Moral of the story: we should all give ourselves some grace.
Have you ever felt a rush of satisfaction after finishing a task? You’re not alone. The act of completing tasks and goals causes your brain to release dopamine, one of the feel-good chemicals, which in turn motivates you to work harder and keep going.
While this feeling is great after a productive work day, what about those days where you rest all day and then feel bad for resting? Isn’t rest supposed to be restorative and help you recharge so you can be more productive later on? Why do we sometimes feel guilty about rest?
The balance between rest and productivity
The other day I found myself feeling guilty because my work was moving slower than I expected. Then I remembered the bigger picture- that it is summer, and some people are literally in Europe right now. That didn’t help. But I realized that it wasn’t helping to be so hard on myself. And stressing over aspects of work outside of my control was not doing anything either.
Today, I came home early and then proceeded to take a two-hour nap. It was the kind of nap without any dreams but when you wake up, you’re wondering what day it is. I immediately felt guilty for sleeping longer than I had anticipated. But this was my body’s way of telling me that I needed that rest.
Listening to your body
The next time you feel guilty for either not working enough or for resting, think about how both are necessary for well-being. You cannot have all of one without the other. Give yourself some grace for doing the best you can. Especially now.
Your self-care cup may have changed
Think about the ways your life has been impacted by the pandemic. I know we hear the word “unprecedented” too much, so I’ll find another word from the thesaurus. We are navigating bizarre times. Your previous coping mechanisms may not be working the way they used to. Your 100 percent effort may look different day-to-day. With these in mind, applaud yourself for surviving this pandemic in the best way you can, and think about how you can support yourself going forward.
My feelings about taking a long nap inspired this post. Be kind to yourself. Go take a nap without any shame ❤
Here’s one show and one book from this past month that absolutely blew me away. Full of South Asian representation, love, family, and drama, these picks will leave you hooked on the stories and unable to rest until you have gotten to the end.
Season two just came out and I am obsessed! Set in the Regency era in England, Bridgerton centers on the pursuit of love, courtship, and eventually marriage for the young members of the Ton. The Sharma family introduces themselves in Season two and definitely makes an impression on the Queen and the rest of the Ton, especially, Anthony Bridgerton.
This is the year that the viscount, Anthony Bridgerton decides that he will marry. However, he is doing so to fulfill his duty as the oldest man in his family, not because he wants true love.
Kate Sharma is here from India to help her younger sister, Edwina Sharma, find an eligible suitor for marriage. Kate herself does not plan on marrying, and actually plans to return to India to teach and enjoy her freedom after this is all over. After the Queen announces Edwina Sharma to be the “diamond” of the season, Anthony Bridgerton immediately starts courting her. However, when Kate overhears a conversation that reveals Anthony’s true intentions, or lack thereof, she will do anything to protect her sister from harm. But does her plan backfire?
I absolutely LOVED Season two. I consumed this show so fast. The slow burn and enemies to lovers romance we see honestly had me on my toes. I also loved the cultural aspects included in the show with the Sharma family. Like when Kate was applying hair oil to her sister’s hair. Or when she applied haldi to her sister’s arms before the wedding. Or having Edwina call Kate didi, and Kate calling her bon. Seeing these subtle details on screen was really awesome. I also loved that the two characters ‘ being Indian wasn’t a central part of the plot. There wasn’t any identity struggle or cultural revelation. Rather, the Sharmas were simply a part of the Ton and were enough as they were.
Dating Dr. Dil
This novel by Nisha Sharma centers on the journey between Kareena Mann, a beautiful, career-driven, car-loving, single Indian woman, and Prem Verma, a handsome cardiologist who doesn’t believe in love. In this book, Kareena’s dad is about to sell their family home, and basically, Kareena has four months to find the love of her life so she can use the money saved for her wedding to buy the house from her father. It’s a complicated and ambitious plan, but she has the support of four unwavering and committed aunties to help her find a husband, as well as Veera and Bobbi, her two besties.
On the other hand, Prem Verma is a cardiologist who wants to open a community clinic for residents of New Jersey. He is the host of a popular talk show and known as “Dr. Dil”, where he talks about health issues relating to the heart to educate his audience. One day, Prem sees Kareena at a bar and can’t take his eyes off her. They have a scintillating conversation that lasts for hours and they end up in the back office of the bar ready to take things to the next level. BUT, a series of unfortunate events makes Prem leave abruptly leaving Kareena to feel utterly humiliated. The next day, she sees him on his TV show talking about how love is not real. From that point on, she decides that he is a desi *fckboy* and her mortal enemy. What will it take for these two to realize that despite their opposing views on love, they are literally made for each other?
This is literally the best book I have read in 2022. I consumed this in three days because it was so captivating. It set the standard for true love high (as it should be) and the accuracy of the internal conflicts that Kareena and Prem go through are so relatable. I love the representation in this novel, the supportive aunties and friends, and the beautifully written love story between Kareena and Prem. Nisha Sharma did an AMAZING job. ❤
For some beautiful, romantic, genuine, and gripping stories on love, I encourage you to get started on Season 2 of Bridgerton and pick up a copy of Dating Dr. Dil today!
Written by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the doctor who uncovered the Flint water crisis, this book covers exactly how she discovered the high lead levels in Flint water and the brave and admirable fight she led for environmental and social justice.
What’s the Flint water crisis?
In short, the Flint water crisis refers to the tragic result of a 2013 change in the water source for the local residents of Flint. The lack of treatment on the new water source by Flint officials meant the highly corrosive river water was reaching the sinks and taps of thousands of local homes. This led to significantly elevated blood lead levels in Flint residents. Lead in drinking water can lead to neurodevelopmental issues, and is especially more dangerous to infants and children, due to the lower threshold of exposure.
Overview: What the Eyes Don’t See
The book covers Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s journey from when she first decides to investigate patient blood lead levels in her Hurley clinic, all the way to the state and press recognizing her efforts and taking action to rectify its wrongs. We also get to learn more about Mona’s childhood and family throughout the story and her struggle to advocate for her residents as a brown woman.
