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Anecdotes

IIT JEE


I had decided to give another shot to the IIT joint entrance examination.
Indian Institute of Technology’s or IIT’s are a group of elite engineering colleges in India. The admission to the institutes is through a joint entrance examination, universally acclaimed as very difficult to get through.

I did not get through IIT last year and accepted admission in one of the state engineering colleges. This college was in a beautiful campus that was tucked away in the foot hills of Himalayas. On a clear day we could see the outline of the snowcapped peaks.

Continue reading “IIT JEE”

Saying Good Bye

The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said or never explained. It is one of the most traumatic aspects of human relationships. A loved ones goes away sooner you would want them to leaving a void and a silence that can never be filled and questions that will always remain unanswered. But one has to move on with life, the show must go on. Sometimes that means saying goodbye in a different way. 

 

Continue reading “Saying Good Bye”

The Story Of My Mother And Many Mothers

A daughter reflects on her mother’s life, her love for her family and kids, her dreams, her decisions, her career and the tough task of balancing it all. In becoming a mother, we realize all the sacrifices, hardships and selflessness motherhood demands. Anindita Sengupta shares her mother’s story, up close and personal. 

As a young girl, I always pictured my mother as a panacea to the riddle called life, my sole life support system but often wondered why some mothers were not full time mothers while the others were; why some of us longed to see their mothers at the end of the day when the rest could hug theirs right after the school got over!
Now being a mother myself, I can read a mother’s life differently knowing that she is not just a wholesome lifelong caregiver, instead an individual with dreams and desires, failures and success and above all someone whose “ME” is just as vibrant as any other soul boxed deep beneath the layers of various other demanding roles. Talking of mothers, what better tribute can we pay to these eternal selfless beings without the tell-tale of our own?
Being married off at the age of 21, my mother hadn’t had a chance to start off an early career in spite of a commendable academic track record (the then gold medalist in her discipline/major)

”Tomar konodin bidesh giye higher studies korar icche hoeni maa?” (Didn’t you ever aspire to go abroad for higher education maa?).
I would ask her when I was in my 20’s to which she would reply with a hearty laugh “Na re, shei shomoy amar biye korar khub icche hoechilo” (No dear, I was eager to marry your father those days).
So was that all for her: education and the marriage? Not really, for she is resilient and a fighter, who could always begin from where she had left. She got her Masters and later had a fulfilling career in academics as well. But her career had to end way before it should have (mostly due to personal reasons), a sad incident as I come to think of it now; and I realize that sometimes there comes a crossroad in life where we have to choose between the two equally precious halves of your individuality!
Today my mother is over 60 years old and in my mental frame I believe she has given life a lot more than actually taken from it.
Even as I tell you her story, I know there are so many mothers out there with similar lives, women who did what they had to and somehow were contented doing it. On the flip side, kudos to all those who could and still are struggling to strike a balance between all the small compartments of their lives; those who have successful careers and are great home makers at the same time, those who make their offices a proud place and their homes a cozy one. They are in themselves a success story and a lot of them are happy with their lives. In short, they have it all!!

So it is time we celebrated motherhood every single day, for it’s a gift from God and a big shout of applause to all mothers out there. We are special!

A New Mother And A Nanny

It is immensely difficult for a new mother to return back to work after having a baby. A tough choice made by many mother, which comprises of entrusting someone else, sometimes even a stranger to look after and care for the baby in the mother’s absence. This anecdote( which is part fiction) is written by a mother and revolves around similar circumstances in the author’s life few years back. We know mothers will relate very well to it. 

There are mothers and then are those who enable the mothers. This is a story about both.


It all started a few years ago when I sent out an ad in the local papers. “Live-in Nanny needed for a six month old” it read. Further adjectives like caring, experienced etc. were rightfully juxtaposed hoping the person who applied would live up to all of them.

For me, it was a tumultuous time. I was going back to work after a long maternity break. My heart was not in it. In the going back that is. But it was a decision I had taken after many sleepless nights. 

“You should hire a nanny,” suggested a friend who had similar arrangements for the last 4 years and balanced a successful corporate life with a happy home one.

I did not want a corporate life, successful or not. But I was not ready to give up the security of a financial income either. Finally, with a long list of phone numbers, couple of e-mail addresses, a bunch of local newspapers by my side, I decided to give the whole nanny thing a try.

