Nag Panchami & Raksha Bandhan

One of the very important festival among the hundreds of feasts and festivities in the Hindu culture is Nag Panchami . It is an extremely significant day in the Hindu calendar and this year it was celebrated on 25th of July 2020 on Saturday. It was celebrated throughout Nepal and India and other countries where Hindu adherents live. Worship is offered to Nag Devata or Serpent God on the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Shravan, (July / August) according to the Hindu almanac. This is an annual celebration with the devotees of both Lord Shiva and Vishnu observing the day with great reverence and devotion.

Tradition and faith decree that observing fast on the day offers protection against snakebite. When you recall that the subcontinent has almost 300 varieties of snakes, 50 out of which are highly poisonous (Huffington Post), it suddenly makes sense to propitiate the serpent God! On this day, idols/ photos of serpent Gods are worshipped with offerings of milk, sweets, flowers, and lamps. At many places, devotees also offer milk to live snakes. Communities come together with dance and food, celebrating the bonds between man and nature. Nag Panchami Puja is a momentous reminder that one should love, respect, and embrace all forms of life on earth.

Raksha Bandhan (or more simply Rakhi) is a festival that is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Shravan according to the Hindu Lunar calendar. This day is a celebration of the love and respect between siblings marked by sisters tying a Rakhi or a colourful thread/band around their brothers’ wrists. The brother affirms his respect and duty of care for his sister. The word Raksha means protection, whilst Bandhan is the verb to tie. Traditionally the sisters tying a Rakhi around their brothers’ wrists celebrates their relationship. The sister prays for the brother’s health, happiness and success and puts a tikka on his forehead and offers a sweet to him, he in turn gives her a gift.

The festival goes back to antiquity with many legends and stories associated with them. It has now evolved over the years to celebrate other relationships like those between friends and close ones, spreading the message of love, respect, and care. Rakhi is a vital reminder that one should love, respect, and embrace relationships and value them forever. It is a significant festival in the Hindu calendar, followed eight days later by Janamashtami (which we shall cover in the next issue). This year it will be celebrated on the 3rd of August.

AGM & Annual Event 2020

As the situation is still uncertain and the government rules for social distancing are constantly changing, we now aim to organise the AGM online on 29th August from 10:30 am – 12 pm

Subject to social distancing rules, we are planning to walk in the afternoon of the same day in the moors. We will provide details of the AGM and the walk in due course. 

Existing trustees please email chairpersonsaas@gmail.com by 21st August 2020 if you would like to continue as Trustee. We also encourage members of our society, keen to play an active role, to consider joining as associate trustee. Please email us (chairpersonsaas@gmail.com) if you are interested to join by 21st August 2020. 

There are no further updates on the Annual Event planning yet as we are monitoring the current situation. We will provide an update in the September Newsletter.

A memoir worth reading: Poona to Plymouth

One of our former Trustees, and a longstanding member of our Society and the community, Anil Koshti, MBE, has recently published an incredible memoir which makes for interesting reading; capturing his amazing journey spanning his childhood and youth in the British Raj in Poona (India) to his retirement in Britain’s Ocean City, Plymouth.

His stories highlight his creative childhood living in the midst of a bustling Indian cultural hub in Poona, his studies in India before arriving in England in 1961 to study chemical engineering, his marriage and the embracing of many cultures and ways of life, succeeding as a top professional in his field. He qualified in 1964, got married that year, and attained British citizenship. The book describes some interesting aspects of Anil’s career in various industries before his retirement in 2007 as a nuclear regulator. It explains some of his time in management, his enthusiasm for classic cars, and his dedication to his family and friends. Anil was awarded an MBE in 2007 for services to the environment. The book is available on Amazon in softback or Kindle version.

This book has another extraordinary layer, as Plymouth teenager, DHSG pupil and a family friend inspired him to write this memoir during the lockdown. What a lovely endeavor of hope and friendship during the Pandemic. Many congratulations Anil and Georgi Wilton! I hope this will inspire other members of the community to pen down the exciting and humorous renditions of their own journeys!

