Category Archives: non-fiction

Why it is Vital to Fail?

We are fast learners. Little setbacks instill quick and easy lessons. For instance in the life of a student, they learn how to prepare for any exam counter intuitively.

“Read the physics book from the first year BSc (Bachelor of Science) program,” advised a fellow hard worker in 12th grade once.

He had learned that his physics professor chose questions ahead of grade and to really crack the exam, we all not only had to peruse through our fat physics book, but sometimes skip portions of it and just reach for that book from university. After all, how important is hard work, if your score is still mediocre?

We wake up each day, hop out of bed, clean up and go to work. Why?

“I have to put my kid through college” once replied a coworker of mine, answering an innocent question of mine (Why are we here?) in the context of a big picture.

We were feverishly occupied with a “do-or-die” issue, way past sunset. Doom was written on each face. We were the unwilling participants of the steep demise of our day. Our loved ones were told to not wait for us for supper that night. We had failed but yet not allowing ourselves to fail. We were busy putting in all the fixes, all the measures to be able to deploy before daybreak a feature our customer yet hadn’t felt love for.

Without failing, we sustained endlessly. A little bandage would fix a little leak. What was needed instead was an epic failure, one that halts your life, changes your lifestyle and makes you ask yourself the question, “Dummy, what are you doing in your life?!”

That reset is terribly important!

My childhood was one of being fiercely sheltered by my parents. Now, a mother of two, I observe I shelter my kids just as I shelter myself out of an age-old experience.

There is a cost associated with a lack of failure. I feel success of certain magnitude warrants failure of a certain magnitude as well. Because both succeeding and failing catastrophically reside in the same place of risk taking.

When J.K. Rowling was writing Harry Potter, she was a single parent, and had no money. She did not have heat in her apartment, so would write in a cafe. She was rejected 12 times before a small London house picked up “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” But what if she had settled for less? I do not mean succumbing to the 12 rejections, I mean she did just the usual – wake up, pay bills, sleep and avoid the possibility 12 or more failures?

Fail instead to rise to a better place. Chase your dreams like a fanatic. Do not let another day burn itself away. And, if you find yourself failing hard, remind yourself that victory may be so close as long as you do not give up. Brush off the dust, stand tall again and do it all over again.

The Woman With Friends


Our day trudged along like an old lady. Our gait mimicked the fatigue of a long winding day as we sauntered into the Himalaya restaurant of Plattsburgh, NY. Just a couple of weeks before we arrived in Plattsburgh, two dangerous fugitives meandering their way up to the Canadian border had been shot, one dead and other caught alive right in our vicinity. With this knowledge fresh in our minds, we slouched in our chairs in the middle of a painstakingly long wait for our Tibetan food. Sigh!

As we waited in our outdoor seats in downtown Plattsburgh, I observed an American restaurant next door. A waitress who wore heavy facial makeup brought two big Beer mugs to the family seated across to us. Perched up with two fat books, a young lady, wearing black slacks, sat alone with an empty plate and empty glass. She had already finished her meal. Hurriedly, she signed the check, got up and marched away. My snoopy gaze followed her out of the restaurant, and found its anchor on three women across the street. The one in the middle, pregnant in her homestretch, was wearing a striped beige and brown dress. She was thrusting a stroller carrying a girl that appeared to be around 4 years old. The young girl lay limp and uninterested in her surroundings. Something about them enraptured my attention and I sat there gawking quite unabashed. Why was I fascinated by them?

Maybe because they represented something innocent my adult life had sacrificed. Center of conversation, the pregnant lady, in the middle of a long theatrical narration, slouched forward and shook her head left and right. The response from her friends was one of deep compassion as they shook their heads acknowledging her tribulation.

As for me? My fascination took a turn, I now gazed in envy. The women had what I ached for, close girlfriends in the same town as me, whom I met every other evening; I emptied my heart full of problems or vice-versa. And, here in Plattsburgh, New York, were three women doing exactly that. In front of my eyes, flashed images of the support they provided each other and specifically to the woman in the center with the baby on the way and another child in the stroller – who seemed most vulnerable of them all. Was I right to judge what I saw?

