India Today Women Summit 2015: BlogAdda

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
September 15, 2015
Summit

Also Cross posted here

It’s hard to miss the pressing talks on social media and amongst most younger individuals almost always revolve around women and how they are treated in society, or all talks ultimately lead there. Years of conditioning has left us in a pretty confused state of mind. Add the quick rise and the cultural shifts happening in society and the influences of diverse thoughts and opinions easily and widely spread due to technology and we have a potpourri on our hands.

There is a huge demographic that are still trying to understand that being born a woman is just being, and not of any quirk of nature leave alone their fault, and we have another demographic asserting their independence away from any and all sorts of patriarchy.

We stand at the dangerous cusp of having to uplight a large number of women to a point where they can actually think for themselves and at the same time, perhaps allow the other set of women to blaze a trail and occasionally look back to empower the ones who are still lagging behind.

The question posed was this:

“Do women want to be treated specially or equally? Do men know the difference?”

“I’m blogging for the India Today Woman Summit 2015 #WomenPower activity at BlogAdda.”

Stumbled upon this two days ago, and I actually was pretty confused with the question, on two different levels.

  1. The presumption was that women are either SPECIAL or EQUAL.
  2. We obviously care a lot about what MEN think about it and are questioning their intelligence.

Honestly though, I read and re-read the line and then without thinking too much, I read it aloud. It was around 5, and my daughter sat across me doing her homework while I sipped my very sweet chai (long story, another day).

“What? What did you say?”

“hmm.. oh nothing, I was just reading aloud from this site.”

“Show me!” she demanded. She always demands. 11 years olds think they are teenagers, ones with a knowitall flair. She peeked over and read it loud. Then she read it again, slowly. Then she looked at me wrinkled her nose, had the quintessential wide eyed confused look, and declared:

“So, they are asking if girls want to be special? Of course I want to be special!”

“Okay, so you pick special?”

“Yeah, am cool. I want to be special!”

“Okay, so special it is. Not equal?”

“Wait. Equal? Equal to whom?”

“To boys of course”

“Of course am equal! What kind of a silly question is that! I actually beat this new kid next to me in spelling, and probably can arm wrestle too. He’s kinda skinny.” She giggled.

After chiding her and pretending to be the good mom and tell her not to call other kids’ names, which she righteously denied, we moved on to the question again.

“Okay. Can you read this question again then? It says Special OR Equal.”

“Hmm.. so I have to pick one? I want to be both! Why can’t I be both?”

“Well, that’s the thing. Apparently you can’t. If we say that we are qual, then why should a boy treat you special?”

“That’s coz he is special too! We are all special, doesn’t mean one of us is less or not equal to the other?!”

“aha!”

“Like see mom” her tone went indulgent, like she was explaining division to a very thick headed number phobic mom, “Being special is by person. Being equal is like all girls are equal to all boys. Boys are just silly, they think they know it all, but most times, girls beat them, if we want to that is. They aren’t like stupid or anything. They are good at some things. Not all, but most. But girls are good at whatever we want to do. Some things are just boring, so we girls don’t care, but equal is not the opposite of special. Special is being kind. Being nice and making the other person feel good. Like see, Jeremy is my friend right? He picked up an extra homework sheet for me coz I was still rushing to finish my Worldy Wise, and Ms.M was leaving the room. That is special right?”

I stared back at her. Amused. Amazed.

So this was all there was to it, when you are 11 years old and in 6th grade.

As simplistic as that was, there was more than a shred of truth to it. Being special was personal, but being equal was more communal, a group, a belonging.

Zoey D

With that in mind, and while making dinner, I pondered. Different scenes and in different conversations popped into my head and I started looking at them from the viewpoint I was handed by my bright, unassuming daughter.

The buses. Public transportation. Do we reserve seats for the women still, like how I remember form back when? So should they not be any reservations because we women want to be treated equally, so whoever gets an empty seat sits? Would that make both genders just and happy? What if someone looks like they could use a seat? Regardless of who it is, would any one get up and offer their seat? Is that what “special” is?

I vaguely remember, as a young student, getting up to offer my seat to various folks. Older men/women, pregnant ladies and such. So being treated special was mainly a case by case basis, based on the situation, need and maybe even relationship?

I thought of work-life balance, of breaks in careers, of maternity leaves, or house husbands, of daddy daycares, of army enlistments, of difference in salaries, of learning basic survival skills and my head reeled.

..and then I wondered. Do we, women itself know the difference enough? Enough to not get enraged when a gentleman offers his seat or opens the door for us, or offers to pick up the tab for coffee? Do most of us allow such only because it suits us to be feel special? Or maybe it’s the tone and the undercurrents that decide if we accept such a gesture as a sign of being made to feel special or that we are a kind of wards and that they are “looking out for us”.

I like my dad looking out for me. I like my husband/son picking up the heavy suitcases off the baggage carousel. Doesn’t make me less of a person/woman. They sit back while I get the taxi guy going.

Reminds me of this incident recently. A friend and I were biking (cycling) and she was wearing a skirt (skort) and I was in leggings. An elderly gentleman was crossing at the pedestrian while we waited at the stop sign. He smiled and waved to us, as just as he crossed us, he looked at my friend and said “Biking in a dress, impressive!”. We just smiled back and she rolled her eyes at me and we were off.

At the next stop, she asked me this “So what did you think of that comment on my dress?”

“I donno, seemed genuine. He seemed impressed that you bike in a skirt/dress”

“Wasn’t that sexist in a way?”

“Normally I’d have said yes, but I am not sure, he just said it casually, appreciatively. It IS hard biking like we do in a skirt, I mean, I never do, and I think the ones who do are cool. So, maybe he was just complimenting you rather than talking down to you as a girl? No?”

“Maybe you are right. It’s just gotten so hard to distinguish these days. It’s easy to take offense and bristle I suppose, and there’s always that odd time when we do let it go and it turns into a nightmare that yanks at your eyeballs all night!”

“Haha, don’t overthink it. We’ve got enough on our plate on a daily anyway.”

..and off we went.

Maybe this is all too simplistic. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe each incident is different and has to be weighed based on our understanding and emotional intelligence. Maybe we are all standing at different intersections of understanding in different societies and culture. Maybe this ought be a lot bigger movement than we foresee to see visible changes in society, maybe even in the next generations to come. Maybe we have to start them young. Maybe we make small changes in how we speak, our tones, our choices in whom we offer what.

Maybe we all need to be educated, and not just the men.

anderson

Coz if we women don’t see the differences in how we are treated, and we like to be treated special AND equal, just like we would treat a man the same way. To raise a person up, we don’t need to pull someone down, unless of course they are on a pedestal, then yeah, pedestal goes.

Did I answer the question though?

I don’t know. I don’t know who can answer this and correctly and justly. But hey, we can try, coz when we try, we focus, which makes us pay attention, which only makes us think, which is how we can get anything done.

By thinking and then following it up with our actions.

 

Social Work Educator: Jayashree Nimmagadda

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
August 17, 2015
Jayashree social work

How many of us know an Indian woman who took a nontraditional career path? Makes you think for a minute right? Well, how about twenty five years ago? Unthinkable!  During the time when there were engineers and doctors flocking to the United States for their higher education , there was one woman who came here to study social work (yes it is a real profession!). We only hear about a social worker in the news when they are famous or when are protesting for a cause.

Here you have a person who is silently making a difference a several families every single day.

Meet Jayashree Nimmagadda:

A researcher and the Chair of the master’s program in School of  Social work at Rhode Island College, Providence. She is a mother of two teenagers, a veena player,an amazing chef and I have known her all my life, she is the coolest aunt ever 🙂  She has been a de-addiction counselor, mental health clinician for Centre for South East Asians (CSEA) , author of a children’s magazine and also a member of the board of trustees at her son’s school.

She and her colleague Dr. Melinda Gushwa recently received a half million grant from the Federal government for their project to train MSW students in trauma-informed care to help youth who are aging out of the child welfare system in the State of Rhode island.

 

Jayashree Social Work Educator

 

How did you get into social work?

