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I am a Hindu. I stand against ‘Hindutva’.

A few days ago, I received a frantic message from a close friend who implored me to write an email in support of an initiative to call for the cancelation of an upcoming event called: Dismantling Global Hindutva. Now, this is a person I take seriously and their request seemed earnest, so I decided to look into it. Moreover, I was wondering how did “Hindutva” become so important to an American audience, and since when did cow-slaughter protesting, Islamophobic/xenophobic behavior in India become global? 

The conference, if you haven’t heard of it, has some prestigious sponsors according to its website. It lists names such as Stanford University’s Center for South Asia and Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center among a pretty impressive list of over 50 universities.

What caught my eye was that this was taking place in September right around the time we annually celebrate Swami Vivekanand’s participation in the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago back in 1893. This was perhaps the first, and arguably the most authentic, representation of Hindu thought or, as some prefer to call it, Vedic thought. So, what has caused a number of universities and other organizations to be motivated to hold such a conference? What is it about the conference that some people, like my friend, are all upset about?

The term Hindutva essentially means the essence of all that is Hindu. By itself a noble term. As someone who thinks of himself as a good Hindu, I could perhaps even relate to it, if only it hadn’t become synonymous in recent times with bigotry, hatred, and vitriol of the kind that one used to associate with some of the most radical movements. When a group calling itself a defender of Hindutva becomes a marauding mob of murderers because someone of a different faith sold or ate beef, or when it renders judgment in any civil or criminal matter (in the course of public discourse with complete disregard for judicial proceedings) solely based on the defendant’s non-Hindu identity, one wonders what has become of Hindu thought. It is easy for anyone to find numerous examples in recent times where the term “Hindutva” is associated with those indulging in such savage behavior. Is the intent of this conference to combat the rise of this trend? If so, I see nothing wrong in its intent.

Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Flyer

But the picture isn’t all that clear. Quite legitimately, those opposing this conference have pointed out that the panelists have in their ranks individuals who are communists (and hence with perhaps scant regard for religious sentiment) as well as those who have long held anti-Hindu views. This is important to note because if a conference that is ostensibly intended to fight the rise of uncivil downright un-Hindu behavior masquerading as a right of Hindus is actually going to paint Hindus across the board in a bad light that can have severe negative consequences. This could have a uniquely detrimental effect right here in the US where we find that the forces of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment have been growing almost unchecked in recent years. The safety of all minorities, Hindu or not, is under attack and a conference that seeks to address fascist and supremacist traditions will have unwittingly fanned the flames of precisely that behavior against Hindus in the United States.

So, should the conference go on?

A belief and value system that has withstood the most vicious attacks on it for thousands of years will certainly not be damaged by a few individuals who might attack it. However, given the current climate in the US, there is a need to be more thoughtful and purposeful about how we engage in this debate. As a staunch supporter of freedom of speech, I do not wish for an opportunity for dialogue to be abandoned. But wouldn’t it be nice if these same organizers added segments or even held a separate conference that addresses the safety and well-being of Hindus in the United States? The “dot-buster” gangs of the last century may not be around but there’s plenty of vitriol directed toward Hindus by white supremacists. It would really help if there was clear evidence that the focus of the conference was solely to educate folks against what is downright egregious behavior by those claiming the mantle of Hindutva, and that the organizers are equally concerned about the safety of all Hindus in the United States (at the very least). 

Besides it being a matter of free speech, perhaps we should refocus on what Swami Vivekanand said on September 11, 1893, in Chicago:

“The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’ Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

I believe with all my heart in the form of Hinduism that Swamiji advocated for and am willing to fight for those ideals as much as I am going to resist the Hindutva hordes from hijacking my Hinduism.

Irreverently yours,

Darpan


Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.


 

Hinduphobia in Academia Leaves Students Traumatized

The Guru or teacher has always been a hallowed concept for the Indian subcontinent. A teacher is respected as the moral compass of the community, and responsible for the accurate enlightenment of the general population, in Hindu society. 

The key term here is responsible. Teachers, or academics, are responsible to their students to ensure their work is accurate, free of overt bias, and open to corrections when not. So what do Hindu students do when faced with teachers who don’t?

