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Everyone loves stories. Everyone has a story to tell.


August 2014

Stories of a ‘lil boy and his grandpa

Mrs Vijay Tiwari is a poet, writer, grandma of six and a gentle soul. She reminisces of a time when her kids were little…

Do you know, among my three kids, my youngest has always been the most ready witted. Along with this, he was bold and believed in saying the right thing. I am referring to a few such incidents.

The first incident goes something like this…
I am talking about something which happened when he was hardly 6 years old.  One day, his grandfather asked him for a glass of water saying, “Look I do so many things for you, can you get me a glass of water?”  However, the water ended up being brought for the little boy instead of for the grandfather!  The little boy queried, “Grandpa, what are all the things do you do for me?” Grandfather said, “Look, I go to drop you to school, come to pick you up after school, get food for you, and get water for you.” Immediately my son countered, ” Ok, so can you please get some water for me?!” On hearing this, Grandpa rolled over with laughter as he had been hoist with his own petard!

The other event …
This is also from when my son was around 7 years old. If memory serves,  all three siblings were sitting with my father-in-law (their Grandpa) on his bed. While thus, their father entered the room and his glance fell on the broken window pane. He asked the three, “Who broke the glass?” All three said, ” Papa, we did not break it”. My youngest quickly added, “Papa: It must have been Grandpa who broke the window pane, as he is so quiet.” Once again, Grandpa couldnt stop laughing as he was the culprit indeed!

Keeping Them Alive

Losing a loved one is always extremely painful. Dealing with such a loss at a young age is even more traumatic. Mortality, separation, agony, orphaned are words not meant for a child’s comprehension. But life is cruel at times. Today we share one such story on a subject that we have never delved into before. Sombre it is but there are many who live through this pain, their story too needs to be told, heard and felt. 

I am twelve. With one bare foot touching the floor, I am sprawled on the couch, a wicker contraption with bright green pillows that resembles a relic. It is in the middle of summer, hot and humid. The coolness of the marble floor provides insufficient respite. I fan myself with an Outlook magazine, my rapid, jerky movements loosening the pages off its seam. I am here because I like to contemplate. Sit idle, stare blankly at the white-washed ceiling or at the slow-moving dusty fan but mostly contemplate.  I like to believe I am laid-back unlike my overly active counterparts. But people think I am indolent. People like my grandmother.

“There you are, spread across the couch like marmalade again,” my grandmother says as she floats in and out of her favorite spot in the house-the tiny, box-like kitchen where she spends a good chunk of the day cooking, baking, cleaning.  In a long, flowing patterned skirt and a purple blouse, she looks younger than her sixty years. She wears this outfit combination rather frequently. It was a gift from my mother, hand sown and all. “Why don’t you ride your bike or go over to Bobby’s and play instead of lazing around like this?”

I don’t enjoy riding. Last time I rode, I fell and bruised my knees and palms. I was miserable. My limbs covered with band-aids remind me of a board covered with countless notices. My bruises are still raw and nasty looking.

I am not lazing around. I am thinking. Thinking about how I can preserve the memory of my parents. I feel they are slipping away. It has been six years since the accident. I only had a handful of memories to begin with and I want to hold on to them as long as I able. So here I am, lying in the couch, replaying the memories of my past.

My brother who is older to me says nothing. He has become quieter since the accident. He also thinks a lot nowadays, but his are mostly angry thoughts. He is still angry with everyone including God and the cops, though they caught the guy who in his drunken stupor took a wrong turn that day. The punched hole on one of the walls in his room is a reminder of the turmoil he is in. Of that cataclysmic day when everything changed. Forever.

My grandfather returns home after spending a few hours away. He plunks himself in front of the TV for the five o’clock evening news. Retired and with a frail heart, he is active with a local non- profit that does rehabilitation work for alcoholics and addicts. He signed up two weeks after he lost his son and daughter-in-law. He has always been a kind man. Strong too except on nights when I hear him weep in the darkness of the garage.

“Mimi, do you want to come along with me tomorrow? We have a luncheon, you can perhaps help us out?” he asks in his polite but pitying voice.

He pities me. More than he pities himself. I know he worries about my brother and I. Who will take care of us after he is gone? He is unsure of us just as he is unsure of his longevity.

“Nah,” I reply. “I have stuff to do.”

