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NIDIA 24: Thirty years and then that one day..

When: 1 AM,October 28th, 2017

Where: Aboard AA 2311

My Uber driver today (from the hotel to airport) was a former professional boxer who proudly told me he was a first-generation immigrant and he loves coaching young kids. There are times in life when you start talking to strangers (in buses and airports) and realize you agree with some of their opinions about life. J is one of those people from my life. J kept talking and I suddenly felt an incomplete circle of thoughts in my brain complete itself.

Today it is 31 years since I was blessed to be born into this beautiful world. As I sit and type these words out thousands of feet from above the earth, I remember J and another conversation from earlier today that pushed me out of my slumber as a NIDIA. Also here I want to tell you why this post is very important for me to write. For several weeks now, battling through a personal crisis, I have stayed away from talking to every good friend I had (like literally. If you know me, and then I tell you I have become a silent person, that can tell you volumes I guess). I showed up for family events because family is one thing that grounds me and gives me the hope to keep moving ahead in life. Sometimes it is blood related, sometimes it is not. And it is hard to stay sad for a really long time when you have a family that will not quit until they see you laugh a lot. You take advantage of that blessing and hang in there so that you can preserve that humane side in you to pay it forward. It has now come to a point where I am overwhelmed by the concerned messages I receive from people everywhere and all that I do is flip through them not knowing what to say. So this communication is very important for me to tell you all that I am okay and am recovering.

Several weeks back, at work, I was assigned the task to read a book that one of the professors I work for had authored. I was to help create supporting imagery for a research project presentation. Click here if you wonder what I do at work.  I remember that week of the assignment. I had walked into my work supervisor’s room several times that week expressing my disbelief on how much that book’s content was making me uncomfortable and unhappy. What no one knew was that assignment made me sick in my stomach. It was hard to be reading the book and not connecting with it multiple times.  What no on knows is that I cried multiple times that week because of everything I read in it. You may be wondering, “Well wait, you call yourself a non-immigrant Padmini, this book is on immigrants! Not adding up?!”

When you live thousands of miles away from the home in a place where every day, apart from studying, working, staying healthy, a considerable amount of effort also goes into ‘fitting in’, you have to be careful. Careful to not let the process get to your nerves. Careful to not let someone tell you that you are not good enough to be among them. Reading Dr. Stewart’s book made me realize that no matter how much I want to deny it, I have lived some parts of those lives described in that book. I have struggled through some of those challenges. I have undergone similar micro-traumas like those immigrant students did in their lives. And over the time, they have only accumulated onto my mind. And my struggle was to keep going no matter what – to not let the dream die. There are some people in my life currently who are championing for me to gather my strength and nerves to move forward in my life. But mental health is complicated. In a common man’s language, broken spirit is hard to heal. No matter how best it can be restored, will a broken porcelain dish pieced together by the best expert in the world be the same as the one that has never been broken? Or as some may argue, will the viewer’s perspective decide if the patches make the mended one even more beautiful? Regardless of the point of view whatsoever, the key questions to ask for me are:

Do we have those best technicians available to us for mental health?

What is the best glue to piece a broken spirit together?

C, I know you told this to me before. But today, when I heard the same analogy from another woman, I felt a sense of calm in my heart.

Would just one average intensity poke on someone’s shoulder hurt the same as hundreds of pokes at the same spot on the shoulder for a really long period of time? If a person with Spinal Cord Injury came to you, what would you say to them? Would you talk to them the way you are talking to yourself? Think about it, would you be so unkind to them as you are being to yourself? Oh, or is it because their pain is visible and yours is not visible to the eye?

As someone told me earlier this week, “Sri, you do you first!”  Seldom will we have an opportunity to sit across the table from leaders who will look you in the eye and say that to you. You take care of yourself first and then worry about the rest. I remember them also telling me this. “Sri, if you take all the inner dialogue that you have and make it into a person and let them stand beside you, you wouldn’t be able to stand that person for one moment. We need to teach ourselves when to not hear to it.” This is the most profound sentence I have heard in the last sixty days of my life. This birthday, yet another blessed day when I got to be with my family, I made a decision to be kind and compassionate to myself first. And that also I will seek help as much as I need and won’t shame myself for asking help. I wrote this post for many reasons. Some of them are:

  • I am okay and I am keeping to myself. One of these days, I hope to find the glue that will fix the broken porcelain that I am today.
  • I have talked to many of my friends over the years who discussed with me the shaming that surrounds taking time to heal (I know everyone doesn’t have that option but for ones who have the privilege, don’t disregard it. Use it and help someone because it makes you stronger). Especially when you are on track to achieve a ‘goal’. I want to let everyone reading this to know that we cannot shame/silence the help seekers. Nor can we say that seeking the help of a psychologist is a sign of weakness. It is a science and like any profession, there are greatly knowledgeable people working in the field and then there are the others. So educating ourselves about it before shaming someone seeking help is important.
  • We cannot normalize a person’s suffering as a process of toughening them up for life. If I have a rupee every time I heard this sentence in my 8-full time years as a student, I would not have needed a humongous education loan from SBI.
  • We cannot negate or devalue a person’s human experience because they have put up a brave and dignified presence always. I write this point particularly because in the last sixty days I had people say to me things like, “Oh! You are so successful, you are so capable. You are such an achiever!” Some of them may have some truth to it. The fact is, I am not. Keeping in line with my desire to share only positive stories or life lessons on this blog, I never wrote about the experiences that have severely challenged me as a non-immigrant in this country. The experiences that made me feel very low and worthless. Disregarding the pain of being treated like that is what led me where I am today. Also I wrote this post because my mom says if in her younger days she had a way to express her views like this, she would have shared her life lessons with more people around her. She says when I can write my thoughts down, I should put them to good use.

Thousand miles away from where I call home, I found comfort in the questions that two women asked me about who I am ( I guess that is why I am drawn to qualitative research and interviews. The beauty of this form of research is: within its principles, every voice counts, every story matters). While there are many loved ones that care for me, pray for me and have positive thoughts for me everyday, meeting these champions made me realize that I lack compassion for myself. So as I turn 31 and am trying to bounce back from this crisis, I want to request all of you who read this to:

Be respectful of any pain you face in life. Don’t tell yourself it is okay to get a ‘little’ hurt in the process. No hurt/pain is little. It only keeps layering more pain onto itself. That is the complexity that surrounds our human minds.

No goal/desire in life should take you to the point of choosing between loved ones that care for you and success that may kill your inner joy (that success becomes pointless if you become a mean person in that process).

It is okay not to be able to fit in everywhere we go.

You do not know what great hope and joy meeting you brought to my life C & K! To keeping the promises and making every day count with self-care and compassion for myself. Thank you for the laughs and sharing your stories.

Karin Korb on the left in a black top, Padmini in the center wearing a  white Kashmiri kurti with colorful embroidery and Candace on the right wearing an elephant grey t-shirt. All the three women are smiling their hearts out while looking into the photograph. In the background is an open air drinks bar at a hotel with two uniformed bartenders on scene.

Note: To all the junglees of my life who will text me jokes about the porcelain dish comparisons, I will personally come to beat y’all up 🙂 Please don’t! Is emotional post pe kachra math karo kameeno *hugs*

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My Life: Religion in Reality

The Holy Quran at Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

The Holy Quran at Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

Two days back, I was standing in the Portland Art Museum staring at a beautiful Quran which had illustrations made of gold and lapis lazuli. The beauty of the illustration caught my attention as I was walking away from a Native American Fashion exhibit. In a few seconds my thoughts drifted to a conversation I had with a best friend in college (I think it was in 2009). As the holy month of Ramadan begins, I want to share a part of that conversation here. Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch, my best friend then told me something that helped her tide past tough times in her life. I do not know how accurate my understanding about this topic is. May be someone who is an expert on these topics can correct me if I am saying something wrong here. But why is it important for me to share this?

It was one of those rare occasions when someone from a different belief system helped me retain faith in God while not talking in the same language of faith I grew up around.

We were sitting in our college’s parking lot in the back of my dad’s car (Strangely, I have a photograph of both of us from that day which another friend clicked on my phone!!). By then I had cried for about 20 minutes when my friend said to me,
“Arre sun, tereko mein ek baath bolthi Padmini. Mereko nai maloom ki tereko yeh sab mein yakeen hai ki nai. Lekin mereko bolne ka mann karra, so bolri. Humaare mazhab mein ek baath sikaathe humko. Quran mein bhi likha hai. Jisne bhi apni zubaan se kabhi bhi ek bhi galat baath na kahi ho, woh zubaan se nikli dua hamesha Allah tak paunchthi hai. Aur ek aisa bhi hai ki ek bhi insaan nahi hoga jisne kabhi apni zubaan se galath baathein na ki ho. Lekin jo bhi galtiyaan hum karthein hai, woh sab hamaarein hi hai. Isliye, jab kisee aur keliye tu dua karegi, woh dua Allah manzoor karega kyun ki, doosre insaan ke hisaab mein tho tere zubaan ki galtiyaan maaf hai.”
[Listen, I will tell you one thing Padmini. I don’t know if you believe in all these things I am telling you. But I feel like telling you. So here it is. We are taught something in our religion. It is written in the Holy Quran also. A mouth(zubaan) that has never uttered a sinful word, a prayer spoken from that mouth always reaches Allah. And there is also this saying that there won’t be a single human who has not sinned ever by speaking bad words. However, a sinful word spoken from one’s mouth is their own and a prayer from that person for another human will always be a clean prayer. So praying for someone else will be the best way to make an honest prayer that the Allah will bless.]
I don’t know how well I have written her words in English. But these words have been a guide for me since then. Since that day, I always found solace in praying for others more than myself (That doesn’t mean I am not kicking screaming and blowing my nose away on hurtful things. I do the whole drama also :). Well, I do pray for myself to ask for all the materialistic things that I want and to occasionally give Him my thanks for gifting me a wonderful life. Jokes apart, that conversation helped me come over a huge set back in 2009 and since then, I have always bounced back from so many situations that would have definetely broken my spirit if it was not for all the spiritual help I had around me. And the beauty of the life I experienced so far is that when I went through a time of questioning the belief system I grew up around, my best friends who were Muslim, Catholic and Sikhs helped me find my way back to believe in a power that was beyond the understanding of my small brain.
When I stared at the beautiful lapis lazuli and gold illustrated Quran pages that day, her words rang in my ears. The words that she said to me, how I constantly use them in my life to tide past tough times made my eyes well up. She was a great friend. She was always there for others despite having a tough life herself . I learnt to cook Palak curry from her (see there comes my food reference!), learnt a great deal about Islam from her(She taught me to wear a hijab which I still use today in the hot Texas sun. It is amazing how airy it is and how you can hide your face completely! :)), realized the value of having a cursive handwriting from her (she used to say, kaiku kharaab karri tera handwriting aisa waisa likkhe? howli hai tu!!), and learnt from her that staying strong in the face of adversity was a hidden untapped talent that women are naturally gifted with. We also often spoke comparing the good things and the not so good things we experienced for practicing our own religions (If I publish all that here, I will be removed from all the countries I ever lived in hahaha). We talked a great deal about the foods we cooked. Our discussions were so animated that, one night when we were both posted for a night duty, I went to sleep listening to her describing how they cooked chicken biryani and trust me, to this day, I can narrate to you all the steps that are followed in cooking chicken for biryani 🙂 It is hilarious when I look back at all those memories. I even did a fashion photo shoot for her in a burqa. I can never publish the photographs unless she would ask me to. I will wait for that day.
I don’t know where she is today. She just disappeared from all contact points after college. May be she wanted no part of that life we all struggled to make it through. This Ramadaan, seeing that Quran brought back all these memories to me. Ismat, where ever you are, I pray and wish all the best for your life. I never asked her if I could share her photo publicly. But today I want to. If I receive an objection or a note from her or her family, I will remove the image from here. But for now, I want the world to see the image of one of the best humans I knew growing up in my city, Hyderabad. She reminded me to keep faith in my Hindu gods and she was a staunch Muslim.
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NIDIA 19 – My pen has been lost by me!!!

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When: 2nd September 2015

Where: On Reliance Global Call 🙂

Several years ago, my father introduced us to a cousin of his. When my father respects someone with his whole heart, it is difficult for us to miss feeling the same warmth about that person. It is probably the way my father introduces these people into our lives. My father never missed a single opportunity to talk about this cousin and about how great a human being he was. Every now and then I met my dad’s cousin at social gatherings and it was always casual conversations and funny things that elders say to kids in large families :). I still don’t know if it is a good habit but I like to observe people when they are conversing with others. I saw this man over the years in many different places talking to many different people. Nothing about him was ever artificial. Every word he spoke, every blessing he shared, they all felt like they came straight from his heart. There are these few people you meet, who smile with their eyes. He and his wife are one of those few people I know whose kindness can fill a room and make your heart beam every single time you meet them.

