A very warm and summery greeting to you from the editor’s desk this staycation time. My family and I are going to enjoy and stay home like so many others this summer; drinking in the beauty of the surrounding naturescapes and exploring them with fresh eyes. We are so thankful that we live in this beautiful part of the world! Breathing in the fresh air, rejoicing with the chirpings of the bird as they peck at my cherries and raspberries turning a dark red. They have not become as sweet as I would have wanted! I will have to investigate and find ways of getting them to fruit earlier and find the necessary warmth to sweeten. Not easy with the threat of climate change. As I have not been able to travel abroad to see my mother and siblings, I am looking forward to gardening and exploring the country – perhaps going further afield from D &C and camping as well with friends.
But I am digressing as I really wanted to speak about how we all should be thinking about acquiring and building resilience. As an academic, I have taught about organisational resilience to my students, but the long and ongoing backdrop of the pandemic makes it so relevant at the practical level for us as individuals. The Mental Health Foundation clarifies resilience as our ability to cope with the normal stress of life as well as being able to bounce back from crises. This coping and bouncing back when confronted with stress, crisis and adversity require us to tap into resources – internal or external which enables us to withstand the adversity. This may require the capacity to turn to different kinds of resources, psychological, social, cultural and physical that sustain wellbeing as well as the capacity to negotiate for these resources in culturally meaningful ways at individual and collective levels (Resilience Research Centre). For the resources to truly support wellbeing and enable us to cope and bounce back, we need individual and collective strategies and interventions.
Structurally, resilience can be supported at different levels: nationally, regionally, locally and individually. Nations that are more equal, have good economic foundations and opportunities for their diverse people will be more adept at whole-society measures and interventions that foster good mental health and wellbeing. At community level, local programmes and initiatives involving everyone or targeting specific people and communities who are more vulnerable can be very effective.
Individuals can benefit through enhanced mental health literacy and opportunities for self-care and positive coping skills. Some of us at the individual level may be innately more resilient whereas others may need more support. According to the Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard University, positive experiences in very early childhood and in particular a secure attachment relationship with at least one primary caregiver is said to be a core factor for developing and building individual resilience. They emphasise that supporting a good primary caregiver-child relationship is an important protective factor for promoting resilience, while circumstances that put this relationship under strain can negatively affect resilience and mental health throughout childhood and adulthood. The Mental Health Foundation has suggested various ways of positively coping with stress and improving mental health during the Corona Virus pandemic including Exercising, Spending time in nature, Maintaining contact with friends and family, eating healthily, Being aware of smoking and drinking, Taking time to relax, Being mindful, Getting restful sleep, Avoiding negative thinking and Doing an enjoyable hobby. I heard from friends and family how simple things like walking the dog, gardening or staying in a routine gave them purpose and helped them cope with the stressors around them. Exercise is known to boost mood. Last summer when we began to feel the negative impact of all that was happening around us, we decided to join the Hill Lane Tennis club close to our home and began to play tennis. It was fun to discover that the Great Fred Perry had actually played a Davis Cup match on the same tennis court as vouched by a black and white photograph on the club website.
We are all different and what works one for one person may not benefit another. Many of my friends boosted their own well-being by going for walks, which became something they began to look forward to and did together as a family. A dear friend began to take photographs on his nature walks and posted them on his Facebook page. This became a go-to resource for others.
The benefits of eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits are espoused not only by Ayurveda and but also by modern research. A healthy diet is said to contribute to mental health and wellbeing. Research has reported higher levels of well-being reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables1 and a reduction in depression (which was sustained six months after the intervention) has been associated with a Mediterranean- style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil2.
Another important but often neglected coping strategy is sleep, which is vital not only for mental health but plays a central role in our learning, emotional regulation, behaviour including how we interact with others3. A 2019 article by Harvard Health Publishing explains how sleep impacts mental health. We all alternate between two major categories of sleep – quiet and REM sleep. During “quiet” sleep body temperature drops, muscles relax, and heart rate and breathing slow. In the deepest stage of quiet sleep, physiological changes are produced that help boost immune system functioning.
