Panorama pic of a bird sitting on a play pen. Purpose was to depict my circumstances which prompted me to write the article. Alone yet looking ahead. The bird is brown and blue in color
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of Erasing Identities: One Name at a Time

I was introducing myself to a graduate class in an American university. I had zero orientation to the entire system! I had never been in an American classroom. Did not know how the system worked. Barely knew anyone in the class. There were two friendly people who nodded their heads at me and asked me who I was. But the class had an amazing mix of people. To this day it is hilarious how naive and scared I was. It was – fear of the unknown. If I entered a similar class today, I would drop out of the class mid-way and walk out without even explaining myself to such a class/professor.

In walks a professor in shorts and starts taking introductions of people.
[Note here that the unprofessional dressing of the professor was already shocking me. Sorry from where I come, to teach, teachers dress in formals. I am sorry if that is too much to expect at an American University].

It was my turn to introduce myself to the class. When I said my name -SriPadmini Chennapragada, almost everyone’s eyes in the class popped out in shock.

There were already a few women who had the standard, “I will not be friendly, I won’t make this brown girl feel accepted into our group” look. Then there were a few others who were clueless of my presence only. So the shocked expressions only added to the already existing discomfort that was surrounding my presence.

And to immediately feel accepted and make them feel better (which was again a pointless effort and I know better today!), I politely said,

You can call me ‘anything’

To this the professor bends down to stare in my face and jokingly said,

“If I can call you anything, then I can also call you an asshole.”

Before that day, I had never spoken to anyone who used a foul English word in their communication with me. I think I was in shock for many hours after that. I immediately recovered from my embarrassed and shocked face to say,

You can call me Sri

And that day was the first day of the next ten years of my life when erasure of my identity began. Every time someone called me Sri, I taught myself to respond. It was like learning to talk and be communicative again. When I took ‘Sri’ to my name, it was to associate my grand father’s memory with me forever. To have him with me in my journey of life. To have a part of his name first read out during all important occasions of my life when my full name was to be read mandatorily. It was to honor him at every milestone of my life and thank him for what example he set for us. From where I come, we don’t call ourselves out by the names of our ancestors that we add to our names. But at UTA, I was not allowed even 2 minutes to add that into my communication. It was shock treatment. As I write this today, I still remember the expressions of these men and women who laughed to the bad joke. I can still hear the whole class bursting out to laugh while a couple of us cringed!

That experience killed me internally and that building became a very scary place for me to go to. Six months later I left the program because it was nothing but a brick and mortar space that was delivering some technical skills. There was no education happening there!

Over the next six months, every day was a tearful scary experience. The building was stress causing. I hated my life. I questioned the reason for my existence by the end of the semester. All these were the symptoms of a root cause that I was not trained to identify back then – I was angry for someone making fun of my name (that I was taught was also connected with my spiritual identity). I was disliking seeing the people who didn’t give a damn about me changing my name in a split second. I felt like an imposter for saying my name was something else that no one in my life called me with. And it constantly reminded me that it was my grandfather’s name that was being taken to identify me (which we almost never do here at home). All that was needed was for the professor to not use ugly language and I would have just told him,

You can call me Padmini.

Over the ten years that I have travelled extensively outside India,

My name has been a conversation starter.

My name was a story to introduce people to my language and culture.

And that day in UTA, that was taken away from me because a professor landed a job in a university just because they had a PhD. No one cared to check if he was a good teacher. Nor was there a system in place to periodically check what was happening inside the classrooms. And trust me every little thing adds up. Do you still wonder why educational leadership evolved into a whole PhD in itself?

Today, at least 4 people (that I know of) who sat in that class are full-time faculty in American universities. As an educational leader if you think a webinar/workshop/2-day training is going to help them ‘learn’ to be respecting of others’ cultures, you are so wrong! I can’t imagine being a student in the classes of most of those former colleagues. What American higher education needs is more diversity in your faculty. What American higher education needs is to identify and re-school faculty members who hate the way our names sound or the dislike the food we eat.

Before I tell you why I wrote this today, let me tell you, until I left the US last year to commence field work in India, I studied in a program where a professor told me my name was hard to learn for six straight years. In a class, everyone’s last names were written up on board while explaining a concept. The list always stopped at my name. And the professor would be like, “No way! Am not spelling that out!” And my last name is only Chennapragada.

