India’s Viral Conqueror of 2021 – Caught in the Eye of the Storm

India’s Viral Conqueror of 2021 – Caught in the Eye of the Storm

As an Indian residing in the United States, it’s hard to truly know the extent of your ancestral country’s hardships…that is until you are caught in the middle of one. The COVID-19 pandemic had struck the world hard in 2020, leaving most to hope 2021 would be better. Well, we’re in April of 2021, and India is in absolute despair due to a sudden outburst of the virus that is running rampant throughout the country and breaking all pandemic records till date. Innocently, I was traveling to India for urgent reasons and to spend time with my grandparents & family, knowing the pandemic could take anyone we loved without discrimination at any time. Having taken all necessary precautions advised – negative tests before traveling & on arrival, masks on masks for protection, and various hand sanitizers and disinfectants always handy – it seemed the trip would go as expected. My trip began and everything was seemingly going as planned, when suddenly reports came rushing through that India was seeing record increases in COVID cases and the High Court sent notices to all states imploring them to take significant actions to control the aggressively worsening situation.

Stranded in the Middle of a Biological Conquest

At the time I was heading to Delhi, my usual residence because my grandparents and most of my family resides in and surrounding the Capitol, when we were informed that the city was implementing strict curfews and considering a full lockdown. With optimism, I continued my journey to Delhi in hopes that the curfew would be manageable and the condition would improve as it had in 2020. Needless to say, that is not how things progressed. Within days the situation worsened, forcing the capital of Delhi and the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Karnataka were entering full lockdowns for the rest of the month until they could reassess the situation. If that wasn’t terrifying enough for someone in the middle of interstate transit, we received word that my grandmother, my Nani, was down with COVID along with a few other family members. As per the pandemic restrictions, my destination was now inaccessible because we could not enter Delhi and my reason for coming was postponed because my Nani’s house and all individuals living there would get locked down until officials determined it was clear of the virus. So as I sat in my Haryana hotel, I realized that I was potentially stranded in a country rampant with the pandemic.

…I had to get home without stopping, all the while observing the India I love react to its present conqueror.

They say that trauma survivors live in survival mode and that it’s not a way to live, yet what kicks in during a time like this are those exact survival instincts. What people deem as paranoia or overly-cautious become necessary perspectives and precautions in order to make it through such a situation. In the middle of a pandemic, in a country where women are not safe in normal scenarios such as on the highways (definitely not at night), and in a situation where lockdowns mean increased poverty for those who can’t run their businesses and resort to thievery, survival instincts come in the form of do-what-you-need-to-in-order-to-survive-worry-about-everything-else-later. I was already considering a break from the world because of almost-burnout from my work life (first world issues of course), but the situation made the choice that much clearer – I needed to step away from the world and focus on making it through physically and mentally however I needed to. Rather than enjoy my transit by reading my e-books or listening to music, I managed my battery-life purely for GPS and emergency purposes for the lengthy drive I had to get home without stopping, all the while observing the India I love react to its present conqueror.

As I travelled through the country, I took away two things: 1) India is unrecognizable when its people are nowhere to be seen and falling apart and 2) somehow people retain their humanity and are still able to enjoy life in the midst of it all.

The India I Cannot Recognize

Since the onset of the pandemic, many countries have imposed “lockdowns”, but not all have been quite as strict in their rules around these lockdowns as others. India is an interesting case because it falls within both perspectives on lockdown methods. There are states which imposed the lockdown and enforce it with armed guards, fines, and police brutality (the brutality varying depending on your state and what lockdown rule you broke). Then there are states that are more worried about the stereotypical perspective of “log kya kehenge” (translation: what will people say) that they are hiding the true impact of the pandemic on the state in question by not reporting the true number of cases and deaths, and leave the lockdown/curfew enforcements up to each municipality. The latter method almost always resulting in many villages and smaller towns closing some institutions but not all, not actively enforcing masks, and definitely not restricting large gatherings in marketplaces during non-curfew times.

What’s worse is that these states and their people would like to abide by the procedures and guidelines, but not all can. Those villages and smaller towns are actually grateful that they are not being forced to follow lockdown rules because they can’t afford it. If they did, the people would not necessarily survive irrespective of the virus. The farmer who is already run down by the months of aggravated agricultural regulation upheavals from the current administration must continue to work on the farm to keep one’s family alive with the food from the fields and the money it brings in by bringing the goods to the big cities and selling them in open markets. Not continuing their work would result in more harm to more people and they need the exceptions or leeway their state allows.

It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm.

Sholay is considered among the best Hindi films of all time – Hindustan Times

At the same time, if you were to enter an area fully enforcing the lockdown or during the strict curfew hours, it’s as though the world as we know it has disappeared. The streets are empty, besides a bull, cow, or dog casually roaming the seemingly abandoned vicinity. The store fronts are locked shut and all the lights are out. The wind blows the dust around the streets uninterrupted, not a being for miles at a stretch, and you can see the heat of an Indian summer reflecting off the highway with barely a vehicle in sight. It’s as though the human race has disappeared altogether. It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm (See the epic Bollywood movie to understand the reference).

The only places where things get lively as they never did before are at the highway toll booths where delivery trucks are showing their lockdown exception passes, waiting for interstate transit approval, and around medical facilities. Pre-pandemic, these facilities only ever had a security guard or two to perform the usual checks before entry – standard vehicle and bag scans. Now in the face of a pandemic on steroids, the larger facilities have police support and the surrounding streets of major cities have armored vehicles because the facilities are getting out of hand. It’s one thing to hear of the impacts of the virus on one’s community in a place you remember so beautifully, and entirely another to experience its devastation first hand.

Indians Always Remember the Importance of Life

Even as the pandemic rears its very ugly head, the worst of situations still has the country buzzing with communal support and moments of pure joy. I have travelled to various countries, and nowhere have I seen people come together for humanity, try to survive together, while still finding time to truly enjoy happy moments, as they have here.

