Tag Archives: voices

Trinity Cares Foundation fight against COVID-19 in Jangamakote Village. (Creative Commons License 2.0)

Don’t Forget People Are Still Dying In India

It started in mid-March 2021, the many videos of grandparents hugging their kids post-vaccination in the US. Families reunited safely after a year or more of waiting to touch. Pictures of social interaction among vaccinated people started appearing on social media feeds. People sat outdoors in restaurants in the sun. The CDC guidance changed about masks for vaccinated people.  

I live in the NY area. Perhaps, we can go to Broadway shows again soon. Maybe, we can relegate to memory those days of heartbreaking pictures of daughters looking in through the windows of nursing homes to get a glimpse of their mothers through the glass and families trying to decide whether to have Thanksgiving dinners sitting as far apart as possible in different rooms.

I do like the current optimism in the US on COVID. But for some of us, the pandemic is far from over. As an immigrant from India, I wish American media covered more world news.

For me, the pandemic is still very much alive. When I check my WhatsApp in the morning, before the fog of sleep has cleared, there is news from India. It may be that again someone we knew has passed away from COVID. In Facebook groups, someone else is looking for oxygen. The lucky ones are waiting three hours in line for a vaccine, while others don’t know when they will get a dose at all. They don’t need beer, donuts, or million-dollar lottery prizes as incentives to get vaccinated. 

There is a raging pandemic going on in India and in major parts of the world. If you believe in the overarching value of human life, you ought to be worried. 

I have been living in the US for more than two decades. As an immigrant, my threshold for pain is different. Even in regular times in my community, only the lucky children get to physically run and hug their grandparents once a year on a trip to India. We are lucky if we get to attend weddings of close relatives or be present when nephews and nieces are born. Every time we leave home in India, we aren’t quite sure whether we will see the very old ever again. 

No, the pandemic hasn’t ended for me. 

My septuagenarian father in Kolkata, India, who is disoriented after losing his wife last year in August, and has been socially distancing in the pandemic for so long, can neither go to the bank to stand in line or go to the fish market like he used to. He still has not been able to return to a fully independent life of doing the things he used to do. He has been taking social distancing seriously and I just long to hug him after my mother’s passing.

My father sits in a room surrounded by buildings that block the sky on all sides. There is no place to take a walk safely without running into people, even though that number continues to decrease because of COVID-related deaths. One neighbor, who called before my mother’s shradh ceremony (which is similar to a funeral) to inform us that she couldn’t attend, passed away just a few days later from COVID.

I talk to my father on the phone every day and tell him that all this will be over soon without really knowing what to believe myself. So, I switch to a conversation about how things are looking up in New York – at least he is happy that I am safe. 

Cable news channels in the US constantly state that the pandemic is ending. Occasionally, there is some coverage of other countries on the chyron when some complex US political complication is being discussed animatedly on the main screen. While there was never very much coverage of world news through the pandemic, I had hoped that we would hear more about those that are passing, at least from here in the US.

I live in the US and have lived here for twenty years. I am hoping the pandemic ends here. I teach in a college in Manhattan. I’m fully vaccinated. I’m eager to see my students in person just like anyone else. I’m hoping everyone else will be vaccinated when I take the train to Penn Station from New Jersey in the Fall. I, too, am hoping to sit in a cafe and write. I’m glad I can bring in groceries, now, without disinfecting them obsessively. But even as I think of my life here, I’m aware of the suffering of people in other countries. That is not just because I’m an immigrant. It’s because even before I became an immigrant, I grew up with the consciousness of the world through world news in India. 

For the first year of the pandemic, my experience of the pandemic in the US and India was parallel. I was looking in through the glass at my ailing mother last year all through her 5 months of sickness in Kolkata. I couldn’t visit her during the first Indian lockdown and the first wave of COVID in India. The glass in my case was not a hospital ICU wall but a phone video screen. The video was often blurred. Sometimes, I thought she recognized me on the screen. Sometimes, I thought she only saw the phone. She lost speech and then we eventually lost her in August 2020 through indescribable hardship.

For those of us, who lost someone close in the COVID world, the post-COVID world, if and when it comes, will never be the same.

For months I have been planning on how to visit my father in India safely. I have planned various scenarios in my head through the spikes in COVID cases in the US and India, and through lockdowns, flight cancellations, planning local transportation in India, COVID tests, seat availability, vaccination – tracking every little large and small last-mile problem through my mind’s eye. 