The other sleep category, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is the period when people dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase to levels measured when people are awake. Studies report that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health — in complex ways. The paper stresses that “although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa” 4
So though we are aware of the need to have good strategies for managing stress, anxiety and depression, or becoming more resilient, we have a collective responsibility to strengthen the support that is available for the most vulnerable amongst us. There is some great work happening in Devon and Cornwall but there are areas with little or no access to mental health support. They (https://www.devonmind.com/about/our-story ) have been working for better mental health in Devon for over 35 years with their campaigning and support services. Devon Mind highlights the importance of the work they are doing through these stark statistics on their webpages: Research by the NHS has found that 20.9% of people in the South West of England experienced a common mental health problem (such as depression or an anxiety disorder) in any given week — that’s the highest rate of mental health problems in the country, reflecting the great need for Devon Mind to support the entire community.
Hence, we have decided to plan our fundraising activities in support of Devon Mind throughout this year. Further information about events and opportunities to contribute will be shared separately.
Dr Smita Tripathi
1 Stranges, S, Samaraweera, PC, Taggart, F, Kandala, NB, & Stewart-Brown, S (2014). ‘Major Health-related Behaviours and Mental Well-being in the General Population: The Health Survey for England’, BMJ Open, 4(9), e005878.
2) Parletta, N, Zarnowiecki, D, Cho, J, Wilson, A, Bogomolova, S, Villani, A, Itsiopoulos, C, Niyonsenga, T, Blunden, S, Meyer, B, Segal, L, Baune, B and O’Dea, K (2017) ‘A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED)’ Nutritional Neuroscience 22(7) pp.474-487.
3 Walker, M (2017) Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner. ISBN-13 : 978-1501144318
Professor Awadhesh Jha
Undeniably, social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) is playing a very significant role in modern life. Whilst it has many benefits, it could easily disrupt personal and social lives if used immaturely or carelessly. In the light of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the government and several institutions including public and sporting bodies are taking initiatives to further strengthen race relationships, foster religious tolerance and promote equality and diversity in the wider society.
In the above context, a few weeks ago, many cricket fans were saddened following controversy sparked by racist and sexist tweets written by 27-year-old cricketer, Ollie Robinson. These tweets were written years previously when he was a teenager. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) took very prompt action by suspending Robinson from the team pending the investigations. Robinson’s suspension sparked a sharp division of opinions in the wider society. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders criticised the action of ECB. MP from South West Devon, Sir Gary Streeter defended Robinson remarking that as teenagers we all make mistakes which we regret later in life and ECB should adopt the core value of our society, ‘of forgiveness’.
After Robinson’s suspension, a few high profile names also surfaced who have written similar tweets in the past. It is reported that ECB has started scrutinising all media posts of its contracted players. The England players are anxious about the looming threat from further probes into controversial tweets which are very much on the cards. Such nervousness after the series defeat by New Zealand could be unhelpful for the forthcoming test series against India, followed by the Ashes series in Australia. England captain, Joe Root insisted that his team is totally committed to stamping out discrimination in cricket.
In common with other games and sports, Cricket plays an important role in social cohesion and integration. I used to play and enjoy cricket during my student life. In 1993, when I joined ICI/Zeneca Environmental Laboratory in Brixham (South Devon), I was warmly welcomed in the Laboratory Cricket team. Colleagues assumed that all Indians are good cricketers, which very soon they realised is not the case! My inclusion in the team gave me the opportunity to play matches in the lush Greens of picturesque Torbay area during the summer periods. I was the only Asian player on the ground and was warmly looked after! The social aspect was particularly enjoyable! Being new to the English lifestyle, this ‘gentlemen’s game provided the opportunity to learn many social skills!