I was born in Chennai , a brahmin girl who studied in a catholic school. Being a national athlete I was offered a sports scholarship by Stella Maris College to do a bachelors degree in Mathematics and Physics. But luck had it that my sports schedule did not gel well with the classes and the only course I could do with my hectic athletic schedule was BA Sociology. Following that,  I went on to do a Masters in Social Work in the same college the reason being we lost our trophy the previous year and wanted to retain the same team.

 That is when I realised this was my path. The first semester I did a project in the fisherman’s slum. I was amazed to see how the womenfolk of this community were so hopeful each day. They had drunk, abusive husbands and were not even sure of their next meal, yet their hope that their children will have a better future and the work they did towards it was very inspiring. I also realised how much mental health was a taboo and hush-hush in our society.

After that I read about National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) a prestigious institute for mental health in Bangalore. They take in only 12 students per year and I surprised myself by getting into it. As people say, rest was history.

 

You mentioned about how mental health is a taboo and hush-hush. How did your family feel about you being in this field?

It is interesting, the first job I got was at an Alcohol de-addiction centre. They were not exactly thrilled with the idea of their daughter meeting alcoholics everyday. My mom found it unacceptable for a smart, intelligent “brahmin” girl to be working with alcoholics and so they wanted me to write bank exams and get a bank job or any government job using my athletic quota. They did try convincing me many times.  But I had decided my career path and had no intention to do something else.

 

First job in a de-addiction centre! How did you feel about it?

It was a revelation for me. We would always associate any addiction like alcohol or drugs to lower income groups. I was born at a time when the enormity of caste was high in India. But I realized that alcohol levels people. Caste, gender, income levels, everything get thrown out when they entered our centre. It made me extremely compassionate towards people. It was immense joy when you knew you are making a difference in someone’s life – not just an individual but their family and community as well. There are times when people relapse but regardless I had hope every single time.

 

Whoa..that must have been intense. So tell us about your journey to the US. How did that happen?

Again, it was serendipitous. Two professors from US had come to our centre to give a talk. I engaged in a conversation with them after that. When I was about to leave one of the professors called me back and asked if I was interested in doing a doctoral program at his university. I did not know what to say. He gave me an application packet (it was still the non-internet days) and said he was leaving to Delhi that night and staying there for three days and if i was interested in applying I could fill the application and send it to him via overnight mail and he would take it back with him.

 

An application to be filled in 48 hours?? With personal statement etc..

Yes! Something unimaginable for students now right. But I did do it. I did not even have a passport at that time. I filled the application, wrote my personal statement and sent it over to him in Delhi.  I applied only to University of Illinois , Urbana Champaign and received an acceptance letter for the doctoral program with full financial assistance.

 

Wow! You must have been soaring ..

Yes I was. I was in my 20s, the “marriageable age” in India and my parents could not find any “match”. Every time someone asks about me, their initial questions would include my job. A female social worker , that too who works in a de-addiction clinic was not appealing. I was reaching my breaking point and this was the best out I could get to find my own life. It still exists. Social workers in India are considered as people who do volunteer work. People find it very hard to wrap the fact around their head that this is a career. Even after coming to the United States , all my fellow Indian students were engineers. When I said I was doing social work they would be like “What? “ and I would have to explain to them what I do.

 

Okay.. let me ask you the same question. What is social work and what do you do?

Social work is a profession that strives for social justice and uses a person-in-environment perspective.  As a clinical social worker, I listen to the presenting struggles of the individual in front of me, but also examine all other systems that this person intersects with; these systems can be family history, work environment, community environment and policies that impact them. Thus, any help/intervention will involve addressing the many systems that are identified. Social workers can work with individuals, families, groups, communities, organizations and also be policy advocates.

Since the 1990s I have primarily been an educator in the MSW program.  I love the classroom and enjoy teaching graduate students.  To be an effective educator, I believe that I have to be an active practitioner.  Since 2000, I have been a clinician/consultant at the Center for Southeast Asians, located in Providence, RI.

For research, one of the areas that I have focused on is to examine the “goodness of fit” of evidence-based models in social work practice with the Southeast Asian populations that I work with.  Most of these models are recognized as “evidence-based” on data collected from mainstream Caucasians.  I review interventions and look for ways to “indigenize” the intervention using my cultural background and local knowledge from my Southeast Asian colleagues.   For the past five years, I have also developed an interest and passion for inter-professional education.  This project is to bring students from different health professions (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work) and teach them how to work collaboratively as a team. The educational system teaches each of these professions in silos, yet, when they are in a health care setting they have to work together.

In fact, just this past week, our team (faculty from Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College) have been awarded a federal grant to bring our students together to learn about assessment and brief intervention with substance abusers.

 

You mentioned that when you started out you realized mental health was taboo. Has it changed now? Do you feel the asian community has become more open to it?

Sadly no. I find the majority still in denial. I have been called in by various school districts around the state to address mental health and even called to explain to individual parents. They refuse to seek counselling or help when they find their child has Aspergers or anxiety and the like. I once was called to explain to a parent about panic attack by a doctor because the child was brought to the ER and the parents firmly believed the child was choking.

 

What do you in these situations?

I try my level best to translate it to the parents and leave it open for them to decide what to do. It is a continuous process and we can only hope for changes.

 

How do you make sure you keep yourself motivated after such incidents?

The idea that I can get up everyday and make a difference in somebody’s life itself keeps me motivated. Be it my students, colleagues, patients..it is an honor to work with so many families.

Jay Nimmagadda Social Work

 

That is inspiring! Coming to your latest achievement, You have received a half million grant for your latest project. Could you tell me about it?

Sure. The grant is for a pilot program that trains MSW students in trauma-informed care to work with youth who are aging out of the child welfare system in Rhode Island.  Youth who are in the custody of the State age out of the system when they turn 18 years as they are considered adults and capable of taking care of themselves.  These children have experienced immense trauma and it is essential that we provide services that are trauma-informed.

 

Where do they go when they turn 18?

They are homeless. They either live in homeless shelters, relatives or maybe go back to an abusive parent. They rarely would have passed high school and even rare to have got into college. Some do find a job and try to live on their own. The majority have been traumatized and have no clue about their life.

 

So what do you do?

Through this project we have set up a certificate program in child and adolescent trauma wherein we train interested MSW students in knowledge and skills related to assessing and intervening with youth who have experienced trauma.  Concurrently, these students are then placed in agencies where youth who are aging out of the foster care system go for help.  Here our students can engage these kids in trauma assessment and treatment.  This is a win-win situation for all.  Students gain skills through their experience in working in the real world, and youth who desperately need services have an opportunity to access the same.  Social service agencies that serve these youth are grateful for our student help as they are often understaffed and unable to meet all the needs of this vulnerable population.

 

What is the future goal for this project?

The goal is to create new internship opportunities for our students, develop a workforce that is trained in assessment and intervention of childhood/adolescent trauma, and thereby impact the lives of youth who are aging out of the child welfare system.

 

Good Luck with the project, it sounds brilliant! What advice would you give any young woman out there who is toying with the idea of Social work as a career path?

You have to be really bold and passionate to enter into a non-traditional major. So I would say go for it if that is want you really want. Social work in the US is a regulated, licensed career like any other profession. The programs are structured in such a way that the students who graduate are knowledgeable and well-trained. That being said, you also have to account the fact that the monetary compensation is not at par with the other mainstream professions.

 

What kind of personality would best be suited for the kind of work social work entails?

Patience, innate empathy for others, willingness to look at the context of other peoples lives and being nonjudgemental. These are the basic qualities you need to think of social work as a profession.

 

I do have a final question for you. I noticed that your office door has a sign that says “ Social workers are nosy people who can’t mind their own business” – Theju, 8 yrs.

Hahaha! Yes.. that’s my son. He is 14 now. Everyone who notices that is amused. I guess he is right in a way. He used to observe me ask a lot of questions and that got him to write and post it on my door. Social workers ask a lot of questions, we seek answers before we go about our job. We are nosy but in a good way 🙂

Jayashree social work

Jayashree can be contacted for further discussions or questions regarding her work over email. 

