Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I haven’t had much of an opinion about the pumpkin either. So it must have been quite a strange coincidence that among a plethora of dessert options I picked up the pumpkin pie at a recent office lunch, let alone the fact that I picked up a dessert in the first place. I have heard a lot about the pumpkin pie and its rich and old tradition and history though that did not have any bearing on my decision. Anyways surprise surprise: I really liked it. It had a very unique and distinct taste that kindled my senses.

Now this led to 2 things: I wanted to know more about its history and I wanted to make it on my own. The first one was quite easy. I was able to dig up quite a few articles that provided lots of information about its origins and its entry into popular American culture. So here’s a concerted effort to succinctly present (not bore) you with a brief peek into the life and times of Mr. Pumpkin Pie.

The Pumpkin Pie Culture: The pumpkin has been native to the continent of North America for a long long time. Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins and roasted or boiled them for eating. Historians think that the early American settlers from Europe (in southern New England) were not very impressed by the Indians’ squash and/or pumpkins until they had to survive their first harsh winter when about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure. The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers, and taught them the many uses for the pumpkin. This is what developed into pumpkin pie about 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in America. And since then the pumpkin and pumpkin pie have been an integral part of Thanksgiving, Haloween and Christmas in America.

Now to the not so easy part! I love cooking and have made many Indian sweets as well before but haven’t done much of baking. (Cakes, pies, cookies etc...) Reason being I have had the company of some wonderful friends who make excellently delicious cakes; so I never ventured into that zone. But nevertheless, making pumpkin pie turned out to be an exciting and delicious affair. So before you start cursing me I will give you my methodology (note that there is nothing really original here as you can find this recipe with slight variations in many places in the web). But I am trying to give you one of the easier ways to do it.

v      2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed or 2 cups of pumpkin pulp puree from a sugar pumpkin
v      1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
v      1/2 cup brown sugar
v      1/3 cup white sugar
v      1/4 teaspoon salt
v      1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
v      1/2 cup half-and-half
v      1/4 cup melted butter
v      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
v      1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
v      1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, optional
v      1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
v      1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
v      1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
v      1 piece pre-made pie dough
v      Whipped cream, for topping
v      Ready made Pie crust

The pie shell (or crust) is a very important part and adds a lot to the taste. You can either make it from scratch or get a ready-made one. I went for the easier option. If you are perfectionist, you can go for the other option too.

The Recipe:
ü       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
ü       Take the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat it well (a hand mixer would come in handy).
ü       Now add the pumpkin and beat them nicely together until they mix well.
ü       Now mix the sugars, salt and spices and continue the beating.
ü       Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, melted butter and the vanilla extract and beat well for one last time.
ü       Now pour the filling into the ready-made (or self made) pie crust and bake it in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until the center is set.

That is it. Your delicious pumpkin pie should be ready and hopefully edible. Help yourself (and others) generously. The whipped cream goes well with it too.

See you next time. Pie Pie!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It is a misty morning. The chillness of the breeze penetrates the wooden walls of my bedroom and seeps through the conducting rims of my bed and tickles my spine in a tenderly incessant way. I wake up in incoherent murmur. I mouth a few bickerings to the room heater and lock myself in the bathroom. It clicks and buzzes in anger. I rest my head on the wall and let the shower rip. The hot and cold amalgam of water brings me to my senses. Somewhat! My head hurts. 

I make fresh coffee. Its aroma sends me into a trance. I inhale my coffee twice before I sip it. I hold the mug against my temple. My forehead burns and then attains an equilibrium state. My sinus eases a bit. I skip breakfast to help the coffee linger a little longer in my interiors. My phone buzzes. Should be something important from work. I dial my office number to call in sick. Half way through, I switch off my phone and shove it under the couch. My impulse intrigues me!

The coffee has filled my brain with voodoo. I smell of the wet bark of a chestnut tree and lilacs in full bloom. A reddish brown carpet of early autumn leaves ushers me out of my house. I am filled with delight for no obvious reason. I wander around towards every earthly scent and feel heavenly mirth. It is like a waking dream as I absorb every cell of nature without effort or explanation. Something seems wrong. I pray in companionable silence!

I stare at the acacia tree, richly branched in foliage, its white blossom swaying to the gentle breeze. The veins of its translucent leaves shine against the still shy sun. A dew drop tries hard to cling on to a leaf with all its might. Gravity has the last laugh but its victory too is short-lived. The drop settles on a robin’s forehead, trying to balance gingerly. To no avail: it slides down its orangey neck towards its right wing only to be see-sawed back by its flapping and then flung into space as the bird takes flight. A moth gets a second shower. A squirrel fluffs itself in a burrow of dust-free sand. A sparrow watches on from a distance with muted exhilaration. Their routine life comes to a grinding halt for a millisecond as I enter and exit their little world in as much time. I decide to leave them alone!

