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.

Annual Event 2020

Following our earlier communication, we have discussed our options during the AGM as well as in our trustee meeting following the AGM. In line with prevailing guidance, we have decided not to organise any face to face event this year. However, in these difficult times when we are increasingly isolated, it is ever more important to ensure we are socially engaged within and outside the community. 

In a true community spirit, we are in discussions to organise our Annual Event virtually. It will of course not be the same experience but we are hoping to make it bigger and better. Quoting Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity“. Through our annual event, we are usually able to engage between 200 to 400 community members. Organising such an event virtually will potentially allow us to engage with a much wider population in Devon and Cornwall. 

Please save the date 28th November in your diaries. Further information and details will follow in our October Newsletter in the last week of October.   

Trustee Board Update

This year we are delighted to welcome Dr Amit Dhulkotia as an associate Trustee. Dr Dhulkotia is a GP and an active member of the community who is keen to help progress the organisation as a value-based unit promoting further cohesion among communities through cultural exchanges.

Dr Smita Tripathi, Dr Satish BK and Mr Abihjit Ghatghe have now completed one year and are now full trustees of the Society. 

Following the AGM, in our first trustee meeting, the following changes to office bearers were agreed 

Chairperson – Dr Arunangsu Chatterjee
Secretary – Dr Smita Tripathi
Treasurer – Mr Raja Srinivasan 

Prof Awadesh Jha completed his 3-year tenure as chairperson and will continue as a trustee. The entire team wholeheartedly thanked Prof Jha for his tireless efforts in the last 3 years to ensure that we continue and scale our contribution and impact as a society. He has successfully raised the profile of the society and we have been recognised through a number of channels including the community award we received from the Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioners office. The trustees and wider members of the community thank Prof Jha once more. 

Supporting SAaS – Amazon Smile

As a charity, we have now signed up with Amazon Smile. For those who are not aware and if you shop on Amazon, it is a way for you to support our work and our ability to organise more events and activities in future. By following the steps below, you will be able to add us as your preferred charity. If you shop on Amazon, they will then donate 0.5% of all eligible purchases to us when you shop. There is no additional cost to you. 

Step 1 – Visit https://smile.amazon.co.uk/ch/1110925-0 and add us as your preferred Charity 

Step 2 – When shopping online, rather than visiting www.amazon.co.uk, please bookmark smile.amazon.co.uk and do your shopping as usual.   

Step 3 – On your Amazon mobile app find ‘Settings’ in the main menu (☰). Tap on ‘AmazonSmile’ and follow the on-screen instructions to turn on AmazonSmile on your phone.

That’s it. If you need any further information of clarifications then please feel free to email us. 

Many thanks for your support.

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

Nag Panchami & Raksha Bandhan

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

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

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

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

AGM & Annual Event 2020

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

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

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

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

A memoir worth reading: Poona to Plymouth

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

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

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

Poem by Dr Himanshu Sharma with its English translation

बदले की नहीं, बदलने की भावना हो’

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

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

people on road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Translation

Filled with desire for change, not for revenge

black and white wall mounted paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His article can be read here:

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