These standards have not been met when discussing the case surrounding some American Indologists and their study of the Hindu religion. As a community, we must recognize that irrational prejudice against the Hindu community is a definitive problem within vast swaths of Western academia. Scholars have allowed their personal beliefs against Hinduism to influence their work, leading to the crude misrepresentation of the Hindu community in academic circles. In order to evade responsibility for their Hinduphobic content, Indologists have labeled protest from the Hindu community as “Extremism” or a “Hindutva conspiracy.” Not only have student protests been ignored, but pleas from religious organizations and temples have been declined as well. 

Last month, a coalition of 75 Hindu temples and religious organizations sent a letter to Rutgers University regarding the biased works of Professor Audrey Truschke. Truschke had previously misattributed the works of another scholar, to claim that the original Valmiki Ramayan had a quote where Devi Sita abuses Bhagwan Rama – something that was swiftly contradicted by the academic she was quoting. The temple letter stands in solidarity with the students, and states that the coalition “could not help but feel intensely hurt and abused when a Professor uses her authority and deliberately misinterprets Hindu sacred texts or slanders Hindu deities while rationalizing such behavior as “academic freedom.” 

American Indologists are allowed to publish these works under the guise of academic freedom. But what does “academic freedom” mean when used as a cover to protect action that puts vulnerable students at risk? According to the Freedom Forum Institute, academic freedom allows a university to teach what it pleases without government interference and for teachers to teach without interference from university officials. Nowhere does it deny students (vulnerable to the power yielded by tenured academics), and minority communities, their own free speech rights to peacefully protest. 

The temples state, “Bigotry and Hinduphobia on social media and in scholarship cannot be excused as academic freedom, especially when these remarks have grave consequences for how Hindu students at Rutgers will be perceived by their own peers.”  As a student who faced discrimination due to the misrepresentation of Hinduism in California textbooks, I cannot state the importance of these words enough. In California, kids as young as sixth grade had to face discrimination due to how schools taught Hinduism. In 2016, a significant advocacy movement led by Hindus in California paved the way for positive change. Similarly, the temple letter represents an effort from the broader Hindu American community to stand against systematic discrimination – making it invaluable support to students dealing with bias that results from Hinduphobic teachings.

For years American Indologists have ignored these pleas and petitions for correction or even a hearing. Any student, parent, scholar, or even an academic with an opposing view has been ignored. All this while those misattribute quotes or fake translations, choose to put out claims that they are facing “harassment”.

On the morning of July 6th, 2021, just days after the collective plea from Hindu temples, the SASAC, or the South Asian Scholars Activist Collective, released a statement regarding their “harassment.” The report included the “Hindutva Harassment Manual,” or tips for those who had been harassed by “Hindutva extremists.” The SASAC comprises Indology scholars across the United States and has Truschke on its board. 

In its attempt to gaslight Hindus, the manual has some glaring flaws. The most important one being its definition of Hinduphobia, which in fact, denies the very existence of such a term. The manual says, “Hinduphobia” rests on the false notion that Hindus have faced systematic oppression throughout history and in present times… Anti-Hindu bias, on the other hand, cannot be easily linked to casualties on such horrific scales.” 

The SASAC academics are scholars with countless resources at their command. So one has to wonder at the ease with which they ignore Hindu persecution. This amnesia includes the 1971 Bengali Hindu genocide — the largest the world has seen since the Holocaust, whose horrors documented in numerous US State Government reports, by no less an icon than Senator Kennedy. The cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus and even the decimation of Hindu minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan are blithely ignored in this attempted body count of casualties. 

Barely after I had finished writing this article, I learned about another outrage. A cabal of Indologists has put together the “Dismantling Global Hindutva” conference which is an overtly political attempt to malign the religion of Hinduism under the guise of “fighting Hindu extremism.” They have done so without taking the input of the Hindu diaspora or representing them in any way. Many of the universities affiliated with the conference are unaware of such a politically motivated conference occurring, underlining the lengths that the academics behind the conference will go to in order to perpetrate their hate. To join the protest against this bigoted event, please read this petition

The SASAC’s denial of Hinduphobia has a simple purpose; to deflect from their wrongdoing, and importantly, silence any protest regarding their works – no matter how legitimate – by ascribing them all to Hindu extremism.

