Tag Archives: NRI

MAALicious: Love Your Artisan Jewelers

Those who love jewelry and the world around them, have something special to celebrate with this Valentine’s Day month.

Designed in New York City and made for the global Indian woman, Maalicious Jewelry was born two years ago out of a desire to empower women artisans in India. The brand aims to innovate and create quintessential jewelry with a rich dose of tradition. Its inspiration is Indian, tribal, and historic. All of its earrings are 24K gold-dipped. Some of its artists get over 50% of the proceedings from the jewelry, and a few of their earrings are made using sustainable material like clay.

Poonam Thimmaiah, Founder of Maalicious

Maalicious’ Founder, Poonam Thimmaiah, spent her childhood hopping across India as her father would get transferred every three years. Growing up in different states developed in her an aesthetic that’s appreciative of and deeply rooted in various Indian subcultures. “I have immense appreciation for Indian handicrafts, and have always dreamt of making products work with women artisans using dwindling art forms that were chic enough to cater to the urban crowd,” says Thimmaiah about the idea behind her handmade jewelry brand.

Born as a pet project, Maalicious was conceived at Poonam’s home in New York while mending a broken heart caused by a miscarriage in her 36th week of pregnancy. “As they say, adversity leads to opportunity, and delving into arts helped me during those dark times,” she recalls. This was combined with her longstanding desire to create and wear her own designs. 

Poonam partnered with differently-abled students studying jewelry in Mysore on her visit to India a few weeks later. She then worked with women artisans to integrate various Indian art forms into the jewelry. A lot of research, learning, sweat, and blood later, they have grown into what Maalicious is today. The brand has had some amazing moments in the last few years, including being featured in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, and more. Last year, they also showcased their jewelry at the New York Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week. This year, it has again been selected for the New York Fashion Week in February. 

Maalicious Jewelry

What sets Maalicious apart from others in the market is its goal of giving its customers beautiful, lasting jewelry while holding the values of quality, labor rights, and sustainability paramount. Maalicious is also making efforts to support women artisans and rejuvenate their traditional arts. Its goal is to provide talented women artisans with a platform to shine, thrive, and succeed. A women-only run firm, the brand has around six women artisans that it works with on a regular basis in India, and has also collaborated with a few others in Italy and Ukraine. Their long-term goal is to stand in solidarity with skilled women and build a platform where they can support each other. “We would love to give back more to marginalized women and help with their sustenance,” says Thimmaiah. 

Further, Maalicious uses responsibly sourced and sustainable materials in their products, such as terracotta clay or red baked earth, silk thread, and wood, which have been part of our culture for centuries. Its distinctiveness also stems from their need to innovate in this space. “Everything is handmade and so, imperfect but that’s what makes them unique,” says Thimmaiah. For instance, their Vintage earrings are made of terracotta clay and then hand-painted. Their customizable Alice earrings can be personalized with pictures from their customers. Further, most of Maalicious’ signature pieces have a story from India’s glorious past behind them.

One of Maalicious’ earrings is a tribute to a unique and fascinating community called the Drokpas, about 5,000 of whose members today survive in the high altitudes of Ladakh. Believed to be the oldest and purest human tribe, the Drokpas inhabit the cluster of seven villages located down the Indus River. They are known for their liberal views, elaborate jewelry, chiseled features, and beautiful gardens. The Amrita Sher-Gil piece is a tribute to the famous Indian painter known as the pioneer of modern Indian art. Often known as “India’s Frida Kahlo”, she painted many self portraits and captured the daily lives of Indian women in the 1930s, often revealing a sense of their loneliness. 


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’.

Trip-Hop Artist Combines English and Urdu

Experimental solo artist, Neeq Serene introduced her haunting and introspective debut single, ‘The Others‘ in May 2020, crossing over genres of trip-hop, alternative RnB, and gothic neo-folk.

An emotive and cinematic soundscape, the sophomore single ‘Fields of Gold’, released on 8th January 2021, features hypnotic vocal layers sung in both English and Urdu, inspired by Serene’s South Asian roots. When writing the song, Serene envisaged crossing the boundary from this world to the next – where departed souls shall meet again.

2019 saw the launch of PINERO|SERENE, a dream-pop songwriting collaboration with bass player Cheryl Pinero. The debut EP, ‘Dark Matter,’ was released on 28th July 2019, with the first single, ‘Take My Soul’ premiered by Clash Magazine. In this new sonic chapter, Neeq reveals a self-reflective journey through minimal, electronic music and deep lyricism, drawing on influences from the alternative music world and her Kashmiri heritage.