I was about to find out for myself when the woman in black, pulled out and lit a cigarette, taking big gulps, savoring each inhalation of the black guck. And, now I raged for a whole another reason. I turned to my husband.

“Look at that woman; she is smoking in front of a pregnant friend of hers and her daughter!”

The response of my husband was trenched in philosophy hinged on society, and the marketing campaign of cigarette companies. And, as though there was nothing more wrong with my outside world then I witnessed what was “the more than worst” thing in my opinion.

The smoker in black, hung the hand holding the cigarette on her side, and gazed straight ahead. With that, she quite unassumingly, stretched her hand near the lady with a child. And, to my dismay, expecting lady’s hand reciprocated and seized the cigarette with same sly dexterity. Hesitating, she took the cigarette, put it in her mouth, as her eyes closed in relief and she puffed her own big black one.

Agony! They didn’t linger there longer and started to walk towards the red light. The cigarette had exhausted their conversation. And, very soon they disappeared around the bend of the street with the vulnerable woman guarding the baby inside her womb with a cigarette in her mouth, puffing along the way.

Not believing the transformation of events, I ignored the waiter that brought our food. Was I right now to worry for the strange lady’s unborn child? Was I wrong to judge the quality of their lives by what I saw? Regardless, I learnt a valuable lesson that day as I glanced at my children – never judge a book by its cover – things aren’t as they appear to be. And, I learned a smaller, not so obvious lesson as well-to count the blessings in my life.

Escape from Chicago…

Have you ever woken up with a longing to take your car and just drive away? Have you ever just wanted a plan/itinerary ready for you to run with without your spending any time on research? And, what if you can have that plan free of any cost ? Read on…

From various trips I have taken at various times in my life, I have compiled for such enthusiasts a road trip, where you escape the big city traffic and go to something quite opposite…nature and seclusion. Here is a plan that is budget-friendly, vetted on the peak July 4th time with hotel, restaurant and of course attractions recommendations. If you reside near Chicago you can take this plan as is, or take pieces of it…My hope? To save you time and if nothing else, give you the pleasure of visiting these places without having to move an inch from your couch. Below is the overview of the trip including distance in miles, cost, and tips. At the end, you will be able to click on START and then go from Day 1 – Day 10 on subsequent pages.

TRIP: Chicago – Glacier National Park, Montana at Canadian Border and back via the Rockies in Colorado…


Distance: ~4000 miles
Cost: ~$3000
Tip #1: Get an annual national park Pass for $80 before this trip[available over phone or the first national park on trip – Badlands, SD]
Tip #2: Drive the most fuel efficient car, and get AAA membership
Tip #3: Best time to do this trip – SUMMER MONTHS
Tip #4: Pack a jacket!

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
there is rapture in the lonely shore,
there is society where none intrudes,
by the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.
Lord Byron

This is one of my favorite road trips of all times. It ranges from rugged Badlands and carved mountain sides, to majestic range of the Rockies featuring turquoise blue lakes, weeping walls, erupting geysers, bison, bears, and Antelopes!

My aching longing for this trip is how beautifully it removes you from the world by taking signal out of cellphones, tablets and drawing you so close to loneliness that you are forced to reflect and take in the calmness of being fully present in the immediate surroundings.

Here is overview in pictures and click on start at the bottom to begin. All days are linked. You can also access this itinerary in the menu “Plan Travel”..Enjoy!

IMG_1039 Badlands National Park
IMG_1065 Mount Rushmore, SD


DSC_10041Glacier National Park, Montana

IMG_1530 IMG_1537 Yellowstone

IMG_1645Teton National Park

Start =>

The Journey That Was Not To Be…


It was a muggy month of mid 1990’s. My parents both doctors lived extraordinarily busy lives. Amongst us, the children was my sister Gul, studying in Amritsar to become a dentist, and my younger brother Kaka, younger to me by whopping 8 year age barrier. He had yet to hit the freight train of teenage years, and was still innocent with no beard and a voice of sweetness of boyhood. Then there was me – troubled in ways, strangely aloof at times, not-so-typical teenage girl. My only open sin so far was that I was way too attached to my friends. That worried my dad because he didn’t want me to get hurt. Both my parents had learned that there was no such thing as lifelong love and friendship. Life got the better of these, they said. I had yet to find that out as my friends were my world.

