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Everyone loves stories. Everyone has a story to tell.


September 2015

Washington DC – A Photoblog

In our Travel Post this Friday, we will take you on a trip to Washington D.C. as captured by the lenses of Raj Madabushi. We have spent much of this week meeting and talking to people who are living their dreams, doing something that they are passionate about. People who are constantly finding new things to fall in love with and very forthcoming to talk about it or share their work. 

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Birthday Journal

Photo credit : Satinderpal Singh
The writing prompt journal had a prompt – “Describe an event / occasion from your childhood. How did you celebrate it? What are your memories?” I chose to write about the memories around my birthday during my childhood in the 80’s. It was just around this time of the year, many years ago. 
A scrumptious lunch would await me after school, which is what I looked forward to most on this day. Invariably there would be a big test in the school, every year on this day and all I would think of during the test was about the lunch – the puffed flatbreads – luchi, the rice pilaf, the fish curry, the lentil with the garnish of coconut on it, the five different kind of deep fried vegetables, the potatoes wrapped in layers of poppy seed goodness, the sweet tomato chutney and an array of mishti – sweets. It was no short of a wonder how I managed to finish my tests amidst the dreaming and drooling over the upcoming feast. 
Ma would line up little bowls around my dinner plate and serve the multi-course lunch, which would always be followed by a bowl of rice pudding – payesh. The lunch menu varied every year but the payesh was a staple. Ma never missed it. Even today, when I am thousands of miles away and many years older, she still makes a small pot of payesh every year on my birthday. I tell her it sounds a bit crazy but in my heart I know that no one other than her will ever make payesh every year on my birthday. There is something inexplicably affectionate about that gesture. 
Back then in the 80’s, birthday did not have any theme as such. One would wear the fanciest of their clothes and shoes and go over to a friend’s birthday party with a neatly wrapped gift. Gift cards and gift bags did not exist. The mailman would deliver a bunch of cards and hand-written letters sent by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The cards would all stand lined up for a few days in a section of the living room. There were banners and streamers, balloons and cake, birthday hats and whistles, candles and the birthday song, back then as it does now. Somethings never change, just like Ma’s payesh
I do not have memories of celebrating a birthday boy or a girl in the school other than the birthday boy / girl bringing in a candy or a chocolate bar (Eclairs and Five Star – if you grew up in India) or a pencil with the eraser top, to gift everyone in the class. The pencil with the eraser top was a rare and prized possession. 
A birthday party itself was much about feasting, free play and some standard party games. Passing the parcel / pillow, the dreaded game where no one ever wanted the parcel / pillow to just stop at them and a game that sometimes eventually led to pillow fights. Tagging a tail to an animal was fun as well, all you had to do was choose a different animal every year. The guest list would be fairly simple because EVERYONE was a friend. So everyone who lived near by, played together in the park, went to the same class, knew the family would be invited. We lived in a small remote community and it was equivalent of inviting the entire town. 
I have vivid memories of one party. On my tenth birthday, a bunch of little boys, 4-5 year old turned up for the party. Supposedly they had been invited over by my best friend’s little brother, whom I treated like my own. “Come over, it is my sister’s birthday party,” that is all one had to say to invite folks over. More the merrier! There was always food and room for anyone. Absolutely no head count! In today’s world, I would run for covers if my daughter got ten more people to her birthday party. I don’t know how our folks managed back then.  
The cake would always be home made in the electric dutch oven. The only kind of oven we owned and the one on which I did all of my initial baking experiments. We lived in such a remote place that by the time a cake would be delivered by a bakery, it would become a pudding. My mum would toil for hours over the cake just as I do on my children’s birthday now. We would peep through the small circular glass on the top of the oven checking if the cake was rising or not. If it wouldn’t rise, it would mean we had to bake another one and do the process all over again. Nothing could deter our spirit. We did not have much of an option as well. In absence of cheese pizza, there would be a lot of home cooked food for the party. Sandwiches, bread rolls, chowmein and Rasna (a fruity sugary drink), those are the three that I distinctly remember. I am sure Ma abandoned the kitchen for a week after my birthday parties, of which of course I have no memory. 
And no party would be complete if all the balloons were not deflated at the end of it.  How wild we would get at times as if there was a mad race to deflate balloons. The house would be filled with loud popping sounds and louder laughter. What fun! Sheer joy! Giggles, laughter, shrieks, screams, jumps, claps, songs and lot of fun. 
While I write this, I remember the yearly event planning I have to do for the kid’s birthday party and the hours of labor it always requires and the overwhelming amount of exhaustion it leaves behind. May be it is all for good. Someday they would write memories of it in their journals too.

Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra. A mother of two, a blogger and in her own words a people watcher and a eavesdropper. Her posts are mostly from the observations she makes in her day to day life. You can read more of her posts here.  

The Crossing

After staying a while in the US, the author returned to India, the country he was born, raised and spent his formative years. As it happens, something he was so accustomed to suddenly felt new and needed practice.  

“Welcome sir”, the man in crisp navy blue security uniform said cheerfully giving me a polite bow.

He then proceeded to give me a brisk but thorough body frisk with a portable metal detector that would put any American Airport  TSA personnel to shame. 
Before I realized what happened, the man had done his job. He gave me a polite bow again and opened the door of the hotel as I looked at him bleary eyed and disoriented after my transcontinental flight.
The multistoried hotel was located just across the largest technology park in Hyderabad. I looked out of my room window at the rows of huge buildings across an empty road. It was late in the night but most of the buildings across the road were lit up, their glass edifice shimmering brightly against the night sky.

Continue reading “The Crossing”

Fourteen years ago on ..September 11

Photo credit: Bill Marsilii 
Fourteen years ago today I was putting on make-up upstairs while listening to the Today show, sound streaming up through the split-level apartment from our living room below. A lot was going through my mind and heart that morning. In 5 days Bill and I would be getting married at the Russian Tea Room in New York City on September 16th, 2001. Nine months of wedding planning had come to an end and we were both spending the last week before our vows in light and anticipation.

Then Bill yelled from the living room, “Oh my god. A plane. It just crashed into the World Trade Center Tower.”

I ran downstairs to see what was going on. We both couldn’t believe it. At first the news said it was a small plane, but as the minutes grew they realized that a commercial passenger jet had been hijacked and purposely crashed into the tower.

We were numb, we were stunned. Bill and I joined others and walked out to 6th Avenue where we could see the horror burning tower with our own eyes, not like some fantasy on a TV.

It was getting close to 9am, by then and I had to be a work mid-town by 9:30, so kissed Bill, asking him to keep in touch with me and got into the 6th Ave Subway. A small TV was on in the office, where we watch stunned while sipping our morning coffee. We all tried to work but found ourselves coming out of our offices from time to time to check the TV and be in each other’s company. Then, the second tower was struck.

By 11am that day, they told all of us to go home. People from each building were pouring out of offices. A few of us heading downtown walked together. People were in cars parked on the streets, doors and windows opened, news radios on. Lines were forming at payphones; all cell phone service was out. My office was on 40th Street between 5th and 6th Ave. I walked down 5th Ave for a few blocks with my companions then down 6th Ave nearly 36 blocks to 4th street.

When I got back to the apartment about 30 minutes later Bill had said he was on the street when the first tower collapsed.

Three weeks before Bill was working at a building adjacent to the towers. He would have been in the subway station below the building when the plane hit the first tower. We were so thankful, and so horrified for all the people who were killed. Terrorism didn’t happen here, that happened in Israel and Europe, this was America. But New Yorkers are a strong and resilient bunch. Rudy Giuliani was mayor and we knew we were in good hands. We knew they would catch those responsible and who didn’t perish on that day and keep New Yorker’s safe.

Over the next few days, memorials popped up at parks across the city. Photos next to photos of people missing from the mass murder. Candles of all sizes on the concrete below the photo memorials. And bouquets from weddings were also placed at the base of the memorials. Only foot traffic was allowed downtown to 14th street. Since we were close to 4th street, we were part of that vehicle ban area. In order to get into the barricaded area, yes there were physical barriers at 14th street, you had to prove you lived below 14th street by showing your driver’s license or something else with your address on it. One of Bill’s friends had a scheduled going away party the following Wednesday night uptown. The winds had shifted uptown and at the outdoor cafe we could smell the smoke from the smoldering bodies and rubble.

Bill and I decided to keep our wedding on as planned. We felt if we postponed then the terrorists would have won. By Saturday the airports were opened so two of my friends living in Florida were able to fly in. I’m glad because, my dear friend Iris was my maid of honor. By Sunday, we really did have something to celebrate. Our wedding was so life affirming. We spent our wedding night at the Waldorf Astoria then took a cab back to our apartment that following morning. Later that day we went to the memorial at Washington Square Park. We saw wedding bouquets and saw that others were also married the weekend following. Yes, we would NOT let them win is what the bouquets said to me. Love and life would continue here and it would be sweet, albeit it bitter sweet right now.