Poem by Dr Himanshu Sharma with its English translation

बदले की नहीं, बदलने की भावना हो’

समाज में सब समान हो, कल नहीं, जो हो आज हो
सबको करने को काज हो, राम राज हो, राम राज हो

बदलाव में बदले की नहीं, बदलने की भावना चाहिए
सदैव सबका अच्छा हो, हाँ ऐसी सत्कामना चाहिए

people on road

इन्द्र धनुष सी सतरंगी हो चार दिनों की चाँदनी
सच से साक्षात्कार हो, खुद से खुद का सामना चाहिए

ये माना, बुराइयाँ समाज में यत्र-तत्र-सर्वत्र व्याप्त है
पर सोच शतुरमुर्ग-पन तेरा, क्या वास्तव में पर्याप्त है

जैसा है वैसा का वैसा, ना कदापि स्वीकार करेंगे हम
दलदल है ये कुरीतियाँ, जो आज समाज को प्राप्त है

बदले वाली अगर भावना, प्रचुर-मात्रा में विद्यमान
बदला लो निज-दुर्गुणों से, खिल उठेगा मन-खलिहान

अहंकार में अहम छुपा है, अहम मैं हम नहीं ‘मैं’डूबा है
स्वहित है सबका अहित है, छीनो हक़ ये मंशा निहित है

इसमें विनाश की हुंकार, आत्म-स्तुति का है विकार
सामजिक बदलाव बहाना, इच्छा खुद का है उद्धार

ज़रूर बदले सबको पर, औरों की सोचे खुद के बाद
जोशीला, संकल्पित मन हो, पर हो सीमा में उन्माद

समाज में सब समान हो, कल नहीं, जो हो आज हो
सबको करने को काज हो, राम राज हो, राम राज हो

English Translation

Filled with desire for change, not for revenge

black and white wall mounted paper

Everyone should be equal in society
Not tomorrow, be it today
Let everyone do a karma
Let we secure a ‘Ram Raj’

Change requires changing yourself
Not a feeling of revenge
Be good for everyone
Always make such well-wishes

Colourful as a rainbow
Life like four-day moonlight
You need to face the truth
And face yourself day or night

It is believed that evil is prevalent
Here-there-everywhere in the society
Thinking like an ostrich
Is that really enough?

We will never accept
The way it is ‘as it is’
Swamps are these evils
Which society today enjoys

Replace if emotion exists in plenty
Take revenge from ill-personalities
Change yourself first and
Mind-barn will blossom

Important ‘me’ is hidden in ego
And not ‘we’ what we need
This self-interest to hurt everyone
And snatch others’ rights

There is a scream of destruction
A disorder of self-praise
Social change is simply an excuse
The only desire is self-raise

Apply change on everyone
But think of others after yourself
We want a warm & determined mind
Though frenzied in limits

Everyone should be equal in society
Not tomorrow, be it today
Let everyone do a karma
Let we secure a ‘Ram Raj’

Shifting the paradigm from disease to wellbeing – Dr. A Chatterjee

One of our Trustees and a colleague from the University, Dr. Arunangsu Chatterjee (AC) has published an interesting article in the New Statesman (17th July Spotlight) focusing on shifting the paradigm from disease to wellbeing. The Mandarins at Whitehall seem to be truly listening, as very soon there was the policy drive on tackling obesity and encouraging cycling. This same philosophy is embedded in the Indian health science of Ayurveda, considered by many to be the oldest healing science which  literally translates from the Sanskrit to “The Science of Life.”  AC makes a quick historical comparison with the earliest pandemic Plague and the Spanish flu and lessons of history that policymakers and governments ignored around the world to their peril and distress of their people. He makes a moving case for the economy of wellbeing.

