BESTIR YOURSELF IN 2021

The New Normal

Almost 2 months have passed by in this New Year, 2021, yet life seems to be still struggling for absolute normalcy from the restrictions asserted by the Virus during the previous year. Those were restrictions perhaps God silently wanted to bestow on us as our savior, but we humankind have ignored it too far to have gotten blinded by our own ignorance. Good or bad, we all are now so tuned in to life, conducting itself in a certain way. And as a natural urge we are all looking forward to normalcy coming back. Normalcymight not look the same as it was before the pandemic and we might have to adapt to certain New Normal but again life is all about fixes and fine tuning. And life is also about continuing with the same zeal to move ahead in our goals.

The compulsory mask has earn a special status for itself amongst rest of our accessories and it holds the highest position amongst all .Never could we dream in our wildest thought that breathing openly some fresh air would be so expensive. Holding dear ones would be catchy and feeling around objects would make us contaminated. Staying vigilant and inching ahead cautiously after the hiatus is the need of the hour. When we were little ones our parents would rarely miss to remind us to wash our hands after returning home from school or any place .Isn’t this normal? It is all about reminding ourselves few practices followed during our growing up stage that gradually slipped away from our system, because of many new things entering our lives. With the emergence of technology in almost every facet of our lives, changes sometimes become inevitable. Working from Home has become the new shift with computers and internet connections available easily to all and it seem will stay on as regular practice for many. The Digital platforms are Godsend for children and scholars, for they would have otherwise missed out on their academic headway.

With the domestic borders been opened up and few international too, travel is no longer much restricted. Certain vaccines were always mandatory for travelers from country to country, thus the present anti-body or the RT-PCR tests can be considered as another one in the list. These ten months of total lock down certainly brought many realizations in our lives; as well .And 2021 is the boardwalk, to take our step forward, following the adapted implementations changes and realizations. Earlier it was formidable for many to think of sending our daily help on long leave, however we had to manage all our chores by ourselves during the whole of these ten months. Life has again started crawling back to normal; nonetheless it still has to be tread with guarded steps. Several vaccines for the Covid 19 virus have been developed and the process of inoculation is in progress around the world.

Meanwhile another variant of the Covid 19 virus has been identified by scientists in UK, with some potentially troubling mutation. The concern with the new variant is the possible increased transmissibility and immunity towards the present set of vaccines, though no evidence has been set yet. Couples of places around are experiencing another minor surge, of the Covid 19 cases which means this little thing is here to stay. The manner in which this tiny creature has been behaving all these while has very convincingly proved that it cannot be discounted easily. The vaccine might not be the infallible solution as the virus has tendencies to mutate. All creatures of God have to learn to coexist. We may find some temporary solutions to a problem like the vaccine but for a long term solutions we have to adapt to each other’s mannerism, practices and characteristics. 2021 is all about adapting to the peculiarity of the virus and cracking on……

Good Bye to the Virus Wear your mask and wash your hands

GRATITUDE 2020- The Year that was….

                                                   

As the curtains draw on yet another year, I look back and contemplate on what it offered me and how this year helped me evolve as an individual. In the larger canvas of life, this year will surely be remembered for many more reasons and would be etched in history for generations to come. Some day, our grandchildren and future generations would ask us to tell them the story of 2020, as we saw it.  It has been obviously a turning point in the history of humanity as nothing as unprecedented as this has been seen in recent times. The conditioning of the human mind of what is construed to be considered as a normal way of life was changed overnight and the world soon realized how differently we would have to start living and accepting newer normal of life. This leads to the question of how societies have evolved ever since the beginning of civilization and how mankind has been forced to change its ways of life based on the external circumstances that we are exposed to. It also makes us question how much of these external factors are based on natural phenomenons and how much could have been created. This would of course remain a debatable issue. As we make advances in science and technology, today mankind has the ability to make changes even in our natural environments. Power and politics have started assuming dimensions that have started dominating the human mind in various ways. Polarization of the natural wealths of the world are now assuming unacceptable proportions. Democracy as it was known, is beginning to change and the narrative is being rewritten in ways that it would want the world to remember. What would eventually remain is a few individual unheard stories that would also get buried in due course.

The pandemic changed our dress code at work

But irrespective of what has been happening all around us, I have made my own quiet observations and remained largely focused on how I can continue to evolve as an individual and make a difference to those around me. My advantage of being in the medical profession in the midst of the world’s largest pandemic, made me see things from a much wider perspective. I could tilt the lense and observe things from various angles.  I could see the scurry of the scientific community in trying to brace themselves for what was coming. Clinical trials and research and the rat race for newer drugs and a vaccine was happening at a neck breaking speed. With fear gripping the society at large, people were frantically hoping for a miracle to turn things around. At the same time I was observing individual journeys of patients, my colleagues, my family and my fellow beings as people were trying to make sense of the situation. I realized the importance of my role as an individual and more importantly as a member of the scientific community to deal with the situation in an unbiased way. While the world literally came to a grinding halt, I found myself fully immersed with the task at hand. I felt the heavy responsibility on my shoulders specially as I was also dealing with a very sensitive area of health care. I had a huge commitment towards my cancer patients who looked up to me to give them the most optimum care despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. I needed all the energy forces within me to work in harmony so that I could continue my work without faltering.  I realized that this boundless energy within me came from all the positive vibes that I had started at the beginning of the year 2020.

The year 2020 had literally started with a bang for me. We were just back from a rejuvenating family trip from Langkawet in Meghalaya in the year ending of December 2019. It was an absolutely amazing and refreshing trip spent amidst the lap of nature with the family and we were all ready to welcome the new year 2020. In the very first week of January 2020, I made a trip to Chennai for an important personal work. The month of January had a lot more in store for me, as me and my four school buddies, took a week long trip to Kerala. As we traversed the length and breadth of God’s Own Country, travelling to Kovalam, Komarakkam, Munnar and Kochi, we were in sync with Nature as we school friends connected at a level that was bred with pure childhood innocence. A third trip awaited me towards the end of January 2020, as I was visiting Imphal, Manipur, as an External Examiner. Although this was a work trip, I balanced it out with some well deserved outings with the young energetic doctors who went all out to show me the best side of Imphal.

About Friendships…at Komarakkam

February 2020 was another busy month at my workplace as we geared up for the celebrations of the 3rd Anniversary celebrations of our Cancer Institute. News about the possibility of a global pandemic originating from Wuhan was fast gaining momentum. We were not very sure of how events would turn out. In March 2020, I had another opportunity to travel to Kolkata for a conference and I also took an extra day to spend at Eco Park with a dear friend of mine.