Ten years later, when I read this article about a similar incident at an American University, I am shocked but at the same time happy to note that there is enough awareness within the student community and the system to flag it as a situation that needs immediate attention.

FIVE POINTERS FOR AMERICAN PROFESSORS WHO FIND IT HARD TO LEARN FOREIGN NAMES

  1. ESSENTIAL SKILL : To address your students respectfully with their own names is an essential skill and not an optional skill that can be substituted by something else. The student will definitely feel included.
  2. PRACTICE and it takes some time daily. Invest in it and the student will better engage with you in the learning process (which will make your life and job both easy!).
  3. WRITING the name down in your own codes and symbols for pronouncing it properly (especially if you rarely interacted with foreign students before). Ask a linguist on your campus to help you (if you are embarrassed to ask the student and learn).
  4. PRINT a copy of all the names in the class prior to the day 1 and mark any names that need to be learnt. Ask the student to teach you how to say their name properly and call them out more. This will encourage a culture in the classroom that will discourage ‘invisible segregation’ that is very common inside American classrooms.
  5. DO NOT ASSUME a word sounds certain way. We all have our own languages and corresponding scripts. Most of our languages don’t fit into the confines of English language.

In conclusion, since US Universities want our monies, our diversity, our creative and out of box thinking to grow their own revenues and diversity profiles; plus you (a faculty/staff) as an employee of that US University have agreed to work for that organization, we all have to make equal efforts to learn together.

We learn to speak English and pass the TOEFL –

You will learn to call us by our own names and not ask us to pick an English name!

 
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Of Sunshine & Strength: The Category 2 People

TRIGGER WARNING:

Some ‘well-wishers’ ‘advise me’ not to write ‘posts like this’ 🙂 but you know me better than that!

In my little understanding about human life, I learnt that there are a few broad categories into which human beings can be placed (while considering how they react with the spaces and events around them).

1. Some just keep changing their course of life as obstacles and challenges keep showing up.

2. Some stick to the path no matter what the challenges are.

3. And then come the third kind who will present chameleon hues to say ‘We are smart. We adapt according to the circumstances and grow up the ladder’ (trust me — adapting is significantly different from stepping over others and enabling a discriminatory and excluding system).

How we each respond to the space and events around us is deeply internal, and influenced by a multitude of factors ranging from our upbringing to socioeconomic statuses.

For the people belonging to category 2, the small percentage of luck to survive is critical. Success is hard to get for Category 2 people, and survival becomes an every day battle to wake up to.

What we saw this past week in news of a Bollywood star’s passing, was in my opinion — him missing out on the small percentage of luck. When someone who he pushed away would have come back and insisted that they stay and watch over him. It may have needed just that much of push back from someone whose help he refused. But now, we will never know.

For many humans like him, the journey is lonely. Not many understand what they are speaking and for the insecure ones who can’t match their (Category people) brilliance, eliminating them becomes a priority task to ensure that mediocrity thrives over rare brilliance. Brilliance in my understanding always leads to change and change is hard to process for the elite few who control a system. Here is where the status quo comes into the picture.

In Bollywood they call the root cause for these selective support systems — Neopotism

In corporate workplaces, I hear many Indians broadly use the term ‘workplace politics’

In Indian sports too, ‘politics/ego clashes with administrators and top coaches’ is cited as a common reason for brilliant athletes losing the races even before competitions begin.

In academia, depending on the geographical positioning of the individual, root causes range from casteism to racial discrimination.

I have faced it. In the form of both casteism and racial discrimination. I was bloody lucky to have had people in my life back then who said —

“No matter what, we are stopping what we are doing, we are sitting with you, we are not leaving you alone while you are battling this brutality!”

This was not my blood-related family. A few years before, these people would have been strangers in my life. If I didn’t get lost in this brutal battle of discrimination, nepotism or what ever fancy terms we humans use to describe the ugly side of human behavior — that is because some strangers decided that being compassionate, and caring for a foreigner was more important for them than to appease the status quo.

We all need to educate ourselves to be more compassionate!

There is a strong need to move beyond hashtags and memes that will fight for equity and fairness. I don’t mean to undermine the efforts of individuals who are making an impact through social media content. However, many of us who are still operating under strong biases assure ourselves that by sharing ‘I Care’ content, we are absolved of our every day behaviors where we discriminate, abuse and disrespect people who are different from us in how they live their life or eat their food.

