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Month

October 2015

Waiting For The Moon Or Not, Respect Ritualistic Choices



Every year around this day, there are hoards of posts on the Internet discussing the insanity of the rituals related to Karva chauth. For the uninitiated, the wiki link may be helpful. A woman fasting for her man, praying for the longevity of his life, waiting to see the moon before eating the first morsel of food, even the first drop of water and the man doing practically nothing in return. It may sound bizarre to many. Only very few men take it upon themselves to practice what the spouse does. 

Those opinions are right in many ways, there is no argument there. What I personally do not appreciate about many of those discussions and conversations is how they look down upon women who actually believe in and follow the ritual. Most of the times, it is women coming out with their feminist armor and criticizing another woman. Rituals are a matter of choice just as religion and faith is. We often tend to forget that.
I understand many women follow rituals due to family and societal pressure. But many do it of their own choice and do it their own way. I would rather not judge any one. 
I am one of those who does it out of choice. No one was asked me to follow the norm. I don’t do it for the longevity of my husband’s life either. I have always prayed that may none of us outlive the other, though I know it is inevitable. It will happen someday. I instead pray for the longevity of the beautiful life that we have created together. Our companionship, our unsaid understanding of each other, our struggles, our shortcomings, our triumphs and our unconditional love for our children and everything else we have built together, all on our own. 
I do not follow all the rituals. I will be honest I do not know them either. I grew up in a family where this ritual was not observed. Yes, unlike what Bollywood shows, this is a ritual followed by only some married women of Indian origin.
I have never put henna on my hands nor have I dressed up like a bride on the day of the fast. I have never got gifts or hampers. I have never prayed with a group of women together. I prefer to pray for the sanctity of my love in privacy. I do not see the man through the sieve when the moon comes up. Seeing him in the eye under a moonlit night is more romantic instead.
I do not rush to see the moon as soon as it comes out. I am shy, I like it to be private. I step out when everyone has finished sighting the moon, when the moon is no longer playing hide and seek in the clouds. It is usually shining bright under us by the time we have stepped out to see it. A moonlit night and the man next to me, I pray silently for it to be that way for many more years to come. I know he makes a similar wish too. 
There are years he has driven me around to find the moon, when we have sneaked out of a dinner with friends to see the moon together and years when my daughter has gone moon hunting (as she calls it) for me. There are years I have fasted without a drop of water till the moonrise and there have been years of nursing and pregnancy that I have skipped the fasting altogether. Last year I ran a 5k on the same day, for a cause close to my heart, so it was important to keep myself hydrated. But every year,nevertheless, I wait for the moon this one night of the year.
I will do it this year too.
Adherence to a ritual and its sheer existence has always evolved with time. There isn’t a diktat written somewhere. I have not seen one. There are no set rules. They are more like man made societal norms.  So instead of following them blindly, do what your heart says and believes in.
For me, this is a time to celebrate love and companionship, albeit a little traditionally. So I do it my own way. How can there be a set norm of celebrating love? For those of you who observe this day, you may fast or not, you may dress like a bride or not, but do celebrate love. Heck, do nothing but pop a bottle of champagne that night under a moonlit sky and share a moment of love.  

For those that don’t observe the day, you can pop a bottle too. There is no harm. But I make an earnest request to be respectful to women who believe in the ritual. Be respectful of other’s faith and rituals and choices. As for feminism and gender equality, I believe in all of that. But seriously, lets not drag that into every thing.  There are far more important things to be discussed and tackled than fasting on Karva chauth.

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Living A Pragmatic Dream


Living You Dream – Story #7  : Everyone has a dream. Everyone lives their dream in some or the other way. Everyone also admires a fellow dreamer. While we all admire those that live their dreams, our everyday life is surrounded with confrontations around dreams. Here’s a pragmatic way of looking at living your dreams. 

The Adage does seem like a Mirage, “Mrigtrishna” as I would call it, real life being so different from how we imagine it to be.

There certainly are lots and lots of people who are doing exactly what they want to be, doing at that place and time and are literally living their dream, but I’m very sure somewhere in their minds and hearts there’s something niggling, something else that they covet and thatbecomes their “DREAM “, So even after you have it all, peace eludes. It could be a simple thing like a skinny albeit super pretty top model craving a cheese burger or a teenager wanting to be that top model, a middle class woman craving large diamonds while a very rich woman wanting to adorn flowers.