‘Fields of Gold’ written and performed by Neeq Serene
Instruments written, played and recorded by Neeq Serene
Orchestra, guitar and additional synth-overdubs played and recorded by Gon von Zola
Mixing and production by Gon von Zola


 

The Good and Bad of Living as an NRI

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Sitting beside a window in my house in West Singapore, as I stare thoughtlessly at the view of lush green trees and a verdant Bukit Timah hill, I see a family of yellow parrots playing around enjoying the tropical weather. When we moved to this house two years ago, they were a family of two. Now, they are three- mom, dad, and baby parrot. The sight of this lovely playful family makes me nostalgic, it makes me sad. It makes me miss my family back in India even more.

Where I come from, living in a foreign country is considered fashionable and glamorous. While I don’t deny the better lifestyle and surplus savings, the fact remains that living abroad comes with its own set of challenges. You can feel displaced and lonely. With a pandemic imposing travel restrictions, it can very easily cause anxiety, stress, and even depression.

Pandemic or no pandemic, the realities of living away from the Motherland are not necessarily that glamorous and fun as portrayed in popular culture. In Yash Chopra and Karan Johar movies, we see Indians abroad in big landed homes, driving fancy cars, and living a life of luxury. What is rarely depicted in pop culture is the other side of the coin. Living away from India can take a toll on you emotionally and psychologically. The lack of a robust community support system, similar traditions, and enthusiasm for festivals and important occasions can be very alienating and daunting. However, in many parts of the world, Indians have managed to build a community for themselves. 

House used for the Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham Set (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

It can take some adjustment and a lot of patience to “settle down”, especially if you are a new immigrant. One tip I can give to my readers planning on moving abroad soon is to seek help. Start looking at online forums and groups based out of the place where you are moving, connect with people, and be open to putting yourself out there. 

Having some connections and being open to new relationships always helps. But in your head, be prepared. Even something as small as different weather at a given point of time of the year can take some getting used to. For example, when I moved to Singapore, initially, it took me a while to adjust to summers round-the-year as I’d grown up enjoying four lovely seasons in India. 

The blind race to marry an NRI and its ugly consequences

For me, the struggles have been more on the psychological front caused by the displacement and lack of a sense of belonging. I have been lucky to have a supportive and loving husband and some great friends.

For some, unfortunately, the repercussions can be worse, even life-threatening. That is why, people, especially, women should think twice about how badly they want it and for what reasons. I know a lot of girls who specifically seek NRI husbands just for the sake of the coveted label of being foreign-settled. In this blind pursuit, sometimes, women end up marrying the wrong guy landing themselves in abusive families – sometimes they are subjected to mental torture, sometimes they are abandoned, and sometimes they even end up dead.

In a case that came to light in 2017, highly-educated and well-qualified Usha Parikh left her lucrative job in a top-drawer IT company in Ahmedabad to marry a US-based NRI engineer only to realize later that her husband was an unlettered ordinary mechanic and an alcoholic. In another case the same year, Rekha Shah, daughter of a silk-stocking Surat diamantaire, married a Singapore-based doctor and within three months, the 29-year-old pregnant woman was desperate to come back to India from the physical abuse she faced from her husband and in-laws for dowry. 

In the first seven months of 2017 alone, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs received over 300 SOS complaints from Indian women stuck abroad in fraudulent marriages. According to a 2020 report, there are over 30,000 ‘honeymoon brides’ in Punjab who have been deserted by their NRI husbands within days or months of their marriage this year alone.

According to a 2018 article by Reicha Tanwar, Former Director of Women’s Studies at Kerala University, there has been a steady rise in cases of Indian women being deserted after marriage or tricked into fraudulent marriages by husbands and their families who are residents of a foreign country in the past ten years. She writes that between January 2015 to November 2017, the MEA received 3,328 such complaints. Most of the complainants were from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana followed by Gujarat. This year, amidst lockdowns and stay-at-home impositions worldwide, cases of domestic violence- both mental and physical- surged.

What’s worse is that these NRI husbands leverage the gaps in the laws and policies, and generally go untouched. Fraudulent NRI marriages are also cases of rape, torture, human trafficking, violence, and extortion. Between September 2009 to November 2011, around 800 cases have been registered in India’s National Commission for Women but not a single NRI husband was extradited back to India as of July last year. 

The problem lies in the implementation of Article 498(a) of the Indian Penal Code wherein cases of domestic violence, the presence of NRI husbands cannot be secured in Indian courts. There is no strong law to help bring them back and that is why most of them go untouched.

Know your rights and weigh your options

It is important for every adult woman to know their rights, weigh their options, and seriously consider if they want an NRI husband at the risk of not knowing enough and going in blind. Generally, there are some red flags and patterns that can help catch the trouble early in the process of meeting the families and the boy.

