Welcome to the first newsletter of 2024! I trust all of you had a great holiday season and got to spend quality time with your family and friends. January is the time for new year resolutions, and my goal for this year is to eat healthy, stay fit, and complete a half marathon in the fall. I am part of the COMA Marathon group, and the camaraderie of motivated fellow Malayali runners is invaluable in keeping myself on track.
I am really looking forward to the initiatives the 2024 Executive Committee has in store for COMA members this year. My best wishes go out to the 2024 EC for a triumphant year! The success of our organization hinges on volunteer support complementing the enthusiastic efforts from the Executive Committee, so I hope we can all join hands as a team and contribute wholeheartedly to help create another great year for our organization.
I am always looking for member contributions for the newsletter. Should you wish to submit content for future editions, please reach out to the EC team (firstname.lastname@example.org). Content should be 250 words or less.
Wishing all my readers a safe, healthy, and prosperous new year!
— Smitha Nishant
Presidential Address – Nicey Vakasseril (2024 COMA President)
(Nicey lives in Powell, Ohio with her husband Stephen and daughter Anjali. She is from Trivandrum and has been living in Ohio since 2015. Her hobbies are reading, driving on long routes, and relaxing.)
Happy New year to all Malayali families and COMA members! I am thrilled to be part of COMA EC 2024, and excited to share the fun with you all again this year!
I understand that there are a lot of Malayali families who are not part of COMA as I myself was not part of it for some time. And after being part of COMA, I realized how valuable it is through providing a community feeling and fun filled enjoyable events to our Malayali families. Therefore, one of my intentions is to bring more Malayali families into COMA. Also, this year, COMA would like to partner with other Indian associations for cross cultural activities.
I would like to congratulate the 2023 Executive Committee for providing a wonderful and memorable year! In 2024, we are planning some exciting events where we will re-live the traditions of our God’s Own Country as well as embrace the traditions of this nation. With your active participation and support, we hope to make this year a memorable one for COMA members.
As we continue through the year, we will let you know about the upcoming events! I am happy to have a team consisting of Anil Koothoor as Vice President, Pravi Gopalan as Treasurer, Yogalakshmi as Secretary, and Shyam Mohan as Joint Secretary. We are glad that we have the guidance of an experienced team of trustees! The success of COMA is not just with the committee but with all our Malayali families including children, youth, and adults. We request your support by participating in events, bringing more families to COMA, and by volunteering at COMA events. I firmly believe that we are going to have another fun-filled year!
I am looking forward to having this journey with you all in 2024! Once again, I wish you all a prosperous and happy new year on behalf of everyone in EC 2024!
Essential Medical Screenings – Dr. Rajesh Rajan
(Rajesh Rajan is a Nephrologist who also manages Infuse One (an infusion/Botox center). He is from Pandalam, Kerala. He grew up in New York and moved to Columbus in 2022. He lives in Liberty Township with his wife Mauja, kids Devika and Dhinan, and puppy Meeka.)
As we step into the unfolding of the New Year, many of us embark on a journey centered around resolutions for improved health and well-being. Amidst the plethora of aspirations, a dedicated commitment to good health takes precedence, whether achieved through mindful nutrition, regular exercise, or conscientious mental health practices. The dedication to better health undergoes an annual reevaluation.
Despite our emphasis on well-being, the tendency prevails to visit the doctor only when unwell. However, the significance of preventive healthcare cannot be overstated. It is imperative to shift our focus from reactive responses to proactive measures in health management. Regular visits to healthcare professionals can detect issues early on, or prevent their occurrence through routine screenings. Several essential screenings become particularly relevant as we age.
Guidelines and recommendations for screenings are diverse, with organizations like the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) offering valuable insights. Patient preferences play a pivotal role in decision-making, with education about the risks and benefits of screening tests being paramount.
Primary care physician visits constitute a crucial facet of comprehensive healthcare. These appointments involve screening for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, vision health, and more. While recommendations may vary, a biennial health visit for adults under 49, assuming good health without chronic conditions, is generally acceptable. Adults aged 50 and above are advised to have an annual health visit, while those with chronic illnesses may require more frequent monitoring.
Dental care often falls into the realm of reactive measures, triggered by problems. The American Dental Association suggests regular dental visits, commonly interpreted as every six months, for examinations, cleanings, and necessary X-rays to detect issues early.
While eye exams need not occur annually, a comprehensive examination is crucial at some point to evaluate underlying eye pathology. Beyond assessing the need for corrective lenses, eye exams screen for diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration.
The rising prevalence of chronic health conditions underscores the importance of close monitoring. High blood pressure, a common ailment, prompts screening for adults over 18, with annual checks recommended after the age of 40, particularly for those with high-risk factors.
Diabetes, a global health concern, is screened for in patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or adults aged 35-70 with a Body Mass Index over 25. Fasting blood tests or hemoglobin A1c assessments are commonly employed for diagnosis.