In doing this, the SASAC breaches a fundamental pillar. As Professor Arvind Sharma puts it, as academia is allowed to criticize the practices of a population freely, it is the fundamental right of the people in question to critique academia. Attempting to take away that right by removing their sense of accountability as an academic allows others to discriminate against the community in question. The standard set by today’s intellectuals will determine the way the American curriculum will teach future generations about Hinduism. 

The price of staying quiet is high and borne by the most vulnerable. Just hear the words of Aishwarya, a graduate student “I joined Rutgers with the impression that it’s a very reputed university and will give me the perfect environment to grow. However, when I heard the comments of Professor Truschke about my faith, my scriptures, and my Gods, it broke my confidence. I felt scared about mentioning my faith, that students will judge me and might hate me because that is what they are learning in the class or on social media.” It behooves us all to stand with Aishvarya and help her feel safe.


Chinmaya is a CoHNA volunteer and student journalist with a passion for Hindu human rights and politics.


 

Independence without Interdependence and Dependability?

We are at the crossroads of confused thinking about our concept of Independence.

We just have added Juneteenth to our National calendar, accepting another Independence Day, distinct from July Fourth, the day of freedom for our black brethren. American independence, celebrated on July 4, commemorates the human and historical landmarks of our great country. And the Independence Day of India, August 15, is marching close on the heels.

Too many Independence Days? Not really.

An Independence Day proclaims the victory of the human spirit which defies to be dominated by any oppressive or suppressive forces. The day might be different in different parts of the world but there is a constancy in its core.

Let us learn from the quotes on Independence

“Independence is Happiness” – Susan B. Anthony

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will. – Charlotte Bronte

I have an independent streak. You know, it’s kind of hard to tell an independent woman what to do. – Betty Ford

My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of society alone, but for the development of his own self. – B.R. Ambedkar

Independence is my birthright. – Lokmanya Tilak

Common Denominator

All of the above sayings originated in a period of time characterized by deprivation of rights and oppression inflicted on the basis of gender, creed, and cast. The authors cited above reflect an assertion for being accepted as an independent. There is a ring of revolt as they reinstituted their rights, lest they will ever be condemned to endless confinement. Independence usually follows a revolution rather than emerging as a natural product of evolution. The dawn of Independence nevertheless is bound to be succeeded by the scorching heat of midday. Acquired independence is, therefore, only a battle half won. The other half is a never-ending battle to preserve its health and nurture it.

Now is the time to RIPEN our rights of Independence

We need to recognize that, as independents, we are not solo singers but partakers in a chorus playing in the world at large. Independence is our elementary right but to be enjoyed in an elemental way. As we are now painfully observing, reckless independence can lead to a shipwreck. 

We see a fractured Independence

We are most likely to turn our attention first to Asia and Africa where Democracy is most threatened. 

China, Hongkong, Myanmar, African countries rivet our attention where the fight for democracy results in mass murders. Even India seems to be shifting its values to discriminate against non-Hindu citizens. Recently, Cuba is most vociferous about gaining its independence while its most prestigious neighbor, USA, is watching its hard-earned democracy shifting to shaky ground.

We proclaimed August 15 as Svatantrya Din(Sanskrit), Azadi Din (Urdu), and Independence Day (English). It is imperative that the world has to stop nurturing the neglect of human rights.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty,” is an apt statement attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

Symbiosis: A Fundamental Law of Nature

Symbiosis is a scientific term denoting the process of one life-supporting the other. It implies that the integrity of our life will depend on our ability to function as a team to preserve and nurture all lives around us. We cannot exist without accepting coexistence as our open secret of healthy survival. Racial divides, spurious self-proclaimed supremacies, evaluations by birth, gender and geography, hatred for heterogeneity, self-destructive disregard for nature, deprivation of human dignity are all our means of mass destruction. Don’t look for them anywhere else.  They are evident on every page of human history.  Shakespeare puts it succinctly in his play Measure for Measure written in 1603:

But man, proud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what’s most assured,

His glassy essence-like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,

As makes angels weep……

A similar message is reflected in our eternal, spiritually evergreen Shanti Mantra

Om sahana vavatu…..

