The Murmur of a Silent Heart

Dreams are but vapors of a passing downpour
The rustling from a vibrating tree
The murmur of a silent heart
That speaks to no one, shows its face to nobody

Dreams are but figments of reality
Bits of truth garbled in a cloud
Not what you can touch or hear
Aliens the world embraced as real

The fresh scent of wet grass
the aroma of violet wild flowers
the tickle from a gentle breeze
You think of me, and I weep in delight

Our worlds collide, we crash and burn
Wake up and you are not there again.
Ah, another dream it must be
The world we conjured up in disguise

Replayed, edited, reframed and reimagined
Craftsmanship of a directorial debut
Of a habitual dreamer
Walking in another’s shoes

Dreams are messages from another world
That exists but for you
It is yours to annihilate or adorn
Yours to cherish or loathe

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.

For Sale By Owner – Planet Earth!

earth

The United Nations (UN) has decided to put Earth for sale! This decision has outraged the public and sent angry waves across the globe. UN supports its decision, citing that humanity stands at important cross-roads. With a future that is precarious, and new demands from the wealthy, looking to relocate, for one-way missions to outer space, has coerced them to ponder over the future of humanity. Public, especially the middle-class and the poor are deeply offended by this decision.

This decision deepens the rift between the rich and poor. Those lacking wealth are left to fend for themselves. If humanity has to move, all are not created equal. UN defends its stance that putting the planet for sale is not a secret nod for the rich to fly away but rather a cry for help to save what’s left right here on a planet that has served us dearly for millions of years. Although internally, they may agree that this is a nod of approval for those that can leave, to do so. The human footprint is so big, that with a few departed beings, may very well be the right thing to do at the right time.

But, all this discussion sparks more questions than answers a few! Will a new singular owner protect what remains from the imminent ice ages, super volcanic eruptions, shrinking coastlines, parched drought-ridden states, drowning plains and mountain ranges raging with fire? Or is it what it appears – the biggest dictatorship ever. United Nations hopes that an owner that will invest their huge capital on planet earth, will protect it in a manner all of us have not for free. The shrinking poles, and cries from the scientific communities have been ignored for decades. The countries are so divided to even thrust their trust on the scientists, some blaming the recent climate atrocities on a normal cycle, so much so that they are certain of mistakes in their formula. Public is divided into two groups. One that are non-believer deeming all forecasts as nothing short of fear mongering. And the other camp, that think there is nothing they can do even if the dire predictions are accurate.

United nations disagrees. After thousands of summits on global warming, and fractions within the scientific community themselves, the UN is convinced that whether the climate change is temporary or permanent, it cannot be ignored. Without consensus and clear ownership of the entire planet earth, we all are failing every day. And, without the move to a single ownership, the status quo prevails. And status quo is one of disagreement and inaction.

Not all are indignant at this decision. The activists whose voices had been drowned over the years by constant infighting are rejoicing at this recent outcome. They feel vindicated and are certain that this will bring to limelight the issues they have been pioneering.

Owning a planet is not a new idea. 10 years ago, when Mars mission got the backing from private investors with spaceships and organized programs to send people to Mars, Mr. Tatum Heisings became the first person to own a planet. He paid a whopping billion US Dollars for it. He heads all missions to Mars and holds the fate of millions that will depart for Mars, in the first venture next year. NASA is not very thrilled with this extra oversight for all their projects concerning Mars but Mr Tatum Heisings, some argue is now more powerful than even the president of the most powerful nation on earth. The sales didn’t end at the red lifeless planet of Mars.

Since the sale of Mars, all planets have been put on sale from the burning Mercury to the freezing dwarf planet of Pluto. Some people feel this is a joke. There are questions around ownership and the price. What authority does the UN have to sell something that isn’t theirs to begin with? Or is it just pandering to the narcissistic pleasures of the wealthy? The future will tell. For now, all we know is that our home, the planet earth, in all its beauty, and all its flaws, is up for more changes, one that involves mass exodus. The scientific community predicts major impact of this sale. From changing borders, to more laws, changing education curriculum to changing foods will be just the tip of the iceberg. Though time will be the ultimate test, we know this today, public will sleep a light sleep from now on.