A cat crosses my path. I want to be superstitious but fear hurting her sentiments. I walk on. I walk towards the pond. A very artistic water fountain stands at its center and sprays water on the geese and birds. It doesn’t fit the ambience. A fish seems surprised at an unlikely visitor. I wonder if it is feeling cold. The cygnets don’t care. A gull disperses flecks of light and languidly flies down into the murky water. Geese honk. I wonder why everyone wants me to leave!

The road seems to be winding infinitely. Is it taking me out into space? I wouldn’t mind. I don’t see people. I wonder where everyone has gone. Wait a minute: who am I looking for anyways? I cross a church with wisteria wrapped around its iron gate. Its tall blue dome reminds me of something. There is a mild rain on the skylight. The earth smells divine again and a lovely light reflects from the walls of houses. At a distance, clouds seem to get jumbled up neatly into primrose and magnolia. My soul enters the garden first. I follow!

Lilac, acacia, linden, orchids, irises, pink roses and geraniums! Am I in wonderland? The golden laburnums nod in affirmative. A heavenly music fills the air. A statue of a middle-aged man adorns the garden. It seems like an unfinished masterpiece though, as he is shivering. An old man with a grayish beard sits on a rusted bench. He is wearing a long black coat and a grayish English hat. There is something weird about his beard. I notice the fiddle and the symphony emanating out of it. I don’t know if it is Bach or Schubert. Beethoven perhaps! His fingers seem possessed in perfect intonation. Trees listen in attentively. The leaves have stopped rustling. Nightingales stay perched still on their seats atop trees and hum along. He turns in a masterly performance and the ovation is rapture. It’s over and it was perfect. They won’t hear it again. He thanks his audience. I don’t seem to exist. I don’t want to leave!

I stand transfixed. A lark looks into my eyes. My heart melts. It sings for me. I am caught in a quicksand of delight. The old man applauds its performance. It shies away into the infinite sky. I curse him silently. He doesn’t seem to notice. I close my eyes. Rain drops kiss them open. An hour passes; two. I feel the fulfillment of an unrealized dream, an unsensed expectation, an unheard longing. I turn back. I see a man behind the bushes staring at me. He has a cynical laugh intending to mock, dismiss, trivialize everything that I am, that I feel right now. I run towards him. He disappears into the woods!

It is a misty morning. The chillness of the breeze penetrates the wooden walls of my bedroom and seeps  through  the conducting rims of my bed and tickles my spine in a tenderly incessant way. I wake up in incoherent murmur. Rubbing my eyes, I look at the mirror. I see the skeptic from the woods; his eyes more cynical, mine less blind. I remember something about lilacs in bloom very vaguely. My phone buzzes. Should be something important from work. It is snowing outside and I can’t see my car. I look for my shovel!  

Saturday, December 17, 2011


On the occasion of Rajinikanth’s birthday I was watching a talk show on TV. The host asked several people as to when and how did they get attached to him or started liking him. It was a simple question but then I thought about it for a while and could not come up with an answer. I do not remember when I started liking him. It was one of those involuntary things children pick up; like a language or the tune of a song without having any clue of the lyrics. Usually we did not go to theaters to watch movies those days. But we always made an exception for every Rajini movie. Simply put: I just grew up adoring him!

Almost everyone will have his/her own reason for liking him. He has managed to entertain us in every possible way: by his on-screen persona, his off-screen charisma and even through countless Internet jokes. But that one thing that makes him rule the hearts of millions is the fact that he sheds the grease paint the moment he steps out of a studio. He never acts his life out; he lives it. Like any and every one of us. That is what makes him so irresistible. A great man living a simple life; trust me it is not easy. And I am happy that he just is!

It was his birthday this week and as usual people were busy wishing him, fans celebrated his birthday in a grand fashion, internet was abuzz with a full collection of his jokes and celebrities tweeted away to glory. Here are some of the interesting ones.

TomCruise: Happy bday Rajni Sir. I have just completed Mission Impossible 4. I heard you have completed all 99,999 levels. I know you will call me “jujuubii”!

AnnaHazare: Today I am privileged to get the CNN Rajini of the Year Award. I dedicate this award to you on your b’day! And I request you to join our fight. Together we can send corruption to the hospital!

RahulGandhi: @AnnaHazare: Did you see the power of Rajini? He has made you offer him a bribe!

SRK: They tell me I can sell any brand. They also tell me that I sell every other brand. But I always wonder how brand Rajini is worth more than everything else. And you don’t even sell it. Happy b’day Sir!

KSRavikumar: Happy bday Rajini Sir. Hope we can start Rana soon. @JuniorB: I would like to discuss about signing BetiB for a movie with Rajini Sir.

DeepikaPadukone: @KSRavikumar.. I would love to do the role of Rajini’s mother in that film!

RamGopalVarma: Retweet of a retweet: Ra-One: A 2 1/2 hour cameo by SRK in a 2 minute Rajini movie!

SRK: @RamGopalVarma: At least in Twitter, try to be original!

