It was in the midst of the pandemic last year, when I was introduced to Ratan and Prakash, the founders of Encampers, whose reference was given to me by my son. Knowing my desires to be a constant seeker of newer dimensions of life, my son suggested that I connect with them. And ever since, there has been no looking back! Encampers has opened up a whole new world all around me. Being a busy oncologist, and with the pandemic looming largely over our heads, I was looking for some respite. Amidst the concrete jungle of the city, I was able to discover the magic of a secret treasure trove, so well hidden. Having spent more than 30 years here, I never realized that I knew so little about the very city of Guwahati that I lived in, and what it actually had to offer.To think that I have travelled all across the globe marvelling at nature everywhere, without knowing the wonderful secrets of my own backyard!
Discovering Mother Nature in its own very raw and rustic form, the treks by Encampers offer a slice of paradise for Nature seekers. Till date I have done three treks with Encampers, and each was a very unique and fulfilling experience. The first trek was to Garbhanga Forest which started from Bashistha Temple and took us through some thick forest trails, all the way to a most majestic and mesmerizing waterfall. This place is also a haven for some of the most amazing butterflies that I have ever seen. Being one of the senior persons in the trekking team, the presence of the young, enthusiastic team members of Encampers gave us confidence and we were reassured that we were in safe hands.
The other treks have been at their Khanapara camp site, which is actually one of the most tranquil and dreamy spots within the city boundaries. By the side of a magnificent lake, one could simply sit on its banks and write poetry here. This trek also takes us through some amazing terrains and breath taking panoramic views of the city.
I am looking forward to doing some outstation trips with Encampers very soon, and hopefully, the Annapurna Base Camp some day too!!. When there is a dream, there is hope and when there is hope there is clarity and when there is clarity there is a possibility. Staying fit and aging healthily would be a key towards that effort.
What I truly loved about Encampers, was their respect for the forest, the prayers that we chanted before entering the forests, bowing down to Mother Nature and the effort of plogging to reduce carbon footprints, to make that little effort to save our planet. Each tiny step counts, and Encampers are truly showing the way for responsible tourism. They are an inspiration for today’s youth, and a support for those like us, who are looking forward to the process of successful and active ageing with a few tips and support from them . At this juncture , I truly hope to savour the journey of life, and explore many more exotic hidden gems of our planet with Encampers.
With Encampers, the journey never ends, but only begins .
A few years back, on an official trip to Kolkata, I made it a point to catch up on my dear friend, with whom I shared a rather unique relationship. We were hostel mates and class mates in medical school, almost four decades ago, but more than that, for some unexplained reason, she took me literally under her wings to actually take care of me like a guardian angel,during my hostel years. I had more than one such friend, but Anu was special. Those years in Medical College were tough, challenging and fun filled, but they truly made us what we are today. As an example, we would need to study actual human skeletons and bones, and each one would have our own sets of bones. They were our most prized possessions and we would keep them carefully under our beds, choosing one bone at a time to study and know its various parts with their tongue twister names. So whether it was the “lateral epicondyle of the humerus” or the “olecranon process of the ulna”, there was no short cuts, and memorizing humungous textbooks like Gray’s Anatomy, was the norm. Often I would fall asleep while studying a skull or a femur, and my dear friend would gently put the bone away and tuck me to sleep after making me have my dinner, which I would often miss eating in the dining hall.
Eventually, Anu and I settled in two different cities practicing our professions with full commitment while balancing our family lives. Though we kept meeting each other time and again through the years, we dreamt that we should do a trip to the Hills together. We tried to chalk out several plans, but something or the other prevented it from happening. And then came Covid, and all our dreams were just put on hold. But we kept talking of it, as though it were going to happen any day. I strongly believe in the power of manifesting what we want, as I have seen this happen with me over the last few years. If we can visualize with clarity what we want to happen, then the Universe is bound to join the dots to answer that dream, provided we remain consistent in our perseverence to manifest it. It almost seems like magic, to be the Creator of your Creation. Things don’t just happen accidentally, but because we want to make it happen that way. This needs a continuous conscious action. But if our actions are performed unconsciously, it all seems accidental or by chance. The moment we take charge and live life in full conscious awareness, we can find ourselves to be steering the ship of our life in the direction that we want it to go. In other words, we are the bandmaster of our destiny.
And then one fine day, I was invited by the West Bengal Health University to go to Siliguri as an External Examiner for the Final MBBS examination. This was the Universe’s way of throwing the opportunity at me. It was up to me whether I was prepared to take it. The timing was perfect. Covid was at its low in West Bengal and there weren’t too many restrictions. Moreover, we wanted to be away from the usual crowded destinations. Anu decided to fly down on the last day of my Examination, so that she would pick me up from my Guest House, and we would actually begin manifesting that dream. It was a delightful reunion for both of us. Starting our trip with some exotic “Momos and Kadak Chai” by the River Teesta, every moment of the drive to Kalimpong was exhilarating. Every breath we took, was a breath of gratitude. Our vision was so clear while we were planning this trip, that it was like living an experience twice, all over again.