“Let the freed make others free” is our Vedic vow.

Disjointed independence wrapped in dark ignorance is indeed a dangerous weapon causing self-annihilation, sooner or later. Dependability with its inherent integrity is a prerequisite to achieve and preserve Independence. Let us widen and deepen our vision so that we are not condemned to see history repeat itself.


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 [email protected] 


 

Indian athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics (image from Sportskeeda.com)

India Has So Few Medals at the Olympics

This article is a two-part series on India’s participation in the previous Olympic games and the upcoming Olympic games. Find part 1 here!

The previous article illustrates that of the many individuals who have represented India in the Olympics, relatively few were competitive. This is by all accounts, rather disappointing, considering India’s huge population and its exposure and intimate association with the Olympics for over 100 years.

The above frustration was relayed by so many of us as we watched the quadrennial spectacular in Rio de Janeiro with great interest. It was given added fillip when the inimitable Dipa Karmakar (the Produnova vault was on everyone’s lips!) just missed medaling as we all watched.  The frustration was assuaged only slightly near the end of the Games with the bronze for Sakshi Malik in women’s wrestling and later by the silver by PV Sindhu in badminton. But the sentiment lives on. It may further be noted that Pakistan has won only 10 medals so far (since 1952), eight of them Field Hockey. And Bangladesh has so far (since 1972) won none – the most populous country in the world without an Olympic medal.  

One wonders about this pervasive shortcoming for the entire subcontinent. The oft-cited reason is the lack of sufficient facilities, training, and economic incentives. For the most part, I do not fully agree. I am thoroughly convinced that to be an Olympic medalist you most of all need to have superior “inherent natural ability” (talent). I submit that without superior talent, any amount of training, facilities, or opportunities will not an Olympic champion make.  And in India (and Pakistan and Bangladesh) there apparently is a severe dearth (not total absence) of talent needed to succeed in the sports currently competed in the Olympics. And that unfortunately does not include cricket. 

Of the children of Indian origin who grew up in the US, genuine success in sports is few and far between – in sharp contrast to their glaring successes in Spelling Bees, Math Olympiads, and Chess. This is in spite of them being afforded the same opportunities as all others. The common reason put forward is that they predominantly have a white-collar background. 

However, the situation is not much different in the UK, which has a much larger proportion of a working-class population from the Indian subcontinent. But the only one coming close is Bengali-Kolkata mix, Neil Taylor, who represented Wales in Euro 2016. While on soccer, I contend that if we had talent in the game, we would have had a presence in the English and European leagues like so many from Africa. We have been well exposed to the game for well over a hundred years. However, our best, Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, and Masood Fakhri of Pakistan earlier could not establish themselves in the English league. Mention may be made of war-torn Iraq, whose soccer team not only qualified for the Olympics but drew all its three group matches, including with Brazil, the ultimate gold medalist.

The source of talent in sports is not easily defined in specific terms. Different skill sets are required for different sports, and thus, different physical attributes. For some sports it is easy to identify – you have to be tall for basketball and well-built for American football. But for other sports, it is not readily apparent. There is more to physical attributes than height and weight. They involve myriad characteristics like upper body strength, speed of hand and foot, reaction times, lung capacity, wrist strength, hand-eye coordination, length of arms, and size of palms. Also, the ability to withstand pain and fatigue may be part of talent, though that might not strictly qualify as a physical attribute. Take a look at  Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimming legend. He has been described as having a freakish physique with a large wingspan, high lung capacity, and flipper feet.

The racial/ethnic element in Olympics sports success clearly jumps out at me in no uncertain terms

2016 US Olympics Track and Field Trials (Image from Wikimedia and under the Creative Commons License 2.0)
2016 US Olympics Track and Field Trials (Image from Wikimedia and under the Creative Commons License 2.0)

The superior success of black athletes from the US, the Caribbeans, Canada, or England in the speed events of track and field — the sprints, horizontal jumps, the hurdles — does not escape anyone.  They are known to have a common West African ancestry for the most part.  Significantly, countries in West Africa like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, who have similar ancestry, have also produced some world-class sprinters and long jumpers. By contrast, the success of the same people in the longer distances, the throws, the high jump, and pole vault are a mere shadow of their success in the speed events.

