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Dharmacracy in Mental Health

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 20% of all teen hospitalizations in the US between January 1 and March 31, 2021, were due to psychiatric emergencies. In addition, a University of California San Francisco study found a “75% increase in children requiring immediate hospitalization for mental health needs” in 2020 over a year before. The study also found a “130% increase in the number of children requiring hospitalization for eating disorders” and a 66% increase in the number of suicidal adolescents (ages 10-17) in the emergency department.  

The Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a ‘State of Emergency’ for youth mental health.

 The last 18 months have been one of the toughest for kids in recent times, no matter how we look at it. However, we can also argue that most of the pain and suffering inflicted upon them during this period have resulted from politics and unscientific policies of school closing. Kids stuck at home; not able to go to school for the whole year; not able to play sports, participate in tournaments, plays, and musicals; not able to visit family and grandparents; not able to see faces hidden behind masks; not able to attend or host birthday and graduations parties —  they all have had a cumulative effect on children’s mental health and overall wellness. 

Add to this the news of socio-political strife; violence; lawlessness; non-stop pictures and videos of burning funeral pyres being played on our TV sets, newspapers, and social media feeds; scarcity of oxygen and other medical supplies for COVID patients, including our friends and family. These combined, present a commentary of a stark, bleak, and gloomy situation of the world we live in.  

How we explain what is going on around us depends on the way we look at the world. Most of our present-day ideas have been shaped by the Western worldview. This worldview is predominantly atomistic that uses binaries such as ‘either/or,’ ‘true/false,’’ ‘left/right,’ ‘for/against,’ ‘liberal/conservative. These antagonistic binaries are in constant conflict with each other. It is also a worldview of excluded middle. 

The ordering of the world, in this worldview, is anthropocentric. Human beings are considered the central entity of the universe where only human life has intrinsic value. In contrast, other entities are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind. 

On the other hand, dharma is the universal law that connects the individual to the rest of the world in a quantum way — that is, it is the same righteous law that binds each element of the cosmos. The Mahabharata defines dharma in the following manner:

  • dharma is so-called because it sustains and upholds the people: hence whatever sustains is dharma.
  • dharma is propounded to secure the good of all living beings: hence, whatever fulfills that aim is dharma.
  • What comes from the love for all beings is dharma. This is the criterion to judge dharma from adharma.

dharma is the spirit of Indic culture. The very essence of a Dharmic life lies in maintaining the equilibrium of the opposites. The opposites, including good and evil, are seen as complementary. Neither can be denied or completely suppressed without running the risk of creating dissonance, both within individuals and in the world around them. This duality of opposites creates and maintains the equilibrium throughout cosmology.

dharma sees conflicts and dissonance as ‘burdening of the Earth,’ which is the disturbing of the equilibrium at multiple levels.  These conflicts are a product of one’s relationship with oneself (not all conflicts are with others) and other elements of the cosmos. Hence a solution must also arise from that relationship. For inner conflicts, one has to look within oneself. Blaming others doesn’t help. Beyond self, as the dissonance and chaos get louder and stronger, the earth gets even more burdened. When the burden gets to unbearable levels, an avatar takes place to unburden the earth finally. Everything starts again afresh. The Dharmic time is circular (kalachakra), not linear.

The concepts of dharma, karma and klesha form the understanding of the cause of all sufferings. The doctrine of karma is defined as the result of an individual’s intentional action through body, speech, or mind. One of the most potent assumptions of the doctrine of karma is that one is in complete control of his/her destiny. Therefore, whatever happens to an individual is a predictable outcome of his/her own choices over time. The theory of karma also states that life does not end at the death of the physical body, and the result of one’s action can be felt in the next lives to come. 

The ultimate goal of life, according to dharma, is Self-realization — the realization of one’s inner Self.

In the Dharmic tradition– Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism– meditation, yoga, and the interplay of philosophy and life occupy a vital place. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (2nd century BCE) explains the yogic techniques to overcome klesha (human misery) and achieve the desired union between self and Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. The source of klesha is raga, the attachment to worldly desires, and dvesh, the repulsion we feel towards objects that give us unhappiness. The two, combined with avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), and abhinivesh (attachment to life and fear of death), are the sources of all kleshas.

dharma has a lot to offer in every possible field and situation, including mental health. But, unfortunately, we tend to gloss over the basic Dharmic tenets and their profundity. However, these tenets take on new meanings when applied with conviction during extraordinary uncertainty and trouble. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

The Tandon V. Newsom Lawsuit: Negotiating Religious Gatherings During a Pandemic

On April 9, The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ritesh Tandon et. al., plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the restrictions imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom on the people of California during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. One of these restrictions, detailed under the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” implemented on August 30, 2020—based on a tiered evaluation of the number of positive COVID-19 test cases, ICU capacity, and a health equity metric—imposed limitations on religious gatherings at homes to three households at most.

The Tandon v. Newsom lawsuit stated that these restrictions violated the freedom to practice religion and increased economic hardship faced by some businesses. 

Indian American attorney and Republican party official, Harmeet Dhillon, partnered with the law firm Eimer Stahl to file the lawsuit on behalf of Ritesh Tandon, a Republican who lost to incumbent Democrat Ro Khanna in the last general election for U.S. House California District 17 on November 3, 2020 (28.7% to 71.3%). Dhruv Khanna, a winemaker at Kirigin Cellars, as well as nine others were parties to the lawsuit.

The Court’s Opinion on Removing California’s In-Home Religious Gathering Restrictions

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court stated that government regulations “trigger strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause.” The court’s opinion was that some activities, like frequenting a hair salon or shopping at a hardware store, were treated more favorably than at-home religious ceremonies since there were no restrictions on the number of households allowed to congregate at any given moment at these places of business. The Court noted that by custom-fitting the restrictions, the state opened itself up for stricter scrutiny. 

