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Everyone loves stories. Everyone has a story to tell.



Behind The Scenes – The Republic Day Parade

1991 Marching Band – BBVP Pilani 
The Republic Day parade on Rajpath, New Delhi India – I watch it every year on 26 January without fail only because I have known what an honor it is to be part of that parade and walk down Rajpath representing your state, school or regiment. It is an honor that stays with you even 25 years later. 
Every year the parade has breathtaking displays  – the formation of the combat helicopters, the showcasing of tanks and rocket launchers, the various different marching bands, colorful jhankis of the different states and the very sought after sight of the border troops who play a musical band while riding the camels decked in multicolored pompoms. Attended in person by dignitaries including the Prime Minister and the President, thousands of people come to watch the parade and it is televised too. 
A month-long rehearsal goes in for that 2 hour long performance. For those 30 days, people participating in the parade solely focus on the parade. They brave the early morning and late afternoon winter chills and the infamous Delhi fog to walk down Rajpath numerous times a day. The practice never stops  – rain or shine, sick or injured, fog or no visibility, nothing can cause an interruption. The discipline of it is such that it rubs it on all participants. Endurance and patience comes just by watching, by being there, by being a part of it all. 
This is how it looks on the day of the actual parade. Marching Band from 1992

I do not know to play the instrument (BBVP Pilani Girls Band) anymore but I still remember how we would gather at the crack of dawn to rehearse every day. The French horn and other brass instruments have to be blowed in. As you press the cold metal with shivering hands and it meets your skin in almost 0-degree centigrade temperatures, any melody is really tough to come out of it. But we endured and rehearsed. Rehearsed and endured and music and melody finally did come out, much in rhythm. 

The cold barracks that housed us during the nights, the warmth from the chai in the steel mugs, the uniformed men and women surrounding us at all times (that we were in awe of) and the invite to the Rashtrapati Bhavan was all part of that month long stay. Food was not abundant, water was always cold and there were no cell phones, yet that was the most fun lifetime experience we ever possibly had.

When I think of all this I always remember the time  when a fellow band member once walked the entire stretch of Rajpath with  a nail biting her feet from the inside of her marching boots. She did not mention pain, nor displayed any until we reached the finish line. The nail pierced itself by then, the bloodied wound on the feet was bandaged, boots worn and she marched off again. 

Behind the scenes, there is an enormous amount of waiting, repeating, waiting again and doing it all over involved in the process of rehearsals. Each time you do it over, you have to do it perfectly as you did it all the other times. You have to think that the entire nation is watching you and you are saluting the dignitaries as you go past them. And then there is more practice offsite, before and after the actual practice, physical drills, exercise regime and a lot more. It could be easy for the people from the armed forces but for a bunch of school going girls this is an endurance test. They prepare you well for the 2 hours and perhaps for a lifetime. If the discipline was not so severe, the show would never be so well executed year after year. 
The girls in the white knee length boots and red checked skirts, marching with a calm and poised demeanor, creating a historical moment for themselves, therefore always brings back a flood of memories. I never watched myself on TV or saw a recording of it, but I know it was a moment similar to this. 
Story Credit: Piya Mukherjee Kalra, who recounts her experiences as a proud participant at India’s Republic Day Parade as a student.
Photo Credit: Parul Gangal 


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

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?

Never Give Up

Continuing with our adventure stories, Barbara Stanifer shares with us her experience hiking up Mt.Whitney. An observation during her regular walk through the neighborhood reminds her of the hike that she did, not once but twice. 
On a walk through my neighborhood the other day, I passed a mom, a dad and 4, count em’ 4 little girls between 10 and maybe 6. They had stopped at the steep concrete “hill” under the overpass. The girls had climbed up the hill and all but one had made it back down. The little one was stuck at the top, lacking confidence in her ability to get down. They all waited as she squirmed and turned this way and that, trying to muster some courage. The dad stood at the bottom and kept calmly telling her she could do it, and reassuring her when she made a move in the right direction.
Watching all this reminded me of a trip I took up Mt. Whitney several years ago.  Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.  If you make it to the top you’re standing at 14,505 feet!  There are people who actually run up this mountain and might say it’s just another walk in the park. One man probably twice my age, in dolphin shorts and tennis shoes, ran right past me as I huffed and puffed.  And there are other people like myself who were never athletic or necessarily adventurous, who take 3 days to do the whole thing and feel quite proud of themselves for even considering it.  I made the trip with my brother and his wife who fall more into the athletic, adventurer category.
On that particular trip there was quite a bit of snow on the trail starting a little above 12,000 feet. Which meant you had to ascend by digging your feet deep into the snow and ice (ideally wearing crampons) and to descend you’d have to slide down a 1,000-foot snow chute (ideally with an ice ax – or at minimum a hiking pole – to self arrest if necessary). The evening before we were supposed to summit, a guy got “stuck” at the top of that chute. Very similar to the little girl on the concrete hill, he was terrified. He sat up there for hours, with everyone at base camp watching him from below. His friends yelling words of encouragement… He didn’t come down until late that night, not sure if he slid down or painstakingly dug a million footsteps into the snow.  A ranger told us the next day that it was indeed dangerous and that someone just the week before had died when they slid down and piled into one of the giant boulders sticking out of the snow.  I felt pretty sure that I would be that guy – sitting for hours at the top of that 1,000 foot slide, analyzing, terrified, freezing… I made the decision to turn back, vowing to return again and make it to the top.  I felt like I had failed. 
This father of 4 girls was still standing patiently at the bottom of the cement hill guiding his daughter.  The oldest one clearly tired of waiting said, “Dad you know you could just go up there and get her”. The dad said “I know I could, but I also know she can do this on her own.”
I so admired this man’s approach and confidence in his daughter.  If I, or the guy sitting at the top of that 1,000-foot snow slide had a dad like that would things have been different?  Would I have grown up the kind of person who gleefully laughs in the face of giant boulders whizzing past me as I uncontrollably slide like a greased pig down a mountain of ice?  Maybe…  Here’s what I do know.  I have a mom, who didn’t just preach tenacity, but modeled it at every turn.  An equally valuable lesson I think is that when you do fall or fail, dust yourself off and get back up again.  Keep on keeping on!  The following year I did go back and I did make it to the top.  And I think that summit may have actually been sweeter. 

We all hope that the little girl made it down on her own.  But maybe we should also celebrate the simple fact that she was willing to boldly follow her sisters up that concrete hill.  Maybe we should respect that she didn’t just sit down and cry, but she tenaciously kept trying to figure it out.  Maybe we should honor the next 5 times she climbs up that hill whether she makes it down on her own or not…  We should celebrate all kinds of victories in others and in ourselves, the “try”, the “get back up again” not just the obvious win. They all count and sometimes the ones that are hardest fought, through fear and self-doubt make us more triumphant.  

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