After many phone interviews and subsequent screening we narrowed down our choice to an Indian lady in her late fifties, close to my Mother’s age, who seemed to be caring and homely and at whom my baby girl had flashed a gummy smile. We took that as a sign and hired her.

And thus one fine Sunday, “Aunty” as we called her, came to live with us, a single suitcase and a tattered copy of Hanuman Chaalisa in tow.

As was expected I wasn’t comfortable with having the Nanny around. I could not trust her with my baby even though she seemed very competent. I hovered around her as she gave my daughter an oil massage and I insisted that I bathe her myself. I still had a month to join work and so I did all the baby duties myself leaving Aunty little to do.

But “Aunty” seemed a conscientious soul and not one to sit around and be lazy. So while there was little child minding to do, she pottered around the kitchen inspite of my protests. She made me a hot cup of cardamom tea every afternoon and offered to make puffed up phulkas instead of the frozen rotis that I was heating and serving. 

One day she got a bunch of methi greens and next morning for breakfast piping hot methi parathas graced our dining table. I slowly started warming up to her presence and found myself looking forward to what she would cook next. Being a Gujarati she was not comfortable with cooking non-veg but she had a vast vegetarian repertoire to make up for that. I really did not mind. I had little time to cook elaborate meals and hot piping Gujju dinners instead of my Bengali fish curry and rice did not seem like a bad idea. 

Through the crisp bajri rotis, the spicy ringan nu shaak and soft daal dhoklis, I slowly came to trust her even with my daughter. I found myself turning to “Aunty” when my daughter had a fit of bad cold and asked her for advise on baby food. No longer did I think of her as an arch enemy who was here to share my daughter with me, instead I found in her an ally, a grandmother figure who could help me in child rearing with her years of experience.

The bond that happened over piping hot food grew stronger with the years and today when I look back I can only be extremely grateful that she came into our life and gave me the support when I needed it most.

Written By : Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta. 

Sandeepa needs no introduction, she is the author of the book “Bong Mom’s Cookbook” and the very popular blog http://www.bongcookbook.com Her recipes are simple yet delectable and there are stories woven around it. Heart warming stories are told while she stirs up one delicacy after another. 

The Letter

A Zakir Hussain Table Cassette

Dear Soumi,
I hope I remember right that it’s your birthday around this time. I wish you a fun filled birthday and a life full of happiness.  I thought of writing to you today and not miss the moment.
My son came up to me today and held out something and said – “Amma why did you give it to me to keep, I do not understand the value of this?”
The thing he held out was a cassette, an old relic of forgotten times I must say. He has never heard a cassette being played out though he has seen a cassette player at his grandparent’s house. This cassette happened to be a Zakir Husain tabla: series two from the maestro club with Side A: Teentala and Side B: Ektala. What meaning does this cassette hold for a 9 year old?
Well that brought a chapter out from the memories of a mother from an almost forgotten but much cherished time from her past. And I told him this story.
It was a cold damp afternoon in Baroda – Vadodara. To escape from the rain we had gotten into a music store. We all in the hostel loved music, music of all sorts, bollywood numbers, ghazals, classical music, you name it. We shared our interest in Gulzar penned songs.
Now we – from what I remember, in we it was me and you Soumi, who had gotten into this music store and our other friend Anubha had stepped into some other store around to pick something else. So we were roaming around the various familiar aisles – Kishore Kumar, Mohd Rafi, latest releases and other unending compilations while keeping a tab on the rain situation to figure out when to head out. Suddenly one of the store helpers came running in a possible bid to keep us around to make some sale and also have ‘fans’ swooning for this celebrity who was going to walk in.
Oh my God! She told us Zakir Husain was going to be in the store in some 10 mins and we could get an autograph from him if we stick around. “Why don’t you pick a cassette from our classical section and get it signed by the maestro himself?”
We looked at each other in disbelief. We quickly scrambled for what was available. Soumi picked something and I found this cassette that you have now and we were standing and waiting, we know that Anubha must be waiting downstairs for us by now. But the store lady said 10 minutes right, so why not just wait. Of course it took more than that when finally the great one did arrive.
Oh well it was worth the wait. This handsome, more than life, figure floats in with this curly flowing hair almost like a halo; a flowing silk robe/kurta. He looks around. Not many fans eh! What do you expect, when it is a rainy dingy Sunday afternoon you chose to walk in for a promotional at a music store! The store attendants point to us saying – look there are some girls who want your autograph! Soumi holds out her cassette, he asks her name. And on hearing her name he said,  “Soumi! Kemon aacho?”
And more words in Bangla – he had lived some part of his life in Kolkatta and knows Bengali well. He also said that Soumi was a lovely name and something else about the meaning of the name or something else (which I forget). For there we were, our heads spinning with excitement – Zakir Hussain for real, signing autographs for us, talking to us, no crowds stealing the glory of the moment!
Now I gave the cassette to my son as a keepsake because he expressed interest without any nudges from me to learn tabla while we were in Bangalore. He went for a few lessons, refused to practice and the days moved on. I once asked him months after we moved back to the US, should we look for a table teacher for you? “Nah, not now Amma.” 
“Then why did we bring the tabla all the way here if you do not care to learn how to play it anymore?! I might as well have given it away to someone.”
“No Amma, I want to keep it with me but do not wish to go for lessons.”
“Hmmmmm.”
Enjoy your special day and keep writing and photographing!
Love,