After moving to Plymouth in 1996, few of us established the South Asian Society as a registered charity in 2003. In line with the broader objectives of the society to enhance community cohesion and integration, in 2010, we started a Cricket Tournament inviting local teams to participate. These events were highly successful and thoroughly enjoyed by the members of the society and the local communities. Due to different constraints, we could however not continue this tournament. Many society members were/are playing for different clubs and many members of the South Asian community are now fully integrated with different clubs. Increasing numbers of South Asian families are encouraging their kids to play cricket and others sports, take them to coaching sessions, where they interact with the wider community. All these activities will definitely contribute to damping down the future online abuses of various forms and will go towards achieving the goals of the society, with long-term positive impact.
As social media is being increasingly used particularly by the younger generation, we need to be fully aware that once posted, even if these posts are deleted, it is easy to track them down. As it is quite natural for teenagers to make mistakes, such mistakes could be risky for future careers. There are plenty of unfortunate examples outside the cricket world as well. Earlier this year, Rashmi Samant, the first woman to become president of the Oxford University Student’s Union had to resign a few days after she was elected. This was a consequence of supposedly racist and insensitive tweets she had posted as a teenager.
Following the recent Euro Cup Football final, alarming levels of online abuse of England players were noted. It is being realised that racist abuse sent to England players have been active for some time despite the sites being urged by the authorities to crack down on discriminatory posts and suspend accounts. Such incidences could have long-lasting negative knock-on effects on the wider communities too, such as the defaced mural of England football player, Marcus Rashford. In this context, according to a recent survey, commissioned by London Lions, 41% of the BAME community in the UK are hesitant to attend live events over fears of racial abuse, although younger fans (18-24 years) are less worried (29%). It is therefore not surprising that the government is planning to implement tougher rules in addition to banning individuals who are involved in online abuse to enter the ground. Clearly more needs to be done. Finally, it is important to realise that ultimately, the parents and the schools bear the responsibility to educate children and inculcate the right values. They have important roles to play in digital education and alerting the children about the risks associated with their online (as well as offline) behaviour. Backed by the government initiatives, schools and parents, therefore, need to build a positive partnership to educate teenagers in this important aspect of life. Given that digital technologies are getting increasingly integrated into various aspects of our lives, it is high time that proper use of such skills are assimilated in the school curriculum from an early stage.
Disclaimer: We accept no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The opinions expressed in this post are solely the author’s own views and do not necessarily represent the views of our society. Our attempt is to provide a platform for community members to share their views, reflections, and opinions through our website.
I am writing this in continuation of my talk on Raj yoga (BBC Radio Devon) to try and make a bit more sense of it. To begin with, let’s first see what does yoga actually mean.
Yoga means union, joining or alignment.
What does it mean by joining with our true self? Of course, we are joined with ourselves and us as the spirit, but we have lost the link and to re-establish this link is the meaning of yoga. We are so strongly embedded with this idea that we are this body and this mind that we do not have the capacity to really pull us out. Re-establishing your essential oneness (not as body and mind that we are so closely related to), but something dramatically different, the spirit. This is the real meaning of the word Yoga.
It is a journey and destination is the freedom.
Freedom from all the limitations of the body and the mind. It is a freeing experience. Freedom from the shackles that keep us from understanding and experiencing this reality are also broken. You break free from every limitation. This is when you realise that I am spirit, I am not this body or this mind. It is an experiential dimension. It gives freedom from our vision of who we think we are.
This is the fundamental of Raj yoga.
The two crucial tools that we need for this journey are- Our body and our mind.
There is no one path to do this journey.
There are four different paths that we have been explained in Bhagwat Geeta and that all these four paths lead to the same destination of experiencing your true self as spirit.
The four different paths are-
Karma yoga– This is the path of action in its widest sense. It’s your devotion to your duty. Your duty to yourself, your family, your society, your country and to the planet you’re living in. Duty in a selfless way. Nothing wrong in feeding or taking care of your family, but slowly expand it. Best service is the service that is performed without being attached to the fruits of one’s actions. Work for the greater good.
Bhakti yoga– It teaches how to love without any ulterior motives. To see the divine spirit in every living being.
Gyan yoga– Yoga of intelligence or intellect. This is for the philosopher, the thinker, he who wants to go beyond the visible.