As the cases in India rise, the community response has simultaneously increased domestically and internationally. Every news channel, media outlet, and individual social media presence is actively sharing the latest status and resources. The resources ranging from domestic information on where oxygen tanks have become available to international sponsorship & donations to send more supplies. It is amazing to see how the global South Asian community has banded together in one nation’s time of need to send not only money & medical devices, but also advocate and lobby their respective governments to stand with humanity and support India however they can.

The South Asian diaspora is known to be full of diverse traditions and colorful celebrations across regions, languages, and religious beliefs, and in this country that represents so many of the aforementioned, the brilliance of the cultures remains vibrant even during such a dreadful time. Although the Indian government could do a MUCH better job of providing strict guidelines around how to celebrate key traditions and religious/sporting/personal events to contain the spread of the virus, the Indian people are finding ways to still celebrate the happy moments amongst the madness. From the safety and comfort of my hotel room, I can hear nearby homes and people rumbling with pure exaltation when their favorite team excels in the Cricket IPL, or the grace and joy of coming together with the family they still have for iftaar, or even gleefully enjoying the time they finally have with the people they love while watching their sitcoms and latest Bollywood movies. Many are gratefully following protocol with their masks and social distancing, while others have rested their full faith on their religions in choosing to assemble within protocols, knowing full well that they are taking a risk, all in the belief that these moments with their loved ones – for what could be the last time – is worth it. Either way, in the midst of the traumatic state of the country, there is some joy and it is beautiful to witness.

What Needs to Be Done & How You Can Help

As the news in India rages on about the pending government elections (the least of priorities from a humanitarian standpoint), followed by the rampage of immoral folks blasphemously stealing and selling oxygen machines & necessary medicine on the black market, Indians are faced with the pandemic survival dilemma: stay in and follow lockdown/curfew procedures or risk losing the people you love because you need to earn an income or need to get them medical support to survive any way you can. The result is that people are communicating almost by the minute that someone they love or know has passed away either from the virus or because of a separate, easily treatable medical issue that didn’t get the attention it normally would have. The medical infrastructure of a country inhabited by 1.4 billion people has been brutally exposed to the point that hotels and private institutions have been mandated by the government to act as hospital extensions to house more patients and medical services, and the nation must rely on allies to send support.

We’re losing people not just to the virus itself but also to the lack of services and medical equipment. India needs help and it needs it now. Here’s what you can do today:

If you’re in India

FACE THE FACTS & CHANGE THE COURSE

India has reached this point because many things failed – the government’s leadership, the medical infrastructure, and everyone’s common sense during a pandemic with regard to the importance of precautionary & proactive measures. It is time that each individual realize that their individual choices to forego the pandemic protocol can affect the nation.

  • Follow lockdown protocol. For starters, please take this straightforward approach. The protocols are put in place to protect you AND the people around you. If you are able to, stay home.
  • Take ALL precautions. If you need to leave your home for whatever reason, wear a mask, wash your hands as directed, and sanitize frequently. If you have been to a location where you were at risk, quarantine yourself for the next 14 days to ensure you don’t contribute to spreading the virus. DO NOT STOP doing taking these precautions because you have received a vaccine or because you think the location is sanitary. Even the experts don’t understand the virus and it’s variants enough to take such risks. Stay cautious.
  • Share resources. If you have information about local resources that can help someone, share it as far and wide as you can. You don’t know who needs it, and many do. Use your networks and platforms to share the information you have or have come across to spread it further. (see the list of resources below to get started)

If you’re outside of India

YOU CAN STILL HELP & YOU SHOULD

The world has enjoyed the knowledge and culture of India for eons and it is time to save that very same part of the world everyone has enjoyed for their own benefits.

  • Support/Donate. There are many Indian or South Asian organizations that are pooling funds to purchase medical equipment to send to India and to support families that do not have the funds to survive. Use the resources outlined below to guide you to the option that works best for you.
  • Advocate. Reach out to your elected officials and request their support for India. Your voice has an impact and can make a difference.

Resources


Dum hai is mitti mein
Jo humare ragon mein dhodta hai
Toh kaisa toofan hai yeh
Jo dum ko thodne pe tula hai

Inteha hai is yug ki
Mat jhuko mere yaar
Waqt hai saath mein ladne ka
Mil ke hi jeetenge is baar

Translation (adjusted for meaning):
There is strength in this earth
That runs through our veins
So what kind of storm is this
Hell bent on breaking this strength

This is a test of this era
So don’t bow down just yet friend
It’s time to fight together
For together is the only way to win

– Akiti –

30 at 30 – Lesson 5: Hustle Hard and Early In Life

30 at 30 – Lesson 5: Hustle Hard and Early In Life

When we’re young, it truly seems as though we have a lifetime ahead, meaning we have all the time in the world to do the things we want to do. The problem is that no one really teaches you that irrespective of how much time you have, it’s still important to take advantage of the time you have today and right now. This is particularly important when it comes to working towards the life you want to live and the work you want to do for the world.

Society tells us that there are steps we must take to be “successful” or to become “contributing members of society”, and each step has its appropriate time in our life. We are born, we reach the “right” age to enter school, we attend a school system for 12-13 years (depending on what age you entered the institution of formal education), we go to university, we get a job, and then we retire. The reality is that this does not work for everyone (whether it works for anyone really is a topic for another day). Everyone has their own path to their own definition of success. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology to life paths, and quite honestly, that’s the beauty of it. But whether you follow society’s path or define your own, there is one thing that holds true for everyone – you must work hard to reach any goal on your path, and that work is best done early.

“We do today what they won’t

so tomorrow we can accomplish what they can’t.”

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson

I was fortunate enough to have parents that learned and shared this value with me early on, so I was able to apply it and enjoy the fruits of that early labor (not child labor, just more effort at a younger age!). The way they positioned it was that if you know what you want to do in life, and you know the kind of lifestyle you want to live, then you must place the necessary effort into the things that lead to those goals now, so that you have to do less work later and get paid more – in compensation and freedom. It may have seemed frivolous in middle school or high school when they first said it, but what they said seemed logical and so I applied it.

