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:

Dr Smita Tripathi

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

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. Out attempt is to provide a platform for community members to share their views, reflections, and opinions through our website.

‘Maa’, why aren’t I white?

“Maa, why aren’t I white?” I asked, 5 years old. It wasn’t something that I had ever thought about until another child had pointed it out. It didn’t make sense to me, because in my mind I was just like everyone else – I was white.

Having had very few brown people around me, except my family, I didn’t realise the subtle effect this has had on me. It wasn’t until I went to university that I was truly confronted with the reality of it. The sudden diversity that I was thrown into in London, gave me unprecedented volumes of comfort and relief. That I could blend into the melting pot of races and cultures. That I was no longer one of just a handful of BAME students in my school, but one of a larger number. That I no longer felt I had to represent both myself and my entire culture to others – I could just be myself. That I now had many brown friendships, where we have a shared understanding of experiences as second-generation immigrants that didn’t require constant explanation.

Only now have I reflected on the experiences I had growing up in Plymouth and how they have shaped me into the person I am. Fortunately, outright racist comments or acts committed against me – like local teenagers throwing stones at our house, to the man behind us in McDonald’s loudly announcing that we should “go back to where we came from” – were few and far between. I consider myself incredibly lucky, as I know that this isn’t the experience of many people of colour in this country.

Microaggressions made up the majority of my experiences. Being made fun of for having a ‘moustache’ in primary school, to strangers asking where I “really come from”, to teachers constantly mispronouncing my name despite my corrections (or sometimes just coming to my name in the register before exclaiming “I’m not even going to try and pronounce that”). I’d be lying if I said all these things didn’t have an impact on the way I thought about myself and my culture. For years, I was ashamed of being different – being embarrassed to wear traditional attire, to speak to my parents in Hindi in public, or of my parents’ Indian accent. Much of adolescence involves a desperate desire to fit in, and being of a different race to the majority makes it so much harder to do so.

It wasn’t just the local community that affected me. Just switching on the TV, or reading books, or in films – it was rare to find a British brown girl. Representation in media matters because it reflects our society. If you aren’t represented, your society does not value you. A certain cognitive dissonance appeared particularly in my former years, where I simply didn’t believe that my skin was that dark. I had subconsciously subscribed to the eurocentric beauty ideals that I had been surrounded with. Even in later adolescence when I eventually did recognise my features as being different, I couldn’t see the beauty in my dark complexion or my thick eyebrows. It is only in recent years that I have begun to try to undo that damage. To become proud of my culture and heritage, to admire the bravery of my parents who uprooted their lives in India to move across the world to a country that was likely much more intolerant then than it is now. I have decided to love the richness of my skin and the features which I have inherited from my ancestors. I still have a lot of work to do, but I believe my journey of re-engaging with this part of my identity is still only just beginning.

Miss Anjali Jha

Medical Student

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. Out attempt is to provide a platform for community members to share their views, reflections, and opinions through our website.

Life and thoughts under the Pandemic

We grapple on, from our homes and the frontlines with this invisible (more on this later) yet deadly threat amidst us. In this scenario, I was asked to put pen on paper and write the next newsletter to the members, friends and well-wishers of our South Asian Community– to capture some of the emotions and feelings that we are going through. And, to solicit support for our charitable endeavour for the Food Bank by letting your latent talents and artistic gems rise to the fore by participating in our interesting Art and Talent Contest.

The words that we use to describe this current global challenge are woefully inadequate: invisible – hardly so, it has left in its wake crying and suffering people; unprecedented – how can we have forgotten the Spanish flu of the last century; bizarre,  disturbing, shocking, terrifying are similarly insufficient to capture the blow it has dealt to different levels of society. I just have to think about my graduating students who face an uncertain employment market and the South West that we live in, so reliant on tourism and hospitality, facing a sunny summer with lock-down and social distancing.

Now more than ever before, we need to stand and support one another and be pro-active in our own ways in lending that helping hand. Find details of the Food Bank and how your generous donation will help people across the city.

