, making even those small changes helps buffer us against racism. So if you’re feeling a little helpless or a little stuck pushing yourself to act on any level is a major part of what makes us heal.” 

Today’s moment is different from anything in our recent history. Sinha thinks that shows promise. 

“People are thinking about these issues for many people in a way that they never have before. And that just speaks to the power of the possibility and power of growth and change for humans.”

South Asian history is now inextricably linked to American history. The radical nature of today’s moment is important and will define the way our society functions for generations. We must choose the side of justice, for our collective liberation. 

Swathi Ramprasad is a senior at Duke University. She enjoys learning more about the world through her South Asian heritage.

Complexity of a Modern Father

To be a FATHER in the “yesteryears” was easy because he heard only “yes” to every command he gave. Easy but not healthy. It actually kept our culture somewhat stagnant by keeping a father walled off. On the contrary, I consider the modern father to be a lot luckier. 

Education is no more gender-specific.

Father may know the best” but not on all subjects and matters. Women of today, plunge, and successfully so, into almost every sphere of study. Medicine, Law, Technology, Aerospace Engineering, whatever profession you can name, has seen an increase in female involvement.

A few years back, I questioned my medical students about an anecdotal enigma of a young man who was hit on the head by an automobile and was admitted to the ICU.

The Neurosurgeon looked at the patient and exclaimed in agony, “ This is my son!”

The young man, however, said, “This is not my Father.”

“How is that?” I asked the class.

What the older generation of the medical students could not answer was at once answered by the current generation. The Neurosurgeon was his MOTHER.

Hopefully, we should hear more dialogues like, “ Son, I do not know the answer to your science question. Go ask your mom.” With joint help from both parents, children will learn a lot more about not being gender specific., 

Feeding the family can ALSO be a father’s privilege since both parents are usually working.

This applies to other household responsibilities like changing the diapers, bathing children, nursing them when they are sick, etc. Why should hungry, sick, or hurting children always have to run to the mother? My daughter, when a child, always wanted me to shampoo her hair. I am very happy to have done that because that privilege was taken away from me when she grew up.

At the time of our marriage, my wife was busy with her Ph.D. studies. I went to India by myself to buy the wedding clothes and the matching accessories for the occasion. Throughout my journey, I was busy praying that my choice of purchase met her approval!

The gendered myth relating to right and left brain dominance needs to be readjusted.

Boys and girls, alike, gravitate to STEM in their educational upbringing. We need to dispel the earlier notion that boys should lean on science and girls are good only for arts. These young people are our future parents who will need to learn and teach both in their real life. It should be remembered that Corpus Callosum, the wide web connecting the two brains, is going to be the focus of our future, controlling and coordinating the functions of both cerebral hemispheres. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will need STEAM (A for Arts) to nurture the coordinated growth of our future generations. 

 What could be the main reason why children rush to their Mother when in need?

A modern father has to effectively incorporate both sides of his brain, so that children do not differentiate between the two parents. Our concept of Lord Shiva as an Ardhanaarishwara (Half man and half woman) was conceived at a magnificent moment of this perception. The word female incorporates the male in its body anyway.

When the roles of father and mother get reasonably reversible, fathers will feel fortunate to experience their children in an unprecedented way. At that point in time, there may not be separate celebrations of Father’s and Mother’s Days but a combined Parent’s Day, much to the chagrin of the Business community.  

Till then, have a meaningful Father’s Day!

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

A Woman Must Make Up Her Own Mind

You might think it’s strange, but I chose having an arranged marriage in the midst of an era with dating apps like Tinder.

And I love my husband.

Generally people find it hard to reconcile these two things.

When I turned 24, my parents decided that it was time they made ‘arranging a daughter’s marriage’ as their top goal in life. As with any arranged marriage, entire families were enlisted to convince me that it should be my top priority as well. Although I was young, I knew that marriage would be a giant leap for me. It has always been thus for women – from moving into a new house and adjusting to a different environment, to changing her last name and finding her place in a new family; the institution of marriage was something not to be entered into lightly. I was not ready. 

I managed to dodge and escape for a year and a half before I caved in. But I made it clear that I would not meet gazillion boys in the dance of acceptance/rejection that plays out in the arranged marriage system. No problem, my parents said, and created a profile for me on a matrimonial portal. I had complete freedom to screen and choose proposals based on my personal preferences. After scrolling through multiple profiles, Gaurav was the first boy whose digital proposal I accepted, and after two-three months of ‘courtship’ in the virtual world, we decided to tie the knot.