Yet, I have only ended up reassuring my father in India over the phone that he will go to the fish market soon, that he will be able to stand in line at the bank soon, that it will be safe for him to walk on the teeming Kolkata streets soon. My visit almost worked out when I completed my second dose of the vaccine in the US, but that’s when the deadly second wave hit India in April. My travel plans are on hold again.

World news should matter. Worldwide deaths should matter. Worldwide deaths should matter and not just because a virus mutating in the developing world can put the developed world in jeopardy. 

Death should matter just because we value human life.


Madhura Bandyopadhyay is a Doctoral Lecturer in the English Department at John Jay College, City University of New York (CUNY) in Manhattan, New York. She grew up in Kolkata, India and has lived in Florida, California, and Singapore. She lives in New Jersey now. Apart from being a teacher and scholar of writing, she blogs in her spare time just for fun on her blog at bottledworder.com 


 

SandiSpell: Spelling Bee Champ to Tollywood Remix Artist

Masala In Ur Dosa – A column addressing identity through the lens of a Telugu Indian-American in conversation with his South Asian peers.

After a hectic day in high school, comparing notes with classmates to understand derivatives and limits to traveling to various suburbs in central Massachusetts to play tennis, nothing grounded me more than resting my forehead on the window of a moving school bus listening to my favorite song. The melodious vocals of Sadhana Sargam on her award-winning song ‘Manasa’ from the Telugu movie ‘Munna’. Fast forward 10 years, I still find comfort listening to Desi tracks every morning on my way to work. Recently, I came across a mix on SoundCloud called “A Decade in Rewind: Tollywood Edition“. A mix of familiar Telugu classics I grew up with blended with hip hop vocals and beats by a name familiar to those in the desi dance circuit, SandiSpell aka Snigdha Nandipati. Having seen her name as the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion, I knew I had to speak to her and find out how she was breathing new life into songs that of us grew up with.

My interviews on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ primarily focus on identity. What has been a constant amongst the different personalities I encounter is this – this generation finds its own unique way to express their South Asian Identity. For Snigdha, one such outlet of her identity was through her music. Like many, she grew up singing and continued to hone her craft at Yale through her campus acapella group. While she learned how to harmonize with others, dissect melodies and beats, she wanted to implement the same techniques to the Telugu classics she grew up with. In between recording covers and acapellas of Telugu songs, she found herself in a community that many young South Asian creatives find their roots – The Desi Dance Network Forums. Check out my interview with Snigdha Nandipati on ‘Masalainurdosa presents’ to hear about what her Telugu identity means to her, and how she expresses it through her music.


Prithvi Ganesh Mavuri, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in the Southeast region in the United States. However, his other passion lies in learning about South Asian languages and cultures.

Weltschmerz

As if flipping pages in a magazine, I riffle through the recent pages of my life quickly and without close attention. Now entering the eighth month of sheltering-in-place due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I am tired of it all: tired of social isolation; tired of staying home, tired of reading charts and numbers documenting cases, deaths, and available ICU beds; tired of seeing how we are (or are not) measuring up to the rest of the world; tired of dissent between medical experts, scientists, and politicians; tired of a President who feeds us “really big” lies—“…children are almost immune to this disease…” or, “I tell you, it’s just going to go away…poof.”

And I am sad: sad for our economy; sad for those who have lost their livelihoods and their homes; sad for those who are hungry; sad for those who cannot continue the education they deserve; and sad for those who continue to work despite fear of becoming infected—those who take care of us, feed us, teach us. I am also sad for our vulnerable children and young people who are trying to grow up in this crazy time—toddlers neglected by parents who are working full time from home while doing their best to serve both employer and family. I am sad for teen-agers, bored by months of “lockdown” and social isolation, who are now finding escape in “wilding,” driving too fast, and eschewing masks, and sad for new college grads whose dreams have been dashed. I am sad kids who just want to play ball with their teams, perform with their orchestras, and follow their youthful passions. I am sad for people whose loved ones are dying alone in hospitals, and mothers who give birth, but cannot hold their newborn babies.

I feel sorry for celebrations missed, wedding plans dashed, funerals postponed, college days lost, and vacations that could have been. I feel bad that fear keeps us from doctors, dentists, and therapists, or from going to the grocery store, gym, barbershop, or manicurist. Life is too short, too dear, to put on hold. 