It was a travel day for all of us. That meant there was more than normal chaos. That also meant more people had fallen sick and had come knocking on our door to avail the services of Dr Gill. That had been an age-old problem. Our household was a running show of “Murphy’s Law”, anything that can go wrong , will!

We lived in a small town that had only one major road on which we lived. It was a quaint little town where elders of the society converged on “The Mall Road” every morning and evening watching the sun rise and fall. As birds chirped away the elders sat on concrete benches, discussed topics such as politics or gossip, whatever be the flavor of that day. The road, surrounded by gardens on one side and residential homes on the other, smack in its middle had an ice cream shop. In this small town, everybody knew Dr. Gills. And, courtesy to them, we were called “Dr. Gill’s children.” We could not hide either.

To top the usual travel day mess of avoiding Mr Murphy and his law, we had complications embedded in the heart of our plan. We were all traveling to Delhi but at different times of the day and from different places (what were we thinking?!). My mom left in the 6am morning Shatabdi train to get things in order before rest of us joined her. Gul, my sister, was traveling east in the evening Shatabdi from Amritsar, good hour and half west of us. We-Papa, Kaka and I planned to hop on the same train from Jalandhar. We had a row of 4 seats reserved.

It was 20 mins to the train departure time and all the patients had just been taken care of and sent home healthy. The only trouble was we could not find the car keys. We scrambled around, our throats getting drier and drier. I even had a secret battle with God – “Waheguru, Why you hide keys?” And, all I heard back was loud laughter in return!

Anyhow, the keys revealed themselves, I don’t know owing to my secret angry dialogue with God or for some other mystery surrounding our lives, other than God. We rode with Papa in the fastest ride of our lives falling left and right screaming loud Aaaahs….making the 25 minute journey in little over 10 mins.

As we hurriedly dragged our luggage running towards the platform, the fast blue Shatabdi was pulling out of the station! We watched it slip away like a still from a movie. And, just like that the freight train called “the last one hour” of my life came to a screeching halt.

Coolies in red shirts slipped by left and right. The murmur from the crowd sounded like bees on a farm. A child was crying somewhere out far behind the stained walls of the market around the station. The birds were flying away, and the honks from cars went on and on. Such was the state of my mind, subjected rudely into my present longing for the past 5 minutes to rewind and my aching feet to climb atop the train I was supposed to be on. And, instead I stood there on the platform listening to the unwelcome present. My mind was uttering a flurry of unfinished questions.

“But Gul is in the train finding three empty seats next to her…” “But how do we reach Delhi now…” “But how do we inform Mamma…” “But…”

Or I wondered if I should just let Papa worry about it.. After all, it is the grown-ups full-time job to worry and sort things out. We were still children (at least treated that way) and fiercely sheltered. But we did worry. We worried a lot. I don’t mean the messed up teenage worry I was in the middle of. I meant children of all ages worried to some degree. We worried for our parents safety and if the world was really out to get them! We worried about school, unfinished homework and above all my current state misery – unfinished train ride.

So, I worried while Papa talked to the yawning guy on the other side of the window. He bought three new tickets for some Chhattisgarh overnight slow train with scheduled 6:30 am stop at Delhi the next morning instead of earlier planned 10:30 pm arrival Delhi that night. Our quiet moment ended suddenly thereafter. Now we were rushing for this slow train standing on the other platform scheduled to leave at 6:30pm, minutes away. But we made it.

Now this story was before the days of cellphones where simple phone call would have taken the next wrinkle out of our lives – “Hey, I missed this train, now on this one, Don’t Worry!” Short and Sweet!

Gul knew we were not on her train. We too fully knew what mess we were in. One person oblivious of all, and in her happy zone was Mamma, in her world all order was in place in all of our worlds.

When Ludhiana station pulled in, Papa informed us that he will call Mamma from a phone booth and inform her of the revised itinerary and to pick Gul from the train station (unlike previous expectation of us coming home on our own). With that he left.

Kaka was using his humor techniques to alleviate the gravity of the situation. I had an unfaltering gaze from the window searching for a running shadow resembling my dad’s as the train emitted the final horn signaling departure.

