Up above in the world so high, in Zurich, Switzerland, to be precise, an Indian-origin boy Aakash Sethi is making sure that the lockdown period would go down in his memory as the time when he first wowed the world with his music creation and production skills.
His mother, Aradhna, says, “It’s a passion that gets him up at all hours of the day, motivates him to just be on the job almost 24X7! He loves it. And even times his sleep pattern according to what raspiness or freshness he needs in his voice. Daily life situations, a fireplace, a rustling leaf — they all seem to inspire him to open his notes app and instantly write his ‘lyric of the moment’. Obviously, as his mother, I am super proud of him”.
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And yet, he could well be mistaken for a regular Swiss teen.
After completing his nine years of obligatory schooling in the Swiss education system in June 2020, Aakash has cleared his entrance exam and been admitted into grade 10 at the local high school to pursue education according to his line of interest and competence: Computer Sciences and Information Technology.
Alongside his school activities and academics, he continues to attend Piano lessons and Karate, which lends a fine balance between studies, sport and the arts.
Studio recordings with and for other artists continue to fill his weekends with his passion for music.
Here’s a little chat with the rising star of an already accomplished family *:
You might be perhaps a bit too young to be able to answer this question in precise words, or, perhaps, with even precise awareness of it, but we have to ask this: Why did you get into making music?
AS: Out of all the creative things I have done, music kept drawing me back. I have always been very interested in the voice. It is capable of doing so many different things so I wanted to test that. I have also been playing the piano for nearly a decade. That definitely gave me a solid start.
Although I haven’t been producing for too long, I quickly realized how interesting and complex it is. It really grabbed me and never let go.
What inspires and motivates you?
AS: Lyrically, I’d say experiences, people and experiences with people. I love writing heartfelt lyrics that can make you feel something. Conceptually it’s different artists and producers from all around the world. People like Post Malone, Troye Sivan, Miley Cyrus and my friends/family are the ones who keep me motivated. Their styles and opinions intrigue me.
You are just 16. So, most probably, you would have begun understanding ‘guiding inspirations’ merely a couple of years ago. In the light of that, would you say you have any definite role models as yet?
AS: I have lots of role models. Moreover, it’s the different qualities in people that I look up to. The first few people that I think of are Meo, Sebastian, Eyelar and Valentin. Over time I have learnt an unfathomable number of things from these people. Eyelar has always had an answer for any question regarding the Industry. Meo inspired a new way of songwriting, Sebastian’s creative envisioning regarding photography and videography always amazes me and Valentin has always been able to answer my questions and give me tips on anything that has to do with music production.
With technology becoming infinitely more accessible today than, say, during your parents’ time, the competition too has become immense. In that sea of talent, what makes you stand out as an artist?
AS: Although I haven’t found my ideal sound yet I’d say there are two things. Definitely my age and the fact that I do everything myself. I’m only 16 so I still have a lot to learn… but the fact that I am doing absolutely everything from writing to singing and producing is pretty crazy. Especially to an outsider!
I’d also say my lyrics. I have a knack for constructing complex, thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics with a dark undertone.
What are your music-related plans for the future?
AS: My plans include writing with people that I want to write with and bettering my voice as well as my productions. I’m really looking forward to social life in regards to music because I definitely want to collaborate more. Whether it’s with producers, writers or other artists. It doesn’t matter.
What is your whole process of creating music like? What is the thought process, what are the steps of execution etc?
AS: Normally I start off with a short lyric, or a metaphor that I like. I construct a concept if it isn’t already clear. Then I make a simple beat which consists of maybe a piano and a set of drums at most. I come up with some demo lyrics and records those. Then I work on the production. I add layers and use effects to give the result some movement. At this point, I finish the lyrics and create a structure. I record the lead vocals first, then I come up with up to four harmonies and record those. I don’t think about a music video at all. I focus on the concept and the message of the song.
Had it not been for COVID lockdown – would you have made as many songs as you have?
AS: (Chuckles) Probably not. COVID-19 removed school hours from my life so I had tons of time on my hands. I wasn’t just going to sit around and let go of that opportunity! I wrote around fifty songs during the pandemic, which by the way is still ongoing so keep your masks on! I even got to know some people through social media. I got the chance to partake in Zoom release parties and join songwriting courses. All these things really kept me going!