In elementary school, I studied hard and aced my classes, leading me to higher level classes in middle school. In middle school, I studied harder, took on extracurriculars to expand my scope, and aced my classes, leading me to the higher entry point classes in high school. Upon entering high school, I learned that if you had already completed core competencies or reached the highest levels of main courses, you had free-reign to select the types of subjects you wanted to learn. The efforts of my previous schooling resulted in my ability to have the flexibility and freedom of choice in my high school years to take university level courses and explore knowledge that was in line with my passions. The hard work in high school, and the ability to diversify courses and extracurriculars (what universities look for), granted me entry into great universities for higher education with hefty scholarships, placed me out of core competencies due to my grades, and gifted me the ability to graduate earlier than expected so that I could start working sooner.

During my university years, the opportunities to work and intern and build my own company required more effort than others were applying, with minimal returns in the beginning, but I pushed through because I had to, and because I had already recognized there was freedom in going the extra mile. Upon entering the corporate workforce, I learned that my effort was most valued at this point because the world recognized these efforts above all else – above what brand name school I went to, what scores I had, or what internship I held. What the world valued most was the effort I displayed, the real knowledge I gathered, and the manner in which I learned to apply everything I had experienced up until then. At that point, all I had to do was apply my knowledge aptly, and that alone brought me a more than satisfying return on my earlier investments because I was able to put in less time while making more, leaving more time to explore other fulfilling life opportunities.

Akiti (right) is standing with one of her closest friends, Emily (left), and their Dean of the Honors Program, Professor Ahr (center), at their graduation from Seton Hall University. Akiti graduated Magna Cum Laude, as an Honors Student in multiple honors societies, a Philosophy Major, and a Double Minor in Diplomacy & International Relations and Legal Studies in Business.

That’s when it made most sense to me. The efforts early on made it so that no matter what path I chose, I would always remain a cut above the norm because while I was applying my knowledge and experience, others were still learning and experiencing. As others spent time learning A and B, I was well on to L, M, N, O and P – but with additional bonus elements because no one was expecting me to already be at that level at my age. While others were still figuring out their paths, I was already on a path that was secure in ways that I wouldn’t realize until later when I had to rely entirely upon it to revive my life. While others dreamed of financial freedom, exploring the world, and contributing to the world, I was already there – living the life I had wanted and having the freedom to design my life the way I wanted without restriction.

Akiti leading a virtual corporate workshop on the design and development of automated, digital customer experiences.

I may not have been the most successful person in the world (as defined by society – making billions or established as a public figure of sorts), but I was happy, I was enjoying the work I was doing, I was learning as I was growing, I was earning enough for my needs and beyond my wants, and I was free to do as I pleased. I was successful by my terms because I was living the life I wanted (at the time), earlier than I anticipated, and more fruitfully than I imagined. And that success was all because I had worked harder than those around me early on. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said, “We do today what they won’t so tomorrow we can accomplish what they can’t.”

Akiti at a Women of the World conference representing women in Marketing and Customer Experience.

Was I perfect in my efforts?
No.

Could I have done more?
Absolutely.

Could I have worked even harder to be that billionaire, public figure?
Sure.

But for the path that I had chosen and with the understanding I had of myself, I worked as hard as I could and it paid off in the best of ways. I’m glad it wasn’t perfect, I’m glad I didn’t overdo it, and I’m glad I didn’t strain to become successful the way that society determined, because I was happy and fulfilled and knew that my life was on my path in my way. I didn’t feel as though I was fighting my way through my work and my life – instead I was able to enjoy it because I had fought through the difficult parts early on and built a strong foundation for anything I desired thereafter.

And that’s the key. It’s not just about doing all of the things that society says – good grades, high test scores, great school, perfect job – it’s about building a foundation so strong that regardless of the path you take later on in life, or how that paths changes along the way, you are prepared for what comes your way and able to pivot to match your life’s trajectory. Building your strong foundation could mean studying smarter, practicing longer, or training harder, but at its core it means putting in the extra effort earlier so that you’re ahead of the pack in your life’s track.


Life is but a game
This we all too well know
A marathon, not a race
Work hard as you go

What you do now
Determines what you have later
A strong foundation is key
It’s a strong indicator

The effort you put in
Is directly correlated
To the gifts you get later
Time, freedom unregulated

Tomorrow’s path is unknown
This moment is still with you
Put more effort today and
Tomorrow you can do what you want to

– Akiti –

I Laughed and Then I Cried

I Laughed and Then I Cried

How bizarre is it that a moment of pure joy could result in a barrage of tears? Especially, when there’s no reason for it. I wasn’t particularly sad about anything in that moment. In fact, I’ve finally rested after quite some time and laughed so openly. Yet, immediately upon recognizing that level of happiness I broke into tears. 

As I think about it, it might have been the fact that I get to be so openly happy because I’m free. There was a time and a place where I was terrified to openly express how I was feeling or to express the extent I felt something because it wasn’t accepted. I wasn’t accepted. Because of that, I held back my laughter. I held back my smiles. I held back my love. I held back the best of what I had to offer the world because the people who should have loved it the most were the ones that didn’t want it and reprimanded me for it. If I laughed too hard, I was told I was being fake. If I smiled too big, I was being too childish. If I loved too much, with compliments and hugs, I was trying too hard. The people that I put my love and trust in, and were supposed to love and accept me, were the same people that didn’t want me to be who I was, as I was.

It was like being trapped in my own body. A slave in my home already, and now a slave in my body. People often forget that freedom is not just the ability to move in the world with your own intentions. It is also the ability to live true to who you are. The moment others try and succeed in controlling the way you are, you are enslaved to their perspective of how you should be. This is similar to being enslaved to a place they determine you should be in. The difference is that if you’re confined to a space, you can still be yourself in that space. If you’re confined to a way of thinking and being, there is no room for your true self to exist. It is something I liken to being murdered while you’re still alive. It is such an unfortunate way to live, to know you’re dead inside, but all the while being able to watch life continue to play out from the confines of your seemingly living body. 