“I was a chubby baby, born with a mark, a capillary hemangioma, on my forehead. It wasn’t pretty or fascinating, like Harry Potter’s lightning bolt. […] The hemangioma regressed, went away on its own. Your eyes wouldn’t see it unless I told you where it was.”
What the Eyes Don’t See, pg. 4-5
In this beautiful reference to the title in the opening pages, we learn that Mona had a birthmark on her forehead that caused a lot of questions in her Iraqi community. People would come up to her mother asking what it was and if it could be fixed. This story about her birthmark pulled me into the book. Some cultures believe a birthmark on one’s forehead to be a sign of great wisdom. I definitely believe that to be true for Mona. I will also casually add that I have a birthmark on my forehead myself, so learning about hers really resonated with me.
“I was a true believer when it came to government. I had faith in its ability to protect rights, promote equality, and mitigate historic injustice. So much of my life and advocacy rested on that. But what had happened in Flint, and what had happened with the state, was seriously eroding that faith.”
What the Eye’s Don’t See, pg. 236
While Mona was waiting to hear back from the state government, the mayor’s office, and the city, there were times when she did not eat or sleep properly due to the weight she felt like she was bearing. When there are events out of our control, it can be difficult to cope. Mona’s family had fled from Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and found solace in America. Especially when one has personally seen how a government can fail them, it can be disheartening, to say the least, when that same country that took you in, fails to adequately address the crisis at large. Nevertheless, Mona had the support of her family, close friends, and her team, and kept a cool head to continue fighting.
“But there are really two Americas, aren’t there? The America I was lucky to grow up in, and the other America- the one I see in my clinic every day. In that other America, I have seen things I wish I’d never seen. The things you run from, not toward. Things that would never be part of any dream. And for too many people, this nightmare is taking place right outside their front door.”
What the Eyes Don’t See, pg. 323
She is so right. For so many immigrant families who come to America, they seek a better life, a prosperous and safe one, filled with opportunities for themselves and their children. Yet, Mona speaks of the injustices she sees in her clinic every day- poverty, environmental injustice, institutional racism- these are just a few, and they affect people disproportionately. From an outside perspective, the world may see America as a dream, a land of opportunity, but any family or person who has moved here knows the reality, the struggle, and the fight for survival one has to achieve before thriving.
This story is so inspirational, and the fact that Dr. Attisha is an Iraqi daughter of immigrants who values hope, advocacy, and science, makes it so much more meaningful. If you need a “prescription for hope” as Mona calls it, especially now, I encourage you to read her story.
Whatever roadblocks you may face in your life, whether physical or mental, you may know that it takes strength to overcome the obstacle.
Women in STEM
AP World History
One day in AP World History, we had an evaluator sit in the back and observe how our teacher conducted our class. The next day, our professor asked a question and waited for someone to raise their hand. As he waited and no one raised their hand, he got increasingly frustrated. When one boy in our class raised his hand, the professor said:
“[insert name] That’s great, I know you know the answer, but do any girls in the class want to give it a try? The observer said we need to increase female participation!”
I carefully looked around the room at the other girls in my class. All of them were looking down at their notebooks, tapping their pens. I knew the answer but was still waiting for someone else to go first. I had assumed that the other girls also knew but were just shy. The clock kept ticking and ticking, and not wanting to waste any more time, I finally raised my hand and answered the teacher.
Our teacher was soo excited that someone finally answered his question! He smiled brightly and continued the class. I realized that by actually raising my hand and answering the question, we could move forward and learn more in the hour-long time we had.
EBT: Electronic Buddhi Transfer
The other day my cousin wanted to know how to link her Roth IRA and Checking account so she could start transferring money from one to the other.
I was so shocked to hear this. She’s been in the USA and studying math for more than five years now! Why had no one helped her and why hadn’t she asked?
“Figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it”
How Do You Know (2010) ft. Reese Witherspoon 🙂
Upon hearing this, I told her that I would call the bank company as long as she had her account and routing numbers ready. I said I’ll have one Airpod in my right ear, and leave the other ear open to talk to the phone. Whatever account numbers she told me, would go in one ear and leave out the other 🙂
At the end of the call, I told her not to be afraid of speaking up and asking for help. That is a strength, not a weakness. I left the call with one last piece of information for her:
“While we work on the EFT: electronic funds transfer, always remember what I told you. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice. That’s the electronic buddhi (wisdom) transfer. EBT.”
Women helping women rise up. That’s something very strong, empowering, and beautiful. I can only hope we continue to help each other rise up, regardless of gender, race, class, politics, and religion.
“Pairon mein bandhan hai
Payal ne machaya shor”
(My feet are restricted, my anklets are making a noise)
“Todh he saar bandhan tu
Machne de payal ka shor”
(Break all your restrictions, let the anklets make the noise)
Whatever roadblocks you may face in your own life, I encourage you to figure out a plan of action and learn how to ask for help, if you need it. Much peace, love, and light to all 🙂
The Tennis Partner is a beautifully authentic story about two friends who meet each other through medicine and bond through tennis.
Abraham is a practicing physician in El Paso, Texas who loves all things internal medicine and all things tennis. His love for tennis is so tunnel-visioned that his wife Rajani feels that he neglects their marriage. She calls for separation and both consider how this will impact their two young boys. While Abraham (“Abe”) is a well-respected and successful physician at work, his home life is slowly unraveling.
David Smith is a fourth-year medical student who has recently started at the same hospital at Abraham. He is a recovering cocaine addict who has just completed his time at rehab and is rejoining the medical field. While shy and reserved at work, David is a former start tennis player and is a brilliant force of power on the court.
When David is assigned to Abraham’s team at the county hospital, Abraham invites him to play tennis after work one day. The two men quickly bond over tennis and grow to become close friends whose relationship intertwines a personal and professional line.
Abraham learns of David’s history but passes no judgment. The two continue to play and work together. Later on, when stressors in David’s life start to affect David’s wellbeing and decision-making, Abraham watches as David decides to spontaneously move in with a new girlfriend after barely breaking up with his former one.
Eventually, David relapses. While David’s sponsor says he saw it coming, Abraham is shocked to his core. What follows is a tragic yet authentic unraveling of the two men’s tight-knit relationship as David goes down a dark and lonely path towards solitude.
