- From family gatherings, hanging out with friends, travel, indoor dining to traditional school and campus life, Indian Americans discuss the things they missed out in 2020.
It will indeed be an understatement to say that the coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we knew. Since March, the shelter-in-place, lockdown and social distancing mandates have changed not just the way we work, but the way we play and party. Video and FaceTime calls are commonplace, as social distancing mandates have led to a more virtual existence, both personally and professionally.
At the same time, the pandemic has made us aware of the importance of things that we have taken for granted all this while – family gatherings, dinner with friends, road trips, airplane travel, life on campus or school. Living a carefree life seems like a thing of the past. Walks, hikes, bike rides, and family movie and game nights have become essential components of a weekend.
The pandemic has also taught us to be grateful. After all, we all know someone who’s infected with the coronavirus, or is recovering or has lost a job or has been forced to close their business and are struggling to make ends meet.
While everyone is trying to cope with the new normal and has carved out a routine that works for them, it is only natural that we find ourselves thinking of life pre-COVID. If you find yourself craving a fancy dinner out, or a movie or just hanging out with friends and family, or hugging a loved one, you are certainly not alone. American Kahani spoke with a cross section of people to find out what they missed out during the year.
Topping the list was large family gatherings during the holiday season, followed by hugging family and friends. With social distancing and virtual interactions, the holidays were not the same this year without dancing, sharing food and celebrating together. Next on the list was travel, dressing up, attending events, concerts and theater, local parades during summer, and professional and college sports. Ranjeev Puri, Representative in Michigan House also missed out on their annual family road trip. “There is so much to see in our own country,” he says. He also missed international travel. “Every year we try to expose our children to new cultures and countries.”
Many had to miss major life events, be it weddings, graduations or milestone birthdays. New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney missed his own wedding, and rescheduled it to 2021, while Archana Becker, owner and chef of Bhojanic in Atlanta was unable to host a graduation party for her son. Becker is also among thousands of restaurateurs who’s unable to conduct regular business. Catering large events is something Becker misses. Cooney, who was elected from New York’s 56th Senate District, says he missed the “door-knocking and talking to voters in person” during his campaign in 2020.
Atlanta, Georgia-based Veena Rao couldn’t go on her annual trip to India. For authors like her and Farzana Doctor of Toronto, Canada, the biggest miss was the inability to go on a book tour. Rao’s debut novel “Purple Lotus” was released this fall. “With no scope for an actual book tour, all my book events have been virtual,” she says. Similarly, Doctor, who launched her fourth novel, “Seven,” this fall, also missed the opportunity to tour the book and meet readers.
Apart from the night out with friends and alone time with her husband, Farheen Raza of Plano, Texas misses kids sports and smiles. Raza is the host of “authentic + unfiltered” and radio host of “Real Talk with Farheen.”
North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri says he feels blessed that his family hasn’t faced the hardships so many American have experienced like job losses, food insecurity, and deaths. Similarly, Vermont State Senator Kesha Ram, laments that she has been unable to meet her My grandparents both tested positive for COVID-19 and spent time in the hospital. “If anyone is just missing a trip or a hobby, as opposed to losing a loved one or their livelihood, they are extremely fortunate.” she says.
Students like Aryaman Kulkarni, Rohan Rao, Alisha Rao and Ivan Chaitanya Chariatte say the one thing they miss is a regular school year. “When I think about what the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented me from doing in 2020, the first thing that comes to mind is how my education has been affected,” Kulkarni says. Rohan Rao says he missed out on the most exciting thing about each school year is the prospect of meeting new people and making new friends. Chaitanya Chariatte of Miami Florida misses hanging out with friends as well. This year, he missed playing in the soccer league.
For Cornell student Shriya Bopanna, winner of the Miss India America 2020 title, the pandemic was a mixed bag. “While the rest of the world stopped in 2020, my life spring boarded into fantasy. I won titles and medals, was published for intellect and art, and created platforms and companies but I was unable to share any of that success with my family.”
Below are some of the responses as told to American Kahani:
North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri
At the outset, I should say our family is blessed. We haven’t experienced the hardships so many American have experienced — job losses, food insecurity, and deaths. That said, we’ve had our own challenges as a family. We miss inviting families over dinner. We really miss live music, especially at small venues. We miss extended family gatherings, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas. We miss giving hugs to our friends and neighbors. And, we miss our annual road trip every summer where we pack up the car, drive, and see a different part of the country. We look forward to recapturing these family moments and experiences next year.