Rajyoga– This incorporates all the previous three yoga pathways and goes way beyond. This is also the path to harness the brain and meditate.
Now we are just going to see in further detail about Raj yoga. It is possibly one of the most important one and also the most difficult one. There were different schools of yoga in ancient times. Sage Patanjali compiled them 3200 years ago and made a framework of eight steps to make it easier called Ashtang Yoga.
Asht stands for Eight and Ang stands for limbs.
So this is a framework of eight limbs.
The basis of Raj yoga is that if you can hold your mind still, reality in its true sense can become visible to you. It can then come face-to-face.
Unless you bring discipline in your routine life, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed in meditation. For this reason, Patanjali brought the first two steps Yam and Niyam.
Yam – literally means discipline, it’s your discipline with the outside world. This includes speaking truth, avoid lust, non-violence, non-possessiveness or free yourself from greed.
Niyam– The second step is for self-discipline. It includes self-hygiene, self-study, contentment, show discipline in body, speech and mind.
Patanjali says that unless you bring Yam and Niyam to your daily life, it is unlikely that you can successfully meditate. So the initial requirement is that your routine life should come in the harness first.
Aasan– third step is the Aasan or postures. Holding the mind still is going to be difficult let’s begin by holding the body still to start with. These are postures in harmony with one’s inner consciousness. Out of the eight different steps of yoga, posture or exercising is only the third step. That too, a lower step to go up to the further five steps of yoga.
Our body is a very important tool that we possess and it’s very crucial to take very good care of it. For meditation, healthy and sound body and still mind are required. We need to be aware that the body and mind are very closely linked. If one gets affected in a good or adverse way, the other one gets affected as well. It has an important place in Hindu philosophy, but it is not the end. It is just a stepping stone to get ahead for a higher goal.
Pranayam– this is control of breath which is our life force. It also balances nervous system and encourages creative thinking. This makes us more in regulation of life force and how to utilise it completely.
So you can see how we are travelling inwards so far with each step we climb from outside world alignment, then self-discipline, body postures and then breath control. Now let’s move further inwards and thereby further up the ladder.
Pratyahar – this is to get a better control of our five senses. We often tend to abuse our five senses. We overeat, oversleep and overdo lots of such things. So Pratyahar or the fifth step is to try and control our five senses rather than them controlling us.
This is rightly managing the senses and going beyond them instead of simply suppressing them. This helps to concentrate on meditation better.
Dharna– Having attained the fifth step, now your mind is not going in all different directions. It will start to come to one point. This is the sixth step called Dharna. A sense of concentration. It involves developing our power of concentration.
Dhyan– After Dharna, you are prepared to do meditation for a long time. This takes you to the seventh step called Dhyan. This is where you are single pointedly focused. There are many ways to meditate as per what suits you. The previous limbs help to achieve the preparation for meditation.
Samadhi– when you’re in meditation for a long time it takes you to Samadhi, which is the eighth step of yoga. This 8th step Samadhi is explained in numerous ways. In general, it is that spiritual state which gives you the first hand experience that you are not this body nor are you this mind but you are one with the spirit.
Going up the steps. mind goes from chaotic to calm and in the process we do our social duties in the step one and gradually move from outside world to more and more inwards. Not that I do this all the time I fail multiple times but then I keep going up to the first step in an attempt to climb up again. Patience is the key.
It will fill your lungs with oxygen, body gets stretched, relaxed and stronger. It motivates you to self-care and social duties. It empties your mind of trash and fills it with positivity and hopefully more clarity.
I would like to end with a quote from Swami Vivekanand, a spiritual giant who introduced yoga to the western world
Talk to yourself once a day, otherwise, you may miss meeting an excellent person in this world. Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.Swami Vivekanand
It was his message to the world to get out of their hypnotised state of mind.
By Rachna Sharma
These first days after the easing of the lockdown in England coinciding with the unfurling and blooming of nature in spring and the Easter break hopefully marks a turning point bringing the promise of new activities and easing of social restrictions.
