Tag Archives: swati ramaswamy

Manika Kaur is the Culture Bearer of Kirtan Music

Manika Kaur is a singer, songwriter, and philanthropist, currently taking the world by storm as the leading contemporary performer of ‘Kirtan’ music. Kirtan is a Sanskrit word that means to narrate or recite. This genre of music involves a call and response style song, where singers usually sing about spiritual ideas, devotion to a deity, or a Legend’s story. This genre of music is set to uplift us spiritually and open our hearts and minds through its chanting and devotional language. Kirtan music has been accommodated into various guidances like meditation and yoga, to enhance such practices and combine them with the spiritual energy of the music.

Over the years, Manika Kaur has broken barriers of the music world and transcended language and genre, touching the hearts of many within and outside of the global Sikh community and bringing Kirtan music out to a global platform. Kaur is the first artist to place Kirtan music on the European World Music Charts and her music videos rack up millions of views. 

Manika Kaur's album cover for 'Ek'.
Manika Kaur’s album cover for ‘Ek’.

In her latest creation ‘Ek’ Manika Kaur sets out to expand her audience by further highlighting her unique sound and her charitable works. The album Ek (Oneness) brings out some of the rarest instruments in the world and bridges the barrier between eastern and western instruments. In her music, Kaur introduces traditional elements of Kirtan music combined with some of London’s best producers, to create a balance and unite audiences through her sound. As one of the only female artists of Kirtan music, Kaur continues to capture diverse audiences, and create something magical, expanding the world of Kirtan music. Ek features 11 tracks, each adding a rare musical instrument. As all her works do, Kaur brings beautiful energy through her hypnotizing vocals, highlighting the strength of her spirituality through her music. 

Tracks like ‘Hay Gobind Hay Dayal’, ‘Liberate Me’ and ‘Sant Paee’ offer a beautifully rhythmic sound filled with musical hope and positivity in devotion and faith. ‘Magic Mantra’, ‘Waheguru Nanak Guru’ and ‘Sri Harkrishan’ on the other hand offer a look into the depth of spirituality and the core of its strength in emotion. These tracks musically create a sense of yearning and strength, offering Kaur’s unwavering faith in her spirituality. Tracks like ‘Your Light Ignites’, ‘Liberate Me’ and ‘Ocean Of Virtue’ are a lot softer in their musicality, holding out a hand in comfort and giving a sense of belonging and home in them. Kaur explores each emotion with the same sincerity and honesty, bringing out her versatility and brilliance as an artist and person. Kaur ends the album with ‘Deh Shiva’, a track that brings together the expression of each track and gives more. Ek truly transcends every humanly made barrier for the sole purpose of bringing people together through music as even the title of the album suggests. Manika Kaur has again broken expectations and set her own path to Kirtan music capturing the world. 

All proceeds of Manika’s art are dedicated to her own organization Kirtan For Causes dedicated to providing good education to over 200 women in rural Punjab, India. Manika offers in her music, not only the strength of faith but also a strength for a better present and future to a lot of people. Her music is colored by her mesmerizing vocals, and her constant admiration and respect for the art of ‘Kirtan’ music. 

Listen to her album, ‘Ek’!


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and an aspiring creative writer.  


 

To Mask Or Not to Mask: With the Delta Variant, Why is That Still a Question?

COVID-19 manifested itself in a new variant this year: The Delta Variant. The beginning of the variant was found in India, where the original strain has already shaken a lot of people and caused immense damage. According to the CDC, the Delta variant accounts for 51.7% of cases in the US. In India, 86% of vaccinated people were infected by the Delta Variant. This variant is a lot more severe and is spreading globally, now warning the third wave in most countries. The endlessness of the virus has brought about the recurring debate of whether or not to mask up. 

Even in the Bay Area, there has been a surge in cases. Officials in various counties have cautioned against the variant and urged people to wear masks. In June, the variant was responsible for 43% of the cases in California. The Bay Area is slowly becoming a hotspot since people have become lax in wearing masks in public spaces, giving way to the variant as it spreads increasingly. 