Wow. This story was so very open and honest. To witness the two characters in different arenas, both on the hospital inpatient floors and on the tennis court, was such an exciting experience. David thrived and felt most himself on the tennis court as a former star player to the point where he would often advise Abraham. On the other hand, Abraham felt most powerful on the hospital floors where he taught his students and was a strong mentor to David.
We see how both men struggle to maintain their family and personal relationships in different ways. While Abraham struggles to maintain his marriage with Rajani, he never fails to make time for his sons Ethan and Jacob. David struggles to open up to his parents and struggles to keep healthy romantic relationships with his girlfriends Gloria and Emily.
I enjoyed watching how Abe and David’s relationship progressed throughout the book. While the ending was tragic and heart-wrenching, author Abraham Verghese highlighted many lessons that we could learn from his story.
This book opened my eyes to how pervasive disease impacts and affects society. While many put medical professionals on a higher tier, it is important to remember that these professionals are humans with flaws as well. This story reinforced my belief that it can be hard to know a person’s entire story in full. Therefore, we much treat each other with kindness and respect.
For a beautifully written memoir and genuine story of a doctor and his medical student, I encourage you to pick up The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese.
Disclaimer: All views are my own. The events that transpired this past weekend and our feelings are of no fault of nexmasfest as an organization. Historically, the event has been held in Boston. We feel that it is the demographics of the venue and surrounding area, that contributed to our experience. We choose peace, love, and light, and I ask that anyone reading respect this decision.
I have also highlighted many South Asian creators and orgs throughout this post and encourage you to check out their work if you get a chance. They are in italic font to allow readability but also emphasis.
Happy Diwali to all. -Your fave aloo monster ❤
If you identify with a hyphenated identity (I’ll go first: Asian Indian-American), then you may know that you get to choose how much of each culture to embrace. (TED talk, @ROYALSHAUNAK). I always had a strong sense of my own identity growing up. I remember having short hair, aka a “mushroom cut” and playing the MALE role in our Bengali plays as a kid! But I played those roles like a queen!
During my first week as a seventh-grader at BLS, my mom had packed me rice with vegetable curry for lunch. Our cafeteria was filled with circular tables, meant for fostering connection. As soon as I opened the lid, a girl exclaimed “EW.. what is THAT”. Flabbergasted, I looked for the words to explain my lunch. Someone told her not to be so mean. But I already felt the impact of her words. I insisted to my mom that she only make turkey and cheese sandwiches from now on.
Throughout my time at BLS, I realized that I could count the number of brown (read: desi) people on a single hand.
I did what any angsty desi teen would reasonably do to express myself. I got a nose piercing in Kolkata at 15, joined BLS Desi society, and found a circle of true, genuine, and multicultural friends. My junior year research paper was a fierce fourteen pages on two books by V.S. Naipaul. I remember going to Regal Cinemas Fenway to watch Dil Dhadakne Do, alone, at 16, because my brown friends were taking the SAT Subject test LOL. My favorite thing about moving to Boston was the diversity of my city, my new home, even if the diversity was almost comically misrepresented at my school.
Our experience: resilience and bravery
This past weekend, my mom and I showcased and sold her art at nexmasfest. Over 300 artisans would build booths to exhibit their art at the Earth Convention Center at Mohegan Sun, CT. I was so excited. I had never been and bought myself a new dress, just for fun.
Within a few minutes of setup, we became extremely conscious of our identities as brown women. Many artists were Caucasian, and/or men. I counted two other South Asian-owned booths and two Black-owned booths. We frantically began unloading our rental Chrysler Voyager. I assured her that we were two gundas (gangsters) and that gangsters transcend race and gender.
But it did not feel enough. We put our blood, sweat, and tears into building our booth.
The first sale of the day for vendors in Kolkata is a celebration. Vendors casually sit back and for the first sale, cash in hand, they do a quick prayer gesture to thank Lakshmi, goddess of wealth.
In the fluorescent lighting of the Convention Center, my heart BROKE. My mom crouched to hide behind our table, and cash in hand, quietly did the prayer gesture to thank Lakshmi. Her proceeds go to charity. She should NOT feel scared to pray while pursuing her own dream.
Hasan Minhaj was right. Our parent’s generation was about survival, while ours is about thriving (Homecoming King, Hasan Minhaj). I’m over here trying to actively table by putting our booth number on my sweater and marching through the aisles (CMU Om: Diwali and Holi). Mom is quietly playing Lakshmi mantra.
Meanwhile, I’m over here blasting Soundcloud bhangra to hype myself up. Like a bhangra dancer touches the stage to do a quick prayer before a performance, I’m touching the carpet of the Convention Center every time I enter LOL. Am I turning heads? Sure, but who really cares? Not me, I promise you that.
But there was more. We felt like we were on display, rather than our booth. People would gawk and stare at us as they walked through the aisles of the festival. What was supposed to be a fun time quickly turned us into stressed, introspective, and quiet individuals.
Why is it that every black, brown, and Asian artist I saw were all hiding in a corner behind their booth, trying not to be seen?? I doubt that the average Caucasian male artist did this much reflection.
I relate to The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) now. After their original restaurant burned down in a fire, the Kadam family moved from India to Paris to open a restaurant right across a Michelin-star sensation. The film stars Manish Dayal as Hassan Kadam, a talented young chef. Om Puri made his daughter Mahira, played by Farzana Dua Elahe, dress up in jewelry and a sari and stand at the front to *attract* paying customers. (Remember, we don’t chase, we attract. Source: TikTok).
At nexmasfest, while my mom planned, she told me how she wants “pretty girls” to sell her art. I wore my new dress just for her. I would adorn my eyes each morning with golden glitter eye shadow because my eyes are all people would see under my mask.
Hard work, dedication, and passion. These manifest in different ways, seen and unseen. My mom worked year-round in addition to her full-time role to produce her art. I was merely a humble volunteer, doing my best to table, sell, and have fun along the way.
