A poignant tale about dealing with the loss of a loved one, Ladybug is based on a heartfelt true story. The 14-minute long film is about Olivia, an artist who struggles to come to terms with her father’s death. As she recalls the tragic events that unfolded and the last conversation she shared with her father, she breaks down and lights a candle in his memory. It leads her to finally face the truth, and also repair the conflicted relationship she shares with her mother.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. We have our own unique ways of dealing with grief. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair—all you need is that one moment,” says Chandra about the idea behind the film.
Born in Kerala, Chandra grew up in Nepal, studied in Dehradun, graduated in Delhi, and did his post-grad in Mumbai. Chandra who has backpacked across India, claims that his work is informed by his diverse background. He can speak five languages — English, Hindi, Malayalam, Nepali, and Maithili. He believes that his connection to these places and cultures has greatly helped him understand the people and stories about them.
A huge fan of Indian mythologies, he has read most of the epics and hopes to adapt them into a modern retelling for western audiences. “We have such fantastic stories, characters, and plots in our mythology within these old texts that we can put films such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones to shame,” he says. Currently, Chandra is busy working on scripting two projects—a dark-comedy gangster love story and adaptation of a chapter from the Ramayana for a TV pilot. “Even if you take Krishna, Narad, or Rama, the way he led his life, you can build seasons of great television. I want to open the world to some of the most epic characters and stories from India,” he says.
After graduating from Whistling Woods in 2010, Abhishek co-founded a production house called Joker Films in Mumbai. For the next six years, he produced award-winning audio-visuals and commercials for major advertising agencies. He soon learned that telling stories in the shortest format with a lasting impact requires an impressive command over every aspect of production—from scripting to post-production.
After shifting base to Los Angeles in 2016, Abhishek completed his yet-to-be-published debut book—And Then There Was One—a collection of poetry. He also collaborated with his long-time friend and artist, Sapra, on two Hindi music videos—“Ishq Nashila” and “Ishq Nashila 2.0”. Further, prior to Ladybug, Abhishek directed shorts in Los Angeles, such as Borders (2017) and Coco (2018).
Recently, he collaborated with LA-based hip-hop artist Jesse Cooley aka FOUR on his comeback album, which Chandra has produced and directed. Bringing together some of LA’s finest talents (including Gareth Taylor, Vihang Walve, and Michael Philpot), its songs are mounted on an incredible scale with a mix of live-action and VFX. The first song “Rock and Roll Soul”, released at the end of March, and the second song, “Love and Hate”, at the end of April.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.
Dr. Christopher Travis, an intern in obstetrics-gynecology, has cared for patients with COVID-19 and performed surgery on women suspected of having the coronavirus. But the patient who arrived for a routine prenatal visit in two masks and gloves had a problem that wasn’t physiological.
“She told me, ‘I’m terrified I’m going to get this virus that’s spreading all over the world,’” and worried it would hurt her baby, he said of the March encounter.
Travis, who practices at the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center, told the woman he knew she was scared and tried to assure her she was safe and could trust him.
Asking many questions and carefully listening to the answers, Travis was exercising the craft of narrative medicine, a discipline in which clinicians use the principles of art and literature to better understand and incorporate patients’ stories into their practices.
“How do we do that really difficult work during the pandemic without it consuming us so we can come out ‘whole’ on the other end?” Travis said. Narrative medicine, which he studied at Columbia University, has helped him be aware of his own feelings, reflect more before reacting, and view challenging situations calmly, he said.
The first graduate program in narrative medicine was created at Columbia University in 2009 by Dr. Rita Charon, and the practice has gained wide influence since, as evidenced by the dozens of narrative medicine essays published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and its sister journals.
Learning to be storytellers also helps clinicians communicate better with non-professionals, said writer and geriatrician Dr. Louise Aronson, who directs the medical humanities program at the University of California-San Francisco. It may be useful to reassure patients — or to motivate them to follow public health recommendations. “Tell them a story about having to intubate a previously healthy 22-year-old who’s going to die and leave behind his first child and new wife, and then you have their attention.”
“At the same time, telling that story can help the health professional process their own trauma and get the support they need to keep going,” she said.
Teaching Storytelling To Doctors
This fall, Keck School of Medicine of USC will offer the country’s second master’s program in narrative medicine, and the subject also will be part of the curriculum in the new Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena, which opens its doors July 27 with its first class of 48 students. (KHN, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)
Narrative medicine trains physicians to care about patients’ singular, lived experiences — how illness is really affecting them, said Dr. Deepthiman Gowda, assistant dean for medical education at the new Kaiser Permanente school. The training may entail a close group reading of creative works such as poetry or literature, or watching dance or a film, or listening to music.
He said there’s also “real, intrinsic value” for patients because a doctor isn’t only being trained to care about the body and medications.