Specialized cancer screening recommendations, such as Pap tests for cervical cancer and mammograms for breast cancer, align with guidelines from organizations like the USPSTF. Colorectal cancer screening is advised from age 45 onwards, and lung cancer screening is recommended for high-risk individuals aged 50-80 with a history of smoking.
Prostate cancer screening discussions commence at age 50 for average-risk individuals, relying on individualized decisions informed by factors like the Prostate-Specific Antigen blood test or digital rectal exams.
Osteoporosis screening is typically conducted for women over 65, and DEXA scans are commonly used for bone density evaluation. Men with low bone mass or fracture risk factors may also undergo screening.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, generally a one-time ultrasound, is recommended for males aged 65-75, especially for current or former smokers. Non-smokers in the same age bracket with a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm may also consider this screening.
While this overview is not exhaustive, each decision regarding preventive health is a collaborative effort between the patient and the physician. It is advisable to consult with your physician to develop personalized preventive health strategies.
Know your EC team – Anil Koothoor (2024 Vice President)
(Anil lives in Plain City, Ohio with his wife Sabitha and son Ash. He moved from Calgary to Ohio in 2021. Since then, he has been an active member of COMA. Anil is an avid traveler and has explored over 45 countries. He is passionate about local food and soccer.)
When Smitha asked me to write about myself, I never realized that this would be so difficult for me. I realized that I have lost my touch for writing, and writing about others, “paradooshanam”, is much easier than writing about yourself. Anyway, here is my scribble. Warning: read at your own risk.
I was born in a village near Payyanur, Kannur, and I was there until I completed my pre-degree course. My childhood memories revolve around the time I spent playing outdoors with my friends and fighting with the creatures that occupied most parts of my mom’s ancestral home where I was brought up, and of-course the relationship complexities of an orthodox extended family. During that time, reading was my hobby and the couple of libraries in our village and nearby town helped me with it. I am not sure how many of you know about this, Kannur is very famous for its network of libraries. Reading opened many doors for me, and I started questioning things -within no time, I was labelled as a rebel. I became part of student activities and travelled across the state to coordinate cultural programs. If you ask me about the best part of my schooling, definitely, it’s the two years (pre-degree) I lived in “Payyanur College”. Yes, the way Vineet Sreenivasan described in his movie “Thattathil Marayathu“, Payyanur College “varantha” and the evening breeze, that was such a romantic and exhilarating experience. As per my wife, Payyanur College and the two years of “alavalathi tharangal” would be the only thing that I would remember if ever I suffer from amnesia.
I had to move to Trivandrum for pursuing my engineering degree. There, everyone talked about the importance of having milestones and targets, but for me, the ultimate target was to go back to my roots. Many of you would have heard about Paulo Coelho and his famous quote in his masterpiece Alchemist: “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in order for you to achieve it“- Coelho used this phrase to ascertain his opinion that we can control fate and that fate is a lie. You may agree with this comment. In my life, fate is a reality. I was never able to control my fate but I learned to live with it. I started living in the moment and making the best of it. I can proudly say that I appreciate whatever comes out of that moment and I live with no regrets. Trust me, that has changed my whole concept about life. Like the unknown quote, “Dance with the waves, move with the sea, let the rhythm of the water set your soul free“.
Now the question is, why couldn’t I change my fate? There may be numerous reasons but not any as prominent as this one: Sometimes, someone comes into your life that changes everything. In my life, there was not one but three musketeers. They believed in me and made me realize that I can do many things in life if I channel my energy in the right direction and get rid of my carefree attitude, while controlling my activism. Association with them propelled my multidimensional reading and that helped me understand the world in its broader aspect, as well as it helped me academically. Don’t know if I should call them my teachers; officially they were, but they are really my friends, my big brothers, and my well-wishers. I don’t want to narrate the whole story, but I can undoubtedly say that they influenced my life more than anyone else, and for them, I became an engineer.
Again, for me, being an engineer meant working in KSEB or some governmental or nodal agencies, but life pulled me to different directions. From CET, I was drafted to work for a software company and I started working in mainframe/Y2K. You probably know that at that time, it was a big buzz in India and an easy way to become an American. I was always confused about applying colons and semicolons at the right places in code, and I also realized that there were many smart people who could program better than me. Also, the only interesting part of being in Madras was the time I had spent with my friends in cricket grounds. I left software and moved to oil and gas. The work schedule at ONGC was really comfortable for me to follow my passion for travel, and I backpacked every state in India and some countries outside India. I am proud to say I am an Indian-Navy trained fire and rescue officer, and actively coordinated a couple of fire and rescue operations and other emergency incidents in Mumbai High offshore. Meanwhile, I met my life partner who used to visit our hometown from Tamil Nadu during her summer vacations. Though she claims to be a Malayalee, I am still not comfortable to endorse that claim. We got married in 2000. There ended my adventures. Guys and girls, you know what I mean by this. We were blessed with our handsome son Ash Krishna, who is a Junior at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In life, there is a time where you feel you need wealth more than your comfortability in life. I moved to Kuwait for work. Though the stint was short, I have to admit, that helped me secure my base financially. Not by much but to an extend where I could afford travelling across the world. I then moved to Canada and settled in Northern Alberta, famous for its beautiful northern lights and where the outdoors life is only for a maximum of 4 to 5 months a year. Moving from +55 degrees C to -44 degrees C annealed us to laugh at the haters of Ohio winter. Guys, you are lucky!