As we reflected upon our experience, we both felt initial anger at the situation, because we could not control the demographics that chose to attend the festival. We talked about reaching out to nexmasfest, and she is going to be in touch with them to share her experience. Also, we did make solid money. Out of 300 artists, people saw something in her art, and maybe even in us as a dynamic desi duo.
Do NOT mess with two ARIES women. We forgive but do not forget. We believe in karma. NO artist should have to feel angry. I wrote this post for my Mom. Bengalis are historically thought to be creative and very sweet. We are both, except when you mess with us.
It is so cool how Aries (fire sign) sounds like Ares, the Greek God of war, the spirit of battle. I choose to pick my battles. Who knows whether the pen is mightier than the sword, but the written word is my talwaar, my sword, my current weapon of choice. Holding my little puppy warrior, Scout, and listening to desi music brought me a bit of sukoon (calm, peace, relief) and a pocket of peace. (Sukoon Mila x Arijit Singh, Nabela Noor).
This Diwali season, I choose peace, love, and light. However, I will not be silenced. Our fire and our light burn brightly.
Inspired by The Circle Season 3 and Jane the Virgin (Team Rafael), I titled this post:
It had been a long time since I picked up a romance novel. After a deep dive into historical fiction, I decided to give this book a try after seeing an amazing review on TikTok by @aymansbooks. I am so glad I read this one! Elena Armas did a great job of setting up a fake romance between our main characters, Lina and Aaron that was full of plot twists, tension, drama, and emotion.
Summary: The Spanish Love Deception
The novel centers on Lina Martín, a young woman working at a large company, InTech, in New York City. She clearly dislikes her work nemesis, Aaron Blackford, with a burning passion after he dismissed her on the first day he started. However, Lina desperately needs a date for her sister’s wedding in Spain. Or else, Lina fears that her family will continue to pity her for still being single.
Aaron, although seemingly cold and heartless, surprisingly agrees to be Lina’s date to her sister’s wedding. Lina is very adamant and stubborn at first, but after a lot of convincing in part from her best friend Rosie, she finally agrees to let Aaron accompany her.
The two head together to Spain and in those three days, a whirlwind of events and moments transpire between our two characters. Aaron and Lina truly get to know each other during this time and share secrets with each other that neither of them expected to share. I will leave the rest unsaid as I think this slow-burn, enemies to lovers romance deserves to be read in full to get the complete experience.
I loved this book because of its very real and relatable characters. Aaron and Lina’s romance also had the perfect pacing, and our author Armas does an awesome job of portraying both characters as genuine, caring individuals with real flaws and fears. I definitely recommend picking this one up if you are a fan of romance novels and in the mood for a contemporary romance filled with gripping tension and yet, full of love.
As a huge fan of Season 1, I was so excited to see Season 2! Never heard of The Circle? Here is an overview:
The Circle is a reality show centered on social media and gaining popularity in a virtual environment. We begin with a group of eight players who can choose to either be themselves or play a catfish. Since players cannot see each other and can only communicate virtually through the “circle chat”, it is up to each player to decide for themselves who they think is real.
Players try to make friends and gain popularity through their conversations in the chat and through the various online games through the show. At the end of each week, players rate each other, and the two highest-rated players become “influencers”. These two influencers then decide who they would like to block from The Circle. Blocked players can no longer compete. Often, before they leave, they can meet one player face to face. Did I mention that the winner of the show gets $100,000 dollars? Thus, the competition is fierce and the stakes are high.
In Season 2 we get to see some familiar faces, including Chloe from Too Hot to Handle and Mitch, who is related to Ed and Tammy from Season 1. A new aspect I saw this season was the inclusion of “The Joker”. This player got to be anonymous and had the chance to speak to two new players entering The Circle, Khat and Mitch. I will keep The Joker’s identity hidden, but it is very interesting to see their strategy in what they reveal to the new players!
This season also had a lot of people playing under a different identity, a lot of which made it very far! We also see two blocked players get a second chance under a new fake identity. These are just a handful of twists and turns that come about with The Circle.
I really like The Circle because I enjoy seeing everyone’s strategy for how they play the game. To do well, I believe one has to really know their identity well, whether real or fake. Players who do well often form alliances with a broad group of players, instead of forming cliques. I also was really impressed by all the new aspects of the game that came with Season 2. I think the winner of Season 2 truly deserved it and played an excellent game with both strategy and wit.
Overall, I encourage you to check out The Circle on Netflix because it is a really interesting game and show to watch! 🙂
As I write this post, we are currently in July of 2021. Compared to where we were a year ago regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it is safe to say we have come a long way. Vaccines have been rolling out, the public has been re-opening, and masks are no longer required in many spaces.
As we remain vigilant as to the latest public health news and advice from the experts, many people are also returning to an in-person work setting. I have seen TikTok videos of people DREADING going back to work and having to engage in “water cooler” chat again, while others simply cannot wait to go back to the office. All of this has me thinking about the importance of weak ties.
What are weak ties? Dr. Meg Jay, the author of The Defining Decade, defines weak ties as:
“people we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well. Weak ties are also our former employers or professors and other associations not promoted to close friends … Weak ties give us access to something fresh … like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead.
(You can also check out my review of her book here)
Dr. Jay goes to explain how the people who are “weak ties” in your life can actually be the most useful for professional networking purposes. Another article my cousin told me about stressed the importance of weak ties for our emotional well-being. I could not help but think how true this is. These simple and perhaps transient connections are so crucial for opening avenues for serendipity in our everyday lives and fostering a sense of fulfillment. Whether I am chatting in the break room with my coworkers about the mediocre cafeteria pizza, listening to my hairdresser give advice to a guy going on a date tomorrow, or hearing my eyebrow threading aunty tell me about why she decided to come to America from Nepal, these interactions create a sense of community and belonging for us.
I am definitely grateful for these seemingly small aspects of our everyday lives. Although counterintuitive, these weak ties can be extremely powerful. As we slowly and carefully welcome more in-person social interactions and reconnect with close friends and family, I also wonder at the possibilities of new connections that we may form. To me, that potential is really beautiful.
