The story telling competition this year was slightly different from the previous years.
The first difference is pretty obvious, that the competition was held through Zoom sessions rather than face-to-face. The 2nd difference is that we had IAGB Youth directors who along with the IAGB Board members, co-organized this competition. My name is Sushil Motwani, and I am one of the Directors on the board of the India Association of Greater Boston, and Aarushi Pant who is a junior at Westboro High, is our IAGB Youth Director who co-organized it along with me. The 3rd difference was that this time, we provided topics on which the kids would create a story, as compared to previous years, where kids could tell a story on whatever they wished:
Category A: (Kindergarten to 2nd Grade) – Tell us a story about what you like or dislike about the Corona Virus and how it has changed how much fun you could have.
Category B: (3rd Grade to 5th Grade) – The remote school or hybrid school during COVID-19 has changed the way we do school. Tell us in the form of a story, or speech, what would you like to change to make school more fun.
The competition was a “live” competition held on 17th January 2021 between the hours of 10:00am EST to 12:00 noon EST in which the children recited/told the story live to a panel of 5 esteemed judges on a Zoom Call. The judges for the competition were: (As you can see that the youth and women were well represented in this group ?)
Emily Hazard – Student at UMass Lowell
Shoba Donti – Director at Kumon, North Andover
Anzhuo Wang – High School Student
Omshreya Swain – High School Student
Selena Luo – High School Student
The competition was not broadcast live.
Each participant was sent to a Breakout Room and had 3 minutes or less to talk about their story.
The story was to be presented in any form i.e., regular storytelling format or props.
Participants were judged by the exposition of the selected story (10), clarity/understanding of message (10), quality of message (10), memorization (10) and speaking style (10).
We would like to thank the children very much for participating in the storytelling competition and the parents for encouraging the kids to perform despite the virtual nature of the competition. The judges were extremely impressed with the level of effort and confidence with which each of the kids performed. The deliberations between the judges were remarkably interesting to watch and hear.
Congratulations to all the wonderful children, as without their participation, we would not have winners.
Category A: (Kindergarten to 2nd Grade)
1st: Siddharth Vikram
2nd: Abhinav Nambudiri
3rd: Madhav Nayar
Category B: (3rd Grade to 5th Grade)
IAGB annually hosts a Junior Shark Tank event, a pitch competition for aspiring young entrepreneurs to introduce their ideas, receive feedback, and potentially take home a prize along with a range of valuable skills. From the beginning, this competition has served to uplift the children of the community and support them in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Thus, the Junior Shark Tank is first and foremost an experience to grow and learn.
On January 23, 2021, 7 groups of students participated in the Junior Shark Tank held virtually, organized and run by Supriya Shekar and Cynthia Rajeshkanna. Each team pitched a phenomenal business idea. Before the competition, the students prepared comprehensive pitch decks, and they received feedback. The participants were able to revise their pitch with this feedback in mind before submitting materials to the judges.
On the day of the actual pitch, two groups competed in the high school category, consisting of students from 9th grade to 12th grade. The remaining five groups competed in the category for younger students from 5th grade to 8th grade.
In the high school category, Abhisar Anand, Kush Gami, and Srinivas Sriram pitched Drivector, and they received the winning prize of 500 dollars. Yuvi Gahlaut, Raj Taylor, and Akhil Janapareddy pitched HelpingMass, and they received a generous donation of 1,000 dollars towards their initiative.
In the category for younger students, Rishabh Tole pitched Class Notes and won the 500 dollar first-place prize. Aditya Anand pitched Mask_PI and won the 300 dollar second-place prize. Arush Shangari pitched KnowledgeVue and won the 200 dollar third-place prize.
Finally, both Aadi Kumar who pitched Cleanpull and Vihaan Benegal who pitched KidSwap received free legal consultations to support their ventures. To learn more about any of these business ideas, take a look at the full video uploaded on the IAGB Youtube channel: https://youtu.be/1s2dkt4eD_4.
The wonderful and incredibly qualified judges (Thomas Arul: Founder of Bleumi, Katie Quigley Mellor: Program Director of Tie Young Entrepreneurs, Vinit Nijhawan: Managing Director at MassVentures, Nick Patel: Founder and CEO of Wellable https://www.wellable.co/home, and Matthew Lopez: The Law Offices of Matthew Lopez) spent much time deliberating over the winners and insisted on offering awards to every team.
