Tag Archives: pandemic

Harjeet’s Family Suffers the Aftermath of COVID

(Featured Image from left to right: Harjeet, Asha (sister), Avtar (brother)) 

Harjeet Singh Zhim was born on May 17, 1983, in Panama, Central America. His family migration to Panama dates back to the early 1900s, originating with work in the Panama Canal construction. His parents, Parkash and Sushila Singh Zhim raised him as a man of good, who valued his cultural and international heritage.

Harjeet and his daughter, Gracie.

Harjeet moved to the United States in 1998 and resided in San Jose, CA with his elder sister, Ashinder. He graduated from Silver Creek High School in 2000 and Heald College in 2003. Affectionately, he was also known as Panama to family and friends because of his interesting background. His ethnicity was Indian but he was born and raised in Panama. He was fluent in Spanish, Punjabi, and English and enjoyed the blend of Latin, Indian, and American cultures, including different music genres, among his favorites: Reggaeton, Bhangra, and Hip-hop, as well as, movies from Hollywood and Bollywood, and Punjabi and Spanish movies too. He adopted religious views from both oriental and occidental cultures, visiting Christian churches, Sikh gurdwara, and Hindu temples.

He was an entrepreneur, frequently trying new business ideas. His last initiative in the US was Oh Pizza & Wings in Dublin, CA, a restaurant he opened and managed with his cousin from 2015 through 2018 with original recipes starting from the dough and pizza sauce through the creation of many customers’ favorite pizzas, such as: chicken tikka, oh siracha, turken, and hot smokey chicken. Always providing the best customer service such that customers felt welcomed and enjoyed hosting events at the restaurant.

In 2018, he went to India, got engaged, and married to Sonia Chumber, following the Indian tradition of an arranged marriage. They had a beautiful baby girl, Gracie, in 2020. He temporarily moved back to Panama in 2019, where he was also loved and welcomed by family and friends and he continued to expand his network through his entrepreneurship. With his elder brother, Avtar, he managed a family-owned restaurant, Salsa Parrilla, sharing delicious Panamanian dishes with customers. 

He was a kind and gentle soul who brought joy, laughter, and warmth to all those around him. He was happy to babysit his nieces and nephews, as well as, family and friends’ pets, spending quality time with them and quickly becoming their favorite uncle and babysitter. He enjoyed hobbies such as installing music systems and being a DJ. He contributed to society by donating his time and resources to charitable organizations. During his life, Harjeet lived life to the fullest by traveling the world, befriending those he met, and creating amazing memories with all those he knew. He visited many countries following his passion to travel the world: Canada, Colombia, Dubai, Germany, India, Mexico, Dominican Republic, South Africa, and more. 

He passed on January 15, 2021, due to COVID complications. Harjeet’s good-hearted spirit and presence will live on through his wife and their daughter, who will turn one on February 20. If you wish support them, please visit: www.gofundme.com/panamasgracie


Ashinder Singh Zhim earned an A.A. from Florida State University, Panama Canal Branch, and a B.S. in Business with an emphasis in Accounting from San Jose State University. She is a CPA licensed in the state of California and works for a big four accounting firm in the Bay Area.

Can Schools Reopen Safely?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday, February 13th, 2021, issued new guidelines for the reopening of K-12 schools. Many teachers and parents have raised concerns about the early reopening of schools.

Returning to schools before teachers can be fully vaccinated has raised fears in the community.  The guidelines state that although teachers should be vaccinated as quickly as possible, (preferably after health care workers and long-term-care facility residents ) they do not need to be vaccinated before schools can reopen. 

In order to make it easier on the schools to open, the CDC has also given a pass to the schools on physical distancing. Schools are encouraged to put in effect physical distancing to the greatest extent possible requiring it only when community transmission of the virus is high.

The expense and logistics of widespread screening, which would be a heavy burden for school districts, has also been lightened to the extent possible.

Central to the debate over school reopening is whether children are efficient COVID-19 transmitters and likely to increase community spread when programs reopen.

Though evidence suggests that children under 10 are less likely to get the virus, students can carry infection back home to the community,” says Christina Martini, a kindergarten teacher who has a Masters in Education from Purdue University.  

“There is concern if they live with their grandparents who are seventy or eighty years old”, said Akil Vohra, Asian American Lead (AALead) at an Ethnic Media Services‘s briefing titled “When Can We Reopen Schools?  Search For Common Ground on Divisive Issue”.

In addition to Vohra, the panel included experts Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of EdSource, Tyrone Howard, Professor of Education, UCLA, and Director of Black Male Institute, and Bernita Bradley from the National Parents Union. They offered a range of perspectives on the struggle to get children back to the classroom.  

Karla Franco, a Los Angeles parent, talked about how the stakes are highest for students of color in major urban districts, whose studies show they are losing ground the longer they are out of the classroom and who have the least confidence in the safety of their schools and the responsiveness of their school officials. 

Education experts are concerned about the consequences of students being out of school for such a prolonged period. There is growing evidence that some students who are learning remotely are falling significantly behind academically.

Freedberg highlighted the unusually high numbers of children and adolescents who are depressed, anxious or experiencing other mental health issues. “When you look at the research it looks like kids need to be back in school”, he said. “On the social emotional level reports show higher rates of depression, PTSD due to social isolation and not being in contact with other kids, but also kids are in a home where the parents are struggling with new economic stresses due to job losses and there is the uncertainty around school.” 