The worst part is, you don’t fully realize that you’re dead because you’re technically still moving. You’re going about the world, living it the way your oppressors want you to. You’re doing the things you’re supposed to do, all the while knowing this is not your life. You’re not living it. You’re just observing it. A fate worse than death is living a life completely out of your control. It makes you wonder why you’re still alive at all. Why do they keep you alive? Why is this acceptable? Do they not realize that they killed you already? And yet they don’t. They continue living and acting and believing that you’re happy in this life, the way they are. Yes, they are happy, even though they know they’ve murdered every ounce of your being except your physical presence.

Maybe that’s why when I catch myself feeling things freely or recognize a moment where I’m doing something I couldn’t before, it overwhelms me. I feel all of the things I kept inside during my enslavement. I feel all the pain that I didn’t express or share. I unwillingly remember that the person I was had died, and the person I am now is my chance to live. I’m alive. I’m alive, not just because I am breathing and moving, but because I’m moving through life as me. I’m making my choices. I’m laughing as largely and as loudly as I do. I’m smiling as broadly and as childishly happy as I do. And I’m loving, as openly and repeatedly as only I can and do. I’m sharing my truest self with the world every day because I get to be alive and be me, and that’s the most freeing thing I can choose to do and be. 

So, yes, I cry when I feel overwhelmingly happy because I recall my death and it makes me grateful that I’m alive. I am alive and I am finally, freely me.


I laughed
Then I cried
And at first
I didn’t know why
The past had came forth
And it made me feel
All the pain I’d hidden
The pain that made me keel

I had died once
I was no longer here
Everyone saw me
But didn’t see my fear
My fear to be me
My fear to live
All because they controlled me
Controlled the me I could give

What a way to be
Alive and yet dead
Seeing it all
Yet nothing could be said
I stayed confined
Physically and inside
Moving as they wanted
Not a thought could be mine

They had taken everything
Every ounce of my life
Leaving a shell, a puppet
Just a thing without life
I was truly dead
Moving, but not there
Showing a smile
And hiding the dread

Now when I’m free
I know what that means
I get to be alive
I get to be me
I make my choices
I make my mistakes
I choose my life
One I’m free to make

– Akiti –

30 at 30 – Lesson 4: Even Your Blood Can Betray and Leave You

30 at 30 – Lesson 4: Even Your Blood Can Betray and Leave You

Every time someone wants to make a case for why you should forgive and accept the people that are your blood relatives, no matter how horrible they may have been or are currently to you, they use the phrase “blood is thicker than water”. Blood may be thicker than water in the literal sense, but then blood also literally leaves your body when your body is damaged, whilst water does not. The common phrase might make sense to the individual saying the phrase because they have not experienced the extent to which a blood relative can betray you more than someone you have just met. However, that is no reason to push someone to accept blood relatives if they don’t want to. One’s own experience is no reason to force a belief on another. Rather it is more important to understand another’s perspective and respect that they may have good reason to hold the belief they do. In this case, you never really know what someone’s family is like and the reality is that even within family there are people you are closer to and then there are those who you’d rather not engage with. For some, their entire family may fall under the latter and so their chosen family is more reliable than the biologically related ones.

The actual quote here that people misquote all too often is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It has been misconstrued over the years to make people believe that you should stick to your family over your friends. The phrase was originally intended to convey that the blood shed on the battlefield forms a stronger bond between soldiers than the bonds of biological relationships. I have experienced this first hand, not as a soldier in battle, but as a warrior in life who has experienced life-threatening adversity repeatedly. Those who have followed my story know that I speak often of loving the family I choose rather than just my family in its most commonly accepted sense. I speak as such because I have found people in my life – some that have been with me for years, and some that were complete strangers I’d never thought of bonding with – that have been far more supportive in every aspect of my life, and especially during adversity, than those who I am biologically related to.

In fact, I have been able to rely on my bonds of friendship and chosen family far more than I ever could with my biological family. When my life fell apart, my biological family was as much or even more opportunistic than my enemies were (some were even the cause). They took advantage of my pain and displayed their pride and ego to belittle or isolate me instead of supporting and lifting me up. They victimized themselves from the adversity that had befallen me, declaring me as the reason for all of that had happened, instead of helping me know with confidence that I wasn’t the problem, my abusers were. 

Akiti and her high school and college crew at her best friend’s wedding.
Akiti and her best friend Abiha.

Instead it was my friends – my amazing, god-sent friends – that rushed to my side, picked up all of my shattered pieces, and brought me back to life. Some I hadn’t spoken to in years, some I wasn’t even on talking terms with at that moment in time, but when I reached out – broken and in need – they came running and ensured that I never felt alone. We hadn’t gone through war together; we did not go through adversity together, but we somehow bonded as soul friends along our journeys, and proved that our covenant of friendship is much stronger than the forced assignment of family. 

This is not to say that there are not family members that I have incredibly strong bonds with, there absolutely are, but the bond is not simply because we are related. The bond I hold with the family I still have with me is because we have built it on the basis of respect, trust, and friendship. My mother always told me that friendship is the basis of every relationship – parental, familial, even marital. I didn’t fully understand that until my life fell apart and I saw that the bonds based on true friendship stayed strong, while the rest easily withered away. The family that truly respected me and honored the trust I had in them, are the ones I have close to me today. They are part of the family I choose, as are my dearest friends. That is why when I refer to my family, it is the group of people that are my chosen people in life, irrespective of biological relations. 

Akiti with her vibrant extended family.

My adversity showed me how wrong it is to force relationships, when that is not their purpose. You enter this world with the people you do because that is your fate, not your choice. Once you have the awareness of choice, you have the personal responsibility to discern whose bond should remain and whose are unworthy of your spirit. If someone does not or cannot respect you, then you have no obligation to maintain the relationship. Being cordial is not the same as having a bond. It is important people understand the difference. 