I go through these phases where  I truly believe that I’m living my Dream. I look back and see how far I’ve come from where I started , and yet again I’d rather not have anything and be walking through shallow rivers in the Himalayas or  perhaps  be doing nothing on a  beach by the Aegean sea . I’m so sure I am living someone’s dream life. I think my house help wants to be me when she gives me tea in the evening, for certain the woman who irons my clothes wants to be me when she sees me all dressed up, driving off to work, My gardener must be wanting to be me,( I certainly want to be him)!!!

I seek simple pleasures, a hug, a laugh, a tear sometime, sound of children squealing with delight, my dog breathing with his head on my feet, my husband reading by my side, a few pretty flowers received as a gift, and yet again sometimes I seek cut throat competition at work, I seek an account full of crazy amounts of money, a sleek car, sharp clothes, sexy shoes, I seek  ten point grades from my sons all the time, I want to be the ultimate overachiever who looks like a million bucks .. I want all of it and MORE!! But then again I go back to the beginning. To what end do I want so much. 

When I’d still be dreaming of that little flower patch to work on, or a balmy beach holiday, I’d still want to come home to hugs from little boys in football clothes and pink sweaty faces and hear tales of that one last goal that they scored, I’d still want to put T shirts on naked urchins I find on the roads, I’d still want to play my favorite music in my rundown car and eat ice-cream in bed and watch old movie reruns, so I guess the scientific temper decides that the balance is all there.   

I really am living my Dream!!

This article has been shared by Smita Ranjan Keron, a woman of many accomplishments, talents and interests, an army wife, and a mother of two.

                                                                

Celebrating Boys and Girls On Durga Ashtami

The warmth of the sweet suji halwa (semolina) wrapped in a puri and the savory kala chana (blank chickpeas) is a combination that makes it feel like a party in the mouth. The halwa melts in the mouth and the chana can be binged upon for hours.
Durga Ashtami is celebrated in my home every year like in many other homes in India and people of Indian origin across the globe. It is considered to be an auspicious day and in a lot of Indian households, girls are worshipped, thus celebrating the divine feminine power that Durga represents. Little girls are invited over and fed the delectable halwa, chana and puri.
When I was a little girl, I was invited to several homes for Kanjak (the name of the ritual, it is called by different names in different parts of India). The purpose of the invite and the celebration was all blurry at that age. All I really looked forward to was that plate of halwa-purithat would be offered. Most girls would save some or carry an extra plate back home for their brothers who anxiously waited for their share. It tasted even more delectable to the brothers perhaps because they were sort of being deprived of the primary celebrations.

Few years back, a mother of a little girl by then, I started the customary ritual of Kanjakat my home, just a bit differently. My Dida (grandmother) used to always say when you run a family, make your own rituals and in the years to come that will become a tradition. So I have set a tradition of my own.
It felt odd to call the little girls by themselves. So their brothers started getting the invite too and most of them were beyond thrilled. Soon, the invitations were extended to girls and boys, all children in general. Gifts were bought for all. The tika applied to all, the red thread tied to all the tiny little wrists and the Halwa-Puri served to all. That is how much I know about the rituals, learnt by watching my mother and grandmother over the years. That is what I have come to follow.
Most years, this auspicious day falling on a week day, I need to wrap their gifts and food and deliver it to their homes. By now it is a ritual the kids wait for.
Many people have asked me why I invite the boys over. Many of the kids themselves would giggle and ask me meaning of the day and I would tell them it is a day meant to celebrate all of them. They are all special. They are all divine. They are all powerful. I was in return getting double the share of blessings, love and affection from all of them.  
I kept continuing this ritual through the years and then my son was born two years back. The modification to the ritual made even more sense in my own home. It was important to me to treat him and his sister the same way on this day like every other day. If I treated one differently, I was treating them unequally. So I make them both sit down on floor cushions next to each other, put a bright red tika on their forehead and give them each their own Kanjak and halwa puri.
They are both equal. They are both capable. They are both important. In my opinion, this is a very important thing for them to know. If I celebrate one and not the other, there is an imbalance that I am creating. Gender imbalance always usually begins at home.
This breaks the norm and is a non-adherence to the traditional rituals.  Yes, it does break the norm but it makes it contemporary as well. Rituals have always evolved through the time and evolved for better. It only makes sense to retrospect on them and improvise them over time, thus adding more meaning. Rituals when left tangled in religious beliefs and stubbornness in its observance are at a risk of being left behind altogether. 
I also know of many others who opt to feed poor children on this day and they feed all children regardless of their gender because it would be unjust to feed the girls alone while the boys look expectantly with hungry eyes.  Is there any harm hidden in this form of change in the ritual?  Rituals are a matter of choice and I will leave that decision to you.
As for me, yes I tweaked the tradition but I think I see enough happy kids on this day every year and I am very sure both Goddess Durga and my grandmother are smiling upon me from wherever they are. Somewhere in my heart I also know that if my children decide to follow this ritual someday, it will be one that will seem logical to them.

Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 

A Different Perspective On Durga Puja


I am a Bengali and for a Bengali this is the most important time of the year when we worship and celebrate Goddess Durga for four days. By now I should have been totally drenched in the frenzy and madness of the hour. But unfortunately I am not, and I never have been. I was born at a time when my family had stopped celebrating rituals and I was growing up in a very lonely environment. So, I was never excited by the festival fever. Some experiences when not familiarized with in childhood are difficult to develop later in life. Instead, you develop your own ideas and principles and faith out of your own hard experiences.


The religion I firmly try to cling to is “Humanity”. As Swami Vivekananda said: To devote one’s life to the good of all and to the happiness of all is religion.


At times I reflect on who I am if I don’t celebrate or perform the rites and rituals of Durga Puja, Diwali, or any other festival. I never in my younger days could welcome the thought of wearing a new dress when I could see half-naked kids roaming around in the midst of shinning shimmering new clothes worn by kids of similar age. My heart went out to them. Sitting at the balcony, I watched everyone totally drown in the festive spirit. I would pray to Goddess Durga, to give me the ability to endure it all.

It is not that I never did anything; I bowed before the Goddess, I took my books to touch her feet and also went for the visarjans (immersion of the Goddess) stacked in a lorry along with other kids and on Bijoya Dashamiday to all the neighborhood houses to touch the feet of the elders(as a mark of respect) to get their blessings, eat sweets and then write shubho bijoya letters to all my out of town relatives. I did follow a few of the customs.

I left Kolkata 21 years back and with the passage of time and with all my own developed beliefs now the four days of Durga Puja are not the only days of the year we look forward to. For me sans genuine faith, with only pomp and show no celebration is great.

I never imposed my thoughts on my girls but yes passed on to them the simple acts of being respectful, courteous to all, especially the elders. As a family our happiness together is the best celebration I can ever have.

After Kolkata we were at Bahadurgarh, Haryana, where we found a Durga puja in a style different from the Bengali culture. While at Pen, Maharashtra, I never saw any image of Durga, instead found Ambe Mata. Later at New Panvel, Navi Mumbai, we visited the Durga Puja pandals and were happy to visit the various food stalls and would stand in the queue for the steaming hot khichdi bhog. It became annual ritual for us to specially travel by train to Vashi, in Navi Mumbai to eat fish fry and Hilsa.

Now in Oman for the last seven years, during Durga Puja, I visit a small puja organized by a Bangladeshi Hindu’s and do not hesitate for once to sit and eat the simple rice dal provided.This year a few people from Kolkata are celebrating Durga Puja here in Oman for the first time. I am not actively involved in this but surely as they say ‘mayer mukh akhbar dekhte’ (to see mothers face once), I would visit once.

My perspective and celebration of Durga Puja in no way calls for the fact I am not a true Bengali. I am a true and proud Bong(Bengali) who knows to cross the boundaries of ones’ faith and beliefs. With age and experience comes maturity and knowledge and I now celebrate mankind, celebrate humanity, celebrate joy, but in my own way.

I  wish all the people a very happy festive season. Let God’s blessing be on all throughout the year.

Author : Ranjana Gupta (https://kathaokahani.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/durga-puja-and-me/)
Artist : Soumi Haldar

Durga Puja – Now And Then

To start with I am going to state that this post has mention of tons of Bengali words and jargons and I have tried my best to translate it all. I would not have done justice if I wrote the post sans those words. The essence of Durga Puja, a five day annual celebration in the Bengali community world wide would get lost otherwise. 

