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Things That Matter

Then and Now

Photo credit: Swapan Haldar
How many of us are motivated by nature’s innocence and yearn to return to those days of simplicity. But when we retrace those steps, worlds have changed. Swapan Haldar wonders.

When I was a post-graduate student at Calcutta University in the 1960’s, I did my thesis on chromite deposits of Orissa, India. Mining for chromite had just started in the country. The chromite belt was located in a valley between the Mahagiri and Daitari hill ranges. I was put up in a small hutment inside the boundary of the mine campus. The area was a dense forest populated by wild animals and a few tribal villages. I used to do geological studies in the forest from early morning to late noon. After sunset no one was allowed to step outside the mine’s fenced area. No one would open the hutment door at night. Elephants used to come to the villages for food and would destroy the banana plants. We used to witness bear families fading away into the forest. Once I experienced the smell of a tiger and left-over food in a small cave. Lateritic –nickel was discovered in the area by the Geological Survey of India while I was there. My three months of field work in the midst of a dense forest and being in nature fascinated me forever. Back at the University, my thesis was highly acclaimed. Thereafter, I joined metal mining corporate companies (copper-zinc-lead). But I could never forget that short stay in a remote mine campus with inadequate facilities and very little modern comforts. I promised myself that I would return to the platinum-nickel-chromite industry at an opportune phase to share my knowledge with students and fellow professionals.
This first experience made a permanent and passionate impact on me, to love nature, to learn the process of the Universe and to understand how the mystic mother Earth hosts minerals and metals from core to crust for the benefit of birds, animals and human beings. The urge made Swapna, my wife and me to explore different parts of the World. We have seen the majestic snow-capped Himalaya Mountains from different places, seasons, angles and altitudes. We had been to glacier capped summit of Jungfrau, one of the main peaks of the Bernese Alps.  The view of the granite monolith (“Half Dome”), Yosemite National Park, East of California and a part of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a sight to behold to geologists and other scientists. The scenic beauty of Grand Canyon, Arizona State, with its changing colors from early morning to late evening explains the sedimentary process of formation.
When I first visited Sukinda Chromite belt in 1964, it was a sleeping hamlet and gifted by nature’s love with dense forests, mineral wealth and peaceful tribal people. There were three small mine entities separated by kilometers and supported by less than 100 employees.  I visited recently to update my knowledge about the present chromium-nickel resources in the World. I was confirmed that platinum does exist. But what I saw saddened me. There are more than 25 surface and underground working mines separated by common boundaries. The forests have vanished. The majestic Mahagiri range reduces greatly by bulldozing. Series of newly born hills appear parallel to Mahagiri range due to mine waste dumping. Nonmetal roads take care of more than one thousand trucks daily for transporting ore to distant ferrochrome factories. The sky is gloomy throughout the day due to the mine dust. Social evils, crime, alcoholism and drug addiction, and other such abuses have increased. This is the other side of the coin. We have to address and balance between good and evil through proper self protective education, counseling and training. Making stringent rules is not the solution- it has to be implemented in the right spirit. Otherwise what will we leave for our future generations?

The Smart Smartphone!

Photo credit: Piya Mukherjee

Sunday was the day of an important festival in India. The traffic in Delhi, which is always busy, had gotten even busier. Travelling to meet someone, I sat through the jam patiently. There was no other way. 


On a toll bridge, I sat in the car watching the passenger in the car ahead of us having an altercation with the person at the toll booth. Inquisitive after a while, I rolled down my window to get slice of the story. The passenger in the car in front had refused to pay the toll and was adamant he was right in doing so as he was a senior government employee.The person operating the toll booth would not budge. There were no special rules for any one, everyone has to pay. 

Must mention the toll fee was INR 25. 

The argument continued for 20-25 mins. By then, a lot of young people had stepped out of the car, all with smartphones in hand. They did not intervene neither did they create a scene. There was no commotion. Each one of them clicked pictures of the car with its passenger and the registration number. They did not stop at that. They were plastering it all over social media. 

Soon the people in the car realized what was going on. They swiftly paid the toll fee and sped away. The traffic cleared. The toll booth operator was clearly the hero of the day. It is not everyday that someone takes a tough stand here. 

While a large part of the country is still caught up in bureacracy, the pseudo status symbols and misuse of power and designation, it is very refreshing and encouraging to see the young generation take a step towards what is right. They are doing so smartly and very socially. 