Some frequently asked questions

When should I wear them? How effective are they? Do I wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

Between those that flat out refuse to wear masks and those that wear masks in every setting, these are the string of questions that are most common. It doesn’t help that there are so many perspectives on what exactly is right to do. Do we trust the CDC guidelines blindly? Or should we take things as they come and weigh our best options out? 

When should I wear them? 

Masks should be worn when you are out of your house. Regardless of whether there are fewer people or more people. They offer a preventive measure and also keep the people around you safe. 

How effective are they? 

“The key thing is that studies show that masks help,” states epidemiologist and health economist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding at an EMS Briefing on July 9th. Masks are efficient in protecting you and the people around you. Dr. Feigl-Ding furthered that double masking is a lot more effective.

According to an article by JAMA Health Forum, when one person double-masks and the other wears a single, 85.4% of cough particles are blocked, and when both double-mask, their exposure is blocked by more than 95%. The article further stated that after the CDC mask mandate had taken effect, COVID cases and hospitalization due to the strain had significantly decreased (by 5.5%). 

“Masking reduces 99-100 % of the infection but with the rest, it’s between 0 and 1%,” informs Dr. Ben Neuman.

Do I wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

Yes. There are no two ways about this. While the vaccine acts as a preventive measure against COVID-19, there have since been variants of the virus that are a lot more severe. The latest variant Delta is four times more severe than the original strain. The delta variant is also two times more transmissible than its older counterparts. This makes the vaccine evasive. Meaning vaccinated people CAN transmit the variant.

In Singapore, there were about two dozen cases where the virus carried from vaccinated people to other vaccinated people, ultimately affecting unvaccinated people.

Even in the States, the Delta variant is spreading. We have recently had a surge in cases as the mask mandate was lifted by the CDC. In the past three weeks, cases have been rising steadily. It takes five weeks to determine the results for the variant once tested.

With the variant, only a few changes and effects from the original strain are known. It has been documented that there are mutations that give the Delta variant unknown advantages on the lung’s immune system. 

Masking is not an option

Virologist and Professor at Texas A&M Dr. Ben Neuman talked about his experience as the only masker: “I’m in Texas and the only one that routinely wears a mask. Texas is one of the two clusters with the lowest vaccination rates.” 

The number of people vaccinated in the US has not even reached half the population yet. “There are pockets with less than 40% people vaccinated.” Dr. Jose Perez , Chief Medical Officer of South Central Family Health Center, advocates, “Wear a mask. Especially with people around. Anywhere.”

If this isn’t convincing you to mask up, there is more.

Hand sanitizers and glass shields offer about 0-1% aid against the vaccine if you don’t wear masks.

“People keep doing the things that don’t make a difference rather than the ones that do,” said Dr.Ben Neuman with regards to glass shields and hand sanitizers. As the virus is airborne, plexiglass does just about nothing to prevent it from spreading. Rather than offering shields, it is important to ventilate or incorporate better systems of ventilation to clean the air. But, as there isn’t any immediate action being taken for proper ventilation or disinfection, masking (double masking) works as a shield against the airborne strain. 

A google search bar recommended question on the masking:

“Do I wear my mask blue side out?”

Yes. Please wear your masks that are disposable blue side out. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and an aspiring creative writer.


 

Asian American Voices Take on Voting Rights in US Elections

Over the years, America has seen a nationally growing community of minority populations. The 2016 elections caused a huge wave of anger and frustration within these communities and led to protests and action against injustices caused by lack of voter turnout and disparity in elections. People protested and voiced out their anger and fear of not having a space to grow on an equal footing as those that were privileged. These events led up to the 2020 election, a time where Kamala Harris, the first Asian-Black woman elected Vice President in the history of this nation. 

South Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S with a 45% growth in the last decade. These numbers show the growing influence of Asian Americans in the electoral processes of the States. Meera Kymal reported for India Currents that though Indian Americans represent just over 1% of the US population, they have donated more than $3 million towards the 2020 presidential campaigns. Minority voices have demanded equality and representation in their communities. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on April 30th, John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), stated that the 2020 election saw an increase of 40% in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 elections. 

