When I got the call in December asking if I would co-chair the press and media segment of the South Asian Heart Center’s 2011 Scarlet Night Gala in March, I dithered for a few days. During the prior years, I’d heard that South Asians–those of us who trace our ancestry to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka–had a fourfold risk of heart disease than the general population. I had seen enough friends affected personally by the reality of heart disease; it strikes South Asians at a much younger age and sneaks up on us without prior symptoms or warning.
I wanted to help. And while I consider myself altruistic, I’m aware that I've not given enough of my time to causes that affect the larger community. My excuse, until now at least, has always been that I have so many causes inside my home that need tackling that I have little time to fight world problems.
Inside my three thousand square-foot home, there’s always mutiny rising in every quarter. On many days the red Gigi chair in our living room is like the Gaza strip. My husband wants it. I want it. My son has planted himself in it. Finally, no one really gets it but we’re all using the chair as ammunition to spark other wars in different parts of our home. I’m always roaring through my house fighting fires. My daughter’s passport just expired. Guess who has to figure out how to get a new one? Oh, and my son needs to have his jaw fixed–for a third time. And who gets those six second opinions? Elsewhere, my husband is screaming silently for help: he needs to be wheeled into Facebookers Anonymous. And, in a flight of fancy, my visiting daughter decides she needs a halter sari blouse for an upcoming social at school. Nalli’s of Mountain View says it will make her a skimpy blouse for fifty whole dollars–a vulgar amount of money that in India could buy us twenty better blouses to clothe a battalion of breasts, not just two. My son, in the meanwhile, is trying daily to not be tardy for the second period at school. Then my husband is, once again, unable to fix the garage door. He blames it on dysfunctional wiring resulting from sunrays falling on the sensor at specific times of the day.
With so many landmines derailing the onward trajectory of my domestic life, I told myself that I simply did not have any time left to dedicate to the larger humanitarian causes. But when my friend talked to me about the heart effort and about how the South Asian Heart Center in Mountain View–the first nonprofit committed to reducing the incidence of heart disease–was emerging as a center of excellence in preventive care, I was convinced that I should make the time and give my skill to the effort.
Asian Indians have the highest rates of hospitalization in California for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Watch the South Asian Heart Center's program for heart health. At Mountain View’s El Camino Hospital, over the past two years, five percent of the patients who showed up at the emergency room with a heart attack were of South Asian origin. Mind you, the South Asian population of the area is just over three percent–even though Google, Oracle, Fry’s Electronics and Subway Sandwiches seem to be run and overrun by South Asians. South Asian women also have one of the highest mortality rates due to CAD. According to the 2000 California Census data, all ethnic minority women were living longer except South Asian women. For the last point, I will run a study on South Asian husbands the results of which I will publish soon in a separate blog post. The irony here is lifestyle: most South Asians are lifelong vegetarians, are not smokers and are not overweight; unfortunately, many South Asians still believe that walking the length of their home constitutes exercise and that their vegetarian diet is low in saturated fat. And here is another zinger: by 2010, India will bear sixty percent of the world’s CAD burden. I believe I have gathered enough personal stories to write a book with many (continuing) volumes.
Given the jarring statistics, I felt that I must help out even though my opinion of fundraiser galas in general is this: too much money that should really have gone to the have-nots is being spent by the haves on eating, gossiping and merrymaking. I also had an angle on the sartorial choices at galas; the sari blouses didn’t exactly endear me towards supporting big causes. The previous year, I had been invited to other Indian-American fundraisers and the sari blouses at these events raised so many collective eyebrows that I began fearing for my bank account. From what I gathered, judging by those blouses, the more we gave away to charity or to a favorite cause, the less we had left on our own backs. If this were the truth, must I commit and expose myself to more trouble?
Still, after mulling over the matter, I agreed to help out my friend because I felt that if I could alert one more South Asian about heart disease, I would have done one good thing to offset my accumulating bad karma. And after all is said and done, I enjoyed helping out the organization in my own small way. I met many talented and generous people. The meetings, all done by conference call, were efficient. In fact, they were so smooth that on one occasion I sat in on another meeting that sounded exactly like the meeting I was supposed to be at except no one asked me for deliverables and I slunk out of the meeting without announcing my entry into or my exit from the conference call.
My experience with the South Asian Heart Center benefit taught me lessons about project management that I can use in my writing life. The gala chairs this year were mostly women; almost all of the women who worked for the cause had daytime jobs and packed lives at home and yet they managed–getting past bureaucratic plaque, unclogging the stumbling blocks in their path, investing heart and soul into their piece of the action– to keep the pace and hoist a memorable gala on March 12th, where, by the way, they managed to raise some $200,000 for this worthy cause.