Ethiopians and Kenyans from East Africa surely belong to a different stock with their primacy in the middle and longer distances (they cannot run distances shorter than 800 meters it seems!). Incidentally, other small countries in the region like Somalia, Djibouti, and Burundi have also been competitive in these distances in the Olympics.

It also appears that the Mongolian races stand out for their extremely fast hand-foot combinations. They are so overwhelming in low-weight boxing, badminton, gymnastics, and table tennis. I have to note that many successful boxers are from India (Mary Kom is the best of them!) and from the impoverished northeast, where the Mongolian racial characteristics are so prevalent. It is hard to think there are better training and facilities there than in the rest of India. There seems to be some special talent in weightlifting and wrestling in Turkey, Iran, and contiguous countries like Azerbijan and Kazakastan. Finally, there is the example of the little island of Fiji with a population of less than a million winning a gold medal in rugby in 2016. Thirty-eight percent of the Fijian population is of Indian origin — there was not a single Indian on the Fijian team –all were what they call native Fijians (of Melanesian and some Polynesian origin).  

Many of my above observations may not be tenable as increased globalization takes hold and new technological advances appear on the scene. Changed political and economic situations may also dictate newer realities. Predictably, there will be increased exposure to different sports for different segments of the population along with better training. I am reminded that before the 1960 Olympics in Rome and the unforgettable victory of Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia in the marathon, and the exploits of Kipchoge Keino of Kenya and others from 1964. Kenya and Ethiopia, which so overwhelmingly dominate the middle and long distances of track and field, were absent from our sports consciousness.  

Similar must have been in baseball before Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major league in 1947, which opened up the huge talent pool for the racial diversity in baseball. Similarly, there was the arrival of China into the Olympic fold in 1984 and before that in the Asian Games in 1974.  It was a quantum shift in the Olympic scene. Similarly, it is possible that new technology and changing situations, such as the advent of artificial surfaces unsuited to our style of play, exodus of Anglo-Indians from India, and more nations taking up the game seriously, all may have resulted in the loss of the primacy in Field Hockey for India and Pakistan.   

I seriously wonder if such changed situations discussed above will usher in much hope for increased Olympic success for India. After all, India has had reasonably long exposures to the outside world in all the major Olympic sports like soccer, field hockey, track and field, swimming, volleyball, wrestling, weightlifting, and boxing, and often had decent opportunities to show their mettle. We have, sometimes, competed creditably in the Commonwealth and Asian Games, but repeatedly came up short in the larger arena of the Olympics. This, I would attribute largely to a lack of sufficient talent.

To many, insufficient or inadequate training, facilities, and economic incentives are the prime causes for India’s ‘abject failure’ in the Olympics over the years.  The issue needs to be examined more closely, beyond this blanket statement.  In 2014, India won 57 medals (11 gold) in the Asian Games and 55 medals (14 gold) in the Commonwealth Games. In 2018, India won 70 medals (16 gold) in the Asian Games and 66 medals (20gold) in the Commonwealth Games. The medals tell me there is a reasonable amount of training and infrastructure out there and that our talent level is good enough to succeed in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, but insufficient for Olympic medals.

Specifics

Dipa Karmakar (Image from the Olympics website)
Dipa Karmakar (Image from the Olympics website)

The case of Dipa Karmakar is instructive. For one hailing from Tripura, a remote corner of the country, she could still avail herself of adequate gymnastic facilities and a capable coach in Mr. Nandi. Dipa went thru the ranks from junior to senior (no lone wolf!), reflecting a reasonable infrastructure behind her, however inept. Mr. Nandi has hailed the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for its help.

Sakshi Malik’s experience in her Haryana village with all its backwardness and prejudices did not stop her from acquiring a competent coach from Karnataka, trained by SAI. Along with the SAI, which has its presence in every state, there are sports institutes in many parts of the country, such as in Patiala and Gwalior, turning out players and coaches.  There is the admirable facility for badminton run by the former All England Champion, PV Gopichand, which has turned out Olympic medalists Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu among others. 