But most of all, I am sad for the lives lost, a multitude of deaths, both in our own backyards and around the world, lives that were snuffed out as quickly as blowing out a candle; some never had a chance to shine. As of today, 1.04 million lives around the world have been taken by the Coronavirus—210,00 in the United States and 102,685 in India.

The thought of continued social isolation, closed access, mask-wearing, illness, fear, and economic collapse is almost too much to bear. To add to this misery, our beautiful America is now on fire. There are currently (September 13, 2020) ninety-four—yes, ninety-four—large wildfires burning across several Western states. In California, most of the fires are due to a combination of drought conditions plus lightning strikes.

President Trump once again incorrectly blamed California for the fires. “…you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests,” he said, neither seeming to understand that lightning strikes caused a majority of the fires, nor that most of California’s forests and parks are federally managed. He went on to say, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them (California) pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”  It’s all just too much.

There is a German word, weltschmerz, that sums up what I am feeling. It is an amalgam of two words, world plus pain, and means weariness, sadness, frustration, and yearning caused by the reality of the world as it really is rather than the way it should, or could be. I am suffering from weltschmerz, not only due to this pandemic, not only due to the fires, but also due to the current state of our country where the difference between black and white has once again reared its ugly head, and where we can watch…from the comfort of our couches…black people pleading for their lives as they are being murdered or hunted down by our own policemen, and in turn policemen being gunned down by anti-police mobs. We see immigrants fleeing desperate situations being turned back from our borders, their families often separated. How can we ever forget children in cages? 

Then there is the state of the world, our poor, war-weary world, that we can also watch from the comfort of our couches, as it is being destroyed, as people are being killed and babies are dying, as refugee camps are growing. Not a pretty sight, our world right now.

Weltschmerz. A good word, a necessary word. I need a few days to wallow in the misery that now surrounds us, and to pray for better. I need to immerse myself in the sadness of our state, our country, our world. It is not my nature to put on a happy face non-stop for months on end. I need to mourn the losses all around me, and to help carry the weight of the world, if only metaphorically. It keeps me from crying and will help get me through the months ahead.

Weltschmerz.


Pauline Chand is a senior writer who enjoys sharing stories with her grandchildren.

What Is Your Friend?

Covid-19’s social distancing protocols have resurrected and increased social connections. It looks like we all have an uptick in the frequency of video calls, large chat groups, and increased social media activity. I know many of us are now in touch with college groups, school groups, family groups, cousin groups, children’s school groups, neighborhood groups and so much more. There really was no reason for any of these interactions to have not taken place earlier – the infrastructure, technology, and people were always there. Only one thing seems to have changed – the incessant demands of the clock on our time. 

For some, caring for younger people or older people in their care, Covid-19 has been doubling difficult. But for several others, Covid-19 has presented us with a curious dilemma: Finding ways to spend time.  Covid-19 has affected people in several ways, and in recent chats and calls, one trend seems to be emerging: What is your friend?

A few months ago, one of our aunts was visiting and the family had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt)? How do you pass time?” I asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile, “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her students later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy. These people seem to be the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream is a book of many marvelous essays. The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. 

Then, there is the Eternal Self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old)

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on to explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

Finding something that makes us want to do something without tangible rewards is the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power. Covid-19 has given us the unique opportunity to pause and evaluate what we do with our time. Some have exceeded themselves on the culinary front, some others with photography, some have taken up gardening. I find it refreshing to see the Creative Self reviving in so many of us who have given in to the power of the time-bound social self for so long.

What is your friend?

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.

For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.

I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.


Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar

Should the Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

by Mani Subramani

There is absolutely no need to postpone the November 2020 elections on account of the Coronavirus.

Firstly the COVID-19 pandemic is roughly 2 times as virulent in its spread as the common flu and about 20 times more fatal among the elderly and most vulnerable.  So as long as the risk of transmission can be reduced 100 fold, voting should be at least as safe as voting during a normal flu season.  This is not achievable if we do everything business as usual. However, with sufficient social distancing (6 feet) and sanitizing, the transmission rate can be reduced sufficiently to make elections safe.  To avoid long lines at the polling places states can keep voting open early for a full week or encourage mail in ballots or both. Federal government should allocate funds as part of a stimulus or supplemental to cover the additional costs. 