Stuff for me is pulling out my handmade carved wooden box full of trinkets. My father’s company photo ID, my mom’s pearl earring, tickets to a historic museum we once visited together, a sepia colored photo of my parents in their wedding finery, a battery that belonged to my father’s super durable flash light. Things I hold on to. Things I look at for hours on end to keep my memories alive.
Bobby, my friend comes by. She is a year older but calls me her twin. People around us also think we have a striking resemblance. Bobby could be my tiwn but she isn’t.

We are different, fundamentally so. She has parents, I don’t.

“Hey, do you want to go and get an ice cream?” she asks. “I am craving a Cornetto.” As we head out to the ice cream store, her father waves at us. “Just one ice-cream OK,” he reminds us in his strong voice, flashing a wide grin.

“Yes Pops”, Bobby yells back. And in that moment as I watch her banter with her father, I think to myself, do I remember the last time I had ice-cream with my father?

I would like to think I do. But I am not sure anymore.

Story Credit : Sukanya Bora. Picture Credit : Soumi Haldar. 

3am Conversations!

Photo credit : Piya Mukherjee
It’s 3am. Jet lag knocks at the door. No, please go away. It is the first day of school. It is important. The request is ignored. Jet lag makes it way into the room and settles in comfortably. Sleep distances itself. Hunger pangs slowly make their way in too. We devise strategies to fall back asleep. Eye lids shut tight. Comforter over our heads. It is pitch black. We count backwards from 1000. And then count the other way. We toss and turn in the bed. In the silence of the night we can hear the frustration in our bodies as they fight to get back to sleep. 
An hour and a half later, we give up. The daughter and I throw away the comforter and lay down staring at the ceiling. A conversation stirs up. A conversation reflecting upon the summer gone by. The fun times. The erratic sleep schedules. The sewing project. The idea for the lemonade stand that never quite materialized. Learning to bike. The hurried trip to India. The sense of freedom around the grandparents. The chance to see lives on the other side of the globe. 
Our summer was not extravagant by any means and that was intentional. Nothing was planned. No summer camps. No science camps. Nothing extra ordinary. We just did little things everyday just in the old fashioned way. Created little memories or learnt a life skill. We laughed and giggled. We cooked and baked. We built legos and played board games. We sewed and colored. We watched and observed. We read and wrote journals. We took walks and played tag. Most other times we did NOTHING. And finally we travelled at the end of it all and that is why jet lag is now our good friend. It will take sometime to say good bye to this fella. 
What was your favorite part of the summer? I ask. 
Sewing, biking and the trip. 
What was your favorite part of the trip? I ask even though I know the answer. Binging on Indian sweets, the rickshaw and the auto rickshaw rides, the henna, the dressing up in Indian ethnic attires and all things Bollywood. She lists all of that and then adds something unexpected. 

You need to save. If you waste things, somebody else misses on their share. 
As a witness to the scarcity of water in the scorching summer of India, the unavailability of sometimes what is deemed as basic resources and the struggle of the less fortunate, my daughter brings home a lesson to save and conserve all things. All things that growing up in her part of the world, is most often taken for granted. To me that is summer well spent. For her it is a lesson that has etched its place where it needs to. I need to help her practice it well now. 
I spring out of the bed. I smile as I make my morning cuppa. I reflect on our conversation. For that sort of life lesson , jet lag is a very minor penalty. 
With that we started the day with the usual morning drill and got ready to head out of the door. Ready for another new year at school, where some other great lessons shall be learnt. Summer will be sorely missed. But then there will always be another summer and there shall be more fun.

Story credit : Piya Mukherjee

Back to School

Another school year begins. Like all moms, Amrita Madabushi and her kids get ready to have a wonderful year ahead.

For parents of 50 million kids in USA, August is an important month; it’s all about “back to school”, the last bit of vacations, school supply checklist, clothes, before and after care, school bus, after-school activities and of course the mixed feelings of happiness and sadness that the start of school year brings.
With both kids going to elementary school, last year was quite interesting. Right before the week school opens, there is an important Thursday when we get to know the kids’ teacher and class mates. I learned from my little boy entering kindergarten that it hardly matters who is your teacher or classmates. 

However what I understood from my daughter was that when you are in 4th grade, it’s a huge deal. Ok, so there we were, on Thursday evening of last year, in a slightly nervous/ excited mode checking my daughter’s class assignment to see if she got any of her favorites. Not the teacher she wished for. And no familiar friends on that list. Oh No! It was a “sad” moment for her for sure.