So, we do have our coaches and our facilities, however insufficient and inept.  We have also to appreciate that for a vast and poor country like India, our utilization of our limited resources for sports have to be balanced against bigger priorities such as infrastructure development, industrialization, alleviation of poverty, justice and crime prevention, defense of the country, education, good governance. All these surely cannot be compromised for mere Olympic medals.

I am curious how our training and financial incentives compare with other similar developing countries on a per-capita basis, something not easy to put one’s hands-on. Instead, I chose three countries at random: Brazil, Thailand, and Nigeria in three continents to find out their Olympic medal hauls.

Brazil had won 24 gold, 31 silver, and 57 bronze.

Thailand had won 9 gold, 7 silver, and 13 bronze.

Nigeria had won 3 gold, 8 silver, and 12 bronze (including a gold and a silver in soccer and a gold in Men’s 4×400 meters relay). 

These countries are by no means economic powerhouses.  It is therefore very unlikely that their sportsmen would have better facilities and economic prospects than in India to spur the pursuit of their sporting careers. 

The Olympics have just begun in Tokyo. I, an Olympic fanatic am already in front of the TV watching the grand extravaganza, albeit in front of empty stadiums. Success or failure of Indians will only flash fleetingly in my mind. I will root for whoever seems hopeful and can bring us some medals. They have been so few and far between!

In the meantime, I keep on hoping like many of us for cricket to be included in the Olympics in the future. We would definitely be contenders for the gold.

Go back and read part 1!


Partha Sircar has a BE in Civil Engineering from Bengal Engineering College in Shibpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a 53-year resident of the United States, including the last 36 years in California. He has worked in several engineering organizations over the years and is now retired for over eight years. He loves to write and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


 

Desis Not Getting Vaccinated is Borderline Sociopathic Behavior

With Irreverence Towards All – A monthly column on the musings and rants from a Bay Area Indian American about all that ails, affects, or matters to desis here and across these fine United States. Many will disagree, and sometimes aggressively. 

There is nothing cool, romantic, or brave about being a public health hazard. Many desis in the Bay area are unfortunately being just that. Yes, this is a rant. And it is intended to highlight this problem – if you see it happening in your circles, call it out.

Experts have estimated that 70 to 85% of people in the US will need to become immune to the coronavirus through vaccination or infection in order to control community spread.  Vaccination rates are slowing down dangerously, and as of July 13, only 55.7% of the US population has received at least one dose. 

A couple of weeks ago, more than 10% of those who received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have missed their second dose (per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This statistic is a huge concern. According to experts, studies have shown that the vaccines are much more effective against the Delta variant after the two-dose regimen is completed. Let’s not forget that the Delta variant is believed to be more transmissible and likely to cause more severe disease than other strains. 

Folks, these are the facts. So wherein lies the problem?

The problem lies with the folks who should be leading and guiding people to do the right thing for public health; they are doing the exact opposite. It is disheartening when these are people from your own community that is often thought of as one that functions at a higher degree of awareness and is well-educated. Yes, I’m talking about desis in the Bay area who are engaging in downright irresponsible behavior.

Exhibit A – A tech company CEO and their spouse, who many look up to because of their otherwise spiritual leanings, are refusing to get vaccinated. They are, in fact, trying to convince others that COVID has been blown out of proportion and that we should avoid getting vaccinated. What they are doing is very dangerous. They seem to forget that it is not about the individual alone, and not everyone can or will be able to do what these two individuals do for their personal immunity. I believe their behavior is outrageously selfish. What makes it worse is that they have a child in their twenties – a demographic that is already slowing down vaccination rates. With parents like these, I don’t see this young individual racing to get vaccinated. I think this couple is among the worst offenders because they are signaling to people who look up to them that it’s okay to be irresponsible. It is reprehensible how they do this maintaining a holier-than-thou attitude. And, I’ve seen other desis pretend this is not happening. Will we only take notice when they become sick? It is their choice to not get vaccinated – which must be respected. But they should not expect to be treated on par with others who have been responsible for protecting the health of the community. It should be perfectly fine to shun their company till they demonstrate more responsible behavior.