No Shadow, No Papa, just random faces walking past each other, none towards the train. I couldn’t sit still inside my window sleeper booth. There was commotion inside my being. So, I walked to the door with Kaka following me. He was munching on a sandwich, holding the rest of it in his hand. My eyes sifted through the crowd. The sun had set and it was now dark. No sign of Papa. The situation called for some action. I couldn’t just wait. I turned to Kaka and said.

“At any cost, do not get out of the train. Stay in our booth with the luggage.”

I’ll be back.”

I let the train slide by. Kaka no longer laughing, or joking, wearing a serious look one of worry. Now worry had reached a carefree 8-year-old heart. I walked fast in the opposite direction of the train, looking for Papa. When train picked up speed, I knew it was now or never. I could not abandon little Kaka. I was now the adult. I envisioned it all with a lump in my throat, I climbed on to an overcrowded non-A/C coach car or someone helped me climb, I can’t say. Train was now moving at full speed.

The coach car was so crowded with men there was no space to stand or figure a way out to where Kaka would be freaking out at this very moment. Right alongside our air-conditioned car I could not have imagined existing a car without A/C of course but with so many people that there was no room to sit down. One stranger witnessing the horror on my face enquired, and understood. I needed to go to the AC side. He led the way making room for me to pass. Following him, I prayed fervently no longer fighting with Waheguru, I couldn’t risk making God more angry! “Waheguru, may there be papa there!” I repeated like a saint. I opened a shrine inside my head, shoved back tears, folded the hands – the whole nine yards, as I followed the stranger, my feet trembled and I could hear my heart pounding inside my chest, an organ I had happily ignored ever existed right inside my chest. It made its presence felt abundantly especially now when I reached our car to find a bunch of men standing by Kaka looking down. When he looked up and saw me, he said softly,

“I thought I will now go alone to Delhi with all the luggage.”

I could see a stream of dried up tears on his cheeks.

“Oh No! Oh No! This could not be happening. No Papa, just me and Kaka now!” rang voice inside my head.

I slumped into the space next to Kaka and wept like a baby, not the newly pronounced adult, the actual 16 year-old, but a baby.

Right then, Papa emerged from behind the crowd, I called “Our Misery Audience.” I leapt up and hugged him. He looked shocked and surprised.

“I wouldn’t have missed this train at any cost, you know that right?”

I did not know. I did not care. He was back and everything was going to be ok.

And, it was. I slept soon after. Our eyes were cloudy and hair ruffled as we climbed out next morning from the slow Chattisgarh train. I never thought about the journey we did not take again, for the one taken was far more significant.

Rescued by an Ambulance


It was one of those restaurants with a dim light, perfect for a romantic dinner. Although there were no candles that were lit, but it seemed as though there were. A lonely love song played softly in the background. The ambiance was such, it removed you from the others and inwards into your table. I and my husband sat there with another couple, sipping our drinks, as conversation flowed from one topic to another.

It was Thursday night. My husband had just returned back from his business trip with a fresh incident that occurred just the night before to a “fresh-from-India” colleague of his. He was put up at a hotel near the office as were the other consultants of the IT firm my husband worked for. Without going into the intricacies of a mind that is removed suddenly from the hustle and bustle of India, or the society where people live in joint households, this guy simply needed to wake up at night, his first night, to use the toilet. It was as simple as that. It was an average private hotel room, but see, the mind of a lonely first night is such, that out of habit, he locked his bathroom door from inside before using the bathroom. The trouble was that when he was done, and he tried to open the door, the lock snapped on him! Poor fellow did not know what to do. He panicked. He banged on the door until he was convinced the door was locked shut and couldn’t be opened. He did not have a phone in the bathroom to call for help. So, he decided to bang on the wall of the adjacent room. Lucky for him there was an occupant on the other side of the wall. Not so lucky for the voice that yelled back at the knocking – “Cut it out!!” “I need help, I am locked out!” yelled Ram Prasad. After a long back and forth of confused angry exchanges, I am not sure if it was understanding of the situation that made the neighbor call the front desk, or it was plain frustration, who really cares! Apparently when something like this happens at a hotel, a fire brigade is ushered in. That is intense for someone from India where people could get hit by a runaway car and bodies decay on the side of the road, here an emergency service comes rushing in on just being locked in a bathroom of a tall hotel building. So, the blinking lights in the parking lot heralded help for Ram Prasad who was cursing himself for using the toilet in middle of the night. But, he got rescued alright, as we laughed hard over his misery, rubbing the water from our eyes from laughing so hard.