From 29th March, changes to the Covid regulations in England will mean some limited relaxation of the current rules around social and outdoor activities. However, it is imperative to emphasise the need to be responsible and careful in the way we carry out these activities. Needless to say that evidence stacks up that it is safer for people to meet outdoors rather than indoors, however, outdoor gatherings have to conform to the Rule of 6 or two households. Even outdoors we need to avoid crowding places and keep social distancing.
There is more guidance available on the Plymouth City Council website: https://www.plymouth.gov.uk/coronaviruscovid19information
A very warm and luminous greeting to you from the editor’s desk this spring time; I pause to breathe in the beauty of this annual changing of the seasons. Every year, it comes, and I know it will; yet it never fails to amaze me by its promise of welcome changes, new life and energy, longer and lighter days. Poets have over the years sought to capture its meaning signalled through the many changes which we all see and experience around us. Their words have evocatively captured their interpretation of the beauty of spring when nature bursts forth into fresh beginnings.
The following words have been penned to accompany the photographs taken by fellow Trustee and friend Professor Awadhesh Jha.
Magnolia trees burst forth into flowers almost on cue“Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Written at Grasmere (From 1st January 1802 to 8th July 1802)” in Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. I (of 2), by Dorothy Wordsworth, edited by William Knight, London: Macmillian and Co., Ltd., 1897.
Branches profuse with their waxy furry,
yet so soft buds. Oh! so many, not few,
The leaves will come much later in a flurry.
Their flowers in shades of white and pink and rose,
Star or lily shaped, or saucer-like their decadent flamboyant petals.
Their smell wafts in the pleasant evenings. Calm repose.
Reminding us of memories past, together for events specials.
The genus, so ancient bequeaths resilience
We too for surviving must have patience.
Yellow, the colour of spring so full of charm and grace fills our beings with life and energy. Yellow with that dhani shade of green (colour of wheat plants, we can call it spring green) beckons, enriches and nourishes from the fields and pathways, around houses and corners. Yellow forsythias bloom so richly, never a leaf edges in in their riotous blooming. The hedges of orange glow pyracantha Firethorn reminding us of the warmth of the sun are a sight to behold.
The daffodils, narcissi in their shades and hues and plumages are there everywhere, by the roadsides, in the roundabouts, in the fields and the gardens. Gracefully swinging and nodding in the breeze, dancing to their own magical, celestial beat. Tantalising beauty, filling us with hope.
This brings to mind the famous poem by Wordsworth I wandered lonely as a Cloud.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…
This beautiful evocative poem was inspired by a walk William Wordsworth took with his sister Dorothy, who was a poet and a writer herself in the Lake District. Dorothy’s journal entry describes the walk:
It was a threatening, misty morning, but mild. We set off after dinner from Eusemere. The wind was furious.….The wind seized our breath. The lake was rough. … we saw a few daffodils close to the water-side. We fancied that the sea had floated the seeds ashore, and that the little colony had so sprung up. But as we went along there were more and yet more; and at last, under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and above them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow, for weariness; and the rest tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing.Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Written at Grasmere (From 1st January 1802 to 8th July 1802)” in Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. I (of 2), by Dorothy Wordsworth, edited by William Knight, London: Macmillian and Co., Ltd., 1897.
Dr Smita Tripathi
SAaS Newsletter Editor
I have asked myself what insights and solace can poems offer us during this time of fear and contemplation, self-isolation and silence. Such thoughts pre-occupy me as I go for my daily ramble amongst the bramble and other such fauna. We are among the lucky ones who live in the leafy suburbs and picturesque South West with plenty of room for strolling around the neighbourhood, and within a few miles of the South West Coastal paths and the Moors and surrounded by so much natural beauty and an abundance of walkways. It will take more than a few lockdowns to explore them all.
Simon Armitage, the UK’s poet laureate has written about the consoling power of the art form in times of crisis because it “asks us just to focus, and think, and be contemplative”. His poem Lockdown recalls the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Eyam in the 17th century when a bale of cloth wrought havoc when it brought fleas carrying the plague to Derbyshire. He refers to the epic poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa, and captures how an exile sends reassuring words to his wife in the Himalayas via a passing cloud.
