Art, reflection and the Covid

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.  

close up of heart shape
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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 patient
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

Charu Sharma (U13)

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.
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.

Anvi Purayil (U16)

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

Read the full writeup here

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;
Possibly, throwing enormous worry off soapy-water.
How pleased to see that night had finished,
Lovely faces shone with joy!

Adit Sobti (U10)

Article editor

Dr Smita Tripathi

Happy New Year – 2021

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!!

pexels-photo-5716784.jpeg
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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.

Best wishes

Dr. Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee

Christmas Or Barra Din

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.

man standing beside christmas tree
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

man on body of water
Photo by Ashish Kumar Pandey on Pexels.com

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.

Hoping that hope transcends this crisis: Notes from the Editor’s Desk

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

Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee

Ray of hope…healing hand for nature

Another day passes. The night is swallowed by the morning light. The days are smaller and British Summer Time has been swept back, left behind.  All around me nature goes on giving. Autumnal colours are at their peak. In the obvious gloom and despair which follows the rampage of this global pandemic, there appears to be a silver lining for Mother Nature. Unintended consequences perhaps, but nevertheless true; lockdowns and travel restrictions have ushered in a cleaner, less polluted airspaces, renewed interest in sustainable industries and a welcome positive focus on the ability of human beings to co-exist with nature. While the human toll relentlessly surges, killing more than a million people, nature is getting some respite – it is perhaps able to breathe more easily! The polluting haze has somewhat cleared as lockdowns, factory closures and other Covid 19 restrictions have led to temporary falls in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in many parts of the world.

Kingfisher

Oddly enough, there is either excessive anxiety about getting ill and possibly dying, or in sharp contrast, there is unhealthy denial and scepticism. Why cannot we be guided by nature and react in a healthy and sustainable manner? Accept the transience and fragility of life, yet take reasonable precautions for keeping oneself and others safe. This kind of positive and balanced outlook will go a long way in ensuring that humanity will emerge from this horror into a healthier, cleaner world. But we need to keep the pressure on and continue to have the required debates and conversations, keep the pressure on for green jobs and clean energy, balancing infrastructure, efficiency and sustainable futures. After all our collision course with nature probably brought about the pandemic. The Covid 19 crisis surely overlaps with the climate and biodiversity crises. For instance, all the infectious diseases of the recent past have come from animals – either wild ones or the livestock we farm in ever larger numbers to satisfy our demand for meat. So it is pertinent for us to keep a balanced perspective and demand a more holistic and equitable policy of sustainable public health that is in tune with the health of the natural environment.

Robin

When I think of nature, in all its bounteous charm and beauty (although danger too lies in its wings), autumn is special, for the magic, it weaves with its tana bana of colour and contrasts before the onset of grey and dark days of winter. I think too of another bird Neelkantha (the Indian blue jay or roller, Coracias benghalensis) which has relevance and significance for so many of the Asian cultures. And, that reminds me of the Kingfisher and the beautiful poem by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris so evocatively in their awesome book called The Lost Words. And, if you are thinking of buying a gift for someone you love, I can, and do recommend this book as a special gift.

Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker,

         river’s quiver.

Rainbow bird – that sets the stream alight with burn

         and glitter!

Dushhehra, Navratri and Durga Puja

Contributed by Drs. Amit Dholakia and Smita Tripathi

Navratri (literally nine nights in Sanskrit) is a religious festival from the South Asian sub-continent celebrated variously by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The festival is celebrated in the bright half of the month of Ashvin, which typically falls in September and October. It is vividly rich in thematic and content variations imbued with many diverse flavours unique customs, rich traditions and accompanied by medley of dances, songs and bhajans. Different parts of the sub-continent celebrate it variously; as manifested through the range of languages, foods, cultures, performances, rituals, celebrations and even attire associated with it. It is celebrated in Mauritius and Bali, along with other countries where Hindus reside. The diverse traditions and customs is traced back to regions and varied heritage, syncretism and unique path dependency of how the festivals evolved in the numerous regions and cultures. A very rich cultural – religious mosaic of events and rituals marks the unique celebrations and events. It is truly a special joyous exuberant opportunity to rejoice as expressed through the Sanskrit word Utsav (meaning to grow upwards) which is often used in connection with it. 

The worship of the divine Devi, Shakti or Goddess is another central theme of the celebration and acknowledges the significance and role of the feminine and the maternal in our cultures. The worship of Goddesses represented by mothers, sisters and daughters are an amazing feature of this festival.

The spiritual overtone of this festival includes a focus on relaxing, reflecting, turning inwards and recharging ourselves with new energy. It suggests how negativity within or outside can be conquered by the inherent goodness and positive qualities of an individual. Our minds are constantly inundated with all kinds of noises, emotions and externalities, bickering, arguing, and judging, and so on. The isolation and the economic – social ramifications during this pandemic has been huge; Navratri is a time to overcome these tendencies, emerge stronger and come together as human beings.