***

This guest post is by Janani of Jan Doodles, who has done an excellent job of speaking, writing up and authoring this piece on a trailblazer. Thanks Janani! 🙂

Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
June 15, 2015
Sareana Kimia

Sareana Kimia catapulted to fame and became pretty much every DC Indian household’s topic of conversation when Washington Post ran an article on her over the last holidays.  The headline jolted each of us into paying attention and we all read of her. After recovering from awestruck admiration, we naturally shared her story around. The children were pulled up by parents, and the students in turn thought she was cool and brave for all that she went through and manages to keep at.

I was to speak with her a few months since, but somehow our busy lives could not get a breather enough to connect, and we played tag awhile and when I finally did, it was well worth the wait, and what an honor! Being a mom to teenagers, I’ve always admired the youth for their tenacity and the beauty of their innocent dreams and the passion with which they plunge forward!

Sareana’s face popped on my screen, she was really just another teenager (albeit a precocious one) with a smile that lit a thousand candles, and a laugh that was at once shy, unassuming and sure. I had done very little homework on her, just coz I wanted to hear first hand on what she had to say!1236175_247552748726239_989927615_n

With  an air of nonchalance studded with occasional escapades into her own mind and getting distracted with her work, just like any other teen, she conversed with me, on her interests, her life, vision, and her personal story that shaped her for what she is today.

Read on:

Continue reading Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

I Have A Dream

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
May 19, 2015
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Two posts. Two ladies, and two inspirations that I have missed bringing to this space here.

I dreamed up the questions, the curiosity and the excitement that came with finding an amazing woman you want to introduce to the world here. Twice. Even thrice.

Then I waited. Nothing happened. I asked again. Nudged. Gently. Then firmly. Then with the unbridled enthusiasm that is now become a characteristic. More silence happened. I didn’t give up. I asked again.

Silence does speak volumes.

Hesitation is loud. To offer doubt. Despite what are. The deer in the headlights look, and the incredulousness of the attention, and the misplaced embarrassment.

I fight it as much as I can. I plead. I cajole. I ask again, for the sake of many others, for the girls, for us, the members of the sisterhood that bind us together. In power and also in weakness, the one that I hope and valiantly believe that I can put a dent in. 
 The more times am turned away, the more I search. I search for little emblems of hope. For the stronger ones, ones who are not afraid of their power and their strength. I search, I ask, I get silence. I rinse and repeat.

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth

My bar is high. I can lower it just a smidgeon to allow more to walk in, but then again, do I want to? So I trudge on. Emailing, calling, asking for referrals, for ones worthy for the ordinary ones who bask in their glory, for the ones who are unafraid of their success and where they stand, ones who are giving. Coz to speak about yourself could require chutzpah, and some acceptance with a modicum of modesty, but it also requires a helping heart.

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Coz ultimately, not only are you a whole, but you are also a piece of the larger picture. The picture of the world that we as girls must see assertively. For the strength that we all inherently possess, and just haven’t been able to tap, for the power to make a difference, if we stood by each other.

..and I tell myself more times these days than before I started this little project of mine.

“If only ..”

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..and one day she will. Coz that’s what I set out to do, and I will. One day, there will be more girls and more women out there who will stand under the spotlight, with grace, pride and kindness as she inspires and holds her hand and her heart out to her sister standing just a wee bit below. To become the mirror that we all are capable of.

I have a dream. One day.

Meditation Coach: Pallovee Surana

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
April 20, 2015
Pallavi Surana

These days Meditation is everywhere. In print, on TV, at fitness clubs and yoga studios, and on Facebook even! Take a step back and wonder and it feels a natural revival of what this world today needs and what the society could use. There is just incredible stress, pressure and lives just don’t seem simple anymore. The more evolved we get, the more entwined we are, within ourselves. I believe, the tipping point of doing more, and living more has reached. It is the start of the beginning of when, we as humans are exhausted with all that we are doing, and the light bulbs go off. It takes a conscious effort to step back and take stock and well, that’s precisely what meditation brings on.

Today, you will meet Pallovee Surana. I met her exactly a year ago through a mutual friend. She conducts meditation classes in group setting. For her group of friends. Every Friday. In a complete unassuming way. With no expectation of any compensation or receiving for all the goodness and help she extends.

They say “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I was ready when I met her. She has helped me. Just as she has helped others, through her practice of meditation to lift that cloud in our head, and see what we are meant to see.

Inspiring and worthy for more folks to know of her and her work, this is her story.

Pallovee (Pallavi) Surana:

 

Pallavi Surana

 

Let’s start at the beginning. Where, what and how are you here in the US?

I was born and raised in Bombay (and Abu Dhabi in parts). Hindu family, went to a good private school. This is no your usual private” She giggles. “Film star kids went there. Twinkle Khanna, Hrithik Roshan and the likes. Neighbors were Raj Babbar and Vivek Oberoi. Was a great environment to grow up in for the kind of lifestyles that I was exposed to. Graduated with a degree in Architecture and well, married my husband (who was born and raised here in the US) and moved here to Florida.

So, how did this start? Do you remember when you started thinking along these lines?
Actually as a child, I did not believe in all this. In 11th grade, I had this sudden urge to find out answers to basic questions.. My life was good. Plush even. My father had a large successful construction business in Abu Dhabi. I had tons of friends, was doing great at school, known as Miss Abu Dhabi by friends, but I had to find out if all we were born for was to eat, drink, & die… or was there something more to life…
I remember having tremendous discussions with my father about philosophy & business management & principle centered leadership discussions about Stephen Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, Lee Iococca, Wayne Dyer& others… We had a huge library with tons of inspirational books. I loved principle centered living: living your life on the basis of principles because they don’t change. Everything else is transient.

Like Buddha! He had such questions when everything was going great for him too! Okay, so you just asked folks around you, and read up. Did life change in any way after you moved to the US?

At my in-laws, Jain scholars Visited us often. I started listening to their lectures, theories and it just started to make sense. Jainism answered a lot of my questions about the science and art of life. I was hooked. I just had to keep reading & pursuing. Meanwhile I read many religious texts, from the Bible to the Bhagwat Gita, To Mahatma Gandhi, Buddhism. So, if I had a question, I searched for answers regardless of where.

I followed Jain Sadhwi teachings as they changed my perspective from ego centeredness to soul centeredness and made sense in a crazy world.

Jain teachings eh? So this “meditation” as you call it is stemmed from those teachings?

Yes! I follow and teach the Jain principles and way of meditating and looking inward for your answers in a systematic way.

There is a systematic way to meditation? I grew up with a few Jain girlfriends and they did lead simple lives. I had no idea about this. Did you practice apart from reading? Back then, I mean.
Oh yes! We went through some challenges at that time, so I started meditating to change the energy patterns in my life. To my surprise I felt much better after I meditated & had greater clarity, less reactivity to things that were not in my control…I couldn’t control people or circumstances around me, but at least I could control what I felt. For at least a little while, I became less judgmental and was not attached to other’s behaviors. I think this was a major turning point in my life as I realized being a victim was my choice. I made my principle “Even if you think you are most helpless at least you can be of help to someone” based on that I started volunteering at the kids schools, adult literacy programs.

Would you call this a ‘journey’?

Honestly I didn’t know I had a journey, I was just busy living one day at a time. I just believed strongly, that if I gave up to the Divine will, things will be fine. The journey was shown to me. I had to figure things out and and I had epiphanies, ones that led me towards my purpose.

How did this teaching come about?

It started simply, as all things do. So, I started meditation in a family Jain class that we belonged to and everyone felt good. Soon some friends asked to learn meditation and I offered to to lead a session for fun & since then the rest is history as they say. History is 7 years or even a little more maybe..

wow! That IS a long time. It’s amazing how time flies when we focus and do what we are in tune with I suppose. So, what exactly IS meditation? We’ve all heard it, what do you think and why would you call yourself an ambassador of the practice?