Smita.

The Author Of The Letter : Smita Namboodiri, is a college friend of our resident editor and photographer, Soumi Haldar. Smita has a photographic memory and is a mother to two lovely children. 

Trapped: Maya’s Journal

Preface : The sandwich generation – Those who are spending all of their mid life caring for the elderly parents while trying to keep a career, run a home, pay the bills and raise the children. A daunting task that always takes a toll on one’s life. The voices of the caregivers stay unheard, sometimes trapped in their journals.

Inspired by a real life story and a real life journal. This is in response to our writing promptShare the story of a caregiver who has nurtured or looked after you or your loved one. 

                                                                       Maya’s Journal 

Monday, January 13, 1997

I am exhausted like I am everyday at this time of the night. I want to shut this screen and go to the warm and cozy bed awaiting me.  But writing has always helped me to process my thoughts, retrospect, and give me the strength to face another day.

This morning when I went into Ma’s room, she sat there staring through her window, watching the morning thoroughfare on the street below. She did not look at me as I settled her breakfast tray in front of her.  Scrambled eggs, toasts smeared with butter and orange marmalade and coffee. Strong. Dark. Black. Bitter.

The coffee resembled the relationship that two of us share, ever since her dementia.

When I went back to her room later, the eggs were scattered on the floor, along with a few breadcrumbs.  The dishes broken, the silverware thrown across the room but the coffee mug stood there in front of her. It was intact and empty.  Breakfast was the only meal I did not have to feed her so far. That has to change now.

She smiled a wicked smile at me and then turned her face away. I cleaned the room. Bathed her and changed her. Made her bed. Fed her an early lunch and then cleaned her again. All she did was holler at me “Nurse”, “Nurse”.

That part hurts the most. That’s what dementia does to you. The daughter in law becomes the “Nurse”, the son is still a “school going kid” and the grandchildren do not exist.

I am guilty of spending less time with the children after they come back from their school these days. I am so spent by then. All we do is read together after dinner. They have so much to tell and I have so little time for them.  We have not taken them for a trip for a year now. They rarely invite friends over. They do not fuss over food or anything for that matter.  They are always helping us around the house, even running errands at times.

We are robbing them of their childhood. I cannot fix Ma’s dementia. But I wish there were more hours in the day. I wish there was more happiness in this house.
_____________________

Thursday, January 16, 1997

The last two days have been a nightmare. I am not sure if I can blame it all on myself. Ma walked out of the house while I was helping the children with their science project. She wandered in the neighborhood at first and then walked towards the main street leading up to the freeway.

A stranger provided this information as I ran on the streets looking for her. I had left the kids alone at home. They are young at 8 and 6 years old. But I did not have any time to let the neighbors know. I asked them to call their Dad at work and let him know.

We found her three hours later at a tea stall on a highway 10 kilometers from home. Had she walked all that distance by herself? She would not tell. 

When asked why she had left, she had responded in two words. “Bad Nurse.”  Then she looked towards me, smiled a wicked smile and spat. The wetness on my face left me embarrassed and humiliated.  I did not want the children to see this. But they stood witness to it.