On a similar note, I am reminded of creative exuberance and skills revealed by budding writers-poets in our community who took part in the Talent Competition last year focusing on the Covid theme. We plan to share excerpts of shortlisted entries over the new few months with our members. We are sharing 3 such entries this month.
Charu Sharma in her evocative poem A Dazzling Piñata With a Ray of Hope used the Haiku style to great acumen
Corona, an invisible greedy eagle, swooping down to hurt its prey
A booming cannonball yearning to explode with illness
A shooting star that fails to grant people’s wishes
A balloon bursting everyone’s happiness
A rising sun, seeking to evaporate the dark clouds
A dazzling piñata to burst with a ray of hope
We shall all fight this together
Soon, the menacing dragon will vanish off the globe
We have to be patientCharu Sharma (U13)
Do your part and help in allowing this pandemic to end swiftly
Corona is just an infection and won’t last much longer
But certainly will create a story to remember forever
Anvi Purayil penned the Ghost Town, truly portraying fear and emotions of what is happening and has expressively and imaginatively used the epic format to her credit.
The bustling city streets are now quietened, the railways muted and now the loudest noises are the hushed whispering of the trees telling secrets to one another.Anvi Purayil (U16)
Families imprisoned in rows of the same houses. Even windows can’t show you what’s going on inside. Fear, loss and pain surrounding what used to be a city, region, nation – world.
Suppressed and silenced the world is a ghost town.
What a graphic and true exposition of the deep isolation and the many-hued silence that has come to prevail in our communities haunted by death and Covid 19. She goes on to express hope with new beginnings in sun and light-filled world.
After a cold harsh storm, the skies will clear the rain will stop to a drizzle and the sun will always come out stronger, better and, with a rainbow.Anvi Purayil
Adit Sobti penned down his A Ray of Hope! which goes through the gamut of emotions accompanying the pre-, during- and post-crisis phases. The poem strikes a poignant and sombre note with a child in a family who is caught up in the throes of the pandemic and with hope awaits its passing into joyful dawn.
The children had time with friends,
They loved lying in bed!
Mother and father don’t worry about things,
There was too much good everywhere!
Now, mother is ill,
Children try to manage dirty washing.
Strange things worries us tonight,
We believe soon its stop!
Wish medicine could do us good;Adit Sobti (U10)
Possibly, throwing enormous worry off soapy-water.
How pleased to see that night had finished,
Lovely faces shone with joy!
Dr Smita Tripathi
The Year 2021 lies ahead, a blank canvas; we each have a duty and an opportunity to craft and shape it. Happy New Year one and all. I do hope all of you had a festive Christmas, a relaxing break and used the time to celebrate wisely and sensibly.
As we look ahead, I wonder whether we would ever truly put the year 2020 behind; and begin to look beyond the unprecedented virus that rampaged and still continues to do so, bringing so much angst and misery in its wake. Almost 90 million cases and 1.9 million dead worldwide (JHU dashboard on 9 January 2021). These figures appear surreal except that each death impacted upon families and communities and left grief and pain in its wake. But unsolicited with this thought, comes another of hope and opportunity, of collaborative working and shared struggling, of wisdom and reason rearing its heads when all seems to be almost lost.
This Christmas was different, with many of the usual activities of December missing or unlike previous years, I kept away from them. I missed the school nativity plays, the Carol service, the planning of get-togethers, catching up with friends and family. It was strange indeed; we did most of our meeting and shopping on-line and we were no longer travelling to meet family. We were restricted in what we could do and whom we could meet. Perhaps this gave us time to focus on the essential message of Christmas and what it stands for. In Aretha Franklin’s soaring voice I can hear her sing,
The real and true meaning of Christmas.
The birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
More on Christmas celebrations later in the issue where we also have Louise, many of us know her as Muskaan sharing her reflection on Christmases past in Benares.