Birthday: Rajni Sir, I am sorry on behalf of all these ignorant people. Happy Rajni to me!

Dhanush: Rajini sir thanks you one and all for your warm wishes.

An ardent fan who doesn’t live out of Twitter sends a birthday note to Rajini’s house.
“Happy bday thalaivaa. Thank you for being a superstar on screen and being yourself off it!”

The fan gets a hand written letter from Rajini: “Thank you for your lovely card. I am touched. May God bless you and your family!”

Well, jokes and tweets apart, he is a phenomenon. And that is not because he does impossible things on screen. It is because he does an impossible thing off it. He keeps himself grounded and real. He is a great man simply because he doesn’t think he is great. And he has touched and inspired so many people in ways even he doesn’t know. I am sure everyone wants to see more and more of him: be it on screen where he bashes 10 goons with ease or a rare off-screen glimpse of him in a cotton kurta-pajama and chappals. Well, as for me, a silent wish goes out from my heart to him which hopes to see many more such birthday Rajinis!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Let me introduce to you: Mr.Raz. He is quite a character. He has decided to run for President. And he believes that his indigenous plan is going to help him trump all his opponents. What exactly is his "Carefully Weighted Plan"? Well.. See for yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


He was recounting their first meeting. It was indeed a rather strange one. It was at “Hair-Cuttery” where he was waiting for his usual haircut. But something unusual happened that day because his usual hair-stylist was not available. He was greeted by a radiant smile that was destined to linger in his thoughts for a long time. It was just that he didn’t know, yet!

“My name is Piyali. How would you like your hair today?” She looked very composed, yet he had a feeling that she was very new and alien to this job.

“A 5 on the sides and scissors on top”, Aakrit ordered his usual menu. And off she was, in a no-nonsense fashion, contouring his head like an expert lawnmower. The lack of pleasantries and a sweet-nothing conversation was a welcome surprise to him and he was thankful that he didn’t have to go through that nervous routine. Within 15 minutes, he had lost one-hundredth of a pound and Piyali got a generous tip for that!

“Your hands are very deft but your heart is not here”, she was surprised at both the sharpness and the accuracy of his comment.

 “Wow.. are you a psychic by any chance! You are right. My heart and soul are in photography. But I can’t say that loud here, can I?”, she winked.

“Well.. it is a shame. You were great today in cutting. Anyways.. good luck with clicking!” He thought that the encounter was pretty entertaining for a haircut.

The next time they met, he had ignored her for an hour. He was busy watching a triangular love story heading towards a cinematic climax at breakneck speed. It had several twists and turns and after several bushes, trees and flowers, the good butterfly had triumphed over the evil one. With the battle for the female settled, it was time for another act which Aakrit decided to give a skip. It was then he noticed Piyali watching him with wide eyes. Of all places, she hadn’t expected to see him again in a butterfly observatory!

“Hello.. What a surprise. sorry.. I hadn’t noticed. I was busy capturing these wonderful creatures. Aren’t they gorgeous?”, he fumbled.

“Yes, they are. That is probably the only reason you are excused for ignoring me”, she winked. He gave her a sheepish smile.

“Didn’t know you loved photography. So are you an amateur..”, she stopped halfway looking at one of his photographs.

It was a serene shot of a jealous male that had sulked on top of a flower, looking lazily at its victorious competitor who was joyously lapping around his lady-love. The dejected male’s complete nonchalance towards the flower was so surreal. She had never known that butterflies’ emotions could be captured so vividly. It was as good a photo as she had ever seen.

“Well, I always consider myself an amateur!”, he said with a calming smile.

“Then I shouldn’t even say that I can take photos”, she was still reeling under the impact of that butterfly.

“Let me take a look!” He browsed through her huge array of butterfly captures.

“Well, to be honest, I liked your cutting more!” He didn’t regret what he said but he felt he could have said it better. “So, what do you do?” was his lame attempt at a change of topic.

“I study at the NYC Institute of Photography. My parents and “Hair-Cuttery” pay my tuition. I am into freelance as well but so far no one seems to be really interested. But that will change!” she said confidently.
“I am no one to advice, but I feel that photography is an art that you have to soak in. It will consume you and may not even give you anything in return. I would suggest you get a real job and make photography as your hobby.”

He expected a reply, a retort, but got nothing but a cold stare. An awkward silence followed and he decided it would be best for him to leave. He bid good bye as she stood there silently. He had walked a few steps then suddenly turned back. “Well.. I think I will take back what I said. I feel you will be much more happy taking mediocre photos for the rest of your life rather than making big bucks on an 8-5 job. Go for it! But you definitely got to do better than this!”

“I am glad you said that. Otherwise this would have been our last meeting”, she smiled.

Photography was the invisible thread that slowly bound them together. She would show him her photographs and he would opine frankly. He would give her a lot of suggestions on camera lenses, how to make better use of shades and angles and how to visualize the photo before actually taking it. Piyali became his new usual hair-stylist and his fondness towards his hair increased. So did his trips to Hair-Cuttery!