“The schools are under pressure to reopen and they do have to at some point. The new CDC guidelines guide schools on how to openly safely with effective mitigation measures,” said Martini.


Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

AACI and NBC Bay Area Host Annual Contest

AACI and NBC Bay Area are hosting the Growing Up Asian in America (GUAA) art, essay, and video contest for students (kindergarten – 12th grade) in the nine Bay Area counties. GUAA provides a unique platform for young people to creatively explore and celebrate being both Asian or Pacific Islander and American. GUAA was started in 1995 by the Asian Pacific Fund and NBC Bay Area as one of the largest youth celebrations of Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month in the nation.

Every year, hundreds of Bay Area students – Kindergarten through 12th grade – submit artwork, essays, and videos in response to a specific theme. It encourages young Asian Americans to take pride in their identities whilst discussing dreams for their future, pride in their cultural heritage, challenges they may face, and other complex issues. Furthermore, it helps individuals (both Asian and non-Asian) understand the varied experiences of our youth growing up in the Bay Area’s diverse communities. The program is competitive, and one (1) winner will receive the $1,000 Lance Lew Grand Prize Award and nine (9) winners will receive the $500 “Best in Class” awards, with Honorable Mention awards as well. All winners will have their entries showcased at the virtual awards ceremony and on the AACI website and have a chance to be featured on NBC Bay Area.

2021 Contest Theme: This Is My Time

The year 2020 has left a mark on history. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has battled a difficult time of uncertainty, illness, loss, and inequity. However, we can reflect and implement change to ensure a brighter future. Share what your vision of the future is and what tools and lessons you think will help to propel us into a new era post-pandemic.

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, April 2, 2021.

To access our online entry form or learn more information, please visit aaci.org/guaa. For any questions, email guaa@aaci.org.


About AACI: Founded in 1973, AACI is one of the largest community-based organizations advocating for and serving the marginalized and vulnerable ethnic communities in Santa Clara County. Our many programs address the health and well-being of the individual and advance our belief in providing care that goes beyond just health, but also provides people a sense of hope and new possibilities. Current programs include behavioral and primary health services, substance abuse prevention and treatment, a center for survivors of torture, a shelter, and services for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, a senior center, youth programs, and community advocacy.

Covid-19 Blues: Was It Love or Lust?

Based on a true story…

After a really long time, I fell in love with my mirror. When I stood in front of it yesterday in my black top, I saw a radiant and gorgeous girl. Yes, a girl; a mixture of sweet and saucy, and not a woman. That’s how I would like to describe myself these days. But I guess my girlishness bloomed after the first lockdown was announced in March of last year. 

Soon after its announcement, the guy living in the next-door flat fled to another place, leaving the entire balcony to me, prancing amidst my aloe vera plant growing out from a large pot in profusion. As my neighbors grew tired of being locked up in rooms, they slowly started coming out in balconies. Some of them waved, greeted, and smiled for the first time. Among these were a few that I had never set my eyes on before. Covid-19 was finally bringing the community together in an unexpected way. 

I spotted a guy with a beard practicing arm exercises one late afternoon on the balcony, sometime in April, while I was watering my plants. His was the flat next to the one opposite mine; he waved and smiled. I waved back. A few days later more waving and more smiling followed and we tried to communicate using signs from our respective balconies.

After this, meetings took place regularly on the road running along the backside of my flat inside my Delhi colony. It is a beautiful spot for late afternoon walks in the summer, lined with tall trees on both sides. I had spent many moments on my own musing on its beauty and humming to myself “I walk a lonely road”. On this road, I walked listening to music on my phone while he paced up and down in his gym vest. At times, we would stop and exchange a few pleasantries. 

I thanked my stars for sending me this new diversion during such a difficult time. I dreaded calling my mum for she always fretted and worried. On top of this, too much work burden made me morose at times.

One night after 10 pm, he suddenly called me and demanded to meet at the same spot. It was a silent and dark night with silence weighing heavily all around. The oppressive April heat made my face mask cling to my sweaty face. Not the best romantic situation, but still it couldn’t be helped. We started sauntering and he described his experiences at the hospital (he was a trainee doctor) and I remarked on his bravery. The guy, then, suddenly knelt down on the road and I kind of blushed. His next words were so ridiculous that I burst out laughing. “Will you accept my jujubes? I had kept them in the fridge and thought of gifting you today.”

Before I could say something, the night security guard came running and dispersed us, saying the new rule demands people should not come of their homes late at night in view of the pandemic. I did not accept the jujubes and we ran to our places with the guard at our heels.

Reflecting on the incident later, I felt that my vanity was hurt. He wanted me to accept his jujubes after all and not him. What an immature boy he must be, I decided, and sort of cooled off towards him. Phone calls and balcony meetings became less frequent.

Around this time, a writer entered my life via social media, and that’s pretty common these days, isn’t it? I have always been partial towards poets and writers, and to top it all, this man was super hot. The man-boy doctor soon faded away. Perhaps his biggest fault was he never once complimented me. On the other hand, the writer called me wild and sexy. Needless to say, I was blooming under his compliments. 