In my opinion, meditation is a tool to quieten your mind. It is a vacation from thoughts that plague us, it is freedom from fear and loneliness. It is the strength to carry on in this crazy world, an anchor to realize that we are not alone on this path of life & that all the burden we have been carrying is unnecessary and needless. We are enough right here & right now! In fact we are perfect and our true nature is abundant happiness. We have to give up our attachment to suffering… learn our lessons from whatever comes our way & move into the knowingness that we are really and truly blessed. Everything that is happening to us or around us is an illusion, it is a hologram.

I see what you are saying, but to play devil’s advocate here, how can what happens to us, and our thoughts be anything but real. Good and bad happens to us, and we are not always in control of how we feel. We are swayed. Don’t you think?

Yes, but that’s the thing. The only true thing is our reaction.
Our reactions create positive or negative energy. If it’s negative energy, then that attracts more negative energy and before we know it, there is a spiral of negativity that can take us to the bottom of the whirlpool. It is crippling. The root of all problems is how we feel. That is the meaning of life. To remove that negativity, we have to reach our subconscious and reprogram it as all our behaviors are based on subconscious learning. Once that happens, we get clarity, change our thoughts into positive ones, and that’s how we attract more positivity. That’s also how we get (manifest) what we desire. Happiness.

What’s the most poignant lesson or words through the time, that has stuck with you?

Two things have stayed with me.  
The first was advice from Stephen Covey. “Begin with the End in Mind” How do you want to be remembered on your epitaph… This principle guided me to take the chance of bringing meditation as a tool for thought control, even before it became a buzz word, it gave me the strength to jump with my own intuition & start teaching.
The second thing told to me was, give up your attachment to the I. You are not the doer, it is done through you, you are not responsible, you are just the conduit, the catalyst, the Television that is broadcasting. I have lived by these principles & try daily to incorporate these in my life…

Do you actually practice these at home? Isn’t it a bit of a challenge to work with our own at home?

My philosophy has been actions speak louder than words.. To bring change & influence people, words are not enough, you have to live what you preach in your daily interactions. Charity begins at home and I needed to bring that same awareness to my family members, which was hard. I started practicing compassion towards any negative relationship & to my utter surprise people changed. It takes time, but they do.

Ive heard you use the word Preksha. What is Preksha?

2700 years ago, it was taught that “emotion over reactivity is the root problem in this world”, was very true and I could see first hand the application of this solution of Preksha or Perception in my own life. It was amazing! This is the journey of experiencing the realization. As awareness increases, intuition increases and this helps in making decisions!

That I can vouch for, yes. Ive been doing this a few months now, and I know there are changes I see in myself which has helped clear the fog in my head 🙂 So your classes are definitely something many look forward to. I see the ernest flocking, the acknowledgement of positive changes, and how much of a calm progress the ladies make with time. You must feel such a surge of emotions?

It has been an awesome ride and I feel blessed when I see my students or my fellow travelers light up with their own greatness… This surge of positive energy, keeps me going every week, and we succeed only if the other succeeds. We are in this together!

From being the worst critic, I am my own friend, I am gentler with myself & more forgiving & in that love & acceptance I am aligning myself more with my own greatness the divinity that shines within..

As you can tell, I recently started calling myself Pallovee because love is what brings us together and I bring love which is the highest vibration to every interaction.

Pallavi

I know! ..and I love it! It’s a lovely adaptation and even true to what you bring and share around you. Thank you! So this is your calling you think? Have you a vision of where you want to go with this gift of yours?

Thank you! My path. My path now is to be the best that I can be, bring compassion and cooperation and oneness to the forefront. I also want to create a program for the kids. I believe, starting this journey much earlier in life, will remove a lot of un-necessary stress and we are always looking to make our lives easier, sooner. Personal life coach, is another term that’s been thrown at me, and I have ventured into this knowing with assurance that I am indeed helping others.

Om Arham.

***

Personal discoveries are always interesting. Personal discoveries that help others discover themselves are even more interesting, and if we pay enough attention, inspire us to make something of ourselves. Ive started believing in slowing down and being conscious of my thoughts and listening to them since I started practicing. Maybe after reading this, you may want to try out Pallovee’s classes or one where you live locally.

Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed putting this together!

Kuchipudi Dancer: Kavitha Cheedalla

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
April 6, 2015
Kavitha Cheedalla

Classical dance (of any form) requires huge amounts of dedicated practice, effort, focus and determination to see it through. The technique of dance demands a concentration, a willingness to abide by the stringent rules and principles for accuracy and tradition to be upheld. When a child learns it, it seems like an easier absorption, and to a large extent, is. The age, the flexibility of body, the mind-space and the simplicity and stress free student life encourages and makes learning a simpler, faster experience.

Introduce the rigor of classical dance to an adult, and it takes on a whole new dimension.

However, something is to be said of passion and childhood dreams and realizing and recognizing opportunity and seizing it to line all your ducks in a row and then well, achieving it. It’s a childish pleasure and happiness, I assure you.

Kuchipudi is the classical dance form of Andhra Pradesh. Made popular by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, back in the 60s, this is a detailed, expressive form of rhythmic dancing set to music and story telling. Mastergaru as he is fondly and popularly called was the embodiment and authority of this artform and I was and am fortunate to have learnt a few years under his guidance back in Madras (Chennai). He has many exemplary students who carry on the torch, and one such is Guru Mrinalini Sadananda who started a dance school: Kalamandapam in Springfield VA in the 90s, and under whose guidance I re-started in 2000.

Today, am introducing to you, Kavitha Cheedalla, a Kuchipudi dancer who started as an adult along with her daughters and now performs, and teaches in Northern Virginia at Kalamandapam. She is an example of what determination, grit and passion can bring together when the situation has made itself conducive for it. I’ve known Kavitha since the early 90’s, through common friend circles and then later on as part of the Kuchipudi dance school run by our Guru Mrinalini Sadananda in Virginia. We learnt, and then taught together for a while, and I have seen Kavitha grow as a graceful accomplished dancer and it gives me great pleasure to write about her. Her passion and devotion to this art form comes through in many ways.

Read her story: Kavitha Cheedalla

 

Kavitha Cheedalla

 

So, let’s start at the beginning! How, when did you start here in the US? 

In June 1998, I started learning as an adult in a summer camp with Madhavapeddi Murthy master.  I still remember that day. I just went to admit my girls in the camp. I had previously mentioned to Subhash uncle (our Guru’s brother and a popular wonderful violinist) that I always wanted to learn and he casually told me, “Why don’t you join?” so I did.

Where did the enthusiasm come from? What made you jump in? 

I had always wanted to learn growing up. I learned from Mahankali master in our town (in Andhra Pradesh) for a month or so when I was 8 years old. After that, I saw master garu around town, and he would always ask me, “Why did you stop coming?” I also admired two of my friends in high school who were dancers. I started again because I always wish I had continued when I was little. I didn’t continue as my parents were not too keen, school and other things took over my time, and these classes got lost. 

So it’s safe to say that it is not a new passion but an old dream? One from childhood? 

Yes! An old childhood dream, of course. ☺

It’s such an incredibly deep happiness am sure! Tell me, how was it to start as an adult?

Starting as an adult was very tough because the body does not cooperate as it would for a young girl. There is an enormous strain on the limbs and mind because our postures are not perfect or right most of the time. Also I had many distractions and obligations: job, cooking, house work, leaving my husband home alone while the daughters and I went away for hours together on Sunday mornings for class.

 I agree. It is hard to keep at it, when your thighs, legs and back hurts with staying in posture and moving them to the rhythm. How did you stick with it in the initial stages?

I was able to stick with it because of the encouragement from my guru, Mrinalini aunty. I also had little roles in the ballets which made me very excited and proud of the little accomplishments.  I was lucky that I worked in a school system and had summers off, so I got to do summer camp every year for about 8 years or so. That helped a lot because of the daily practices, and when you do something everyday, it only makes you stronger. 

 So true! I know that you are a huge advocate of practice. How many hours do you spend on practice?