“So do you intend to continue as a free-lancer or do you have other plans?” It was his first voluntary venture into small talk.

“I want to work for the TIME magazine. I want to travel the world with a camera and back-pack. I want the world to see the world through my lenses.” She was erupting with enthusiasm.

“And if you somehow never make it, then what?” he knew he was pushing her.

“Be very careful of what you say. Your hair is still in my hands”, she clicked the scissors playfully. “Well, in that case, I would die trying!” Her conviction sent a shudder in him. He knew she was serious about it but he didn’t realize the extent she would go for her ambition. He probably fell in love with her at that very moment!

“Wish me luck! I am participating in TIME’s International Photography contest this year. I know it’s a bit too early. But what the heck?” she beamed.

“It is never too early. All the best!” He meant it more than ever this time.

She was really surprised when he asked her to accompany him on a trip. That was the first time he told her about his job. He worked with several social organizations and took pictures and wrote articles to help them raise funds from various circles. She could see his genius from the suffering he managed to capture in his photos and the impact it left in the heart of the donor. He was on his way to Haiti to help people there who were reeling from a deadly earthquake. She went with him!

It was a trip that she would never forget. They would spend the whole day getting food supplies to the villagers and in the evening they helped in the local hospital. He would click photos all day and would pen articles in the night. It was completely overwhelming for both of them in more than one way. She would sit all night and stare at his photos. One particular photo made her heart bleed every time. It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral. Everything about the photo was ominously magical. The afternoon sky spitting fire, the smoke which formed a halo behind the priest, the rooster which broke into a jig perched atop the dead man’s casket and the drops of water dripping from the boy’s soaked body: it was a tragic art that made her knees tremble every time. They returned home after 2 months. “Thank you for giving me the best 2 months ever”, she said.

Aakrit was fiddling the small diamond ring with his fingers. Photography had been his life. He had always been so engrossed in it that he never thought a day would ever come when he had to divide his love. What would she say? He probably knew. He remembered her beautiful eyes and the day he fell for them. He was about to leave when he suddenly remembered that the results of the International Photography competition were to be announced that day. He suddenly felt circumspect. Would this not be a good day to confess my love? What if she cannot take defeat lightly? He put the ring back on the table and sulked in his chair.

Then suddenly he sprang up and opened his laptop. He went to the TIME homepage to check out if the results were out. He checked the names of the top 3 winners were out. None of them was Piyali. A slight tremor struck his heart. Then he noticed at the bottom of the page:

“Special Mention: Piyali Ghosh. Cash award: $1000”

He jumped in the air with uncontrollable ecstasy. He was over the moon. Now nothing could stop him from getting his love today. He took his ring and put his coat on. Then his eyes fell on her award winning photo:

“It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral.”

                                                       -       A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

Thursday, November 17, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Final Act)

Read Part I and II here:

“What happened to Dhanno?”, Moushumi immediately regretted asking the question.

There was a long silence and a deep suffering inside Kamesh. “She was waiting for me at the same island you were abandoned in. Only that I couldn’t come in time! The tiger was early that day!” There was no evidence of pain in the way he said it but she could hear an invisible cry of anguish!

“That island was supposed to be the starting point of our journey together into a new and unknown world. A journey neither of us were proud of undertaking! I guess till that point I had a simplistic view of life. I believed I had the mind of a reformist. I thought it was my job to lead the villagers towards a superior life and I was sure I had it all figured out. But my father’s death made me realize that I didn’t have the heart of a revolutionary. I realized that it takes more sacrifices than ideas to change the lives of others. Suffering and pain consumed me with just one single blow. The radical inside me was killed by the frail egotist that was left of me! I decided that I will take Dhanno far away from this God forsaken village and lead a happy yet ordinary life.

You know when do you feel the greatest pain? When you realize how weak you actually are! That is when you see yourself truly naked for the first time. I felt like a shameless selfish coward who was to turn his back on his people and run for his life. But at least I had Dhanno. So I thought! Kalimaa had other ideas. Partha, a 4 year old boy was to be sacrificed at the northern shores of the river that night! I had to save him but my only option was to get him out of the village! To where: I didn’t know. With the help of my village comrades, I was able to escape with the boy and rowed frantically towards the island where Dhanno was alone, waiting for me since morning! I was able to battle the deadly storm that night but was unable to battle the fate which didn’t even spare her body for my eyes! I searched the entire island for 2 days only to find a blood strained piece of her sari. That changed my life forever! Once again!

The villagers believed that Kalimaa had taken Partha. I have been reinstating their faith every year since then!” Moushumi looked at Kusum and tears started gushing from her eyes!