In the Court’s opinion, the government did not make a convincing case that in-home religious gatherings were more dangerous than other allowable activities, like shopping in a grocery store.

The Dissenting Opinions

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented with the Court’s stance, and Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Kagan wrote that “If the State also limits all secular gatherings in homes to three households, it has complied with the First Amendment. And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike.” 

When comparing customers frequenting a hair salon or hardware store to in-home religious gatherings, Justice Kagan in agreement with the lower appellate court found that “when people gather in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than they would be in a commercial setting,” with participants “more likely to be involved in prolonged conversations.” And “private houses are typically smaller and less ventilated than commercial establishments,” with social distancing and mask-wearing more difficult to enforce. 

Justice Kagan summarized the Supreme Court’s decision as a command to California to ignore its experts’ scientific findings, thus impairing the State’s ability to respond to an emergency.

California’s restrictions are likely what got us Californians through the toughest period of the pandemic. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview with KQED, agreed with the governor’s strict regulations stating that it would be dangerous to have a surge that could deplete the supply of necessary health care resources. “And because of the stress on the health care system, I think what the governor did was both prudent and advisable.”

Lessons from India

A glance at India, at this moment, gives credibility to Fauci’s remark. India did not impose restrictions on religious gatherings, indoor or outdoor. Indeed, as the second wave of infections began to rear its head in April, millions gathered in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, for the Maha Kumbh Mela, and then boarded buses to return to their hometowns. Experts concede that this religious gathering, as well as mass political rallies, caused the pandemic to proliferate unchecked. 

Ads placed by Tirath Singh Rawat (Image from Caravan)

Knowing that an activity will endanger the public and yet choosing to pursue that said activity is morally reprehensible. The chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, ran front-page advertisements in newspapers across India, persuading Hindu devotees to attend the festival. And Rawat’s rejoinder, amid concerns that the festival could turn into a super-spreader event, was to remark that “faith in God will overcome fear of the virus.”

Would hindsight knowledge of India’s outbreak have altered the course of lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions in California? It’s not exactly clear. 

Lawsuits Galore

According to Ben Christopher of CalMatters, since mid-January 2021, there were 64 lawsuits filed against the state of California, and Governor Gavin Newsom in particular. From gondoliers, manicurists, barbers to a saxophonist, and even “a disappointed bride-to-be,” many have found reason to claim hardship due to the state’s stringent regulations. 

The representing plaintiff in many of these lawsuits is Harmeet Dhillon, who, according to Christopher, remarked that “We do not shut down our highways because people die in car accidents.” However, as Christopher pointed out, a contagion can hardly be compared to an accident. One has a high risk of spread, while the other does not.

These lawsuits are stress-testing government procedures during an unprecedented crisis. While, certainly, the restrictions did impose hardships on small business owners and essential workers, there is strong evidence to suggest that it saved the lives of many. 

Religious worship aside, even the consideration of economic hardship is a balancing act during a health pandemic. Since March 2020, government leaders have had to balance the loss of jobs against the loss of lives. Both cause extreme distress. Yet, in only one case is there the possibility for future earnings. 

Religious Precept

Especially during a crisis, religion is necessary, but at what cost? Robert Jones, Founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, articulated it best in an article published by U.S. News and World Report: “For most religious traditions, the idea of self-sacrifice in service to the community and common good are core theological principles. These temporary measures [government restrictions] are consistent with those beliefs.” 

The Tandon v. Newsom lawsuit, in arguing for the right to hold in-home religious gatherings, muddles the very purpose of a faith and belief system that places religion above human lives, politics above protection, and profit margins over safety.


Jaya Padmanabhan is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of India Currents. 

Featured Image sources – 

Governor Gavin Newsom: Wikimedia Commons by Gage Skidmore

Ritesh Tandon: tandonforcongress.com


 

COVID19 Outreach Program in India by Trinity Care Foundation.

Vultures and Values: Reporting on COVID in India

India is a country that is not unfamiliar with disasters. Earthquakes, tsunami, political unrest, religious violence…they’ve hit this country with deadly force periodically. In fact, India is like that one unfortunate kid in daycare who gets every single illness that enters the room, and furthermore, gets it the worst.

This exaggerated disaster-prone nature of the country often receives bad press internationally. And each time one of these calamities strike, the world has a field day. The sheer color, contrast, and variety that India offers in every single aspect of life are then splashed across newspapers and television screens throughout the world…of course, through the prism of the disaster du jour.

This COVID pandemic is no less and no more than the usual scenario, providing striking pictures and stories – the mass rallies of the election, the colorful and fascinating pictures of the Kumbh Mela, the horrifying snapshots of oxygen being administered in front of hospitals, the macabre visuals of rows and rows of cremation pyres, and so on.

To me, this catastrophic situation has once again delivered a number of lessons. It has shown the best and the worst of people and their behavior. 

The COVID crisis in India has certainly exposed the country’s vulnerable areas, it is true. But to my mind, it has also exposed the hypocrites of the world. While watching the vultures with hindsight or political commentators and gurus feed on the living, a bleeding country that is in the throes of a disaster of epic proportion, I feel what I can only call a sense of disgust mixed with awe. While I do not seek to defend any political party or government, I want to ask some questions of all the people who were quiet before the disaster unfolded, but are now out baying for blood.

Yes, the government and authorities didn’t act fast enough. But can you imagine a disaster that wells up in days, out of practically nowhere, and turns into a tsunami?