A day devoted to friendship….at Eco Park, Kolkata

Just a week after my return, the nation underwent a complete lockdown and the rest is history. Being a frontline health worker, I seized the opportunity to deliver my best in these trying circumstances. We had to update our knowledge at a very rapid pace in order to instill our own Institutional protocols, keeping in mind the best interest of our patients. There was very limited information on the internet about how to manage a dual situation of Cancer and Covid. Do we treat the Cancer as before and put the patient at an increased risk of Covid and hence effect survival outcomes, or do we withhold cancer treatment temporarily to reduce the risk of Covid infection, but at the cost of giving the cancer a chance to grow. It was a Catch 22 situation. We were learning while on the job. We had to design our own guidelines based on best practices. There was little evidence based data. Between all this, in the month of May, our family had a personal loss, as my father-in-law, a towering influential figure in our lives, left for his heavenly abode. This left a huge void in our family as we gradually came to terms of not having him amidst us any more. But we learnt to move on counting on his blessings from above .

Meanwhile, though work was challenging, I found the immense joy in the stillness and tranquility of my ever bustling city. As I would drive to work I realized that the planet and Mother Nature was breathing again. Pollution was at its lowest, skies were blue and the urban jungle became a paradise. At the same time my heart went out to all those who were losing their daily livlihoods in this pandemic. It was a mixed feeling as the months rolled by. We lost many patients and health care workers to Covid as well as various other ailments too, as the health care system was literally obliged to  focus on Covid leaving aside most other medical conditions. In a country which was already deficient on health care work force and infrastructure, this situation proved to be even more critical. While Western societies were simply not prepared to deal with the increasing loads of an infectious disease burden, in developing countries the brunt was felt by the lower socio economic strata who were anyway always struggling for their daily bread and a myriad of other health issues. Senior citizens found themselves isolated and restricted from a normal life. Children were locked in the confines of their home glued to their mobile phones in the name of learning, and were deprived of social and interactive skills which are so crucial and important in their formative years. But, the lockdown also brought about some excellent opportunities for self discovery. People were gifted with the most precious commodity of “time”. And along with it came out hidden talents and lost hobbies. From cooking to gardening to painting and music, life was reverberating with positivity in many homes. A the same time, many mothers found it hard to juggle house hold chores with the family largely at home. It was an opportunity for each family member to pitch in and contribute to the household chores. But in largely patriarchal societies, this again was a challenge to change stereotypical mindsets.

Mother Nature is breathing
Exploring Nature around my city
Visiting the Divine Mother, Kamakhya Temple as it opened her doors for the first time after lockdown….on the first day of Navratri

To have a balanced and unbiased perspective of the situation was important for me. Eventually, the pandemic waxed and waned and life was largely beginning to be back on track with new social norms of social distancing and sanitization. But it was noticeable that a large population didn’t seem to believe in these norms and life continued as before. For people from the lower socio economic strata, the Covid disease was not a threat to their existence, but the loss of their livlihoods in the name of Covid certainly was. It was exactly the opposite for the upper classes.

As the year came towards the end, I was greeted with a long awaited good news of my promotion as a Professor, which I graciously embraced. We finally wrapped the year with a family trip to the beautiful lone hill station of my state, Haflong,  in the district of Dima Hasao. After a long hiatus , and a challenging year, this cheerful change was much needed and truly refreshing.

Haflong

I can only bow my head in Gratitude to the Year 2020. I have learnt to tilt the lense and look at life from a much wider perspective.

A few lessons learnt on the way-

My needs are minimal.

I have started enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

True friendships are priceless.

Our journey on this planet is temporary. To be consciously aware of our own mortality, makes us value the limited time we have.

Let us make an effort to leave a better planet for our future generations.

Times are neither good nor bad. It is what we make out of it. If we are blissful we will make the best out of it.

When life takes a U turn

Life throws challenges under the most unexpected circumstances. None can predict when life can take a U turn. But to acknowledge the fact that it can happen to anyone at any time, can only help in building our mental resilience to live life consciously and in full awareness each moment.

Many decades ago, my father told me that to be a qualified doctor is considered as one of the noblest of all professions throughout the ages. He believed in me that I would be able to do justice to the profession. I was aware of the long, winding road ahead. Years of learning, both in theory and practice often deprives one, of the fun and good times that other professional careers have. The crucial youthful years of life, specially in the twenties and thirties are often spent behind huge textbooks and journals, where academics, patient care and continuous medical education becomes the norm of life. In fact the process of learning never stops, as medical science remains the most dynamically evolving subject of all times. The recent Covid pandemic only proves and reiteriates how little we know about the tiniest of organisms on the planet and their potential effects on the human race, besides the millions of other afflictions that can effect mankind. So keeping pace with newer scientific evidences and advances always remains an endless challenge.  There is very little time left for pursuing or nurturing other passions and pursuits of life. Often family and friends are deprived of our companionship as duties and responsibilities take priority over all else. To be there for your patients at their times of need becomes the whole priority of life. Eventually, life becomes a commitment towards our patients and everything else takes a backseat.

Amidst all this, we often tend to forget our own selves in even identifying or discovering who we are. Our lives become narrowed down and often so myopic, that we forget to touch on the various other dimensions of life. To strike that perfect balance between professional commitment and nurturing your own self is an art by itself. We need to realize that our professional  lives are not something which is separate from us but is largely carved out of our personal being. To be able to find joy and satisfaction and a sense of purpose in our day to day commitments and actions is actually a part of our individuality. To live life with a sense of fulfillment can make us wholesome for our loved ones and those around us in our personal spaces too. 

To work under compulsion for the sake of monetary returns alone, can only make life an uphill task loaded with baggages of stress and anxiety. But to be able to work for the sheer joy of it , to make a difference to someone else’s life even if it is for a moment, can simply reverse the equations. You are constantly driven to be the best version of yourself without being weighed down by life itself. In the process, we must be able to find happiness in the simplest of things, like watching a sunrise, or marveling at a blooming flower, or just walking, sitting or spending some time in solitude and simply finding blissfulness in the moment. Mundane actions can itself become so wholesome. Old passions of music, dancing, reading, writing, painting, gardening, baking and infinite other hobbies can be revived or newly learnt. In fact, any new learning process can keep the brain stimulated to form newer neuronal connections and prevent diseases like dementia. And all of this is available for free.   The sheer experience of being alive today,  is indeed a reason for gratitude and rejoicing. By nurturing our own selves, we are actually able to give far more to our families and loved ones too.

A capture of dawn at home
The butterfly chooses to sit still on a rock, and create the perfect composition….at Garbhanga Forest, a paradise of Butterflies

I have had a share of my own challenging experiences as a doctor, particularly in the field of Oncology, which truly became my turning point in life. Facing my patients who are facing death itself on their face has not been easy. To be able to intersect their despair and fear of the disease with hope, trust and the wisdom of scientifically proven knowledge requires experience, skill as well as compassion.  I have also had to deal with my own professional colleagues, seniors and even juniors who have come as a patient and are on the other side of the table. I have tried putting myself in their shoes for a moment when I am trying to explain to them about their diagnosis, stage and treatment options. My words feel hollow and shallow as I speak to them, knowing very well that I probably don’t know how much they already know. To talk professionally to someone of your own, who comes as a patient,  has never been easy. Newer medicines and therapies bring hope, but at the same time, in certain situations, we have to bow down to the limitations of science. The fact remains that most of us will some day be on the other side of the table for some reason or the other.  Reminding myself about it does not put me down at all, but makes me more alive in the moment that I have now.