Exhibit B – A rising tech star (in Texas actually, but can we assume this is not happening in the Bay area too?) agreed to abandon their vaccination schedule because their spouse was convinced by friends that vaccines were not safe! And the source of the information? WhatsApp. These forwards seem to have taken control of brains around the world because we are too lazy to look up credible sources of information. Whatever happened to personal due diligence and a mind that can discern what’s BS and what is solid science-based reasoning? 

Exhibit C – A healthcare worker. Yes, a healthcare worker while administering a shot to a close friend of mine expresses doubts about the efficacy and illness preventing capabilities of the vaccine. Are you kidding me? If we have individuals like this in healthcare, it is a disaster waiting to happen. 

All these offenders are desi and all of them are fairly well-educated and wouldn’t otherwise be suspected of being science naysayers.

In the Hindu faith, the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” implies the whole world is a family. Which in turn means that co-existence ought to be a core belief. What does it say about you, as a Hindu, if you are tearing down a core principle – one of co-existence? In the Sikh faith there happens to be a beautiful principle – “Sarbat da Bhala” which literally means the welfare of all. In the context of this discussion, I ask, aren’t we adversely impacting the welfare of the community by setting a bad example when we shun vaccination and advocate against it? This discussion is not meant to be about faith. I bring this up to expose the hypocrisy of those who are hurting our common interest and endangering everyone around. I mention these two faiths specifically because the offenders in my 3 examples are self-professed and self-proclaimed diehard believers of these faiths; and mind you, they don’t hesitate to pontificate ad nauseam, espousing the virtues of being a good Hindu or Sikh. 

The science is clear – the pandemic will not end until we get north of 70% immunity for the population. As a nation, we have missed the July 4 goal set by President Biden with respect to vaccination numbers. Can we pledge to do our part in trying to make up lost ground in the weeks ahead? Let’s push ourselves, our families, our friends, and all those sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated. The diehard anti-vaxxers I write off as parasites – they’ll benefit from our effort and dedication to public health – so, let’s not waste time trying to convince them. 

One more thing. I tip my hat (figuratively speaking, of course – I’m not exactly a wearer of hats) to Khushwant Singh, a journalist of international repute who used to run a syndicated column in the Illustrated Weekly of India called, “With Malice towards One and All (many older folks in the desi community might remember). While I cannot hope to match his talent, savvy, and way with words, I confess I am inspired by his irreverent wit. I hope to keep that irreverence alive. 

Irreverently yours, 

– Darpan


Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.


 

Sushmita Mazumdar's work, 'Something is Missing/Present - Grounding'

Albela Sajan Aayo Ri: Finding Myself in My Art

During the pandemic, my home changed as my family members worked, attended school and college from home. The museum where I had volunteered weekly for 20 years was closed. My work at my studio, Studio PAUSE, a community space for art and stories changed, and I found myself week after week, month after month, thinking, “Nobody is here. Still, there is nobody here!” The wall where anyone could show their art was blank. The writing sessions had moved online. Zoomceptions were few. 

It took a while before I noticed someone was here. It was me. As I started to explore my work in a new way, I watched what I would allow myself to create. 

When I finally felt okay playing music in the dead silent community center, I found the good old Hindi songs, playing on shuffle from my iTunes app, still spoke to me.

One day “Kafirana sa hai, Ishq hai ya Kya hai?” stopped me. It feels blasphemous, Is this love or what is it, the lyrics asked.

Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.
Sushmita Mazumdar painting at Studio PAUSE.

I had not seen the 2018 movie Kedarnath, but the song had moved me greatly. I pulled out four canvasses I had bought for a commission which I had discontinued. I had been asked to remove some elements related to George Floyd from that project and was given no explanation for it. So instead, I painted on it an intense deep green-blue. A month earlier the actor from Kedarnath, Sushant Singh Rajput, was believed to have killed himself. The shock had rippled through our community. He will never smile or sing again. I wrote the lyrics in my expressive calligraphic style, carving into the paint as well as applying paint to write in the Devanagari script and the Roman cursive. I wrote a new word, “Kafirana” written by new poets. I had lost touch with my native scripts while I lived my life in the US. They had gone quiet. Sushant, I found, also means quiet.