* Aakash’s mother, Aradhna Sethi, an elected member of the Council of Social Welfare (township), is an author and a marketing and communications coach. She runs a monthly online magazine for the Indian diaspora in Switzerland called, Namaste Switzerland. Aakash’s father, Anil Sethi, is a published management author and teaches entrepreneurship at the renowned ETH. He is an advisor for startups, keynote speaker, serial entrepreneur and advisor to the United Nation’s Initiative, Defeat NCD Partnership. The family also includes Aakash’s 14-year-old sister Aanya Sethi, who has also sung with him and shared his joys and inspiration related to music.
COVID-19 Dialogue: “Like Humans, Microbes Too Find Newer Ways To Survive And Thrive”
It is very important for individuals to not panic and believe in the basic mantra “break the virus chain”.
We are currently living through a time in the history of human life like no other. The good world is busy trying to find out the ways to defeat the Wuhan, China, originating monster called COVID-19. India is playing a worthy role in this global exercise. Recently, we had published a story about an Indian research about Identifying Biomarkers To Predict Progression From Non-Severe To Severe Coronavirus. Here we talk with the person who leads the study — Dr Sanjeeva Srivastava, Professor, Group leader, Proteomics Facility, IIT –Bombay, Mumbai.
Dr Srivastava obtained his PhD from the University of Alberta and post-doc from the Harvard Medical School in the area of proteomics, stress physiology, and has specialized expertise in applications of data-enabled sciences in global health, developing country and resource-limited settings. Dr Srivastava is an active contributor to global proteomics science and innovation. He serves on the Executive Council of Human Proteome Organization (HUPO) and Proteomics Society, India (PSI). He is also the man behind one of the first-ever documentaries on proteomics – “Proteomics: Translating the Code of Life” and “Human Proteome Project (HPP)”.
For his leading role in some of the pioneering studies in the field of proteomics science and innovation in India, as indeed globally, League of India calls him an ‘Agent of Change‘.
You are leading a team that is exploring “metabolomics alteration for COVID-19 treatment”. Can you please explain the purpose, nature and scope of the study in simpler terms for our readers? Are there any tools and techniques that are unique to this study?
Dr Srivastava: The goal of this study is to better understand the changes inside the human body by virtue of the SARS-CoV-2 viral infection.
Our body mounts a response to any invading pathogen through a series of concerted efforts which in turn lead to changes in the chemical composition of the cells. The virus also requires a few such chemicals or small molecules, commonly referred to as “metabolites”, to survive and carry out its functions inside the cell. These responses may be different in different individuals depending on the immune system of the patient or the individual, and the type of the virus causing the infection.
Currently, we have no idea about these differences, and we aim to decipher those changes.
The study aims to profile metabolites from patient plasma and oral swabs using a technique called Mass spectrometry.
Once we collect all the data, subsequent analysis will provide an idea about the differences between the individuals suffering from mild to severe form of COVID-19.
Can this study be seen as a subset of the Human Proteome Project (HPP), which you are associated with? Can you please tell a little about HPP and your connection with it?
Dr Srivastava: The Human Proteome Project (HPP) aims at uncovering protein level information for all the protein-coding genes that make up a human body. The two verticals to this project are the Chromosome-centric human proteome project (C-HPP) and the Biology/Disease- driven HPP (B/D-HPP) and I am involved actively in both.
My lab works actively in Human Infectious Disease Project (HID) of B/D-HPP and investigates infectious diseases like Malaria and Dengue.
The current study cannot be included as a subset of the ongoing projects of HPP.
However, I am hopeful that given the severity of the problem due to the pandemic, we will find ways to collaborate with more proteomics/metabolomics scientists to include the information from multiple labs to expand the scope of this project.
A team in Ahmedabad recently achieved whole-genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus. How do such results aid your COVID-19 study? How would your team’s study add to such results? Combining all the studies, at what stage is research towards COVID-19 treatment currently in India?
Dr Srivastava: Genome sequencing is one level of information that is available to us now. The cells typically use this information stored in the genes to express themselves by forming mRNA ultimately giving rise to proteins.
Our aim is to generate information at a functional level, i.e., at the proteins and metabolite level and correlate the finding with the genome level information available.
As far as research in the therapeutic area is concerned, the whole world is in the nascent stages. However, constant encouragement from the government agencies and the availability of talent pool from diverse backgrounds is helping research progress at a rate like never before.