“Literature in its nature is a dive into the experience of living — the triumphs, the joys, the suffering, the anxieties, the tragedies, the confusions, the guilt, the ecstasies of being human, of being alive,” Gowda said. “This is the training our students need if they wish to care for persons and not diseases.”
Dr. Andre Lijoi, a geriatrician at WellSpan York Hospital in Pennsylvania, recently led a virtual session for 20 front-line nurse practitioners who work in nursing homes. Two volunteers recited Mary Oliver’s 1986 poem “Wild Geese,” which reads, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Sharing the poet’s words helped the nurses relieve their pent-up tensions, enabling them to express their feelings about life and work under COVID-19, Lijoi said.
One participant wrote, “As the world goes on around me I mourn seeing my aging parents, planning my daughter’s wedding, and missing my great niece’s baptism. I wonder, when will life be ‘normal’ again?”
Processing Fear To Provide Better Care
Dr. Naomi Rosenberg, an emergency room physician at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, studied narrative medicine at Columbia and teaches it at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. The discipline helps her “metabolize” what she takes in while caring for COVID-19 patients, including the fear that comes with having to enter patients’ rooms alone in protective gear, she said.
The training helped her counsel a worried woman who couldn’t visit her sister because the hospital, like others around the country, wasn’t allowing relatives to visit COVID-19-infected patients.
“I’d read stories of Baldwin, Hemingway and Steinbeck about what it feels like to be afraid for someone you love, and recalling those helped me communicate with her with more clarity and compassion,” Rosenberg said. (After a four-day crisis, the sister recovered.)
Close readings can also help students understand the various ways metaphor is used in the medical profession, for good or ill, said Dr. Pamela Schaff, who directs the Keck School’s new master’s program in narrative medicine.
Recently, Schaff led third-year medical students through a critical examination of a journal article that described medicine as a battlefield. The analysis helped student Andrew Tran understand that describing physicians as “warriors” could “promote unrealistic expectations and even depersonalization of us as human beings,” he said.
Something similar happens in the militarized language used to describe cancer, he added: “We say, ‘You’ve got to fight,’ which implies that if you die, you’re somehow a failure.”
In the real world, doctors are often focused narrowly, devoting most of their attention to a patient’s chief complaint. They listen to patients on average for only 11 seconds before interrupting them, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Narrative medicine seeks to change that.
While listening more carefully may add one more item to a physician’s lengthy “to-do” list, it could also save time in the end, Schaff said.
“If we train physicians to listen well, for metaphor, subtext and more, they can absorb and act on their patients’ stories even if they have limited time,” she said. “Also, we physicians must harness our narrative competence to demand changes in the health care system. Health systems should not mandate 10-minute encounters.”
Telling The Patient’s Whole Story
In practice, narrative medicine has diverse applications. Modern electronic health records, with their templates and prefilled sections, can hamper a doctor’s ability to create meaningful notes, Gowda said. But doctors can counter that by writing notes in language that makes the patient’s struggles come alive, he said.
The school’s curriculum will incorporate a different patient story each week to frame students’ learning. “Instead of, ‘This week, you will learn about stomach cancer,’ we say, ‘This week, we want you to meet Mr. Cardenas,’” Gowda said. “We learn about who he is, his family, his situation, his symptoms, his concerns. We want students to connect medical knowledge with the complexity and sometimes messiness of people’s stories and contexts.”
In preparation for the school’s opening, Gowda and a colleague have been running Friday lunchtime mindfulness and narrative medicine sessions for faculty and staff.
The meetings might include a collective, silent examination of a piece of art, followed by a discussion and shared feelings, said Dr. Marla Law Abrolat, a Permanente Medicine pediatrician in San Bernardino, California, and a faculty director at the new school.
“Young people come to medicine with bright eyes and want to help, then a traditional medical education beats that out of them,” Abrolat said. “We want them to remember patients’ stories that will always be a part of who they are when they leave here.”
For years, Asian-Americans donned a cultural Invisibility cloak before Western audiences. And although undiscovered, their stories have unfolded silently and beautifully from generation to generation. That’s why the five-part documentary series, Asian Americans, created by an all-Asian American team of filmmakers, plays such a critical role in chronicling the immigrant experience.
Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, Asian Americans strings together the stories of the many struggles for freedom – from the Japanese incarcerations during World War II to anti-Asian immigration laws. The storytelling, accompanied by the power of the documentary’s visual component, delivers a poignant narrative about what it means to belong to a country unconditionally, in the face of both adversity and animosity. Asian Americans features interviews with some of our community’s most celebrated individuals, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, Chinese-American journalist Helen Zia, academic expert Erika Lee, and Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. Their stories highlight the difficulty in navigating identity between two dichotomous cultures.
The trailer for Asian Americans ends with the words, “and their legacy belongs to all of us!” As I reflect on my own experience as Indian-American, I realize how much I identify with these words. So many trailblazers have carved out a voice for our community — and PBS’s Asian Americans gives them the credit they rightfully deserve.
