In many parts of the U.S., we are seeing glimmers of hope, moments of our pre-pandemic life now well within our grasps. Sitting outdoors with a glass of wine at a restaurant. Running what once used to be boring errands like mailing a package at our local post office. Buying and swiping on some lipstick on lips that have been bare for almost fourteen months.
Our lives, which slowed down for so long, seem to be quickly speeding up again. While everyone else is moving more quickly, I feel myself moving more slowly. A very heavy weighted blanket of deep sadness and anger envelopes me. Because while everyone else is moving quickly, I can’t forget about India.
India is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. The country has become a war zone, attacked by an invisible invader, the coronavirus that is ravaging the nation. Approximately 4,000 people
are dying daily, and the total number of deaths is close to 300,000. And we know that these deaths are undercounted
. We have personally lost three family members in India to the pandemic. As many of us in the U.S. rush to take our masks off, India, and other nations, are holding onto their masks in a battle between living and dying.
As many of us in the U.S. rush to take our masks off, India, and other nations, are holding onto their masks in a battle between living and dying.
While I shed tears for India, there are moments I feel like a fraud. I cry for a country I have never lived in. I cry despite as a child wishing I wasn’t Indian, because the bullying from white kids was so incessant. I cry because I have done my very best to wipe away any hint of my Brownness in an effort to have a successful career in mostly white spaces and places.
And yet India is the country of my ancestors, my grandparents and my parents, and my in-laws. And India also belongs to me, my husband, and my children. In fact, India belongs to all of us.
And yet our relationship with India is a complicated one. We love all things Indian when it is convenient, when it benefits us, and when it suits our whimsy. And when it doesn’t, we ask people to assimilate at all costs and reject our Indian-ness, forget our Brown-ness, and leave behind all the small and big things our immigrant parents fought so hard to teach us and asked us to hold onto.
We Americans love Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. We hate Seema Aunty on Indian Matchmaker and also can’t get enough of her. We sip our chai lattes on our way to go and attend a hot yoga class. We proudly show off our henna tattoos. We know all the best spots to pick up dosas and mango lassis, and satisfy our cravings for our latest obsession, the Kati roll. We decided to start threading our eyebrows, our skin is now glowing from our weekly turmeric face masks, and who knew coconut oil could strengthen our hair and make it feel so soft, so silky.
We can cry every time we rewatch the movie The Namesake. We have a copy of The God of Small Things displayed proudly in our Zoom backgrounds. We recommend our dentist, Dr. Raj, to anyone who will listen because he did the most painless root canal. And just the sound of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s voice booming way too loudly on CNN will put us into a meditative trance.
We heard Satya Nadella speak at our company town hall on the transformation of Microsoft. We were in awe when Sundar Pichai shared that his father spent a year of his salary on buying his son’s plane ticket to the U.S. so he could start his education at Stanford. We have marveled at the success of Hubspot, Sun Microsystems, and Bose Corporation.
We beam about our trips to Bangalore, Jaipur, and Bombay to attend our former college roommate’s lavish wedding. We have pretty much the same 100 pictures on our iPhones of elaborate dance sequences at something called a San-get, the groom coming in on a horse, and more colorful and flavorful dishes than a small town could consume in one day. We have a gold statue of someone called Gan-esh who is supposed to bring good luck and more money. The elephant boy-man is proudly displayed on our mantle. We hope it helps us get promotions at work this year.
We Americans just can’t stop appropriating, celebrating, embracing, idolizing, and profiting off of Indian culture. We absolutely love India and can’t get enough- but only from a distance. And yet where is our love now for a nation we owe a great deal of debt to?
We absolutely love India and can’t get enough- but only from a distance. And yet where is our love now for a nation we owe a great deal of debt to?
Because quite frankly, the images of Brown people dying in the thousands on the streets are just too uncomfortable to watch right now. We have to stay off social media, just pause and decompress, and let’s please make sure we take care of our mental health. So we go back to sipping our chai lattes and watching reruns of Top Chef with Padma Lakshmi.
I can’t forget about India. I won’t. And I need all of you to remember India as well.
How can you remember India? How can you help with a humanitarian crisis happening in a place that seems so far away?
Give whatever money you can give to organizations like UNICEF and Oxfam India. Lists of organizations
to give to range from those who are funding breathing machines, PPE for frontline workers, and meals for those struggling during the lockdown.
2. Ask Others to Give
Friends have asked me how they can help. I ask them to give. Carta, my employer, pledged to match employee contributions up to $50,000 to organizations supporting pandemic relief efforts in both Brazil and India. Google, Amazon, and other companies are also donating. Educate others on what’s happening in India and remind them of the importance of giving.
3. Support Focusing on Mental Health
Carta also works with Modern Health,
a mental well-being platform. Modern Health offers therapy, coaching, and self-guided courses all in one app. For those of us struggling with what’s happening in India, Modern Health is providing Healing Circles
on Coping with COVID Crisis In India.
It’s an opportunity to join a Modern Health therapist and learn about common reactions during or after a stressful event, and to learn healthy methods of coping. If your employer doesn’t work with Modern Health currently, you can still attend a number of circles that have been made open to the public.
4. Check-In and Connect
Check-in with colleagues and friends who have been impacted by the humanitarian crisis in India, and in other parts of the world. Many of us are suffering from survivor’s guilt, where we feel like we have done something wrong as we get vaccinated and at the same time receive news that our loved ones have died without access to healthcare or support. The self-guilt can be overwhelming.
A co-worker started a meeting with me the other day saying, “Mita, I can’t imagine what you have been going through. How are you and your family doing?” I also received a text from a former team member I hadn’t spoken to in a year that said: Mita, I know you have family in India and I am thinking of you.
Those words mean so much. You might not get the words right and that’s okay. It’s the intention behind your action that counts.
So as you sip your chai lattes and watch reruns of Top Chef, please don’t forget about India. I know I won’t. I know I can’t.