At the urging of our relatives we postponed our honeymoon to Italy for 3 weeks, as they didn’t want us boarding a plane that soon. It was surreal once again, walking past the museum in Rome with a huge banner showing the burning Towers. We kept in touch with relatives at Internet cafes, there are a lot in Italy, and watched CNN to see what was going on back home.

One day Bill and I will return to Italy, hopefully this time not in the shadow of an American Holocaust. Today, I will solemnly remember all those lives taken unlawfully, cruelly, and taken with malice. We are Americans. We believe in Freedom, Liberty and in God. And that it is the God given right of all people to be free. Today on 911 we remember, we will never forget.

Lauri Jon Caravella is a teacher, an artist, a ballerina and a mother. She loves to take photographs, teach children art, create comic book heroes, design jewellerry and of course dance!   

Eavesdropping On A Back To School Conversation

I am infamous for my love of people watching and eavesdropping. The latter may sound a bit atrocious but usually I am just listening in on a conversation happening next to me. A conversation that I am part of while still not being in it. 

Twice a week, life gives me that opportunity now. The daughter takes a swim lesson and I have a full 30 mins to watch her swim from behind glass windows, while watching over a toddler and eavesdropping into conversations happening around me. Earlier this month, three moms were discussing going “back to school”. Two of the moms engaged themselves in an extended conversation about what the school is doing right and what it is not, which teacher is best and who is not, how learning is lacking creativity and how their child will fare in the new year with a new set of friends. Questions and anxiety that we are all too familiar with already. 

The third mom was listening intently but not commenting at all. Her eyes were focussed on the pool. She was nudged by the fellow moms to give her opinion or share her experience. She cooly remarked that nothing matters more than the children being happy and joyful and enjoying their childhood. Ah! Such a cliched answer I thought to myself. 

“It does matter what kind of school they go to, what happens in the school. These are the formative years after all,” said one of the other two moms. 

“We all came here for the academic advantages and opportunities, “ added another voice. Indeed, this was the voice of many immigrant parents in this country(US). 

“I agree with that. But my expectations are a little different. My son has some special needs and the fact that he still goes to the public school system and is learning well there, that is an opportunity. He can swim a lap in the pool now and he is the happiest when in the water. Every small thing feels like an opportunity,”  said the third mom her eye fixated on the pool. 

There was a moment of pin drop silence after that. That humbling moment in life. Instant reality check as well. Every parent has a set of unique expectations. But the apprehensions and expectations are mostly ours, the parents and not of our children. 

Children go to school, learn a sport or a musical instrument or any activity for that matter without any benchmark in mind. They want to have fun, they are eager to learn something new, they want to be treated well by peers and teachers and they want to feel appreciated. Most of everything that they “want” is enveloped in those few things. They adjust to a new teacher, make new friends and play along with everything new in the school year. 

The maths olympiad, the band or orchestra, the swim or the soccer team, the solo piano recital, the art exhibition – much of it is driven by what we want our children to do. A fact that is probably a hard swallow. If left to our children, they will want to choose and do many things differently. 

Every once in a while, a conversation like this, a blog post or an article that I read somewhere or  a few words of wisdom from my own mother grounds me and helps me retrospect on how complicated we sometimes tend to make everything surrounding parenting.  A happy, fun, curious childhood is a great gift that I can give my children.  But it gets overlooked and forgotten very often. 

I think my mom rightly puts it. She tells me, “You have too many options and thus too many expectations.”  You must never argue with your mom, so I don’t. But I know she is right (which I don’t tell her on the phone). 

That was my “stopped in my tracks” moment last week. And if I had not eavesdropped on the conversation, I would not have done all this retrospection and shared it here. So eavesdropping is probably not as bad as you think it is. Listen in to a conversation, you never know what you may learn. 

Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra. A mother of two, a blogger and in her own words a people watcher and a eavesdropper. Her posts are mostly from the observations she makes in her day to day life. You can read more of her posts here.  

Photo credit: Soumi Haldar

The Rudraksha From Nepal

The Rudraksha bead bought by Dr.Haldar in Nepal 
At times, life presents strange and mysterious coincidences that often leave you wondering and sometimes leave you with goosebumps. The Rudraksha from Nepal and the lives of people around it is one such story. 

It was the month of September 2013. India as a country and the state of Bengal in particular was busy celebrating the homecoming of Goddess Durga, the Durga Puja festival. We (my wife and I) were part of a group of 52 people, of different ages visiting Nepal on a trip during that festive season. Nepal is India’s neighboring country and shares common cultures and traditions. It is a small country dotted with many auspicious temples, old wooden palaces of king’s and princes and has breathtaking views of the Himalayas. Indian currency is well accepted in Nepal, making it a favorite vacation destination for many.