Are they in a hurry? Is the boy not around and will directly come over at the time of the wedding? Have you seen the legal documents like passports, visas, etc? Are you in touch with any relatives, friends, and foreign acquaintances of the groom’s side?

Living in a foreign land seems dreamy and glamorous but at what cost?

Women and their families must do their due diligence and think twice before entering into a union with a foreign-based boy. Having said that, I completely understand that there are many scenarios where the person is smooth and there are just no alarming signs ahead of the wedding and a woman can find herself in trouble after landing in a strange country.

At that point, it becomes crucial to know where and how to seek help. Reach out to the Indian embassy or High Commission in your country. Go to the Ministry of External Affairs website or Twitter handle and reach out to them. Reach out to government organizations like NARI or non-government organizations in your area.

Here are some relevant links for readers in California: 

I am saddened by the lack of family visits this past year amidst the pandemic and as we usher into the new year with uncertainties and bleak hope, I feel even worse. However, my struggles are nothing like these thousands of women who go abroad with dreams of starting a new family, a new life, and are faced with such atrocities. It is important for us all to remember that life is not about the material side of things but in the end, it is the people and the relationships that matter. If anything, this past year we have all learned the value of having loved ones in our lives. 

I wish and pray that the new year only brings happiness and health for all of us- in India and abroad. Happy, safe, and healthy 2021!


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. Website | Blog | Instagram

The Greying Population of India Hit with COVID-19

While parents left behind in India are terrified of COVID-19, their NRI children are impatient in a distant land to return back to them. We are worried about our loved ones staying far away. Recently, NRIs settled in US, UK, France, dealt with the rapid transmission of COVID-19. The nightmare of a rapid influx of positive COVID-19 cases among potential foreign returnees is petrifying and we must be wary for the most vulnerable populations in India.

In India, the number of working-age populations suffering from COVID-19 is substantial because of its large middle-aged populace, yet the elderly are just as likely of getting the infection, resulting in fatality; this is due to weaker immunity systems, presence of comorbidities, and slower recoveries from diseases.

A handful of research supports that 60+ people with pre-existing comorbidities like chronic lung, liver, kidney diseases, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and those dependent on immunosuppressive drugs have a higher chance of COVID-19 infection than the rest.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of COVID-19 associated deaths are among more than 65 years’ age group, with increased deaths in elderly males. Thereby, it becomes a challenge to fight the disease for India where the number of the elderly population is close to the combined population of UK and Italy.

The Health Ministry opined in April that “8.61% cases are between 0-20 years, 41.88% cases are between 21 to 40 years, 32.82% cases are between 41 to 60 years and 16.69% cases above 60 years“. Simple statistics from the current population structure can establish the vulnerability of the greying population- about 8% of Indian population above 60 years’ accounts 17 % of COVID 19 patients; while about 62% Indians 20-60 years have approximately 73% COVID-19 cases. Hence, the elderly is at no less risk than the middle-aged to this novel disease.

India has a propounding 140 million (UN projection, 2020) 60+ population. Majority of the districts across India have 7-10% percent elderly. While, many districts of Southern states – Maharashtra, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Punjab – have more than a 10% elderly population (Fig1: a). Based on 2011 Census, our map indicates that many districts of Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have a high proportion of 60+ elderly who are disabled (seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, and mental illness; Fig1: b). Districts with a higher proportion of elderly, especially disabled elderly, require special focus and regular monitoring in the framework of tackling pandemic.

Elderly Population in India, 2011.

(a) Proportion of 60+ elderly; (b) Proportion of 60+ elderly disable

 

Impacts on the elderly are layered. World Health Organization (WHO) has identified mental health as an integral part of overall health in correspondence with physiological, behavioral, and psychological wellbeing of older adults. Gerontological studies have established the association of inadequate social wellbeing and poor elderly health.

Proportion of Elderly Living Alone and The Prevalence of Different Diseases Per 1000

State Living Alone Mental Illness Depressive symptoms Hypertension Diabetes Asthma
Assam 386.90 20.80 656.20 252.80 59.00 80.10
Karnataka 343.10 117.40 592.90 237.90 141.60 72.10
Maharashtra 341.50 5.40 557.00 179.00 90.60 110.10
Rajasthan 378.30 6.10 452.00 142.90 42.00 78.60
Uttar Pradesh 316.00 28.20 552.00 133.60 28.80 100.50
West Bengal 350.00 4.10 567.30 245.10 67.30 64.30
India 341.00 26.80 554.30 181.60 65.70 89.80

 

 

  Source: Calculated from WHO-SAGE 2007 Data

The long lockdown in India is vital to avoid burdening the healthcare system and to suppress the chain of transmission of infection. It is mandatory to take “extra care” of the elderly because social distancing may lead to depression, anxiety, and mental illness, especially among the elderly who are living alone and/or are disabled. The vulnerability of the elderly with less social support can escalate in instances of accessing medical support, transportation, banking, food access, etc.

