By Manu Shah
HOUSTON – On 15th March, over 20 concerned Board of Advisors and Trustees of Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH) participated in an hour long conference call to discuss ways and means to help the Indo American community weather the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation. This initiative, taken by Board Advisor Rasesh Dalal, was praised because “the community must be united in times of both celebrations and crisis.”
Sewa International, which displayed an admirable level of leadership during Hurricane Harvey, emerged as the organization that would direct all aid efforts. Sewa’s leaders Nikhil Jain and Gitesh Desai spoke of their endeavors to mobilize internal and external resources. Their helpline 281-909-7392 is open 24 hours and can help callers with information and resources. Sewa has put together a team of 30 doctors who can help callers with medical advice. Senior citizens or visitors from India can connect with a doctor who can converse with them in their language. The organization is reaching out to motels/hotels to accommodate international students who have been asked to vacate their dorms. Their leaders also emphasized that their services are for the greater community and not just for Indo Americans.
It was unanimously agreed that a fund raising drive would be carried out and all donations would be made to Sewa International, which is trained in crisis situations, so it can mobilize more aid and help more people. Hindu Swayamsevak USA Vice President Ramesh Bhutada kick started the fundraising by donating $5,000 dollars. He also urged the leaders to encourage their members “not to panic but as the same time not to take this crisis lightly.” Ramesh Bhutada’s company Star Pipes, among other protective measures, has banned all air travel for its employees and has also been handing out bottles of Turmeric (haldi) to its employees. Turmeric is well known in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
Past President of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston Swapan Dhairyawan, a CPA by profession, will share details of how affected small businesses can avail federal aid as soon as they become available.
All temple events, the leaders shared, have been cancelled/postponed. However, the temples are open for darshan during certain timings and priests will perform the daily prayers. Arya Samaj Greater Houston has suspended the Sunday congregation, but will conduct the havan at 10:30am and pravachan at 11am to be broadcast via webinar. Pathshalas and Shakas have switched to online classes. HGH President Krishnaswamy Parthasarthy and Durga Bari Past President Partha Sarathi Chatterjee appealed to people to postpone weddings and other celebrations that are scheduled in the temple premises and stated that they would honor the payment commitments.
Members of the conference call also shared additional valuable information. Dr. Hansa Medley from ISKCON revealed the city’s 24 hour helpline number – 832-393-5080. The staff can walk callers through the process of how to get tested. Those stocking up on Indian groceries can rest easy. Niranjan Patel from VPSS spoke to several Indian grocery store owners who assured him that there is plenty of stock and shipments are coming from India. There will be no shortages of Indian groceries.
Patanjali Yogpeeth USA President Shekhar Agrawal suggested practicing Pranayam such as deep breathing, kapalabhati and anulom vilom to strengthen the lungs and consume a decoction of tulsi (basil), giloy, ginger, turmeric and black pepper to boost the immune system. Community leader Vijay Pallod called for reverting to the traditional “Namaste” instead of a handshake – a form of greeting that’s been adopted by President Trump himself and many other world leaders. Of course, the still most effective way to protect against coronavirus is social distancing and frequently cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water.
Host of Sanatan Hindu Radio Geetha Ravula offered to air any announcements from the temple organizations on her radio show.
Even though the Indo-American community has not been directly affected by the virus as of now, they are being proactive They will continue to monitor the situation and plan on holding a conference call every Sunday or earlier if necessary. As HGH Board Advisor Dev Mahajan remarked: “It is a blessing that we are united and are there for each other.”