Tag Archives: Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

Here to Stay: Important Phrases of 2020

The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future. 



Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019. 

Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?

Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.

Related movies: Virus (Malayalam film); Contagion; Outbreak; The Andromeda Strain; Panic in the Streets;…  Actually, it may be better for the nerves to watch happy, pretty, totally escapist Emily in Paris on Netflix.

Social Distancing.

Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.

Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.

Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.

Related movies: Think Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And Home Alone 6 is in the works … but not coming soon to a theatre near you because production is delayed due to covid-19.

The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.

Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.

Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil

Synonyms: rollout strategies; COVAX initiative

Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.

Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”. 



Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats. 

Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values

Related phrases: hyperpartisan; narrow-casting; identity politics; populism

Related movies: Friendly Persuasion; Glory; Sarkar (Hindi film); Lincoln; Sarkar (Tamil film).

The election was stolen.

Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.

Origin: President Trump. 

Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.

Antonyms: The election was legitimate; international election monitors; Peaceful transfer of power; The Election Commission of India

Related movies: The Candidate; Kissa Kursi Ka (Hindi film); Good Night, and Good Luck; Swing Vote; All In: The Fight for Democracy; Whose Vote Counts, Explained


Essential workers.

Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.

Origin: Covid-19.

Related phrases: frontline workers; ragpickers; migrant workers.

Related movies/shows: Superstore; Scrubs; Anbe Sivam (Tamil film); Norma Rae.

Black Lives Matter.

Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.

Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.

Related phrases: anti-racism; No justice, no peace; Dalit Lives Matter.

Related movies: Nothing But a Man; Malcolm X; Periyerum Perumal (Tamil film); Stay Woke

Zoom meetings.

Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.

Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.

Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..

Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.


The next normal.

Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.

Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.

Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.

Related movies: (to be released in the next normal): No Time to Die; Black Widow; Mission Impossible 7; Laal Singh Chaddha (Hindi film); and of course, Emily in Paris season 2

May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.

Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.

India Currents Wins Big at SF Press Club Awards!

The San Francisco Press Club’s 40th annual Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards were held at the Hilton SFO Airport Hotel on November 16.

India Currents magazine won a total of nine awards under various categories. Here are the winning entries:

Overall Excellence:Third Place: India Currents 

Commentary: First Place: Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, “Why I will listen to Rush Limbaugh.” 

Features: Second Place:  A Community’s Concerns: From portrayals, representations to youth struggles by the following authors:

Geetika Pathania Jain, Erasing the Accent, 

Vamsee Juluri – Does History Matter?

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan – How Much Is Too Much? The Price of Pushing Kids to Attain Elite Status

Political:  Third Place: Questions of Affiliation and Electoral Choices by the following authors: 

Jaya Padmanabhan – It’s the Race Card, People!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan – The Clear Choice and Vote!

Feature Story / Light Nature: Second Place: Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, No Country for Gray People.”

At the awards ceremony, San Francisco Press Club President Antonia Ehlers said, “We are here to celebrate the exceptional work you do throughout the year. You do your best every day to tell your stories with honesty and integrity. This year, we had more entries for this contest than ever before. Your entries were judged by the press clubs of Milwaukee, San Diego, Orange County and Cleveland, and the judges certainly were impressed with your work!”

The crowd welcomed event emcee Tara Moriarty from KTVU news, 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient David Louie from ABC 7, and San Francisco Press Club Service Award recipient, radio legend Peter Cleveland.

The Bill Workman News Writer Award for the best daily news story was given to Michael Barba from The San Francisco Examiner. Workman’s wife, Marla Lowenthal, was also at the event.



No Country for Gray People

Several years ago, when I was nearly fifty years old, I had gone from Delhi to one of the smaller towns to visit my extended family. I hadn’t seen them for some time and was looking forward to re-establishing ties. Many members had gathered together under one roof to meet me. I felt things were going well, there was laughter and exchange of information, and we were really connecting, when suddenly the eldest lady in the room —probably in her late sixties—asked me, “Why do you have gray hair?”

I was speechless—but I understood where she was coming from. For women, there is no country for gray people. You’d be hard pressed to find elderly high-profile women in India with gray hair. It’s true that Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi (age 68) has a few gray hairs, but they probably set her apart as much as her Italian origin. And there are a few like Arundhati Roy (53), Medha Patkar (60), and Anu Aga (73), but they can be dismissed as NGO-types, perhaps even consciously cultivating an “I only care about the environment” look.

By and large, raven locks are the norm. In India, business-woman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (62), minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj (63), actress Hema Malini (66), popular columnist Shoba De (67), chief minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa (67), designer Ritu Kumar (age 70), all the way up to dancer Vyjayanthimala (79), all sport jet-black hair.

In the United States, prominent examples are news anchor Uma Pemmaraju (57), director Mira Nair (58), PepsiCo head Indra Nooyi (60), former Iowa state senator Swati Dandekar (64), and author Bharati Mukherjee (75). And that color permeates down the pyramid to the middle class.

While natural hair dyes have been around at least as far back as ancient Egypt, synthetic hair dye was created in the mid 1800s, with L’Oréal and Clairol bringing it to the consumer market in the 1900s. Understandably, the most common color of dye amongst Indians is black since the key purpose of hair dye is generally not to change the color of the hair but to cover the gray. There are no blonde hair dyes or shades of gray on the store shelves in India. Gray may have been all the rage in the Europe of King Louis XIV and even making something of a comeback in the West over the last few years, but in India, black is indeed black.

When actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan swings around her luscious black locks in the L’Oréal advertisement and says, “Because I’m worth it,” she’s implying that if you don’t cover your gray, you’re lacking in self-esteem; you’ve let yourself go.

Interestingly, the same attention is not given to exercise or nutritious eating—which are more substantial ways of retaining youth. A healthy lifestyle, however, doesn’t offer the same commercial opportunity from a manufacturer’s perspective, and from a consumer’s perspective, it requires long, hard work, not to mention a shift in thinking.

You would think Indians would be more comfortable than most other cultures with the idea of aging. We are an ancient culture, we are philosophical, and we are religious. Coloring hair is in some sense just a continuation of the centuries-old tradition in some parts of India of using henna to cover gray. Furthermore, it requires little money and only one afternoon of your time to get highly visible results.

With their Viagra and flibanserin, Americans may be changing to a bottom-up anti-aging battle strategy, but Indians are still sticking to the top-down approach.

For those with light hair (blondes, redheads, brunettes), going gray is a more gentle and a less perceptible process. For those with black hair, it is a dramatic and traumatic change. From having had black hair all one’s life, going to the opposite end of the spectrum can be too much to bear. And therefore, the primeval desire and now the facility to seemingly control two uncontrollable processes—graying, and with it, aging—is too hard to resist.

Which puts us few grayers in a difficult position; if everyone around you has jet black hair, it’s intimidating to go against the current. The young look at you with awe and curiosity; despite living with grandparents, they may not have seen someone with gray hair before. The old, with their jet black hair, look at you suspiciously. Instead of admiring you for your naturalness and welcoming you into their club, they wonder what you’re trying to prove. With that question, my aging relative may have been rebuking me, “I’m 70 and sitting here pretty with my raven locks, and you walk in 50 and gray. Are you trying to blow my cover?!”

Or, upon kinder interpretation, perhaps she was merely offering advice: “Listen GF, do not go gentle into that good night—at least, not with gray hair.”

Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and commentator. She has contributed to several publications, including the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the WSJ, the Financial Times, the Globe & Mail, and the Atlantic.