And for the Category 2 people reading this, when feeling low, it is hard to reach out for help. One needs a lot of strength to be able to reach out and ask for help.

Let me also tell you, to allow yourself to feel vulnerable by seeking help — is the hardest thing to do. But on the other side of reaching out for help —

There is sunshine. There is healing. There is growth. There is strength.

For many people who view me as an accomplished person who is living the best times of her life — I have been to the dark side. In order to not trigger other’s pain, I made a conscious decision to not speak about my struggles for sometime. But mind you, what I place on social media platforms is selective content. So that must never make anyone who reads the content feel — wow what an accomplished personal and professional life.

So this post was to tell everyone who looks at me and says to me — I am lucky. I am accomplished. I am doing great things.

I never set out to do great things. I am a curious person who always chased interesting questions involving many social science variables. But what you see came to me at a cost. And I don’t ever want that for anyone in my life.

Having said that, I will conclude this post with what a friend once said to me:

Adi, why am I like this?

He simply said,

“Padmini, you are an authentic person. There are no two sides to how you present yourself in any sutuation. And today’s world is rarely like that. So don’t change. But learn to protect yourself while you stay authentic!”

My Category 2 peers, don’t be afraid to be judged. Just reach out for help. Pick the phone. Show up at a door unannounced. Don’t walk away from asking help. Some day you will discover the power in developing that habit when survival is the need of the hour.

And some day you will save many more lives by just being you and sharing the story of your survival.

Padmini seen here in a white and green salwar kameez and also wearing a matching face mask. She is  smiling while looking into the camera with a balcony herb garden and  colorful wind chimes in the background
Dressing in Style when your mom is bored during the COVID-19 lockdown 2.0

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NIDIA 22: Tears, Therapy and Truth

Over the years, I have faced a lot of backlash for my thoughts and ideas that take me forward in life. From the day I could see how surgeons can revive a dying patient on an operating table to the day I saw a child with severe spastic cerebral palsy take ten steps during gait training without a break: one thing became clear to me. Individuals with disabilities and challenges that concern their everyday health have always been redefining how we relatively look at success and failure. Across all domains. They have forever now been challenging societal stereotypes about succeeding in a task or failing to succeed in a task. History is the witness to who were observing, listening or cheering.
 
Watching beautiful stories, countless of them from the sidelines, sometimes being a minute part of these efforts, it is a job satisfaction that can never be described in words.
 
My last physical therapy case as a physiotherapist was a young stroke victim (38 years old) with right side hemiplegia. He was originally from Rayalaseema. He was also undergoing other treatments during the same time. I particularly state this here because I want many of my non-rehabilitation profession friends and family to know a fact.
Recovering from an illness, rehabilitation after accidents, re-training to handle a sudden disability: all these processes are complex and need so much help. It is never just one service provider.
One of the very common things you will see happen in countries like India is, rehabilitation services that families strive to provide for their loved ones often times include a spiritual component. And he was a believer in the help his parents were bringing to him from a spiritual perspective. And I think that is why working with him has left an indelible impression of my mind. How he was motivated to heal and was willing to stay involved. Often times it is so much dependent on the individual.
 
In about 10 days I think:
  • He progressed from not being able to hold the pen to being able to hold the pen.
  • From not remembering me to remembering every morning that I was his PT and that my name started with either P or B (even though he couldn’t yet write them down).
  • From needing full support to take a few independent steps to being able to stand up from a chair independently.
  • From tearing up every time I helped him hold a spoon to laughing out loud every time he dropped it down and I had to collect the glass beads back.
For someone like me who was trying very hard to heal from a terrible time in that college, working with him was the best thing to have happened to me then. I will never say he inspired me. I hate to apply that term to his situation or any other rehabilitation scenarios. His effort and the pain he battled everyday to make it through each session, they are indescribable. Nothing is inspiring when you see a person struggling every breath to take a step or to lift a small wooden block. For people who are really involved in their work as rehabilitation specialists, those are what I call the gut punch moments. The real moments when you are constantly reminded to not do a lousy job (because you had an annoying drive to work and for reasons like that) because someone’s ability to eat independently or self-care without dependence in future is solely relying on the chance that your care and training will be helpful to them.
 