The Woman With Friends

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…

Route

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

IMG_1177Montana

DSC_10041Glacier National Park, Montana

IMG_1530 IMG_1537 Yellowstone

IMG_1645Teton National Park

Start =>

The Journey That Was Not To Be…

train

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.

Beloved

Mr. Hinkles has lived at the old cottage villa for 40 years. He is well known in the town. He wears an old woolen jacket daily. His face adorns a faint white beard and wrinkles on his face stand for the years of his life. He lives alone and follows the same routine daily. He does not seem to have any family. Mary Peterson brings him homemade cookies every Sunday. He is a war veteran and has a long history of American manhood behind him. But from past several years, he has called a small village in Tuscany his home. Roots, he says have power but there are other forces in life, stronger than water. There is a mystery that surrounds his solitude. Mostly people feel bad for him.

Everyday Mr. Hinkles wakes up at 6. He brushes his teeth and smokes his cigar sitting in the solitary chair in his patio gazing far into the field, his gaze piercing through the fog of the morning. There are two more houses next to his but they are far apart. After his cigar is done, he walks slowly to the kitchen. He warms water in a small bowl. He boils the herbal petals over the steam. This is an important step, he thinks to himself. He warms himself some bread and eats it with tea. He polishes his black shoes until he can see his own reflection in the radiant black. He washes and dresses himself in the navy blue suit and steps out of the rusted front door.

He walks about a mile and half when he meets, Lucy on the main street. She is all flustered up. As soon as she sees Mr Hinkles, the beads in her eyes sparkle.

“Jack, How are you, my dear?”

Mr. Hinkles old face splits into a gracious smile. “Fine dear, market is so crowded these days. I have to walk to the Himton junction across the corn acres just to get a few vegetables.”

“Yes, things are getting very busy these days.” They talk for a little bit when Lucy excuses herself in a hurry. He watches her disappear around the bend of the road, a sadness settling on his dark face. He slowly turns back on his journey.

He stops at a shop on the way, buys a wind chime and the daily newspaper. The shopkeeper asks about his wellbeing before Mr Hinkles exits out into the busy street again. It is a busy day and the crowd fills the streets of Tuscany. Life exudes in every activity around. There is not much to explain but the affairs of everyday life, selling, buying, rushing, worrying are written on every face. Mr. Hinkles hurries in his own hurry. He buys few more things along the way, but never stops to look behind.

A secluded road on side of the junction forks out. He quietly and surreptitiously takes the road. He walks for another mile until his footsteps stop on a small spot. The grass is lush green and flowers still fresh exude a soothing fragrance into the air. It is an often visited spot. The stone says but one word, Beloved.

He bends down wistfully, opens his bag, replaces the flowers, and sprinkles the rose essence all over. She loved the fragrance, he thinks to himself. He sometimes sorrowfully talks and sometimes simply sits there till evening every day. Some days he sobs silently, sometimes erupts into laughter. He has his lunch as though on a perpetual picnic that only temporarily breaks at night. And, he does this daily. And daily, the window across from the field opens and acknowledges his presence at least once. Beloved are those that remain even when they go away.

Creek in the Woods

Creek
The huge mountains loom over us and clouds move ever so slow hugging the tips of the mountain. There is gushing water flowing in the valley below. It is evening time and the air so fresh and the backdrop of the Himalayas simply majestic. Monica and I step through the bushes down to where the water is as the rest of the class drinks and eats in their snack break by the bus. We simply walk as the roar of the water get louder and louder. As we reach the bottom of the hill, we hear a loud noise from above. It is Shelley. She says something but we are too far to hear or care about.

The water is sliding up and down the rocks with so much speed that it feels there is a thick surf of foam on the surface of it. I can feel happiness rise and fall inside my heart like orchestra. We sit there for a few minutes. Then we start to collect rocks with salt sediments on it. When we go back up we are scolded by the teacher for running away like that. We giggle. Monica and I have been best friends for several years. After the tough preparation for the board exams, this school trip to the Himalayas is a much needed break. We climb back into the school bus laughing and cracking jokes. Happiness is an emotion that knows no end. As the bus starts to move we stare out into the light fog that is developing as the evening is progressing into the night.