I missed, how I missed the big gathering around the round table, over-flowing with food, with additional chairs and placements and so much laughter and gaiety. The long-leisurely meals and conversations interspersed with copious amounts of drinks of all varieties (and we do have Kombucha-drinking healthy people in our midst), and the ever present 1000 pieces jigsaws that we ardently completed in record time figured in Zoom talks and FaceTime rather than happening in reality!!
The mid-morning walks were confined and seemed not as much fun. In earlier years, they were looked forward to, an essential part of preventing that slow insidious increase in girth accompanying all that culinary experimentation and mirthful banter as we explored Ottolenghi, Tamimi, Sodha or tried the latest cooking guru’s fads or kept up with the tastes and dietary requirements of family members ranging in age from 15 to 76 years. These meals were occasions to cater to vegetarian, pescatarian, protein-rich meat-loving, leafy seeded Mediterranean desires and of course all things Indian or rather Asian. Over the years we had perfected the menu crafting system wherein requests for dishes were taken in the morning and voted upon before being approved for cooking the next day with designated chefs and sous chefs putting themselves forward. And then the rule, no dish could be cooked twice as otherwise, we would not have the time to try out everything! We have enjoyed these family gatherings and taken them so much for granted! Never again. Not sure when we will be able to travel for these get-togethers leaving behind the haunting fear and anxiety – have I carried an unscrupulous virus unintentionally?
It is clear that such holidays or skiing trips and walking holidays and being thrilled by moonlight falling on the Taj at Agra will happen, hopefully sometime in 2021 or dare I say the next year. But some things would have changed: social distancing, not shaking hands or hugging and keeping these for very close family or friends and greater incorporation of hand hygiene and perhaps mask-wearing. All of us wait for our turn with the vaccine and hopefully it will mean an end to some of our restrictions as more of the world gets vaccinated and there is greater herd immunity. Meanwhile we have beautiful memories and we can prepare our repertoire of treats to cook when we get together again.
Though it is winter, and becomes dark so early, yet, once you are out there, ever ready for rain and wind, it is beautiful and serene and not crowded. In the winter, the birds are far less territorial, other than the robin. Once I spotted a woodcock very close to Morrison’s sitting very quietly on the ground and relying on its plumage for camouflage. And, I am forever looking out for the more exotic visitor from Scandinavia, the Waxwing among the berries in rowan and cotoneaster trees. Just like the Robin, I so associate this bird with Christmas. These birds and of course all of nature tell us, “come outside! Take a Walk”. The Romantic poets were great walkers; so much of their poetry is full of the beauties of nature and the walks they took. I am sure there is some close connection with walking, rambling and writing poetry. And on those days when the weather is too inclement, I am pleased to sit huddled and look out of my window and see crows, doves, pigeons and sparrows, or even a sparrow hawk.
This juxtaposition of death-fear and hope has been so real throughout the months where the Covid 19 took over our world and though we have not one but several vaccines, it is still managing to keep one step ahead with its mutant variations. It is not yet ready to be dusted into the closet of history despite several Herculean collaborative efforts that have resulted in the rolling out of various vaccinations around the world. I do hope we will remember this and continue to take heed and all precautions. As the Government website warns us:
Roll on 2021, we are prepared and will sustain.
Keep creating, keep safe.
Dr. Smita Tripathi
Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee
by Louise Anderson
Christmas is one of the biggest Christian festivals and in South Asia, it celebrated by Christians as well as non-Christians. Though celebrated traditionally on the 25th of December as the birthday of Jesus Christ annually, this is something that is itself not mentioned in the Bible. The year of His birth has been hotly debated and ranges between 7 BC and 2 BC. The word Christmas comes from the union of the two words ‘Christ’ and ‘Mass’, meaning the day the Mass of Christ is held and marks the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Somewhere in the 4rd Century BC, Pope Julius I officially declared that the celebration of the birth of Jesus would be on the 25th of December. In India Christmas is celebrated by all Indian Christians traditionally and is accompanied by attending the mass at church, and celebrating with family and friends. The festive cheer prevails in homes, markets and shops which are decorated and lit with the Christmas tree as an important feature.