India should have stockpiled vaccines, oxygen, drugs and revamped the entire medical infrastructure in the country. Agreed. Hell, they should have begun building more electric crematoria, instead of cutting down all the trees in the land for the cremation of the dead.

How long did they have before the disaster struck? Two weeks.

When you take into account the size and population in this great country, you will admit that it can’t be expected to turn on a dime. And it is not like this situation ever had a ‘yes or no’, straightforward, one-dimensional solution. The truth is many miscalculations were made that became magnified when the situation headed south, resulting in an unforeseen tragedy.

As for the government, they were truly stuck in the worst of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario. They had immediately imposed a lockdown last year, and people have called it ‘draconian’. They enforced the total lockdown, and people called it authoritarian. They shut down mass gatherings and people called it a blow to basic rights. They shut down non-essential industries, and people howled that the economy was devastated. When the numbers began to come down, they began to open up which people are calling it disastrous handling of a terrible situation. 

It is not like any country has really shown the right way to handle the pandemic. There is no handbook, rule book, or manual that shows the perfect way out of this maze.

How remarkably short are the memories of these political pundits! The United States conducted its elections in the teeth of the pandemic and aside from a few aspersions thrown at Donald Trump, the whole world watched avidly. But India shouldn’t have conducted elections.

Many of the Republican party’s rallies were attended by maskless people, but awww, that’s okay. But, gasp, Indian rallies were maskless! By all means, let us forget the rallies in the US and European countries where people were protesting against masking. I do agree that it was stupid to have vast rallies with people without masks, but honestly, all laypeople thought the pandemic was over. Our numbers were way down. Many countries were loosening regulations too. What else were we to think? 

Recent experiences have embittered me and given me a hatred of journalists and commentators. All they seek is sensationalism and sound bites, headlines and graphic pictures, forums, and platforms to puff themselves off and justify their own existence. Articles and opinion pieces blasting the Prime Minister and his decisions…predictably all dating to the time when the situation had gone way out of control.

One wonders: where exactly were these people in the months of February and March? But for a few, whose genuine warnings were unfortunately ignored, the rest had crawled out of the woodwork to dance around the pyres of the burning disaster. 

Other scums of the earth have also emerged. People who reserve beds in the names of unknowing asymptomatic patients only to turn around and sell them to symptomatic patients for Rs. 50,000, people hoarding and selling vital drugs and oxygen, hospitals overcharging desperate patients…these ‘entrepreneurs’ are also flourishing to some extent.

On the other hand, this calamity has once again brought India into focus. Last year, when many countries including Italy and the US were in need of ventilators and other medical supplies, India stepped in to help out. Among other reasons, it is the goodwill that this country has built up that is now ensuring that the entire world is coming to help it in its hour of need. 

Meanwhile, within the country, age-old values are emerging again. Neighbors are helping out by providing food for those stricken by the disease. People are actively using social media to connect those in need of medical supplies and help those that can provide them. Volunteers are helping out the poor by supplying food and daily necessities. Religious and community groups are coming forward to establish medical and oxygen supply field hospitals.

There is fear and panic in every heart, but on the streets, there is still human decency and respect for each other. As always, we will ‘adjust’ and we will ‘manage’. The wonderland that is India will endure.


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Featured image license here.


 

Two States of America

To borrow from the vast vocabulary of my favorite Democrat – shellacking – that’s what the Republican’s delivered to the Democrats. No, dethroning Trump was not a victory, it was merely a natural phenomenon like a volcano that ran out of lava. But folks, please don’t rest on your temporary laurels, for we know there is plenty of red livid magma, seventy-two million to be precise, that is still boiling within and can spurt again. In this brief respite, the need of the hour is a cooling President, and looks like what we have picked is the best bet from the pack we were dealt.

We, the marginal majority, have to wake up to the stark fact that nearly half of our countrymen really want the guy to continue to do/not do whatever the blighter was doing/not doing for the past four years. I know, I know, the normal human reaction is – What the hell?

To stay away from profanity let’s resort to Shakespeare to express the same sentiment.

O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.

Although Mark Antony laments in a different context, we can relate to the feeling of being let down en masse. How could they, Why are they, Can’t they see, similar-sounding questions keep reverberating at our dining tables. This tug-of-war has been going on for too long and the strands in our social fiber are tearing apart and hurting both sides. Need a full stop.

Honestly, I must confess there are some valid points that the Red party is fueled by and the Blue side is too pacific about. What our Master Conman did is make the right sounds like a Pied Piper and the meek and easily swayed crowd followed.

The man is gone but the void is still out there, unfulfilled – call it the elephant in the room. Terms like “We are better than this, E Pluribus Unum, Soul of the nation and other lofty tenets will not fly at this advanced stage of our malady. This is crunch time, we need to address it head-on and pay heed to our brethren. It’s like the Parable of the Lost Sheep but this time it’s a whole darn flock.

There is a story that emerged after the Holy Mosque in Mecca was occupied for a fortnight by Muslim fundamentalists in 1979, an incident that killed hundreds. It goes like this: to the total shock of the government officials, King Khalid invited to his palace the leaders behind the attack and he had only one question for them: What the heck do you want? Apparently, the Wahabi leaders complained the Saudis were losing their original values by embracing western culture and their own traditional way of life was becoming endangered. The King partially agreed and that’s how he started to implement stricter Shariah laws, so it goes.

Biden could do a diet version of King Khalid’s chess move by inviting to the White House all the so-called good people on the other side too and listen to them. Maybe bring Michael Moore as a mediator as some of his school buddies are White Militia and friendly with him. Must rope in AOC, Taliba, Omar, and their ilk, for them to hear firsthand the fears and demands of those on the other side of the fence. Being heard is half the remedy.