Moushumi was so engrossed in his riveting tale that she had forgotten her surroundings. She had failed to see that she was no more surrounded by the vastness of the river. And when she realized her premises, it took a long while for her to absorb the sheer enormity of its beauty and the silent poetry in its connotation. She was not looking at a vast stretch of land with fields fresh with crops and houses rich with people. She saw a dream visualized by minds, transmitted by words and realized by hands. She did not see men working, women caring and teaching and children playing and learning. She saw a society that had formed right with the people’s intent as the clay shaped by the wheel of their ideals. She saw men and women and children living and enjoying life as it should be. She was standing in a village built by man at the shores of a river made by God!

“Welcome to Dhannobari”, Kamesh’s smile had a sense of pride and air of humility. “The village that made me, dedicated to the woman who loved me!”

Moushumi noted his words carefully: “The village that made me” not “The village I made!”

“Dhanno’s loss completely shattered me. I felt there was nothing left in my life. But then when you reach that zenith of pain and loss, fear ceases to exist, the fog clouding your thoughts separates and you clearly see that one reason for your existence; that one performance your life is destined to enact! I saw the first and original purpose of my life as a flickering flame still alive and battling my inner fears all this while. That was the only thing left in me and I had a lifetime of me to consume for its cause!

Along with a few of my converts from the village and Partha, I set out into this river in search of something that I had no idea of but was somehow sure would change lives forever. After a week of wandering, we landed on the shores of what you see now has transformed into that magnificent dream of a village. This place was barren and deserted, rich with land, fed by the river! It was exactly what I needed. We had the elements of nature that could not be corrupted. We could make this place from scratch. It was to be a place where man and nature were to live in harmony: No one had to sacrifice for the other. We opened our doors to the willing and the righteous. Everyone who was willing to work was welcome in Dhannobari: without their divisions, differences, class, caste or creed. Everyone would have to live and work together!

And they came. They came from the neighboring villages across the other side of Champak forest. They came by foot, by boat, in dinghies, as a family, alone or in groups. They trickled in from Vithrapur: the converts. The silent revolution was still on, gaining strength by the day. Dhannobari became a society run by cooperatives where no one would exploit the other and everyone had a share of the land. And what transpired after that is for you to see. Dhannobari is for every person who has hope, who believes in himself, who works hard and who loves all. It is a refuge for every single soul that faces the threat of a sacrifice to evil superstitions or social distinctions. The revolution is far from over and it will never be!”

Moushumi saw the fire in his eyes and the desire in his heart and felt certain that they will never be extinguished! She looked at a thin discolored wire that ran along the wall of the school building. A huge generator was lying on the side without any connections (yet)! “Electricity!”, she gasped! She stood engulfed as the village unfolded in front of her. It stood tall as a symbol of faith. It was every dreamer’s dream. It was a sight that froze in her memory. Then she looked at her notebook. She smiled and threw it away.

“Not writing your story any more”, Kamesh winked.

“Guess I will have to start over again!”, Moushumi winked back at him.

24th August 1975: “No one comes into this world to be “the ordinary”. Every man in this world is an idealist at some point in his life. Every woman is a dreamer once. We all begin by following our heart only to get lost along the way. No one can be blamed and no one will be spared.  Life will break every single one of us. But only a few will truly realize what that means. Only a few will be able to see beyond the personal havoc and destruction caused by our ideals and realize their potential to construct life. 

Dhanno’s loss wrecked Kamesh. But it was her loss that prevented him from going back to being ordinary. That loss and its pain showed him his destiny, reignited his flame and spread it like a wild fire. It is the torch that guides his people every night through every storm and it is the fuel that feeds their desire to live and create. Dhannobari is a pardox that couldn’t have been created without Dhanno but wouldn’t have existed with her!”

She put the book down. The writer’s last words struck a strange resonance with a thought of hers that once shaped her current reality! There were no tears in her eyes but a silent prayer parted her lips. She was sad that she could not be with the man she loved so much. But she was happy that he was still the man she loved. She could bear the pain of not being with him but she could not stand his agony of not being him. Dhanno had the heart of a revolutionary!

                                                                               -      A Story by Raj.

Monday, November 14, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Part II)

Read Part I here: 

Chitha’s last statement shook Moushumi. Till now she had held a shimmer of hope to meet the infamous Kamesh Mazumdar for whom she had developed a liking! But after all the craziness, excitement and suffering she had endured on that dreadful day, she was too tired physically and mentally to mourn the loss of a would-have-been unlikely hero for her book. Tigers were fast asleep and crocodiles seemed to be off the water for the moment. They were deep into the forest now and she was wondering how much more she wanted to go on in the faintest hope of finding some place or somebody! 

“Nothing exists beyond the Champak forest. At least no one was left alive to see it!”, she had been warned by the most experienced fisherman in the village. Chitha somehow was still unfazed and oblivious to the dangers ahead as he continued to battle the tide with effortless ease. His complete lack of concern in not knowing the destination of their journey surprised Moushumi. The night had set in and the river started to glow in the moonlight. Kusum escorted Moushumi into a small cabin where she had prepared a small beautiful bed with a rug and some saris. Dead tired, Moushumi dropped on the bed and Kusum draped her with another sari. Moushumi pulled her and tucked her into the bed.