The For the People Act and the John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will only give more equality and accessibility to minority communities to break language barriers and make their vote count. Both these bills seek to make the electoral process secure and prevent foreign interventions or money from influencing the electoral process and vote. They also provide better access to voting by mail and overall enhance the voting process and security. 

“Language barriers are one of the biggest impediments to the Asian American vote, with 1/3rd of Asian Americans being what is called limited English proficiency” John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).  

Mr. Yang further states that previous elections have witnessed a lack of translators or sign indicators for those that are not proficient in English, limiting their access to ballots. While this was taken care of in the 1965 voting rights act, a lot more can be done for those that aren’t proficient in English. “In every election poll, monitors have observed missing Asian language signage and interpreters, which limits our access to the ballot. Ensuring effective language assistance is paramount to closing that consistent barrier in national and local elections,” he stated. 

The For The People Act and John L.Lewis  Voting Rights Advancement Act will improve and expense the voting opportunities for Asian communities making it more accessible to them. The previous election also saw an increase in turnout due to voting by mail. Such steps can be enhanced and practiced more efficiently if the two bills were to pass in Congress. 

What better month to discuss this topic than AAPI heritage month! It is important to remember that the influence of Asian American communities strongly impacted the 2020 elections, and the passing of these two bills in Congress will only enhance the opportunity for better representation and understanding of the Asian American community in the States. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

A Twitter plea from journalist, Vinay Srivastava.

COVID Overtakes India: Indian Americans Struggle With How to Support Their Loved Ones

This article is being revised and updated with information & resources. Originally published on April 30, 2021.

The second wave of COVID in India has caused over 18 million people to be affected by the virus, most of whom are currently struggling to get beds in hospitals, or oxygen supply, or sustainable food. 

People have lost lives before they were even given a chance. Thursday, April 29th, an India Currents’ writer’s cousin (a doctor) posted an urgent request for a ventilator with a bed in Jabalpur. A day later, the bed was not needed because the man passed away. He was only 52. 

Indian Americans are far from their families, unable to provide physical support or be with their loved ones at their deathbed.

“I wish I could be with my family and help. It’s horrible having to hear of young sons having to organize the funerals of their fathers,” a reader in the Bay Area reports.

Students in India feel frustrated and hurt with the current situation: “I can’t believe I’m doing assignments and working when people around me are struggling to just stay alive!?” While their siblings, or grandparents, or parents, or friends are hospitalized and struggling, students are preparing for exams or finishing assignments.

At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on the COVID crisis in India, the host of KALW Dispatches, Sandip Roy stated that the anxiety India is facing is quite new and never felt to this extent before: “A friend of mine sent a message saying my wife lost her uncle yesterday in Kanpur and he died at the back of a taxi looking for a bed”. 

He called out the actions (or lack thereof) taken to improve the public healthcare infrastructure, adding that the privileged tend to live in a bubble but COVID has broken that bubble between the privileged and the poor. 

“It is wonderful that the world has been stepping up to help India in need…I would like to think that it is not just for the geopolitical need but also because it is the right thing to do.” 

The global measures, however, do not “excuse” the government from not being more ready for the second wave. 

Studies done by multiple universities are projecting a surge in cases over the next two weeks (May 9-22). 

PRIME MINISTER’S ACTION

In the beginning phases, India was at the forefront of a promising vaccinated future. Prime Minister Modi had even generously donated doses to other countries that needed it. But, this act was met with backlash as Indians pointed out his inadequate response to the pandemic by holding rallies that usually involved large gatherings. People took to Twitter to address the poor governance. Hashtags such as ResignModi trended for hours. 

The government changed its policies, finally understanding the weight of the crisis and reducing the cost of the doses, and pushing to vaccinate those who are 18 and older beginning May 1st. However, the pandemic in India needs global aid and support. 