Speakers Common by Axel Mauruszat (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Down the road, we should consider what the British have – Speakers Corner. Every Sunday morning at the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park in London men and women from different persuasions show up with their soapboxes. Anyone can speak at any decibel, discharge their bile, vent their anger and grievances in reckless abandon. The English abuse Indians, the Indians scream about Pakis and vice versa, the Irish thrash the English, the Africans go after all of Europe, the Arabs shower epithets at the Israelis, and on and on goes the fireworks of unbridled cursing. By early afternoon they all then return to their humble abodes, spent and serene.

When I first experienced this phenomenon, fearfully worried violence would erupt any moment, I asked a British Bobby, who was carrying no firearms, why they even allow this. He answered wryly – had it since 1872, this is British democracy, my son. If we could import that from England and practice it in our parks we won’t need them rallies people rush to for release.

I think Albert Camus was the one who said the root cause of all evil is ignorance. There is an even worse strain, being misinformed. It’s amazing that over the years with technological advances we can say it will rain tomorrow at 10:00 AM and surely there will be a downpour. Also amazing is that over several centuries mankind’s basic qualities remain unchanged: lust for power, jealousy, desire for revenge, territorial ambitions, and then there is this tendency to blindly latch on like a leech to what we inherently like to hear. Why some watch FOX only or follow a certain Tweeter only: Muslims are bad for the safety of our country, Mexicans are all thugs, China should be punished and put out of business, Lock her up, Gays should be thrown out of the armed forces, tell your governors to open the economy and get your jobs back. This is like Manna from heaven for the multitudes as these are the exact simplistic solutions they talk in their living rooms. This is the biggest challenge with democracy – the majority of the electorate is naive and so can be led astray, like that colorfully dressed chap with a tweeting pipe from the Middle Ages.

It must be noted in passing that in Australia there is a grassroots movement to curtail the dominance of Rupert Murdoch’s media monopoly – in some cities 100% of the newspapers are owned by the feller. Citizens are demanding they don’t want to be brainwashed like the Americans. Let’s try a metaphor here. Say we neglected our normally beautiful lawn for too long and now it has become infected with all kinds of weeds, some as dangerous as poison ivy. But thankfully we have Roundup that can kill them all and bring back the lush green grass back – green moola. 

We all know it’s high time the country invested in revamping our infrastructure, but even more, screaming urgent at this juncture is the multitude of jobs that must be quickly regained. We need to get carpet-bombed with all forms of low-tech work opportunities – road construction, bridges, Wind Mills, Solar, or whatever, so that none of us have idle time for the misinforming devils to use our minds as their workshop. Even the most gullible ones at the extreme virulent end of the right-wing arc, when they are earning say 40K or 50K, will be stone deaf to any dog whistles. So, like the topless Cuba Gooding Jr. says in that Cruise movie: El Presidente, show me the money, the moni, the monii………..

To borrow my favorite Republican’s expression, “fervently we pray and fondly we hope” that Joe will deliver in good time.


Jayant Kamicheril was born in East Africa and did his schooling in Kumarakom, Kerala. For the past 22 years, he has been working in technical sales for the food industry and lives in Reading, PA. 

Fork in the road

How Certain Are We About Uncertainty?

Certain and Uncertain

They seem to be separate antonymic words, but they are like Siamese twins. Their separate bodies, facing from opposite sides, are fused together, nurtured by the same sanguineous source. Their interdependence is the reason why they survive. If one dies, the other will follow, sooner or later.

There are many anecdotal stories in Indian, American, and global folktales that give a clear message of how we can be misled by confusion between certainty and uncertainty in real life. Heisenberg, a German physicist identified Uncertainty Principles even in Quantum Mechanics. But how do these considerations apply in our practical life?

Our Recent Pandemic:

Let us trace our own circuity of thoughts developing in the short span of this pandemic.

First, we thought it was a hoax.

Then we were certain it would be confined to China.

“It will pass away on its own.”

“No masks are necessary.”

“Masks are mandatory as advised by highly trained scientists.”

“Only old and previously diseased people die in this Pandemic.”

“Children can die too.”

“The virus kills by compromised respiration.”

“It can affect other systems too.”

“We should keep a social distance to prevent it.”

“No, We find distancing and masks to be an insufferable obstruction!” 

In short, we kept on lengthening and shortening our rubber band of the certainty-uncertainty spectrum while our rings were getting sparklingly shiny because of incessant hand washing! Washing hands was the only acceptable way out! The upcoming generation of children will put an end to this Pandemic’s uncertainties because they will know better by then. That will not stop them, however, from generating new uncertainties since the times, circumstances, and the strain of the virus are likely to alter when the next Pandemic strikes us.

Let us also look at our own selves

Some of the commonest phrases that we generously use every day are: ”Wait and watch,” “ I hardly can wait,” “I changed my mind,” “Are you sure?”, “ How can you be so sure?” etc. We always will be engaged in weaving a web of uncertainties as a modus operandi of our reflex habits.

There is a common aphorism in the Sanskrit language, “Tunde Tunde Matirbhinna,” meaning each head thinks differently. But even the same head can think differently at different times! One night we buy an item with absolute certainty, and the next morning it changes its appeal. Even in a vital matter like choosing a life partner, our certainty fluctuates until marriage seals it. In India, we often try to resolve this uncertainty by “matching horoscopes” to finalize our decision.

”Uncertainty is the very essence of romance,” said Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish author.

There are only two points that are certain in our tenaciously tethered life: Birth and Death. These two extreme points are fastened together by life itself, a miscellany of deep disappointments, Joi De  Viver, and  “delicious ambiguities”, a term coined by the famous actress Gilda Redner who succumbed to ovarian cancer at a very young age. 