This elicited another incident that our friend remembered happened to one of their friends who too got rescued by an ambulance. His friend had just come to America and just like Ram Prasad we will not go into the feelings of his lonely heart, or the long 24 hours of flight that preceded such a state of mind, or the moist goodbyes, and long promises on the other side of the world, let us just say certain anguishes just need being rescued by an ambulance dramatically. On this guy’s first night, the elevator got stuck. Imagine, coming all the way to America to experience on the very first night, the thought of spending the last few hours of your life being trapped, in an 8 by 6 feet box crashing to the floor in the darkness of the night when sun is shining on the country you boarded a plane out of! He screamed from inside as people looked at each other outside the elevator wondering what was happening inside. He too got rescued by an ambulance that night.

Yes, we were laughing at these stories but there was a tinge of sadness in all of us. For we all knew the nervousness associated with coming so far from home, from everything you have known in your life into another world maybe for a job prospect, or higher education, or for more superior dreams. We all had our first nights that we did not talk about that night, maybe our night wasn’t as dramatic, it simply involved laying in the dark not being rescued by the sirens of an ambulance, laying unheard and unspoken with unknown fear in our hearts staring at the dark ceiling wondering where our life would take us, and if the bold decisions we had made, were worth making, because I spent almost 5 years of my life not being rescued but terribly homesick. I spent all of my undergraduate degree here in the US, and then first year of my professional career, paying off student loans, dreaming of returning back to the country I came from. I was not rescued. It wasn’t until after I quit a permanent job to go back, and then returned a year later to pursue even higher education, that I was battling homesickness all over again when my car lost control on the Pennsylvania turnpike, turned upside down and then back on its wheels, meandering away from the freeway, away from the surrounded trucks and vehicles, on to the grass and down the cliff into infinite demise only to be stopped by a tree that the blinking lights of an ambulance and its approaching sirens made their way towards me. It wasn’t until then I was rescued by an ambulance away from my mangled car, into the safety of an ambulance where a nurse took my blood pressure and deemed I was fit enough to not be escorted into a hospital. That indeed I was fit to walk into this world without support. It took 5 years for me to be rescued by an ambulance!

10 Reasons Why I Welcome the Dreaded Chicago Winter Every Year

Although not all winters are created alike but the slushy roads and ear-reddening wind chills can derail the strongest of minds and plant dreams of abandoning the long icy winters and move your lives to the warmer shores of California, for instance. But studies show that happiness and satisfaction have nothing to do with the more accommodating climates. And, if one is successful in making their dreams of warmer shores a reality they will soon find that some things are lost as well along the way. With the adversity of winter also arrive a few gifts that take a little effort to see. Here are a few perks I get out of the frigid winter months of Chicago.

Warm and Fuzzy Self-Pampering

I look forward to my warm snuggly slippers I can only wear in the winter inside the home. Too sweaty for the summer this little luxury waits for the winter to set in. And not to forget the hot water bottles, they don’t need to wait for arrival of an illness to warm you up. Too cold? Pull out the warm water bottle and pamper yourself a bit. One perk of winter is self-pampering with warm and fuzzy accessories for outdoors and indoors alike.

The Stillness of Time

Steam oozing out of a warm coffee mug, a writer’s pen scribbling in haste on white paper, over a quietness and stillness only known to winter when all bugs and insects go away and a layer of snow sits on everything from the ground to the leafless branches of trees. There is no sound outside, even of birds that have flown away. It is pin drop silent. The quietness stills the mind, gives the moment peace to reflect on life’s big picture. And, one reason I absolutely love writing in the winter. Although winter activities are abundant, I like to take in the quietness by sitting by the window and doing nothing at all except maybe sipping on my hot cocoa.

Bonus Holidays and Family Time

My first reaction to school closures was not as positive as I have matured to realize over time. Snowy day school closures are indeed a bonus holiday and there is no other way to look at it. Instead of you carefully planning the holidays, here is a nature’s gift that you should make the most of in the warm interiors of your home. Board games, card games, Charades find a happy home in your home fostering an environment rich in bonding and family time like no other. Winters are also unlimited movie time in my home. With or without holidays, my family spends more time indoors in the winter inventing newer ways to enjoy family time.