As was clearly stated throughout the event, every participant was and is a winner. They were all able to gain valuable feedback while spreading the word about their initiatives and getting an incredible head start in the form of prizes. It is important to stress that the primary goal of the Junior Shark Tank is to inspire and encourage young entrepreneurs; it is truly a worthwhile experience for children of all ages. Be sure to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and encourage the young entrepreneurs in your community to partake in next year’s Junior Shark Tank!
Judging poetry is a tall order to meet – it takes high poetic caliber, creative & analytical skills as well as in depth literary understanding to be able to judge poetry. And you did it with such precision and passion!
IAGB Youth Associate Nithya Raj & I, Tanu Basu are truly humbled & delighted to have worked with refined literary personalities like our esteemed judges and all the talented contestants who graced the IAGB Poetry Writing Competition 2021 with their poetic creations.
Judges and contestants, thank you truly, for gracing us with your input and for your contribution in making the IAGB Poetry Writing Competition 2021 such a great success!
Here are priceless comments from the esteemed judges of the IAGB Poetry Writing Competition 2021. Enjoy!
From Judge Sunayana Kachroo: “Reading is the ‘Riyaaz’ for writing. IAGB Poetry competition is one such event for me. Every year I wait for this competition to be able to read/judge amazing poems and get a chance to peek into the creative minds of the people. As they say, ‘where the sun rays can’t reach, a poet can’. We go to some wonderful places through the poems.” This was a very well-organized event. Kudos to the IAGB team and to the participants as well!
From Judge Parvathy Ayyar: “I consider it my pride and privilege to be the one of the judges for the ‘ Republic Day Poetry Competition,2021 ‘, which gave me an opportunity to read and enjoy the poems by the participants at various stages. I wholeheartedly, congratulate all the participants for expressing their feelings and observations through their poems. Woodsworth says, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” I appreciate the themes chosen for the competition, to create an awareness among the young generation on how to face the unforeseen challenges in life, with courage and confidence. I sincerely applaud the effort and enthusiasm of the team lead in organizing this competition, to encourage the budding literary artists. I wish all success for you and your team to expand your activities in the years to come.”
From Judge Pooja Singla: “It was my pleasure and a great honor to be on the judges’ panel for the IAGB Poetry Writing Competition for the Republic Day Celebration 2021. I was humbled and at the same time feel fortunate to judge the poems composed by the super talented Literary Maestros. As the themes were to be Sukha, Shanti, Swastha/ Peace, Health & Happiness, with the ideas of uttering peace in the world, each writing was inspiring, motivating and advocating for importance of specific values in people’s lives. It was a learning experience for me, at the same time, to consider things from a different perspective. Deciding a better poem over another was really difficult. Having IAGB’s ‘Poetry Writing Scoring Rubric’ in place, the process became somewhat less challenging. I perceive to have done justice in the fairness to all. I truly appreciate IAGB organizers and the Literature Committee for providing me with this memorable opportunity.”
From Judge Aaron Livingston Jones: “It was a great honor to be chosen to be a judge for the IAGB poetry contest. As a poet myself, I found it very difficult to make a judgement about who the winner is. All the pieces I read were from the heart and sincere; I honestly enjoyed them all tremendously.”
Creating quizzes has been an activity of interest to me for many years now. The first time I hosted a quiz competition was when I was in high school. The idea of quizzing to me is not just teasing the brain but making the experience fun and entertaining. I always hated the types ‘the tallest…’, the longest…’, ‘the oldest…’. It is obvious that not everyone knows everything and hence that goal always has been to frame questions in such a manner that participants can arrive at the correct answer by some intelligent guessing.
Since Jeopardy flips the trivia onto its head – writing up the answers and hoping the participants knew enough to be able to guess the question, was lot of fun. My co-host Nipun Goel was the perfect partner I could have asked for. Between us we came up with categories and built up our answer bank. As for the participants – we had requested for two – member teams and the hope was that a ‘parent-child’ combination, would participate as a team (we did advertise as such but did not make it mandatory). The response was great and feedback even better.
Our first-place winners were: Sushil and Anika Bhartan. Anika is a Junior in high school and an avid reader, which certainly reflected in the ‘Books’ category that she completely dominated. Our second-place winners were Hemant and Sid Chinni. Sid is in 4th grade and a prodigy. While we could only choose two teams, all participants were extremely good, and all were within shot of each other as far as the scores concerned. Finally, it was most satisfying to us as hosts of the fact that, of the total 126 clues between the two preliminary rounds and the final round – only 3 clues stumped our participants and went ‘unquestioned’. We hope we made the great Alex Trebek smile.