All things bright and beautiful…..
Nothing like chilling with my Magically Mental friends, the magic potion for healthy aging,……memories from Munnar, Kerala, January 2020

We often think that the rose garden of life is somewhere out there in the horizon, while we fail to see what is blooming every moment in front of us. Yes, it is important to acknowledge our own mortality each day as a reminder that time is indeed limited, but our potentials are not,…..and this makes me value my present moment even more, as I cease every opportunity to grow towards an infinite paradigm of possibilities.  I will certainly not postpone my ‘living fully’ any further, but rather touch upon my rainbow in the present, as I continue my journey.

Immersing in a twilight saga….. the ocean, the sky and a full moon….at Chennai
Trekking with friends and a cancer survivor
A rare, precious picture of Dad and me in Fiji

Dad, this one is for you for believing in me!

The Amish Way of Life

February 2019, Lancaster,  Pennysylvania

Little did I know that one day I would be able to visit an Amish Village and try to have a deeper understanding of the Amish way of life. This most unexpected visit happened due to the meticulous planning of my friend Tina who wanted me to have an offbeat experience of America. It was a long and pleasant drive on a wintery February morning from Elkton to Pennysylvania, through vast green fields and meadows and winding roads. It was Tina’s young daughter, Rhea who drove us all the way, making the ride even more thrilling and exciting.

As we enter the Amish Village

As we approached the Amish lands we were almost teleported back to the nineteenth century. Suddenly there were horse driven buggies,with hardly any cars around. Tina meanwhile gave me a heads up about the Amish community. The Amish people had their origins in Switzerland where they followed the traditional Christian Church order under Jacob Ammann in 1693. They are closely related to the Mennonite Church, though they have their own distinct features. It was in the early 18th century that the Amish community started to migrate to Pennysylvania to escape persecution. They strongly believe that the community is the heart of their life and serving their community is the way to salvation, while maintaining minimum contact with the outside world. Their rural ways of life give utmost importance to being in harmony with nature, soil, weather, plants and animals. I was enthralled and raptured to listen to this piece of history of mankind which is still so well preserved in the heart of America. This is a community who does not believe in higher education, nor are they inclined to use modern conveniences of life like telephones, cars and electricity. Most Amish people would not buy commercial insurance or even Social Security. Their values include putting God and Community above the individual, wisdom above intellect and simplicity and humility over technological advances.

Amish Countryside
Horse drawn buggies teleported me to the 18th century

Our day was well spent at Lancaster, Pennysylvania, as we soaked into their way of life, and tried to understand the depth of the values they stood for. Their fundamental life values are rooted to the Bible and to the life of Jesus Christ. Baptism usually occurs between the age of 16 to 23. Marriages are held within the Faith and they tend to have large families which are considered as a blessing from God. Formal education in Amish communities usually ends in 8th grade, usually in a one room school. This is enough to give them the life skills to sustain their livelihood within the community. This also serves as a hindrance for them to consider moving out of their community. Practical farming skills are passed on through the generations.   Another interesting fact that we were told was that they do not like to be photographed. We could click pictures of the sceneries and surroundings, but not of individuals.

The one room school

My thoughts went back to a 2004 when I was in Western Canada on an Exchange Programme where I had an opportunity to visit the Hutterites. The Hutterites also originated as a branch of the Anabaptists group and their roots go back to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. While Amish people have family units within the communites, the Hutterites live in larger colonies, and practice communal living. Resources and talents are shared by the community. There is no competition to outbeat the other.   The Hutterites also tend to wear brighter, bolder prints like polka dots, checks and stripes, unlike the Amish who are more into muted tones.

With the Hutterites in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2004
The only mode of transport

How similar they were, and yet so different. But what struck me most was the difference in their approach towards life as a whole when we compare it to our so-called modern societies. Today, the modern world has embraced technology at a fast pace so that our lives become more comfortable. Today’s machinery and technology has made our work easier. Productivity has improved, things can happen faster and we are endowed with more time to potentially explore more.  But in reality, we have become lazier, more inactive and a puppet of our own inventions. Physical inactivity due to technological advances has led to a myriad of lifestyle diseases, mental anxiety and stress, in order to cope up and stay at par in this never ending rat race. More comfort does not necessarily equate to more happiness, unless the curious mind continues to be stimulated to explore and touch upon various dimensions of our amazing lives. Although life may have become easier for us today, where everything is available just at the switch of a button, or even just a gesture, we are probably unknowingly paying a price for it, by inviting a host of chronic lifestyle diseases and mental health issues.

A barn
A cooking range with a chimney
Inside an Amish Home… The bed adorned with hand woven quilts

The self sustaining, viable, happy, joyful and content communities of Amish and Hutterites are a few remaining examples of what is  rapidly fading away from today’s modern world. As we drove back  through the magnificent landscape  back to Elkton, I thought how life beautifully thrived as long as we nurtured it well. When a community can sustain, flourish and be joyful  without having desires of accumulating material wealth, then they are anyway not in the rat race. Rather, the focus of education automatically shifts to  skill development and spiritual growth. Every day is an eye opener and I learn something new and start looking at life afresh from a different lens altogether.

Life is about striking that delicate balance between the never-ending advances in science and technology, and yet to still remain grounded, nurture humane values and strive to make our communities better. What we gain in the name of development and progress, shouldn’t be at the cost of our core values as a human race. The Amish way of life in today’s 21st century, in the heart of the most advanced nation in the world, certainly showed me a very different perspective of life.

4:00 AM Mahalaya

                                                                                                                                        

My September calender in 2019 was quite packed on the work front. A series of academic events, seminars and conferences were lined up. Apart from this, there were some of my cancer patients, who needed extra care and attention.

I had just returned from Mumbai a week ago, after attending the Women’s Cancer Conclave and Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer . At some point of time during this period I was approached by an organization called Cancer Sahay to be a part of their National Panel. The  event was supposed to be held in Kolkata on 27th September 2019 and was a one day programme. I accepted the invite without giving much thought. Since it would be just for a day, I thought I would be able to squeeze it in. Only later did I realize that our Institute was organizing a workshop on Molecular Oncology the very next day where we had invited our Keynote Speaker from Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Since I was coordinating this event, it meant that I would have to catch the very first Kolkata- Guwahati flight the next morning which was to depart at 5:50 AM in order to reach Guwahati in time for our very own event. Well……, so be it, I decided. It meant that I would have to leave my hotel in Kolkata at 4:00AM in order to catch the early morning flight.