Aryaman Kulkarni, junior, University of Connecticut, South Brunswick, New Jersey
When I think about what the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented me from doing in 2020, the first thing that comes to mind is how my education has been affected. When the first lockdown orders were initiated back in March, I was about halfway through the second semester of my sophomore year at the University of Connecticut, right before our spring break. The university had decided to extend the spring break by two weeks, and we were all under the impression that after that extended break we would return to campus to finish the last month of the semester. Flash forward to December and that was obviously not the case. The entirety of the last month and a half of the semester was conducted online, as well as the entire next semester, the first semester of my junior year.
The sudden shift to online school was a hard one to adjust to, as a large portion of the education process was lost. Professors and students alike had to rapidly adjust to a process that neither had been prepared for, leaving myself and many others feeling quite dissatisfied. While now we have some time to get used to the change, I still hope that my senior year will see a return to the structure of learning I started my college education with. The loss of traditional school came with a negative social aspect as well, as I have been unable to see my friends from school since March. While we still keep in touch, I can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to hang out with them in person once again, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later.
Rohan Rao, junior, Montgomery High School, Skillman, New Jersey
With the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the quarantine, social distancing mandates, and online schooling that followed, major changes were brought about in my day-to-day life. For example, the most exciting thing about each school year is the prospect of meeting new people and making new friends. With nearly every activity I’ve been a part of being online this year, the pandemic makes it significantly harder to reach out and get to know new people, though I can say that it has brought me closer to my existing friends. With this new environment, I’ve definitely gained a new appreciation for in-person school purely because of the many people I was able to interact with each day. Another thing I’d like to add that had a significant impact on my life was not being able to visit many places over the summer. To me and my family, summer is when we can travel together, exploring different parts of the state, country, and even world.
However, for a larger portion of this summer, traveling was not able to happen. Obviously seeing new places is always cool, but I feel like the biggest things I missed out on were the memories I make with my family as we plan out the trip, eat new food, and take pictures at the most interesting locations. As a cadet at Montgomery Emergency Medical Services Squad 47, the class I needed to take for EMT certification was postponed for nearly four months. This meant I had to miss out on months of experience helping out my community and learning about the EMS system and all it can provide. Moreover, standardized testing has taken a completely new meaning this year, with schools going “test-optional” for the foreseeable future. This has required myself, as well as the rest of my peers to be extremely adaptable with the constant changes surrounding our education in an already stressful situation.
Alisha Rao, 8th grader, Montgomery Middle School, Skillman, New Jersey
This year, COVID-19 has had a big impact on everyone. Many opportunities have been lost, and lots of people haven’t been able to experience things because of the virus. For me, one of the biggest things that coronavirus affected in my 7th/8th grade school year was my lacrosse season. I wasn’t able to try out for my middle school lacrosse team, and I wasn’t able to play during the summer season. I play for a summer club, and because of the virus, tournaments were much harder, and I didn’t get the whole experience. I wasn’t able to stay at hotels with my teammates, have fun during breaks, or enjoy the practices as much ass I would’ve if the pandemic never happened. Another thing that was affected was my social life and friends. I wasn’t able to see anyone because of social distancing, which made life really boring. Being inside all day made life seem like the same day repeating itself over and over again, and not being able to see my friends made that worse. Although quarantine made it harder for me to experience these things, it has also taught me to appreciate stuff that I took for granted. Seeing people and going out with my family are much more enjoyable now that I’ve had to live without them. I’ve also had the time to learn how to do things like bake, cook, knit, and paint, because being in quarantine gave me lots of free time.
Kesha Ram, Vermont State Senator
My grandparents both tested positive for COVID-19 and spent time in the hospital. It’s a miracle they both survived, though subsequent infections have had my grandmother in the hospital four more times. My grandfather is a 94-year-old WWII veteran and it’s a miracle he has survived, but a testament to the strength and determination of his generation. I miss them both very much and it’s now been a year since I’ve seen them, but we cannot be together again until the worst of this pandemic is over. If anyone is just missing a trip or a hobby, as opposed to losing a loved one or their livelihood, they are extremely fortunate.
Farzana Doctor, author of “Stealing Nasreen”
I launched my fourth novel, Seven, this fall. While I am so grateful that my loved ones and I are safe and well, I did miss the opportunity to tour the book and meet readers. I was most excited to be invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and I was looking forward to traveling to Germany for the first time. Ah well, maybe next year! In the end, I did participate in many online festivals and events, which helped me reach new readers.