When I first read the description of this book online, I was immediately drawn to the suspense and adventure alluded to in the description. The story of how Lydia and Luca escape a dangerous drug cartel and venture North reminded me a lot of the 2007 film La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), in which a mother and son separate in Mexico and eventually re-unite in the United States. I excitedly started reading Chapter 1 of American Dirt and already felt like I was hiding in the bathtub along with Lydia and Luca from the gang members in Acapulco.
This was also my first time listening to a book on Audible, and I really enjoyed the experience. While there is a unique satisfaction that comes with holding a book (kindle) in your hands while reading, I enjoyed being able to listen to the book while coloring to ground myself.
Plot Description (without spoilers)
Lydia and Luca are a mother and son duo trying to escape the dangerous gang violence that has slowly but surely overtaken Acapulco. Sebastian, Lydia’s husband, is a journalist who has just published a piece exposing the drug cartel, Los Jardineros, and their leader Javier, also known as La Lechuza. After this piece is written, Javier orders for Lydia’s family, including Sebastian, to be killed. Lydia and Luca hide in the bathtub, breathless and not moving, while they hear and later, see their family members being murdered. When Lydia first met Javier in her bookstore, little did she know that he was the notorious drug lord responsible for the state of their town.
The novel follows Lydia and Luca’s journey as they venture North and try to escape the miserable violence and danger that awaits them in Acapulco. Trigger warning, there are instances of sexual assault and sexual violence in this novel.
Opinion and Reaction
I really loved this book because I felt like I was there with the characters. Cummings does a great job of using vivid descriptions and figurative language throughout the novel, so you really experience the pain, loss, anger, relief, and numbness along with the characters. The journey that Lydia and Luca embark on is an arduous one, and I felt like I was right next to them every step of the way. The emotions I experienced while reading this novel were a rollercoaster of sadness, relief, suspense and thrill, and just a general strong sense of hope that they would make it past each of their numerous hurdles.
At the end of the novel, I was so glad that I had read it. I felt truly honored to have been on that journey with the characters and realized the immense difficulty that Mexican and South American immigrants face in crossing the border to the United States. I could tell that Cummings had done her research when portraying her characters’ struggles and experiences. Her descriptions of Lydia and Luca’s reactions to trauma were also very vivid and real.
It was only after reading this book that I saw the controversy about American Dirt. Many felt that this story was not the author’s story to tell, as a white woman writing about a fictional story involving a Mexican woman. Another term being used is trauma porn, which is “when the plights or traumas of a culture or race are used for entertainment”. After reading articles about how this is harmful to minorities and how some minority authors feel as though they are expected to write about issues like immigration, slavery, etc., while white writers have more freedom in what they choose to cover, I felt a little more educated about the issue. I can definitely understand the controversy and different viewpoints. While I do not identify with the Latinx identity, as a South Asian woman of color, I do strongly care about advocating for minorities and bringing light to their experiences. I am glad that Oprah decided to have a conversation with Latinx writers after hearing about the controversy after announcing the novel as part of her book club. I am glad that she used her platform to highlight this issue, and bring awareness to the lack of diversity in media, including the publishing industry. I hope that these conversations continue to be had and we continue to address these issues and advocate for change.
I really enjoyed this book and was absolutely blown away by how drawn I was to the characters. I would definitely recommend this book as a good suspenseful read and would also recommend anyone reading this book to also read about the controversy and issues brought up. I also enjoyed using Audible to listen to the book and am definitely pro-audiobook, (in addition to being pro-kindle). Let me know if you end up reading this book!
Last week on CBS Sunday morning, there was a segment about overcoming COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. The piece included an interview Reverend DeWitt, who runs a nursing home located in West Baltimore. The reverend talked about how the majority of his staff did not trust the vaccine and were resistant to receiving it.
This mistrust is not unique to that nursing home. The Tuskegee experiments that were done in the 1930’s on African Americans for untreated syphilis are one of the most ill-conducted studies in American history. In fact, it is partly the reason why clinical studies today require informed consent, or, for a patient to understand the risks and benefits to a study and give written consent before they can participate. The Tuskegee study is one of the reasons why African Americans in particular are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.
I can understand why one may have questions about the vaccine or be hesitant until they know all the facts. I can also understand why African Americans may be more hesitant about receiving the vaccine because of past history, general mistrust, and experience with institutional racism in the healthcare system, police system, and more.
I thought I’d share my personal experience with getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to note that side effects may vary person to person.
I received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The fact sheet for this vaccine can be found here. As a healthcare worker, I was able to schedule my vaccine through my employer. On the first day of receiving the vaccine, I did not experience any symptoms. The process of receiving the vaccine was very smooth: there were multiple nurses stations and someone by the door ushered me to an available station. The nurse asked about any known allergies, gave me the fact sheet for Pfizer vaccine, and got the dose ready. It hurt just as much as a flu shot. After receiving a Bugs Bunny bandaid, I was told to wait in the next room for fifteen minutes to make sure I didn’t have an immediate allergic reaction.
I waited for fifteen minutes along with others who had just gotten their first shot, before I was given a vaccination record card. Upon receiving this card, I could schedule my second dose for three weeks later.
The next morning, I woke up with a sore arm in the arm I had gotten the shot. Besides this, there were no other side effects and this pain went away by the third or fourth day.
Due to shipment delays caused by the snowstorms in the Midwest region, my second appoint was actually rescheduled from a Wednesday to the following Monday. That Monday, I got my second dose. The process was very similar to that of the first dose. I was ushered to an available station and handed the nurse my vaccination card. She asked me about allergies, any side effects from the first dose, and filled out my card. Surprisingly, the second shot actually hurt less than the first one. I was asked to wait fifteen minutes in the next room, before going about my day.
That day, I did not experience any immediate side effects. This is understandable given that your immune system takes time to build a proper immune response.
The following morning, I woke up with a sore arm as expected, as well as a general feeling of fatigue. I had slept eight hours, but I felt like I could go for at least four more. Besides that though, I was surprised. I had no fever or chills. I took a Tylenol that morning as a preventative measure. Besides feeling tired, overall I was okay, and went into work that day.