Income, medical security, and social support are major challenges during and beyond the lockdown period. Although, the central government has announced some financial-welfare schemes and guidelines/instructions in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the helplessness of the aged needs special consideration.

During this tough time, it is necessary for the government, stakeholders, social welfare organizations, and communities to stand in solidarity to provide the essential supplies (groceries, vegetables- fruits and medicines) to the elderly at their doorstep. We need to take precautionary steps to avoid infecting the older adults by sanitizing and frequently cleaning their belongings like, clothes, spectacles, canes, walkers, beds, toilets, chappals, etc. and encouraging them to get engaged in possible physical activities/works within the home.

In order to bolster our elderly loved ones, we need to assist them through social and mental connectivity. The void of connectedness can be minimized through phone, online calls, messages, or encouraging them to interact with friends/neighbors keeping a safe distance.  We all should stay connected with the aged while staying away to keep the world positive.


Subhojit Shaw is a doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, India (IIPS, Mumbai). His academic quest revolves around population aging, child health, and environmental health.

Aparajita Chattopadhyay with her two decades of teaching and research experience, has contributed well in the fields of public health, gender issues, aging, environment-development, and nutrition. She is a faculty of the International Institute for Population Sciences.

All views expressed are personal.

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

As I watched the Netflix documentary that follows Michele Obama’s book tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming”, I was reminded of a former American first lady who published a book while her husband was in office. 

When Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, was first published, I read about it in the Washington Post. Intrigued by the unusual title, I wondered about her credentials to write with conviction about raising children. After all, she had mothered only one child. 

During the Clintons’ tenure at the White House, I was first a graduate student, and later, a postdoctoral fellow at a university not far from Washington DC. I knew nothing about motherhood and parenting. Judging Hilary Clinton’s expertise to write a book (that I had not read) was presumptuous on my part.  

About a year and a half later, as I cradled my newborn daughter in Silicon Valley, I asked a friend who came by for a visit – “How will I bring up this tiny baby into adulthood? I don’t know anything about parenting.”

A mother of a preschooler, she smiled knowingly and replied “Don’t worry, they come programmed to survive and grow. You don’t have to know anything.”

I heard her but did not believe her. I had devoured What To Expect When You’re Expecting, during my pregnancy. Knowing my penchant for turning to books for advice, someone had thoughtfully gifted me the sequel to help me figure out the first year of my child’s life. 

During my short maternity break, I could foresee how much more difficult my life would become once I returned to work. With growing demands on my body, emotions, and time, I wondered if I would lose myself as I slowly dissolved into the ocean of caregiving that is motherhood. 

Children consume you in ways few other things do. They coerce you, bind you, and trap you with their heart-melting smiles even as you change diapers and pick up toys innumerable times. Coming on the heels of years of infertility, for me, motherhood, like my Ph.D., had been a long-drawn project, a goal that I had desired and aspired for, and my child, the reward for my prayers and effort. 

In the two decades since that initial expression of doubt regarding my mothering ability, I have discovered, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, that I am just the string that connects every person who crossed my path and provided me guidance and assistance along the way to raise my child. 

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

This year Mother’s Day was especially poignant because, in a few weeks, that tiny baby who used to fit in my lap, will fly out of the nest and head back to America, the country where she was born.

I think back to the village of people scattered across the globe, who not only directly impacted her growth but also influenced my journey as a mother. 

Some, like my mother, Amma, held my hand in the delivery room and took care of me in the early days. Amma rescued me several other times when I was in a pinch for childcare, struggling to remain in the workforce. Always supportive, but not necessarily indulgent, she followed the ‘tough love’ style of mothering, long before the phrase was coined. 

Catherine, the gentle, silver-haired British lady who took over as the local grandmother when Amma returned to India, was the first person outside the home to bond with my child. Using only organic ingredients to cook fresh meals and creating personalized birthdays for the kids in her care, Catherine was a loving, no-nonsense woman. It was impressive how she managed to carve out time for self-care, swimming thirty laps in the community pool after a long day watching a handful of babies and toddlers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Catherine for providing reliable childcare, the prime reason I was able to focus on my budding career.

Bill, my boss, who looked the other way when he saw me slouched over my desk in the early days of motherhood, first introduced me to a lunchtime yoga class, and later supported all of my part-time or flex-time requests, ensuring my progress through the ranks. I shudder to think of how my life would have turned out without Bill as my boss.

In California, a circle of women friends gathered around me to provide assistance to a working mother in a dysfunctional marriage. When I moved to India, another group of female friends came together in Hyderabad to help me find my feet as a single parent. Loaning me a gas cylinder when I moved into my own place, watching my child if I was late from work, accompanying me to court, or to the doctor’s office, many kind women propped me up. 