India Association of Greater Boston (IAGB) conducted an essay competition as part of India’s Republic Day celebrations. The competition was held in 3 categories – category A for 5 to 9 years, category B for 10 to 15 years, and category C for 16 to 25 years.
The topic for category A was ‘Describe an Indian cultural or traditional heritage that you cherish the most’, and the topic for both category B and C was ‘How Indian culture is translated in America’. The competition was in English with a 1,000-word limitation and was open to all students in the New England area.
There was an overwhelming response to the competition, and we received 15 entries in category A, seven entries in category B, and five entries in category C. A panel of 4 highly qualified judges, Pallavi Nagesh, Karen Jersild, Chitra Mills, and Rashmi Prasad, assessed them. Three winners in each category were recognized and awarded trophies. All participants received a certificate of participation.
Winners of the competition:
1st place – Shriram Shenoy
2nd place – Tejas Nyaharkar
3rd place – George Menacherry
1st place – Sivapriya Marimuthu
2nd place – Prisha Ujjinamatada
3rd place – Arkesh Kumar
1st place – Gaurang Karpe
2nd place – Aishwarya Ramesh
3rd place – Amit Shenoy
IAGB congratulates all participants and winners.
IAGB has been hosting a Chess competition as part of its Republic day celebration over the past several years. This year organizing committee had to rethink organizing the competition under the shadow of COVID. As in years past, we collaborated with Kavyashree Mallanna, one of New England’s top chess players and founder-director of Celestial Minds. Through this collaboration, we organized and conducted the competition entirely online using the chess.com platform.
The organizing committee was uncertain of the participation in the virtual chess competition. Event registrants pleasantly surprised us by signing up in numbers never seen before for this event. Joy over numbers started to fade as the anxiety of coordination began to settle in. During in-person events, new signup, membership validation, and adjustments all occurred same time at the venue. The virtual event took away that flexibility and forced us to rely on asynchronous communication to share event rules and details. Luckily for us, IAGB has talented team members that provided the necessary support and directions. The competition had three categories and followed the Swiss League Game 20 format. The tournament was directed by Kavyashree Mallanna, FIDE International Organizer, and Nick Sterling, USCF Arbiter. Kavyashree and Nick were extremely patient and gracious in explaining the rules and calling the fair play.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication shown by the participants, the event progressed and concluded positively.
Competition winners are listed below:
Champion – Dhruv Rajan
1st Runner Up – Samvit Santhosh
2nd Runner Up – Keertana Somisetty
Special Prize-Under 7 – Aarav Batwal, Aadarsh Dabbugottu
Special Prize-Best Female – Jocelyn Nakka, Arya Menon
Special Recognition – Pranav Nayar, Adiel Kothapalli
Champion – Rayhan Riyaz
1st Runner Up – Atharv Joshi
2nd Runner Up – Suhavi Tiruveedhula
Special Prize-Best Female – Hasita Dabbuguttu
Special Recognition – Siddharth Somisetty, TaraChintapalli
Champion – Saanvi Tiruveedhula
1st Runner Up – Joel Nakka
2nd Runner Up – Anand Chintapalli
Supriya Shekar, IAGB RD 2021 Competition Segment Lead and Owner of PlateNextDoor, the Competition Prize Sponsor, kicked of the competition promotion last Dec 31st, comparing it to ‘The Great British Baking Show, LIVE on TV”. Our event was streamed live on Facebook and YouTube and lasted all of 2 hours.
It was our first in trying a virtual LIVE Cake decorating competition and we were unsure on how to run the show remotely. On the day of the event, with each competitor having two video connections, we went impromptu, interacting and observing each participant work from their own kitchens, decorating their cakes and cupcakes. The judges also virtual, engaged with each participant asking relevant questions, keeping the audiences engaged!
The competition was a great success; more from the amazing creative and artistic decorations as seen in pictures below, making it hard for the judges to select final winners. Our four Judges, bakers in their own right had to judge on several criteria’s. Starting with neatness, piping skills, originality, well balanced color, recognizable theme of “Any Holiday through the Year.” Finally adhering to all competition rules comprising on size of cake, frosting type used, decorations made live and completing in 60 minutes.
The overall event was well summarized by our supporting Youth Leader, Sarina Chand, “Cake decorating is an art that was beautifully displayed during the cake decorating competition. People of all ages participated, and created beautiful cakes! Everyone worked hard, and though there were only a few winners in the end, everyone’s cake deserved a prize. Throughout the competition, I enjoyed watching everyone’s technique and seeing their cakes take shape. I especially enjoyed seeing the vibrant colors used in the unique designs. I can’t wait till next year to see more!”