 Perhaps we need to undertake a perceptive analysis of what constitutes certainty and uncertainty. 

A different approach to certainty-uncertainty complex

It helped me a great deal just by looking at the synonyms of these two enigmatic words:

Certainty: confidence, trust, conviction, faith, validity, dogmatism, clarity, composure, contentment, happiness, peace, security, calmness

Uncertainty: changeability, variability, anxiety, ambiguity, concern, confusion, distrust, suspicion, trouble, worry, dilemma, oscillation, lack of confidence

Although these synonyms depict uncertainty in darker colors, a closer analysis will reveal that certainty too, can have its drawbacks. It can push us to a blinding dogma impairing our vision. It will be judicious to build a bridge between these two extremes and skillfully traverse from one point to the other, navigated by an internal call, and cautiously master the shades between the two. It is true that the cautious seldom err, but it is also true that those who are excessively cautious seldom move. Many shades of grey connect the black and the white.

All uncertainties are likely to be experienced by someone at some time, but maturity is the capacity to endure and outgrow them. No progress or creativity is ever possible without uncertainty casting its alarming shadow on the road ahead. You pause, you ponder, you proceed, and prepare for an inadvertent result. “ Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability,” said William Osler, a mastermind of practicing and teaching medicine in this country. We all have no choice but to learn how to stay afloat in an ocean of uncertainty. 

An “Aha” or “eureka” moment may hatch after an incubation period spent in a meaningful, self-searching meditation. Many leading psychologists support this viewpoint.

In the end, I will quote our visionary poet, Robert Frost: 

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence,

Two roads diverged in a wood and I– I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

Choice and Democracy: Musings on Elections 2020

It is official. Joe Biden is the 46th man to occupy the Oval Office.  Well, at least as official as it can get given the incumbent’s congenital aversion to concede.  My first reaction to this victory was of course one of elation. Elation at the thought that policy by tweet could no longer be an acceptable ethos. Elation at the idea that vast swathes of people in legitimate opposition would not be summarily dismissed in crudities that normally are left unspoken in even impolite company. It feels good!

Speaking only for myself, Joe Biden is the kind of gritty, hard-working, ethically uncompromising, and compassionate person that I would have preferred to have grown into. While policies and politics are important for all of us given their implications for our livelihoods and socio-cultural experiences, there’s more to life. Joe’s way of life is what is likely to generate harmony, goodwill, and an involved camaraderie in all our lives. It transcends policy, laws, and free of political legerdemain. That is a big relief in the aftermath of this election. One that cannot be understated.  One that has been missing for a while in our lives. One that people of many political affiliations welcome. One for which I’m grateful.

Yet it feels odd to feel so good. And likely, in time, the feeling will regress towards some ineffable mean as the natural high of a change in power is overcome by the real-life effects of policy implementation, debates, reasoned advocacy, special interest group admonitions, conspiracy-mongering, and other “features” of a rollicking democracy. But there’s more: The often unmentioned idea that one’s preference of a presidential candidate is a proxy for an unqualified endorsement for all things from his (God, I wish for this to be replaced by a “her” pronoun soon) party, is personally the most disillusioning part of today’s politics. At least for me.  The political organization of this country has largely been fixated around the twin poles of the Republican and Democratic parties. While each has a big tent which presumably accommodates views with impressive majorities and trifling fringes and everything else in between, the constrained choice of just two in a diverse polity is too unsettling to fully enjoy any moment of elation. This Hobson’s choice makes it hard for us to exercise electoral choices in a more piecemeal manner.  

Let me explain with some hypotheticals: What if I were fiscally conservative who is also a strident pro-choice voter? What if I were for prayer in schools as well as for LGBT rights? What if I were for a significantly reduced spending in defense capabilities and using the money towards paying our teachers more? What if I believe in school choice policies designed to open up the diversity of options available for our children? What if I believed that our role as a global leader and policeman is both superfluous and disingenuous? What if I truly believed that law enforcement personnel are the true heroes amongst us yet feel the need for police reform? A lot of these questions, or parts thereof, have found homes in either party and no doubt can be argued for and against by anyone far more knowledgeable than I. But that’s not the point. The point is, because of this two-party death grip in our lives, we are forced to unnaturally prioritize our many competing wishes and end up with electoral outcomes that feel somewhat disenfranchising.  

Now as an alternative, what I am asking for is some reasonable dissipation of the bi-polar American order to something that includes a few more options.  By no means am I suggesting forming single-issue parties geared towards short term outcomes.  But surely there has to be a different conception of our lives that is governed by a plurality of thought yet unencumbered by a constrained choice of political parties. Having more parties can engender important benefits to us all:  

  • One, a lot of us will find platforms that are more customized to our desires. 
  • Two, theoretically, the effect of big money politics is likely going to be splintered across a wider constituency of interest groups and so less lethal. 
  • Three, and perhaps my favorite pipe dream, is that voter participation in our vaunted electoral process could likely increase when each individual feels that there is a policy machine that is calibrated well towards their unique predilections.

Now, all of this could also deliver Italian style governance with perpetual coalitions or politically expedient partnerships.  But that’s happening anyway today albeit shielded with a cloak and dagger intimacy of horse-trading that only underscores the unseemliness of our politics. At least with a multiparty democracy, all such pretenses of serving in the big tent are gone. And all said, more of us can go to a home that reflects our tastes rather than being mucked over by a dozen designers with lofty ambitions to one that just isn’t ours.

But I’ll forget it all for a moment and savor this moment in history: the vociferous resurgence of decency and yet another color barrier was broken heralding the ascendancy of a Black and Indian woman to the second-highest office in the land.  Now I have big hopes for my daughter too.