Soon I discovered my naughty side. I started flooding his phone with my glam pictures wearing makeup and clicked in low light. The lockdown made me experimental and bolder with my clicks. Soon love talks followed, romantic chats filled up my FB messenger, and the doctor guy permanently exited from life. He called a few times but I kind of avoided talking. One fine day in November last year, I discovered the doctor was gone from the neighborhood. I also realized I hadn’t even saved his number. He was sweet and innocent and brought in his wake a taste of budding childhood romance. My girlish side misses him at times. 

Ironically, I haven’t met the writer guy yet and don’t think a meeting is likely in the near future. He is too mature and aloof, but he brought out my wilder side. Come to think of it now, both were good short-time romances or whatever you call it and helped brighten up the stressful Covid-19 period. I am too much into myself these days to bother trying to put things into place anymore. I have put away my heart in a locker where it will remain, Covid-19 or no Covid-19. 


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Featured Image shot in Hyderabad by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.

The Mask: Art Therapy Can Ease Anxiety About COVID

In a perspective published in the journal Science, a group of scientists reiterates that masks are not only helpful but necessary to combat the spread of the virus from people without symptoms.

The top reasons why Masks will continue to play a critical role are:

  1. No vaccine is 100% effective.
  2. Vaccines do not provide immediate protection.
  3. Covid vaccines may not prevent one from spreading the virus.
  4. Kids are last in the line to get a vaccine as the clinical trials are still in process.

Because a vaccine is out, that does not mean that people should stop social distancing or wearing a mask. It is still very important to wear a mask and social distance. While doing this, you not only protect yourself but also the people around you, including those with compromised immune systems, senior citizens, friends, family.

Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala.

“Art therapy is being prescribed a lot more to support the mental health of young kids, especially those with social and emotional deficiencies,” Phaire

It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. In these difficult times, this is a small initiative to help people around the world cope with COVID-19. 

  • Creating an hour of activity.
  • Spreading and educating the importance of Masks to younger kids.
  • Teaching the basics of Masks.

I have authored the coloring book  “The mask” to educate young children about the importance of a mask, especially during this time. It gives children something to do other than watch tv. During this time, there are not a lot of things that people can do and it is much harder for the younger children. My hope with this is to give them an activity or something fun to do while educating them. You can download the book here. It is also available on amazon 

With the intention to educate the younger generation, I  have reached out to a dozen non-profit organizations, and with their help, I am in the process of distributing 500 “The Mask” coloring books to kids in shelters in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. The primary intention being:

  •  To raise awareness about masks and the importance of wearing it
  •  More importantly to support the mental health of young kids using art. 

Thanks to the No Birthday Left Behind and Lavanya Reddy, Washington Helping Hands for helping in this great cause.

As per NY times, for a teenager living in California, the stats for getting the vaccine are:

  • Based on your risk profile, we believe the teenager is in line behind 185.6 million people across the United States.
  • When it comes to California, teenagers are behind 20.7 million others who are at higher risk in your state.

Masks are our saviors, so the quest to educate kids on masks and their importance is critical, as they are last in line to get the vaccine once one become available. Please continue to wear the masks and educate about the importance of Masks. 

Stay Safe! 


Pranav Medida is a freshman at BISV in San Jose. His love of reading, which started at a young age, soon grew into a love of writing. He loves educating kids by authoring books and distributing them to the needy. ‘The Mask’ is his third book to raise awareness. 

California Nani: A Video a Day Keeps The Doctors Away

In the pandemic of 2020, when the world went into lockdown, one Indian lady who is above 80 years of age, engaged herself in making videos on Indian culture, mythology, and literature from her apartment in San Francisco.

Her name is Mrs. Harsha Watts and she is my mother.

She learned how to record, upload and manage her YouTube channel “California Nani” on her own. Here, she has showcased about 500 videos made by her with more than twenty thousand viewers. My mother’s life holds a message that learning and following one’s passion can occur even after eighty years of age! Here are some excerpts from the life of California Nani, which is an inspiration to many. 

For a large part of her life, mom remained a reticent atheist. Yet back in India, she fulfilled her duties in organizing religious festivities for the family. Her greatest talent lay in cooking delicious meals. Without feeling exhausted, she managed all chores herself, after which, she would sit to knit sweaters for her loved ones! 

When I was growing up in India, I recall how mom would help all of us at home with our homework. She would help us understand meaning in literature, explain shlokas in Sanskrit, show us the tricks to memorize science and math. Several evenings, when the light would go off, mom would give a candle to us so that we may continue to finish our homework in a room full of darkness. 

Although mom couldn’t finish her own college, she aspired to see her children excel academically. She was the person who would attend the parent-teacher meetings at school in India. Now that everyone in the family is settled in the US, you might be thinking that my mother must be leading her retired life. 

Well, a few years back, my father had passed away. Mom began visiting temples each day. Soon after, she engaged herself in making jewelry and dresses for the deities. I was surprised to see this transformation in a nonbeliever. 

A few years back, she fell down, twice, when her feet got entangled in her saree causing multiple fractures on her knee and foot, and hands. Wearing a saree or keeping long hair wasn’t feasible anymore. Short hair and western attire brought another transformation in her leading to a miraculous phase. 