At the hotel darkness shrouds the mountains but not sound of the gushing water from the open window of our crammed hotel room. I am happy beyond measure. Next day we slip out of the charades game into the fields outside our hotel. We run into the wilderness shouting and screaming. Both of us clad in denim blue jeans are inseparable and uncontrollable and this is perfect opportunity to exercise our want to break free. As we stop by the small stream of water, Monica starts talking about how Ram threw up in class when her pet frog jumped out of her bag. The whole class started screaming when the frog (Teddy) jumped around. I hold her arm to stop myself from turning over and my eyes water as we laugh so hard our stomachs would burst open. All of a sudden I see smile on Monica’s face turn into a deadpan expression as though she has seen a ghost. Her gaze is fixated on the right of my shoulder. I get scared and move to turn around and look and I do not understand why but she stops me and asks me to wait. I do as asked. I stare at her face begging her to say something. She holds me for about a couple of minutes and then says, “Look” pointing right behind me.

I turn around and find a small dingy looking house in the middle of the woods on the other side of the stream. Its shape and color make it easy for it to camouflage, no wonder we didn’t notice it from this close. Its old walls are clad with green leaves clinging on to its side. I cannot imagine anyone living in such a place.

“So, what happened?” I yell at Monica.

And, to add to my confusion, she asks me to hush and whispers in my ear.

It was awful, and I don’t want to talk about it. We should leave now.”

Monica is the most fearless person I know and watching her afraid perplexes me. Typically in these situations we rush to adventure and explore unseen buildings. We are always getting in trouble. Yet, I do not question her. I simply shrug and follow her out of the woods.

The next day at the mess she is awfully quiet. I probe her some more.

“Hey Monica, let us go back to that house to see what’s inside” I say to her.

“No”

“Why not? What did you see, tell me!”

This time, all she says is, “I saw a figure slip from inside of the house around it. There is something wrong with the house and I do not want to talk about it or go back there!” With that she leaves with her plate still full with food.

Days roll by; we go trekking into the blue hills where there is a sealed bungalow of the old King of Patiala. We see the beautiful pictures of his second bride and admire her expensive clothes and beauty with envious eyes.

A week passes by and we are an evening away from the day when we head back out of the mountains into the plains of Punjab where endless fields with yellow flowers shroud the earth as far out in the horizon you can see.

We are playing cards and Monica is losing badly, I must say. The group behind us is talking about ghost stories.

Shelley is the first to go.

“My grandmother sees ghosts in the bungalow we have in Shushrolley and does not let me visit that place until I carry a cup of raw rice in my bag.”

We look at each other and smile. Kids can be so funny.

“Oh that is nothing” proclaims Shaam.

He continues. “My uncle once gave a lift to a lady on his cycle through the fields of Ropar and in his rear view mirror he saw that the lady’s feet were inside out. He lost balance and fell but as soon as he recovered, he looked around for the lady and she was nowhere in sight.”

We laugh hushed, with our backs towards the group. Monica loses yet another game from me but insists for another. I distribute the cards again indifferently, when I hear Kavita’s voice behind me.

She is speaking dimly.

“Yesterday evening Radha and I played the ghost coin game. We never get anything. But yesterday the coin moved!”

Everyone exclaims with a loud hum!

“The ghost was very chatty. It told us that it lives very near to this place. It said there is an old stone cottage right behind our hotel’s outer fence in the creek and that he sees all that we do.”

With that everyone laughed.

“And let me guess he is here with us right now!” exclaims Shaam.

I drop the cards in my hand and both Monica and I stare at each other both thinking the same thing. At that time Mrs Bhattal hushes us into our respective rooms.

We follow each other silently.

The thunder is so loud that night that every time it roars, our hearts miss a beat. We do not sleep the entire night that night. Every minute noise passes through the filter in our ears and we listen to the deadening silence or a shriek out in the distance.

In the morning, when the sun dawns, we hurriedly pack our belongings and as we step into the bus we turn and look around for the last time in the direction of the cottage and the small stream. We are happy to leave the place. And, when we return to the vast fields of Punjab out of the canopy of green mountains we sigh a breath of relief.

Written on 6-13-2006

Rescued by an Ambulance

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!