One morning during the trip, we visited a Vishnu temple where the lord Vishnu was laying on water.  n the temple complex I discovered a few “Rudraksha” trees laden with bunches of green fruits and started taking photographs. After a while, my wife, came and told that me that a mysterious looking person offered her a variety of Rudraksha beads at a very modest price. As I am often interested in collecting such local artifacts during our travels, she wanted me to see them. We looked all over the temple but the person selling the Rudraksha beads seemed to have vanished. 

I eventually bought a string of tiny Rudraksha beads from the hotel counter and forgot about the man selling the beads at the temple.

On the very last day I was feeling very disappointed as we missed the beautiful sunrise at Pokhara due to heavy rain. A young software engineer who was traveling with his parents and uncle had managed to see the sunrise. He took my e-mail address and promised to upload all the sunrise pictures on his return to Kolkata.

He never emailed me. I reminded him after a month. He then told me that an unknown car had hit his uncle, Mr Sen, in front of his house just after their return to Kolkata. Mr. Sen was also a part of our tour group. The bleeding was so profuse that he struggled for three weeks on a ventilator, but finally succumbed to his injuries. I consoled the young man but something else was waiting for me.

After a couple of days, I was traveling by the metro to Presidency University. Someone came and sat down next to me. 

He said, “Are you Dr Haldar who had gone on the Nepal trip?”. 

“Yes”, I replied. 

“Do you remember the two widowed sisters who were on the same Nepal trip?” 

“Yes”, I replied. 

I was caught by surprise by this question. I had no recollection of meeting this young man on the trip and here he was aware of little details from the trip. 

“They got hit by unknown cars in front of their house in an interval of 3-4 days and expired,” he continued. 

I mentioned to him that the same thing had happened to Mr Sen also.  

He said, “Do you know that all three of them had purchased Rudraksha beads from a mysterious looking person at the Vishnu temple in my presence.” 

The same Rudraksha that my wife and were not able to buy on that day of the temple visit. The mystery had further deepened. Coincidence or not ? How do you explain that. I will perhaps never know the answer.  


Authored By :  Dr.Swapan Haldar.  This is a true incident from his own life. Dr.Haldar is a professor at Presidency University and Calcutta University and author of many books on Mining and Geology. But he is also a passionate story teller and believes in sharing his life experiences. He has his own share of unique experiences. 

The Fellow Passengers

Story -1 
He took an overnight train to go back to his family after being out for a week for work. Sometime around midnight, his chest tightened, he felt unbearable pressure as if an elephant has stepped on his chest. He was breathless and could barely manage to alert the co-passenger on the berth in front of him. The co-passenger slipped a white pill under his tongue and offered him a glass of water. Rest of it remains blurry.
He woke up feeling a lot better the next morning but the co-passenger was nowhere to be seen. He asked around but no one could tell. It was as if a stranger had disappeared taking with him a little secret from that night. He got down at his station and went home. Later that day, on insistence from his family he saw a doctor. He was told he had suffered a minor heart attack in the past 24 hours. That pill had averted a “massive” one. That co-passenger was either a doctor or a cardiac patient. He will never know.

But from that moment to now, he lives on with a deep sense of gratitude for the stranger, the co-passenger who saved his life. As unbelievable as it sounds, such miracles do happen in real life.

Safe Travels if you are traveling this weekend!
Story -2 
She was taking the train back to her college. The train always arrived around midnight. The platform seemed deserted except for a lone family and a small tea stall that had stayed open. The lady of that family sensed the girl’s unease and motioned for her to come sit with them. She went and sat next to the family, almost pretending their presence did not matter. She plugged her ear phone back and continued listening to whatever was playing on her little device. The train soon arrived and they boarded the same coach. She put her little backpack on her seat, rested her head on it and fell asleep. The next morning, she sat by the window listening to her music. The lady came up to her and offered a slice of coffee cake. She took it, smiled and ate hungrily, not taking off the ear plugs or making an eye contact though.
Monday, the first day back in the college, as the teacher for the first class entered the class room, she felt a knot in her stomach. The teacher was the lady from the train ride. The one she had ignored. The one she had not even thanked for the scrumptious slice of cake. That lady was her chemistry teacher for that semester.
Never forget to acknowledge and thank a co-passenger for his / her kindness. You never know in what circumstances life may bring you together again.
Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 

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