For everything that I do for Ma, I know I will never stand a chance for any love or any form of understanding from her.  She will never know who I am or what it means for someone to bathe, feed, clean and take care of her everyday.

We do not have the money or the resources to hire help. The last affordable full time nurse had quit within a week.  How can I disown the woman who mothered my husband? I certainly cannot. The people who tell me it is my responsibility to look after her, that I am a brave and a kind woman to do so, I laugh at all of them. They know nothing about any of this. They do not live with dementia. I do. 

There are times like after today’s incident, I feel hopeless… helpless. I want this to end. I do not feel bitter. But I want this to end. I want the suffering to end for her. I want her to go away as the person she was before.

I want it to end so that I become the mother I want to be.

I want it to end so that I no longer have to see my husband’s defeated face buried under the surmounting number of medical bills.
_____________________

Monday, January 20, 2007

When I tucked Ma in bed tonight, she looked blissful. I can only hope for a calm morning tomorrow. No broken dishes. No food mess. No blobs of spit. No curse words. No wicked smiles.

Ma insists on eating on chinaware only. Melamine and stainless steel has been rejected. So I have bought some cheap china. Ma insists on eating by her self. So I serve food that is easier to scrub off the floor, walls and clothes.

Bathing and cleaning is getting tougher. She resists. She has the strength that my husband and I together do not possess. At least she is kind to him. She keeps telling him to get her a new “nurse”.

It has become a new joke between us. “I am thinking of getting a new nurse,” he winked at me and said today.

“Sure, please do.”

“I will find a pretty one.”

“Like I care! “

We laughed aloud. We have to laugh about Dementia if we have to live with Dementia. We will not be able to live with it otherwise.
_____________________

Picture By : Soumi Haldar. More pictures with other stories here

A Promise

A promise to find a home. 

She was part of that home for more than 6 months now but he never spoke to her once or even acknowledged her presence among all. She felt he consciously ignored her, she was almost sure he hated her, But for what? She always wondered.

Continue reading “A Promise”

RED

“Once upon a time in a country called India…” She paused and rubbed her severely wrinkled forehead. The children sat around her patiently. Everyone knew you couldn’t rush a story out of Dadi.
“No, not India. In Pakistan. But at that time those houses were in India.” The children were all very quiet, even the youngest lot. 
“It doesn’t matter. There are no houses anymore. At least not there.”
 “Amma! They are too young for this!” Shanno turned her attention to the little ones, “Chalo! Run home! School tomorrow. You too, Sheetu.”
The others ran away and Sheetu pretended to snuggle up and sleep. Once Shanno was out of earshot, Sheetu sprang up.
“Who lived in those houses, Dadi?”
Dadi coughed and whispered, “Sleep, child. Your mother would be back to check on you.” Sheetu used to share Dadi’s bed on the terrace that overlooked the village.
“Did you live there?” Sheetu ignored.
Dadi didn’t answer. She continued instead. “There were eleven houses in the tiny village and every evening children from those houses wrecked havoc in the fields. From stealing mangoes to chasing donkeys through the field, they kept all elders on their toes. And all of ten, she led the gang of the little rascals. Junaid was her best friend out of the lot. Religion had never mattered there. Their families had lived together in the tiny village forever. They had never tasted slavery and so didn’t really understand freedom. The English had never travelled to those parts.”
“They didn’t even know about Britishers?” Sheetu’s eyes widened. “I know about British rule and I wasn’t even born back then.”
“Once a year,” Dadi smiled and continued, “Junaid’s abba would go to the next village, Bada Gaun, and sell the produce. He would then buy provisions for all houses. No one needed to go anywhere for anything. She would always climb on the last tree right at the top of the hill and watch him disappear into the forest across the railway tracks.”
“What was her name, Dadi?”
“Whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. She was busy climbing trees with Junaid and the other children when the rest of the country was gearing up for Independence. The last tree was the most coveted one because that was the only one which gave a clear glimpse of the train that passed through the next village down the hill, across the patch of forest, every fortnight.”
 “After a long day of running aimlessly, the children knew it was time to go home when the crickets started rubbing their feet to invite the moon. On that night, the air was different. It smelt different. She noticed it and so did Junaid. The rest of them were too busy chasing fireflies. Junaid’s Abba stood with the rest of the men, listening intently to what Hari chacha was telling them. Junaid signaled to her and both slipped away from the rest of the bunch and inched closer to the elders. No one seemed to notice two shadows behind the Chaupal.
 “So where are we now?” Her father asked Hari Chacha, the postman from Bada Gaun.
 “I don’t know. The village didn’t figure in the list on the Indian side. Maybe you are in Pakistan now?”
 “Hmmm. Does it matter? It hasn’t so far…and bodies, you say?” Junaid’s Abba shook his head.
 “Uncountable bodies, Khan sa’ab, unimaginable. I suggest that you do not go to Bada Gaun this year.”
 “Arrey? If we don’t, who will negotiate the crop prices? That is what carries us through the rest of the year and I have to go as soon as possible. Nothing will happen. Those are our people. All these things happen in big cities where people have lots to loot and kill for.”
 Junaid pulled her away. Abba seemed relaxed. He assumed there was nothing to worry about.
 Next morning, all the little ones raced to the hill. It was time for the morning train. Junaid was the fastest runner amongst the lot but not as fast as her. She outran him and quickly climbed to the very top of the tallest tree, and perched on the thick branch facing the valley. Junaid grumbled and got on to the lower branch. From where he sat, he couldn’t see her. That was another reason why everyone tried to get on the top – the thick maze of leaves made it a perfect hiding space.
TOOOOOT! All kids held their breath. The train chugged nearer.
Da Dhak.. Da… Dhak…… Da….. Dhak…… Da…………. Dhak.
 It had slowed down. The children exchanged puzzled glances. It never slowed down here. But that day, it stopped. Junaid looked up. He still couldn’t see her. The air smelt different again.
They could hear people shouting at a distance. Tiny specs had spilled out of the train and were making their way up the hill. The children sat rooted in their trees. Soon the specs turned into people, and soon the people were clearly visible – complete with blood shot eyes, blood stained clothes, carrying bloodied swords and air that smelt different.
Junaid fell out of the tree just as the first of the bloodied lot reached the top. She was too shocked to let go of the branch.
A moment’s silence was followed by a sickening whoosh of the sword. Then they shook trees. The other trees were smaller, and one by one the little ones fell.
Swoosh. Slash. Silence.
 She still held on.