Initially there was no set number of hours. Whenever I got a chance I would practice alone or with other friends. Now I practice 4- 5 times weekly to keep up with all dances and to keep my energy levels strong. Practice is what helps me remember what I have learned and helps keep me in shape. It’s the memory to remember the sequence, and also our body has memory, and we have to keep refreshing it for it come with ease. 

 How was your first performance on stage? Tell me about it 🙂

I was very nervous and scared about whether I will be able to do a good job. I first played the role of Guhi (guha’s wife) in Ramayanam. The scene was taking Lord Rama and Lakshmana on a boat to get to Sita. Even though we practiced so many times, it is a different story when you get on the stage. The lights, the pressure, the makeup, and the adrenaline to be on stage and to not freeze even knowing the routine well is a challenge. After the performance, I was so happy and proud listening to everyone’s compliments.

Kavitha

 Regarding learning, you speak with such enthusiasm and live it when during practice and class, would you encourage picking up and starting to learn as an adult? What are the differences you find as opposed to starting as a child?

Yes, I would definitely encourage anyone who wants to learn at any age. It is super important to keep practicing daily or 2- 3 times a week. The initial stages are very hard. Takes a lot of co-ordination, of the hands, legwork, hands, mudras and the changes along with expressions and posture. It takes couple of years to get the basics and the feeling of confidence. I would think it is definitely easier learning as a kid because you don’t need to worry about other things. You can give all your time to dance, but most kids don’t realize that, and that’s just the way life is. They cross that stage and then realize that only when looking back. 

 If we take up a hobby or a goal, it usually eats up into our hours and life. Did you have to make any kind of adjustments at home because of dance? 

Not a lot of adjustments, since it was just Sunday classes, except when we used to rehearse for dance ballets. For ballet rehearsals, we stayed 4- 6 extra hours on weekends. I always made sure that I had cooked for my husband. I slowly got more and more involved and now I have a lot more responsibilities. I have very nice, understanding husband who also helps me with accounts and also backstage during ballets. He’s been very supportive during all these years and has always encouraged me to do what I love and enjoy, and that is to dance, perform and at the school. 

Kavitha and Ravinder

Looks like behind every happy and successful woman, there is a man who supports her and fills the gaps at home. Like Sheryl Sandberg mentions and celebrates the #LeaninTogether, where the man encourages the woman to go after her dream! 🙂  

What about the physical demands and challenges of learning and dancing as an adult?

Well, you must keep yourself fit. You must eat right and sleep well. It takes discipline to watch what you are eating, and keep yourself in shape. Aerobic exercise and strengthening (abs and upper arms etc) are all involved, and you realize that with time, that the body gets used to the rigor and we build stamina, and because of the exercise, there is the endorphins that make you so happy and pleased with yourself, just like any other exercise. Body movements are easier when you practice everyday. When you take a break, it is harder to get back on, but the body remembers and with practice, it comes back.

Great! Let’s talk about (y)our Guru. 🙂

My guru, Mrinalini Sadananda , is a very enthusiastic, exciting, and encouraging person in dance and in my life. I am where I am in dance because of my guru’s encouragement. I remember practicing so hard for the Lord Brahma role in one of the ballets. Even when I played the role of Narada (my very first solo role) for Venkateswara Vaibhavam, aunty did not stop giving me practice until she was sure that I got it. I also want to thank all our visiting gurus Pasumarthy Vithal, Sathyapriya Ramana, Dugakka, Balakka, Devarkaonda Srinivas, Chinta Siva and Bhagavathula Srinivas! They all taught me and helped me improve.

 When did you graduate to teaching?

I don’t think we graduate, and stop learning. We are always learning, especially in dance. Dance is like an ocean (samudram); there is always more to learn. We learn so many different things from different teachers and even when we teach.  Aunty encouraged me to teach beginners around 2003.

 Teaching is a special skill and talent, and I have always believed that just because someone is a good performer doesn’t make them a good teacher and vice versa. Not always at least. What do you think? 

It depends on the person. For me, teaching helped me become a better dancer. When you teach, you are perfecting the student, which helps you correct yourself. I would say they are related. I love teaching because it makes me proud and gives me the satisfaction of sharing what I learned with others.

Right, I suppose I meant that teaching requires more patience and the interest to share what you know, those are different from just practicing what you know. You’ve been running the school for a few years now, what are the challenges you face?  

Since we only have classes once a week, we have to accommodate students of different levels in the span of 4 hours. The challenge is to place them, make sure they are reaching their full potential, and keep them motivated.  Sometimes it is hard to organize practices and have everyone committed. Another challenge is keeping up with finances, inventory.  Every year we try to make things better organized sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  All of our teachers are volunteers and I am thankful for all they do.

 Yep, very few understand the demands of a completely volunteer-run organization like Kalamandapam. It’s run primarily to spread the joy of learning and that of dance, something that is hard to maintain in the society and the pressures we face. Are you happy where you are with dance?

Yes, I am happy with where I am learning as an adult. I missed out on learning as a kid so I felt that I needed to work extra hard to get here and I will continue working hard.

 Have any goals (in dance?) or do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

My goal was to learn to Kuchipudi dance. I reached that to a certain level but I am still learning. My next goal is to keep this tradition going and spread the tradition as long as I live.

You’ve performed at so many venues, from local temples to various events including the Kennedy Center. Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a dancer, as a teacher?

Lord Nataraja’s and guru’s blessings got me here and I will work towards spreading the tradition continue teaching, performing and pass my torch onto the next generation.

2013_Utsav 303

Kavitha’s two daughters are also accomplished dancers and watching them together is endearing and shows how nicely art can be a bonding that can bring a family close

Daughters and Kavitha
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So there you have it.

Have a childhood passion that you have resigned to live vicariously through your child? Maybe it’s time you re-think it, and if you wanted it badly enough, then well, you have inspiration in front of you. Do it. You have but one life, live it well, and realize that dreams don’t have to stay dreams if you have the zeal, and determination to see them through. Yes, if you work hard enough, you can have your cake and eat it too! 🙂

 ***

Like this feature, check the other lovely ladies I feature on here. Know of someone who deserves the recognition and who inspires you or others in the community, feel free to contact me and we can get that going! We all could use some ignition every now and then 🙂

Batala Drummer: Aparna Krishnamoorthy

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
March 9, 2015
FullSizeRender
I met Aparna on Twitter. We started following each other when we realized we had a few things in common. Apart from DC area residents, we both enjoyed food. She is great at discovering various food places in and around DC (and everywhere she travels and she does travel a lot!) which makes me watch her with envy, coz well, that’s what a suburban can do! 🙂
She writes about it in her fresh new blog:Apart from food, what caught my eye was her fervent tweets and passionate shoutouts to a Batala drummer group. I had no idea what Batala was, but every link was to a place they played and so I asked her one day, and she explained that she is part of the troupe and they play at various places. I googled, like a good dutiful curious cat, and my eyes went round. I love all things music and arts, but seeing all these strong, vibrant women with HUGE drums and the way they swayed and played, was an experience itself!Then she tells me they are an all woman Band – Batala Washington and that she joined after moving here to the US!There was definitely a parallel connection. Not only were the arts the connection, she also followed her heart and passion and it shows! I can relate to that. Totally. :-)Of course I had to badger her to spend some time to sit down with me and tell me and us her story! How? What?Read on!
Aparna Krishnamoorthy:
Blog: Doorstep and Beyond 

So Aparna, let’s start from the beginning! A little background please?

I grew up in India, mostly in Bangalore, and have been in the US now for 13 years. During the day, I work in Product Management in the corporate world. My (outside of work) passion is in Food and Travel, and I LOVE exploring new restaurants and neighborhoods in DC (which I now call home). I recently started a blog – Doorstep and Beyond to document my adventures.


So, I can tell you love music. How did that come about? Started off as a child or is that a recent entry? 