Although still sceptical of marriage, with both of us being based in India at the time of our engagement, we looked forward to the wedding, unaware of the change in dynamics that would occur in a few weeks. G was offered a job in Singapore, an offer that was too good to refuse. This added to my dilemma. I had not considered the possibility of leaving my full and fulfilling life behind to travel abroad to join my husband. 

After the wedding, I chose to stay behind in Delhi, ostensibly to take care of pending matters. I had been working as a TV presenter at Doordarshan for the past three years and was on the cusp of a promotion. My second book ‘Saturated Agitation’ had recently been launched, and I was busy with book readings. I had just completed my Master’s degree in journalism, and was waiting to collect my original mark sheet. I was teaching journalism as a part-time lecturer and was reluctant to abandon my students in the middle of the semester. One of my dogs had given birth to seven pups. The other one was sick. 

Nine months after my wedding, I kept adding more excuses to the already long list of valid reasons for me to linger in Delhi. Despite the distance, G was very considerate in not insisting that I move to Singapore. Was it because he was as tentative as me about our union? Things seemed fine on our occasional short meetings. We often connected over various digital devices and channels. But we did not share a home; we had no history together.

*****

It is the month of August, the month of my husband’s birthday. This is his first birthday as my husband, and I do not want us speaking over flat screens. For some reason, I feel compelled to be with him; I want to make this day special. Is this love? I make plans and buy gifts. I am flying to Singapore tomorrow morning to see him. This is not a surprise visit because I cannot afford the risk of him being elsewhere if I arrive unannounced. I know that G has also made plans. We are both excited to see each other. It has been three months since our last rendezvous. 

I pack my bags and lay out my favourite white cotton Anarkali suit for the flight in the morning. I wash my face, kiss my pups and dogs good night, apply night cream and sleep. 

I wake up with a mild sense of excitement when my alarm goes off at 4 in the morning. I have to leave home at 5:30 to reach the airport on time. A I am getting ready, I sense a commotion outside our home, and the TV news confirms my misgivings.

A sleep-deprived, tired reporter screams out news about fire, mobs and roadblocks. People have turned violent to protest the rape conviction of Baba Ram Rahim who had subsequently been jailed. Oblivious to the implications of this news, I get ready to leave for the airport only to realise that I cannot step outside. People are walking the streets with swords and fire torches. It is a communal riot-like situation. There are half burnt vehicles on the roads with mobs screaming “Baba bekasoor hai, Baba ko riha karo” (Baba is innocent, release him from prison.)

I have a long phone call with G; I don’t want to disappoint him. I argue with my father about the unfairness of his demand that I stay home. Before long, I have to accept defeat. There is no way I can safely make it to the airport in time for my flight, thanks to the harsh reality of things beyond my control. 

“The important thing is that you are safe at home. It is alright; we can always plan for next month or the month after.” G is incredibly sweet and understanding. He is the one consoling me even though I am the one throwing tantrums for not making it to his birthday.

As I sit with my head in my hands, my sick dog walks towards me, lifts his leg and pisses on my bag. And something finally snaps.

“Am I taking advantage of my husband’s understanding and supportive nature? Is this a punishment for being a terrible wife? ”

I see my father leaving for his clinic despite the unruly situation outside, knowing that there may be additional patients who need his help. I have grown up seeing him devote his entire life to the welfare of the people. His passion for his work and dedication towards helping others has been an inspiration for me. Being the youngest one in the family, I was naturally close to my father. What I hadn’t realised was how interdependent we have become in the past few years… I am so much like him. His preoccupation with work had always kept him away from his family. Am I doing the same thing?

A woman’s life changes entirely after marriage, and so does her opinion of it. Before marriage, my focus was more on the “wedding”- clothes, jewellery, make-up, events, music and whatnot. However, the next morning, when the band baja baraat was over, I found myself transformed from the kid of my family to the eldest bahoo of my husband’s family, a promotion of sorts that required significant adjustments to my outlook about my life ahead. With the completion of the rituals of marriage, I had wondered what other literal and figurative changes lay in store but had not ventured to find out.

Today, thanks to Baba Ram Rahim and his followers, I can finally see that it is not my career nor my dogs, not my students nor my mark sheet holding me here. I got married and was ‘given away’. From kanyadaan to bidai- every ritual confirmed my departure from my maiden home and guided me towards the road to becoming a wife. The only thing that is holding me is me. I haven’t mustered the strength to leave my father, my home, and begin a life with my husband, to become a wife in its real sense. Only I could correct this unfair situation. I had to let my marriage take shape, even though I had no idea how to create it. It was time to fly.