When mom turned eighty years of age, her granddaughter asked her, “what was life like in India in 1940, 1950, and 1960?” Mom began remembering her childhood during the partition in India, and beyond. We wanted to preserve the words of wisdom flowing out of her lips. With the help of her granddaughter, mom launched her own channel on youtube – CALIFORNIA NANI, in August 2019. Now she wakes up each morning with the goal of making one video each day. 

The beauty of this endeavor is the preservation of knowledge related to Indian culture and benefit to students of Indology.

More details at YouTube channel – California Nani! 


 Anu Sharma teaches, travels, writes, volunteers and lives in San Francisco, CA.

2021 is A Hangover & We Are Facing the Repercussions

Hey, the New Year 2021 is here! Yay! There were a lot of private parties and a few public parties, with both masking and unmasking happening, for sure. A lot of cake was eaten and quite a bit of champagne was drunk. 

Unfortunately, the new year started with a heavy hangover from the previous one. What with the COVID-19 virus mutating and becoming even more contagious, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. About the transition of power in Washington, the lesser said the better. In fact, why say anything at all here? We are all watching it on TV on a daily basis.

Where I live in South India too, the new year is beginning on a weird note. It is raining a lot, when it should actually be sunny but cold. In Coorg, Karnataka, where we have a small coffee plantation, people are very worried. The unseasonal rain is causing the coffee berries to drop and rot on the ground, reducing the yield. Those that have been picked have had no time to dry and may rot on the drying yard, if they aren’t washed away by the water, that is. Paddy harvest too may be affected.

Indians are certainly waking up to the unwelcome realization that global warming and climate change are no longer just subjects for scientific debate, but the reality on the ground. Farmers are seeing it first hand, while consumers are suffering when prices fluctuate wildly due to the unseasonal weather. Onions at Rs. 120 a kilo? Enough said.

Meanwhile, the United States is seeing its share of natural disasters as well. Forest fires decimating large swathes of land and swallowing up neighborhoods, and hurricanes and tornadoes wreaking havoc with barely a pause between successive ones, are impressing the concept of climate change among the people far better than any Government initiative to educate them.

However, the big question is: how are the two countries responding to it and trying to change their behavior? And what are individuals doing? Well, here is a layperson’s perspective.

In my decidedly uneducated opinion, both the US and India are responding identically to the climate crisis. They are spending billions of dollars and rupees having conferences and putting out white papers and other colored papers on the subject. But not one of them is doing anything real or major on the ground that may have the slightest effect on reducing emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and cleaning up the environment that they have laid waste. 

In India, new cars are flying off the shelves. All the money that couldn’t be spent during the lockdown days is being splurged on new and fancy cars. So much for reducing dependence on fossil fuel. 

Public works are still being conducted for the welfare of PWD contractors and not the public – in short, resources being wasted on shoddy work, such as water pipes that break and bleed hundreds of gallons wastefully into the earth. Water wastage and electricity theft is rampant, and there is no earnest effort to clean up invaluable water resources, even after the shocking water crisis faced by Chennai city. 

And forest management is absolutely non-existent. If you are a wild animal, or a human whose land is being encroached by wild animals (many parts of South India are seeing an unprecedented number of people being affected by the entry of elephant herds into cultivated land), or a tribal whose very livelihood is at stake, you are on your own. Meanwhile, blocks of flats keep appearing and land is being cleared to build new townships. 

In short, very little is happening on the ground to actually combat the climate crisis. 

As for the trend in the US, I had an opportunity to observe a few things when my husband and I visited the US this August. And what I observed was shocking, especially after having become used to the Indian way of life.

Again this is my humble opinion, but I think the US is seriously over-consuming. During our stay, we were stunned by the amount of trash we ended up generating each day…and this was mostly non-recyclable stuff. We stayed at a motel for an extended period, so we bought a bunch of silverware and some microwavable plastic and porcelain dishes. We had to depend on microwavable food from grocery stores, as eating every meal at restaurants was neither to our taste nor feasible due to COVID. We found that the frozen dinners were packaged in plastic that was of such durable quality that we actually washed a few and reused them as microwave bowls. 

Every store used plastic bags. At large chain stores especially, they would literally put just a pack of socks in one bag and a t-shirt in another. It was as if they’d never heard of limiting plastic. I dearly love the US and am nuts about the stores, but I wanted to weep when I saw the sheer amount of plastic waste that was being generated.

In India, plenty of plastic waste is generated too, especially with Amazon, and Flipkart, Big Basket, and Swiggy, Zomato, and other food delivery companies. But a lot of it does get reused at least a little. Plastic containers are washed and used to store food. Many use cloth bags for shopping, and as for the plastic bags that are used for things like rice, dhal, etc., they get reused too. Small kirana shops use these to package their goods. Milk covers are given to kabadiwaalas who resell them to recyclers. Newspapers are also sold to recyclers, or used to package things or used around the house, or even to wrap used sanitary pads before discarding. 

Some cities like Mysore where I live also force citizens to segregate their waste into dry and wet waste. Some apartment complexes like ours have their own composting units, and give only their dry waste to the municipality. 

Of course, in India, we have the overwhelming problem of public cleanliness – what garbage we have is usually in plain sight. Now after COVID, there might even be less will to clean up the country. Everyone feels that it was our daily exposure to all kinds of pathogens bred in our own neighborhoods that gave us lower susceptibility to COVID-19 virus. So God knows what will happen to the Swachh Bharath initiative.