Growing up in a Tamil Brahmin family, it’s hard to escape music. I grew up learning Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. I have ALWAYS been exposed to music and dance, but percussion has been my main draw.  When I was about 10 – I wanted to join “mridangam” classes, but it was a pretty male dominated thing to do, and multiple teachers refused to tutor a girl! So that was that. I ended up joining my high school marching band to get my percussion fix! 🙂 

Haha, I can totally relate to that! I am not Tamilian by birth, but have lived there and I know that it’s something that runs in your blood, and it’s actually a hugely envious trait, for the rest of the clans I mean! So this sounds like a natural progression of sorts. 
Percussion is amazing, and am not surprised but more shocked that the teachers would actually refuse you! Gosh, You showed them didn’t ya! 
So tell me, did you figure out why percussion? 

Percussion is fascinating to me. It’s very mathematical (and I love numbers!) in a sense, and timing is everything.  Also, when playing the drums, you are expressing yourself, and you literally forget about everything else at the time. The energy is fabulous, and invigorates me. 

I agree. The drum resonates deeply. 
I know we can all google, but tell us about Batala. What sort of drumming is it, and origins? 

The music that we play is from Salvdaor, in Brazil. In Salvdaor, music is literally everywhere. There are multiple street parades (called blocos) – and the music is basically the evolution of the drumming methods brought to Brazil in the 18th and 19th century by West African slaves. There’s a lot of history to the music we play.The all-women Batala Washington percussion group started in June 2007 in Washington DC, and is part of the International Batala group that plays Afro-Brazilian / Samba-Reggae rhythms.
There are over 20 Batala bands around the world – in the US, France, England, Spain, Brazil, Belgium…etc. It’s a big family!

That sounds super fascinating. But you are right, when I think South America, the vision is that of free styling, happy folks engaged in music, singing or drums and one thing that stays is that they all look so happy! That’s such a positive thing for a group to project. Love it. 
So, how did you fall upon this band? 

In 2011 my husband and I bought a condo and moved to the Ust neighborhood in DC. As luck would have it, Batala played a show in my neighborhood within a week of my moving! The minute I saw them – I knew I had to join them! I literally found my groove with them after seeing them that day. Seeing 70 women playing drums is powerful!

U bet! Isn’t that wonderful? Things just come together, when one is ready for it huh? 🙂 
So you’ve been with the band a few years now, tell me how this has changed or shaped you? 

Drumming in general to me is powerful, even more so as a girl. You forget about everything else when you are drumming – so it’s a great stress reliever, and a mental stimulator. Playing for 3-4 hours is also good physical exercise – it’s draining, but you are so wired from the stimulation, it’s almost like a “high”!
Batala Washington is all female –which brings about a different kind of energy and support!
Also, we got to play a show that opened for The Rolling Stones – can’t beat that!

All female is excellent! I belong to an all female biking group, and the fun, strong atmosphere is such a thriving atmosphere to be in. Has its perks definitely 🙂 Also one day you must send a video of you girls to all those tutors who refused you! 😉 
Rolling Stones! Wow Indeed! 
It must be a lot of fun and hard work am sure? 

Playing with Batala is a LOT OF FUN, and if you are not having fun, it’s hard to keep up the commitment. At the same time, it’s also challenging. You are constantly trying to improve your skills, learn another drum, recognize the nuances in the music and the beats…it’s a constant learning and improvement process.
We also get to play at really cool and interesting venues, events – exposing me to a lot of things that I otherwise may not have come across. 



YES! I agree. Work Hard, Play Hard always works. As long as we are challenged, and there is constant growth, interest and commitment sticks. What fine perks you have! 🙂 
So tell me how many hours a week you meet, what’s your time commitment to this? 

It’s definitely a big time and energy commitment. We spend about 5 hours weekly (Saturday mornings) or rehearsing as a group, and of course we have shows that we are all involved in. We are also an all volunteer band, which means we are involved in teams in the band and all contribute time to organizing shows, or managing the costumes and instruments, or doing PR etc.Currently I co-lead the production team, which is basically responsible for responding to show requests, making sure shows are set up and logistics on day of show. We have a number of teams and everyone in the band is encouraged to join one – if possible.

There are social commitments as well – with almost 80 people in the group, there is always a birthday, or a happy hour, or something! It’s up to you to manage your time and energy though – if you really want to do it, you will find a way. I have it easy – but there are women in the band who are in school, who have kids in school, so it’s a lot harder for them, but everyone is just so passionate about it, and you make it work. You want it to work.

Thank you for re-iterating what I also believe and tell folks all the time. If you want something bad enough, you will make time for it! The enthusiasm levels is what makes a group successful, and this is great that you girls have it together. Wonderful! 
Do you think this drumming is for anyone to try? Is there a personality that would do better? Let’s say, should we be musical or trained for someone to try Batala?

Absolutely for everyone! I believe that it gives you a different persona when you are drumming, especially with a group of other women! Introverts, extroverts, musically inclined, not so inclined – there really is something for everyone, as long as you want it!

Yay! One of these days I’ll probably try it too. Am getting all enthused just watching a few of those videos you sent! So with all this time commitment and practice, I bet you had to give up a lot too? 🙂 

Haha, yes, no more late Friday nights! In all seriousness, my husband has been a great support – since it does take a huge chunk of time, time away from him. And time away from friends too. My friends are also always supportive and come cheer us on in many shows. I don’t think of it as a sacrifice – but more that I have really found something that is truly satisfying, and am glad to have all the support I do!

It’s awesome to have that support right? Pretty much all the women I’ve spoken with, have a spouse who is amazingly supportive in what they do. It works both ways, but without the men allowing us to be ourselves, reaching where we want to is hard. 
So, how diverse is this group? Have any one else from India or someone you can relate to? I know it doesn’t matter much, but for curiosity sakes? 

There is one other Indian in the group. But – never felt conscious or stood out – the group is EXTREMELY diverse and very welcoming. I like that it is also a different world of sorts, for me – and outside my regular circle of friends. 

Awesome! I agree. It’s refreshing too, isn’t it? 
Okay now share some funny incidents during this learning process. I bet there are a few, there have to be! 🙂 

Oh man, too many to count! To keep it kosher, I’ll give you a small example. When we were rehearsing for our show at the Rolling Stones concert, Mick Jagger (we call him Mick ;)) came out and said Hi – and all of us just stood there like lovestruck teenagers, in awe, and didn’t say a word. Not sure what he made of that…..We’ve also had a number of shows where my (drum) sticks fly off…or I make a HUGE and very evident mistake…it’s embarrassing, but it happens…and we laugh it off.

LOL! Mick eh? Yep, the aura of a super musician. I can see that happening with a few I admire. 🙂 
..and yes, sticks flying. That’s me definitely haha! 
As a parting shot, tell me where you see yourself, say a year or 5 years form now? Batala is here to stay? 

Honestly, I don’t really know. I am not a planner. I do however know that I want to and will keep doing it as long as I can. Once a Batalette, always a Batelette J

A few links:
WashPo article on Batala Washington. 
CCTV’s article on the Troupe and Founder. 

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There you have it folks. If you have been reading the posts here, the one constant thread that you will find is ” Follow your heart and your passion” Just do. Don’t overthink. Happiness and Contentment is found in the journey when you follow what your heart tells you. 
 
If you are new, take a moment and read some of the earlier women I’ve profiled on here. Subscribe for a fortnightly “So, what’s your story” on meeting the next Ms.Chutzpah 😉 

 

I Will Fix it: The Young Entrepreneur Says

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
March 3, 2015
Lillian-1
Most of us when presented with a problem, try to find solutions. Immediately even. Some ponder and think and reach into their experience and wisdom and some use what they have learnt in classrooms and books and we work forward, with the strength of the background in focus.As I was debating on what I must write today, and what facet of the girl power that must be addressed and I could write on, and this neat little short fell into my lap. I was drawn to the screen as it showed an Optometrist and a little kid. Since, optometry is close to my childhood heart and I grew up with visions of me in those shoes, I usually and quickly try and peek into what the article is about.Once a nerd, always a nerd they say, and I am, and am unafraid of admitting it.So, I clicked on the link and immediately, this young girl Lillian Pravda burst on to the screen with enthusiasm and cheer. A simple google search reveals some endearing and determined stories of how she did what she did. From building and being inquisitive at a young age  to how she goes about managing 8th grade and fundraising and getting adults to listen and take her seriously. What caught my attention, apart form her story, and her vivacious personality and all things eye, was how she defined what an Entrepreneur is.