Sri Raghavan is a San Francisco Bay Area corporate minion with a passion for political and cultural analysis and loves to quote from classic rock lyrics in his personal writings, AC/DC excluded. Email him at Beatles24@gmail.com for more conversation.

Bra or No Bra, That Is the Question

No single event in history has disrupted our lives as has COVID-19. Maybe, the two world wars had a far more disastrous effect on our psyche, but the arrival of Coronavirus forced us to adopt new ways of living by isolating ourselves in the closed confines of our homes. 

The first few days of the lockdown/SIP, globally, we witnessed a burst of creative activity with people entering kitchens to prepare delicious dishes, trying their hands at baking cakes, experimenting with Dalgona coffee, painting, sketching, Instagramming, and whatnot.

But soon we started to see its spillover effects. Long hours of Zoom calls, webinars, and increased household chores. And amidst all these developments, a ‘liberating’ thing happened: more and women discarded their bras in the comfort of their homes away from prying eyes. 

On July 6, Geeta Pandey, a BBC journalist based in New Delhi, posted an article on the death of the bra to which I replied saying, “I like the bra. (It) makes me feel more like a woman.”

What’s in a bra?

Why did I say that?

I go braless only when I sleep or throughout the day the very thought of my boobs hanging about without any kind of support is too much to bear. I do not feel comfortable and to add to my woes, there’s a man staying next door and a couple of men living in the building opposite mine. Yet, sometimes I sneak out braless in the dead of the night to enter my kitchen for a cup of coffee.

For me, the bra doesn’t only mean a basic necessity to wear under your clothes. It is part of lingerie after all; something sexy, sensual, and unique. I remember once when discussing a colleague’s wedding plans, someone commented that lingerie shopping was the first thing she bought after her wedding was fixed. 

Back in my school days in India, I used to accompany my mother when I needed to buy bras. She only got me the basic white and skin-colored ones. Malls didn’t exist then and the shopkeeper used to take a cursory look and bring whatever size he thought would fit me without even bothering to ask my size. My mother used to quickly hide the packets in her shopping bag and that was it. It was never ever enjoyable. “It doesn’t matter what you wear. No one sees the bra,” was all she would say. I couldn’t even dare reply that a boyfriend very much sees the bra. Thank God I didn’t have a boyfriend then.

When malls started popping up, I began to enjoy bra shopping. Most places let you try them on and for the first time, I learned basic things about the exact cup size, fit, purpose, and the need to find the right bra for sportswear, sarees, dresses, and so on. 

Buying bras has made me feel so liberated that now, I cannot think of going without them or ditching them. They are my best friends and given me many moments of pleasure. Once in the middle of the night, my roommate and I started a discussion on bras after she came back from a late shopping spree with a bag full of lingerie. Surely, this is a liberating moment with no sense of shame or hesitation about one of the most basic things in a woman’s life.

In the Bollywood movie Queen, there is a scene when Lisa Haydon takes off her bra and places it over Kangana Ranaut’s head. It reminded me of the bra-burning movement where bras were featured as an oppressive element to a women’s life. 

My Instagram profile mentions me as a journalist, bibliophile, and feminist. Going without a bra doesn’t seem like liberation to me. For me, real freedom would be able to walk down the streets any time of the day without being harassed or ogled at. For me, real freedom would be to see the end of crimes like rapes, dowry deaths, and workplace harassment against women.

Bra or no bra? Maybe that isn’t the question…


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

American Dystopia

In 1980, I read Ayn Rand’s novel, Anthem, and was struck. What a great concept: the discovery that ‘we’ was actually ‘I’, and that ‘I’ was all-important. My 20-year old self, yearning to be independent but not really knowing how, found it very alluring. But fast-forwarding 40 years, ‘I’…and I … no longer look so attractive.

Rand’s perspective seemed impressive many decades ago when it was written in reaction to communism and the USSR (where she lived the first twenty years of her life), and when the value of individualism was working to propel the US forward. However, now, taken to an extreme, that same individualism is outdated and is bringing America to its knees, both on a personal level and on a national level.

On a personal level, we have long enjoyed Hollywood’s long-running love affair with the lonely hero and visualizing ourselves as one. I don’t know about you, but advertisements have repeatedly told me that I’m worth it. Whitney Houston’s song, The Greatest Love of All struck such a chord with us because we were already in love with ourselves. And lately, a plethora of ‘I’ technologies (including hardware like mobile phones and software like Facebook) has allowed us not only to express our self-love but also to create our own silos of information. Somewhere along the line, we transitioned from a me-first society to a me-only society. We now see ourselves as individually all-powerful, invincible even, and feel we should be able to solve every problem alone. We’re in an echo chamber of one.

On a national level, capitalism – practiced in an unchecked manner and without socialist protections – has proved to be an exemplary ‘I’ concept, resulting in a growing and destructive social inequality. Strangely, this seems acceptable to many. In international relations, the US has become more isolated by pulling back from several collaborative agreements (e.g., the Iran Deal), joint ventures (e.g., Paris Climate Accord), and cooperative institutions (e.g., UNHRC, UNESCO). American culture and media have glorified the individual to such an extent that ‘we’ and concern for the group at large is thought of as weak and wimpy.

This unquestioning belief in the singular power of the ‘I’ can be delusional, leading to a vast number and array of psychological, social, national, and global problems.