While the documentary is impactful on its own, its content becomes more topical against the backdrop of a global pandemic. The current coronavirus outbreak marks an alarming rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobic paranoia. According to a poll conducted in New York, residents have reported roughly 248 cases of racial prejudice since January. 1600 hundred attacks have been reported nationwide — a number which can only be an undercount, due to the shame and fear that contributes to such attacks. Divisive language surrounding this situation, such as calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus” turn Asian-Americans into a convenient scapegoat for unprecedented circumstances. Social media platforms document shocking tales of bigoted attacks against law-abiding Asian Americans, such as a video of two girls at Garden Grove’s Bolsda Grande High “screaming ‘coronavirus’ at Asian American students”. COVID-19’s impact on race relations is not making national headlines because of its novelty. Rather, it’s only chillingly familiar for the Asian American community.
In a virtual Town Hall hosted by the Center for Asian American Media, producers and members of this documentary discussed what it means to be of Asian descent during an international crisis. Some of the panelists included Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amna Nawaz, Hari Kondabolu, and more. And in a critical segment of this Town Hall, the panelists pointed out how coronavirus fears play into America’s history of race-based discrimination. It was only one generation ago, for instance, that Chinese-American draftsman Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in Wayne County, Detroit. While Chin’s assailants were originally charged with second-degree murder, their only punishment was $3,000 dollars and no jail time. “It reminded Asian-Americans that progress hadn’t really been made.”
Today, every voice in the United States has the opportunity to change our country’s cycle of systematic abuse. Rather than using a national tragedy to fuel dangerous and divisive rhetoric, we have the chance to truly move forward. And Asian Americans represent that effort towards a liberated future for the next generation of immigrants. “As much as tragedy is a part of our heritage here, so is possibility.”
The documentary premieres Money and Tuesday, May 11 & 12, 2020 at 8pm on PBS. To watch the trailer, click here!
To find out more about the Digital Town Hall, watch a recording of the panel here.
Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being a Youth Editor for India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.
Books are enchanted. They have the ability to transport the mind to an imaginative place where the story gets painted in vivid colors. These stories can also be crucial in teaching lessons, at any age, and allow us to experience a journey through a character’s insight. It is truly magical when a book and its lessons stay with you and become an integral part of your core principles and understandings. When I was in the fifth grade, I read the book Holes by Louis Sachar three times. 20 years later, the story has stuck with me as a telling of the resilience, resourcefulness and the deciphering between right and wrong that children so clearly possess.
The book tells of a young teenage boy named Stanley Yelnats. He was wrongly accused of theft and sent to a juvenile corrections facility in a vast Texan desert called Camp Green Lake. He comes from a poor family who has always believed they were cursed due to his “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather”. At Camp Green Lake, Stanley and the other inmates are told to dig one hole every day that is 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide to build character. However, Stanley soon suspects they might be digging for something in particular, because the warden promises a day off for anyone who finds anything interesting. Stanley befriends another young boy named Zero, who has been homeless most of his life, and together they find themselves on a journey for survival.
The plot includes history of the area along with the interconnected relationships between other characters and how they each affect Stanley. Themes include illiteracy, homelessness, racism, and the mistreatment of children. I understand it sounds heavy for a ten year old to read, but Sachar’s story telling was inscribed in such a way that I believe now was important for my young mind to piece the themes together. They are topics that ring ever true to our future and have yielded my passion and will to make the upcoming generation better.
As a third grade teacher, my goal is to teach my students the importance of resilience, compassion, and understanding the different families and backgrounds in our community. Holes is an important reminder that children can make a profound impact on the world. One instance in my classroom that made me feel that full-hearted, proud teacher beam happened this past school year. I was teaching my students about the Native Americans. We discussed the treatment of the Native Americans by the Europeans, and how it was not as peaceful as we used to be taught when my generation learned about Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving. We talked about the conflict over land, and one of my students raised her hand. When I called on her, she asked, “Why didn’t they just have a conversation and find a way to share the land fairly?” This is why we teach history. I told my students that their mindset is already greater than those who came before them, and that is the mindset we need in our future for a joyous and successful world.
Ultimately, the themes of resilient problem-solving and fair treatment of others are what I aim to teach my students every day. Just like Sachar’s novel, life is an adventure and through each challenge, a valuable lesson is learned.
Annie Milan is a Bay Area native and is currently a third grade teacher in Los Gatos. Teaching has always been the guiding light of her education and career. She graduated with a BA in English Education with a minor in Spanish from California State University, Chico in 2013. She has always relished literature and writing, and started a book club for her colleagues earlier this year. Annie and her husband live in San Jose. Together they frequent the foothills taking hikes and enjoy weekend trips to the beach. In her downtime, she loves to read, cook, and take on home projects.