“.. Even if you are able to help ONE person, it makes a difference to that ONE, and that is what entrepreneurship is all about. It is about being Human.”
She declares. With conviction and bated enthusiasm that sparkles in her eyes and reaches out to tug at your heart right through the camera.

There’s a charm in seeing young ones go do their own thing.
There is a certain naive conviction and belief that is not marred by cynicism or grayness of all else that floods the adult world.

Probably the reason they also win and whoop our adult asses when it comes to gaming and video and mobile-phone games. They do not strategize much, they just do. They follow their heart and belief, in solutions and their workings and just DO.
..and that’s what she did. Right here. 

Gotta love ’em!

Go ahead and listen to her. It’s just 3.50 minute long here. 

 

 

Open Adoption: Lakshmi Iyer

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
February 23, 2015
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Adoption has been a topic close to my heart. A secret topic close to my heart. It wasn’t one of those I spoke much about or acted upon, but dream I did. From when I was in 8th grade and I heard a rather vivid story on adoption and I saw how integrated and happy they all were and how hard the pre-adoption stage was for both, and I swore to myself that I would grow up and adopt. 
 
Well, I grew up, and no, I did not adopt. For some, life isn’t steered too consciously, and I did not pay much attention to where I sailed, and now am at the point where I know that that boat has sailed what with my age and stage in life. That only makes the desire and dream all the more poignant when I do hear stories or meet folks who have opened up their hearts and lives, it creates that pang in my heart. There’s that tug, a gentle choke of the voice chords and there is that mist that appears when I see them, making them all look like well, angels. 
 
In recent years, Ive known a few of these wonderful families, and the count is only increasing. Bless their hearts! 
 
That’s enough about me, and let me introduce you to this amazing woman who has followed her instincts and heart and charted off into unknown territories with nothing more than faith and belief in herself and her husband. Unassuming and with an air of quiet acceptance hiding all the turmoil as she worked her way through to the surface, Lakshmi and I go a very long way back. 
Both of us started blogging right about the same time, and with so few Indian bloggers in the US back then, most quickly knew each other and we built a rapport, like we do, through our words, experiences and the tales we spun on our blogs. She had an ephemeral way of expressing her thoughts, almost dream like, and many of us watched her through her initial gloom with despair and helplessness, coz that’s all anyone could offer. 
 
Then when I found her again after being offline a bit, there she was happy and preening over her babies. She writes it all on her blog. 
 
She is also an amazingly helpful, kind person, who without hesitation, opened up to me with what I posed. If I was in wonder and awe with her last five years, I now am also filled with gratitude and joy in knowing her and to the value that one can add on with such experiences. 
 
Without any more delay, here is Lakshmi Iyer, on her adoption process and becoming a mom, a parent. 🙂 
 
 
 
 
So, Lakshmi, let me ask you why adoption? What exactly sparked the idea of adoption? Whose idea was it? 
Adoption as an idea probably appealed to me since the movie Kannathil Mutthamittal. But it was one of those things you think you will get around to in time (when I am older, when I have more money…) meaning never. Then someone in your circle adopts a child and you go “you know, I always wanted to adopt!”
Oh God, that’s me. That’s what I told myself, but I suppose, after the third happened, I was wary. But oops, sorry, you were saying?
Haha, yes, adoption as a germ of an idea came when infertility treatments were unsuccessful and I was tired of poking myself with needles and afraid of getting my hopes up only for them to be doused over and over. The options open to me at that time (surrogacy, donor embryos and adoption) all involved no DNA link between the child and me. Given that, adoption held appeal over the others. 
The specific point where I was ready to act on it was when a friend of mine and a fellow infertile announced she was adopting from India. I remember the conversation so well. There was a glow in her face. The promise of hope. I remember thinking, this is what I want. The hope, the beginning of something knowing there is a child at the end of it.
Is it something you and your husband immediately warmed to, the idea?
In a way yes. The initial conversations surrounding adoption always had an air of ‘sometime in the future’. We would talk about it, agree that it was a good way to build a family and the conversation would veer to other topics.
In April/May 2009, I started browsing about adopting from India seriously. I have always believed knowledge is power. So, I haunted forums on adoption, dug through blogs, personal accounts, government websites and realized the process would take 3 years or more from when I started. Then there was this whole immigration angle to it that made things harder. 
On an off chance, I stumbled on a post on some forum by an Indian couple who had adopted a hispanic child. I followed their trail online, dug up an email address and wrote to them. The answer came back short and cryptic. Yes, they did but they were not comfortable talking about it. But the idea had taken hold of me and would not let go. So, I searched till I found another couple. The girl was open to talking except they had moved back to India. The emails went back and forth and eventually she shared a picture of her family. I fell hard. This was tangible proof that it could happen. 
When did you discuss the idea at length? Am sure you had your fears and doubts?
Armed with this, I opened up the conversation again specifically about adopting domestically. The initial reaction from my husband was lukewarm. He understood where I was coming from and how desperately I craved motherhood but a part of him wanted to discuss it logically sans emotion. We talked about race, skin color, reaction from family and friends. As we talked, one thing became clear. This was our journey. As much as others’ were impacted by it, it was our life. Our way. Once that was clear, a lot of the obstacles tumbled away. Then it was about dealing with our prejudices and unlearning a lot of things we had grown up with. 
Incredible! It’s such a learning experience, this communication, talk and then acceptance, am sure. Do you think this brought you two closer?
It is a personal journey of sorts. Discovering ourselves on the way to building a family. I look back on it now and realize that as a couple we complemented each other.
Aw! So what did you do next? 
The next step once we had agreed domestic adoption was on the table was more research. This time it focused on the different routes to domestic adoption. Picking an agency to work with. Figuring out what we were open to in terms of race, medical needs, medical history etc. Once we had a loose idea of what we were ready for, the actual process started in June 2009.

For folks who don’t know yet, Lakshmi’s kids are Caucasian. Not brown, or asian, or south-asian. With this in mind, do read on.
 
So, at this point, am stepping on touchy waters, so bear with me here. Adopting local is a big step even for adoption. From where I stand. I have seen inter-racial adoptions, but Ive seen whites; Caucasian parents with Asian kids and such. How did you make peace with that concept and allow yourself to grow to embrace it? 
I cringe as I even write this. When I look back on our journey, we started out like most of us do. Fixated on adopting a child who would be a close match to us in physical appearance. Black hair, brown eyes and the like. Because the two couples I had stumbled on in my research had adopted hispanic children and they seemed to look like a family that is what I zeroed in on. Once we signed up with an agency and talked about the races we were open to, the lady who was doing the intake looked us in the eye and said it was going to be difficult. Being Hindu, vegetarian and Indian, the chances of us being picked by a hispanic family was low. However, she said it was not impossible. 