For example, in South Asian cultures, it is expected that you respect your elders, even if they are overtly disrespectful (as many of them often are). South Asians should not accept this disrespect, but they do in the name of family and culture. I am South Asian, and I have elders that are disrespectful (horribly so), but I absolutely do not accept or condone their actions. I respect them as humans, am cordial in their presence, but I will not act beyond that. If you have disrespected me, you have no place in my circle. Even if your presence is one that I cannot avoid because of the relationship we have, I hold no obligation to engage with you beyond acknowledging your existence as I acknowledge the existence of all humans, and engaging with you only when and where necessary. If that comes off as disrespectful, you will absolutely hear exactly why my actions are justified. Every time you are disrespectful, you will also be informed of and held accountable for your actions. You may choose to ask me to leave or tell me I’m disrespectful, and I will respond accordingly. You get what you give in both respect and actions, irrespective of your age or relationship to my life. It’s high time more people lived like this, too.

Akiti and her maternal grandparents.

You have to respect yourself and your life enough to make the choice of who is allowed to be a part of your circle and gets access to you. You are valuable and it is in knowing that value that you will realize the people that don’t see that value are just leeching off of your spirit. Even if those people are family, you are not bound to them. Being related does not qualify them as being trustworthy or respectful. It just means…you’re related. As much as society and culture want to tell you to keep biological relations closest, you have to remember that your circle is your choice. And your circle impacts your life in a big way – in happy moments and in adversity. The choice doesn’t mean you have to be unnecessarily disrespectful or inhumane, for you can still be cordial, but it does mean that you limit the burden these undeserving individuals place on your life.


Choose you,
And choose your life.
Choose your circle,
For celebrations and for strife.
For you are not bound by blood.
Your covenant is not for life.

Those that respect your value should remain
The rest are just for you to know,
To remember they are human,
Respect them, but let them go.
Your life is far too precious
For you to remain bound
To those that hold blood against you
But in adversity won’t make a sound.

’Tis true that blood is thicker
But what of the covenants you choose
Those covenants are always stronger
Because your bond they will not abuse.
So look at those around you
The relations and friends whose
Bond with you is truly valuable
The rest you can afford to lose.

– Akiti –

30 at 30 – Lesson 3: Life Can DRASTICALLY Change In Seconds

30 at 30 – Lesson 3: Life Can DRASTICALLY Change In Seconds

In the past year of the pandemic, more people than ever have come face to face with how unexpected life can be. No one expected the lockdowns. No one expected the restrictions. No one expected their livelihoods to be threatened or dissolved completely because of the harsh realities of the actions that needed to be taken to protect as many people as possible. Now more than ever did it solidify for me that one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that life can change in a matter of seconds. It takes one moment, one minute millisecond, for your entire world to change.

This reality is quite harsh, but now more apparent to many than pre-pandemic. The magnitude of this reality is only clear if you’ve undergone that complete shift – that complete overhaul of what you expected from your life based on its current trajectory and how that future will never be, or rather can never be, after that one moment. The latter being because of life circumstances preventing that possibility or because your perspective of the world so gravely changes from that one moment that you could never return to seeing the world with the same lens as you did before. 

For those infected by Covid-19, it could be the moment you coughed and suddenly couldn’t breathe – landing you in the hospital in a near-death state. For those who had small businesses, it could be the moment you received the federal update that all non-essential facilities would no longer be open, realizing that you wouldn’t make rent that month. Pre-pandemic, it may have been the day you encountered a life-threatening accident or incident, or when you found out that the person you trusted – parent or significant other – was defrauding you for longer and more deeply than you’d like to admit. In these moments, one of two things definitely crossed your mind – will I survive until tomorrow and what is my life going to be like if I do survive. 

One day before the US Lockdown for the 2020 Pandemic, celebrating the last event of my best friend, Abiha’s, wedding.
Day 1 of the work-from-home (WFH) order for all non-essential workers in March 2020.

There is nothing more humbling than these life-altering moments because they force you to think about who you actually are and what you actually want from life. They force you to feel and let those feelings guide you. It is in these moments that the facade of what we are expected to do, expected to feel, expected to mark as our life trajectory just completely fades away. When that happens, you have only yourself to rely upon to find the answers to those questions. You are left to reconcile with what is within you – within the core of your being – that remains, and what it is directing you towards. You can envision this feeling as whatever you want – your conscience, a voice, a religious entity – whatever aligns to your perspective of the world, but at the end of the day it is the only thing that isn’t guiding you based on what society or the external entities expect of you.

The moment you begin to wonder “what will people think” or “what am I supposed to do”, you are placing external pressures on your internal guidance. The beauty of life-altering moments is that the lens of those expectations and pressures is removed. That lens is removed and you can finally see that life truly is what you make it or make of it. You, as the sole individual you were brought into this world as, have the ability to decide the next choice and the perspective you want to take. If life has changed once, it can change again, and again for an infinite number of times – that choice is not in your hands. The choice that is in your hands is what you do with your life so that you are fulfilled, so that even if life flips again, you know your direction or your path, and you know that you can always start again because you know your life’s value at it’s core.

After that life-altering moment, if you are alive and have the ability to think from your mind and feel from your heart, then you have the ability to define and rebuild your life, irrespective of where you’ve landed. This is not to say it is easy, or that the life-alteration does not come with the burden and baggage of trauma and healing. It does, and it’s not lightweight either. The fact of the matter is that it can take a tremendous toll on you and your mental health, and it will result in impacts to most, if not all, aspects of your life (hence the term life-altering…). 

October 2016: Celebrating my first and last Karva Chauth when I was married. This was taken just a month before my now ex-husband and his family abused me and chased me out of our home.
December 2016: I was homeless, broke, and stuck in India healing from the trauma I endured in my one year of marriage.

What one must come to terms with is that no one or no entity outside of yourself will ever know the magnitude of what you experienced. You and you alone experienced that moment in the manner that you did because of what you had experienced in and perceived of this world up until that moment. No friend, no therapist, no family, or no significant other will or can ever know exactly what you experienced. And anyone who does not experience that moment the way that you did, has no authority over how you respond to it, how you move on from it, or how you make decisions after it. If that is not the clarity you need that you and you alone can decide your life outside of externally driven circumstances, then what will be? At what point do you acknowledge that this life is yours and you are allowed to choose how you live it? At what point do you accept that you are allowed to build your life the way you want to, and you are allowed to remove anyone that does not accept that? That point is whenever you choose it, but it is most apparent in these moments where it is blatantly a life of your own. 