Later that day, I experienced some mild headaches that would come and go, but nothing severe enough to affect my ability to work or anything. That night I went to bed early to try and get some extra rest. The following day I felt much better.
Overall, I only experienced mild fatigue and a slight headache from my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. I expected it to be way worse given what I had heard from coworkers and friends. Nevertheless, I am glad that my experience wasn’t too bad, although I know it will vary from person to person. Resting and taking Tylenol or something similar definitely helped me. I encourage you to get the vaccine when you can, as with each vaccinated person, we get one step closer to a relatively normal life. 🙂
A novel that is eerily similar to the current pandemic but worth the read
While I was worried that reading about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic would be difficult given our current pandemic, Wiseman reveals to us the inner thoughts of her characters to make them more relatable, thus creating a compelling story. Pia Lange is a thirteen year old girl who quickly faces a harsh reality when the Spanish Flu hits Philadelphia. After losing her two baby brothers, the novel follows her long and arduous journey as she searches for them. Pia finds herself alone in a hospital, in a bleak and dreary orphanage, and in the warm home of Dr. and Mrs. Hudson until she eventually reunites with her brothers. The book takes the perspective of Pia and her neighbor Bernice, and gives us a glimpse of the anti-immigrant sentiment, the griping plight of those recently orphaned, and the desperation that many faced when they lost their homes and their loved ones.
Overall, I had a hard time putting The Orphan Collector down. Wiseman crafts a dramatic story and uses just enough suspense at the end of each chapter to make you want to keep reading. You end up rooting for Pia after all she has been through with the flu, living in an orphanage, and more. The final chapters and ending gave me goosebumps and left me feeling emotional and incredibly grateful. There is much to learn from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and Wiseman doesn’t shy away from portraying its harsh effects on Philadelphia’s residents. Nevertheless, the story is incredibly touching and worth the read.
Discussion questions and parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic
The book makes you think about how we have dealt with the current COVID-19 pandemic in relation to how we dealt with the flu in the past. The discussion questions at the end of the novel mention how in Philadelphia, doctors pushed for the Liberty Loan Parade (where the book first starts), to be cancelled because of concerns that crowds of people would spread the flu. They tried convincing reporters to write about this, but to no avail. Despite warning, the large parade was still held and over the next six weeks, more than 12,000 citizens had died. The discussion question then asks, “How much of a difference would it have made if those stories had been printed in the newspaper? Do you think people would have stayed home or gone to the parade anyway?”
Reading this question almost made me feel ashamed of how back in March, there was some media coverage about COVID-19 but we didn’t realize the effects or the severity until it was already too late. While colleges did move to online classes, each college’s spring break was a different week in March, making it hard to prevent millions of students from traveling both domestically and internationally. Going back to this question, it definitely would have helped if those newspapers had published those stories, and I doubt people would have collectively listened to health advisories unless they were mandated or there were formal sanctions or bans.
Another question was “Though the disease knew no gender, racial, or ethnic boundaries, Philadelphia’s immigrant poor suffered the worst, with the largest loss of life happening in the slums and tenement districts. Why do you think that was? What issues do you think contributed to it? Do you think any of those issues continue to impact people living today?”
Reading this sounded eerily familiar, because currently, black and Latino Americans are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and more likely to die from the virus. This is explained in part by black Americans having preexisting conditions at a greater rate that predispose them to contracting the virus, as well as less access to health insurance and having jobs that prevent them from working remotely. It is astonishing how much public health can intersect with race and the socioeconomic gradient.
The last discussion question I’ll touch on includes some pretty interesting facts:
“In 1918, St. Louis, Missouri, immediately closed schools, movie theaters, and banned public gatherings. Their death toll ended up being one-eighth of the losses in Philadelphia due to the Spanish flu.” -To me this just reminded me of New Zealand and their leadership’s ability to deal with the virus and prevent its spread.
“Many people blamed the 1918 pandemic on Germans, claiming they were spreading poison clouds, or that Bayer, a German-owned company, had infected their aspirin”. This reminded me of the discrimination that many Asian Americans continue to face ever since the start of the pandemic.
“In San Francisco, people without masks were fined five dollars and were called “mask slackers.” Now this seemed like a pretty neat idea and good way to encourage people to wear masks when in public to prevent infection.
Hats off to Ellen Marie Wiseman for creating such a realistic and heartwarming story that impacts readers emotionally and makes them truly reflect on our current situation.
Just posting this to make sure you are taking time for yourself. I remember my senior fall semester of college, when I was balancing my classes with research, teaching, and volunteering. I was so busy that I barely had any time for myself. When I did have free time, I would forget how to relax because my mind would be preoccupied with my own to-do list. As we enter 2021, I want to continue actively setting time for myself to relax and recharge. Enjoy this image I found that includes 50 ways to take a break. What are some ways you take care of yourself?
I recently read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, and absolutely loved it! Here are a few quotes that really resonated with me:
On racism and inequality:
People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood
This year we have seen protests all around the world demanding that we address the racism in our country. Specifically, there is systemic, institutional racism that is somehow allowed in our country, that disadvantages black and brown people from attaining the same status and accessing the same opportunities as those more privileged. Those who have privilege often think that ‘Poor people don’t work hard enough’, but the reality is they are not given the same opportunities.
On growth and comfort zones:
Comfort can be dangerous. Comfort provides a floor but also a ceiling.
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood
A solid reminder that every accomplishment starts with the decision to try (a quote by JFK), and that our limitations are self-imposed. It is a reminder to keep breaking through your comfort zone, because what lies outside of it is the potential for something beautiful.
On abusive and toxic relationships:
Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love. It’s a strange feeling. You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either love or hate them, but that’s not how people are.
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood
People are not innately all good or all bad, and that sucks for our mind, which tries to categorize and organize, to make sense of what is going on. One of the reasons it is so hard to leave a toxic or abusive relationship is because of something called “lock-in”, which Dr. Meg Jay defines as the “decreased likelihood to search for other options, or to change to another option, once an investment in something has been made”. We keep giving chances to people who do not want to change, and end up getting hurt. My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced this and remember that you are not alone.
What are some favorite books you have read this year?