The crowd moved on. She still held on. Shrieks rang out behind her. She recognised each one of them – Babaji, Abba, Junaid’s ammi, Ma, bhaiya, Kaka, bhai jaan – one by one she recognised them all.
The bloodied people returned. The dried blood was replaced by fresh stains, and ground below was now darker and wetter. She still held on. 
TOOOOOOT!
 The train chugged along.
 Da…………. Dhak. Da….. Dhak…… Da… Dhak….. Da Dhak.
 She still held on.
 That evening Hari Chacha returned.
“Arrey Khan Sa’ab!” He hollered. “I have found out! We are in India! Look, I even brought a flag. Khan Sa’ab?”
She could hear his crazed screams as he ran from one house to another. Then the screams got nearer. She let go.
Junaid cushioned her fall. Now she was drenched too. The pale pink in her clothes took on a darker, more sinister hue. Junaid’s blood – on her clothes, her hands, and in her head.
Hari chacha scooped her up and ran down the hill towards Bada Gaun. He was still clutching the flag. Colours were swimming in her eyes – saffron, red, white, red, green, red.
 Dadi went quiet. Sheetu’s throat went dry and her eyes were moist. She found her voice after a while, “Dadi, what happened to her? Who killed them? Why?”
“She breathed. She died that day but she kept breathing. The day the country got free was the day that she was lost forever. If only she had let him win that day……If only she had let go in time, she would have been one of the dark stains on the earth below the tree. But she lived. And she never forgot the flag. Never celebrated it, and never forgot it.”
Somewhere, someone burst crackers. It was midnight. 15th August was here.
A single tear rolled down Dadi’s cheek and she murmured, ‘Saffron, red, white, red, green, red.”
Story Credit : Dr.Tanushree Singh. Tanu Shree is a frequent storyteller at Chatoveracuppa. She is a parent to two boys, a lecturer in Psychology, a storyteller, a bibliophile, an artist and a baker among many of her other talents. She blogs at tanushreesingh.wordpress.com and at Huffington Post India. 