In Northern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

To celebrate a good harvest and to please the nine planets, women plant nine different kinds of food grain seeds in small containers at the start of the nine days and then offer the young saplings on the tenth day as a sacred offering. adoration

In the Northern tradition, another popular ritual is Kanya Puja, which takes place on the eighth or ninth day. On this occasion, nine young girls are dressed as the nine goddess aspects celebrated during Navratri and are adored with rituals and worshipped with offerings of food and clothing.

Dussherra is celebrated on the tenth day and is associated with the victory of the Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana. Ram Lila is a theatrical representation of the epic Ramayana (the Story of Ram) in play, song, dance and music over the nine days. The final day witnesses the victory of Lord Rama over the evil king Ravana (‘Vijay Dashami‘ day). The effigies of Ravana, and his two generals Kumbhakarna, and Meghnath are burnt to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

Dussherra is considered an auspicious time to begin educational or artistic pursuits, especially for children. The day often begins with a worship of our writing instruments, educational and work tools and a documenting of familial achievements in a family register. Ravana is worshipped on the morning of Dussherra, primarily because of his intellect, skills and prowess.  

In Western parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

The festivities in the West focus on communally performed dances, most famously the Garba and Dandiya, especially in Gujarat. These dancers wear elaborate, colourful, embroidered dresses. The dances are very energetic, exuberant and involve a lot of rotations, twirling and circling. They truly express the soulful and intense vibrance of Gujarat. Since it is believed that the Goddess is fond of red flowers and yellow colour, women and young girls prefer wearing clothes in these colours.

In Garba, women dance gracefully in circles around a pot containing a lamp whereas in the Dandiya dance, men and women participate in pairs with small, decorated bamboo sticks, called dandiyas in their hands.

In Eastern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

In Eastern parts of the sub-continent including Nepal and Manipur, Dussherra has its own variant and flavour as Dashian and is celebrated over fifteen days. On the 10th day a ceremonial Tika of yogurt, vermilion, and rice is applied on the forehead.   Another important aspect is the worship of God as Mother (Maa). Followers of the Goddess Durga/Shakti, celebrate the occasion as Durga Puja.

The central storyline of the victory of good over evil is staged in the clay statues produced for the annual festival of Durga puja. It begins with the shape-shifting buffalo-demon Mahisa, who tricks the Gods into granting him immortality with the proviso that he could only be slain by a woman, hence making him practically invincible. The Demon Mahisa then becomes a scourge, challenging and harassing the Earth and the Gods incessantly till they decide to fight back; they combine their energy, the light streaming out of their heads joined together to materialise as Durga, a woman of sublime beauty. Armed with divine weapons and riding a lion or tiger, Durga approaches Mahisa and using her wit, charm and brute force, eventually slays him in a dramatic showdown.

In the traditional puja representation, Durga is shown in the crucial moment of the fight, piercing the beheaded demon with a spear, while her two sons Karthikeya and Ganesa and her two daughters Lakshmi and Sarasvati stand supportively by her side. Lion/tiger signifies dharma, the will power, while the weapons denote the focus and severity needed to destroy the negativity in our minds and environment.

It is said that Shiva gave permission to Durga to see her mother for nine days at this time of the year and this festival also commemorates this visit. Therefore, this tradition enables married women to visit their childhood homes.

Dhunuchi Naach is an impromptu dance performed in front of Maa Durga by worshippers dancing with burning incense pots. They dance and execute tricks holding burning pots to the beat of the dhaaks which are perfect musical accompaniments to the frenzied movements.

Sindoor Khela is held on Mahadashami when it is time to bid adieu to Maa and is occasioned by ritual play with red or orange colour. In parts of the sub-continent, in sharp contrast to feasts, extravagant meals, and social get-togethers, the festival is a time for fasting and prayers.

In Southern parts of the South Asian Sub-Continent

The festival takes on regional colours and hues with a very wide range of celebrations and forms. In Kerala, Poojavaippu is celebrated as a festival of education and learning with a focus on children worshipping their pens and books – this marks the beginning if their educational journey.

In Andhra Pradesh the festivities take on a floral aspect with the nine days being dedicated to the Goddess Maha Gauri. In Bathukamma Padunga (literally meaning ‘Come Alive Mother Goddess’), women make floral stacks accompanied by fascinating floral dances and songs.

In parts of Tami Nadu and Karnataka, Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period. Its regional names /variations include Bommai Kolu in Tamil which means Divine Presence, Bommala Koluvu in Telugu or the Court of Toys and Bombe Habba in Kannada which means Doll Festival.

Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines during this period in parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Interestingly the dolls and figurines show every day scenes along with more religiously inspired divine scenes from the epics like Ramayana.

Spiritual Significance

The spiritual significance of the festival is rooted in meditating on the antar dhayan – the inner source of all energy. Through fasting, prayer, silence and meditation, the individual seeks an improvement in themselves – purifying oneself from within. This symbolic dhayan and manan, it is claimed causes one to emerge stronger and purer, it brings relief at the three levels of our existence – physical, subtle and causal. While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies the speech and brings rest to the chattering mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s own being. The essence of this knowledge is acknowledged by celebrating the tenth day as Vijay Dashmi.

The Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist or Islamic ways of life has since time immemorial advocated living in harmony with one another and with nature. The symbiotic relationship between an individual, their community and nature has come into sharp focus during this period of lockdown. The Hindu philosophy of interacting with humanity in a way that promotes universal prosperity to satisfy everyone’s needs rather than greed shines through in this religious celebration. Navratri is the time for you to realize that you are loved, and dwell and rest in this feeling of love. When you do this, you come out feeling stronger, wiser, rejuvenated, refreshed and harmonious.

The celebration of Navratri is in essence the worship of the one Divine existence who manifests in various forms and avatars. The supreme being is worshipped in various ways – all aspects of life and nature are worshipped during these days. Worship of this divine enables the victory of good, removes miseries, sorrows and pains; bestows peace, prosperity and joy on one and all. In the end, Navratri is really about praying for universal wisdom and a simple wish to reconnect with something much bigger than each one of us and the occasion is a tool that helps us do that.

With the blessings of the Divine, may each one of us be imbued with the blessings of the Adi Seer; May you have–

Ichcha Shakti – Willpower

Kriya Shakti – Power to perform right action

Jnana Shakti – Knowledge of right action

Eid- e- Milad un Nabi

The Prophet’s Birthday, or Milad un Nabi as it is commonly known in Muslim culture, is celebrated in many countries to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. It is celebrated in the third month of the Islamic calendar Rabbi-ul-Awwal. While the Shias celebrate it on the 17th of the month, the Sunnis celebrate on the 12th of the month, according to the Islamic calendar. The date of this festival varies in the Gregorian calendar.

The celebration of Prophet’s birthday is believed to have its origins in the 8th century when the Prophet Muhammad’s birth house was converted into a house of prayer by Al-Khayzuran. Al-Khayzuran was the mother of Caliph, Harun-al-Rashid. Originally, the festival was celebrated by the Shias. For centuries, the day was celebrated with animal sacrifices and huge processions during the day which culminated by a speech by the rulers. People celebrate it with offering prayers in the mosques and distributing food and alms to the poor. In some parts of the world, the festival is observed with large processions and a carnival-like atmosphere. There is an atmosphere of festivity and people exchange gifts. The mosques are decorated with lights and sermons are given to large congregations. This is a public holiday in most of the Muslim countries. The custom of celebrating the birth of the Holy Prophet on an enormous scale began in Egypt with the descendants of the Prophet, through his daughter Fatima. Gifts of honey in particular is a unique part of the festival. One memorable part of the festivities include the Sheer KhurmaSheer means milk in Persian and Khurma means dates. The sweet dish is made by cooking fine vermicelli, milk, dates, and other dry fruits until they all come together to make a delicious delight. Shahi Mutton Biryani, Hyderabadi Mutton Haleem and Peshawari Naan are some other delicacies that are enjoyed during this celebration.

What crisis can teach us about hope (and change): Notes from the Editor’s Desk

We are at war against a novel virus that has rampaged around the world causing devastation and distress to families and communities. This unprecedented situation has seen the health crisis morphing into an economic and social crisis. Angst at the overwhelming impact, the South Asian community has come together in a modest charitable act of giving for the Food Banks (more on this later on). In the midst of this virus-induced situation, hope rears its head time and again reminding us that profound, positive change is possible provided we act together in unison. So many resources and policy efforts are being channeled at finding ways to mitigate the virus; our hopes are buoyed by the progress on vaccines (very much in the offing) and medical knowledge, including testing and increased health care capacity. We have already started adjusting and fitting in with the ‘new normal’. We have mostly worked in a united, concerted manner to get the R0* down; this unity of action makes me hopeful. That, despite the big divisions that rift our society, we have been able to put our best foot forward and pull together as a society. We have learned more about how to manage the virus; we individuals have power and social responsibility that can make a difference. We recognise the kind of challenges there lie ahead and are getting ready for the predictive winter resurgence of the disease.

*R0, pronounced “R naught,” is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. It’s also referred to as the reproduction number. As an infection is transmitted to new people, it reproduces itself. https://www.healthline.com/health/r-nought-reproduction-number

Despite the rainy days since the school holidays began, I know that there will be sunny days when we explore the South West and go out and about. This is not wishful thinking! Like much of life, the dhoop chaaw (धूप-छांव translated from the Hindi to sun and shade), the ups and downs of life mean that despite the Covid 19 and its rampage, I have friends who are pregnant, who have secured new and exciting jobs, who have found partners and are walking in the Alps (of their minds) …life and love keep blooming and the shades of grey disappear in the gleam of the rainbow lurking behind the clouds.  

Newspaper and magazine editors are passionately writing about the learning being unleashed and the profound and positive change that is happening. We are hopeful, that hope exists along with the difficulty, uncertainty, and the suffering that lies ahead.   Before we go much further, I must make clear that the views expressed in the newsletter are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of SaaS. I also invite articles to reach me before the 20th of the next month at the following email: southasiansocietynewsletter@gmail.com. Let us make this collective resource a big success.

Nina Simone’s smoky rendering of Feeling Good reverberates in my mind as I pen off:

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Keep hoping, changing and smiling
Dr Smita Tripathi
Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee

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’

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