Veena Rao, author of “Purple Lotus,” Atlanta, Georgia
My debut novel, Purple Lotus, was released this fall. With no scope for an actual book tour, all my book events have been virtual. My first ever book talk was live streamed onFacebook. Every week, I log on to Zoom or Skype to chat with readers across the U.S. andCanada. I even made my literary festival debut via a recorded video message. I had plans to visit my mother last April in India. She lives by herself in Mangalore. Even though I ‘see’ her often via WhatsApp video calls, it isn’t the same as being with her. I also miss attending events. I’m a journalist by day. For close to two decades now, my weekends were a whirl – attending and covering community events for our publication, NRI Pulse. I miss connecting with my friends in the community in person (and making new friends). The pandemic has taught me to enjoy new releases on Netflix and Amazon. But I sometimes miss the thrill of going to the cinema to watch a Bollywood blockbuster. I also miss Masala Dosas at the Global Mall food court. Takeout dosas aren’t the same as having them warm and crisp, right out of the griddle, are they?
New York State Senator Kevin Thomas
As a Senator I am responsible for looking out for the welfare of over 300,000 constituents living in my district. The Covid 19 pandemic changed life for all of us. Before the pandemic, I was attending community events and meeting face-to-face with residents on a daily basis. Like many government officials, I have had to learn how to connect with my constituents in many different ways. One thing I did was to create an online COVID-19 Resource Page to help residents get information and connect with my staff if they need help with an issue. We have held numerous workshops and public meetings using online platforms like Zoom and FacebookLive. While I do miss meeting face-to-face with my constituents, I am grateful that we have virtual tools that make my office more accessible to everyone.
Ivan Chaitanya Chariatte, 13, Miami, Florida
I miss hanging out with friends. Due to online school, I ‘meet’ my friends only online, during the class and while playing video games. Playing in the soccer league is another thing I miss. We were supposed to have matches every weekend and I missed that. Soccer is my passion and so this was a big disappointment. Since a couple of months some soccer has resumed. I couldn’t go to Switzerland this summer to meet family. I would hang around with cousins, go berry picking on the fields, hiking the mountains, eating my favorite food, all the cheeses, fondue and raclette. We couldn’t go to our holiday home in France where we would normally head to, from Switzerland. There we would go for long walks in the forest near our place. In the forest there are some rocks and boulders and it’s so much fun to go climbing. In France I would also relish the nice food and pastries. I really miss that. In France this year I wanted to visit the famous museums with my parents as on my earlier visits, I was too young and would find museums boring. I missed the tennis coaching I had started before the pandemic. This too has started since a couple of months. I missed a camping trip that we normally go to with family and friends in rural NewIn York during the summer. I missed the holidays-Diwali, Thanksgiving and now Christmas that we would spend with a large group of family friends. I will miss going on my annual ski holidays this winter. I missed performing at and attending piano concerts. I am trying the best I can online.
Shriya Boppana, Miss India America 2020
While the rest of the world stopped in 2020, my life spring boarded into fantasy. I won titles and medals, was published for intellect and art, and created platforms and companies but I was unable to share any of that success with my family. Year after year until 2020, I made the 9,000mile trek to India to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone in between. With the pandemic in full swing, this year was a difficult time for travel and the distance was hard to overcome, just missing faces. But missing moments and memories together made the time so lonely, passing in minutes rather than hours, burdened by the sadness and panic of the world.However, the distance wasn’t specific to being overseas. I missed celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions with my friends just blocks away. Thanksgiving without my cousins seemed so foreign. Facet Timing through award ceremonies with my parents felt bizarre. I used to think that I liked the holidays because I could spend time with the people I loved, but2020 turned the holidays into just another activity; void of the laughter and meaning of celebration. And that is what will make 2021 even more special. I’ve learned to cherish every hug, every photo, every board game, and every late night baking session. This new year, I can’t wait to see all my people and share my new moments with them.
Neha Mahajan, Radio Jockey, Radio Mirchi USA
Aug. 6, 2020 should have been the day that I landed in India, the home I haven’t seen in six years. I’d been pushing the trip since our last trip in 2014. We had been planning to go visit our folks in India but it kept getting moved. I’ve waited more than long enough to see my family, to roam the streets I grew up in. 2020 has made me realize I need to live in the now, to act on the plans, for tomorrow may never really come. At the same time I’ve also realized the value of good health, food, shelter and people in our lives that truly matter. Between lost friendships, commitments, new lifestyle its hard to see any good in this year. But hey, this has been a year of learnings, an year of introspection and year to just stop and reflect. Didn’t we all need it? I’m glad it is ending though and can’t wait to celebrate 2021!