Got any favorite books you have read this year or favorites in general? Let me know of any recommendations in the comments!
Graduating from college is monumental enough. But graduating amidst a pandemic, into one of the worst economies, and during a pivotal election year is even more daunting. Much like how I receive a lot of new information, it was through Instagram stories that I discovered this book, The Defining Decade, by Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist. I decided to give it a shot.
The book is divided into three key categories deemed the most relevant to twenty-somethings- Work, Love, and The Brain and Body. Each chapter addresses an important issue and uses stories from real clients that the author has spoken with as a psychologist. Many of the clients in the book are lost because they do not know what to do, are so stuck in a certain position that they don’t know how to get out, or simply do not have a plan for their future. I’ll be honest, reading about some of their stories did make me feel better about myself by comparison, but the point of the book isn’t really to be reassuring. I thought about how relatable it was to feel like you are navigating an ocean and don’t know how to swim. I’m sure other twenty-somethings feel the same. I remembered what Emily, the grad student whom I worked with in my research lab said. Basically, she said everyone who seems to know what they are doing is probably faking it, and that’s what most of adulting really is.
So apparently, the twenties is another one of those critical periods. This time though, it’s not so much about developing your brain like when you were an infant, but rather about learning how to be an adult and navigate new challenges and uncertainty. I’m glad I learned about this so-called critical period while I was still in it. I noticed that in all sections of the book, Jay emphasizes the importance of being intentional, and acting with a purpose. So much of what we do during our twenties translates to how we will live the rest of our lives. Most of the 30 year olds who visit Dr. Jay were nonchalant and indifferent in their twenties and thus struggled to thrive in their thirties. The emphasis of the book was that the time is now.
“That’s cool, but we’re living in a pandemic, so…”
I really enjoyed Dr. Jay’s book and all the lessons she offered relating to work, life, and the brain and body. She stressed the value of being intentional, taking action, and making your certainty. Twenty-somethings are already worried and anxious about whether their life is going to work out. In the middle of a pandemic, that anxiety heightens for many. In the midst of all this increased uncertainty, how exactly are we supposed to “take the world by storm”?
When thinking about this question I thought about something that Dr. Jay mentioned, called present bias. This is our human tendency to overemphasize immediate rewards while discounting the future. We end up putting a lot of psychological distance between now and then, and this creates a lot of abstraction. Basically, we place emphasis on the present a lot. Which in some ways is good. But to stop ourselves from overthinking about the future, the best way to deal with this is to remember that the situations we are in won’t last forever. Obviously, none of us know when this will all be over, but we can control how we adapt to these changes and move with them. Those that are thriving mentally and physically are those that have learned to be flexible and calm in the face of uncertainty. As someone who values structure and organization, this is new. And we are all learning.
Because we’ve reached more than 100 days in quarantine and I’ve started to think my social contacts consist of the deer and rabbits in my backyard. 🙂
As a disclaimer, I would say one of the most powerful things that has lifted my spirits is talking to friends and family. However, it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. With studying being one of my top priorities, (mental health being the first), I haven’t really been reaching out to friends as much as I should, and I have definitely reduced my social media presence. But falling off of the face of the earth was all fun and games until I realized it wasn’t sustainable. So in addition to maintaining social contact with real humans and not just the animals in my backyard, here are some things keeping me sane during this lovely time.
1. Exercising daily
Yeah, you read that right. I never worked out more than maybe two or three times a week, but about 6 days into quarantine I realized that if I didn’t move around for a bit, my homemade bread loaves would catch up to me. I started doing some light exercises on my own and slowly bumped this up to following Youtube videos. Fortunately, my parents also wanted to join in, so we started following some simple 10 – 20 minute videos together. As our stamina increased, we started working out at least 30 min to sometimes 1 hour a day. Over time, I noticed an improvement in my general mood and confidence. We had come back from India in March when quarantine started and so losing the extra weight from eating all the amazing food was definitely a plus. In addition to improvements in mood, I generally just felt more motivated to keep going, and it was a positive feedback loop as I got stronger. I would especially like to shout out the fitness YouTubers Emi Wong and Chloe Ting. They are the reason I see increased muscle tone and some ab lines starting to shyly introduce themselves.
2. Cooking new foods
In addition to our homemade bread recipe, cooking new foods has helped me express my creativity and feel more in control of my health and wellbeing. When I was in college I definitely dabbled in some staple dishes like fishes, pastas, rice dishes, etc., but not as often as now. Now that I am home and school is out, I have some more freedom to try out different things. Some new things that I have tried include homemade bread, english muffins, shakshuka, lasagna, sweet potato toast, risotto, and seared scallops. Some staples that I continue to thrive on include overnight oats, pasta, and salad. It feels nice to take charge of our lunch and/or dinner from time to time, and I am glad I can contribute to our household in some tangible way. I sure know it makes my parents happy.
3. Listening to some dope music
I do this whether we are in a pandemic or not, but it definitely has a therapeutic effect. Sometimes a solo dance party in your room is all you need. I can’t jam to music at parties right now but I sure can in the shower.
One day we were using green onion in something and had cut off the roots. My mom had the idea of planting them in our backyard so they would grow more. We also had some pumpkin seeds laying around that we planted as well. Instead of eating the resulting pumpkin fruit as one normally would do, we actually harvest the flowers, coat them in batter, and deep fry them. It tastes so so good. Anyways, in just a week, we saw the pumpkin seeds starting to sprout, and the green onion had already shot upwards. I’m not sure if it was the lawnmower dude or the rabbits, but one day I went out with scissors to use some of the green onions in my cooking, only to find them obliterated. The perpetrator had also gnawed off the start of the pumpkin leaves. So one wild Saturday, my mom and I drove to this small farm place and got some mint, coriander, zucchini, cucumber, roses, lilies, zinnias, and celosias. I read on Twitter that placing flowers around your vegetable plants protect them from creatures, and so far, that has worked! We also had an existing green chili plant and some basil. After buying the new plants, we replaced the soil on both the old and new guys and they have been thriving.