Like much of 2020, Christmas was very different for us all this year. In some ways, it reminded me of my first “Indian Christmas” in Varanasi/Benares in 2002.
December 25th was a very ordinary, misty North Indian day. Walking the streets, with a shawl wrapped tightly around me against the chill wintry air, it felt like any other winter’s day. No one else seemed to have noticed that it was one of the most special days of the year. No Christmas trees or special food. No parties or candlelit carol services. A very ordinary business day stripped of all the traditions I had known growing up in England. It felt very strange, this my first Christmas in India.
My sadness at what was missing however was quickly replaced by a realization that the slate had been washed clean and I could start to celebrate Jesus’ birth without all the trappings; that I could begin new traditions focused on the true meaning of the festival. I could start again celebrating the birth of my savior, the one who came to bring Moksha (salvation) to ALL peoples, in the simplest way. What would it look like for my husband, our adopted Indian family and I to celebrate Yeshu Jayanti, on the roof of our home overlooking the Ganges, devoid of western traditions but rich with its original purpose? That simple, stripped back to the basics Christmas still has very special memories in my heart.
From it grew new traditions. Local youth performing a nativity amongst the mango trees in our garden with a bright star beaming from the rooftop above. A huge crowd of neighbours gathered around a simple wooden “chaukee” stage as darkness descends. Our friends’ tiny baby playing the part of the infant savior. Friends and neighbours dropping by for “Christmas cake”. Simple Christmas family pujas. Hindu Yeshu Bhakta friends worshiping together using their own special Christmas bhajans. The King of Kings who chose to be born in a simple stable rather than a palace, being worshiped simply in a very beautiful South Asian way.
Almost 20 years later, things have changed a lot. Traditional Benares now buzzes with Smartphones and ATMs. Santa hats and fake Christmas trees hang from shop windows and pop up street stalls. Whatsapp messages send Christmas greetings in every South Asian language. And Christmas is celebrated by people from a wide variety of faiths and traditions – or at least the western trappings have been embraced.
Barradin – the big day! The longest night is over; dawn heralds the start of days getting longer and brighter. It is unlikely that Jesus was really born on December 25th, but for centuries people the world over has chosen to celebrate the birth of their saviour and lord on this auspicious and meaningful day of the year. Many traditions have grown up over the centuries and it is a wonderful opportunity to fill the cold and barren winter days with light, joy, peace and celebration. However you celebrated in your pared-down Christmas this year, I hope it brought you back to truly consider the “reason for the season”, as it did for me all those years ago in beautiful Benares. This Christmas, Zee TV launched a new series called “Yeshu”, which explores the life of Jesus in a contextualized South Asian way. If you can access it, I recommend it as a great way to explore the story of Yeshu Jayanti/Christmas afresh. It may not be 100% biblically accurate but it gives a great insight into the story behind this great festival that is celebrated all over the world.
Our war against the Coronavirus remains unabated. This war has brought in unprecedented and quirky changes: the novel and stylish addition to our wardrobe through the ubiquitous masks. We see the emergence of a new evolving on-line culture with its own new norms and correlated expressions of identity, social etiquette and social skills. I am fascinated by the new types of everyday practices that are mushrooming as virtual work, zoom meetings and online communication become more prevalent. We need to be building a repertoire of new social skills for the new media within the new normal! When should one raise a hand rather than blurting out one’s contribution? Or, how often should one go on typing out messages in Chat? The emerging etiquette is still evolving within the boundaries of online hierarchies and may consider or reject other sensitivities.
Colourful, printed, embroidered and matching masks represent an opportunity of expression not only for the fashionistas and style aficionados but also for those who like me have not yet mastered the art of online retail clothes therapy. The masks with their patterns and colours are amazing – polka dots and paisleys, tartan and pleated with three or two layers; the range is enough to satisfy the most finicky and discerning tastes. On a more serious note, the many acts of kindness that we have heard of, and seen, during these unprecedented times have the magical power of a rainbow across the rain-lashed skies that never fails to lighten our spirit and infuse us with hope.
Keep hoping, keep smiling and stay safe
Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee