Yearender 2020: Indian-Americans mull lessons of an extraordinary and traumatic year

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An empty classroom as schools went online. Photo courtesy Sneha Patel

The year 2020 has been a long and exhausting one. No one had imagined the perils and disruptions it would bring in people’s lives. These times although harrowing brought many revelations to the surface.

For some people, it brought their families closer whereas others realized the importance of taking a step back from going too fast. It made people more grateful for still having jobs while so many others lost theirs. Important plans and goals that were upended in the light of the situation had to be restructured. Many also had to come to terms with leaving pre-COVID lifestyles behind.

‘I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted. Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have,’ was among the many quotes on the internet that could not describe this year better.

News India Times talked to regular people in different professions, about their takeaways from 2020, and their future goals in light of those –

Shruti Thaker, a pharmacist from Long Island, New York

Shruti Thaker. Photo provided

2020 is the year that forever changed us all. I learnt mainly four lessons.

I learnt to slow down. As a perfectionist and a workaholic, I thought being busy all the time was a badge of honor. If it was not productive doing all the things on my to-do list I was a complete failure. To this day, I struggle with that thought mentally and it can be utterly exhausting. Covid taught me that it is okay to slow down and just be.

I learnt to ask for help. Asking for help has never been easy for me. Being home so much due to the lockdown left me feeling isolated and overwhelmed. But I left my comfort zone and reached out to my friends and relatives to keep me sane.

I learnt to use the off switch. Social media a hole filled with negativity. One can get lost in it if one there for a lot of time. I realized the importance of being disconnected from it and tried to connect with myself. I am learning to meditate and practice yoga.

I learnt to be satisfied with what we have. With lockdowns, we had to make do with what we had. This made me realize that we do not need to keep buying all the time. I have been focusing on shopping less, decluttering and purging the excess.

With the lessons learnt, my goals in 2021 would be establishing a good work-life balance, to be more grateful for my job, learn a new skill, improve my physical and mental well-being, spending more time with loved ones and foremost developing an inner calm. We are not promised tomorrow & it is important to live and enjoy today in the now.

Dr. Aseem Shukla, pediatric surgeon at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Dr. Aseem Shukla (Photo: LInkedIn)

The year 2020 was an eye-opener for me that you cannot take anything for granted. I used to travel every month in pre-COVID times, and now suddenly we are all at home—thinking—‘Wow, is this what retirement is like?’ and finding ways to enjoy. Also, there’s a lot of worry for our parents in India, especially since a number of friends lost their relatives.

I started practicing meditation, daily and that has been an improvement. I feel really good about that. We formed a physicians’ group, and we go through the videos and discuss and do the meditation.

We have learnt that this could happen at any time, and we better be prepared. So, meditation, taking things more positively, brightly. And spending time with the family inside the home, for such a long period of time – we have learnt to renegotiate a lot of things we thought were settled or did not need to be discussed.

Kshitija Jadhav, an aspiring software developer from Albuquerque, NM

Kshitija Jadhav. Photo provided

With the job market tanking due to the pandemic, it has been especially tough to look for a job. I have had to deal with a lot of anxiety due to this. I graduated In May and I had a lot of plans; to get a good job, visit family all over the country and maybe relax after the grueling study years.

I am grateful for having a semblance of safety in terms of physical health but corona’s consequences have taken a toll on my mental and emotional health. For the next year, I have planned to take a step back and realize that not getting a job is not the worst thing during this time.

I have also been trying to promote the importance of mental health and would like to take it to a bigger level next year by creating a support group or something of that sort.

I do hope the vaccines can spur the lives back to normal.

Rajinder Singh Mago, retired mechanical engineer, founder of Punjabi Cultural Society

Rajinder Bir Singh Mago. Photo provided

We’ve realized how little we need to exist. In our pre-COVID, ‘normal’ lives, we enlarge and collect. We don’t need all that.

I am so happy to be home with family and friends and peace.

But we worry about those who are suffering – unemployment, food insecurity, lineups for food, children not going to school, apart from those dying daily in thousands. Compare the numbers from 9/11, and that is just the daily death toll.

We’ve learnt a lot about keeping healthy, and that we must believe in science. And in the future we have to live by these lessons.

This pandemic is not going away soon, and it will leave lots of side-effects.

We might see lot of lifestyle changes – offices online, shopping online even more, tough for bricks-and-mortar companies and Mom-and-Pop shops.

Devashree Buch, data analyst based in Hoboken, New Jersey

Devashree Buch. Photo provided

The most important lessons that I learned this year were about the importance of health and life. This year also brought a lot of respect for the front line and the health care workers who have worked day and night to win over the pandemic. Apart from that, I also realized the importance of technological advancements and saw a rise of a digital era especially in the area of education and at an enterprise level that was never seen prior to this situation. In 2020, I have realized and seen that life is short and my only goal in 2021 is to connect to my loved ones even more, spend a lot of time with them and do whatever that will make me happy. In the upcoming year, I will make sure to concentrate more on my health and mental being!

Alak Parmar, former teacher in East Windsor, New Jersey, now full-time volunteer at BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

Alak Parmar. Photo provided

I left full time teaching two years ago to do fulltime seva.

2020 has been an extremely unique year. In the last nine months particularly, I have come to appreciate things that really matter as compared to things that were frivolous.

I have spent a lot of time focusing on family and overall health, physical, mental and spiritual.

I am still in touch with my teaching colleagues and it’s been difficult and unique for them. I reflect with them on focusing on maintaining emotional strength, whichever dharam they may follow.

There is lot of concern for students. I worked in Elizabeth, NJ school system where a lot of students depended on that one meal a day, which is not available now. So I have spent time talking to those teachers on how to deal with those issues.

We are still in the state of lockdown. It’s like going on a vacation when we are in a different zone — which we forget when we return. I am hoping and praying that next year gets better, but that as normalcy returns, to keep going with the emotional and physical strengthening, continue with using our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing to focus on what is truly important in our lives.

 Mili Pandya, Illinois, Chicago

As cliche as this is going to sound, the most important lesson I learned this year is to not take anything for granted.

At the beginning of 2020, I didn’t think come December I would be sitting here, missing going to the office for work, hugging family and friends, eating out at restaurants, or even something as silly like shopping in a crowded mall.

These activities, and so many more, were a part of my regular routine and I don’t think any of us could have imagined the disruption to our day-to-day life this year was going to bring.

As the pandemic continued to worsen over the weeks and months following the lockdown in March, I began to appreciate even more that I was healthy, still had a job, and was with my family—things that I realized I was so lucky to have considering that not everyone could say the same.

This appreciation for everyday blessings, both big and small, is something that I hope not to lose sight of. Once the pandemic is over, I know we will all want to return to our routines and a sense of normalcy.

And while I’m excited for that to happen (whenever that will be), I’m making it a goal of mine to also not forget the deeper appreciation for everything that this year has taught me.

Sneha Patel, high school teacher in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It has been a very different year that any teacher who joined this profession, could imagine. We went completely remote in our high school system.

The biggest learning for me was how to be flexible. We have 90 minutes a day with students in a totally different environment. So, we cannot expect the same from students. So, it has been an exercise in flexibility, of how to meet each student’s need.

Also, I have learnt how important it is to be kind. My subject is biology and it may be important. But sometimes the curriculum has to give way to listening to how my students are, asking them how they are.

The same goes for family members who are now all at home and working from home, where earlier we would all meet after coming back from work or school. That flexibility and kindness is needed that I learnt from school this year has to be practiced at home. We do a “family assembly” once a week, when my brother and others jump on Zoom to exchange experiences.

In January 2020, I had started a project to take a picture every day and write about it. I continued that after COVID hit us. And it is easy to see the changes over time. I value seeing my friends and family even if online. Earlier it was all about the busy-ness of going to work, going to school or whatever.

I would like to think I will remember the lessons of 2020.

Dr. Pinky J. Bhatt, of Princeton, N.J., who is an infectious disease expert.

Pinki J. Bhatt, Faculty and staff, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ. 09/19/2017 Photo by Steve Hockstein/HarvardStudio.com

I am an infectious disease doctor so you can imagine I have been taking care of patients from Day One (of this pandemic).

From the professional perspective, a couple of things hit home for me —

Not to take life for granted. I had to witness a lot of middle aged and seniors dying alone even if they had no co-morbidities. Say their final goodbyes alone without any family members. It was very traumatic to witness and to put things in perspective — that life can be taken away any moment.

From that is the other lesson — not to take relationships for granted. Our guru encourages us to maintain our relationships. I tried this Diwali to give my two-year old son an experience. We did it at home.

So, I learned you don’t have to rely on being personally present to maintain relationships. I am going to use next year to maintain my relationships with family and friends.

Harsh Dave, senior business systems analyst based in Chicago, Illinois

Life is simple if we stop over complicating things.

This year has been an eye opener for all of us and the emotional roller-coaster we have all been through. Couple things that 2020 taught me are cherishing the moments which we can smile about. Learning from the events and building from them in a positive way – adversity is the mother of innovation.

I am grateful for all the experiences, the good and the bad knowing they have all happened for a reason.

2020 has affected some of my personal and professional goals but that does not mean I am going to keep complaining about it. Rather I will have to pivot and adjust these goals and crush them in 2021, especially taking care of my health and growing my Real estate portfolio.

To some 2020 may be a disaster of a year and they want to forget about it but to me and my family it was the best year because we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl.

—-

Ela Dutt also contributed to this report

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