Seven months later, we sat on the other side of a phone call that was about twin girls who would go on to be our daughters. The last thing on our collective minds was the race of the children. I look upon the months it took for our daughters to come to us as a journey literally and metaphorically. We changed as people. We looked hard and deep within ourselves. We asked hard questions about stereotypes. We questioned our place in our families, the society we were part of and the premium it placed on skin color. By the time we became parents, we realized to be good parents to our children, we should not be color blind but very aware of how skin color will impact how they interact outside the home. It is still work in progress and our ideas change with the challenges we face personally and with reading and interacting with the adoptive/adoptee/birth families community.
Was it a harder decision in any way? Did you toss the India, family and friends reactions and then subsequent acceptance of the kid here? How did you get past that? 
The decision making itself was not hard. It took all of 30 minutes. We got a phone call (one we were not prepared for), took down notes, sat down as a couple to talk and called back and said yes. Once we had made the decision, the magnitude of it hit us in waves, over a period of time. Personally, we both believed and accepted that this was our decision, our life. Period. 
However, over the course of time, we see that our decision impacts people around us. Sometimes, it is mild curiosity, sometimes it is far darker. We, as parents, shrug it off but I am starting to fear for the impact it will have on the children. 
Am sure you had to think from a few different angles. Adoption, as grand and amazing a way it is to build a family, has its challenges, just like any other parenting. You bring in another set of parents/guardians – some at least do. Many don’t explicitly mention it, coz of course it is personal, and also it helps when the difference is not too stark. So did you have to toss all that through? Did you have to not only think from your perspective and what you would face as parents, but also on how the kid would grow up and have those questions? How did you decide on that part at that time? 
It took seven months from the time we signed up with the agency till our girls came to us. During this time, we went through two failed adoptions. We learned first hand about the murky underbelly of the adoption industry. We flew eight hours after having been matched for three months and vicariously living the expectant mother’s life only to be told that she changed her mind. I reeled from the news and fell back on the internet with a vengeance trying to understand what it is like. What I learned changed me. 
Adoption is H.A.R.D. No ways around it. A bond is created starting with loss and pain. It will tinge the relationship life long. The birth family is their family. It is our family as well now. Once we have our head wrapped tightly around this fact, the rest of things fall in place. In order to be the best parents we can be to our children, we decided that truth, however hard it is will guide our parenting as it relates to the adoption part. 
The children will deal with it in time. They are just now connecting the dots and asking questions about their birth family. I expect over the years, it will get hard before it gets better. My focus is on providing them with answers and the tools they need to handle it themselves. It also means drawing lines around what I share about their story and their history. About letting them take control over their narrative.
Just a bit more conscious parenting, perhaps? 🙂 
It’s how many years now? How’s the journey been so far? Are there any practical challenges or anything funny or different that you had to face when your family steps out together?
It has been five years now. Five happy, fulfilling years. Like any other family we have our challenges and we find our way through them. Most times I am left scratching my head wondering if it is adoption or if it is typical of kids that age. We bumble, fall, pick ourselves up and make our way. Any challenges we have had have mostly been with traveling to and in India. There are no filters. We are asked to share our childrens’ story. We are gawked at. We have had to be proactive about protecting our children’s personal space. At two years, they soaked up the attention. At five, they are wary. They realize the alienness of it all. They also experience white privilege which I am not sure how I feel about it. 
These are things I am grappling with and trying to understand so I can teach my children about it.

Am sure. We all learn I suppose. Parenting is hard as it is. It’s like we got signed up with absolutely no credentials and no experience and then there is the added pressure of the job being that of raising a grounded wonderful child! Go figure! 
So, How welcoming (or maybe not) has society and community been? Did you guys care? 🙂
Overall our immediate society and community has been incredibly supportive. I must make special mention of my family and my in laws who have been incredibly supportive from the word go. It is my father in law who sowed the seeds in a way. When we were initially discussing adoption with him and explained to him how we were looking to be placed with a hispanic baby. He cut us short and said (paraphrasing here) “Black, white or brown, Why does it matter? Any baby once it comes to your home is your baby.” I was blown away and felt very small.
..and this is Lakshmi with her daughters. Twins. Gorgeous, innocent, flawless beautiful angelic girls with their equally lovely mom!
 

 

 

 

I can tell you are very happy and it’s great, but tell me, what are your first thoughts when you wake up, when you go to bed at night? How has motherhood been so far, how has it changed you and how satisfied and content are you, with your decisions so far? 
First thought when I wake up? Hmm! I need my coffee. Jokes aside, I wake up happy and secure in the knowledge that I am incredibly blessed. By my children. By my husband. Motherhood has been a dream come true. I enjoy nurturing my children. I soak in the physicality of our interactions. I realize time will fly so I consciously make an effort to slow down and enjoy each day. 
It also means some days I am overwhelmed. I struggle with keeping a lid on my temper. I struggle with demands on my time and person day in day out. Even on those days, there are lucid moments when I realize I wanted this. I worked for it and these are my blessing.
 
 
Do you ever think or brood about the future in an apprehensive way? is there an apprehension at all? Is it faith and goodwill that you hold on to and take every day as it comes?
On yes! There is a lot of apprehension. But I think it has more to do with being a parent rather than being an adoptive parent. I fear for my childrens’ health, their future, their teenage years. I worry about how being adopted will impact how they see themselves. I worry about genetic mirroring. About whether they will look back on life and wish their adoption had been closed. 
Then I realize I cannot control any of it. I take a deep breath and tell myself this is the best version of me I can offer them. It will have to do.
 
I understand you are a huge advocate for open adoption. What exactly does that mean? You blog the journey and I love that you share so others also benefit from it, so if there is someone out there who’s been tossing this idea, what’s the one thing you would tell them that will make them cross over? 
Open adoption in a nutshell means accepting your children has two families. Their family of origin is as important in their narrative as the family they are in.
I am an advocate for open adoption simply because it is the truth. It is who they are. It is where they come from. Having said that, it is also a function of the kind of people my husband and I are. We believe children are resilient. That being open with them invites trust. Only if we accord their heritage due respect, they will understand that we respect who they are separate from us. I do not want to gloss over the fact that there are times when I wish life were not complicated. That there are some nights I stay up wondering what future holds for us. 
Despite all that, I am happy with where we are and where we are headed.  
 
Knowing what you do now, do you think our upbringing or our personalities matter when considering adoption? Is there a trait that one must NOT have before signing up for this journey? Not just adoption, but open adoption and inter-racial so to speak?
Hmm! Tough one that in the sense, any characteristic I can think of as not amenable to adoption also in turn implies not compatible with parenting. Rather than traits, what I will say is that if one is turning towards adoption to build their family specially after infertility they must bury their ghosts of infertility past before starting this process. Adoption is not a substitute for having a biological child. They are two different methods of creating a family. Waiting for your adopted child cannot and should not be compared to gestation (I see too much of that). Adopting a child will not miraculously close that ‘hole’ in your heart. 
Bringing a child home however, will make you a parent. If all you craved for is to become a mom or dad, you will be very happy. As for open adoption or transracial adoption, all I can say is you need to be cognizant of the fact that the child is a blessing. You are lucky to have that child. Not the other way around. There is no element of altruism in adoption (in most cases). We as parents pursue adoption to fulfill a very selfish need (becoming a parent). So, it is easy to get caught up in the whole ‘I/You saved a child’ feeling. That is dangerous territory.
 
Yes! It’s something that I have felt all along. That parents who adopt are fortunate and lucky. They have been given that opportunity and they are blessed for it. There are many like me who want to, but don’t/cannot, and yes, I can see why the reverse “saving” is a slippery slope. Thank you for putting it out there!
 
Is there a low? at all?
Of course there are lows. When you grapple with setting boundaries. When you are in a temple and wish for a few hours you could just be a regular family without being gawked at. Lows punctuate each day. But there are the highs that compensate. When you watch your children practice kindness. When you watch them sleep, mouth open, on the sofa because you wanted to get that counter cleaned before you put them to bed. When your children say something in Tamizh because they know it pleases you. The little happy moments outweigh the smaller annoyances. It reminds you of all the reasons you wanted to be a mother for. It grounds you.
 
Aww 🙂 You know, most of it is just being a mom in itself, right? How do you pick up when there is a low?
Simple. I remind myself that this was an act of choice. I wanted children. I worked hard towards building this family. I owe my children the very best version of me. So, I fake it till I make it. I plaster a smile, grit my teeth and pray for patience on difficult days.
 
Wow.
Fake it till we make it.
Yes 🙂
Anything you want to add Lakshmi? 
Not really! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about our family and what an incredible journey it has been. I wish prospective adoptive parents reading this good luck and baby dust.
 
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So, there you go.
If you were ever on the fence, well, take heart, believe and take that leap of faith. A family is a beautiful thing. As personal and as intimate as we make it, and only you decide.
 
To all parents who made a family this way, here’s a HUGE bear hug to each of you from me. God bless you, and may your tribe increase and flourish! Muah <3