When handling everything alone felt overwhelming, I remembered the wise words of a colleague who told me at my baby shower, “Parenting is a series of threats and bribes.” 

When I doubted my decision to quit my well-paying job with long working hours and choose a freelance consulting path that paid less but offered greater flexibility, I remembered my aunt’s advice to make whatever minor changes necessary but to not give up my financial independence.

I am indebted to a large global network of individuals who have shared my journey as a mother. It has not been smooth. I have been far from perfect. 

From our shaky first steps in California to the rocky patch in India, and now in our new blended family in Singapore, motherhood has been a delicate dance. The two of us held onto each other, flowing with life as it detoured into uncharted territories. We are at a point where our paths must diverge. My time of intense parenting is coming to an end. 

The river of life will take her in its fold, whisk her to unknown destinations. But I will send her away with the confidence that there is a village out there, to pick up where my direct influence ends. Just as a village came together and sustained her thus far, I have no doubt that she will build another one for the next leg of her life. 

Even without reading Hilary Clinton’s book, I learned first-hand the powerful lesson embedded in the African proverb that she chose as the title for her book. It does take a village to raise a child. And I stand humbled by the experience. 

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

6 Indian Habits That Travel With Me

When it comes to leaving India – there is a storm of mixed emotions. I want to fill up my pockets with all the beauty that exists here and leave behind the few things I hate. Global Indians and NRIs understand the duality of leaving a place like India. Having lived in India my whole life, there are a few things I’m unwilling to give up. Digging deeper on what influences my life, here are six habits acquired from Indian culture that stick with me, regardless of where I go. 

CHAI – THE MIGHTY CUP OF TEA!

 ‘Chai’ should be declared as the national drink of India. The joy of drinking the carefully brewed tea with milk in clay cups is beyond this world. With a dash of spices like ginger, cardamom, holy basil, pepper, and cloves – it’s not just healthy, but mystifying. There is nothing as soothing to the senses and calming to the mind as a hot cup of tea in the morning. It rejuvenates!

World food chains like Starbucks and Teavana have gloriously adapted to the Tea Culture and now serve Indian Style tea labeled as ‘Chai Tea’ around the world. Being an Indian knowing the drill of making a mighty cup of tea it’s difficult to love the taste that is brewed abroad. My love for chai stays with me wherever I stay in the world!

INDIAN FOOD & THE HABIT OF EATING WITH HANDS

Unlike the world, India doesn’t have a cutlery or fork & knife culture. Most of the Indian cuisines are designed to be eaten with bare hands, lapping up the essence of the taste. While the luxury of using the fork and knife shall remain in restaurants, the habit of eating the food items like Rice, khichdi, chapatis, etc., with hands, shall remain.

The certain communion with the food, enhancing the digesting abilities is the main aim for the use of hands. Hands help in texturing the food, making the partaking of sustenance, more intimate. Seeing it scientifically, the use of hands for eating is advisable to a certain extent, as the flora present on the fingers is swallowed, beneficial for the health of various parts of the body like mouth, throat, and intestines as fingers release various digestive juices. This practice of eating with hands is something I look forward to, as I go around the other parts of the world, for its benefits and digestive advantages.

BARGAINING AT STREET SHOPS

Street shops are the powerhouse of all things fashionable at budget-friendly prices. In India, all the latest home décor, clothes, and jewelry are available at great quality and cheap price at the street shops. ‘Cheap’ because the hefty prices quoted by the shopkeepers are bargain-able. Travel anywhere in the world, the most authentic shopping experience lies in street shopping. Being trained in slashing down the prices by almost half in street shopping, the ability to bargain stays as a habit for me. No matter where I go, the trips to street shops would come as a choice, and bargaining will be something I will stick to.

YOGA – THE ART OF LIFE!

Yoga originated in India centuries ago. From ancient yogis to the modern-day yoga instructors, Yoga is a gift of Indian history. The benefits of Yoga for health and life balance have been mind-blowing. It aids in the balancing of the body, mind, and soul for a fulfilled life.

Having grown up in India, Yoga has become one of the daily rituals that keep a check on my physical health and fitness alongside my mental health. The ritual to spread that yoga mat and start practicing with an intention is something I would not give up for anything!

Yoga is fast becoming popular even in the West, for its ability to secure spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, not all its aspects have been tapped in the West; with physical fitness regime widely practiced, to attain body flexibility and stability.

AYURVEDA – SECRET OF NATURE!

Deepest darkest of nature’s secrets rest into the arms of nature! Ayurveda, the science of nature has been of close relevance in India. From home remedies to ayurvedic supplements and medicines – it is something that treats us to live a healthy life.

My Indian living has brought me closer to ayurvedic recipes like that of Turmeric milk, neem leaves, aloe vera extracts, etc, for a healthier life. While the world is educating itself on Ayurvedic benefits, my little world of ayurvedic knowledge stays with me.

The major benefit of Ayurveda is its ability to not harm the patient’s body with the side-effects of the prescribed medicine. Apart from its natural and organic way of healing, it also prescribes better eating habits for a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. 

ADDRESSING PEOPLE WITH RESPECT

Indians are used to calling every other man as ‘bhaiya’ or brother, especially when they aren’t related to you. This brings in a sense of respect and affection for the person. So when I address a driver, cleaner, shopkeeper, or any man of service around me – it would go as brother or uncle.

For women, the words are didi (sister) and aunty. Instead of addressing people by their names or surnames – I would stick to this personalized call to utter respect in conversations. And yes, ‘Namaste’ wouldn’t be forgotten too!

Greeting and meeting people with warmth is the basis of such a practice. It also binds two (or more) people, with sheer kindness through soothing words. Another way of looking at it is, giving respect to every human being, irrespective of their status, and creed.

Some habits inculcated from childhood are a gift of being born as an Indian. No matter how much I travel or turn into a global citizen – the 6 habits stay with me when I leave India!

Abhishek Bade is a writer and a rover with a passion for writing. He is adept at writing travel-based content which is informative and insightful. 

5 years + 5 more = Marriage With America

The mantra of many Indians who left their homeland, for the longest time was – I will return to India in 5 years. The magic number 5 was almost unanimously agreed upon by many NRIs who moved to any part of the 5 of the 7 continents. Probably because only 5 were habitable, or because 5 years were enough to earn a degree, work a couple of years, and maybe even save $5K to get back home and start a new life! Whatever the reason, the promise was one of return to the motherland.

Back in the ’80s, college and job applications were non-existent. Applications had to be requested via regular postal mail. They had to be filled out by hand and mailed back. It was a time consuming and tedious process. 

The arrival of the acceptance letter was followed by a series of phone calls to family and friends, distribution of sweets, and a party where sometimes entire neighborhoods were invited. After the initial ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs, came a torrent of tears. 

As the departure day came close, the word ‘packing’ would send mothers in tears. Packing two suitcases with the maximum weight allowed was the most challenging and dreaded experience. Mothers wanted to pack not only clothes but food as well. In went processed condiments, homemade pickles, savories, and sweets. Fathers made sure documents, finances, and papers were in order. Suitcases were weighed, unpacked much to the dismay of mothers, repacked, and reweighed. After heated arguments, sobbing, complaining, cajoling, and hugging and making up, the final packing was done. And, after receiving a barrage of phone calls and reading numerous telegrams wishing ‘Bon Voyage’, ‘Best Wishes’, and ‘Happy Landings’, fatigue took over but sleep eluded, for it was the last day spent together before the great departure. 

Anita Mohan captures the University of Colorado in the 80s

 Upon landing on the new soil and clearing US Customs without any hassles, the migratory students adjusted to their new surroundings by flocking together. They forged bonds with other Indian students. From sharing dorm rooms, apartments, and even cars, to hunting for Indian grocery stores, Indian restaurants, places of worship, and procuring membership for Costco (earlier known as Price Club) they began their life here. All this coupled with coping with the new routine and rigor of academics, was the challenge of finding assistantships, on-campus jobs or other odd jobs to sustain a living. 

Calls to India in the late 1980s were $3.95 for the first minute and $1.95 for every minute thereon. Parents and students agreed that outgoing phone calls would be made only once a month and talk-time would strictly be limited to no more than 3 minutes max. Almost every phone call would begin and end with tears and sniffing on both sides. 

Letters to and from home would take three to four weeks to be delivered! (These were the days before the birth of the World Wide Web, Social Media, and Mobile phones) Aerograms or Airmails were used. USPS and Indian Postal Service were lifelines that held families together. Though the news and events (of birthdays, weddings, festivals, births, and deaths) relayed in the letter were long over, reading about them renewed all the excitement and also made one emotional. 

Mothers checked in to see how their fledglings were doing, but it was actually a double-edged sword to drive one on a guilt trip for making the decision to study/work abroad, though it was a point of pride for them as well. It was always – “a cousin, a neighbor, or a friend’s son or daughter has gone to study in the US and is doing so well, so must you.” 

The new students were in awe of the life here. Things that were unheard, unseen, and regarded as a luxury back home were basic needs here. Hot and cold running water 24/7, supermarkets carrying frozen breakfast and cut vegetables, ready to eat meals, shopping malls, washer/dryer, dishwashers, etc. was all thought to make life easy. 

