Tag Archives: #southasianvoice

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.

Tea for Two

In Seeing Ceremony, Meera Ekkanath Klein’s sequel to her 2017 debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen, the narrator, Meena, is now ready for college and continues to rebuff her mother’s need to subject her to seeing ceremonies in advance of formally arranging her marriage. The continuing obstacle is that Meena refuses to think about marriage until she returns home to Mahagiri, degree in hand, ready to begin her own life as an adult.

Her confidante and neighbor Mac, an elderly Scotsman who owns a tea plantation, is always ready to lend an ear and offer sage advice. However, reality enters Meena’s life when he reveals a friend is interested in purchasing Meena’s late father’s spice plantation. With the express understanding that the transaction will honor Meena’s father’s legacy, the money exchanged is Meena’s ticket to a college in California where her uncle is a professor.

During the brief pages devoted to Meena’s time at school, she studies agriculture, discovers Chinese tea, and embraces the calming concepts of the Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies. It is then, in a flash of brilliance, that she understands creating a tearoom in which a variety of teas could be sampled and tea ceremonies would be held, maybe the answer to bolstering her mother’s remaining business.

On her journey home following graduation, Meena meets Raj Kumar, a young Indian businessman. They take an immediate liking to each other, and while at the airport in Singapore, they spend their layover time dining and chatting. As expected, neither can get the other out of their minds after going their own ways. Later, in a convenient twist, Meena and Raj come face to face again.

The bones of the story are good and hold promise, but much of the plot isn’t new. The seeing ceremony, arranged marriage, traditional vs. modern attitudes, and going to college in the U.S. are overused. Nevertheless, the elements of agriculture, introducing new crops, rotating crops, and bringing concepts from overseas are fresh enough to bring balance to the novel.

That said, this book should be a massive celebration of the senses, yet the ubiquitous spices, the meals prepared, the visit to a tribal village, and the vistas Meena experiences both at home and at her father’s plantation exist with an assumption that the reader is familiar with all of those essentials when sensual imagery would have enhanced Meena’s narrative and assisted in building her world. Instead, that part of the storytelling was incomplete, like a coloring book with pages half colored and abandoned.

On the plus side, Seeing Ceremony can be read as a standalone novel. It isn’t necessary to read My Mother’s Kitchen to enjoy this succeeding story. However, since the books are billed as novels with recipes, you may want to see what’s cooking in both. In “Kitchen,” the recipes are found at the end of chapters which, unfortunately, impede the reader’s flow. In “Ceremony,” the recipes are conveniently gathered at the end of the book.

If you’re in the market for a quick read that may take you away, introduce you to some interesting characters, tell a story of finding one’s way back home, and offer some recipes to spice up your next meal, this may be the book for you.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North and South Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects. 


Seeing Ceremony: A Novel with Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein. Homebound Publications. 270 Pages.