As we inhaled the fresh mountain air through the whistling pine trees and approached Kalimpong, we reached our destination which was a Guest House on a hill top. We were taken back in time as Gregory House was more than just a Guest House. The rich legacy and history of the place was palpable, and the hospitality was unparalleled. It was going to be a full moon night the next day, (Dol Purnima), and we gazed at the clear night sky in awe and silence. The gentle breeze and the faint bark of a dog somewhere in the distance, was all that one could hear. The peace and tranquility was indeed a pristine gift for us.
Next morning as we woke with the crack of dawn and went for a walk up the hill, it was a tryst with nature. We were greeted by a bunch of local dogs who were more than eager to sniff at the new visitors in their territory and show us the way. Wild flowers, the chirping of birds and the soft morning sun peeping from behind the hills, it was a slice of paradise.
After breakfast we took a trip to Lava Village and Rishop Hill top through a maze of Pine forests. Life stood still. It was like we had pressed the pause button. The dark , deep woods whistled and whispered sweet nothings.
On our way back, we made a brief halt at Dr. Graham’s Home and his famous school. The Kathleen Memorial Church, within the campus was closed for visitors as it was under repair, but was a marvellous piece of colonial Gothic architecture.
Apart from the Hanuman temple, Durga Mandir, the mysterious Morgan House and the monestry, the highlight of the day was spending some precious time at Delo Park, the highest point in Kalimpong. Azelias of all possible colours, poppies, daisies and hollyhocks danced in the spring season. Paragliders could be seen gliding gently over the valley. It was just one of those perfectly beautiful days.
Kalimpong is a horticultural delight. A visit to the Pine View Cactus Nursery with its most amazing and exotic collection left us totally awestruck. It was one man’s dream and vision to collect diverse species of cacti from all over the world, from as far as North and South America and preserve them under one roof. Mr. Mohan Pradhan has left a legacy with his family for the world to see. It was finally back to Gregory House to observe one magical full moon night in the silent hills of Kalimpong.
The next day, was devoted for a trip to Darjeeling. The drive through the gentle hills and winding roads, with rododendrums in full bloom was far more amazing than the destination itself. We stopped over at a magnificent scenic village called Lammahatta , a popular ecotourism spot with its fascinating tall pine forests and blooming wild flowers and orchids. One could just sit here for hours and find solace in the moment.
Furthur on, we crossed the toy train near Ghoom, a piece of well preserved history of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. The Ghoom Monastery was also thankfully open to visitors, and although I had been here earlier, this visit felt like a part of a new journey altogether . The stillness, the solitude, the divine fragrance of sandal and rose incense sticks and the chanting all added to a profound experience . Darjeeling will always have its own quaint charm and we made sure to spend a delightful meal at Glenery’s while enjoying the afternoon sun and an enthralling panoramic view.
Although it was short and sweet, this weekend getaway with Anu has left its everlasting imprints in our memories. The sheer joy of exploring the simplest of things amidst nature, giggling over bygone memories, sharing our perceptions of life and some moments of deep spiritual conversations, amidst a perfect ambience, all added up to a complete holistic getaway which was much needed for both of us, as we have juggled our ways through the myriad of challenges amidst the Covid pandemic. The window of opportunity that we got, whilst the pandemic has been waxing and waning was nothing short of a well orchestrated plan by the Universe which was joining our dots to manifest our dream. Just as we recollected our old memories of the years gone by, and created new ones, it only endorses that life is a continuous dance, about what we wish to create and store in the hard disc of our memory bank. What is most important is to live each moment full on. How we wish to paint the canvas of our lives and the colours that we desire to choose, is entirely in our hands. Divinity is omnipresent and works through us. All we need to do is visualize the completed painting first, and then start filling the canvas, in order to manifest our dream.
It was early morning around 5.30 am; I was making a cup of tea for myself when I hear the beautiful voice of the Koyal sitting camouflaged in some branch overlooking our window. Spring is here and I am sure you would have felt the same .
I couldn’t resist myself from recording the voice. It naturally brings so much love and joy to our emotions. Spring is the season of colours. New leaves adorn the vegetations shading the old ones. The scenery turns into a healthy green with splash of colours. In the words of Bishop Reginald Heber : Spring unlocks the flowers to paint the laughing soil.
In my native land of Assam, nothing can be more appropiate than our Rongali Bihu to celebrate Spring. It is observed to welcome the new year , and couples celebrating their love that is carried on the breeze, with music and dance.
Spring is the season of new beginnings. It revitalises us , adds new life and new joy to our existence. It brings love to our lives which we need to let grow,to multiply happiness and make our lives connected and melodious. It is the time to enjoy nature.
In many cold places Spring cleaning is done for a thorough clean up of the house after the cold winters , and beginning of the New year . According to some the origin of Spring cleaning goes back to the Persian New Year,Nowruz which falls on the first day of Spring. The Jews also practice a thorough cleaning of houses before their Springtime festival called Pesach. Though metaphorically the term is used for any kind of thorough cleaning, or organizing.
Spring is the time of plans and projects,where flowers blooms so does hope.The Earth is like a child with a fresh beginning. The magic of Spring makes the birds sing , flowers bloom and young people fall in love.
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……
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 seize 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.