Fast forward to 2015, one day when we finally got to ‘chat’, Facebook gave me the chance to ask for his number . He was quite surprised when I called him as soon as he sent me his number. He picks up the phone right after two rings, and has the same warmest greeting that he always had for me when I would meet him in person. For people who know me well, when I am happy, I am talkative. Like read talkative in bold, UPPERCASE and underlined in red 🙂 We talked and talked and talked. I think we spoke for over an hour [ If I wrote the whole conversation here, it will fill a book :)]. So many random things in education we talked about and none of it needed elaboration. Words just flowed and I could just understand them as is. To be sharing a conversation with a great teacher like him and enjoying it was like a dream come true for me. The joy of sharing a conversation like that with the person who has been my inspiration to pursue a profession in teaching, indescribable. Every minute of that one hour, inside my heart I was lamenting why I never got to work or learn under the guidance of teachers like him when I was in India. Half way through the conversation while I was filling him in on my work, he has this childish excitement in his voice and says,

“Padmini! I want to tell you about two incidents that will make complete sense to you.”

And obviously my response was, ” Cheppandi peddanannagaru!”

If I type them out in his own words, I might do some justice to the beauty of that conversation I enjoyed.

RRB: Oka roju, naa deggaraki, oka pillavaadu vachaadu. Vacchi, budhiga chethulu kattukoni (by now he is smiling while narrating this), Maastaaru pennu poyindhi… annadu.

Myself: Smiling and almost getting where this was going. I almost started laughing here. Was too excited to have understood where this was going [You can ask him if you want]

RRB: Nenu anna, yera, malli cheppu. Vaadu malli, Maastaaru, pennu poyindhi..ani inkaastha nemmadhiga, jaagratha cheppaadu.

By now I couldn’t stop laughing loudly. His subtle manner of narrating the entire incident was so powerful and hilarious. [ two of the many great qualities in great teachers: to capture the attention of their student fully and to engage them completely till they finished speaking :)]

RRB: Malli cheppara annanu. Appudu vaadu, Maastaaru, nenu pennu pogottukunna annadu. [ By this time, I was almost repeating the last line with him]

We both burst out laughing for over a minute there.

RRB: It was important to make him realize that he was responsible for losing an object that he could have kept safely. It is important to teach children to own responsibility for their actions early in life and I find that things like this are not taught in schools anymore. The focus is all on grades and exam scores these days.

Why this one hour’s conversation made me so happy?

I got to talk to a teacher in India who grew in his role to become an educational leader, guided thousands of students to success and yet, was one of the few most humble teachers I have grown up watching.

The honesty in his words and the simplicity in his teaching are two things that I will always aspire to acquire.

Almost five years after I survived the worst time in an educational setting, here I was, beaming and listening to the joy in a teacher’s voice for being a teacher. A person who has been through my age, worked hard to do the best for his students was talking with such pride and satisfaction.

20 years back when my dad introduced me to his cousin, I did not think that he will be the biggest inspiration behind my endless desire to teach and lead. Over the years, observing him, sharing small conversations with him and listening about him from my father have all influenced me to pursue teaching as a profession. Being almost the only Indian in this specialization here, doing something entirely new with no one to follow, I sometimes feel like I should give up [ to all my friends who are narrowing their eyes on me, don’t judge me like you don’t have one of those days yourself :)]. On one such days recently, I made this phone call and I swear it has changed my life.

Babbepalli Raja Rao garu, as he is fondly called in the family, peddanannagaru as I dearly address him, is the person who has renewed my hope to be a teacher right on the day when I was getting lost in my way. Hearing one of your own, your biggest inspiration,  tell you that you are doing the right thing and that you shouldn’t give up just yet is a blessing.

Peddanannagaru, thank you for that conversation. It will always remain etched in my memory as the most precious gift from my teacher. That conversation reminded me to own responsibility for myself and to enjoy my schooling to become a teacher one day. And yes, I still owe you a trip to your village and I can’t wait to come home next time. 🙂

Amma and Daddy, thank you for giving me this life to experience beautiful conversations like this.

Yours Sincerely,

Padmini 🙂

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NIDIA 18 – Mind your business Padmini

When anyone tells me I can’t do anything, I’m just not listening anymore

-Florence Griffith Joyner

Five years back during a clinical rotation, one of my supervisors instructed me to mind my business in response to a question I asked her. I was an inquisitive undergraduate student who asked her, ” ******** ma’m, what does ***** (referring to the child with disability) do when he goes home after the therapy session?” And the title was her answer to my question also followed by, “Why does it bother you to think beyond what you are told to do?”. All this while she is rolling her eyes and exchanging looks with her colleagues.

Why did I ask her the question?