The New Year has dawned. We’ve had to change a lot of our habits and behavior last year. Hopefully, we will change our behavior regarding many environmentally-sensitive practices so that 2021 will see a healthier planet emerging from shadow of COVID-19.


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.

Cycles of Destruction and Renewal

As 2020 inexorably moved to a close, the world watched as the global COVID-19 pandemic affected every aspect of our lives and livelihoods. Personally, my mindset moved between fatalism and cabin fever driven anxiety that this virus would dictate our lives for a much longer period than would be satisfied by short-term adjustments.

Indian mythology talks of cycles of destruction and renewal of the universe; one cycle of creation is but a blink of the eye of a creator. Indian philosophy also speaks of negating the very concept of time – it is just a mind-made construct. So, it might be wise to push all these thoughts aside, and just live in the present, after all the current situation just brings the point home that this is all we have to play with.

A new government took the helm in the USA on January 2021, and the events surrounding this hard-fought contentious election eclipsed preoccupations with a global crisis at times. It is definitely a source of comfort for some of us that this government will not be headed by an ‘outsider’ but a dyed-in-the-wool politician whose actions will hopefully be geared towards what we normally think of as good governance. This brings hope, as we can now focus on forward momentum to solve national issues, and potentially even contribute to global solutions. 

We can look forward to a creatively modified life as we align our priorities towards intelligent survival. If history is a stern teacher, we have learned that it took about 2 years for the 1918 flu pandemic to quieten down, so if one needs a projection this is as good as any.

Namaste as a greeting instead of handshakes and hugs, limiting larger social interactions – which includes physical congregation in the workplace – and curbing unnecessary shopping should easy for those who are familiar with the Indian ethos. A successful vaccine will definitely contribute to our arsenal, but it will only work in concert with a compliant global population.

Changing lifestyles and work mandates will inevitably result in the waning of some industries. The immediate fallout is in our neighborhood restaurants and businesses, but the drastic downswing of local and global travel over the past 9 months has already benefitted our 21st-century environment. An upsurge in the exploration and development of clean energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels is underway, and while each source comes with its specific benefits and challenges it could emerge as a strong global contender if it is appropriately prioritized and funded. This positive shift in lifestyle could emerge as the proverbial silver lining to what is otherwise being experienced as a global life-threatening event, and we could transform the unavoidable destruction of aspects of life as we know it into the creation of a potentially better environment for all of life.

Ducks on Schuylkill River

As species shift their ecologies and relate more to a lifestyle that is unencumbered by human occupation and pollution, a positive outcome appears to be an emerging clean environmental slate. While wind and solar energy seem to be the most developed alternative energy options at present, exploration of other sources including geothermal and hydrokinetic to harness power from the earth and oceans would add to renewable energy options.

Resources need to be constantly provided to make these initiatives a success. While working in a ‘tier-1’ city in India in 2014, I purchased a car that was fueled by CNG (compressed natural gas) as a cleaner fuel option. My good intentions were limited by the availability of the fuel. I learned that waiting in line at selected gas stations at 6.30 am could result in a full tank of CNG in my car. However, too many failed attempts after seemingly endless waits led to the increasing need of choosing a car that ran on petrol. My upfront investment in paying a premium for a CNG car was burnt at the gas station so to speak.

The development of technologies for renewable fuels has seen steady progress over the past two decades, and current estimates for renewable technologies producing electricity vary between 10-20%. The unexpected impetus for a better environment provided by COVID-19 could be a boon, but other studies suggest that a rebound in carbon dioxide emissions could easily be conceivable when the pandemic is controlled. Lasting change in preventing increasing global temperatures and a continued positive environmental change post-pandemic will continue to require effort from us at an individual and global level.

Being woken up to the squawking of ducks on the Schuylkill River – where parent birds breed, babies grow up, and fly away to start a new cycle of life – is gratifying. The hope is that this will continue for years to come.


L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She is the author of White Blackmail, a work of fiction, and can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar.

Pfizer’s Vaccine Expert Discusses Allocating Doses For Low Income Communities

Dr. Advait Badkar, Senior Director of Pfizer’s Drug Design Team.

Radha Rangarajan, CSO of a medical devices company, and healthcare journalist Sujata Srinivasan, interviewed Advait Badkar, a Senior Director in Pfizer’s Drug Product Design and Development organization. Badkar is leading the efforts on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine program with respect to the formulation and process development, scale-up, technology transfer, and registration across global markets. The team Badkar heads specializes in novel delivery technologies with emphasis and expertise in nanoparticle-based modalities.

IC: Are there any differences in immunogenicity in subpopulations? 

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 clinical trial data demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95% in participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (first primary objective) and also in participants with and without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (second primary objective), in each case measured from 7 days after the second dose. Efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics. 

IC: Participants enrolled in Pfizer’s clinical trials were known not to have been infected previously with COVID-19, for obvious reasons. But now that the vaccine is publicly available, it is not possible to test every person before vaccinating. In India, 70%-80% of people have the asymptomatic disease and are unaware of their COVID-19 status. Are any studies planned to assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in previously exposed populations? 

Yes. Immunity after vaccination is a question we continue to explore in our research. The duration of immunity after COVID-19 requires observing a large number of people who have had the disease once until some get it a second time. Because the first known cases of COVID-19 only occurred in December 2019, there hasn’t been enough time to observe a significant number of second illnesses to know the duration of natural protection. 