The Kolkata conference eventually went off really well and I had the opportunity of sharing the platform with some imminent oncologists from across the globe. The venue of the conference was adorned with a splendid sculpture of Goddess Durga, marking the beginning of the festive season.  I thanked the host after dinner and mentioned that I would need to proceed to the airport very early next morning as I had an early departure. “You are indeed very lucky Maam, tomorrow is Mahalaya and the whole of Kolkata will be vibrating with the chants of Mahalaya from 4:00 AM” onwards.

With Medical Oncologist, Dr. Henry Conter from Canada

Was it just a mere coincidence? My journey from the Hotel to the Airport at 4:00 AM on 28th September 2019, was probably one of the most enchanting and mesmerizing drives to be remembered. It was still dark when I left the hotel. While the radio of my cab tuned in to some of the most powerful chants by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the entire City of Joy was vibrating in a totally synchronized pulse, as dawn was breaking in. The chants of Mahalaya never felt more strong and powerful. The vibrations were literally palpable. I was momentarily teleported to my childhood. I remember how my parents would tune in to the radio, before the crack of dawn, on Mahalaya day without fail. My father would be reciting the Chandipath Mantras, in sync,  with the programme on AIR, which was popularly known as Mahisasura Mardini, without referring to any books or scripts. I literally grew up with these sounds. After years, life made a full circle, as I got the opportunity to soak into these vibrations right in the heart of the city of Kolkata, where it all originates. I remember my father telling me the significance of Mahalaya. “It’s the time of the year when the Goddess Parvati descends to Earth, in the form of Durga,  from her abode in Kailash with her two sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya, to deliver peace on earth”, he would say. My Dad had lived a significant part of his service life in Kolkata, before I was born. The influence of Bengali culture on our lives, and the beautiful blending of Assamese and Bengali traditions in our family was quite noticeable, as we grew up.

The Goddess in all her glory

Sometimes, we take the little events in our lives for granted. But if we look deeper, we often can read the message. I once again silently thanked the Universe for planning this for me.

Today in 2020, as Mahalaya dawns in yet again, much has changed in the world order. I am grateful to experience this day yet again, as I have been literally jumping into the battlefield, with the dual challenges of Covid and Cancer at my work front every single day, ever since the pandemic started.

May the Goddess once again destroy the evil forces and restore equilibrium and peace on Earth.

Accomplished desire ….

Like most people I don’t really have a long list to fulfill, as in a bucket list. But I certainly have few wishes that I would be happy to fulfill in this lifetime. Among those few, one was to get inked. I was much fascinated by various tattoos I saw around on people, mostly flowers and animals.  The earliest tattoos that I remember seeing were inscriptions on the arms of laborers or fishermen or the tribal people who have tiny patterns on their faces. But it was much later that I had decided to get inked, though can’t recollect the exact occasion. I started hunting for them online and various magazines because I just didn’t want to have a tattoo just for having it. I wanted it for greater satisfaction and contentment. Perhaps the feeling lasts only till you get inked the first time, yet it is worth the effort. I wasn’t very sure what tattoo I wanted to get for myself, and I started with butterflies, flowers and various kinds of delicate small images; which were inconspicuous. After a long search I finally peg down on a beautiful Dolphin. They are believed to have the closest spiritual, intellectual and social link to human. Dolphins are intelligent and fun loving too, and they certainly look beautiful when inked on skin especially when it is a colored one, as I wanted it to be.

The end result

Having determined all of these the next move was to get it done. While all the planning was going on, I was blissfully unaware of the silent bystander observing all of it with much interest…. my son. And I can’t love him more for the way he made it happen for me. It was a Sunday in the Month of May, coincidentally a Mothers’ Day too, so we decided to dine out as I always wait for some excuse to bunk cooking at home.  Hence we booked a table at one of our favorite place and started little early from home.

Our car was parked at an adjacent parking space, and we managed to reach with enough spare time to walk around the shops nearby or pick up something of interest if up for grabs. As we started moving ahead, about few yard or so, my son suddenly exclaimed: Lets try this one. And I could see a Tattoo Parlor in front of us, as if placed there just for the occasion. We both were equally excited, and husband a bit confused. Promptly without any hesitation we entered the place.

Getting it done.

The Dolphin was ready in my phone gallery to be inked and I was looking forward to a significant day in my life. What better Mother’s Day gift one could have expected than this? One of my most ardent wishes comes true.  

Adventure of the lost suitcase (based on a true story)

                              

I looked at myself with great pride as I saw a glimpse of myself on the reflection of the showcase in which I stood. I was in a swanky store in the heart of London along with my fellow mates who were all products of the same batch. However, I knew that I stood out. Firstly, I was tall and big, and I knew that in my profession, size mattered. Secondly, I was sturdy and strong, made of a special poly fiber material with four wheels and a strolley handle which looked really very stylish. Thirdly, I had a beautiful color and an artistic pattern on me. I was a mix of purple, lilac, mauve and pink which made me look outstanding. I kept waiting, like a little puppy, wondering who would come and pick me up and give me a “home”. But I knew I would have a very important job at hand. Though I was beautiful, I was not supposed to be an ornamental piece to be kept in the corner of a house. I would be travelling with my Keeper and would have a major responsibility of carrying all their essentials within me, very safely, wherever they would travel. Gosh, that sounded fun. It meant that I too would get to see the world! I just couldn’t wait to get out of the showcase.

That’s me!

And finally, I found my “Big Sister”! She looked at me delightfully and it was “love at first sight”. Big Sis was a globe trotter and she wanted a confident travel partner. She stroked me and was mesmerized by the pattern and the colors on my body which reminded her of the Cosmic Universe. I felt equally proud to be chosen by her. I said my good byes to all my fellow mates who wished me good luck for my future. I was awestruck by the sights and sounds of the streets of London as I gallantly walked out of the showroom.

Very soon, Big Sis packed me up with all her precious belongings and it was time to fly with her to India. I also eavesdropped on conversations about going to somewhere in Africa soon. This sounded exciting though I didn’t have the least idea of where in Africa we would be going. But it was clear that I would be travelling a lot. Soon I found myself in the airport where there were thousands of people, all holding on to their own suitcases tightly. Big Sis was holding me too, and hence I had no worries at all. But little did I realize that very soon, I would be separated from my Keeper, and would be huddled with all the other hundreds of suitcases, thrown to a moving belt which was like a roller coaster ride, and this made me so giddy that I almost felt nauseated. This was followed by another ride on a little trolley train and then I got to see this huge majestic aircraft where we would be flying to India. We were dumped into the cargo section of the aircraft and it was dark and dingy. I wish I could have peeped out of a window.

