One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 was to write a bit more.
I had originally envisioned writing about reflections from the pandemic, resuming family travel, learnings coming out of an unusual year….favorite pandemic streaming shows. But all of those topics got pushed to the side in the last two weeks given the recent events in India.
For those who haven’t kept up, India is undergoing a second wave of Covid-19 infections that has completely overwhelmed the country’s health infrastructure. The stories and images are heartbreaking to say the least. This will undoubtedly be the single largest humanitarian crisis in India since the Partition of India in 1947. I’ve tried to reconcile how exactly this all happened so unexpectedly. I’ve also dug in to try and see what the greatest needs are and how I individually (and all of us collectively) can have the most short and long term impact on helping alleviate the crisis at hand. Finally, I think we must remember that even if the Covid-19 crisis is quelled over the next few months there are longer term issues around a potential economic crisis and mental health epidemic that must be addressed before they end up exacerbating an already debilitating crisis.
“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”
— Mark Twain
My parents emigrated from India to the US (by way of Canada) in the 1970’s. We grew up truly a bi-cultural household absorbing the incredible traditions and holidays of American life (Christmas, July 4th, Thanksgiving…….National Ice Cream Day) while also maintaining many of the cultural traditions of India (Diwali/Deepavali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi).
I also had the fortune of going to India every 12–18 months from the time I was born and even starting my career working in India after graduating from UC Berkeley (more on that in a later post). It’s hard to really describe India for those who haven’t visited. The great writer Arundhoti Roy once described India by saying “India lives in several centuries at once.”. You see in the villages the throwback to agrarian roots and lifestyles that have been slower to evolve than the typical post industrial society. In the cities you see the effects of digitization and urbanization combined with ever evolving movement between social classes. And in the towns you see a hybrid of both — a desire to create upward trajectories for those seeking greater opportunity while not losing out on the things that make India so profoundly unique. I had the blessing of being able to experience all of these through the many trips I took that ranged from spending time in the largest Indian cities (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru) to the smallest villages in Odisha (where my parents hail from).
The most salient memory that has lasted throughout the decades is one of community. There is a deep ethos around collective responsibility. Indians know that politics are to be followed and debated but beyond this mutuality is to be expected from those around you. The concept of neighbors is quite different — doors are left open, food/drinks are exchanged daily and there’s no real barriers constructed. Which is why this is such a difficult time for the 1.4 billion people that live in India (and hundreds of millions of Indians around the world).
The idea of a quarantine is so…….un Indian.
It’s not a surprise that the largest social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snap, etc.) have some of their highest usage in India. It’s an extremely social culture with a desire to consume plenty of media (in any and every form) both in analog and digital formfactors.
Even though my parents left India 40+ years ago and I was born here (as a proud American), not a day goes by without both being appreciative of the greatness of the US while also remembering the cultural heritage that’s a core part of our identity.