The child who was receiving therapy was a 14-year boy who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. His mother carried him to the department every time he came down for physiotherapy. He was taller than his mother yet she carried him every where they went. He went to a private school that denied his promotion to higher grades after a certain grade. They just couldn’t provide him with a lift to attend the classes on third floor and also refused to move the class. I asked my supervisor that question because everyday this boy went back to an almost nil physical activity situation at his house. He was beginning to gain weight and his mother struggled to carry him with each passing day. Lack of physical activity was also affecting his overall health (muscular and cardiovascular health). For my brain, the obvious thing to think was, “Is there a way for us to get him to move more every day? Can we arrange for assistance? “. I was told to shut up and not think beyond delivering physiotherapy interventions that were so archaic that it would make the relics in Salar Jung museum look new.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks back when Dr. Kalam passed away. I won’t lie. That week I almost went back to every Youtube speech that was available of Dr. Kalam. Many of which I never heard before. Of all the questions students asked Dr. Kalam, the ones that stood out for me where the ones that revolved around ‘education/scientific research system reform’ in our country. The above scene from my undergraduate days is exactly the reason why Indian education system is so messed up. It is because a majority of ‘faculty’ in educational institutions are ‘never’ trained to be teachers.  They are trained to work as clinicians, law enforcement officers, so on and so forth. I will refrain from commenting about faculty in engineering or technology related fields. In fields that involve human beings as the clients for health related direct services, how many teachers are taught and trained to be teaching in classrooms?

What happened to me and what happens to a lot of students in classrooms across India is that we are told not to question. We are only supposed to follow instructions

Rewind back to my physics class in high school, I once asked my physics teacher why a particular reaction would give that particular result. I was told to shut up and just read what was in the textbook. I am sure I am not alone. This must have happened to many of us. Training to be a teacher does not end at earning a degree. It is a constant process. It is never ending. You are always working with your students and they are always training you to be the best teacher you can ever be. The teachers who have that attitude towards their jobs are the history makers.

What am I trying to say here?

Reviewing through pages legislation and policies for education in India, I understand that:

  • India’s education laws are archaic (almost)
  • Most of the Acts that guide the delivery of education services in our country are very vague
  • Where there are a few good and modern clauses in those Acts, there is a gap between enforcement and reviewing of the service delivery
  • Teacher training guidelines are very generic and lack clear instructions on addressing the needs of each specialization. There is a lot of ambiguity. 
  • Guidelines still show a lack of connection to the real world
  • Use of technology is missing in the teacher training scene
  • Websites of most of these organizations need serious updating (I am thankful for the fact that the ministries have their websites updated)

How can we begin addressing this situation

Only when more urban Indians with financial and social security take up professions like teaching will we be able to start a change. Please I am not referring to Teach for India. I am talking full length walk of B. Ed, M. Ed, M. Phil, PhD that kind!

More students/parents should question the quality of education that is delivered in private institutions too. 

Reading more about the legislation in our country is a great way to begin understanding the system.

Without spending time to read about the history of a problem and the legislation associated with it, we will be wasting our time every time we complain on social networking.

Like every student of science knows, if scientific questioning is not encouraged in the schools, we cannot produce citizens who will love their education.

And only students who will love the education they receive will be interested to become researchers. There is a severe need for more research and publication of data outlining social phenomena in our country. So before we start getting disheartened every time a negative news is reported, spend time to look up the research conducted in India on that specific topic. You never know what might ignite your mind. 

~SriPadmini Chennapragada aka Jussri

10th August 2015

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Faces I Framed

Smoking Smells & Stains

All Rights Reserved @Jussri.com

Today I almost suffocated and felt sick sitting in a place where a person was smoking all over the place.
Yeah bans are not meant to be adhered to here around where I live. Very bad I know.
But more than what would cause discomfort to me, I wanted to show ‘smokers’ what happens in your lungs when you are a punctual smoker.
You end up with
1. Bad Breath
2.It stains your lungs with big huge patches of ash and other ugly substances which naturally progressively mess your pulmonary(lung) tissue.

If you are the kind who argues ridiculously reasoning that there are smokers who lived healthy up to 90 years and died a natural death without things like cancer in their life, then please don’t cause passive smoking to non-smokers around you.

Thank you.

PS: The ridiculously large watermarks all over the pic are to prevent misuse. I shot these images with one pact with the hospital authorities that I would never use the images commercially since they were made out of surgeries from poor patients who were getting treated for free. Thank you for not misusing the image in advance.

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