After the initial awe, shock set in, Chores! They were required to be done! No mother to provide fresh hot meals, no vendor bringing the vegetable cart to your door, and no domestic helper to help you clean and do the dishes. Every single chore had to be done by the student! It was time for the juggling act. 

A brief period of stress followed graduation, the phase of changing the practice, a temporary F1 student visa into an applicable, permanent H1 work visa. Once that was settled, parents and students heaved a big sigh of relief. Parents proudly showed off photos of their sons and daughters, talked about their first car, H1 visa approval, and how they managed to find their first job. 

It was now time to get married and settle into family life. If one was in love, it was time to take a favorite cousin, uncle, or aunt into confidence and have them convince the parents. Perhaps the parents were open and there were no issues, otherwise, after a lot of reluctance and melodrama, permission for marriage was given. If there was to be an arranged marriage, it required word to be spread about prospective brides and grooms, alliances would start to pour, photos exchanged, and matches made. The groom would then proudly bring his bride to this country and after the initial struggles, begin to settle down. 

Once children were born, a new phase would begin. The free K-12 public school education, clean environment, excellent and prestigious universities for higher education, and so on acted as incentives to extend the 5-year dream. But soon the 5-year dream would be shelved, and a new dream, the vicious cycle of voluntary entrenchment would begin – obtaining a Green Card, buying a home, and becoming a citizen of the USA.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and freelance writer from Fairfax, Virginia. 

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

Losing Parents: When Children Need Legal Protections

As parents, our biggest responsibility is to support and care for our children, but we don’t always think about planning for a future where a child is left without both parents. It’s a distressing topic, but one that’s important to consider and plan for because we cannot assume that family will automatically be able to take care of our children.  

I strongly recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning for specific advice.  Norms and laws about insurance and guardianship differ greatly between different places, and also change periodically. Here are some questions to think about.

Should I get Life Insurance?

  • Life insurance is an effective way to ensure that your child is provided for financially in the event of one or both parents passing away.  
  • Consider whether the beneficiary should be the child (or children) directly or the other parent (with the children being secondary beneficiaries).  
  • Consult a lawyer who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning, for advice about possibly creating a trust to look after the children’s interests and manage tax implications efficiently. 
  • Specific complications can arise if the parents are separated so seek guidance from an attorney on what steps to follow.

Should I Appoint Guardians and Custodians?

  • It is critical to appoint guardians to care for minor children in your absence.  
  • Guardianship and overseeing children’s assets are separate functions that can be performed by the same person or by different people.  
  • You can appoint guardians in your wills or through separate legal documentation. Ideally, both parents should appoint the same guardians. It’s a good idea to also name individuals who could serve as guardians if their appointed guardians cannot.  
  • Parents can appoint separate custodians for managing children’s assets, but It’s important that custodians and guardians work efficiently together. 

What can I do if my child’s guardian lives abroad?

  • It’s simpler to appoint someone locally; if the guardian lives far away or is based abroad, It could delay them getting custody of the child; in some situations, the child may be sent temporarily into a government-run program.  
  • If the guardian is abroad, plan where the children should go immediately until their international guardian can take over. 
  • With an international guardianship, consider whether  your child will be comfortable living and studying in a different country- an issue the US courts may examine.
Appoint a guardian your child trusts

What will a  Guardian do?

  • Choose guardians who would provide an environment and upbringing that would be consistent with what you envision for your child. 
  • Consider someone who is familiar  to the child and who can provide stability and emotional support as they adjust to trauma and change. 

Should I Create a Will?

  • Create a will which specifies who would manage the child’s assets in your absence. Consider whether the person is likely to have a conflict of interest and whether they can be fully trusted to prioritize your child’s welfare.
  • The will should consider scenarios where one or both parents are no longer alive. Ideally, both parents’ wills should be such that the management of the children’s assets is consistent and smooth.  

Should I Create A Trust?

  • While a will can ensure the inheritance directly goes to the child, a parent may also want to consider whether the child gets control over the inheritance on attaining majority, or, whether you want another person to manage their assets for a longer period.  
  • Some parents give children a percentage of their inheritance when they attain certain age-based landmarks (for example, 50% at age 30 and 50% at age 35).  
  • It may be advisable to create some sort of trust for the  child’s benefit – from the perspective of tax implications or better management of funds. 
  • If you have assets in India, carefully consider the ability of the person appointed to manage the child’s assets to handle legal and practical issues in India. You may wish to create a different structure for managing your assets abroad.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. Individual circumstances differ for everyone. It is always advisable to get professional advice specifically suited to your circumstances.

Svati Kania Shashank is a lawyer practicing in New York for over 20 years. 