THE GLOBAL RESPONSE 

Multiple countries like the UK, the USA, Russia, Italy, and Germany have sent oxygen concentrators and various medical supplies to aid the raging pandemic in India. However, the primary requirement to save lives is the vaccine, of which India does not have enough doses. The U.S especially has been heavily criticized for stockpiling vaccines and not using them. Just recently, it was found that the United States is sitting on millions of vaccine doses that are not being pushed for us. Due to backlash, President Joe Biden confirmed that the US would be sending vaccines to India. 

California has also shipped out oxygen supplies to India in response. In a statement regarding the response to the crisis in India, Governor Gavin Newsom said, “Everyone deserves quality medical treatment against this terrible disease, and California will answer the call and provide aid to the people of India who so desperately need it.” 

Sunatya COVID Fundraiser (Image from @ucdsunatya)

College students have set up fundraisers for COVID relief in India through clubs and other organizations. The UC Davis Bharatanatyam dance club Sunatya for example posted an explanation of the crisis in India with links for donation.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Even though we see different media outlets update the number of cases every day, it is important to remember that each case is an individual human, not a statistic on a report. 

In the past week, there has been a flurry of messages on WhatsApp with different people that have been offering home-cooked meals for families. 

Activists in India have been constantly checking various websites and dashboards online that update oxygen, medicine, and bed availability; calling the numbers and verifying the reliability of the supplies. 

Due to the high need for these supplies, the suppliers often almost immediately are exhausted of their resources and end up having no more to offer. One Hyderabadi local, Meghana Kudligi has been continuously doing this for a couple of days and now has steady contacts that get in touch with her in case of an update. She is a student in college, and all her Instagram stories have offered donation links, food availability, medical supplies, oxygen, and beds. This can be done by any of us. Sharing a link, finding a verified donation page, donating money…we aren’t helpless! 

RESOURCES

 

Local Organizations

Multiple Organizations such as Anubhuti, TYCIA, Mazdoor Kitchen, and many many more have set up donation links for medicine, oxygen, and food supplies. 

Compiled resources: bit.ly/MutualAidIndia

More locally verified donation organizations by Meghana Kudligihttps://www.instagram.com/p/COQNpjDA9rI/?igshid=1f7x04yh8nioz

Yuva covid relief resources: https://www.instagram.com/weareyuvaa/guide/covid-relief-resources-pan-india/18074855854262944/?igshid=kjcjq6qi9okf

Indian American Projects Funding COVID Crisis in India

A group of photographers from the Indian Diaspora raising money for India’s Covid Crisis  – 100% of Profits Donated: https://shamiana.darkroom.tech/#

Indiaspora’s campaign for aid to India: https://www.chalogive.org/

Community Partners International (CPI) sending oxygen to India for ventilators:

Deshpande Foundation is collaborating with CPI to have a FedEx plane ready for delivery on May 8, 2021.  It will be loaded up with 3,400 oxygen concentrators and a few more million N-95 masks to balance the load and have it land in Mumbai by May 10th.  TATA Memorial Center will use these units in their own hospitals, as well as dispatch them to other hospitals.  The government of India will not be charging any customs duty.  It costs $1,500 to buy a unit.  Please donate funds to buy one or more units to save lives in India.  You can send the funds to

  • Bank Name: Wells Fargo Bank, NA
  • Bank Address: 2144 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA 94704
  • Account Name: Community Partners International
  • Account Number: 6455450715
  • ABA / Routing Number: 121000248
  • Address: 580 California Street, 16th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Tax ID 94-3375666

Rotary Club of Silicon Valley for Global Impact:

This campaign is a plea to raise funds to procure Oxygen Concentrators in larger quantities to meet the huge demand and help millions impacted. With the supply chain in place, the IAHV team can get these machines imported in 4 to 5 days. An Oxygen Concentrator cost is approximately $800 per unit. IAHV may also use these funds for other critical equipment such as Ventilators, Beds, etc., depending on how the situation evolves further.

***

In a time of anger and pain, the hope for better guides us. We can be the change we seek. It is important to remember that while pain and fear are spreading, there are also people on the ground working to deliver resources. Let’s take our emotional energy and invest it in the people doing the work.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.