Growing up pujo for me meant going to Dida-Dadu’s(grandparent’s) house for the festival. The house would be brimming with joy and laughter and tons of good food. It would be a household of around 15 people. Every morning we would adorn a new dress and rush for the pushpanjoli(prayers) resisting the hot jalebi’s awaiting us back home. Jalebi in Allahabad (in India) is famous and was pretty much a norm for breakfast along with luchi torkari (puffed flatbread served with a side of vegetable curry).
Dida being an excellent cook also used to cook the bhog(food offer to the Godess and then served to all) in the para (neighborhood) pujo. So lunch was about khichudi, chutney, labra and payesh ( a rice-lentil staple served with chutney and rice pudding). For the evening, we would all deck up again in another new set of our finest and go to see aarti, dhunuchi naach, just go hopping from one pujo to another or watch a drama or a musical at my Ma’s old school.

That tradition came to a halt since moving to college and then working thereafter. Every year I go to the pujoin the respective city that I live but nothing makes up for the pujo at Dida-Dadu’s house. In the past few years, I lost both my grandparents. What is left is just this memory of it so clearly etched in my mind.


At one of the celebrations in San Francisco Bay Area 
But today I celebrate Pujo to build memories for my children, an occasion they I very much look forward to. They look forward to wearing the traditional Indian outfits, watch the dhunuchi naach (dancing with a burning coconut husk in an earthern pot), listen to the sound of the dhaak, satisfy their sweet tooth, watch the pushpanjolistanding next to me and observing everything happening around them. Celebrations do not have a definition and they do not follow a pattern.
“Do you think Ma Durga really has ten hands?” asked my seven year old to the toddler while we were watching an aarti yesterday. The toddler nodded his head saying he thought she really does have ten hands.
“Nah! That is just a way to show she is very powerful. She is very strong and she can take care of bad people.”
“OK, Didi,” he answered after listening to her very attentively.
Their comprehension and interpretation of the celebration is contemporary and logical. Yet they seek for all those little festivities and treats that I looked forward to in my childhood.
Not just them, I found myself telling someone that Ma Durga has come home on vacation with the kids and we all get into a vacation mode with her for the next few days. So we wear the finest, eat the most delectable, sing, dance and rejoice and get together as a family and community every time this year. If that were not true, would you imagine wrapping up a red-white traditional dhakai saree and eating Khichudi bhog just like I do every year in my city of San Francisco. The ambience at pujo here is just so beautiful from the sound of dhak(drums) and shonkho  to the smell of the dhoop-dhuno. People dance with the dhunchi with the same devotion and it stirs the same magic. It does not matter San Francisco, London,Kolkata or CR Park.

Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 

3 Curious Monkeys : Helping Raise Culturally Curious Kids

Living Your Dreams – Story #6 It is one thing to dream and feel strongly about a cause /concept, it is another to work towards and be able to build something constructive. Today’s story is about two people who built something they felt for and dreamt of. They continue to do so. 

Shweta Chopra and Shuchi Mehta, the founders of 3 Curious Monkeys 

A few weeks back, in San Francisco’s very first community Ganpati celebrations, I was drawn towards a booth setup for “3Curious Monkeys”. I skipped everything else but Ganpati and made my way there. Books and authors work as a magnet for me.
I caught a glimpse of the book “The Diwali Gift” on display – an animated book telling the story of Diwali through the three characters, Suno (Listen), Dekho(See) and Jaano (Learn). The animation on the book was brilliant, the three main characters appeared contemporary and there was no hint of mythology.  My daughter, who was accompanying me, kept turning pages and gulped down the book in just a few minutes. A twinkle in her, a sense of curiosity and a desire to read more – it was all present.
So while she was reading, I met with the authors, Shweta Chopra and Shuchi Mehta, also present in person at the event.
Shweta and Shuchi are two San Francisco Bay Area mothers of Indian origin, who are extremely passionate about keeping kids connected to their roots. In today’s global world, it does not matter where you live on the map, but it is important to be able to comprehend and to stay connected to our roots and the culture thereof.
Like many other parents living outside India, these moms too found it difficult to make Indian culture relatable to their children. They researched ample reading materials, educational materials and apps to find representation of India and there was hardly any in the mainstream media. Of what was there, the focus was on mythology and religion and the representation such that was not very relevant or fun for young kids.
A Diwali story could be told with the mention of diyas, mithais and firecrackers and sans the compulsory mention of Ram’s homecoming. It could be told in a way that the Rangoli becomes as mainstream as the Christmas tree in the living rooms all across the world.
This is where these moms took a giant step. They quit their corporate jobs as experienced marketing professionals and founded 3 Curious Monkeys with the idea of creating apps and books and other materials related to Indian culture. The idea was to create something that was mainstream, global, appealing but also a lot of fun. It was not an easy decision to make and they knew that it was not going to be easy. But it was their determination and a belief in their dreams that paved the way for them.
“Suno, Dekho and Jaano are contemporary characters inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s monkeys but through those characters we also want our kids to learn more, listen more and observe more. All three characters are very contemporary. We want them to be as popular as Dora, “ Shuchi mentions with an infectious excitement in her voice.
It took about 8 months of intense research, long hours of writing and editing the book, developing an app for tablets / phones, finding an illustrator, reviewing illustrations  – all done by the duo themselves.