His article can be read here:

https://www.newstatesman.com/2020/07/shift-paradigm-disease-wellbeing/

South Asian Society’s Creative Art and Talent Contest helped us to raise £1060 for Food Banks

The response from our young talented participants was fantastic and I look forward to sharing the creative artworks with you in future editions of the newsletter.  An independent panel of judges carried out the judging of the entries in all the categories. They included an impressive selection of professionals who have contributed to life, society and their professional fields in the South West in extraordinary ways; they included Anil Koshti (MBE), Manoj Chitnavis (Educationist), Natasha Koshti-Symons (Mrs Atlantic 2020) and Sarita Nesargi (Lawyer). The judges were truly impressed with the submissions and found them moving, impressive, exciting and notoriously difficult to judge the winner; they were so well matched and creative. We are so proud of our young ones.

The results were very close, and we have had excellent feedback for all our participants. We are pleased to announce the winners in individual categories:

Under 10s
Music, Drama, Speech video: Rehaan Chatterjee
Writing: Adit SobtiArtwork: No entry

10 – 18 years
Artwork: Sumedha Bagchi
Music, Drama, Speech video: Ayaan Chatterjee
Writing: Charu Sharma

A warm thank you once again to all the participants and to everyone who contributed to the cause and made this contest a success, and enabled us to collect such a welcome amount for the Food Banks. Separate communications will follow later about the

We would also like to thank all our judges for taking out time from their busy lives to judge the entries and provide feedback to all our participants.

Ray of hope…with a change in its midst

We ride another trough, wondering when the next crest is coming and how will it leave us in its wake: will we need to get back to the drawing table, rethinking about what we do next and how we do it? Or, will the new normal be here to stay. We have bravely faced the challenges, which were unfathomable even a few months back, and we are learning all the time, banked by hope and buffeted by an affirmation of love – within relationships and within communities. This simple message of hope and love is powerful – there are hard times, some have been tackling it, others wonder when it will come their way! Look around you and you will see – nature and how it constantly goes on renewing itself.  Perhaps we have a duty to hang on, with hope; this too shall pass.

The politics of change has to happen, what we WANT has to happen NOW. I would not want to wait a lifetime, yet again. I think about the future generation/s and want them to enjoy freedom from discrimination, where they are recognised and appreciated for themselves. Anjali’s narrative (see the previous newsletter June ) rings in my ears – such an existential issue she raises! What answers do we have for her and our children, youth? Can we afford to sit quietly and wait? Poem and politics is something that is extremely difficult to bring together, however, I heard the poem by Maya Stokes who is a 2020 Orwell Youth Prize winner.  Her poem responding to the theme, ‘The Future We Want’ was powerful, stringing together though words many of the milestone events from history and our recent past. In the words of one of the judges a “visceral poetry…full of grit and wit and substance”. I quote the opening lines:

Did you hear?
London is burning, and
not for the first time.
It appears that despite this city’s strange obsession
with umbrellas, its foundations are as flammable
as the first little pig’s house..

The full poem can be found here:
https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-youth-prize/2018-youth-prize/winners-orwell-youth-prize-2020/maya-stokes/

Dr Smita Tripathi

Charity Talent contest – update

We have received a large number of entries for our ‘talent contest’ to support the ‘Foodbank’ charity and promote our young talents. Many thanks to all our talents for their enthusiastic participation. The entries have been sent to independent judges for evaluation. We aim to announce the results in the next (i.e. July) Newsletter.

Until now, the Society has generated ca. £ 700 for the ‘Food Bank’ charity. Sincere thanks to its members and well-wishers for their generous support. We have been in discussion with the local ‘Foodbank’ and a leading superstore to efficiently organise this event.  We aim to transfer the ‘food materials’ to the ‘Foodbank’ in the 3rd week of July.  There is still time to make the donations so if you have missed the opportunity please spare a few moments to help the needy local community during this stressful time.  The details to make the donations are given below:

Account name: South Asian Society

Sort Code: 09-01-55

Account Number: 66415186

Reference: Your surname-Foodbank

As we head towards the Great Escape: Notes from the Editor’s Desk

Since March 23rd, when the clampdown started in England, our streets and parks have been quiet; all regular life seemed to have ground to a halt. It wasn’t easy for me, or for others, to accept this new normal. Time was elastic and seamless, and you were waiting for something to happen, to break the awful dream that you were living. We are now hearing that those states in the USA like Texas and Florida, which eased social restrictions and distancing earlier, are now facing a resurgence of cases:  we know that the virus is here, and will be with us, it is for us to be wise about our actions. This virus has no respect for borders and other socially created divides in society. WE are ALL reeling from its impact, in different ways and diverse extents. WE have faced the abrupt cessation of our everyday, taken-for-granted routines of life. Our working practices are radically being transformed, some have been canceled altogether, others face various threats and ruptures, now as well as in the future. 