More on the event from some of our participants on the overall competition experience:
Kanika Agarwala, Ages 5-11, “I enjoyed this competition and learned a lot. This was the first time I participated in a baking contest. The only thing was that I felt that it was a little bit too long.”
Gia and Pia Chhabra, Ages 5-11, “We really liked participating in the event. It was our first time. It was well thought out and well-coordinated. Also, was good to connect with Indian community, and impressive to their presence in greater Boston area. Liked that the theme was festivals and especially liked the creativity and learning more about Indian festivals”.
Ashvitha Eyalarasan, Ages 12+ “I had a really fun time for this and I loved it. It was really cool seeing everyone else’s decorations!”
Mahika Namduri, Ages 12+. “The whole event was well organized and welcoming. I had a lot of fun participating in it. I also really appreciated the selection of judges as I was able to meet experienced local bakers. Thank you.”
Among the several competitions held each year to commemorate the Republic Day celebrations, Bollywood Quiz was never part of those competitions. For the first time ever, a Bollywood Quiz competition was held in addition, and the number of registrations for this, definitely makes this as a permanent venture for the future years.
My name is Sushil Motwani, and I am one of the Directors on the board of the India Association of Greater Boston, and was the host/emcee for this competition.
The competition was a “live” competition held on 24th January 2021 between the hours of 11:00am EST to 12:00 noon EST in which all the competitors played a game of Kahoot with about 28 really difficult questions in the form of “Kaun Banega Crorepati”. The competition was not broadcast live on Facebook or Google. Each contestant joined on a computer with Zoom and used another device like a phone to play the game and enter their answers on the quiz.
This competition was a fun online game against everyone else at the same time. Kahoot gives points that are scored based on correctness, speed, and your answer streak. Each question had 20 seconds to answer. Fastest correct answer gets the most points, and the rest of the correct answers got points depending on the amount of time they took (i.e 0 seconds to 20 seconds). A wrong answer or no answer was 0 points – no negative points.
Points showed up on the leaderboard after each question.
As each question was being answered, the top 5 scores and leaders were being displayed, and the contestants were happening too much fun and the competition was healthy and friendly at the same time.
The questions were tough and Kahoot provided this as an input: The number provided is the average of all contestants.
IAGB would like to personally CONGRATULATE all of you for participating and enjoying the quiz, as much as I enjoyed being the host of the quiz. I had so much fun, just looking at the reactions of each of you when every question was being answered, and the results were being displayed. If you have a list of questions/quiz questions that you feel are good questions to be added next year, please let me know, as I will keep improving the quiz and finding different things to add to the quiz.
Congratulations to all the wonderful participants, as without your participation, we would not have winners.?
1st: Chetan Sukuru – 14991 points – 18/28 correct answers
2nd: Praful Thakkar – 14987 points – 18/28 correct answers
3rd: Padma Shenoy – 14828 points – 17/28 correct answers
Special Mention: Shilpa Goel – 14319 points – 16/28 correct answers (She did not answer one question, and only 600 points separated her from the winner – just if she had attempted and got it right she could have won).
“The aim of art is not to represent the outside appearance of things but their inward significance.” – Aristotle
This is the perfect quote representing the activities and motivation behind the recent art competitions held by IAGB as part of Republic day 2021 celebrations. Over the past year, we have all learned to adapt and do things virtually but to conduct an art competition virtually, of all, was quite something. Another first time amongst every so many we did this year!
The New England community proved it once again by gearing up and have their creativity unfold on January 23, 2021 over Zoom. There were 43 artists – ages 5 years and above. What was heartwarming was to see a mom/daughter duo, siblings, and cousins all with one theme in mind, “Nature in Covid times”. Preparations started weeks ahead with the esteemed judges – Sunanda Sahay, Java Joshi and Gopika Narula, ably assisted by IAGB youth leaders, Nithya Raj and Ruhi Shroff, along with a new artist in the area, Rupa Krishna.
Each of the artist was given 60 minutes and they had to be present on the video camera throughout the time of the competition and could not consult with anyone or any material. It was interesting how each one of them enthusiastically brought out the theme beautifully – some directly, others succinctly which made the judges’ decisions to pick the top choices difficult. Winners were judged based on originality, creativity and relevance of artwork to the theme. Overall, it was an overwhelming success and everyone walked out proudly with their piece of art proving to each of them, how well they did!