At the time of this writing, we are number three in terms of total number of infections behind China and Italy.  Unfortunately, it would not be surprising if we are number one when you read this.  However, based on the experience of other nations the viral spread should peak in three months or less. In spite of the bungling and scattered response and utter lack of leadership by this administration, thankfully many state governors are acting in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the outbreak.  This should ensure a peak of infections sometime this summer hopefully with a minimal fatality rate like that of Germany or Switzerland.  

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

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Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

by Rameysh Ramdas

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic meltdown, President Trump and Congress must postpone the November 2020 election. Yes, Democrats would loathe giving the President a few more months, but it is the right thing to do in these circumstances. The Constitution does not prohibit this action but says it should come from the states. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island have postponed their primaries.

While the logistics of conducting campaign rallies will be a challenge, given the restriction of the number of people who can gather, more importantly, this will allow the President, his administration and state leaders to focus on containing the virus and in reviving the economy.

Yes, a postponement is only possible with great difficulty and cannot be done by an executive order. All the states must agree and their legislatures approve the measure. But the cost of the effort is well worth the benefits it brings to the nation and the world at large. And, this has to be done now as in many states, voting starts months earlier. 

Yes, this would have been unthinkable and deplorable in a normal time, but this is a pandemic of epic propositions. A prudent approach would be to have the elected officials on combating this calamity and start reviving the economy and the stock market. I urge the Administration and state legislatures to think outside the box and focus on the epidemic now.

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.


Image license can be found here.

Should the Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

by Rameysh Ramdas

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic meltdown, President Trump and Congress must postpone the November 2020 election. Yes, Democrats would loathe giving the President a few more months, but it is the right thing to do in these circumstances. The Constitution does not prohibit this action but says it should come from the states. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island have postponed their primaries.

While the logistics of conducting campaign rallies will be a challenge, given the restriction of the number of people who can gather, more importantly, this will allow the President, his administration and state leaders to focus on containing the virus and in reviving the economy.

Yes, a postponement is only possible with great difficulty and cannot be done by an executive order. All the states must agree and their legislatures approve the measure. But the cost of the effort is well worth the benefits it brings to the nation and the world at large. And, this has to be done now as in many states, voting starts months earlier. 

Yes, this would have been unthinkable and deplorable in a normal time, but this is a pandemic of epic propositions. A prudent approach would be to have the elected officials on combating this calamity and start reviving the economy and the stock market. I urge the Administration and state legislatures to think outside the box and focus on the epidemic now.

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

**************************

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

by Mani Subramani

There is absolutely no need to postpone the November 2020 elections on account of the Coronavirus.

Firstly the COVID-19 pandemic is roughly 2 times as virulent in its spread as the common flu and about 20 times more fatal among the elderly and most vulnerable.  So as long as the risk of transmission can be reduced 100 fold, voting should be at least as safe as voting during a normal flu season.  This is not achievable if we do everything business as usual. However, with sufficient social distancing (6 feet) and sanitizing, the transmission rate can be reduced sufficiently to make elections safe.  To avoid long lines at the polling places states can keep voting open early for a full week or encourage mail in ballots or both. Federal government should allocate funds as part of a stimulus or supplemental to cover the additional costs. 

At the time of this writing, we are number three in terms of total number of infections behind China and Italy.  Unfortunately, it would not be surprising if we are number one when you read this.  However, based on the experience of other nations the viral spread should peak in three months or less. In spite of the bungling and scattered response and utter lack of leadership by this administration, thankfully many state governors are acting in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the outbreak.  This should ensure a peak of infections sometime this summer hopefully with a minimal fatality rate like that of Germany or Switzerland.  

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Excavating History

I recently returned from a six-week sojourn in Mumbai. It is the city where I grew up and where my family still lives. In fact, my “family home” is where my mother grew up.  The small four-hundred square foot chawl home has witnessed more than five generations of my family. 

As can be imagined, every nook and cranny holds cherished memories. The low kitchen counter specially designed to suit my well-under-five feet grandmother, the fifty-year-old refrigerator that, somehow, still works. My mother’s old sewing machine still stored under the dining table. And the Akai tape player that was my father’s cherished purchase during the 1960s and that holds the recorded voices of the eight-year-old me and my seventy-year-old grandfathers. If only the walls could talk. 