Photo Credit : Soumi Haldar 
The story was originally posted at Tell a tale as a part of #myindiastory contest. Participants had to write a short story about the India they know, the India they think existed or the India that should be. The story was to start with the phrase “Once Upon A Time In A Country Called India… 

Finding Love Again

Finding Love Again. Open a new door, find a reason to fall in love again, make a new beginning

Meera stood by the entrance of her apartment, carefully placing the brown clay lamps around the small Rangoli design; her ears alert and she, ready to spring into action at any sound or movement inside the house.

Scrutinizing her Rangoli artwork, Meera wasn’t particularly proud of it.
“What the heck! It is darn good considering I have not designed one in ages.” Meera concluded.
Meera threw a glance around her living room admiring her efforts at decorating their home. It was Diwali time and though for the last couple of years she didn’t bother with the festivities, this year was special – a year of firsts, a year of new beginnings and a year of embracing life again. The cool evening breeze made the orange paper lantern sway out in the balcony; its tail swooshing gently and at times getting entangled. Meera’s eyes sparkled along with the tiny colorful lights that she arranged surrounding the lantern. The lights, like little vibrant, colorful beads, dancing in unison made her home look beautiful. No one could say that the house lacked a man’s presence and Meera recollected those innumerable times when she was dependent on Ravi even for the smallest of the things at home.
Ravi, her husband of 8 years, was no longer in her life. The relationship had gone kaput two years back when Ravi had announced one day, that he wasn’t cut out for marriage and wanted a divorce.Meera later realized, what he really meant was, “he wasn’t cut out to be married to Her”. A year after the divorce Ravi married another woman… a colleague from his office.
Meera had often wondered why she had never seen it coming. The late hours at work, weekend seminars and the absolute No for having kids – the signs were all right there in her face; then why couldn’t she see that something was wrong in their marriage? Maybe it was the blind trust or maybe she was complacent with the situation at home, but the whole incident had left her broken, bitter and lost. For someone who was dependent on her husband for the smallest decisions of her life, being on her own was a daunting thought.
Meera took up a job for the first time in 8 years and started spending every waking hour at work to keep the loneliness at bay.
“You will be 35 soon. You cannot carry on with your life like that.” Meera’s mother had said one day. “You have to find a partner, someone with whom you can spend the rest of your life happily.”
“But you are alone too Ma. Its 10 years now since Dad passed away. What about you? Don’t you need someone in your life?” Meera contradicted.
“I have you Beta,” was her mother’s warm words.
Meera had gone back to her empty house that night and the conversation with her Mother had kept her awake till late.
It wasn’t a eureka moment or a spark of enlightenment, but it was the result of many months of sleepless nights arguing with self, challenging her own capability, bracing herself for the society, taking her mother in confidence, making a conscious decision, talking to necessary people, filling out the applications and a wait of 7 months which had finally bought meaning and enrichment to Meera’s life.
Today, like every day for the last month had been blissful. Meera was in love again. She had never felt so happy, content and complete in her life and a smile lingered on his face thinking about the reason of her happiness. Meera was pulled out of her thoughts when a wailing broke out.
“Ahha, my Khushi is awake” Meera rushed to the bedroom and stood by the crib, her voice soothing the year old baby girl.
“Here My darling… Mamma is here. Hush there you little one.” Meera picked up the child who instantly hugged her tight, putting her cheeks against Meera. The new mother closed her eyes, enjoying the pure, innocent love of her baby girl – her partner for life.
When Meera and Khushi came out in the living room, the little girl’s eyes followed the lights and her chubby smile brightened up the already decorated home.
Meera whispered slowly “Happy Diwali Beta,” to which Khushi responded by gurgling and snuggling closer to Meera making it the best Diwali of Meera’s life. 
Everyone says when you adopt; you give the child a chance at a better life. Meera believed it was the other way round. Yes, a child does become part of a family, but when someone adopts; it’s most definitely the parent/parents whose lives turn better and beautiful.


Written By : Jyothi D”Mello. A Book Lover, storyteller, dreamer, foodie, mother and a writer (an Amateur one albeit). Writing is her way to express fears, anxieties, inner demons, bottled love, guarded feelings and cherished memories. She writes because that is what she loves to do, that is what keeps her sane.

Picture Credit : Vipin Kalra 

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