Winners of the categories include:
Category A – 5-8 years
1st Kaira Agarwal
2nd Yashika Pal
Special mentions – Ashwani Eyalarasan, Indira Singam
Category B – 9- 12 years
1st Avni Bansal
2nd Akshita Aare
Special mention – Ramya Ramanathan
Category C – 13-16 years
1st – Ananya Bansal
2nd – Vismaya Ashok
Category D – 18+
1st – Shraddha Rane
Baithe baithe kya kare, karna hai kuch kaam;
Chalo shuru karo antakshari, leke Prabhu ka naam.
Most people that have grown up in India know these words by heart! It was the launch of an hour or two of musical entertainment. Singer or no singer, everyone got an equal opportunity to sing their hearts out. Yes, that is our beloved Antakshari!
IAGB’s version of Antakshari is very well known and popular in the New England area. Though the challenges this year were big, so was the need for it. Once the IAGB Antakshari team was formed, the most obvious questions we were facing was how to make it fun and competitive in the virtual environment keeping up the true spirit of the game. But where there is a will, there is a way. The team of Lata Rao, Prag Singh, Vaishali Gade and Yogita Miharia got on the task early in December 2020.
All the rounds were telecast live on Facebook and YouTube. Every preliminary round consisted of 4 new teams, each team with 2 participants. And out of every prelim, 2 teams progressed to the semi-finals. All in all, 4 preliminary rounds, 2 semi-finals and 1 grand finale. Antakshari became a regular Saturday 5:30pm entertainment for many who watched it live on Facebook and YouTube. After a fierce and passionate battle, the winning team proved themselves as the new Antakshari Champions.
Eshani Shah and Subhashini Raman
Sulu Nadkarni and Soniya Goel
BollyBuffs: Eshani Shah and Subhashini Raman
Music Lovers: Divya and Pawan Lalwani
Nightingals: Nirupama Rachuri and Anupama Rachuri
Spice Girls: Sulu Nadkarni and Soniya Goel
Youth singers from the Boston community dazzled at every Antakshari event. The talent and rhythm of these youngsters is etched in our minds forever. Our heartfelt thanks and best wishes to these young stars:
Fun fact: The word Antakshari is derived from two Sanskrit words antya (अन्त्य) meaning end + akshar (अक्षर) meaning letter of the alphabet. It is said that Antakshari was originally present in the Ramayana, where rishis (sages) sang the first verses of bhajanas continuously by singing another Bhajana beginning with the last letter of the ending word. Antakshari was mostly a family pastime until a TV show on Zee TV made it an actual competition.
Our community spotlight this month is on Pratima Penumarthy (Founder and Director of Arya Math Academy). Yogita Miharia of IAGB spoke to Pratima about her involvement with various non-profits organizations and her work.
Yogita: Thank you Pratima for talking to IAGB. Please tell us about your volunteer work.
Pratima: I am an educator and a volunteer. I am associated with many charitable organizations that I feel passionately about. I started doing volunteer work over 10 years ago. I believe that by immersing myself in community service, I learn so much about how the world works.
The non-profit organizations that I am actively involved with are Team Aid, Sruthilayalu and Bighelp.
Bighelp is for education of the underprivileged children in India. I am a past president of the NH branch. As a Chapter president, I focused mainly on STEAM EDUCATION. STEAM utilizes the Arts along with traditional STEM subjects as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The end results are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem-solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. Students can make connections and learn in a variety of ways, reaping the benefits that a STEAM education can provide. STEAM education is crucial to educate and prepare the next generation of the American, and global workforce, and to allow this generation to create jobs and grow the economy.
Sruthilayalu was formed to promote Carnatic music skills and awareness. I was the event coordinator for Sruthilayalu in 2017-2018. Their annual event brings together like-minded people where they can learn from each other and get a platform to perform. The event serves as a fundraiser for a different charity every year.
I have been a coordinator for Team Aid since 2019. Team Aid is a global organization. As a Team Aid coordinator, I try my best to help individuals during chaotic times with unexpected tragedies, especially tragedies that they are unprepared to resolve on their own. I’m very proud to be associated with Team Aid that was founded in 2017 on one fundamental principle: Helping people living abroad that need assistance after experiencing devastating circumstances.
I have also been a math coordinator for Easton Lions Club since 2016.
I was a member of the the Easton Human Rights Committee board from 2016-2018. The Committee is a group of dedicated members who work together building a stronger, more unified Town—free from bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and disrespect.