The Thursday clapping has turned our thoughts collectively to those who are on the frontlines of this battle. We acknowledge and applaud the appreciable work the doctors/nurses/health care professionals wage on the frontlines. Our thoughts turn as one to the hospitals pushed to their limits, the toiling supermarket employees working to keep the essentials flowing, country after country on its knees fighting this silent lurking virus on a warpath.

You don’t need to open the television or hear the news to realise how people are suffering. The people who have run out of money or business, who are relying on food banks more than ever. Then there are those too tired to do their shopping after a long day at work or even too tired to eat – working long shifts at the hospital, care home or ensuring other essential services go on uninterrupted. It is painfully sad to hear of the death of health care workers – so many from our communities are on the frontline. Thursdays evenings are a day to look forward to – a small but mighty expression of solidarity and appreciation for those on the frontlines of this war. I have seen people come out with cymbals and bells and the good ole pot and spoon!

Last night we opened our front door and stood on the doorstep and clapped. Our claps resounded up and down the street and I could hear horns blaring and a few crackers blasting off around the city. The neighbours were out in full force – we were acknowledging and applauding everyone who works in the NHS, the carers whom we rely on when we are sick, those on whom we turn to in our illness and for our essential services. Who is looking after them, I wonder?? Who is making sure that their needs and their safety is a priority?    

When will we appreciate the fundamental interdependence of our existence in this world? We are so reliant on the health system and on the retail and care sectors, the refuse and bin collectors, and others like them. Most often we take them for granted. At least by opening our doors and coming out we recognise the intrinsic connections between ourselves and those you look after us when we are vulnerable.

I hope and pray that this enemy does not come knocking on my door and, if it does rear its head, we shall be ready to fight it tooth and nail like so many before us have and after us will. The things that distinguished our days—commuting to work, dropping our kids to school, discussing work issues over coffee with colleagues, bumping into people in the printer room—has been put on hold, time tends to take on a flat, seamless quality. Without some self-imposed structures, our days can feel a little untethered, our lives a little hinged. But the human spirit in each of us is there, creative, enterprising, full of resources and ideas; the sun is shining, and the birds are singing, and we shall together prevail.

Or, as Rumi has expressed so eloquently:

“Be patient where you sit in the dark. The dawn is coming.”

More from me next time.

Stay safe, stay home, stay curious and stay well! 

Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee

Eid Mubarak and Buddha Purnima

‘Eid Mubarak’ to all our friends celebrating ‘Eid ul-Fitr’. As we know, the festival marks the end of a month of fasting from dawn to dusk during the Holy month of Ramadan. ‘Eid ul-Fitr’ is the most important festival in the Islamic calendar and was started by the Prophet Muhammad himself. It is also known as ‘The Feast of Breaking the Fast’. Eid is celebrated with a lot of fervour and joy as people greet each other, pray and celebrate with family and friends. ‘Zakat’ or charitable giving is an important aspect of the festival. I remember sharing food at ‘Iftaar’ (Break of a fast)  with friends and partaking delicious food.

Like any other festival, Eid is a time for celebrating religious teachings, history, and community spirit. We wish our friends celebrating Eid ul-Fitr a blessed time during this Eid. Unlike previous years the festival celebrations have taken a very different turn under ‘lock-down’ and with social distancing in place.   

Vesak (Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti) is a Buddhist festival that marks Gautama Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. It falls on the day of the Full Moon in April or May and is celebrated worldwide by remembering the teachings of Buddha and offering prayers. This year it was observed on 6th and 7th  May, 2020. The dharmacakra or dharma wheel is a symbol often seen during Vesak – it represents Buddha’s teaching on the path to enlightenment. The eight spokes symbolize the noble eightfold path of Buddhism. Buddha’s teachings are truly relevant today as Buddhism in my mind is closely linked with meditation practices and with deep introspection which enables us to be mindful of nature, and to live each moment to its fullest.