Your friend, your therapist, your family, or your significant other will not experience your illness. They will not be the ones who are without money if your business fails. They will not be the ones who are paralyzed after an accident (unless impacted peripherally by it). They will not be the ones who are single or theoretically-orphaned by the broken trust or abuse. They could be additionally impacted if you are the breadwinner or if they are saddened by your pain, but they will never and can never be the ones whose life-altered in the way yours did because that moment happened to you. When the hospitals are in lockdown, only you are admitted for treatment. When rent is due, only your name will be on the eviction or collections notices as the sole individual responsible for the business loss and inability to pay. If you died from any of these scenarios, whether by external factors or by suicide for the pressure and toll it took on you, only you would be missing from this world and only your name would on that obituary. So when only you are responsible and even society isolates you in these scenarios, why would you live your life based on what all of these periphery individuals think of your life? 

March 2021: Free, fulfilled, and thriving at 30, almost 5 years from my life-altering moment.

Learning this lesson can feel like a curse in the moment, but it is a gift once you survive it. The moment feels like your whole existence is irrelevant and makes you question “why me” and “for what purpose”, but it is only in surviving through the moment and taking one step at a time to rebuild based on what is true to you and your core being that you realize how beautiful life can be. You realize how free and peaceful life is when you remove all the expectations of other individuals and society, and truly live life the way you want to. The most beautiful part is that people and a society that accepts you and the life you choose will find you. The beauty of that is the clarity that you are born into this world with the life and people you are granted, but you have a choice to live within those means and with that society, or you can define your life on your own. Making the choice instead of accepting it is as it is made for you is true bliss.

So whether you have faced such life-altering moments or you are faced with the expectations of the people and society that surrounds you, I want you to remember that you are solely responsible for your life. You can make the choice to live it on your terms. You just have to be prepared and well-founded in the core of who you are to have the strength to undertake the losses that will come with. You will lose people. You will lose community. But you will gain yourself and the beauty that is life.


Life is what you make it
That is what they say
You don’t realize it’s truth
Until it’s forced upon you one day

Your life is yours
No one lives it like you do
So choose your way now
Or live it like they want you to

– Akiti –

30 at 30 – Lesson 2: I Am My Greatest Love Story

30 at 30 – Lesson 2: I Am My Greatest Love Story

As an ardent believer in love and a hopeless romantic believing in the possibility of true romanticized love, I’ve always searched for a relationship with someone that embodied those beliefs. It was only after finding what was seemingly that relationship I so desired, and that very relationship tearing me apart, that I realized that love is more than just the romanticized version we’re sold on. It is more than a relationship with another being. Love is an essence that one should recognize within themselves first to truly experience it in all aspects of life. It was upon this realization that I knew that I was my greatest love story. 

As women, we are often told that we should aspire to have and to build this romantic tale between two people, yet society forgets that a woman is the essence of love herself. A woman is the being that breeds love unconditionally and literally breeds from love and with love. Women do not require love to be complete, in fact it’s the other way around. The world needs women in order to feel love and grow in the way that it does. Society tells us that we should look for love because it does not want women to recognize the strength we have within to give or withhold the beauty that is love from the world. This essence resides within us and that is to be honored and respected in order to be worthy of experiencing it.

In recognizing this love within ourselves, we free ourselves from the bondage of this fairytale, and instead can learn to map our lives around our worth. As such, I offer this affirmation to all women on this Women’s Day:

I am love.
The love I am and the love I give is invaluable.
To receive this love one must match this love and honor it’s presence.
By honoring me, one honors my love.
By honoring my love, one experiences love truly.
And that is why I am my greatest love story.

30 at 30 – Lesson 1: Love is Life

30 at 30 – Lesson 1: Love is Life

After 30 years in this beautiful world, the most important lesson I learned is that love truly is life, and it is my life’s mission to help others understand what exactly that means.

Almost 15 years ago I purchased a bookmark with what became one of my favorite quotes, “Where there is love, there is life”, by Mahatma Gandhi. I align so much with this quote because I have always believed that love is the basis of life. We can discuss the philosophy of love in a variety of contexts, but the gist of this quote is that we feel the brilliance of being alive when we are in the presence of love – be it romantic, platonic, familial or experiential love. Love comes in many such forms, and when you feel the essence of it, life looks different. Colors are brighter, smiles are bigger, laughter is longer, and feelings are stronger.

There was a time when I thought this only applied to the romantic notion of love – the movie version where one would fall madly in love with an individual and suddenly feel the aforementioned feelings. It is only when that love was lost in my own life that I realized that love can be felt in every aspect of life and that is actually what is meant by this quote.

Love is an essence that connects all that we see and experience in this world. The romantic form of love is just the first time we truly recognize this essence and how magical it is or can be. Once you know the feeling and truly resonate with it, you can feel it and experience it everywhere, even outside of a romantic relationship. From the beauty seen in nature to the opportunity to breathe in this world, there is love in all of it if you’re open to it. So be open to love in all aspects of life, for that is when you truly start living.


What is love
But the ultimate mystery
The essence unknown
To the innocent gentry

What is love
But an essence itself
A beautiful force
For it is life itself

– Akiti –

30 at 30: 30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years

30 at 30: 30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years

I have always felt that I am an old soul, ever since 5-year-old me couldn’t relate to my peers and was more concerned with life philosophies than toys (although I did and still love my toys!). As such, in these 30 years of life I have learned many things through introspection, observation, education, and most of all, experience. On my 30th birthday today, I share with you 30 things that I have learned and I will elaborate on each one throughout my birthday month. Join me in a conversation on the learnings listed here and the philosophies behind them!