Yogita: Tell us about your professional work.
Pratima: I hold a B.S. in Electronics and M.S. in Education. I have always been interested in the field of education and prefer to work for myself. I strongly believe education promotes gender equality and peace. With this as my goal, I started Arya Math Academy in 2017. It was exclusively started for math, but then grew to other subjects. Math has always been my favorite subject. Our students are either college students or high school students.
I also run a preschool and day care since 2008.
Yogita: Pratima, tell me about your forum “Caring for aging parents (Indian-American way)”
Pratima: I started “Caring for aging parents” in 2018 out of my own need and experiences. My parents came to live with in 2017. My mother had cancer, and I learned a lot taking care of her and catering to her medical needs. I learned about resources the hard way and wanted to share with people in similar situations. That is when I decided to started this forum. It is a forum for caregivers, and to help them get resources. I know firsthand that caregiver burn out is a common problem and hope that this forum can be a lifesaver for some.
Yogita: What is it that you wish people would know about caring for aging parents?
Pratima: Every caregiver needs to advocate for themselves. Caregivers are the emotional support of people who cannot take care of themselves. But when you are a caregiver, along with making your patient your priority, remember to also take care of yourself too so you don’t burn out. Never forget that any sort of volunteering is a sacrifice. You will discover the benefits outweigh what you miss.
Yogita: With all the work you do, what is your biggest challenge?
Pratima: I love to travel but I cannot do it much as I have to be here for my father. I want to do justice to my father but the quality of my life has to be compromised. I have no regrets but I do miss out on many things. But honestly Yogita, my perspective has changed so much and I look at things differently now.
Yogita: If you did not open Arya Academy and were not involved with all the volunteering work, then what would you be doing?
Pratima: I would have been a professor at some college. But I am glad with what I am doing right now as my current work gives me the flexibility to care for my parents which wouldn’t have worked if I had a full-time job.
Yogita: With the number of things you do, you certainly need a break here and there. What do you do for fun?
Pratima: Reading, reading and some more reading. I enjoy non-fiction especially philosophical books. I also read a lot of books on various elderly health conditions. And I get my travel fix by reading books on travel.
Yogita: Tell us about yourself and your family
I was born and brought up in New Bombay. My father was a professor and mother a teacher. I came to the US in 2004. I have 2 daughters, both in college now. My husband Ram is an active member of the community and President of TAGB.
Yogita Tell me something that not many people know about you?
Pratima: I am very social but not a party person. I can blend anywhere but I have my close set of like-minded friends with whom I feel comfortable. But I am always available for whoever needs my help. Oh, and I am not a very materialistic person.
Visit the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/2465100087144956 to learn more about “Caring for aging parents”.
For sheer geographical diversity, few places in the world are as richly endowed as Himachal Pradesh. Low rolling hills just a couple of hundred meters above sea level, climb on to touch the core of the Himalaya Mountains. Here lie peaks that are several thousand meters high and never lose their perennial snows. Then, past these forbidding heights lie a visually stunning cold desert of the Trans Himalaya. This variety of nature opens immense possibilities for a wide range of adventure and tourism.
Amid this unique geographical region, there is the hidden jewel in the Himalayas, my home town Rampur Bushahr. At a distance of 120 km from Shimla, Rampur is well connected via National Highway 5 which passes through the picturesque slopes of Narkanda at a height of 9000 feet. As one climbs down, the majestic and mighty serpentine curves of river Satluj get visible. An additional one and half hour drive along the Satluj leads you to the capital of the once-famous former princely kingdom of Rampur Bushahr during the British Raj. Located by the banks of River Satluj, it, occupied a very strategic location as it fell on the ancient route to Afghanistan, Ladakh, Tibet, and China and thus the town of Rampur Bushahr benefitted and flourished from a wide range of economic and cultural activities. It is still a bustling business town and the melting pot of cultures of the region.
There are many attractions on the way to Rampur Bushahr from Shimla such as the snow skiing spot of Narkanda, Hatu Temple at an altitude of 14000 feet, apple orchard of the Kotgarh belt, and the scenic Satluj Valley, and more. From historical places to the temple villages there’s a lot to see and to do here. Ancient Bhimakali Temple at Sarahan which is 45 km away from Rampur Bushahr is a very famous and main attraction in the region.