*****

In the next ten days, I resigned from work, completed my assignments as best as I could and started looking for work in Singapore. When G came to Delhi to escort me to Singapore, my father waved a tearful goodbye. I knew then that my father was happy for me – he would not have asked his daughter to go away because he wanted me to take that step by myself. He would be fine, and so would I.

As the aircraft gained momentum and trembled with new-found energies to take off, I felt a gush of overwhelming emotions soaring within me that gave me the courage to start my married life. 

Sometimes it takes more than mere rituals for a daughter to accept the position of someone’s wife, but it is never too late to start, and there is nothing wrong in allowing yourself some extra time to graduate to the idea of being a Mrs After all, marriage is one small step for man and a giant leap for womankind.

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


A version of this essay was published in Desi Modern Love- An Anthology published by Story Artisan Press, Singapore.

Nirtya Darshni, Natya Chinthamani Revathi Satyu Touches Many Lives

Core strength and flawless posture mark the ladies stepping out of Arathi School of Dance in Dallas, Texas. The students, some who have been at the school for most of its thirty-nine years, carry the poise and gentleness of its founder Smt. Revathi Satyu. Revathi who as a young girl has performed before the Maharaja of Mysore, Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi and President Shri V.V.Giri among other dignitaries, has in her lifetime gently floated from one accolade to another for her service to the art of dance.

Smt. Revathi Natyu with Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar of Mysore

It was in 1980, when there was no other dance academy in the state, art connoisseurs came together to enjoy and encourage the art form under her leadership. Herself a young lady with small children Revathi nevertheles forged forward with her dream to pass on the art to the next generation of children to grow up in the US. “When our children were young,” said Dr. Neil Satyu, “she would teach only on weekends, but increased the lessons to three to four days a week when the children were older. She would drive an hour each way from our home to teach dance in Dallas, and fly to San Antonio once a month to teach there.”

 

Dr. Neil Satyu

When the school started, the classes were held in a recreation center, then they were moved to a church community hall, soon they were subleasing ballet studios.  “When the Hindu Temple build classrooms, she began to teach at the temple,” said her husband, Dr. Neil Satyu.

“She was the first to start a Bharatanatyam dance school here in Dallas forty years ago. It took guts, grit, and a strong resolve to do this at a time when there were not very many Indians in the area and she had to travel hours to get to the students. Dance school became a place where friendships developed, a place where the children of those who left India could be exposed to the rich culture of their heritage; a community grew. The school not only helped the students attending it but it helped the parents of the students make connections and relationships that are ongoing even today,” said Anu Sury, who has been her student since the age of twelve and now teaches in the school.

Arpana Satyu Burge, her daughter, remembers that there was always someone coming over to practice for a show or arangetram. They always had one or two dance sisters attached to the family. “Raising the two of us in the sticks of East Texas, in a town where she knew nobody could not have been easy, but she did it.  She met people, she made friends, she found students, she handled the household.  She raised two kids (who turned out pretty okay) but created many more dancers.”

Revathi and her team later took on the task of taking the dance to non-Indian audiences and to educate the people at large. Suma Kulkarni joined forces to take Smt. Revathi Satyu’s vision for the Arathi School of Dance forward. They created the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, non-profit organization whose vision is to promote intercultural awareness by providng a platform for the interaction between Indian and American cultures through workshops, presentations and performances. ” Prabha (Suma) Aunty and Revathi Aunty have conceptualized, started, and managed ICHF for the past 25 years. Through this organization, Dallas has benefited immensely with outstanding artists being presented here,” said Anu Sury.

Modest about her achievements Smt. Revathi Satyu is not one to boast. She often refers to dance as a good hobby. But the depth of her commitment is evident when her students talk about her in reverential tones

Alpana Kagal Jacob, her student of 38 years remembers being mesmerized by her performance at just ten years of age and demanding her parents enroll her in her school of dance.“ I was 10 years old and our family had recently moved to Denton, Texas. I remember watching aunty perform a few Bharatanatyam items and specifically a Mohiniyattam item. I was instantly mesmerized by her grace and connected with her through her striking glances that seemed to not allow the audience to look away. It was magical. I remember telling my mother that I would like to start dance classes with Revathi aunty. We really didn’t understand what a treasure we had right in front of our eyes.  Aunty sacrificed so much for us and for this amazing art form. I remember days when she would have one of her young daughters holding on to her feet as she patiently continued to teach us. When I think back to those simple days I can’t help to feel such gratitude for growing up in a world that was so simple and having the opportunity to learn from this simple yet complex woman.”