But the strange eeriness of the recent past is waking up, the street noises are more discernible, the lockdown as we know it is going to change as we look forward (or not) to that which is being touted as the Great Escape from the 4th of July. More social outings, more frequent laughter of groups coming together…our communities are slowly getting back to normal, but I hope it does not come at a cost. I hope reassuring sounds of nature is not obliterated by raucous get-togethers. It has been good spending so much time together, and being at home; let us be sensible in the next phase as well.

Before we go much further, I must make clear that the views expressed in the newsletters are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of SAaS. I also invite articles to reach me before the 26th of the next month (i.e. July 2020) at the following email: southasiansocietynewsletter@gmail.com. Let us make this collective resource a big success.

Dylan’s words are still fresh in my mind: “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

Keep smiling and stay safe

Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter

Stay Safe: Coronavirus is a merciless killer!

In my opinion, headlines in the news media (e.g. BBC) are rightly being over-cautious while reporting deaths within South Asian communities linked to the Pandemic. Headlines such as “South Asians are most likely to die of coronavirus” have stoked fear among the South Asian community. This is particularly so, as reported death among health care workers of Asian origin is much higher compared to other populations. Although it is of high priority to focus on the safety of BAME/South Asian community especially when they represent a considerable proportion of frontline/key workers, it is indeed of utmost importance to have clarity about the issue so that appropriate approach can be adopted to identify most vulnerable members of the society.  I have been working on COVID19 with my fellow academics and researchers within the UK and elsewhere in the world (Ireland, Germany, and India). As of now, despite higher death incidence in the BAME community, there is no concrete evidence or peer-reviewed reports showing a direct association between COVID19 susceptibility and ethnicity in general. Higher mortality in the South Asian community has been linked to factors such as a higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases or a higher risk of occupational exposure.

Scientifically, COVID19 belongs to a well-known family of coronaviruses with RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) as their genetic material. One of the mechanisms by which this virus gains entry into the host cells is via the ACE2 receptor. Recent scientific research has revealed that circulating ACE2 levels are higher in men and in patients with diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. This partly explains higher mortality in males and in patients with underlying conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. It is well known that diabetes and its associated complications are more prevalent in people from South Asian descent; however, this cannot be construed to generate general headlines reported by media outlets.  It could be assumed that diabetic individuals from any ethnic background with comparable lifestyles would be equally likely to succumb to COVID19. Socio-economic and socio-cultural factors including maintenance of social distancing due to cultural traditions and economic deprivation are likely to be key determinants in mortality associated with COVID19 patients within the BAME community. In addition, it would be important to thoroughly examine the patient data sets from both BAME and other communities. This should include multiple factors such as economic disparities, cultural factors, and quality of life. It may emerge that healthy individuals or individuals with underlying conditions from any ethnic backgrounds and similar professional and economic status are equally likely to have COVID19.  In this context, I would refer to an article recently published in “The Guardian” by Dr. Winston Morgan, a Clinical Biochemist (University of East London), stating that “Structural Racism” is the key underlying cause of high mortality in BAME community.  Given the reported higher mortality among the South Asians, it is indeed a time for introspection within policymakers and managers for taking positive steps to identify the underlying scientific risk factors and work practices to improve quality of life and avoiding undesirable exposures of COVID19 within the community. While the media generalisation should be taken with a pinch of salt, the communities need to be vigilant to follow government rules to protect themselves from this merciless killer! ‘Stay safe’!

Dr Vikram Sharma

Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, University of Plymouth

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