“Good night. See you both in the morning. Yell if you need something”, Moushumi’s fading eyes saw Chitha’s face disappear in the dark.

16th August 1964 – 9:45 PM: “Parvati (Headmaster’s daughter): Memsaheb.. promise me that you will not discuss this with anyone. I don’t know what sort of book you are writing. But things here are not always black and white. Sarpanch and Darogaji run things their way nowadays. I think Panditji is also involved and there are others too. They get major shares of the farmers’ crops. They don’t allow us to trade. Since we were cut off from our neighboring villages, facilities and raw materials for farming are diminishing and there is serious lack of irrigation coupled with excessive flooding. And they are blaming all this on Kalimaa’s curse!

You know, every year they have a secret practice of sacrificing a diseased child to Kalimaa. They reasoned that the child will anyways die in a couple of years and made the unquestioning villagers believe that it is not so cruel after all. When Kamesh Babu was here, he persuaded his father Ashok Babu to stop this practice. Since then stranger things have happened. Ashok Babu died the same year and then Kamesh Babu disappeared. But the strangest thing of all is, every year after that, the child chosen for sacrifice disappears a week or two before the ceremony is planned. I really didn’t believe in spirits so far, but now I think I may be wrong!

Oh.. Kamesh babu.. He looked like a good man. Charming! He was nice to all of us. His thinking was unacceptable to a few and respected by others. He wanted to do a lot for women in terms of respect, status and education. He wanted widows to have a new life. But he was a little weird too. He used to disappear for months and then suddenly when everyone had forgotten him he would be back. He was a major traveler and explorer. He was radical in both his thinking and in his actions. He was in love with a widow. Her name was Dhanno! Both of them were instrumental in educating and reforming the villagers. But just when the first signs of change started to show in the village, Ashok Babu died mysteriously. Soon after, Kamesh and Dhanno disappeared and there is no word of them yet. Some say the river consumed them while others say it is the tiger! Panditji says Kalimaa punished them for their sins! I don’t know what really happened but I am scared. I don’t have much hope left but still everyday I pray for a miracle!”

Chitha’s face was tight with anguish as he was looking at Moushumi’s notebook. He looked out at the river and into vacuum and a single tear started to make its way down from his eyes. He forgot all about his surroundings and allowed the flood of memories to erode his mind and come gushing out through his eyes. Finally when he came back to reality he noticed that the first rays of daybreak had set in and Moushumi was staring at him in sheer astonishment! It was an exclamation point!

"So you are Kamesh Mazumdar! But.. But….??", she was gasping!

“Kamesh Chitharanjan Mazumdar!” The pain in his eyes had eased out but she could still sense an irreplaceable loss that continued to strangle him deep inside. Words deserted both of them for a while!

“I came back to Vithrapur with a heart full of life and mind full of ideas. I wanted my village to be a role model for every Indian village in the future. I wanted the people to be self sufficient, educated, resourceful and most importantly, happy and united. I wanted the women to be an integral part of the village and I wanted everyone in the village to shed their differences and join hands in building a village which would be the first of its kind in this country in terms of agriculture, development, trade and education. I had my father as my mentor who supported me as a beacon of hope in my quest. I found the woman of my life and the zeal inside me went several notches higher. Sure there were hiccups in the form of superstition, conservatism, lack of awareness, lack of intent, blind ancestral beliefs and faiths and corrupt practices and people. But slowly I was able to influence the minds of many in the village and infuse my vision into their minds.

It was like a silent revolution that was brewing in the middle of the night. A thousand match sticks held up high guiding us to a new dawn! But then, suddenly something happened that changed everything. I was very proud of myself when I managed to stop the mindless sacrifice ritual that was a disgrace to our society. I was relieved that no child would be subject to such cruelty ever again.  Little did I know that Kalimaa did have her offering that year as well! It was my father! I lost my biggest pillar of strength. For the first time in my life a sense of fear and doubt engulfed my mind. It was as if a storm had extinguished all our match sticks and darkness seemed to eclipse the dawn! I was left with the option of suffering a similar fate as my father or flee to fight another day another way!”

“I was only human!”  For the first time Moushami saw a vulnerability in his face!

“What happened to Dhanno?”, she immediately regretted asking the question!

                                                                                                        -      TO BE CONCLUDED

Friday, November 11, 2011

DHANNOBARI - A Tale of 2 Villages (Part I)

 17th August 1964 – 6:30 PM: “A strange village indeed! It looks every bit like any other village but there is a deep undercurrent somewhere that embodies the silent conflict that people fear to talk about. How can 100 many people go missing from a deserted village surrounded by a mystic river in just 1 year?”