At home that evening, we tried to make her feel good and showed her things from a different perspective.  To not have any one from her old friend circle was quite ok, she will make new friends. And to have the teacher she did not know was ok too, a teacher is after all a teacher, you respect them, they empower you with knowledge, that is how it works.

Days, months and the entire school year passed. I am just glad when I think of the last school year for both of them. My daughter had an awesome experience over the entire period of her 4th grade, making new friends, meeting old friends over recess & playdates, increasing her friend circle, yay!  As she came to know her teacher, she realized how amazing it was to have that particular teacher and by the end of school year, she was so absolutely thankful for that. 

Yesterday was Thursday again, the one before the beginning of next school year. And regardless of whose class they go to and with whom; here’s wishing that it is great for them as well as all the kids, for making new friends, for learning and for giving their best in an another fun successful new year as they go “back to school”.

A Little Bit More

Photo credit : Soumi Haldar

As in all her stories, Barbara looks at little things in life, values them and delves into the deeper aspect that usually get ignored. Here is the latest gem from Barbara Stanifer.

Continue reading “A Little Bit More”

USA vs India

Photo credit : Amrita Madabushi
For many of us who have migrated to USA, numerous thoughts and ideas traverse our mind whenever it is time to visit India, once in 2 or 3 or more years: travel, gifts, relatives, packing. And one of the primary ones among them is also, will my kids be able to adjust there, it being so different, so hot (in June-July), crowded and chaotic. At the same time, India is beautiful, exotic, crazy, diverse, traditional and unique. This summer my kids (6 and 10) were able to experience life in India during their stay spread over more than a month in summer.  

One day in the middle of our four weeks stay in Hyderabad, I told them to list the differences between USA and India. In their own words, this is what they listed as the differences. I have to admit here, what surprised me most was not the differences, but the last line which said on  the USA column, “Home is here” and in India Column, “Home is here”. The ending line says it all “Both win”. I was just unnecessarily worrying about how they would adjust. They were just fine, happy, excited, jumping around as they always do and sad when they had to leave India, just like they were sad when they had to leave US. I think they were happy about many things around them, awestruck by some, saddened by others. I saw they laughed more than me and they cried more than me. They enjoyed a lot and may be the next time when I am going I certainly need to remember one less thing to worry about and that is them.

Story Credit: Amrita Madabushi. Or rather Dr. Amrita Madabushi is one of our regular storytellers. She is also a teacher, an assistant professor at Baltimore City Community college

At Home in the World

In a fast changing world the modern day nomads travel and settle in distant lands yet holding onto their identity. In Piya Mukherjee’s words:

She roams around the house in a green and yellow lehenga (a full length traditional Indian skirt). Her palms have henna on them and just a little above that, the wrist has a couple glass bangles. Her long hair is braided at the back and could probably do with some flowers. 

​She sits next to her toddler brother, playing cars with him oblivious to the guests around them at home. There is a bottle of Arrowhead Water sitting next to them on the floor.  A little while later, someone introduces them as “the little guests from California”. She hesitantly says her Namaste. They engage her in a conversation and she replies in Hindi. 
Questions come rushing in. There is a surprise in the tone of the questions. But I find myself answering it differently this time. All the previous times I have said, they know our language, they eat the same food, they love wearing ethnic clothes and know as much or perhaps more about our culture as a kid of their age should. 
This time I say it differently. I simply say this. “The Arrowhead water bottle and the accented sounds is just to trick you.”  They get the hint. The kids are by this time gorging on rasgullas and gulab jamuns, my six year old looks up and gives me a smile. She knows the drill. They get asked similar questions all the time on the trips we make to India.
She tells me once the guests have departed that day. “I feel like I am one of them, but they always feel I am different. I am different but I am the same.” 
The last phrase hits home. 
So today, ​I write this for all the parents who live outside the country that they were born in and put in tremendous effort in keeping their culture, language, literature and cuisine alive at home. It takes a lot of work, I know that.  But we are raising kids who are not only learning to accept diversity but also learning to mingle where they may find it difficult to fit in. 
Story Credit : Piya Mukherjee 

Then and Now

Photo credit: Swapan Haldar
How many of us are motivated by nature’s innocence and yearn to return to those days of simplicity. But when we retrace those steps, worlds have changed. Swapan Haldar wonders.