When life is full of unexpected challenges, how you handle them builds character. The devasting wildfire in Canada forced us to move from Fort McMurray to Calgary where we built our life from scratch. Thanks to my wife and son who stood strong when we were forced to live in our SUV for a week thinking about what to do next. Thanks also to my employer who believed in my skills and continued my association, though it was challenging for them to make money after the devastation.
Our son who was a competitive swimmer moved to Wisconsin, and we moved along with him to the US (Ohio) in 2021, and here I am. Smitha also wants me to talk about my hobbies. If you have read this far, you may have realized the fact that I love travelling and my intention is to cover 60 countries by 60, and 70 by 70, and I believe I can achieve it. If I ever retire, I will take up a job where I don’t have to use my brain (if something is left of it by that time) and work for a couple of months a year and do a road trip for the rest of the year in my RV.
Whatever happened, happened for the good. Whatever is happening, is happening for the good. Whatever will happen, will also be for good – Bhagavad Gita. Life is short and I will make the best of it.
P.S.: I never wanted to lead another organization, and here I am writing this as the 2024 COMA Vice President. I can only say that I will try my best to meet your expectations.
COMA Malayalam Classes – A Perspective – Prahlad T I
(Prahlad, a music enthusiast, has been an active member of COMA since 2013, and lives with his wife Vidya and son Amogh in Lewis Center, OH. Prahlad loves to travel and enjoys biking.)
When Smitha asked me to write a short article about the COMA Malayalam classes, I thought it would be just a matter of an hour, and that I should be done with it very soon. I planned to start my article with a reference to the birth of Malayalam language, did a bit of reading online, and that’s when I realized how little I knew about the history of Malayalam. I kept on reading, and my originally planned one hour turned into many more. Well, now that I have the courage to start my article, let me first thank Smitha for making me read more 🙂
Malayalam language has been evolving since many years. Historians have classified the evolution of Malayalam into three eras, namely the old, middle, and modern Malayalam. The current version of Malayalam (modern) has been around since the 15th century. Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, considered to be the Father of modern Malayalam language, lived during the 16th century, and has made many contributions to the growth of Malayalam. The epic poems written by him and the revival of the Malayalam script into its current form were some of his major contributions.
From the perspective of a native English speaker (which would be most of our students), learning Malayalam (or any Indian language for that matter) has its own challenges. Let me elaborate this with an example. Let’s try to translate 3 simple sentences from English to Malayalam.
- I told him => Njan Avanodu Paranju
- I helped him => Njan Avane Sahaayichu
- I gave him => Njan Avanu koduthu
Now, see how the word “him” got changed into 3 entirely different forms when translated to Malayalam. Here, the right form to use is based on the meaning of the verb, and for a native Malayalam speaker, this would come naturally. Not much thinking is required. On the other hand, for a native English speaker, finding which word to use is very complicated and challenging. Even if there was some scientific method to find the right form to use, such methods cannot be understood by little kids very easily. Picking the right word for the context can only come by frequent hearing of these sentences and patterns spoken by others. I have observed that watching Malayalam movies is one good way to help register such patterns easily in kids.
The one thing I am really happy with is to see that there is much love towards learning Malayalam. There are more and more parents each year who are interested in having their kids get a taste of Malayalam. This is a great initiative that COMA has undertaken. COMA Malayalam classes have two batches currently, the Beginner class and the Intermediate class. Someone who is very new to Malayalam starts off with the Beginner class, stays in for a couple of years, and then graduates into the Intermediate class. The Beginner class is more of an introduction to Malayalam, where kids get to learn the basics. They get to learn many of the common Malayalam words, learn to make simple conversational sentences, and get familiarized with the Malayalam script. The Intermediate class takes students to a more detailed level, including sentence formation, writing, and grammar.
Having had the opportunity to volunteer as a COMA Malayalam teacher for a decade, I must say I feel extremely fortunate and happy. The one hour spent with kids each week is truly an hour of bliss. I believe my students have enjoyed the classes as much as I did, and I am sure the classes have given them a good flavor of the language and the culture of Kerala. In addition to learning the language, we also enjoy singing Malayalam songs, reading Malayalam stories, etc. I have often received videos from parents of kids singing Malayalam songs at home that we learned in our class. Those, and many more such awesome moments, has made me go on for a decade, looking forward to that one hour, week after week.
I would like to thank COMA for giving me this opportunity.