Is there an overlap between HPP and the Human Genome Project (HGP)? How do the two ‘projects’ help medical research — especially with regards combating pandemics like COVID-19 that seem to be afflicting the human race, in newer forms, every few decades?
Dr Srivastava: The Human Genome Project was a landmark event in research and provided us with vital details about the draft blueprint and genetic makeup of humans. However, information about how these genes affect the changes within the cells was not clear even after the interpretation of results from the HGP.
To this end, the human proteome (HPP) project was started as a flagship program of Human Proteome Project (HUPO) with the hope of finding answers to many questions that persisted.
The goal of these mega-efforts has always been to understand humans better, in order to be able to unravel the diseases like cancer, TB, Malaria and other infectious diseases.
While we have been making rapid strides in research, we must understand that nature also has always favoured the theory of survival of the fittest.
Like us, the microbes around undergo mutations and rapid changes in an effort to find newer ways to survive and thrive.
As a result, we are now seeing extraordinary and uncertain times due to pandemics like COVID-19.
A better understanding of the cells and the immune responses at multiple levels through projects like HPP, HGP will only better prepare us in fighting future pandemics.
What does it take to find a drug or vaccine for a disease or a pandemic like COVID-19? What would you like to say to the ‘everyday Indians’ who find it difficult to believe that there is no cure for something like COVID-19?
Dr Srivastava: Labs around the world are trying to fast track and speed-up research in a bid to find a vaccine or drug target without compromising on the quality besides ensuring human safety. This process will take some time but it is not impossible.
Scientists, healthcare workers and pharmaceutical companies and governments are all doing their best to ensure that the disease is combatted.
It is very important for individuals to not panic and believe in the basic mantra “break the virus chain” with simple cleaning steps and few precautions like washing hands with soaps, disinfectants like 70% ethanol, heat treatment at 56C for 30 min (some of these are easy ways to get rid of virus).
COVID-19: “ISKCON Has So Far Served Over 30 Million (3 Crore) Meals During Lockdown”
ISKCON is also the world’s largest food for life program implementer.
Difficult times often bring out the best in people — especially from the people who are already spiritually-inclined. India’s ancient wisdom gifts our nation with inherent strength, hope, determination and a selfless approach to life that enable us to continue in the face of great evil and strife. Carrying forward that Sanatan Tradition during this grave COVID-19 crisis in India (and elsewhere) is the glorious organisation called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
Here, League of India talks with Shri Radharamn Das, Vice President and Spokesperson ISKCON, ISKCON Kolkata, about the various aspects associated with ISKCON amid the coronavirus crisis.
As the country, especially the marginalized section, continues to struggle with the impact of COVID-19, ISKCON is said to be leading India’s largest ‘Food Relief Program’. Can you please tell our readers all about it?
Shri Das: ISKCON’s founder Acharya His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, one day while looking out of a window, in Mayapur, a village near Calcutta, saw a group of children fighting with stray dogs over scraps of food. From this simple, yet heart-breaking incident Srila Prabhupada ordered his followers to make sure that no person within a radius of ten miles from every ISKCON temples and centres should go hungry.
ISKCON is also the world’s largest food for life program implementer.
ISKCON food for life, Annamrita, Akshay Patra are various programs which are inspired by Srila Prabhupada.
From war-torn zones like Serbia, Chechenya, or Tsunami hit places like Sri Lanka, India or earthquake-affected places like Nepal or Pakistan or during hurricane Katrina, ISKCON devotees have served food everywhere in the world.
In fact, there have been many instances of ISKCON devotees getting killed in war zones while serving food.
Food For Life engages in various sorts of hunger relief, including outreach to the homeless, provision for disadvantaged children throughout India, and provision for victims of natural disasters around the world. ISKCON has served over 6 billion free meals.
Steve Jobs was also one of the benefactors of the ISKCON food relief programme. He recollected in his famous commencement speech at Stanford University where he famously recollected that special time in his life, shortly after he dropped out of Reed College but continued to drop in on classes there, “It wasn’t all romantic,” he told students in the now-iconic speech,
“I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms. I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with. And I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple (ISKCON). I loved it.”
The whole speech is an inspiring and thoughtful reflection, but it was that last bit—about depending upon the Krishna temple for his one good meal a week (and loving it)—that ISKCON devotees especially latched on to.