Having drunk the Koolaid for the past 40 years, I do not want to be bothered to wear a mask or social distance or indeed in the future take a vaccine because ‘I’ am invincible. And I certainly don’t want to do it to save the lives of others because ‘I’ am most important. My right to carry guns not only makes me look super cool but also supersedes your right to live. If pushed, I may empathize with those of my country people who vote like me and look like me. I may extend that to those who pray like me because after all, I have God on my side. Since I am the ultimate, I do not want others around who are different: read, inferior. And while I’m at it, I do not wish to vacate the White House if I lose the election because rules do not apply to me. The individual uber allies.

And what do I care about what is happening over the border or across the ocean? I’m not there.

Eighty years ago when Rand wrote Anthem, she saw the world of ‘we’ as dystopian. Today, our world of ‘I’ is dystopian. Different perspectives are appropriate and indeed necessary at different times. We need to swing the pendulum away from the extreme ‘I’ and back towards a bit of ‘we’, and we need to do it now. It requires a difficult and fundamental shift. Fortunately, as ‘I’s, we have agency. We can act to move ourselves and our society towards ‘we’ by focusing on shared values and building a foundation of shared information.

Covid-19 could be just the first test to see if we can do that. And so far, given over 200,000 dead, the US seems to be failing it. In addition, there are many global issues looming on the horizon – like mass migrations, pandemics, and climate change – that desperately need a ‘we’ perspective and approach if we are to survive.

As I grew older, I realized the importance, the strength, and the necessity of ‘we’: family, friends, the local community, and the global network. It’s time that America grew up too.


 Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and commentator. She divides her time, energy, and passion between North America and Asia.

Navratri’s Significance as Hindus Across America Cast Votes

Navratri is a Hindu festival that is celebrated for nine nights and ten days during the Fall season. The lunar calendar determines the timing of the holiday. Navratri is celebrated a few times during the year, but the festival that occurs during the Fall is referred to as Sharad Navratri, which is the most important one. This year, the festivities started on October 17th.

Navratri is usually a time of fasting and reflection for Hindus and is celebrated differently depending on the region of India in which it is celebrated. When fasting during this festival, many Hindus eat a vegetarian diet and avoid alcohol. Hindus honor goddesses by providing offerings. In many parts of India, worshippers celebrate the goddess Durga on the 10th day of the festival. On this final day, we observe Dussehra, when Hindus acknowledge Durga’s triumphant victory of good over evil. 

This Navratri, I am looking ahead to this year’s presidential election. As an Indian-American, it is important for us to recognize candidates that have consistently defended our values and will understand the rich diversity that Indian-Americans and Americans from various backgrounds, bring to this country. Vice President Joe Biden has a distinguished track record as a public servant. As a Senator, he authored important legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act, and had the crucial role of serving as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden also exemplified an excellent track record as Vice President during the Obama Administration when he helped America through a crippling recession and successfully led the federal government’s response to the Ebola pandemic.

Biden is the right person to lead America during this uniquely difficult time in our nation’s history.  He has a plan to help millions of Americans obtain affordable healthcare. For our youth, he has a plan for people to obtain a quality education by investing in schools and making college more affordable. He is determined to help communities recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19 instead of just giving away taxpayer money to billionaires. Biden also has a vision for clean energy and environmental justice. Most importantly, his leadership is respected worldwide and I believe that as the next President of the United States, he will advance the security, prosperity, and values of this nation to build on our democracy and strengthen world alliances. 

This year at the voting booth, let’s show the world that just like in the festival of Navratri, “Goodwill always triumphs.” 


Meenu Khanna is a proud New Yorker and active volunteer in Democratic politics. She immigrated from India more than 30 years ago and after becoming a U.S. citizen, she cast her first vote for then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2007 Presidential Primaries.

Break-up or Divorce: The Case of Indian-American Voters

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The 2020 US presidential election is poised to be the watershed moment in Indian-American (IA) politics. The significance of this election lies in the stratification of IA votes. Once a solid Democratic voting block, IA voters have been progressively turning away from the Democratic Party. 

A recent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) survey suggests that as many as 28% of eligible IA voters will vote for the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. That is a 12 point increase from a paltry 16% in 2016 who voted for Trump. The data suggests just 66% of support for Joe Biden. Compared to this, nearly 84% of Indian-Americans had voted for Barack Obama. The AAPI data also suggests only 57% of eligible IA men will vote Democrat in the 2020 elections compared to 71% in 2016.

The numbers for the Trump supporters could be even higher. We all know that most surveys had grossly underestimated support for Trump in the 2016 elections. Most gave Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and the former First Lady, 90% (or more) chance of winning the election going late into the election night itself. Suffice to say, many Trump supporters did not openly profess their electoral preferences in the last election for fear of ridicule and public shaming. With intolerance and ‘cancel culture’ sweeping the American landscape, this fear has become a reality. Several stories of personal and professional harm have come up in both social and mainstream media. 

The change marks a tectonic shift in the voting preferences of IAs. There is a general sense of disenchantment and disillusionment against the Democratic Party. Many IAs are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s hard left turn and its support for Antifa and other radical violent groups. That process of disenchantment has been exacerbated by Democrats’ brazen Islamopandering. When the Indian Parliament made provisions for full constitutional integration of Jammu & Kashmir, and when it passed the Citizenship Amendment Act making special provisions for persecuted religious minorities in the theocratic Islamic states of the Indian subcontinent, some of the high profile Democrats launched a campaign against the government of PM Narendra Modi. One of those high profile Democrats includes the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

The real concern for the Indian-Americans isn’t necessarily the H-1B visas, nor is the overall Indo-US relationship which has already “overcome the hesitations of history” in the last decade or so. The Indian-Americans, however, are now genuinely concerned about their future and safety in the US. The left-dominated academia and media have created an extremely negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Caste, etc., has been raised – without much understanding and contextualization – to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths. 