Edited by India Currents Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal

Image 1: photo credit: Gulfu <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/35092241@N03/33457921683″>Mother and Daughter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/“>(license)</a>

Image 2: photo credit: Philippe Put <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/34547181@N00/14232514255″>aa2 res</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Baggage: The Fine Art of Overpacking!

With the school year drawing to a close, the overarching concern in my mind is not if I should seek out summer camps or let my kid be a ‘free ranger’ in our backyard. Rather I find I am consumed by a strange manner of anxiety mixed with excitement centered around ‘suitcases’! The annual rite of passage – our trip to India is around the corner. Taking on the proportions of an existential conundrum, it looms ever closer… spiking my propensity for planning, shopping and list making into high gear. 

You’d think that 26 years of life as an NRI and countless mini-migrations across the oceans each summer, to visit the country of my birth, would have eased this quandary. Uhh…NOPE! Come summer, the dormant slumbering creature inside me best described as ‘part maniacal consumer – part packrat’ springs to life, and off I go on the seasonal dance of list-making, shopping, standing in the returns line, packing, weighing, repacking, and checking in… phew! 

It isn’t just the gifts. I find the same tendency extends into packing clothing for the 2 month pilgrimage. Especially for my child! Like laundry facilities are an unheard of thing back in India! LOL. (shock face emoji). Amazing isn’t it?

“What do you gift family and friends these days?” my friend asked me recently. I had asked the same question not too long ago. With the discussion that ensued, it became clear that it is indeed a daunting task! Global economy and consumerism has leveled the playing field tremendously over the years. There isn’t much that is not available in an Indian marketplace today. Added to this, online shopping has made our job of finding interesting and unique gifts even more difficult!

But despite this, we find ourselves filling suitcases to the brim and transporting them back and forth. Of course I wouldn’t dare generalize! But all you have to do is observe the baggage carts lined up at the check-in lines of any India-bound international carrier. They are literally groaning under the weight of the umpteen cases and boxes piled in a manner defying the laws of physics! At this rate, I am convinced that very soon, airline companies are going to charge us for breathing the recycled air on the flight! So… back to the question of the season.  “What do we fill ‘em cases with?”

NRI or otherwise – we are, at the root of it, a generous culture. We prize our guests, just as much as we prize the art of hospitality. And we absolutely abhor walking into the home of a loved one empty-handed. I get that. Totally understand. I am living by the same cultural moires after all. So it isn’t just the act of shopping until I drop that confounds me. My seasonal raids of wholesale warehouses yield much of the same stuff as my cousin’s shopping list, and that of her sister-in-law’s. In the end, piles of similar consumables end up stuffed in refrigerators and closets of the network of common relatives along our family trees! They could open a warehouse of their own, if they’re enterprising enough!

Maybe it is time to change this ritual? I am in no way suggesting that we should turn into rude, thoughtless goons. But it bears thinking. Is it just my brain hardwired with “What if I need…, or “How will it look if I don’t…?” OR, is it just that I have let myself get habituated to this way of consumerism? I swear I am a normal, practical individual on most days. Just not in the weeks before summer break.

You will find me “pinning” blogs and information about ‘Minimalism’ and ‘Mindfulness’ – my personal M&Ms! And I try. I really do try to live by these tenets. So what happens to me when I’m confronted with a suitcase? It is as if my brain goes into paroxysms of guilt over pockets of empty spaces – calling out to be filled. And M&M fly straight out the window! 

Last night, trying to avoid the yawing mouths of two suitcases, I indulged in a bout of nostalgia from my childhood. My father was employed with the Indian Railways and we moved around quite a bit. Helping my mother pack, my sister and I acquired a knack for it over the years. Everything we owned, our whole life, was carefully packed into three mammoth ‘trunks’ fashioned out of timber from sleeper beams. Large sealed padlocks adorned them as they were transported from place to place. Before we started packing, we embarked upon a ritual of combing through our possessions and eliminating the inevitable clutter that had made its way into our necessities.  We had the “Want” list and the “Need” list. As hard as it was to part with the wants… we managed well enough. We learnt early how to make do and improvise. And we had fun! The biggest take away from these experiences were the wonderful memories we acquired with each move!

I am determined to try and make a go of this upcoming trip to India – with – ONE suitcase! (Ok. Maybe… a duffle bag along with it). And except for a small list of specific personalized gifts, I would like to try and spend more time with the ones I love. Because, I’m pretty sure they would appreciate it. There is the prospect of day trips being planned that is sure to yield a treasure trove of fun. My daughter is looking forward to time with her cousins. She is eager to start her own ‘Want Vs Need’ list! 

And Me? I’m looking forward to packing my single NRI suitcase full of precious memories for the return journey! 


Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.