We will better understand transmission when we have data on protection for those who were previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or infected with COVID-19, asymptomatic disease and severity of the disease. Our trial will continue to study those areas to determine the full protection and potential of the vaccine. 

IC: Even though the science behind mRNA vaccine is not new, some fear that it might alter the genetic makeup, or cause other irreversible side effects. How is Pfizer’s outreach arm dispelling these myths?   

There is no evidence to support that notion. To the contrary, the mRNA platform is well suited for a pandemic response on many levels.  

First, one aspect of safety – unlike some conventional vaccines, mRNA vaccines are non-infectious, and there is no need for a viral vector to deliver the mRNA vaccine. Second, because no viral vector is used, mRNA vaccines pose no risk of an anti-vector neutralizing antibody response, thereby permitting repeated boosting, which may be important if additional vaccinations are recommended in the future.  Third, speed, mRNA technology enables rapid development if the vaccine needs to quickly adapt to potential mutations. mRNA vaccines have an efficient, fast production process, without the need for complex mammalian cell systems.

IC: Is there any plan to simplify the vaccination protocol to one dose? 

No. Pfizer and BioNTech’s Phase 3 study for the COVID-19 vaccine was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and efficacy following a 2-dose schedule, separated by 21 days. The study concluded that the two doses are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95 percent. 

IC: What are your thoughts on how to choose between the different vaccines?

At Pfizer, we understand that mitigating this global pandemic will require more than one vaccine and more than one company’s efforts. In March of 2020, Pfizer announced a 5-point plan calling on the biopharmaceutical industry to join the company in committing to an unprecedented level of collaboration to combat COVID-19. The industry responded. We are rooting for each other’s success and are confident that science will win.  

IC: What is the plan for a global supply? How will these be administered?

Pfizer and BioNTech are firmly committed to equitable and affordable access for its COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world. That commitment includes the allocation of doses for supply to low-income countries at a not-for-profit price. We are actively working with governments all around the world, as well as with global health partners to work towards fair and equitable access to our vaccine. We are also partnering with global health stakeholders to provide expertise and resources that can strengthen healthcare systems where greater support may be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines.  


Radha Rangarajan, Ph.D., is Chief Scientific Officer at HealthCubed Inc., a medical devices company. Prior to this, she was the founder and CEO of Vitas Pharma, a drug discovery and development company focused on novel drugs to treat multidrug-resistant infections. Radha has also worked in the Drug Discovery division of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health before moving back to India in 2003.

Sujata Srinivasan is an award-winning, independent business and healthcare journalist with the nonprofit Connecticut Health Investigative Team, whose grant-funded, data-driven reporting is carried by media outlets statewide. Previously, she was the Connecticut correspondent for Crain’s Business, business reporter at NPR’s regional station WNPR, U.S. correspondent for the Indian edition of Forbes, editor of Connecticut Business Magazine, and Interim Chief of Bureau at CNBC-TV 18, Chennai, India. You can follow her on Twitter @SujataSrini

Unlocked: Eight Monologues. One Lockdown

The lockdown has affected us in different ways – introspective, illuminating, irritating, igniting, isolating. Needless to say, we’ll never be the same again. So, why not combine theatre with technology and capture our lives during the lockdown. EnActe Arts attempts to do just that by bringing together India’s finest actors, most talented playwrights, and some of our best-known directors. 

They, through their diverse stories, give us a tongue-in-cheek perspective on how 150 days of solitude shaped their lives. The eight monologues in Hindi and English vary from the hilarious to the heartwarming, from eureka moments to experiential thoughts. From conversations to unseen companions to stream of consciousness bursts of solo thought.

Enjoy the ride and stay for the talkbacks!

THE MONOLOGUES (All times PST)

  • Fri Jan 8 – 5:30 p.m. 8:30 p.m.
    Sat Jan 9 – 5:30 p.m.
    Sun Jan 10 – 5:30 p..m
    Tickets: $15 
  • For Age: 16+
  • Language: English & Hindi
  • Duration: 90 min (with interval)

AAWAZEIN (Hindi)

Written by Purva Naresh; directed by Rajit Kapur; performed by Seema Biswas

A concerned mother tries to reach out to her daughter in a big city. 

BRAND NEW WORLD (English) 

Written by Adhir Bhat; directed by Q; performed by Veronica Gautam

A hospital intern tries to explain the meaning of lockdown to a patient just out of a coma.

CHAMGAADAD KA INTEQAAM (Hindi) 

Written & performed by Raghav Dutt; directed by Sukant Goel

As Lockdown 1.0 begins, forced to stay back in the madarsa, a young, wayward boy finds his own way to battle both, the pandemic and his fear.

HAAN NANDUBHAI (English)

Written by Rahul da Cunha; directed by Gurleen Judge; performed by Aahana Kumra

A young actress, trapped inside her Goregaon flat feels the effects of the lockdown, her lack of starring roles and pangs of loneliness.

HAWALDAR HAWA SINGH HAAZIR HAI! (Hindi) 

Written by Ashok Mishra; directed by Rajit Kapur; performed by Gagan Dev Riar

An exasperated Hawaldar tries hard to convince people to stay at home.