Today I went through one of those evenings where you sit in open cold and you cry your heart out! You cry because that is the best thing you can do for yourself and that is only thing in your control. 15 minutes into the crying, face in my hands, palms wet with tears, I see his face when we last time said bye byes. I remember so well. He held my hands in both his hands and kept patting them while talking. He said to me, “You don’t know how much these few days will always mean for me in my life. You have the ability to be patient with people like me. You should continue to do the good work that you have learnt after all these years in college. Your problems will vanish someday. So choosing to leave the profession because of what people did to you because of politics is a wrong decision. And anytime you want to give up, remember my face and tell yourself that he will not appreciate it”
 
Why I wrote this today:
Social media was thrust upon our lives with no advance notice. It has now become a big part of our lives. For someone like me, I very carefully choose what I post on my social media (primarily because I don’t want to pain people with the challenges I have to face like everyone else). There have been several days like this in my #GradLife so far. When I have felt completely alone as the only Indian women ever to be here doing what I have done so far. So don’t ever assume that what I am trying to learn here has been easy so far. It is not as rosy as it looks on the social media. In extreme situations when possibilities for success look bleak, I remember his therapy days and ask myself.
Is it harder than the therapy days he persisted through for progress?
The obvious answer I hear my mind give me is NO.
 
The amount of kicking and screaming I have done to life every time I faced a challenge will blow everyone’s minds. Over the years the way I have been defining success and failure in my life have changed. The seeds for those thoughts though, were sowed during those therapy days when I worked with that young man from Rayalaseema.
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Where: Shenoy Nursing Home,Secunderabad
When: 1986, October 29th
Who: This is me. Yes, Jussri. Since I’ve always posted pics of others here I thought, this article would be the best only if I put in my pic.

I post a lot of pictures of random people and scenes on my website. I like to spread goodness around me. These days I meet a lot of people who often ask me if I am a photographer. Well my answer would be a yes-no. I have forever used photography as a medium to attract people to read my scribbles. Alongside in life I developed a love to capture other people smiling. That is how I ended up taking assignments. But if you ask me who am I?

I am a qualified Physical Therapist working towards contributing back to the field in my little way. Photography and writing help me spread the good things that I was brought up with.In two days from now, my parents celebrate their birthdays which are on May 9th and 10th :)[Yeah yeah, both are Taurus(eans) 🙂 ]. This post would be the only best gift I can give to them. Having talked about the ‘ Why’ part of this write up, I will now move to the ‘what’ part of it.

Every time we rushed home to complain that the teacher caned us bad,my mother’s standard question round was the first wall to hit. I swear to God I have never hated anyone more than my mother all those years. At times I felt she enjoyed making us feel bad.She would start her conversation like this.

“Nuvvem chesaavo cheppu” ( First tell me what did you do)
Well, it was difficult to hide facts from her.
“Memedho arusthonte kopam lo kottindhi sister( Yeah, yeah we were yelling and sister caned us[I studied in a catholic convent and we called our teachers Sisters(nuns)]

Then she would start her reverse engineered explanation for the entire situation. You are three kids for me at home to take care. I still find it difficult to manage you. How can sister make 60 students quite in 45 minutes?
I think it is justified she caned you guys!
Justification for the caning done!
No more arguments your honour.
And we disperse. This was the order of our life all through out our schooling.
Everytime there was a complaint from us, my mom went back to the root of the issue. Looking for the cause.

Fast forward many many years and I am in my General Medicine lecture. Day 1. Dr Joshi. A veteran general medicine specialist from our hospital was taking our first class.
Two things he spoke that day have remained in my mind forever.

1. Developing an inquisitive mind.
2. Believing that every problem/obstacle had a cause for it at a grass root level.

20 years of listening to those two lines and a professor telling you the same point in a medical school!
I really needed a break from listening to the same stuff every where i went. Looks like every one has same mothers like mine. But having been through medical school, surfacing out of a hell hole with minimal scarring, fighting my way through tough situations in life, I can never thank my mother enough for teaching me my basics right.

In these days of arm chair activists and anti-arm chair activists, I want to send out a plea.
Look with in yourself. Are you doing absolutely the best thing right now?
Are you able to show the strength of your character in testing times?(by not giving into temptations and short cut ways to success and wealth)
Can you say a No to yourself and strike a balance in the temper times?

