We still need to be responsible

light blue one use medical protective masks
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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

Census 2021

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives us a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales. The next census takes place on Sunday 21 March 2021.

Your answers to the census questions will help organisations make decisions on planning and funding public services in your area, including transport, education and healthcare.

You can complete your census as soon as you receive your letter, but make sure you answer about your household as you expect it to be on Census Day. If you complete your census early and the number of people in your household changes, please let us know.

The census should take about 10 minutes for the household questions and 10 minutes per person.

Spring, hope and creative endeavours

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
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.

“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.

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.

Photography : Prof Awadhesh Jha

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

What’s the Story Study – Serum Testing of Representative Youngsters

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust is researching a new way of surveying how well protected we are from infectious diseases by collecting blood samples from people who represent different groups across society. What happens in this study?

They are looking to enrol children and adults aged from birth to 19 years old.

  • There will be a single visit with a blood test. 
  • We will ask you some basic information including age, gender, vaccination history.
  • We will arrange to see you in a clinic at the Lind Research Centre, level 5, Derriford Hospital.
  • Participants seen in clinics will be offered £20 reimbursement in the form of a voucher for taking part in the study. If they are seen at home there will be no reimbursement.
  • Local anaesthetic skin cream would be used for children to reduce any discomfort from blood sampling
  • The whole appointment should take around 45 minutes.

Taking part in this research study is completely voluntary.  If you would like any further information please visit www.whatsthestory.org.uk or contact us by telephone on 01752 432447 or email on plh-tr.whatsthestory@nhs.net.

Register to trial

SAaS Youth Forum

We are exploring a proposal to set up a youth forum for the South Asian Society. A youth forum is an organisation run and developed by young people for young people. They exist to represent the views of young people at a community level, giving them the opportunity to have a voice, discuss relevant issues, engage with decision-makers and contribute to improving the lives of other young people within their communities.

The youth forum usually consists of members across age range of 11-18 years.

Youth Forum Benefits

  • develop greater self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • develop communication skills.
  • develop leadership skills.
  • develop organisational skills.
  • gain self-worth and inner strength to battle negative peer pressure.
  • develop winning attitudes
  • learning how to work with other young people.
  • build strong and lasting friendships.

The youth forum will strive to extend and expand on the core mission and activities of SAaS but with a new and independent outlook. This will also provide a route to represent in the regional youth parliaments improving integration and cohesion from a very young age while enhancing the overall contribution of SAaS towards the local communities.

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

Charity fundraising by SAaS youth

Continuing the efforts throughout this pandemic by the SAaS members, two young members of our community have raised over £1600

Sid

In the month of December, Sid Warrier trained and cycled 100 miles for supporting “Action for children” so he can help young children. Sid was interviewed by BBC Radio Devon. He said, “Over Xmas instead of asking my parents for presents, I would like to give something that can help the less fortunate children who need a safe place to live, healthy food to eat and can be cared for”. 

Swetha Pandy trained to complete a half-marathon raising money for St John Ambulance helping them to provide first aid training responding to their Emergency Appeal campaign for saving lives together. The weather was extremely harsh but that did not deter Swetha’s determination and she went ahead and completed the challenge.

Swetha

It is with this community spirit and effort from all parts of the society we will build a strong and cohesive future, overcoming the challenges posed by the Pandemic.

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!!

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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.

Virtual Annual Event 2020

The 2020 virtual annual cultural celebrations brought together the community at a very difficult time when social distancing and lockdown has been the norm. Despite the challenges, the event was as entertaining as in the previous years and was attended by over 130 remote attendees. The cultural event staged 16 colourful and heartwarming performances highlighting a wide variety of themes from South Asia.

The event was virtually graced by the Lord Mayor and Mayoress & Police and crime commissioner of Devon and Cornwall. Our sincere thanks to all the participants who were instrumental in making this event a huge success. We look forward to organising similar events in near future.  

Please see below a few “screen shots” from the virtual event.