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

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.


“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


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.


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.

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

Ramnik's Blog

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