Story credit: Piya Mukherjee

Of Religion, Karma and Such

Credit for the painting that forms the backdrop : Manjit Singh Chatrik
Photo credit : Soumi Haldar

A conversation aboard a flight to India. A conversation between our resident author, Piya Mukherjee, and her co-passenger about perhaps the most debated subject – religion. We are not forming an opinion or advocating a choice, we are merely saying what we believe in. Religion is a personal choice. Live and let others live. 

On the second leg of a long overseas flight, I settled down into my seat exhausted and sleep deprived. Not the right time for a conversation by any means. Just then my co-passenger enquired if I was traveling alone with such young kids, how old were the kids and how I was managing all by myself. 

This by now had become a repetitive question. So I proceeded to tell one more time that it was really no big deal and that the kids were for the most part well behaved. I was informed he was traveling from LA to Delhi on a mission. 

Mission? My curiosity arose. Perhaps another crusader trying to eliminate poverty from India, I thought. I was proven wrong. The mission was to educate about a certain religion and bring awareness about its ability to heal and cleanse all from their sins. I nodded silently in disbelief. The nod was not that silent after all. 

“So you don’t believe in my mission?”, he asked. 

My response was direct and raw. Beliefs are personal. Mine did not have to be in agreement with his. I believed in the power of karma. Karma, an overused word in the western world with origins in the country that my co-passenger was traveling to. In a country that was already drowning in the number of religions, another religion would not make a difference. There were more noble causes/ missions to undertake. 

He looked startled but not closed to my strong opinion. The conversation lasted an hour. I was wide awake by then, with two kids hanging on either sides. I excused myself to continue reading “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed seemed more engaging and inspiring. 

In between the reading, the air hostess came in with a snack. The interruption resumed the conversation. This time it was my turn to listen. “This is my 5th trip to India. Last four have not been exactly successful.” 

I did not respond. I had spoken already and so had many others. Religion is something we inherit by birth or adopt out of choice. It cannot be imposed. It is time we leave that alone and focus on being goodhearted human beings regardless of our religious choices. 

Public Service Announcement

This is a Public Service Announcement = P.S.A.

Please read.


Hey there, all you California residents! How’s it going? How’s your summer been? I know that mine has been great! But of course, mainly because of one reason. Water and the pool. This summer so far has been BURNING HOT, I don’t even want to try to imagine the weather in August and September. I can barely stand a day without swimming in the pool. As you know, this is our third year in a drought. And this, by far, has been the driest year. The last time it heavily rained was in 2010. We need to learn to conserve water and all our natural resources. We were driving back from the mall yesterday, and as we passed by a whole block of houses, I could see that all their front lawns were covered with grass and a few of them had some trees. The grass was brown and dead and the young trees did not look that good. I do not want to sound rude but I think we need to realize that we are living in CALIFORNIA! Our water comes from a whole other STATE! We basically live in the middle of a desert! I think we should replace the grass in our lawns with desert/California friendly plants like cactus. They are pretty to look at and barely use any water at all. They can survive for years on end. Looking after the environment eventually ends up in looking out for each other and ourselves. And this isn’t only for us in California, but for each and everyone of us all over the world. Please, let everyone know about this issue, and let’s start helping each other, California and the world!

This has been written by a twelve year old who really cares about the environment and all of our futures. Please help her to spread the word!

Do I Really Need It??

Photo Credit : Shruti Srivastava

Our new author on the block, Shruti Srivastava, in her own words,I strongly believe that everyone is sent on earth with some purpose in life.I am grateful to many who have been significant in my journey of life. My educational background of Psychology keeps the yearning in me alive to understand human behavior and relationships, inclination towards spirituality gives me direction and painting a sense of achievement and pleasure! Chatoveracuppa real life stories inspired me to write one….and  discovered that I could do a decent job of story telling!”


Brought up in a humble yet fun filled environment, the emphasis had always been on education and values of life. I have been blessed with a great set of parents and a lovely family. We had limited options in the late seventies; but I got enormous happiness from doing or possessing simple things, unpretentious in nature.

However, like any seven year old, I too would get attracted to what my friends would have or do. There was a friend of mine who had got a special matt cloth to do some embroidery on. I was quite intrigued by the weave and finish of the fabric and immediately wanted to possess one. It was playing on my mind and I expressed my desire to my Mom to get a similar one for myself. My mother asked, “What will you do with it?” My answer was, “My friend has got one, so I too want it”. It was a reason that did not go down well with my youngest uncle, who happened to be there; causing him to ask, “Do you really need it?” I was a bit surprised by his question. He further added, “Do you want it just because your friend has it or do you find it useful and therefore it is worth getting?” He continued, “You must never indulge in something just because some other person is having/doing it.” 