I’M LOBO LOBO, MEN (English)

Written by Rahul da Cunha, directed by Nadir Khan, performed by Joy Fernandes

A satellite cable repair guy visits the home of a very fussy, CoVid- paranoid couple during lockdown, with hilarious consequences.

MIDDLE CLASS (Hindi)

Written & performed by Hussain Dalal; directed by Akarsh Khurana

A Corona warrior shares his experience as a compounder in a quarantine center and the friendships he made there that changed his life. 

RAASHAN (Hindi)

Written by Abhishek Majumdar; directed by Anand Tiwari; performed by Rajit Kapur 

An upper middle-class man visits the slum in his area to borrow alcohol from his friend.  The piece deals with the relative value of hunger, thirst, and poetry.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

Monita's mother and daughter

A Story of Luck and Luster

Not a ray of hope, but a mountain of light emerged from the Kohinoor. A dazzling rock carved out from the Golconda mines. A mighty jewel for an emperor’s crown!

I steal a look at her chiseled profile, head bent over a book. Black lashes cast sweeping shadows.  A twinkle of a tiny, but brilliant diamond in her nose. A glittering mustard seed. A diamond mined from the Kollur Golconda mines in Guntur district of Andhra. The mines that produced the legendary 100 carat diamond in the coffers of Babur, the founder of Mughal Empire. I touch the tousled hair splayed on my shoulder. The diamond gleams softly, reassuringly. My girl’s light may not be as lofty as a mountain but it warms my heart. Her limpid eyes are twin Manasarovar lakes in Mount Kailash. Her still waters are cool and sweet to quench my longing for life, born with an emotional acre of her own. Sunflowers, moonbeams and white diamonds bursting on rolling tides. A waxing, gibbous moon rising. The Pink City awakening to a fragrant deluge. My mother, warm and eager to hold her by my side. Her beauty summoned tears of joy. We laughed through our tears. She was here. Our own bundle of perfection. Made of sugar, almonds, makhanas, moonstones, tender secrets, clarified butter, cardamom, laughter, white clouds, musk and iridescent peacock feathers. 

Today she stands tall and lithe, with a delicate bone structure. Mango-bark tresses gleam on her shoulders. She curls them around her face, delighted in the effect. I smile. She twirls a silky strand on her finger, sifts her thoughts through a sieve of memory. I love the parts of her that are familiar. The unfamiliar aspects of her aptitude intrigue me. Melodies speak to her, her sense of style, her attention to detail. Simple pleasures of baking a perfect pastry. A shriek of delight at a “pun” unintended. Her competitive spirit in chess, golf and scrabble. “I take after my nani” she sighs in relief, when she surveys a well made bed, a gleaming kitchen, a tidy home. Different from my hurly burly ways. I thank my sweet mother as her gentle goodness gleams in the brilliant facets of my daughter’s soul. Together they shine brighter than the Kohinoor. An inimitable quality. Soft, supple, strong. Focused. Minimalists, both. Comfortable in vintage jeans, a well-cut soft blouse, small hoops.  Her waif-like face, huge eyes and an aura of effortless beauty makes heads turn. My mother was also stopped in her tracks. Her regal bearing still inspires awe. They do not belong to a tribe. They have agency. Their combined Myrrh envelops me. She ties and unties the knots in her hair and heart. Her lustrous eyes search for a safe place. A garden to call home. Where her moonflowers will take root and grow.

She has a hint of “his mother”, in her knotted brow but lacks in worldly ways. She does not gesture with her eyes. Nor engages in endless banter with the motley multitude. The world wants to engage her in conversation. She looks up from her inner reverie, and politely responds to mundane questions: When will the flight take off? Are you traveling alone? What are you reading?  She has her wits about her, to evade personal intrusion. She is good at concocting “travel identities”. My mother-in-law never even lifted eyes from her knitting, when we drove from Jaipur to Agra. But my moonbeam loves to go places. They avidly absorb history, art, culture, museums, gardens. This COVID lockdown has doused our wanderlust. We can’t fly to be with her ‘nani’, but we walk. We reminisce. We read, sing, paint. Tell stories.

I tell her the story of Kohinoor because it is an important story. A story of our land. Plundered by Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, retrieved by Babur after a bloody battle. Fell into the ill-fated hands of Humayun who tumbled to his death. Sher Khan coveted it, but was blown up in the siege of Kalinjar Fort. It’s the story of Shah Jahan who honored his love by building the Taj Mahal. The Kohinoor was installed in the Peacock Throne. Aurangzeb seized the throne and imprisoned his own father, who died pining. A story of passion and pain. Nadir Shah of Iran, the plunderer carried the Peacock Throne to Persia. Only to be assassinated. It’s a tale of greed, betrayal and conspiracies. It’s the story of Kohinoor. The diamond changed many hands and was ultimately endowed to  Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. When Ranjit Singh died, the British East India Company usurped it for Queen Victoria. Now it is part of the British Crown jewels where it fulfills the strange prophecy: ‘He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, may wear it with impunity.


Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

That Get Rich Quick Scheme Is A Scam!