Many Democrats, including Indian-American politicians, have actively indulged in enabling and perpetuating Hinduphobia in the US. For example, some of the most vicious Hinduphpobic attacks on a former presidential candidate and a practicing Hindu woman came from within the Democratic Party and its affiliates. That trend of attacking politicians with Hindu roots has continued unabated as we approach the election date.

Another reason for the shift in IA voting preferences is due to what is going on in India. Home of the oldest civilization, India is the sacred land that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes. The memory of this land is etched deep in the consciousness of the Indian diaspora across the globe. That sacred land is undergoing, what journalist-scholar and parliamentarian Dr. Swapan Dasgupta calls, a phase of ‘awakening’.

After hundreds of years of loot, plunder, subjugation, colonization, and experimentation with the leftist ideology, India is rediscovering its roots, its suppressed history, and trampled pride. As it recovers from the abject poverty due to colonial exploitation, India as the world’s fifth-largest economy is much more prosperous and confident now than when its British colonizers had left it in1947. The idea of India presented by the prejudiced Indologists on one hand and colonial (and colonized) “outsiders on the other, is being challenged. This challenge, however, is resisted by vested interest groups and many of them find support within the Democratic Party. 

The Republicans may not be much different from the Democrats but President Trump, on his part, has refused to get involved in India’s internal politics and has openly embraced and extremely popular PM Modi. As a result, more Indian-Americans are willing to give Trump a chance and are jettisoning the Democratic ship in droves. They made their presence felt in the defeat of an extremely anti-Hindu Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries and they are gearing up for the presidential election, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. They already see a template in the historic defeat of the Labour Party in last year’s UK parliamentary elections.

No matter how one looks at it, there are telltale signs all around of a strained relationship between the Democrats and the Indian-Americans. Whether there will be a short-term break-up or a permanent divorce from what some call an abusive relationship, only time will tell.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Weltschmerz

As if flipping pages in a magazine, I riffle through the recent pages of my life quickly and without close attention. Now entering the eighth month of sheltering-in-place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I am tired of it all: tired of social isolation; tired of staying home, tired of reading charts and numbers documenting cases, deaths, and available ICU beds; tired of seeing how we are (or are not) measuring up to the rest of the world; tired of dissent between medical experts, scientists, and politicians; tired of a President who feeds us “really big” lies—“…children are almost immune to this disease…” or, “I tell you, it’s just going to go away…poof.”

And I am sad: sad for our economy; sad for those who have lost their livelihoods and their homes; sad for those who are hungry; sad for those who cannot continue the education they deserve; and sad for those who continue to work despite fear of becoming infected—those who take care of us, feed us, teach us. I am also sad for our vulnerable children and young people who are trying to grow up in this crazy time—toddlers neglected by parents who are working full time from home while doing their best to serve both employer and family. I am sad for teen-agers, bored by months of “lockdown” and social isolation, who are now finding escape in “wilding,” driving too fast, and eschewing masks, and sad for new college grads whose dreams have been dashed. I am sad kids who just want to play ball with their teams, perform with their orchestras, and follow their youthful passions. I am sad for people whose loved ones are dying alone in hospitals, and mothers who give birth, but cannot hold their newborn babies.

I feel sorry for celebrations missed, wedding plans dashed, funerals postponed, college days lost, and vacations that could have been. I feel bad that fear keeps us from doctors, dentists, and therapists, or from going to the grocery store, gym, barbershop, or manicurist. Life is too short, too dear, to put on hold. 

But most of all, I am sad for the lives lost, a multitude of deaths, both in our own backyards and around the world, lives that were snuffed out as quickly as blowing out a candle; some never had a chance to shine. As of today, 1.04 million lives around the world have been taken by the Coronavirus—210,00 in the United States and 102,685 in India.

The thought of continued social isolation, closed access, mask-wearing, illness, fear, and economic collapse is almost too much to bear. To add to this misery, our beautiful America is now on fire. There are currently (September 13, 2020) ninety-four—yes, ninety-four—large wildfires burning across several Western states. In California, most of the fires are due to a combination of drought conditions plus lightning strikes.

President Trump once again incorrectly blamed California for the fires. “…you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” he said, neither seeming to understand that lightning strikes caused a majority of the fires, nor that most of California’s forests and parks are federally managed. He went on to say, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them (California) pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”  It’s all just too much.

There is a German word, weltschmerz, that sums up what I am feeling. It is an amalgam of two words, world plus pain, and means weariness, sadness, frustration, and yearning caused by the reality of the world as it really is rather than the way it should, or could be. I am suffering from weltschmerz, not only due to this pandemic, not only due to the fires, but also due to the current state of our country where the difference between black and white has once again reared its ugly head, and where we can watch…from the comfort of our couches…black people pleading for their lives as they are being murdered or hunted down by our own policemen, and in turn policemen being gunned down by anti-police mobs. We see immigrants fleeing desperate situations being turned back from our borders, their families often separated. How can we ever forget children in cages? 

Then there is the state of the world, our poor, war-weary world, that we can also watch from the comfort of our couches, as it is being destroyed, as people are being killed and babies are dying, as refugee camps are growing. Not a pretty sight, our world right now.

Weltschmerz. A good word, a necessary word. I need a few days to wallow in the misery that now surrounds us, and to pray for better. I need to immerse myself in the sadness of our state, our country, our world. It is not my nature to put on a happy face non-stop for months on end. I need to mourn the losses all around me, and to help carry the weight of the world, if only metaphorically. It keeps me from crying and will help get me through the months ahead.

Weltschmerz.


Pauline Chand is a senior writer who enjoys sharing stories with her grandchildren.