30 at 30

  1. “Where there is love there is life” – Mahatma Gandhi
  2. I am my greatest love story.
  3. Life can change DRASTICALLY in seconds.
  4. Blood may be thicker than water, but even your blood can betray and leave you.
  5. Hustle hard and early in life because it pays off BIG later in more ways than you think.
  1. Never stop learning because that’s when you stop growing.
  2. Never give up!
  3. Follow your heart, it knows the way.
  4. Love freely and openly – it’s too beautiful not to express!
  5. Be YOU because you were made this way for a beautiful reason.
  1. Know your flaws. Accept your flaws. Love your flaws. They make you beautiful.
  2. Your greatest obstacle is your mindset.
  3. Breed positivity and you’ll have an abundance of good people at your side.
  4. Time does not determine value in a relationship, respect does.
  5. Life is a result of our choices.
  1. Other people’s opinions are great for reflection, but remember to walk away from the mirror and decide for yourself.
  2. Perception is reality in the minds of others, but reality always makes itself known when it matters.
  3. Be approachable, not accessible.
  4. Never be afraid to be as fabulous as you are – the world needs more of it.
  5. Smile and smile often – for you, for your people, and for the people who just need to see the world smile some more.
  1. Fight for what’s right even when the world is against you – it’s not about them, it’s not about karma, it’s about doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.
  2. Believing in yourself is the best investment you can make.
  3. Love your people and love on them often.
  4. Life really is short, so do what you can today because tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.
  5. Prepare yourself for the life you want because you never know when it will become real.
  1. There are habits you can change and there are habits that are actually characteristics. Know the difference and train yourself accordingly.
  2. The foundations of ANY relationship (friend, family, intimate) are Trust and Respect.
  3. You’ll never regret trying.
  4. Fear is the world’s way of testing you. You have to decide when you’re ready to pass and level up.
  5. This is YOUR life. Live it your way. 

Aaj ho mere saath
Toh yaad zaroor rakhna ye baat
Izzat doge toh mein hoon saath
Varna chune ke liye bhi na hoga yeh haath

Yeh zamana mera hai
Abhi main kabool karti hoon
Saara jahan dekha ga
Main kis duniya ki bani hoon


Translation (adjusted for meaning):
Today if you’re with me
Please remember what I say
Respect me and I’m with you
Otherwise even my hand will be too far away

This season is mine
I accept it and manifest it
The whole world will see
From which realm I may be

– Akiti –

Fast 5 of the Last 5 (2020) Day 1: Time

Fast 5 of the Last 5 (2020) Day 1: Time

People often continue through life in the expectations of society and the community they are surrounded by, and spend all their time living up to those expectations. In fact, we are conditioned to believe that there is a set path we need to follow in order for life to be “successful” or “complete”. What is forgotten in this conditioning is that everyone is unique and has their own path to follow. Each individual gets to decide how they shape their life and success is defined by them and no one else. If there is anything to glean from this year, it is that life is unpredictable, so rather than waiting for society’s expected life moments to be happy or do the things we want to do, we should do those things now. We should make time for and design our life around what our hearts say our life needs. Most people wait to do that when they ‘retire’, but you don’t know what life will look like after 40 years, let alone tomorrow, so why wait to live it until then?

Holding back your passions or waiting to do the things you want to do in life is just preventing you from living your life to the fullest. In an effort to encourage y’all to live your best life, let’s recognize and celebrate what you gave time to in 2020. I want you to recognize what’s important to you and aim to give more time to those things in 2021.

For the last day of 2020, and Day 1 of Fast 5 of the Last 5, let us celebrate the time we gave to what was important to us.

Time Activity

Without pause, quickly list 5 things or people that you made time for in 2020.

1. The People I Love
2. My Passions
3. Self-Love
4. My Personal Growth
5. Life Goals

Share your 5 things in the comments and on social media, and be sure to use the hashtags #Fast5oftheLast5 #F5L5 #2020F5L5 and tag me (@__akiti__) so we can celebrate the value of what you gave time to.

Activity Reflection

This had to be the fastest yet slowest year we have experienced. It felt like life was slipping away and we were not able to make use of it as we originally intended and yet it was moving so torturously slow that it felt like the shenanigans of the year would never end. For those familiar with the game Jumanji, it definitely felt like someone started the game in the first quarter and each stage of the game was a new kind of crazy that we couldn’t wait to get past. Well it’s finally the last day of 2020, and I join everyone in the hopes that today runs smoothly and we just make it to tomorrow without anything falling apart. When the 31st of December comes each year, we tend to reminisce about all the things we’ve done this year – the good and the bad – as well as all the possibilities of the year to come. Since we tend to make time for the things we truly enjoy, and we spend time frivolously on everything else, I want to spend this last day thinking about the hours and days I spent on the things that I truly valued.

One of my greatest accomplishments this year was that I did make time for the life I love and the one I have wanted to live. Even before the pandemic hit, I had envisioned this year as one that I would spend building the foundation for the life I deserve. I initiated a lot of that work in the first few months, and when the pandemic hit, I actively chose to allocate time focusing on the tasks and lifestyle choices that aligned to that life. It was a struggle, as much of this year was, but I am proud that I was able to make some amazing strides and succeeded in making time for what mattered most to me.

To continue the theme of making time for the things that matter, I am not going to go into deeper reflections on my 5 things in hopes that you all spend today making time for what matters to you. Let’s spend the last day of 2020 celebrating not just the end of this year and the beginning of the next, but celebrating life itself and the fact that we get to live it!


In this life of mine
The unknown is time
To live life accordingly
Is the main goal of mine

– Akiti –

Fast 5 of the Last 5 (2020) Day 2: Knowledge

Fast 5 of the Last 5 (2020) Day 2: Knowledge

The pandemic took a lot this year from the world, from families, and from our plans. What the pandemic or anyone else in this world cannot take away is knowledge. What you learn remains with you and becomes a part of who you are. My mother always taught me that there is a lesson to be learned from everyone and everything we encounter. Each conversation teaches you something about yourself, about that person, or about the topic being discussed. Each story you come across by reading, watching, or listening has a moral to take away. Most of all, each moment in your life is an experience that you grow from if you pay attention to what it is teaching you. It is this perspective that helps those who believe in “everything happens for a reason” stay committed to that belief because in a single moment you’ll either learn something immediately or, if you can’t figure it out just yet, you’ll know the lesson is coming. So whether you experienced something that left it’s mark, realized something about yourself, or picked up a new skill, this year was abound with opportunities to gain some knowledge and I want to hear all about it.