When I was a post-graduate student at Calcutta University in the 1960’s, I did my thesis on chromite deposits of Orissa, India. Mining for chromite had just started in the country. The chromite belt was located in a valley between the Mahagiri and Daitari hill ranges. I was put up in a small hutment inside the boundary of the mine campus. The area was a dense forest populated by wild animals and a few tribal villages. I used to do geological studies in the forest from early morning to late noon. After sunset no one was allowed to step outside the mine’s fenced area. No one would open the hutment door at night. Elephants used to come to the villages for food and would destroy the banana plants. We used to witness bear families fading away into the forest. Once I experienced the smell of a tiger and left-over food in a small cave. Lateritic –nickel was discovered in the area by the Geological Survey of India while I was there. My three months of field work in the midst of a dense forest and being in nature fascinated me forever. Back at the University, my thesis was highly acclaimed. Thereafter, I joined metal mining corporate companies (copper-zinc-lead). But I could never forget that short stay in a remote mine campus with inadequate facilities and very little modern comforts. I promised myself that I would return to the platinum-nickel-chromite industry at an opportune phase to share my knowledge with students and fellow professionals.
This first experience made a permanent and passionate impact on me, to love nature, to learn the process of the Universe and to understand how the mystic mother Earth hosts minerals and metals from core to crust for the benefit of birds, animals and human beings. The urge made Swapna, my wife and me to explore different parts of the World. We have seen the majestic snow-capped Himalaya Mountains from different places, seasons, angles and altitudes. We had been to glacier capped summit of Jungfrau, one of the main peaks of the Bernese Alps.  The view of the granite monolith (“Half Dome”), Yosemite National Park, East of California and a part of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a sight to behold to geologists and other scientists. The scenic beauty of Grand Canyon, Arizona State, with its changing colors from early morning to late evening explains the sedimentary process of formation.
When I first visited Sukinda Chromite belt in 1964, it was a sleeping hamlet and gifted by nature’s love with dense forests, mineral wealth and peaceful tribal people. There were three small mine entities separated by kilometers and supported by less than 100 employees.  I visited recently to update my knowledge about the present chromium-nickel resources in the World. I was confirmed that platinum does exist. But what I saw saddened me. There are more than 25 surface and underground working mines separated by common boundaries. The forests have vanished. The majestic Mahagiri range reduces greatly by bulldozing. Series of newly born hills appear parallel to Mahagiri range due to mine waste dumping. Nonmetal roads take care of more than one thousand trucks daily for transporting ore to distant ferrochrome factories. The sky is gloomy throughout the day due to the mine dust. Social evils, crime, alcoholism and drug addiction, and other such abuses have increased. This is the other side of the coin. We have to address and balance between good and evil through proper self protective education, counseling and training. Making stringent rules is not the solution- it has to be implemented in the right spirit. Otherwise what will we leave for our future generations?

The Smart Smartphone!

Photo credit: Piya Mukherjee

Sunday was the day of an important festival in India. The traffic in Delhi, which is always busy, had gotten even busier. Travelling to meet someone, I sat through the jam patiently. There was no other way. 

On a toll bridge, I sat in the car watching the passenger in the car ahead of us having an altercation with the person at the toll booth. Inquisitive after a while, I rolled down my window to get slice of the story. The passenger in the car in front had refused to pay the toll and was adamant he was right in doing so as he was a senior government employee.The person operating the toll booth would not budge. There were no special rules for any one, everyone has to pay. 

Must mention the toll fee was INR 25. 

The argument continued for 20-25 mins. By then, a lot of young people had stepped out of the car, all with smartphones in hand. They did not intervene neither did they create a scene. There was no commotion. Each one of them clicked pictures of the car with its passenger and the registration number. They did not stop at that. They were plastering it all over social media. 

Soon the people in the car realized what was going on. They swiftly paid the toll fee and sped away. The traffic cleared. The toll booth operator was clearly the hero of the day. It is not everyday that someone takes a tough stand here. 

While a large part of the country is still caught up in bureacracy, the pseudo status symbols and misuse of power and designation, it is very refreshing and encouraging to see the young generation take a step towards what is right. They are doing so smartly and very socially. 

Story credit: Piya Mukherjee

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