I realized that I would be in this section for another couple of hours, so I should make friends with my new fellow mates and make ourselves comfortable. After all, we were all separated from our Keepers temporarily and we needed to boost up each other’s spirits. After a long eight hours, we all happily landed in Delhi. It was so good to get a breath of fresh air as the cargo section opened and we were hurriedly put on the trolley train which took us to another conveyer belt and “lo and behold”! There was Big Sis waiting to receive me with open arms. What a moment of reunion!! Delhi was an interesting city with lots and lots of people. The atmosphere was however grey and dull and I saw many people with masks on their faces. We stayed in Delhi for three days and very soon it was time for our next flight which would take us to Guwahati, Assam. I initially did have some pangs of separation anxiety because I knew that once again, I would be separated from Big Sis during the flight. But I decided that I should get used to this soon and this was going to be a part of my travel diaries. This time, to my utter delight, the flight was of a much shorter duration and in less than three hours we were at Guwahati.

I learnt that Guwahati was the native place of Big Sis and oh what a beautiful land this was! Lush green hills and valleys, this was a land of beautiful people. Very soon, we were home and I was so delighted to meet the entire Family. The highlight was meeting Rusty Fusty, the pet dog, and it was so touching to see their reunion. Rusty Fusty jumped upon me too, and was sniffing me all over, trying to get familiar with my smell. Apparently, I got to learn that dogs generally have an unusual fascination for suitcases.

Guwahati, Assam, India… The land of lush green hills and valleys on the banks of the Mighty River Brahmaputra

I spent the next one month at home and was nicely positioned in a corner of the dining hall which gave me a good view of the entire family. Very soon, Big Sis started getting busy buying and gathering stuff and packing me up. Little things and big things got inside me. There were clothes, shoes, an induction stove, a pressure pan, strings and ropes, tool kits, medicines and toiletries and a whole lot of interesting food stuff from spices to noodles to dry fruits. There was a mosquito net, bedsheet and a comforter too. This looked like a long interesting trip. I was so excited. I would once again be seeing a new destination and may be a faraway land.

It was soon time to bid goodbye to the family and very soon we were off. I realized that I also had company this time and I felt happy. There was another smaller green colored suitcase who was travelling with me. Big Sis also had a Ukulele with her. This meant that there would be sing-song times.

At Guwahati Airport, I was lovingly handed over to the ground staff of the Airlines and they put several stickers upon me. My chest swelled with pride. I felt really important to have so many badges and stickers upon me. My partner also had similar stickers stuck upon her and soon we found ourselves on a roller coaster ride on a conveyer belt. We were then loaded to a very fancy aircraft called Vistara, which was purple, gold and white. I have a personal love for purple, which is my color too. This time I wasn’t scared. I had company and I was kind of getting used to this. I knew that very soon I would be united with Big Sis.

We soon flew up to the skies and sailed on for about three hours. I only wished there was a window to peep out and watch the Earth from up above. But never mind, I thought. Maybe this was a good chance to catch up on my sleep.

As we landed, I realized that we were in a familiar place. It was Delhi again. I would soon meet Big Sis. But things didn’t turn out the way I had expected. Me and the little green suitcase were suddenly off loaded from the trolley train and kept in a separate corner, instead of going to the conveyer belt. It was a rude shock. I wondered why this happened. It was cold and the night was foggy. I could hardly see a thing. Did they forget us? Soon, someone came and picked us up and put us on a different conveyer belt. We were once again on another bumpy ride and then were dumped to another trolley-train and were sent racing across to a very large aeroplane on which was written Ethiopian Airlines. Thank God that little green suitcase was with me and we had each other for company.

Finally, the big aircraft took off and we were up in the air. So finally, Africa…..here we come! We gradually settled down and this went on to be a very long flight through the night. After several hours of flying, we eventually landed on earth. It was morning or afternoon and a bright and sunny day outside. I just loved the breeze as we were being off loaded. It felt like a tropical country and yes, I realized that we were somewhere in Africa. It turned out to be Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The big Aircraft which brought us to Africa

Finally, I was waiting to be united with Big Sis. But it seemed that fate had other plans. Addis Ababa was only meant to be a transit halt, which meant that we were now supposed to be loaded on another connecting flight. While me and the little green suitcase were parked in the middle of the runway, amidst huge aircrafts and massive commotions, someone came towards us, picked up the little green suitcase and went off. I thought they would soon come and take me too. But I waited and waited and waited and nobody came. After several hours, someone came, looked at my labels and badges, shouted some instructions and pushed off. I felt so lost and lonely. I was absolutely traumatized. Finally, late in the evening, someone came and picked me up and took me to a very large hall where I saw hundreds of other suitcases of all shapes and sizes. It almost looked like a detention camp. I was dumped into the hall and squeezed between some other suitcases. The door of the hall was shut and we were left to ourselves. I was left with so many strange suitcases. I was sad. I was lonely. Where was Lil Green Suitcase? Where was Big Sis? Why was I locked up here?

In the corner of the room I saw a security guard. He was sitting on a chair, pouring over a register and a computer screen. He was probably our guard. I felt extremely miserable. Something was not right. I later came to know that I was in the “Lost Luggage Section” of Addis Ababa Airport. The next morning, the door opened and my heart skipped a beat. I saw that many suitcases were identified, picked up, relabeled and taken out. They were probably going to be reunited with their respective Keepers. I was hoping that they would pick me up too, but it didn’t happen. Some new suitcases came in. This process continued for days together, but nobody came to pick me up. I was lost, lonely and forgotten. I was on the verge of giving up hope. But I kept chanting my prayers. I was not going to give up on my hope. In difficult times, hope can be the only thing that can keep you going. After 4-5 days, I was picked up and taken out. I was thrilled to bits. They ultimately found my Big Sis, I thought. But my joy was short-lived. I was taken near an aircraft, but again rejected and sent back to the big hall. I realized that I no longer had any labels on me now. How would they even identify me? These were the saddest days of my life. I wondered what Big Sis was doing. How was she managing without me and without her essentials? I was literally carrying all her survival tools. Was she missing me? Was she even looking for me?

By this time, I realized that my position in the hall had changed and I was pushed to a dark corner of the hall. Many more new suitcases came in and they were placed in the forefront. They hardly stayed for a day or two and were moved out of the hall very soon. With each passing day, my chances of reuniting with Big Sis became slimmer and slimmer. I didn’t have many friends because the new ones came and went out very fast. Though I was extremely sad, I tried to adjust in the circumstances, prayed constantly, never lost Faith and believed in the power of the Universe.

And then one fine day, a miracle happened. It was exactly eighteen days since I was lost. The door of the hall opened and in walked five or six uniformed officials of Ethiopian Airlines who looked like very, very senior people. The security guard at the door was almost trembling with fear as he was being questioned.