One of the most influential and admired men in the world once relished sanctified vegetarian food at a Krishna temple, and those meals played a defining role in his journey towards success against all odds. Understandably, Hare Krishna devotees were thrilled to hear him remember it fondly.
ISKCON Kolkata has received the kind support of Indian cricket legend Sourav Ganguly in the aforementioned program. How did the association come about, and what are the mechanism and statistics involved with your association with the sporting great?
Shri Das: Sourav Ganguly family is very much connected with ISKCON. His wife Dona Ganguly and daughter Sana Ganguly performs Odissi dance for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra Devi during annual Rathayatra organised by ISKCON Kolkata.
During this ongoing crisis, Sourav Da called us and expressed his willingness to support food for 10,000 people daily here in Kolkata.
Pan India ISKCON has served over 3 crores meals till date during the ongoing COVID19 crisis.
ISKCON with the help of all the volunteers and well-wishers has served 2.43 crore (24 millions) meals across India to the low income families & migrants since the lockdown began.
Thank you for all your support and goodwishes pic.twitter.com/oCtpp8joAG
— Yudhistir Govinda Das (@yudhistirGD) April 27, 2020
TOTAL MEALS SERVED
Treading somewhat on thin political ice, West Bengal – from a distance – does not look like a place *in the recent decades* where the administration/government would be very friendly towards an organisation like ISKCON. Is there any truth in that apprehension? Irrespective, can you share the span and influence of ISKCON Kolkata activities/programs in the glorious state – including, but not limited to, the current COVID-19 crisis?
Shri Das: The state government and the Chief Minister of West Bengal Sushri Mamata Banerjee are very friendly towards ISKCON. She cleared the way for world largest temple at Sridham Mayapur.
For over 50 years ISKCON was dreaming to make a spiritual city at the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu but because of West Bengal land ceiling act, we were not able to do. The Hon’ble Chief Minister personally took the matter in her hand and in record time she cleared all files allowing ISKCON to have 750 acres of land at Mayapur.
Not only that, but she also waived the registration fees’ which could have cost ISKCON several hundred crores.
How much is the interaction between various ISKCON centres – both in India and abroad? Is there a ‘universal annual charter’ kind of a thing that every centre has to follow? How much of that, if it exists, has got affected by COVID-19 and what has been the resulting impact on the ISKCON activities, objectives and goals?
Shri Das: The International spiritual headquarters of ISKCON is situated at Sridham Mayapur in Nadia District of West Bengal and is about 124 km from Kolkata.
Every year before Gour Purnima or Holi, the heads of each ISKCON temple from all over the world and other officials, devotees congregate at Mayapur for our annual meetings.
The progress of each temple and new projects is discussed and offered to Sri Sri Radha Madhav, Pancha-ttava and Narsimhadev: the presiding deities at Sridham Mayapur.
Finally, how did an M. Tech from a foreign university like you got associated with ISKCON? How would you describe your current responsibilities at ISKCON Kolkata? What do you wish to achieve in the journey in the coming decades?
Shri Das: For an Indian to get the seed of Bhakti in Communist Russia and nourishment of that bhakti creeper at Imperial Britain is quite astonishing. Moreover, for one who has spent practically most of his life in the barren land for bhakti where the citadel of Communists in India existed-West Bengal.
In June 1971, the ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada has gone to Moscow on an invitation of a Professor Kotovsky. Religion was considered as a crime in USSR, and you could be thrown in jail for even possessing a religious book. In those three days, Srila Prabhupada met one young Russian boy and preached to him. He gave his personal Bhagavad Gita to that young boy and initiated him. Srila Prabhupada also predicted that in 20 years communism will be finished in USSR. That one spark of Krishna bhakti which ISKCON founder ignited in that young Russian, soon engulfed the USSR. USSR broke in 1991, exactly 20 years since Srila Prabhupada predicted. Today there are millions of Russians who have lost their heart in Vrindavan.
I was fortunate to reach Russia for my higher studies during this Krishna revolution and got the associations of Russian mahatmas.
In the pursuit of my so-called higher studies, I stumbled upon the greatest treasure in Moscow and London: Krishna-the reservoir of all pleasure, the matchless gift.
After I topped my University with a Gold medal (B.Tech, M.Tech), I worked for some time in a multi-national company. I joined ISKCON Chowpatty in 1999. In 2002, I started serving at ISKCON Kolkata. Kolkata is the birthplace of our founder acharya Srila Prabhupada. It is from Kolkata that the seed of this great movement was sown in the heart of young A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami (Abhay Charan Dey) by his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur in 1921.