TheDiwali Gift”, their first print and ebook, was released in October 2014 on Amazon. They have also launched an app called “Dress Up Party” that engages young children in a “dress-up” activity to show them the diversity and richness of Indian attire.
Next stop, these moms are thinking of adding more to the app and newer books about other Indian festive celebrations, rituals and Indian food. They currently do book reading sessions at many children and social events. They are working with bloggers to come and share their stories and opinions on varied related subjects. They are constantly also reaching out to everyone globally to identify areas that should be discussed more in mainstream media.
“Our children cringe to take Indian food to school but they are fine with pasta or quesadilla. We need to change that. They need to be comfortable with our cuisine as much they are with global cuisine.” 
I nod my head in agreement as I listen to Shweta during our conversation. I understand every bit of that sentiment. 

I have heard these conversations and statements from parents over and over again, after the PTC meetings, in Diwali parties and in our own living room. It is time we did something meaningful and creative to assimilate the culture that we are so proud of into the global culture and rituals. 3 Curious Monkeys is a humble attempt at doing just that.

Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 
Pictures Provided by : Shweta Chopra and Shuchi Mehta 

To learn more about 3 Curious Monkeys, follow them on Facebook / Twitter, you could download their app here and here are some fun worksheets / lesson plans too. 

The Dream To Fly

The dream and love for flying. 
Living you dreams – Story #5. We all have dreams but only few of us give wings to those dreams and let it take a flight. Today’s story is about a dreamer who believes in living all her dreams and is an inspiration to women, to mothers who have let their dreams take a backseat.  

The inhibition four-seconds before the jump from the airplane, the forty-second trance during the free fall and then the moment of truth. The canopy opens at several thousand feet above the ground and it is all beautiful and peaceful thereafter.  The wide blue expanse of the sky, the eerie silence in the air and the serene view of the world below. One is transported into a different space and a unique experience. 
What sounds very picturesque needs a lot of passion, determination, planning, practice and above all, the love for flying, the love for being in the air. Our today’s story is about Monali Jain, a mother of two, a bay area tech leader and angel investor, a philanthropist, a dreamer and a lot more. 
She candidly shared an interesting anecdote during our conversation, which forms the backdrop of this story. She learned to ride a bicycle at the age of 28 and then proceeded to learn to ride a scooter (the razor’s that kids ride on). The idea was to have fun with her daughter but life had other plans.
While riding the scooter one day, she injured her ankle. The doctor told her she would never run again. She could not run a marathon but she could skydive, he had quipped. He did not know she would pay heed to that advice so seriously. Over a four-week period shortly after that, she planned and did her first tandem skydive. She does not remember much about jumping out of a plane or the free fall the first time but she distinctly remembers the experience of floating in the air. She instantly knew she wanted more of this. 

A shot from just before the first solo skydive. 
Thus began the love affair with flying. Not an easy sport to take up specially for a parent. The risks are high and Monali is very aware of that. She waited many years after the first jump till the kids were reasonably independent. She took hang gliding classes in the interim and is today a certified hang glider. She also took up a traveling job for a year to familiarize the kids and her spouse with the idea of living on their own, in the event they had to. That is not an easy thing for any parent to practice with their kids, preparing them for their own absence. 
Before you have an opinion at this point, we should take a pause and think. Should being a parent, being a mother make us restrictive?  By restricting ourselves, by giving up on our own dreams what are we in turn instilling in our children? Parenthood cannot be the end road of dreams. By dreaming and living our dreams, we raise our children to be logical, strategic yet allow them to be fearless dreamers. Monali is an exemplary example of that to her daughters and many who know her. She is a fearless dreamer, she chases her dreams but she meticulously plans the path that leads to her dreams. 