Overall, I’d say working on something consistently and feeling accomplished as you watch your growth and progress has been super rewarding. In that way, exercising, cooking, and gardening are alike. They have helped me develop a more robust sense of self during this time, and for that I am thankful.
Having recently watched this show on Netflix, it left me feeling so many things that I had to share. So keep reading for 5 reasons why this show is so great. *Spoiler alerts* below.
1. It deals with grief and unresolved trauma.
This is something that was so refreshing to see on a show. Devi’s loss of her dad left her feeling deeply saddened but we see how she chooses to suppress and avoid this. She becomes defensive and aggressive any time her dad is brought up, and tries to suppress her memories and flashbacks by channeling her thoughts into sex and Paxton. Regardless, we get to understand through her eyes why her dad was so important to her and how she is coping with his loss.
2. Different parenting styles
Mohan is a warm and accepting father while Nalini is a strict and protective mother. Fabiola’s mother wants to connect with her and can be overbearing at times, but has a good heart. Eleanor’s mom is too selfish to be there for her daughter. Ben’s parents are both away all the time, leaving Ben feeling lonely. No parent is perfect, and we get to see each parent struggle in their own way to understand their kids.
3. Loneliness and Insecurity
The two boys in Devi’s life, Ben and Paxton, respectively show us how loneliness and insecurity are common and human. Ben never gets to see his parents and doesn’t feel noticed by them, making him feel lonely and resulting in him often spending nights with his housekeeper, playing basketball, or hanging out on Reddit. It even leads to him being catfished! But it reinforces how loneliness is common and can be something we all feel. Paxton’s sister has Down’s syndrome, and we see him get defensive and upset at Devi for hanging out with her. He’s protective of his sister, and doesn’t want anyone to hurt her.
4. Kamala and Devi’s relationship
Of course, Devi’s friendship with Fabiola and Eleanor is awesome to see, but I really enjoyed seeing Kamala and Devi’s relationship. It reminded me of my cousin, who like Kamala, has come from India to get her PhD. Watching them bond over keeping secrets and overall just having each other’s back was very heart-warming to see.
I left this one for the end, but it definitely is not the lowest priority. When he came at the Ramakrishnan’s door looking like THAT, I was so surprised. My approval intensified when he came with a gift for Kamala, and peaked when he was emotionally aware enough to recognize that Devi did not necessarily want to play the harp. It really makes you reconsider an arranged marriage. Also, the part they mentioned about Indian guys wanting a girl who will be his mom. The stereotype is that these boys are treated like kings at home to such an extent that they are coddled, and can end up growing up to be entitled. Prashanth so far does not meet that stereotype, and he reminds me that not all men are like that.
And so, my girl Mindy Kaling really did it again. She covered a lot of ground with this show, and I hope it continues to get the recognition it deserves. Well done!
3.13.20. It’s honestly crazy how life can change. On Thursday 3/5, the week before spring break, I was excitedly lugging my suitcase on the 28X airport shuttle, on my way home to Boston. We were going to be attending my cousin’s wedding in India for the week of spring break. When my dad picked me up from Logan Airport, he was kind of quiet, but I didn’t think anything of it. I was too busy planning my basic brown girl Instagram post in my head. I envisioned what outfits I would wear, and which ones would photograph the best. The post would have been all about me, even though it was not my wedding.
When we get home from the airport, I can tell something is off with my mom too. She sits me down, and tells me the news: my boro jetu (uncle) has passed away. His son was the one who was supposed to get married. We are still going to India, but the wedding is postponed. We anticipate attending the shraddho (last rites ceremony) held after about 12 days after death, instead. And so, I leave my kurtis and simple tops in the suitcase, but take out the lehenga and fancier salwar kameez. My mom takes out the jewellery and wedding gifts.
On Friday morning (3/6), I am snoozing my alarm every few minutes. Usually, I don’t need more than two to wake up, but today perhaps my subconscious knows I am not looking forward to break. I still go to my interview that afternoon. The simple acts of taking the glamorous orange line into the city, walking on the familiar brick-adorned streets, and listening to my ‘S20 Greatest Hits’ playlist, are calming. When one of my interviewers innocently asks my plans for break, I can feel my face get flushed and tears welling up. I’m not sure if he notices this, but he gracefully changes the topic after I answer. Besides that one small moment, everything goes smoothly and I head back home. By 9pm that evening, my parents and I are at Logan again, suitcases in hand, this time at Terminal E.
Today 3.13.20, it’s almost a week later, and we are in Kolkata. In a few days we will go to the shraddho for boro jetu. Although the reason we are here is sour, we have managed to make our lemonade, so to speak, by celebrating Holi, going shopping, and doing some sightseeing. My mejo mashi (aunt), mejo jeti (aunt), and choto maima dida (i want to say great aunt), are all bringing us the absolute best Bengali vegetarian food (no meat, maach, eggs, onions, garlic until the shraddho day). But today at 5:30 am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, so I decide to connect to Wifi and check my phone. I learn that CMU has decided to make classes online, and is encouraging students to complete their semester remotely. Carnival is canceled. My lab tech has texted me asking if he can pull the plug on my current cell plates. I consent, which breaks my heart as both a scientist and cell mom.
Life doesn’t always wait until you are ready. Sometimes, it just happens. Although I was having a great time the first half of the semester, I was looking forward to goofing off even more. It is important to remember that things could be a lot worse, and that we are not alone. I pray that this measure does a great job at preventing further spread. We are blessed. Perhaps yes, I did not need a third PDT formal to realize I am not the dance master I claim to be. Also, if you have seen the meme, yes, “Corona” does indeed sound like something a Bengali girl in the mood would say. It loosely translates to “Please, do it”. When I told this to my parents, they couldn’t help but laugh.
To whoever is reading this, you are not alone. We shall overcome, and this too, shall pass.
Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
My name is Puja, and welcome to my blog! I’m a current college student, studying biology and pre-med, and love writing. I also love going out with friends, cooking, and connecting with people. I want this blog to be pretty open ended, and have it be a peek into my life and what I’m about. Although I journal as well, I wanted to start blogging publicly as well in the hopes that someone out there can relate to my writing, feel inspired, or even just have a laugh. Thanks for visiting!! 🙂