I heard a few random words being spoken by them like “Purple Suitcase”, “ Big”, “Juba”, “Delhi”, “Mahanta”, “UN” and I leaped with joy. There were sentences like “The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines wants an immediate and urgent explanation on this matter”. As I controlled my excitement, the security person immediately started walking down the hall through all the baggages, picking and rejecting some on the way. I almost wished I could jump or squeal to make my presence felt. What if he does not notice me? I stood with confidence and pride and soon he saw me and had his hands on me. Oh, what a relief! I almost wept with joy. The team of officials ordered opening of the suitcase and verifying its contents to their satisfaction. Once they were satisfied, I heard that I was to board the next flight to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. I presumed that was where Big Sis was, and she was probably waiting desperately for me. Did this matter really reach the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines? Big Sis must have moved mountains to make this happen.

I was never more excited to board a flight, than I was now. This time it was a three-hour flight and I waited with anticipation. We soon landed in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Flying over somewhere in Africa

As I was off loaded from the flight on a warm December morning and placed on a conveyer belt, I saw the first glimpse of Big Sis waiting for me with a huge smile on her face, and squealed and literally jumped with joy when she saw me, until her colleagues had to calm her down. As she got me off the conveyer belt, we hugged for the longest time that I could remember. She embraced me, patted me, caressed me and checked to see if I was hurt in any way, while her colleagues and other bystanders even applauded at the reunion.

We were now heading for the UN Compound in Tomping, Juba, and how happy I was! In fact, I was told that the entire camp was gearing up for celebrations and jubilations in honor of my arrival. I felt so privileged.

The Happy Reunion after 18 days!

And yes, we celebrated, we danced, we sang and it was the happiest day of my life. Big Sis played the Ukulele and sang songs under a starry night and I was finally at peace. I was overjoyed to meet Lil Green Suitcase who stood strongly by Big Sis in this hour of crisis. Tonight, while the UN camp members rejoiced with Big Sis, I peacefully slept dreaming of big aircrafts, conveyer belts, officials of Ethiopian Airlines and ultimately, a delightful reunion with my Keeper.

Note: This article is based on a true story of a lost luggage and its retrieval by the staff and members of Ethiopian Airlines at the end of two weeks. We are grateful to Mr. Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, whose personal attention and intervention into the matter, made it possible for recovery of the luggage of Ms. Rhea Mahanta, Civil Affairs Officer, UNMISS in December 2019. Although the story is based on facts, the narrative is entirely based on assumptions. There is no intention to hurt any personal feelings to any staff or Airlines personnel. We are grateful to each and every staff whose endevour helped in retrieving the lost suitcase.The endless email correspondences and frantic telephonic calls to and from Ethiopian Airlines, Vistara Airlines, Delhi Airport, Juba Airport and Addis Ababa Airport, though might have seemed frustrating at some point, eventually contributed to a Happy Ending.

All that happened behind the scene to find me

Motto : Never give up Hope. If you want something, you may have to move mountains, but the Universe answers your prayers in a way, which is nothing short of a miracle.

The Gaya Nalanda trip

July 2019, exactly a year after Deuta passed away; we decided to visit Gaya for his pind daan rituals. Deuta always had a wish to perform his father’s pind daan at Gaya. Eventually it didn’t shape up for him. Naturally when the time came we also decided on the same place. The Vishnupad temple by the river Falgu is believed to be the most sacred place for Pind daan as it leads the departed soul towards salvation. Gaya is one of the most desired spiritual destinations in India and it is also the place of enlightenment of Lord Budhdha as we all know. Gaya got its name from the Demon Gayasura . As the story goes, Gayasura went into severe penance and was blessed by Lord Vishnu. He thus became pious and his body got transformed into rocky mountains that forms the landscape of Gaya.

Our holidays started with an interesting twist to our original plan. We had planned to take a flight to Kolkata and from there a connecting flight to Patna. But our original flight from Guwahati got cancelled due to some technical problem and our journey got delayed by a day. Naturally we all were disheartened. However, we were booked into a nearby hotel by the airline for the night and we decided to start our holiday from there on. We reached Patna a day later and from there had to travel by road for another 3.5 hrs to reach BodhGaya where we had booked our accommodation.

Next morning we set early for the temple, to finish with the rituals first. The Falgu River that flows by the Vishnupad temple was almost dry, and the river bed visible at places even during the ongoing monsoons, which was unanticipated. As stated in History, Falgu was one of the major rivers in India, but it got into this dry state because it was bieng cursed by Sita, wife of Lord Rama, when he came there for Pind Daan of his father Dusharath. We hired the help of a priest to guide us through the conventional procedures and the entire ritual was done with by lunch time. Deuta’s desires being accomplished finally brought a feeling of triumph and fulfillment to all of us.

The Falgu river

And we realized that we are all starving by now. Our chauffeur cum guide Iqbal drove us to a quaint little place for the palate of North Indian Thali. Sitting over lunch we started planning our next destination when our driver suggested that it is possible to make a quick trip to Nalanda, if we can finish with our lunch a bit fast. We were more than happy to know that as almost half the day was over and we need to travel another 77 kms. 

Rajgir Hills

It was a pleasant drive of two hours through the farmlands to Nalanda in the cool Monsoon weather. The wide road with vast green pasture spread out on both sides was a scene to be captured and saved for posterity in our mind. Cattles grazing on the meadows were sights of pleasure. The Rajgir Hills stand beautifully tall on both sides of the road on approach to Nalanda. Modern Rajgir city got its name from Rajagriha the capital of the Magadh. Rajgir also runs India’s oldest single person rope way, which connects to the Vishwashanti Sutpa, a must visit tourist destination.

We were restricted by time therefore had to prioritize our choice of places to visit at Nalanda. We started with the obvious choice of Nalanda University, the archeological complex. The Excavated site is of an area of around 1600 ft in length and 800ft in width. The origin of the Nalanda Mahavihar (the Great Buddhist monastery) dates back to the 3rd Century, and one of the oldest universities in the world. Eleven monasteries and six great temples were excavated at the site .A 100ft wide passage runs between them from North to South.  Most structures show evidence of multiple periods of construction with new buildings being raised atop the ruins of old ones. Many of the buildings also display signs of damage by fire.

Constructions on top of older ruins
Dormitory of scholars

 Nalanda is believed to be a completely residential university. The ability to blend different discourses and embrace knowledge in its entirety made Nalanda attractive for all seekers of knowledge. The archeological components suggest a seamless coexistence between human and nature. The profound knowledge of Nalanda’s teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture, and learning at this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese. Buddhism started losing popularity steadily during the time of the Palas, which resulted to the decline of Nalanda. And the final blow came with the Muslim invasion of the Northern India during the 17th Century.