“Is there some place I can take you Memsaheb!”, he woke her up from her thoughts! The man had a nonchalant look on his face. Moushumi looked for a hint of emotion but the lack of it compounded her dilemma. She had had her most adventurous yet terrifying day ever and so wondered what would happen if she took one more chance. She took one last long look at him and his boat. The man was tall, dark and lanky dressed in just a loincloth. She had no idea about his character, but she could easily tell that he was very experienced and had great knowledge of the waters. He was fairly well-built but his boat was not. It was pretty old and was rusty and could barely survive a high tide.

“I want to go upstream through and beyond the Champak forest. Would you dare to take me there?” She was sure he would never have ventured into those dreaded waters and expected a violent “NO”.

“Yes, I can take you!”, he replied in a calm tone that disturbed her. How did he agree so easily to brave the Champak forest which sent shudders through the spine of every single person she had talked to? What is he doing here at this hour? Doesn’t seem a great place to be fishing either! What if he turned out to be like the 2 guys who left me in this God-forsaken island!

Her fear was somewhat put to rest when a small girl emerged from the inside of the boat. Her innocent smile calmed her nerves and brought down her pulse. Today she felt more feminine than ever and had to remind herself how brave a girl she was. Weird places and creepy men were nothing new to her but her experience today had left her quite cold. So the little girl’s smile meant a lot more than ever and it invoked a rather strange emotion inside her. She hopped on to the boat, temporarily relieved that life had more in store for her than a solitary death in a marshy island!

The boat started to slowly totter against the tide. Soon her thoughts were lost in an interesting conversation she had in the morning.

17th August 1964 – 8:15 AM: “Nirmal Master: This village was blessed with a great soil and good rains. Our people are all God-fearing and straightforward working farmers who toil to produce the best wheat in the entire region. But in the last 5 years, the huge landslide cut us off from our neighboring villages and made trading difficult. And with the demise of Ashok Babu 2 years back, life has been difficult. He was like a father to the whole village. Please keep this confidential: I don’t like our Sarpanch babu (village head) or darogaji (police chief). Wish Kamesh Babu was there to take control of our village. He turned out to be another unpredictable and erratic educated young man who deserted us in our most needy hour!”

The puzzle was not coming together and Kamesh Babu seemed to be one among the many mysteries surrounding the village. She had been so engrossed that she didn’t realize how cold it had gotten. And more surprisingly she got to witness the first act of compassion from the mysterious boat man who hadn’t spoken a single word to her for an hour. “In case you feel cold out here”, he handed over a shawl which she thought might belong to his wife.

“Thank you. So are you from Vithrapur? My name is Moushumi. I have come all the way from Bhuvaneshwar. I am writing a book on your village. Sorry I should have asked earlier. What is your name?”, she for the first time genuinely felt like talking to him.

“My name is Chitha. Glad you thought Vithrapur was worth writing about.” The little girl came running to interrupt their conversation. “She is Kusum”, he added. “Your daughter looks so cute”, Moushumi pulled her into her arms. Chitha smiled and went back to the rudder.   

She sat Kusum on her lap and started wondering again. Kusum was flipping through her notebook enthusiastically without understanding what was written while Moushumi was staring at it without understanding what it all meant!

15th August 1964 – 9:30 AM: “Sarpanch: We are fine by ourselves. We don’t need the support of the neighboring villages. The grain we produce is sufficient for all of us. We should not dream too much. We should learn to be content and we should respect the rules and traditions laid down by our ancestors. Yes, this year has been a little bad for the crops. It is no big deal. All problems started with that Kamesh. He wanted to revolutionize the village. The kids these days are full of talk. They learn something in those big colleges and come here without any practical or worldly sense. Electricity, irrigation, social equality, hygiene: What all rubbish we had to hear because of him! Thank God he is no more!”

A thunderous growl distracted Moushumi’s train of thought. Kusum buried her head in Moushumi’s lap in fear. They were entering dangerous territory! She took Kusum inside for safety. She couldn’t sense any trace of fear in Chitha’s face!

“I heard that this area is full of tigers and crocodiles. Even snakes! Which one terrifies you the most?”, she started a conversation.

“Humans! They hurt you when you least expect it. These creatures are far more predictable to an extent they are boring!” Moushumi did not know what to make of his response!

Strangely his response resonated with another very significant conversation!

16th August 1964 – 4:00 PM: “Panditji (Temple priest): Man is a greedy animal. He is always after material pleasures and has long deserted the spiritual cause. This place was a heaven long time ago. I think the village has incurred the wrath of Kalimaa. Three years ago, Ashok Babu and Kamesh prevented us from offering Kalimaa her yearly sacrifice. And you know what: since then, every year Kalimaa has snatched her sacrifice from the village and her curse is destroying us! See what happened to Ashok Babu and Kamesh! One died and no word about the other.”

“What do you know about Kamesh Babu?” she glanced at Chitha.