Well, when I was tested, I asked myself these questions.More precisely,I was taught to ask myself these questions.I have always been this, ‘ drops of water make an ocean’ kind of activist for social causes. For all of you who are bugged by the over motivational videos and shows that keep cropping up around you every once in a while:
Stop watching television
Pick a hobby
Make a to-do list
Appreciate little things
Spend time with the elders in your family , let them tell you stories from their life
Count numbers when you are angry.

I never liked growing up under the iron hand rule of my parents. Today I absolutely cherish those moments. Today I am glad I grew under their parenting.

For all the challenges I faced,I surfaced unscathed because I was taught one best thing right.

Problems are mere situations and the solutions are right within them if you look at the roots, routes and causes.
Here’s thanking my parents for giving me an excellent up bringing. I thank God for letting me be your daughter folks 🙂 Have an awesome year ahead.

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of Roots, Routes and Causes

I am a qualified Physical Therapist working towards contributing back to the field in my little way. Photography and writing help me spread the good things that I was brought up with.In two days from now, my parents celebrate their birthdays which are on May 9th and 10th :)[Yeah yeah, both are Taurus(eans) 🙂 ]. This post would be the only best thing gift I can give to them. Having talked about the ‘ Why’ part of this write up, I will now move to the ‘what’ part of it.

Every time we rushed home to complain that the teacher caned us bad,my mother’s standard question round was the first wall to hit. I swear to God I have never hated anyone more than my mother all those years. At times I felt she enjoyed making us feel bad.She would start her conversation like this.

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My own foolishness of choice!!!

 

There were days when I sat and thought if I’d ever receive any help!!!! Ya I learnt it hard way that life is full of mazes and puzzles while I was here, stuck in a maze at a dead end .I always did what most of us do. I kept asking myself Why me!!!!

I always did fail to ask myself another question !!! Why not me !!! I know it puzzles some of you to why I should have thought so. Here I was facing one of the biggest challenges of my education phase, stuck in a situation that was affecting me badly.The world is filled up to the brim with more serious problems like poverty and hunger , I do not wish to put my tiny complaint high above them all and so  I  shall not discuss my situation here in detail…

I was here fighting against one organisation and the situation was getting more and more like Me Vs Them

During the initial stages of my fight I always asked myself the wrong question,

“why me?”

I wasn’t looking at how many ways the problem was helping me.I was fighting against the organisation everyday but everyday was another war for me against my flaws.

I was trying to better myself every minute I spent there. Why ????
I dint want to give them even a single chance against me .

I started taking my hobbies more seriously. I started improving at a pace where  my family even thought I might end up shifting my career to being a photographer than a therapist. 

One day I stop and look back at all those sleepless nights I cried out on the pillows to why I was the only one who is suffering.I am surprised at the progress I’ve made. I am surprised at how best the problem has chiselled my talents.

How “the problem” nurtured me carefully like a mother from an immature rebel kid to a mature independent young lady.

The problem for me at a time was everything that associated me with that place. Everything that sent me back to that place.

The situation, the people who were responsible for it, the people who had the power but refused to help me!!!

But when I started looking for a solution with more desperate measures, I realised the solution was within me!

I was not noticing what the problem was helping me become!

There were days I got kicked at in my study place! There were days my things went missing at the right time I needed them. All these caused me a lot of pain though not physically the trauma was badly cutting through my heart.

It all hurt me because I wasn’t in a situation to question them back.

There came a day when someone told me it was the rule of life… the rule of karma!

I was supposedly doing my share of karma that i chose for before god put me onto this earth.I was to do my share of suffering to enjoy my share of happiness.I will not categorise it under any name, religious , spiritual or superstitious belief.. I will only call it a belief!!!! For all the reasons and explanations that I received from countless people when I approached them for help this one made a lot of sense to me!

But everytime I started analysing and linking up one good incident and one bad challenge I was facing, I was enjoying the analogy more and smiling at my own foolishness of choice rather than feel bad!

I chose to get kicked in exchange of a DSLR????? (That is one of the best gifts I ever received!!) OMG!!! What was I doing when God gave me that MCQ sheets to choose the Good and Bad incidents of life!!

The problem hasn’t vanished even today … No miracles took place! No saviour angel appeared!!!

Every time I face a blow at that place! I wait a second and recollect one best thing that is right now happening in my life and I end up laughing at my own foolishness of choice!!! 

The power of laughter and happiness gives me double the strength to stand up against them yet another time.I wonder it still pisses them off to how I am still Happy 😀

 

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