A classroom layout of the Mahavihar

Walking around the excavated ruins was an amazing sight with feelings of gratitude. An unusual intellectual ferment was a characteristic of the Ancient Magadha which left it traces behind on the remains of Nalanda. It is heartening to know that efforts were being initiated by former President APJ Abdul Kalam to revive the university and In September 2014, the University opened its doors for the first batch of students, after a gap of nearly eight hundred years.

Stupa of Sariputra, the favourite disciple of Lord Buddha, who attained salvaltion.

 The Archeological Museum of Nalanda our next destination lies across the road from the Nalanda ruins, and charges an entry fee of Rs 5 per head. The museum is maintained by the Archeological society of India and it gives an insight to the art and sculptures of the Gupta and Pala eras. It protects and display the antiquities that have been excavated from the ruins. The Museum has rare and beautiful collection of Buddha’s bronze statues, copper plates, manuscripts, stone inscriptions, pottery, coins and images of various Gods & Goddesses. Majority of the sculptures excavated from Nalanda have been carved on Basalt stone but some are made of stone, bronzes, stucco, terracotta etc.  The existence of this Museum immortalizes the richness of Ancient Nalanda culture.

Time seems to be zipping by and we are yet to visit the Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall. This memorial, built in memory of the Chinese traveller, is an architectural masterpiece. The memorial is located 2 km from the Nalanda Archeological ruins, and we took an e-Rickshaw to travel faster on the narrow road. This memorial is a distinct reminder of the Chinese architectural style. One will find multiple writings of Tsang preserved here. He was warmly welcomed in Nalanda where he received the Indian name of Mokshadeva and studied under the guidance of Shilabhadra. Besides Buddhist studies, Hiuen Tsang also attended courses in grammar, logic, and Sanskrit, and later also lectured at the Mahavihara.

Hiuen Tsang Memorial
Inside the Memorial

Tibet too inherited and preserved the vast wealth of Indian Buddhism almost in its entirety, encompassing the three main “vehicles” of teaching, Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The Dalai Lama refers to himself as a follower of the lineage of the seventeen Nalanda masters.

Sunset approaching, it was time to head back. It was indeed a tight trip around but we returned satisfied with our accomplishments and looking forward to our compulsory final destination the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, hoping to make it on time before the gate closes for the day. The Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick; still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.This property is considered the cradle of Buddhism in the history of mankind.  Mahabodhi Temple Complex is of great relevance as it marks the most important event in the life of Lord Buddha, the moment when Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and became Buddha, an event that shaped human thought and belief.

Entrance to the MahaBodhi Temple

From the east, a flight of steps leads down through a long central path to the main temple and the surrounding area. The temple faces east and consists of a small forecourt in the east with niches on either side containing statues of the Buddha. A doorway leads into a small hall, beyond which contains a gilded statue of the seated Buddha (over 5ft high) holding earth as witness to his achieved Enlightenment.

The gilded statue of Lord Buddha

The Giant Bodhi Tree, to the west of the main temple, is supposed to be a direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which Buddha attained enlightment. Next to the Bodhi Tree is the Vajrasana, a platform attached to the main temple made of polished sandstone to mark the spot where Buddha sat and meditated There are six other sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, in the Temple complex and numerous ancient Votive stupas, The Lotus Pond, located outside the enclosure to the south, is considered sacred as well. Both the temple area and the Lotus Pond are surrounded by circulating passages at two or three levels and the ensemble area is 5 m below the level of the surrounding land.

The Bodhi Tree and the Vajrasana

After completing a round of the premises we sat down under the Giant Bodhi quietly for sometime experiencing the stillness and calmness of the surroundings. People sitting together into meditation in pin drop silence, under the sacred tree was a heavenly moment to experience. I quietly sent a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty for this wondrous day in my life.

Visiting BodhGaya is not only about an immense feeling to pray and feel the inner peace at Mahabodhi Temple but it is also a great occasion to go around  and visit the different monasteries built by the countries of Japan, China, Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, Myanmar and Nepal. There are monasteries built by SIkkim and Tibet as well. Each monastery reflects the diverse Buddhist culture of the region and their architectural styles. They also reveal how far Buddhism has expanded from the place of its conception.

It was quite late in the evening and we had to get back for dinner at the hotel. By the time we reached back to our rooms all of us were thoroughly exhausted by the rollercoaster day. Next morning was departure to Patna to catch our flights back home. Bodhagaya too has an International Airport which is about 5 kms from the Temple city. The airport can handle 250 incoming and 250 outgoing passengers at a time. This airport is mainly seasonal and primarily caters to Buddhist tourists coming from South East Asian countries.

Finally while switching off the lights for the day, I sent a big Thank You to Deuta for the incredibly delightful trip and the moments that would linger on with us for a very long time ,of which he was also a part from far.

The e-Rickshaw ride.

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Revisiting Kashi

             Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together- Mark Twain

My revisit to Kashi or Varanasi as it is known today, happened precisely ten years ago in the year 2010, when I was invited as a Guest Speaker in one of the National Geriatric Conferences which was being held at Banaras Hindu University. It was an opportunity that I was more than inclined to take, as I was getting a chance to revisit this Holy City after twenty-eight long years. It was between 1982 and 1983, that we had spent a year in Benares as it was then called, thanks to my father, who was posted there as a Sr. Divisional Manager of Life Insurance Corporation of India. It was here, in one of the holiest cities of Hinduism, that I did my XIth Standard, from one of the oldest premier Institutes of girls’ education, the Central Hindu Girls’ School.

Kashi is also known as the winter abode of Lord Shiva, and is often referred to as the “City of Light”.  It is not merely a city, but has a magnetic attraction which appears to link it to the larger cosmic phenomenon. They say that the vibrations of the city of Kashi is like the pulse of the Universe. Lying on the Western banks of the holy river Ganges, this city has its own unique magic and is tagged as one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Life exists here in all its stark reality. It is a melting pot of life and death itself. Kashi is a place where death stares at your face and one is reminded of the mortal nature of human beings. My distinct memories of Benares almost 38 years ago, reminds me of my first reactions of moving to the spiritual capital of India. At seventeen years of age, when life was just beginning to get exuberant and unraveling its colourful plethora of the new consumerism era, we were moving to this ancient, legendary city. Frankly, it didn’t create much of a flutter in me, and I was sceptical about this move, without having much of a choice though. In fact, I was the first one to move in there with my Dad, due to my school admission issues, while the rest of the family would follow.  I had a very unique and different experience during this brief period, where I was to stay with another North Indian family for about a fortnight, within the LIC Colony, until my Dad would return again with the family. Needless to say, they ushered me all their love and hospitality, and this was one of my first practical lessons of assimilating in any circumstances or situations, irrespective of barriers of culture, language, food and tradition.