Another blue-green canvas sang, “Albela sajan aayo ri, Mora ati man sukh payo ri”. My charming beloved had come, My heart feels very happy now, it said.

I remembered the video from the 2015 movie Bajirao Mastani where Kashibai runs through the palace carrying a huge flag, thrilled at her beloved’s return home. I re-discovered my old favorite Devanagari letters which I had first fallen in love with when I studied calligraphy in art school in Bombay in the late 1980s. Who was this classical Hindi song speaking of? 

Hawa Hawa played, from that most special album from the 2011 movie Rockstar. I had made all the art for my first solo show in Oct 2012 listening to this album. But I had never made any songs visual. This song, meaning Wind, Wind, tells the story of a queen who couldn’t stay within the golden walls of her palace and needed to run bare feet into the wind, along with the wind. It clearly spoke of me—the old me. As I made a deep rani-pink, a red-infused variation on the pink color of queens, and wrote the lyrics on it, I saw myself now, sitting here every day. Who am I if I am not running? 

“Yeh Zameen chup hai, Aasmaan chup hai, Phir yeh dhadkan si, Charsu kya hai.” The earth is silent, the sky is silent, then what is this heartbeat, I hear all around me, asked an old favorite song, as I stood painting among my studio walls painted in the colors Baked Clay and Endless Sky. A question the queen Razia Sultan had asked herself in that 1983 movie – the poet imagining the state of the first Muslim woman to be emperor of the subcontinent of India in the 13th century spoke to me during the 2020 pandemic. What is it then?

I entered Sing to Me, Mr. Shuffle!, the story of a collaboration with an app and an algorithm for my first online presentation at Our Stories Virtual Festival hosted by Asian Arts and Culture Center, Towson University, Maryland. As I write this, I document a journey towards a new beginning, and a return to bring along the old me. 

Sushmita Mazumdar's mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic
Sushmita Mazumdar’s mixed media artwork, ‘Albela Sajan/Charming Beloved’ on the AA&CC graphic.

I went back to yoga after years. I had first learned it when I attended the first standard in Bombay. I learned about chakras and found connections with stories I have collected from friends. I explored the bright colors in my paintings.

“Whose work is this,” an old friend asked when she finally left her home in July. “Mine,” I laughed. She looked at me in surprise. 

Then, poems! Bazaar, a recurring dream I had made into an artist’s book in 2012, was selected to be part of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria’s Poem-A-Day project in April 2021. It was also made into a poetry video by artist Mary Louise Marino who saw how it connected with her own experience.

I had finally applied for citizenship, and found a poem emerge on an emotional afternoon before the test. In Kanyadaan, Again, I think about the ceremony where a father gives away his daughter at a Hindu wedding. I beg my father—who had fought for the freedom of India and had given me away to my American husband when he came for our wedding—to give me away again, from one flag to another. 

“I hope he will he say: Go! Be a freedom fighter for yourself

in the country which fought the same imperialists

And vote! So its children can always be free 

and so yours can be assured that their country

is also their Motherland.” 

— Excerpt from Sushmita Mazumdar’s Poem ‘Kanyaadan Again’

Colors, languages, and scripts had exploded out of me—my heritage, a leap past the 21 years in the US and beyond! I put it all into my new website.

On June 8, I voted for the first time in 21 years. I will be heard. I went to vote with my husband and my son.

On June 10, I was at a poetry reading where I read aloud my first Hindi poem, Aaj Summer Camp Mein, American accent and all, accompanied by its English translation which was published earlier this year in Written in Arlington. It’s about a new staff member who was at my daughter’s camp and how my daughter loved her long black hair, her dark eyes, and had asked: Is Ms. Maheen like me? Is she Indian? 

This was all new for me. It had taken a global pandemic for a flood of the old me to emerge and merge with the now me, leading to a new me, hopefully moving toward a more complete me. 


Sushmita Mazumdar is a self-taught writer and book artist, writing stories from her childhood for her American children and making them into handmade storybooks. Encouraging everyone to share their stories of home, heritage, and migration she opened Studio Pause in 2013 mixing community voices into her own work, allowing cross-cultural collaborations and dialogues to inform her creations.


 

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 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 [email protected] 

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 [email protected] for more conversation.