Poorna Jagannathan: Impossible to enjoy post-Covid life in the US when people in India are suffering


At the time when India was grappling with the second wave of the pandemic, actor Poorna Jagannathan found herself tormented with a feeling of “helplessness”, and that pushed her to use her voice and influence to raise funds for the country’s critical pandemic moment.

“All three of us — Maitreyi (Ramakrishnan; actor), Richa (Moorjani; actor) and myself — had been feeling so down and helpless as we watched our feeds explode with news and overwhelming needs in India. But we felt that together, we could do something to help,” says the US-based actor.

That’s when the trio decided to use the popularity of their show Never Have I Ever to drive attention towards the country’s deadly outbreak. They raised over $100,000 through a virtual fundraiser last month.

“Our show is deeply rooted in the modern South Asian experience, and we were in the unique position to raise funds and awareness for India. So, we ended up reading part of the first episode from Season 2, and Mindy (Kaling) matched whatever we raised, which was an incredible gesture,” she Jagannathan, 48, before delving into the learning she walks away with from the whole experience.

“I learnt lots of things, but mostly the importance of taking a small first step when you’re feeling helpless. You have no idea what your actions can create and how they can bring people together,” she adds.

Amid the gloominess, the Big Little Lies actor is filled with positivity as she witnessed people unite in these challenging times.

“India is being powered by kindness. There was one Twitter thread I read the other day that had me sobbing,” she says, narrating an incident of how a cab driver in India spent two days doing “seva” and helping a daughter take care of her Covid-positive mother.

The actor continues, “Now, as his story goes viral, he’s awash with donations from strangers keen to pay it forward. And even here, it’s so touching to see people raising funds for India in whatever way — so many kids with lemonade stands!”

Theoretically, we’re one big family, asserts the actor, which has now started reflecting in its true sense.

“But never before have we seen how the actions of one person far away from us can end up affecting our everyday lives. It’s awe-inspiring. And perhaps a hard but much needed lesson to learn,” says the mother of one, adding, “Now, as America melts into a post-covid life, the new freedoms taste like mud. It’s impossible to enjoy them knowing that people on the other side of the world are suffering.”

For the Delhi Belly (2011) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) actor, dealing with grief and anxiety has been “challenging”, which she tries to overcome by small day to day actions.

“I went through a really bad patch last summer. We were dealing with the anxiety of a very severe lockdown,” she confesses and continues, “At the same time, the gross injustices towards Black Americans became so apparent. There were days I was paralysed with grief. But I’d force myself to wake up and take action every day, no matter how small. And it’s the same with how I’m dealing with the situation in India. Small actions everyday have kept me going.”

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