Apart from the endless number of temples,   one of the first things I had noticed in this city amidst all the chaos and the hustle, were of the open cremation grounds which take place at its famous Ghats. It is said that the funeral pyre never ever ceases to burn out in Manikarnika Ghat as someone or the other is always being cremated. At that time my paternal grandmother used to stay with us and I remember how delighted she was about the prospect of shifting to Benares. For her it was the ultimate resting place, as people would often go and spend their remaining years, to ultimately die in Kashi. That of course didn’t happen for her, but she did feel a sense of gratification to have spent some time there and visit the holy shrines, as her memory was also beginning to dwindle away, with Alzheimer’s Disease setting in. Probably for her, in her fading memory, Kashi was indeed her last resting place.

Although our stay in the city of Benares was one of the shortest stints, it was packed with a bundle of diverse experiences. I remember the visits to Vishwanath temple at the Dashaswamedha Ghat, and at that time, as a young teenager, I really couldn’t figure out what was it that attracted such a huge crowd, from the humble  Indian pilgrims to the international tourists from world over, who often eventually made Banares their permanent residence. So intense was the pulse of the city.

  I remember looking forward to the trips to the BHU campus and the Viswanath Temple in its premises which was quieter and cleaner, not to forget the stopover for the famous Benarasi Kulfi and Rabri on our way back. I also vividly remember my XIth Standard to be a pretty challenging year for me, as I was trying to adapt to the Science Stream in a city where the medium of instruction often slipped to Hindi, as it was more familiar for the teachers as well as the local students. So, there was little time for distractions. Over and above, my father ensured that I completed my Visharad in Indian Classical Vocal Music from the Prayag Samiti University, and hence that entailed intense ‘Riyaz’ or practice alongside academics.

28 years later, in the year 2010, life took a full circle taking me back once again to this familiar city, albeit on work. But, apart from the Conference, I had a mission, to visit my old school and if possible search for the house where we once lived.

In between the conference, I along with two of my colleagues from Chandigarh, decided to visit Sarnath, the seat of Buddhism where Gautama Buddha first taught Dharma or “Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma”  where he gave his first sermon. Silence has its own vibrations and this is what we experienced in Sarnath. Although this was my second visit to this place, this time it evoked a sense of peace and tranquility which I probably hadn’t experienced earlier. It was overwhelming to just sit and appreciate the stillness of the environment. To be in the moment in the same spot as Lord Buddha, was indeed a divine blessing.

Sounds of Silence at Sarnath
At the Excavation Site at Sarnath

Revisiting the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the BHU campus and a trip to the Dashaswamedha Ghat rekindled my memories in a flash. Though the name of the city had now changed to Varanasi,  it still carried the same old world charm. It’s vibrance is a snapshot of life in all its adversities. Not much seemed to have changed in all these years. Tourists in colourful pyjamas, chunnis and beads, thronged the streets in very much the same way. Sadhus and Yogis found solace here. The city embraced everyone who came its way.

A revisit to the Vishwanath Temple, BHU
Dashashwamedha Ghat

The last day of my trip was devoted to exploring my old school and house. I took a rickshaw ride and headed for Bhelupur where my school was located. I was once again in awe of the journey I had made to stand in the front gates of the school which had contributed in shaping me, after 28 years. Central Hindu Girls’ School was started by none other than Dr. Annie Besant in 1904, and this was one of the pioneer institutes in women’s education in our country.  I walked in to meet the Principal, introducing myself and it was a pleasant interaction. It was a poignant moment to remember some of my old teachers, many of whom had left this world. Although it was an unannounced visit on a working school day, I was grateful to the Principal for the time that I was given, and also the opportunity to interact with some of the students and teachers.

My XIth Standard was in Central Hindu Girls’ School under BHU, founded by Dr. Annie Besant in 1904
Meeting a XIth Standard student in CHGS…I was in her shoes in 1982

I was now in the last lag of my trip and once again took a bumpy rickshaw ride through the bustling streets of Varanasi, to the Life Insurance Office. I sought for an appointment with the current Divisional Manager, and as I waited outside the room, my eyes caught a plaque where my father’s name was engraved along with the others who had held the chair of Divisional Manager. I was wondering if there would be anyone in the office who may have worked with my father, but all I could see were young faces around. Many of the young officers were introduced to me by the Divisional Manager, and they said that although they had not met my father, they had heard phenomenal stories about his work ethics and dedication in serving the Corporation.  It was not just a mere coincidence, but part of a larger cosmic plan that I was told about Mr. Vohra, one of my father’s closest confidant and friend who was still in service. It was a tearful reunion with Vohra Uncle. He found it unbelievable that I took this journey after 28 years. I had very little time in hand as I had an evening flight, but Uncle took me on a brief nostalgic journey to the adjacent LIC Colony, to show me the old house where we lived. It was exactly the way I had imagined it to be. The little kitchen window facing the front yard, brought back memories of the whiff of dal and curry which my mother would cook,  as we would return from school. We slowly took a walk across the colony and sat for a moment at the little kid’s park ( fondly called Panghat), and were immersed in our conversation about the years that went by . Time stood still for a moment and everything was just like the way it was.

With Vohra Uncle, my father’s colleague
This was the house that we lived in, and the little kitchen window

With a sense of deep satisfaction, I felt that I had completed a very important journey of my life. The end of this trip was the beginning of revived bonds. My reconnection with Vohra Uncle remains as strong as ever, and he continues to shower his blessings on me and my family, specially my children. As I pen down this piece, I realize how several decades of our lives unfold just like chapters of a book.

 I may have left Benares almost four decades back, but a part of my soul will always remain connected to Kashi.  

No time like the present

Over the past three decades, she would give me a call when she passed through my city and I would make it a point to go meet her wherever she was staying. We would spend a few hours catching up, speaking heart to heart so that even though the meetings were infrequent, the bond remained strong. That was till the last time. The last time she passed through my city, she called me and I promised to meet her later in the evening but I got caught up in something and it was not till five days later that I remembered that I was supposed to meet her. I had missed the opportunity. How was I to know that it would totally and finally be the last time? Soon after, she started her battle with a life threatening condition and our paths did not meet. The shock, grief and lack of closure I felt when I got the news of her passing away left me paralyzed.

Just ten days before her passing away, my dear brother passed under the veil. Though we were very close to each other, we had not met in over a year despite living in the same city. When I did finally meet him, he was barely conscious but he reached out for my hand from under the hospital blanket and we held on to each other for what seemed like an eternity, communicating through the medium of touch. When I saw him a week later, he was fighting for life and in another week it was all over for him.

Losing these two dear ones in quick succession, both leaving a tinge of regret about not meeting enough, I realise how much for granted we take that there is enough time. How we believe that we can make it up some other time. Now, like at no other time, I’m feeling that, no, there’s no time like the present. No time like the present to reach out to loved ones, pick up the phone and make that phone call. If there’s an opportunity to connect, don’t miss the opportunity because who knows what tomorrow will bring. Let us cherish and nurture the bonds because it is these bonds that make life meaningful.