At ISKCON Kolkata temple we have about 80 Brahmacharis and over half of them are IIT graduates and postgraduates including the toppers.
We have Brahmacharis who are qualified Engineers, Doctors, with double PhD, Chartered accountants, interior designers etc. ISKCON Kolkata also runs the mid-day meal program here in Kolkata, and we feed about 14,000 meals every day to poor school children.
Pan India, through ISKCON FOOD relief foundation we serve hot mid-day meals to 1.2 million (12 lakh) students every day.
COVID-19: “Unlike Alcohol-Based Sanitisers, Our Product Does Not Easily Evaporate”
The alcohol-free sanitiser is safe and not toxic even if accidentally inhaled or ingested.
Tests have confirmed that two hand sanitizer formulations recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) inactivate the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19). More encouragingly, the tests also provided reassurance that store-bought sanitizers combat the virus. In India, we had recently reported that the Department of Science & Technology (DST), has funded a Pune-based company for manufacturing natural, alcohol-free sanitizer for hands and surfaces with long-lasting antibacterial and antiviral effect. Here, we talk with the founder-director of that company, Green Pyramid Biotech, Dr Asmita Prabhune. An alumnus of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) – National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, Dr Prabhune is responsible for providing technical, scientific and developmental insights to the company.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are included in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines — thereby not only marking the category safe but also effective. Why then did your company feel the need for a ‘natural, alcohol-free’ sanitizer, and how does it compare, both in terms of the chemical constitution and consumer consumption, with the WHO-certified alcohol-based ones?
Dr Prabhune: The sanitizer formulation of our eco-friendly product, whose Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) is a bio-surfactant that provides long-lasting protection against bacteria and viruses, can be an alternative to significantly reduce the risk of infection.
It has been tested against a wide array of pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and yeast.
The formulation can provide a convenient and effective way to clean hands and surfaces and is totally biodegradable, natural, and alcohol-free.
In addition to sanitization, the API has a unique property of supporting fibroblast activity. Hence it can be used to clean the wounds and prevents dryness and skin irritation.
Besides, this product whose technology concept and applications have been formulated is harmless to the skin.
Are the applications and the “dos and don’ts” of the two categories (alcohol-based
and natural) different?
Dr Prabhune: They are not different, applications are the same as that of alcohol-based sanitizers.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. What is your take on that; and, in the light of that, how do you explain the consumers the efficacy of your product?
Dr Prabhune: Our product does not contain alcohol but an API that has the same efficacy as that of an alcohol-based sanitizer. The product is safe and will not have any side effects on human beings.
Alcohol-based sanitizers after application are easily evaporated and require repeated application, whereas our product will give longer protection and without any adverse effects.
It is safe and not toxic even if accidentally inhaled or ingested.
A couple of quick questions about the ‘natural, alcohol-free’ sanitizers: Do they have an expiry date? How and where should they be stored? What if a child ingests hand sanitizer? And, lastly, can hand sanitizers be used if there are any cuts or rashes on hands?
Dr Prabhune: Our natural, alcohol-free sanitizer has an expiry date of 18 months from the date of manufacture. The product does not require refrigeration and can be stored at room temperature. As it does not contain alcohol, it is not flammable or gets evaporated.
Since our product is natural and alcohol-free, it is not poisonous even if a child ingests our product accidentally.
It will not cause any harm to the child. In addition to sanitization, the API in our product has a unique property of supporting fibroblast activity and can be safely used to clean wounds or cuts or rashes on the hands (Patented).
Apart from a few pockets in the top metropolitan cities, using hand sanitizers is still pretty much a ‘western concept’ for Indians. Do you see that changing rapidly due to COVID-19? How does your company propose to increase the user base?
Dr Prabhune: Our product can be used as hand sanitizer or also can be used as a hand wash. It is very safe for children, adults, and the elderly population as the pH is skin-friendly and contains all-natural ingredients.
What are your expectations from the government and the healthcare sector in India with regards ‘natural, alcohol-free’ sanitizers in particular and sanitizing products, procedures and process in general?
Dr Prabhune: We expect that the formal procedures and processes should be cleared quickly so that the product will be available to the consumers as early as possible.
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