It seems to be a particularly American, or emigrant obsession, to seek to bring the past into the present. As far back as 1758, Benjamin Franklin stomped through a cemetery in England trying to understand the Francklyne who were his forebears. And it has been thus since then. It is the privilege of each new wave of newcomers to return to the old country to dig, to learn, to ask, to understand. Who were the people who formed me? What were their lives like? What were the forces that shaped me? Why am I who I am today? What is my life’s work? How can I make meaning out of the memories of those who are no more?

It is almost forty years since I came to America as a newlywed and early-career professional. The early years were a whirlwind of activity, as all available (and then some) physical, mental, and emotional energy was spent on deciphering the new country, learning to be American, making a home, a career, and a family. Finally, now, I have the luxury of paying attention to all that I left behind and to understand the forces that made me who I am.

~~~

Unaware of this subconscious quest, about ten years ago I stumbled upon the story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, the first Indian woman who became a doctor. I became hooked on her story because I recognized that her sacrifice and courage were the beginning of the fundamental changes in Mumbai Maharashtrian society from which I benefited. While she was married at nine to a widower who was almost twenty years older than her, one hundred years after her, I got married in my twenties to a man of my own choosing. While she lived in a society that did not believe in providing education and healthcare to women, I grew up in a family and a society which did not even question my claim to an education and a career, and of course, healthcare. 

Wanting to know more about Anandi-bai’s American life turned from an idle curiosity into a passion project after I read her letters. It was almost as if she was talking directly to me, telling me about her challenges, her ambition, her hopes, and her dreams — not so much for herself as for Indian womanhood. The result of my endeavors is “Radical Spirits: India’s First Woman Doctor and Her American Champions.” It will be published in March 2020.  

It became important to me to visit the major places where Anandi-bai lived during her short eventful life. I went on pilgrimages to Philadelphia and Poughkeepsie. And, in Mumbai I visited the places where she lived during her short stay there during 1880-1881. Unlike in the US, where there is a much deeper tradition of preserving history, I was doubtful about how much history I would be able to excavate in India. But, I was pleasantly surprised.

In the area of Girgaon (which was called Black Town during the 1880s), I found the post office where Anandi-bai’s husband Gopal worked. Even today, there is a post office at the exact same location! I visited Angrey-Wadi, the neighborhood chawl from where Gopal had arranged for her to pick home-cooked food so she would be freed of cooking chores in order to focus on her studies. 

I visited the beautiful old black stone church founded by Dr. John Wilson, the Chrsitian missionary He also founded one of the first girls’ schools in Mumbai, St. Columba School, that is also my alma mater. Although I was not able to find definitive evidence, I have narrowed down the school that Anandi-bai attended to either the school I attended or Queen Mary School which still operates in the same neighborhood!

Walking the streets that Anandi-bai walked and where she had been subjected to catcalls and abuse was an extremely moving experience. Witnessing how much the status of women has changed in the intervening century was uplifting and inspiring. I felt I had a better understanding of the forces that led to my empowered life. I felt that by visiting the place, I had paid private homage to Anandi-bai, whom I now consider an adi-mata, or foremother.

~~~

I also visited the place in the Mumbai suburb Kalyan where Anandi-bai grew up. The old sprawling wada, with its big open aangan and vrindavan is no more. In its place is an apartment building that is aptly named Anandi-Gopal. A friend and I were having a hard time spotting the plaque that mentions the history of the building lot. We peeked inside a small office where two men sat chatting. Upon hearing our question, one of the men offered, “I will tell you everything you want to know. I am a descendant of the Joshee clan that used to own this land.” He then took us upstairs to his apartment and showed us old documents that are in his possession. Among them is a family tree. No women appear in the family tree — with he exception of Anandi-bai herself. It is as if through her courage and sacrifice she claimed a place for herself in men’s world. 

Mr. Joshee also showed us a copy of a contract by the Peshwas granting land to the founder of the Joshee clan.  It was interesting to find out that the wedding of the first Peshwa (Bajirao of “Bajirao-Mastani” fame) had taken place in the same house because Bajirao’s first wife hailed from this same Joshee family. There were other tales about the family’s rising and falling fortunes. 

As Faulker put it, “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” And, by telling us where we have been and who we were, history gives us the roots we need to feel grounded and to confidently choose where we want to go and whom we want to become.

Over the course of the last several years, as I have researched the story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, my life has become incredibly richer. I highly encourage seekers to go forth and excavate their own personal histories. The people who went before are waiting to reveal their truths!


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. “Radical Spirits: India’s First Woman Doctor and Her American Champions,” a biography of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, will be published in March 2020.