Blue Umbrella

I found a blue umbrella last evening sitting outside my shop. I close my shop at 7 daily. Punctuality is a second nature to me. Last night I turned off the light, stepped outside, jiggled my pant’s pocket for keys and locked my heavy 20-year-old door. And, as I turned around to walk, I saw this blue umbrella sitting on the second step. It still had picture-perfect round rain drops resembling pearls resting on its surface. What was peculiar about the umbrella was the shade of blue. It was not a common blue. How many times do you notice a shade of a color but this shade seemed almost inescapable to the human eye. I stared at the blue for a few seconds. I walked past the umbrella and looked around, not a person in sight. The storm, now silent, seemed to have rushed the crowd into their homes. I looked hard at both sides and turned and looked at the umbrella that was calling out to me, “I am yours, it pleaded!” I silently picked it up. But, an unnamed guilt ate at my mind the rest of the night. My innocent mind could not get past the idea of picking someone else’s (mysterious) umbrella from the street. I was guilty but also tortured by the mystery of the color and the thought as to why the umbrella was abandoned in the middle of a storm. My mom said that I needed to find someone for myself, that I was too alone. After you have been this alone, it starts showing in the form weirdness, she said. Maybe she was right, but God knows I was so unsettled by this small event that I could not rest my mind on another topic.

So, the following day as I brushed my teeth and stared into the wild haired half-awake person in the mirror, I decided, Yes! I am going to take the blue misery back to its second step. I combed my unmanageable hair, put my book in bag pack, turned off the TV, fixed the glasses on my nose, and picked the umbrella and hid it in my big bag.

It was sunny that day, a rest day for umbrellas. I bashfully but vigilantly opened the blue umbrella and put it back on the step I picked it from as though it never left it. As my fingers trembled I glanced around one more time searching for the owner of the umbrella to catch me, the thief of their umbrella, and hurried inside. The open sign jiggled all day long through the glass window by the wind. It made this quacking noise as it slammed against the glass window. Every so often I would look outside at the blue umbrella still sitting there. Why hasn’t anyone come to claim it? My misery only grew by the hour.

When poppy came in at noon she complained of the umbrella blocking the entrance and moved it in. I didn’t answer and took my book out to lunch with me. I ate at the nearest sushi place. I hate sushi but liked the grilled chicken they make over there. Its taste brought me back here once a week. As I ate, activity in the right periphery of my eye formed an image. Without turning I saw a couple of waiters whispering in my direction. I shut my book with a bang, put money on the table and scrambled my way outside without looking behind. How did they find out about the umbrella? Such was the guilt of a lonely mind.

Every night I took the umbrella home. Every night I stared at it angrily. And, every morning it traveled back with me to work. Poppy didn’t question it anymore. And even I got used to the umbrella, it is just an umbrella, I said. It seemed to belong perfectly in my gift shop. It just fit in. It was a little person.

Blue

Then one day when I was getting groceries from the new mart in town, all of a sudden the thunder roared and clapped. The dark grey clouds sped west. And, after a quick round of lightning, rain slapped hard on my face. I loved my red jersey. I wore it every Tuesday with my denim jeans and striped shoes my aunt Bethel gave me. As I drenched in rain, I was unhappy but when I remembered the blue umbrella in my bag, I smiled. I took it out and walked the rest of the way satisfied. My Blue Umbrella, Indeed! It’s mine, a voice whispered in my heart.

It rained for next three days straight but I was not worried. I went to the store across town for antique shopping, I visited my grandmother in Brooklyn and back and I walked across the Hudson River. I and my blue umbrella now went everywhere together.

On the seventh day of May a customer walked into the store. He was shabbily dressed and started haggling over dickens old book. As poppy calmed the old man down, some activity outside caught my attention. Two young men were outside. The one with the mustache was holding my blue umbrella overjoyed and excited.

His eyes were lit and he exclaimed, “I left it right here last week! I cannot believe I found it. I love New York!”

My heart skipped a beat. I felt helpless. I settled the account with the irate customer. But, when I looked outside the blue Umbrella, my blue umbrella was gone. I was sad beyond despair. I walked back that day with a heavy heart. I missed the umbrella. I missed its color blue. I looked at all my other umbrellas with disdain.

I never saw the man with the mustache again nor the blue umbrella that was found and then lost.

Ramnik's Blog

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