“I am always thankful for ALL that she does, and especially, for all that she is,” said Shalini Varghese Chandragiri who has been her student since the age of five and now teaches at Arathi School of Dance. “She teaches by example how to submit to the higher power without ever letting ego get in the way.”

“It is believed that in life, every person’s destiny is bound to another person. Revathi aunty came into my life twenty-one years ago when I moved from India to Dallas, to pursue my doctoral program. Dance was always my first love. My dear Revathi aunty, and the Arathi School family that she built further enhanced this love. I still vividly remember that Saturday afternoon at the Irving temple when I laid my eyes on this exquisite and gorgeous aunty. She and her senior students were getting ready for a performance. When I approached her, she welcomed me with open arms in her quiet and sweet manner. This journey of dance has been more than just dance to me. This has been a journey of love, patience, compassion, and self-discovery, all thanks to Revathi aunty.  She is my Guru, when I need direction, my dance mom when I need advice and a friend when I need to share my smiles and tears, and even when I need to share a cup of hot tea with a good book to read,” says Sarita Venkatraman her student, now herself a teacher at Arathi School of Dance.

“When I was older, I moved away and realized that not all dance teachers are like Revathi Aunty. She is a rarity in that she is open to collaboration, with never an unkind word about anyone.  I love being a teacher for Arathi School of Dance.  It is because of Revathi Aunty’s unwavering dedication to teaching Bharatanatyam that our school has such a strong foundation and remains the most established school of Bharatanatyam in the entire state of Texas”, said Shilpi S. Mehta her student and a teacher herself.

” I too have had the opportunity to see other dance schools run by other teachers in America. I haven’t found one that has created the kind of dance culture Revathi aunty has. She builds relationships with other dancers and teachers rather than seeing them as competition. She nurtures relationships with many different musicians through mutual respect,” said Latha Shrivatsa. “She had the strength in character to invite other prominent dancers to conduct workshops at a time when other dancer teachers were not doing this, so that we might be exposed to other styles rather than claim her students as her own territory. She encourages her own dancers to keep striving, to explore directions beyond where she has,” said Latha

As the President of the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Revathi Satyu continues to promote and encourage other dance, music and art connoisseurs around the world. She is a true athlete of the art. The dance studio spends a great deal of time and energy in connecting the ancient traditions with the ideas and stories of the present and the future. “She’d dance in the kitchen while we were at school, choreograph in her head while listening to music in the carpool line, and drag us to hours upon hours of dance lessons on weekends, because that was her happy place,”  her daughter Arpana said.

Revathi has been the choreographer and artistic director for a number of dance dramas, raising funds for deserving causes. Every performance by the school encapsulates in the performance a message or story the students can relate to. Powerful stories for instance of different aspects of the mother; Jiva or the art of protecting the environment or our roots are conveyed using abhinaya and nritta or rhythmic footwork, geometric movement, codified hand gestures, and facial expressions. The performers with technical virtuosity express devotion to the deities and their cultural tradition. They share their knowledge of the different facets of Indian deities and mythological stories with their non-Indian audiences.

Revathi Satyu’s dance journey began in India where she reached great heights. Illustrious gurus, U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, Pandanallur Muthiah Pillai, Tanjore K.P. Kittappa Pillai and Mysore Venkatalakshamma, shaped her into a worldclass Bharatnatyam dancer and stage actress in India where she performed for a decade 1965-1974. Revathi Satyu is a sought after Bharatanatyam dancer. Karnataka Kalashri, Bharata Kala Rathna, Sangita Sambrahma and recently winner of the Mary McLarry Lifetime Achiement Award from the Dance Council of North Texas her outstanding contribution in the field of classical dance has been awarded many times.

Earlier this year she was endowed with the prestigious title of “Nritya Darshini” by Kalaimamani Smt. Priyadarsini Govind. Additionally Revathi Satyu is being honored by Saptami Foundation, with the title of ‘Natya Chinthamani’ on November 23rd, 2019. The Nirtya Darshni award recognized her as an outstanding dancer and guru.

Dance flows through her and this teller of ancient and modern stories steals your heart with a fluidity of motion and a flash of her expressive eyes. As Arpana her daughter says, “As perennial as a rose, so is my mom–she stretches further and blooms brighter as the years go on.”

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