A few second after the jump from the plane and few seconds before diving solo. 
“I love being in the air. You are transported from this life where we are all running at a lightning pace to a place where everything is calm, quiet and almost at a standstill. It is beautiful.” 
It must be. We can only imagine. 
 

Solo in the sky 

Monali recently went back to train for sky diving formally. She felt this time, the time was right. It takes immense practice and rehearsing everything umpteen times to get there. “You rehearse so many times that you trust your muscles more than your guts,” she tells me. After performing multiple tandem jumps and she did her first SOLO sky dive last month.
When not sky diving, she is a doting mother, a techie who serves on the boards of many interesting startups, an active hiker (she has hiked the Kilimanjaro) and she runs the Monali Jain foundation that helps make education available to girls in the most remote parts of India. Her energy is infectious and her dreams are limitless. In a few months, she aims to be a certified skydiver. And when she takes that flight, we will share and celebrate the experience here at Chatoveracuppa again! 

If life consumes the most of you, take a moment today to dream that forgotten dream again.  Give it the wings and take a fearless flight. Your flight may take off or it may not, you may soar high or you may not, but you will never ever regret giving up on your dream again.

Written By : Piya Mukherjee Kalra based on several telephonic conversations and email exchanges with Monali Jain. 

Pictures By : Monali Jain 

Don’t preach or teach, just celebrate this festive season with your kids


The Rangoli taking shape while the pumpkin
 waits for its turn to be carved
It is that time of the year, the time of festivals and festivities, celebrations and joy and the time to make memories.
The dhak (drums), dhunuchi (a slow-burning coconut husk) and khichudi(a one pot meal of rice, lentils and vegetables) of the Durga Puja, the pumpkin patch, pumpkin pie and the pumpkin spiced everything, the diyas(lamps) and gujiyas  and the Christmas tree. It is that time of the year where for the next three months life suddenly gets so much busier and happier.
Amidst all the festivities, there is also an onset of discussion among parents about teaching and making the younger generation, the kids, a part of the rituals and celebrations.
“How do we teach them and hand it down to them?”
I also often hear parents complaining about their children’s non-interest, non-adherence to their culture and rituals.   What if we just raised our kids surrounded by our rituals and traditions without imposing it on them. Allowing them to be mere observers.  
Let me give you glimpse of what happens at my home.
We as a family are madly fuzzy about celebrations. For instance my mother set the tradition of Navratris (a celebration for nine nights), something almost unheard of in a Bengali household. So this time every year, when the whole Bengali community is feasting ferociously, we are fasting. And we do so with no qualms every year.
On the other hand, my husband who is not a Bengali, is however more excited than us about the Durga Puja festivities. His tussar Kurta’s(silk shirts) come to quick aid in camouflaging him into the world of BabuMoshais (gentlemen in Bengali) and we often hear people come in and converse with him in Bengali. He promptly responds in a language he did not grow up speaking.The children are a witness to all of this and in their own way learning to blend cultures, languages and rituals.
For nine straight days my daughter showers and dresses up early in the morning during Navratris, sitting next to her grandmother, listening to the prayers or helping with the morning navratri puja.The morning arati is done before she leaves for school. She would clean our little temple, offer flowers, give handwritten notes to the Goddess (“I need one extra laddoo today”), adorn the Goddess with a handmade necklace of beads. Every year both children accompany us to eat bhog and watch the sandhaya aarati and dhunuchi naach in the Durga Puja celebrations.
But just because my kids are watching what their grandmother does during navratris or what happens during Durga Puja or lighting up diyas during Diwali or decking up the tree with us, it does not mean they will adhere to all or any of it when they are old enough to make choices. But one thing I am sure of, it will stay with them and it will allow them the freedom to make their own choices.
That is how I remember learning about the rituals and traditions. They were never dictated to me. What I do with my children today is from my own childhood memories of the festivals, it is from what I remember. It is not in a book handed down to me. It is something within me that comes very naturally.
So enjoy the festive season with your kids and make them a part of all festivities. They are watching and thus learning everything around them. Ask them to do the little chores around festivals – lighting the diyas, making the rangoli, decorating with flowers and helping with the varied delicacies we stir up during this season. It will stay ingrained in their memory forever.
At my house, along with newer wardrobes, gastronomical binges, loads of mishti and mithai (sweets), tons of festivities, we look forward to another festive season in our family. The cowboy and the pumpkin have already made their way into my porch, the lights for Halloween will go up in few days and will stay through Diwali and Christmas, the rangoli from Diwali will stay till Santa arrives and then a brand new year to look forward to.