Asia’s largest Hydro-electric Project at Jhakri is the new feather in the cap of this once princely state. A gateway to tribal districts of Himachal such as Kinnaur, Spiti, and further to Tibet and Ladakh, the town of Rampur has been the main educational and communication center of the area. The highlight of the town is a fair called Lavi Mela, which is arguably one of the biggest fairs of North India is held here every year in the month of November. This fair is popular among the travelers alike. Some of the best things to buy during the fair include Chilgoza or Pine nuts, finest Pashmina Shawls made of soft sheep wool, crop produce, handicraft items, and dry fruits from Kinnaur. The area is a fruit basket producing a large variety of fruits all year round such as Prunes, Apples, apricot, Pears, and Persimmon. Lately, the area along the low-lying banks of Satluj has started producing good quality mangoes & guavas.
In the heart of Rampur town are some of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist shrines worth a visit. These include Raghunath Temple, Ayodhya temple, Sri Satya Narayana Temple, and Dumgir Budha Temple, which is most famous for its large prayer wheel. Another great attraction is the Padam Palace, an interesting structure built in the colonial and Pahari style of architecture. The palace adds a kind of statement to this simple yet rustic mountain town. It is also the residence of the erstwhile Royal family of Rampur, Raja Virbhadra Singh who holds the record of being the Chief Minister of the state of Himachal six times.
A synonym of Rampur is its very famous Bushari Topi often seen adorned on the heads of famous politicians and celebrities. The cap is a regular feature amongst the locals who flaunt it at all events and gatherings.
Rampur Bushahr is now connected throughout the year by all-weather roads. The town has more to give than to take in terms of experience, learning, and relaxation, so, do plan a visit!
India with its 1.3 Billion people is the largest democracy in the world, and became a Republic on January 26, 1950 with its own Constitution, Independent executive, Representative and Judicial organs, Federal Governance structure, that have stood the test of time.
The Indian Constituent Assembly, which met for the first time on December 9, 1946, created the Indian Constitution in less than three years. This was a monumental achievement in the face of immense challenges, such as the Partition of India.
IAGB chose to celebrate this auspicious occasion by exploring India’s Journey to becoming a Republic. Thus India’s 72nd Republic Day, 2021 Celebrations commenced with a very informative two-part Learning Series on Jan 16th and Jan 17th 2021 open to all ages, in collaboration with a few teachers from Shishu Bharati.
“I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility, my womb is the source of life for human species”-Rupi Kaur
And yet we desis are so afraid of even saying the name menstruation or period publicly, as if it’s the evil Lord Voldemort himself. I invite you to break this silence and start having mainstream conversations around period, instead of shaming our girls for “that time of the month”.
I was 13 when I had my first period, and I was convinced I had somehow acquired some deadly disease and will bleed to death. My family didn’t help much either, there was no open conversation, no assurance…. simply it is what is. Periods are like a dirty little secret between Indian women, we go out of our way to protect our men from ever hearing about this shameful phenomenon that women’s bodies go through in order to continue life. Men and women are comfortable buying after shave or Tylenol but we will need a paper or a black bag to hide our sanitary napkins, let alone talk about it.
When my periods started, I felt it was dirty, impure, secretive, burdensome and a punishment from god; simply due to the silence and stigma created by our society. But then I took charge and decided to read every book in our school library that I could find on periods. What I discovered was that periods were actually my superpower that god gave me to have control over my body and my fertility. It was as natural as breathing and it was not a gross thing like everyone pretended around me. Knowledge is power and knowledge can change attitudes in societies, and it is our responsibility now to share this with our next generation and remove the stigmas from our previous generations.
Back in India, in my hostel, I once invited girls for a fireside chat on period taboos and period shaming. The stories I heard that night shocked me. One girl told me how she was shunned to a period hut during her periods. She stayed alone in this hut, being scared, lonely and ashamed as if some evil has taken over her body and she needed to be separated from her village. Another girl told me she had to go through a public period celebration ritual, which she found extremely shameful. One girl thought about quitting school altogether, after she had a period accident. Another considered suicide due to so much shame. In my own in-laws’ families’ women are shunned from kitchen, temple, religious ceremonies, family celebrations if they are having their period or having post-partum bleeding. Our societies confuse some of these traditions with religion too. These are simply cultural and social practices that originated when we did not have access to proper sanitization and people were afraid that a woman on her period might infect food and other places. Providing women the opportunity to rest is good, but associating secrecy and shame with it is not. Back then we had no understanding of menstruation and we believed that this was impure evil blood. But sadly, a lot of these archaic traditions are still being carried on, and some of these traditions are even brought here from India. It is equivalent to praying to Sheetla Mata to cure smallpox when we already have a vaccine. These period traditions are meaningless now and need to be stopped.