“Oh.. can’t tell you that I know a lot about him. Some say he was good and others say he was an evil spirit. He was the son of Ashok Babu who founded this village. Well, he was actually gifted this village by the British. Ashok Babu had sent Kamesh to London when he was very young and he came back to Vithrapur about 5 years ago. They say his thinking was too radical; he wanted to bring electricity to the village, he didn’t believe in caste system, he wanted to abolish the social inequalities and wanted to educate the women. Well, they also say that he was killed by a crocodile 3 years ago in this exact location we are passing through now!”

That last statement of Chitha shook Moushumi!

                                                                                          -        TO BE CONTINUED.....

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Moved by the plight of India’s poor, Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Poverty is the worst form of violence!

What would you do when you see an old man, suffering from unbearably acute hunger, eats his own waste in an act of sheer helplessness? Some of us may feel immense pain and compassion, some could be indifferent, a few would feel anger at nature or those who left him suffer such a plight while others might curse the system or even God for his suffering. Narayanan Krishnan, an award-winning chef, gave up his elite job in Switzerland and decided to spend the rest of his life feeding and serving not just that old man, but many more destitute and helpless people who could not care for themselves! Chances are, you might not have heard about this man!

We all know that following our heart and doing what we love will bring a smile to our face. But what if following our heart leads us into the hearts of others and doing what we love gets us the love of several others! That gives one an experience of inner happiness and a sense of fulfillment never felt before. It brings a smile to our heart! That was what happened to Krishnan when he brought some food for that helpless old man and when the old man held his hand with longing eyes, Krishnan had found his calling!

Born into a stable and supportive family in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he suffered none of the dehumanizing experiences he now strives to fight for. He graduated from Madurai Kamaraj University in 2002 with a degree in Hotel Management and Catering Science, and was well on his way to a successful career as an award-winning chef. Though that incident with the old man changed his life, seeds of compassion were sown in his heart very early. As a college student he often provided food to the hungry people along the roadsides of Madurai. When his father was once hospitalized, Krishnan shared the food he had brought with those in need. For Krishnan, these were highly emotional experiences that deepened his concern for the magnitude of human suffering endured by the poor and fueled his intent into positive energy towards providing them with food (material and spiritual) along with care and love.

When he had first fed the old man, he saw him consume the food at an inhuman speed which he had never seen before. It opened his eyes to the extent of unfathomable human suffering that exists around every one of us. That was when he decided that he would help people who could not help themselves. You would be pained to know how many people with mental disabilities or elderly people who can no more contribute to a family are driven away from homes and even worse abandoned in public places like markets, bus or railway stations. Krishnan committed himself to the care of the helpless, forsaken, mentally ill, old, sick, roadside destitute living and dying (or left to die)on the streets of Madurai. He decided that he would provide them healthy food, love and an opportunity to rehabilitate. He did not just want to alleviate their hunger. He wanted to restore their dignity!

He started off by buying food from roadside shops and vendors near the bus stand, railway station and other areas in central Madurai and provided it to about 25 people who were in desperate need. As the number of people he started serving grew, the effort and costs involved were getting out of control as well. It was when he connected the dots and it all came together beautifully! He was a master chef himself and it dawned on him that it would be more efficient, economical and most importantly, more fulfilling if he could prepare the food himself. That was how Akshaya’s Helping in H.E.L.P. Trust was formed in 2003. The name was chosen to signify that human compassion should never decay or perish.

The Trust has grown in stature and reputation steadily from its inception and has gradually increased the number of people it serves. Word of mouth, coverage in press/media and other forms of support have helped the foundation over time. From Krishnan’s meager start in 2002 until August, 2010 over 1.5 million meals have been served without missing a single meal – every day, three times a day, 365 days a year! That’s over eight years without holidays, vacations, sick days or mornings that are just too overwhelming to go to work today. Every day is a work day for Krishnan and the Akshaya volunteers. And it is not just food they provide. Krishnan carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles. He gives a haircut along with a fresh shave to provide extra dignity to those he serves. And in addition to all this, he is also working towards building the Akshaya Home. The Akshaya Home is their long term goal and is intended towards providing safety, shelter and an environment for rehabilitation to the helpless homeless. He has a long way to go but he for sure will get there.

When Krishnan’s parents heard of his ambition to help the helpless they were not very amused. One day Krishnan invited his mother to join him on his daily trip. When she came back home she said: “You feed all those people, the rest of the lifetime I am there. I will feed you”.  And even today Krishnan says: “I'm living for Akshaya. My parents are taking care of me.” I have been following him and his story for a while now and his simplicity, dedication and resolve have moved me tremendously. To me, he is a man who has dedicated his life to remedy the greatest type of poverty that exists in this world: The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for!

Krishnan’s efforts were recognized by CNN (Watch the Video) and he was acknowledged as a: “CNN Top 10 Hero for the Year 2010”! And many more such awards ensued. But his greatest recognition every time is in the smile of the people he serves and the fact that he never goes to sleep before at least making one human being a little better or happier everyday makes me believe that true happiness comes only in making others happy!

References and Links in case you want to offer your support:

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