While trawling the Internet for part-time jobs in September after being furloughed from her travel company in March, Sumathi Rao, a New York-based travel agent, spotted a job offer in her FB newsfeed she could not pass up. It seemed too good to be true

The Fouray Foundation (account now suspended) had an opening for a Fundraising Assistant. Their pitch was promising.  She could work from home. Her responsibilities would include helping her manager Didiane Marcheterre (possibly an alias), write to donors for contributions. Funds from the charitable foundation would supposedly support non-profit hospitals, medical workers, and healthcare projects. The salary, at $1000 a week, thought Rao, would nicely supplement the $300 lost wages assistance New York state benefit offered to eligible workers looking for jobs.  It would serve as a cushion until the pandemic eased off and her old job, hopefully, was reinstated.

Fouray Foundation letter

So Rao contacted Fouray. A follow-up message invited her to send her resume and ask questions about ‘the excellent option’ posted in the ad.

After a promising interview with Marcheterre, Rao was set to go. All she needed to do next said Fouray, was to buy ‘bitcoins’ from an ATM, so they could ‘deposit money in her account’ via a direct deposit authorization.  The odd request raised an alarm bell. Rao says she trusted her instinct and responded with a firm no. And that was that.

When recounting her experience with former colleagues at her travel agency, Rao discovered that several of them had also been approached by Fouray. A little more digging revealed complaints filed by other victims against the foundation for fraud. Rao promptly reported Fouray to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An internet search on the Fouray Foundation will now only produce an ‘Account Suspended’ message.

With record unemployment inflicted by the economic downturn and job losses, people like Sumathi Rao are simply looking to make ends meet. Scammers are taking advantage of their desperation with false promises of making money in the financial crisis, warned attorneys from the FTC at an EMS ethnic media briefing on December 15.

So if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it usually is. During the pandemic, scammers are ramping up fraudulent get rich schemes across the nation. “Scammers make big promises when pitching a fake money-making opportunity,” explained Rhonda Perkins, an attorney with the FTC, “but that’s just an income illusion.”

Kati Daffan & Rhonda Perkins, FTC

Impact of Income Scams

The volume of reports to the FTC “reached the highest levels on record in the second quarter of 2020,” added Kati Daffan. In the first 9 months of 2020 alone, people reported losing more than $150 million to harmful scams.

The FTC has joined forces with federal, state, and law enforcement agencies to announce action against deceptive income scams, said Daffan, pointing out that the 15 FTC cases represented in the sweep accounted for an alleged injury of more than a billion dollars.

Who Gets Targeted?

Scams tend to target certain communities, stated Daffan, who went on to describe scams currently under investigation at the FTC. In one case, scammers were pitching fake sou-sous savings clubs and illegal pyramid schemes on social media at communities that have historically engaged with Sou Sous  –  which are rotating savings clubs originating out of West Africa and the Caribbean. They promise big payouts to individuals out of a common savings fund sponsored by trusted family and friends. The majority of people in these fake schemes end up losing considerable amounts of money said Daffan.

Another FTC case featured a scam pitched at Latina women through Spanish language TV ads, which proposed a work-from-home scheme to make money from selling luxury goods to others in their community. An investment scam called Raging Bull promised profits through secret trading techniques to older people, retirees and immigrants – they lost at least $137 million in the last three years.  Other scams targeted students, veterans and college age adults in a variety of bogus opportunities.

According to FTC data, the average loss to scam over $500 affected more people who lived in zip codes that skewed older, but when the loss to scam was less than $500, those affected tended to live in zip codes with a black majority population. But more data is required said Daffan, to fully determine who is getting affected by income illusion schemes.

Operation Income Illusion

In an effort to combat income scams the FTC has launched Operation Income Illusion. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about consumer fraud and counter the proliferation of get rich quick scams – the many pyramid and chain letter schemes – flourishing on social media.

Daffan explained that the campaign wants to alert people to soundbites and false promises used in business coaching and job scams to catch people’s attention about making money. She warned consumers to watch for options that talk about working from home or starting their own business with little time and effort. People need to be on their guard about prospective fake jobs, investment schemes, coaching courses, business offers, pyramid schemes, and reshipping scams, cautioned Daffan.

An FTC video offered additional advice on how to avoid income scams which come in many forms, and offer money-making opportunities online, through real estate, in the stock market, or by selling goods. But the most obvious sign of a scam are ones that promise megabucks if consumers use ‘their methods.’

Scam language examples from the FTC

Spot the Sham

Perkins suggested looking for absurd claims in a typical pitch that includes words and phrases like –
‘amazing wealth’
succeed online’
‘earn hundreds of dollars per hour from home’
‘what if an online millionaire offers you his entire business no strings attached’

These sort of offers only guarantee only one outcome warned Perkins – that buyers will be out of their hard-earned money. Most scams guarantee success in a short time, which is unrealistic. She urged people to do their research before investing in any income schemes, and search online using the company name with keywords like scam, complaint, and review, and to be wary of glowing testimonials that could be fake or misleading. The best course of action said Perkins, would be for consumers to simply walk away.

So Buyer, Beware. If you see one of these offers, remember that the only people getting rich are the scammers selling the system.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

HELPLINES
Report scams to www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov and if people can’t get online, call 1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).
To find out more about
Vaccine Scams at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/12/covid-19-vaccines-are-pipeline-scammers-wont-be-far-behind
MLM Businesses and pyramids at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0065-multi-level-marketing-businesses-and-pyramid-schemes
Sou-sous at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/08/real-or-fake-savings-club
Other resources at www.ftc.gov/languages.