Written by and Pictures by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 

The Animal Rescuer

Living Your Dreams – Story #4 

Our today’s story is about a dreamer who has a heart of gold. It is one thing to love animals, keep them as pets and treat them as your own. But it is quite different when you life’s mission and dream is to rescue animals, find them a shelter and when they don’t find a shelter, bring them home. This is Varsha Karnik’s story in her own words. 

Varsha with Apple and Misha. 

I have always loved animals. I never had pets growing up though I always wanted to have one. As with most animal loving children, I wanted to become a vet when I grew up, and even got into vet school in Melbourne, but things didn’t go as planned. I did my BA in journalism, psychology and English. During this time, I was finally allowed to get myself a dog. This is when my first dog Misha came into my life. After my BA, I did my masters in psychological counseling. During this time, I got my second dog, Apple.

When I graduated from college, I looked for a job for a little while. Most options that I had were to work in schools, to be a teacher. I was not too keen on that career path. I had never envisioned myself in that role. At around the same time, I found out that a pet boarding facility called “PetStepin” was looking for a new manager. I applied, got selected and started working there immediately. It didn’t pay too much but it was the perfect job (dream job) and it made me very happy.
Working with animals let me see and understand a different side of things. I saw a lot of animals being given up by their families for very trivial reasons. It was the first time I got to understand the situation for strays in the city. During my time there, I realized that I would be moving to Muscat after I got married. So I decided to do a pet-grooming course to give me a way to work with animals after I left India.
I trained under Ashita Mathew who owns and runs “Wags and Wiggles”. A very generous woman with whom I did a lot of rescue, animal grooming and feeding stray dogs.
I moved to Muscat with my 2 dogs thereafter. There is no animal welfare here and the government does not want to do anything for them. Strays animals are shot and left to die on the streets. I had seen cops shooting stray dogs when I used to walk my dogs and didn’t know what to do. There are some unregistered groups working to help and I was following them on Facebook. One day, 5 puppies were found in a bin and I saw that they were looking for foster homes to bottle feed them. I went to pick up a puppy and met another crazy animal loving person that day.
Nada Al Moosa is an Omani woman who has been working for animals for a few years. We together decided that we should start a rescue organization.
Omani Paws was born in November 2013. I have been involved with the group from the vet start. I go out to rescue animals, take them to her neutered, participate in fundraisers and also foster a lot. I now work at a veterinary clinic, and do animal adoption for them. I also board dogs in my house, cat sit when people travel and groom animals. I love to take care and work with cats and dogs. I now have 10 dogs of my own. I have a wonderful husband who is very supportive and as crazy as I am.

My favorite rescue story so far is of Orca and Maya. Orca and Maya are sisters who had been in my neighborhood for a long time. One day, for some reason, they came running up to me and were very friendly. Maya was heavily pregnant. I gave them some food and put collars on them, so that they wouldn’t get shot. That night, I got a call from a neighbor to tell me that she had delivered in a construction site where they had just laid the foundation. My husband and I went right away to move her and her puppies. She let me take her babies and they followed me to my house. I knew that they were my responsibility right then. A friend adopted the female pup and one of the boys is in the UK. I still have the third pup with me. Orca and Maya live in my yard because they love their freedom. They come with me for walks and have become friends with people in the neighborhood. I wish they could find homes where they would get lots of individual love and attention, but I do love them all and will do everything I can to look after them.

This is my story. Yes, to many it may all seem very crazy but this is my dream and I am living it.  I am very happy that I have a dream job and that I get to do what I love to do.

Written by and Pictures By : Varsha Karnik, an animal lover and rescuer. 

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