So, join me in breaking the silence on periods, here are three ideas:
Prepare your young girls for upcoming periods, have an open conversation, discuss freely. Tell them its their superpower and help raise their confidence and self-esteem. I recommend a book called “celebrate your body”. Read this with your girls, before they get half-baked information from their friends. Make them comfortable so that they can discuss this with you and dad anytime.
Educate you boys about periods. Time and again I have seen women creating more fuss around period then men. Normalize it for them too and do not hide this information from them.
I have heard this so often from my friends that when they go to India, they just follow family period customs as they are there for few weeks and do not want to ruffle any feathers. But I encourage you to start talking about these customs. Explain to your families the reasoning why these customs might have started in the first place and how they are not needed anymore. Just because you escaped, you cannot turn a blind eye. Do your part and talk to your maid, your silent niece, your in-laws. Age old traditions won’t change quickly, but starting a conversation is a start of a small change.
Your small assurance and talk can change the confidence and attitude of a young girl struggling to find her place.
Sadly, we have reached a new milestone. More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. thus far. But there is new hope. On Dec 11, 2020, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, and exactly a week later, on Dec 18, 2020, FDA issued an EUA for the Moderna vaccine. EUA is given during a public health emergency, when the scientific evidence available shows that the product may be effective and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product. Often, in due time, once more data is gathered, full FDA approval is obtained. It is important to know, however, that the FDA’s review of the vaccines for the EUA was thorough and rigorous, with no steps skipped to ensure the safety of these vaccines. Thousands of people participated in these clinical trials and millions have safely taken these vaccines to this point.
Both these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. They have a synthetic genetic material called mRNA that instructs your cells to make a unique piece of the COVID-19 virus called the “spike protein”. This then causes your body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the “spike protein”, hence protecting you from the real virus if you are ever exposed. It is very important to note that you cannot develop the actual COVID-19 disease from the vaccine.
Currently, the Moderna vaccine is approved for people 18 years and older and the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 years and older. These vaccines are given to people in two doses, 21 days apart for Pfizer or 28 days apart for Moderna. The effectiveness of the vaccines has only been studied after two doses, so it is important you get both doses. After both doses, people can be protected from severe COVID-19 disease up to 95%. The CDC allows for a 4-day grace period for timing of the second dose, however, if your second dose is for some reason given later than this, you do not need to restart the vaccine. The CDC has recommended that people get the same version of vaccine for both doses, because that is what the data in the clinical trials were based on. They have indicated, however, that in exceptional circumstances, if the same version is not available, a person can take a different version as second dose.
The most commonly reported side effects are soreness at the site of the injection as well as flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, body aches, chills or fevers after the vaccine. These self-limiting side effects tell us that the body is building protection against the virus. To date, people who have had allergic reactions to the vaccine have all recovered quickly. This risk of allergic reaction is very small and is similar to the risk of allergic reaction associated with any other medication or vaccine. At this time, there are no known reactions or interactions between oral medications and the vaccines, so it is safe for you to get it even if you are on any medications.
While we know the vaccine prevents you from getting severe COVID-19 disease, we are not sure yet to what extent it prevents the spreading of the virus that causes COVID-19. For this reason, even after you receive the vaccine, you should continue social distancing, wearing masks in public and following other CDC guidelines to reduce risk of transmission at this time. These restrictions will likely ease up in future as more and more people get vaccinated. The vaccine will provide you and your family an added layer of protection against this horrible COVID-19 disease and also will help us become one step closer to achieving herd immunity and conquering this pandemic.
The Massachusetts Department of Health has developed a plan to vaccinate everyone in the state who wants to be vaccinated. Doing so will take several months. Below is a chart explaining the phases in which vaccine rollout is happening. We are currently in phase II.
Vaccines are being offered to eligible people at several different types of locations:
Mass vaccination sites such as at Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the DoubleTree in Danvers, the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, the Natick Mall, and the former Circuit City in Dartmouth
General vaccination sites such as health care locations, pharmacies and grocery stores
Local vaccination sites which may be open only to residents of select and towns. Please get information about when and where you can get yours and get it!
Social media can easily and quickly spread information, including false information, so it is important that you go to reliable sources like the CDC, FDA and your doctor for accurate information. Here are some useful links:
Finally, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are circulating globally. Specifically, variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil have gained attention. These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants but the protection may be less. There may soon be vaccine booster shots available to address these new variants.
–Dr. Anasuya Gunturi