Fireplace Snuggle Time

Just like my warm furry slippers, or hot water bottle, or my soft scarf that only gets pulled out in the winter, fireplace lights my family room and we huddle in front of the fireplace snuggling and sharing a private moment at home. Alone, I love to sit with a book and a blanket enjoying the warmth from the fireplace, a luxury only winter gifts upon me.

Timeless Unique Beauty

Winter wonderland is a term coined out of experience of white winters when the beauty of surrounding is like no other. Not to mention in cold places all seasons are magnified; Spring is more blossoming, Summer more breezy, Fall more fierce and Winter more magnificent. The contrast presents a mini vacation in itself that removes the need to travel elsewhere to see something different. You can enjoy the fierce contrast right in your home and camera finds happy place in all seasons. I reflect the same sentiment when I look at our photo galleries that contain family photos and then season photos. The beauty of winter in the same sense is so unique, where every branch of tree is loaded with snow drooping the branches down like a beautiful umbrella and the pine trees are also coated with white like an artist’s work. All my homes have one thing in common-tall windows and each season a magnificently different view.


Bragging and Whining Rights

“Guess what the wind chill was this morning” I say to my best friend in California and the exchange elicits the most sympathetic response from her. It is not so bad, I know but I love the bragging rights of the endurance folks living in relatively warmer weather give you. Don’t get me wrong some days are really rough, -50 Fahrenheit where even a cry out in the open is costly with tears frozen right on your face. It is truly rough and that’s what also makes great stories as well. Winters are not dull at all.

Hot Cocoa Takes a Whole New Meaning

Hot Cocoa in winter literally warms the heart and uplifts the spirit and just belongs in the winter months. Although we enjoy these hot beverages all year round, winter with hot cocoa and warm cookies melting in your mouth is just a match made in heaven.

Makes Spring and Summer Time Sweeter

By March when you have had enough of the snow, you are ready for the next chapter and Chicagoans make use of warm sunny days in a different light. Sunlight is a prized possession and not burnt in waste. For example, after having endured my first winter in Chicago, first warm weekend in march when it was in 70’s, we drove about 30 minutes north to Grass Lake, and it was packed with people boating, barbequing and kids running around. We appreciate summer a lot thanks to the contrast winter teaches us.

Frosty the Snowman and Snow Angels

Not only winter presents easy opportunities for snow sledging, snowboarding, skiing, it presents simpler opportunities such as making a snowman’s nose with a carrot, or my kid fully clothed in winter gear making snow angels on the ground. These are little pleasure, too precious to overlook and give up.

Larger-Than-Life Christmas Ambience

We spent a couple of Christmases in tropical paradise of Hawaii and Caribbean. There were lights ok, but they lacked the grandness we are used to in Chicago. Not only the houses boast more magnificent display of lights around the matching snowy surroundings, the magnificent mile in downtown Chicago, the airport, all the Chicago landmarks, the parks-they light up in pomp that fireworks know on 4th of July. Christmas feels larger in Chicago winters.

Not too far back, on Christmas day when we were in Hawaii, we walked into a shaved ice place where a kind lady dressed for Christmas, the whole nine yards, bonded with us just because we were from Chicago, 5 hours away from her hometown of Minneapolis. At first we could not understand the loneliness of the lady in Hawaii (which fit perfectly well in all my dreams) that almost brought her to tears on Christmas Day. But, it did not take long to appreciate the grandeur of Christmas and value of being close to family. We came back that winter to Chicago without complaints and surprisingly grateful for all it had to offer.

There is warmth of the summer and there is the warmth of warm treats in winter and the two are just not the same. When I first moved to Chicago, I wanted to move to some place warm and there came a point where I had to resign to my fate. It took a little more maturity in thought and time in Chicago to appreciate the gifts we get in winter. I feel lucky to have learnt the lesson this way versus the hard way learning after moving our lives elsewhere to find, that with the cold winters gone, you lose a little more. If we ever move, it will not be to avoid the winters of Chicago for sure