On Day 2 of Fast 5 of the Last 5 of 2020, let us celebrate all that we learned and will take into this next phase.

Knowledge Activity

Without pause, quickly list 5 things you learned in 2020. I’m very excited to share mine!

1. TikTok
2. Value of Nature
3. Hoarding is Handy
4. Dogs are the Best
5. Ukulele

Share your 5 things in the comments and on social media, and be sure to use the hashtags #Fast5oftheLast5 #F5L5 #2020F5L5 and tag me (@__akiti__) because I want to know what you’ve learned!

Activity Reflection

Every year I try to focus on one thing I need to work on in my life. Since I already know I learn from people and experiences daily, I pick a bigger topic to address for the year overall that will take time to accomplish. This year, even without knowing that Covid-19 was going to overhaul the year’s plans, I had intended on pursuing my passions to make them more integral parts of my life. Prior to 2020, I dabbled in my passions from time to time when I felt like it or needed an outlet, but this year I wanted to make time for them every day because I recognized the value they added to my mood, my happiness, and my overall wellbeing. By the end of 2020, I ended up nurturing some passions while I also having learned some valuable life lessons.

TikTok

In my humble opinion, I believe TikTok and short-form video was a significant and positive outcome of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. The platform gave people confined to their homes a new form of entertainment that was quick, easily consumable, and actively engaging. The active engagement of course was and is optional, but became vital as people realized that they were beginning to become one with their furniture and needed some form of movement in their day. Although I did not jump on the TikTok or short-form video trend immediately, I thoroughly enjoyed consuming it and learning the value of this new channel of entertainment consumption and production. In the latter half of the year I began creating some content for TikTok as well as the Instagram contending functionality, Reels. I continue to learn about this platform as I explore it and intend to continue producing content for it. If you want to join the fun, check out my TikTok here and my Instagram here.

@__akiti__

A girl who loves Christmas like me 🎄😉 #Christmas2020 #agirllikemechallenge #girllikemechallenge #girllikeme @shakira @iamwill @blackeyedpeas

♬ GIRL LIKE ME – Black Eyed Peas & Shakira

Value of Nature

I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in my life having visited 14 countries and 48 states of the United States, and experiencing the beauty this Earth has to offer across all of them. As such, I always enjoyed nature and respected it accordingly, but this year I saw how powerful it is that it could fight back so vastly that it crippled the human race. Nature pushed back on us so fiercely with Covid-19 that we were forced to be confined to our homes and could no longer continue the destruction we were inflicting on our habitat. During this confinement, I took the time to understand survival methods using what nature has to offer, the delicate balance of provider and destructor that it is, and how much of the modern products we use leverage what it has to offer but muddy it with synthetics. I enjoyed learning all that I did because it opened my eyes to so many cool aspects of nature I had not known previously, but also because I have a new sense of respect for what it is capable of.

Hoarding is Handy

Everyone witnessed the embarrassing manner in which folks attacked stores for the supplies they thought they needed in preparation for the global lockdown, but that is not the hoarding that I am referring to. Natural hoarders, like myself, have always bought supplies in bulk and maintain a constant stock to ensure that one is never without necessary items (and often unnecessary items, but ones that we cannot seem to bear parting with). When the pandemic was declared, my survival training kicked in and I immediately took inventory of what I had, how much I had, how long it would last, and what was missing. It was of no surprise to me or my friends that I had most of what I needed, and that stock would have lasted me about 3 months. In learning more about the virus and seeing the political reaction to it, I knew that I needed to have at least enough for 6 months if I wanted to ensure that I didn’t have to leave my premises because my asthma puts me at a higher risk. Of course when I did enter stores, they were practically empty! The community had already panic bought and cleaned out supplies. I could not have been more grateful for my hoarding than in that moment because I got through the initial weeks of the pandemic on my original stock alone before gaining access to the additional supplies and stock I intended to maintain.

Dogs are the Best

My boys – the S Pirates – are my babies and I learned to cherish them even more than I already did! I am grateful that I got to spend so much extra time with my boys and they are ecstatic that I have been home 24/7 this year. What I learned in that time is that no matter what happens in life – with work, with relationships, with the world overall – the moment you look at or snuggle your fur baby, it all dissipates. In that moment, you feel such engulfing love, that you cannot help but be convinced that you have a companion to get through it all, no matter what. There were many days where the lockdown tested my trauma healing and the first thing I did whenever I felt low was take one fur baby into a snuggle and close my eyes. The peace I feel in doing that is inexpressible and I am so glad to have so many fur babies to experience that with. Knowing that they love me and are with me no matter what life throws our way, makes them one of the best parts of my life and I’ll never doubt that.

Ukulele

I learned to play a new instrument! When I visited Hawaii, I purchased a Hawaiian-made ukulele (correctly pronounced oo-koo-ley-ley) and I vowed at that moment to reengage in my musical passions. I’ve previously studied and trained in piano, harmonium, tabla, and Indian classical singing, but stopped everything years ago due to many reasons. I have always been musically inclined because I love the feeling of the music through me. Many may not understand what that means, but the vibrations one feels from different instruments in the way they strum, beat, or emit the sounds triggers something in each person differently. There is quite a bit of scientific literature on this, so I may explore that with you all at some point, but for now it is just important to note that it is a passion of mine that I had let go of many years ago and I was elated to bring it back into my life. I had always intended to learn this instrument virtually because my time was already so aggressively allocated that I felt virtual lessons were a good start. I was fortunate enough to find a teacher, Paul Elwood, via Lessons.com (a great place to find virtual teachers!) that had been hosting virtual classes for quite some time now, so when the lockdown was announced, my lessons were not impacted. I am proud to say that I have successfully learned one instrument and reignited this passion, so I hope to share more of it with y’all soon!


Life is full of lessons
If you could only see
Each experience is the key
To all the possibilities

– Akiti –