I pondered over it and then asked myself, “Do I really need it?” Here, the answer was a ‘yes’; and so, my Mom got me a matty cloth the next day, taught me some basic stitches and then used it as a table-cover for a long time.

That episode was over in a jiffy, but that brief conversation with my uncle taught me a lesson that always stayed with me.  I am not sure if my uncle remembers it, but imprinted as it was on my impressionable mind, I will have this with me forever. Luckily, I am able to follow this advice with conviction and ease. In turn, it gives me immense happiness and satisfaction. Today, it holds even greater importance as the attractions and distractions in life are beyond imagination.

As a mother, it would be good to see my twelve year old daughter try and apply this lesson of life in every possible area and ask herself, “Do I really need it?” A justified and honest answer will guide her to go ahead.

The Little Pink Skirt


It was on Christmas eve few years back when we had  close family friends visiting over and my house was buzzing with fun and laughter, just what you want for holidays. The tree was decked up and lit, milk and cookies were left for Santa and some carrots for the reindeer too, the garage became a gift wrapping station, the kids sang jingles along with the radio and there was ample sugar goodies to keep everyone happy. When the gifts were opened on the Christmas morning, there was a little pink skirt gifted to my little girl from her favorite aunt. I remember the twinkle in her eyes upon seeing the skirt. She tried it on immediately, twirled in it while watching the frills move along with her. She touched the sequins at the end of the frills almost mesmerized by it. Her eyes glowed as bright as the glitter in the fabric. The  gift from Santa, mom and dad and the grandparents sat opened but ignored near the tree. 

She asked if she could keep the skirt on. Of course, I said. She wore it that entire day, slept in it that night and wore it for the next two days. Taking it off only while taking a shower. All negotiations to part with the skirt even to get it washed and cleaned did not work. The aunt who had gifted the skirt tried her tricks – the sequins will come off, you won’t be able to wear it your friend’s birthday party and the likes of that. That did not work either. My mom, being the grandparent felt we should leave the little girl alone. She was only four and after all it was Christmas, the holiday time. Everyone did what they liked.

On the fourth day however, she refused to take it off even for her shower. We had a mother-daughter argument behind the closed doors of the bathroom. I remember her being absolutely mad at me that day. The shower had come to my respite. The coolness of the water washed it all off. When we came out of the bathroom, she was wearing another pretty dress, her face still grumpy and eyes welled with tears. Her favorite aunt looked at us with almost a guilt – I wish I had gotten something else as a gift.

Later that day we went to a beach. My little girl soon forgot about the pink skirt, her moment with me in the bathroom and how accidentally her own hand had turned the shower on and drenched her and her pink skirt. When she was done playing at the beach and it was almost time to go home, I called for her. “I need to teach you a little magic.”

We went towards the ocean. I asked her to make a fist. “Remember, you told me you get angry and you don’t know why. Whenever you get angry, make a fist, put all your anger there and then open the fist and let it all go. You can pretend to put in the sand, throw it in the ocean or just in the air. I promise, it will not come back to you.”

Many have laughed at me for teaching something so philosophical to someone so young. I leave it to you to form your opinion.

Two years later, she has another new pink skirt with sequins at the bottom, her aunt still gifts her a  special dress every single year and we no longer need to tell her when  she needs to open her fist. She does it by herself. Most of the times she is able to identify that she is getting severely angry or upset. She has found her techniques too. She makes peace with a cold drink, drinking water helps. Taking a shower helps. Asking her to smile helps. Playing the piano or making a colorful artwork helps. She loves to write, letters and notes to us. Expression in any different form helps curb the temperament. Even crying is ok. Yes, for most part it helps relieve a lot of emotions.

Few days back, I overheard a conversation she was having with her toddler sibling “Don’t get mad at me. It is not good to be angry.” She gently held his hand, made a fist and helped him open it up. “Feeling happy ? Right. I told ya! “

Epilogue : I have toiled with this post for very long. It is easy to write glorified things about your loved ones and yourself. It is not quite easy to be forthcoming about other things. But as a parent I choose not to be blinded specially when I see this all around, when I deal with it myself. Anger issues happens at all ages and is so very common in adults. But it can be curbed early on. Mind you ,temper and tantrum have a fine line between them and both are not the same. Temper however short-lived always creates a negative impression, is usually hurtful.  So why not confront it early on. I come forward with this post today because I know many parents may have a similar story to tell and I am sure they would have devised better techniques than I did.

Story Credit : Piya Mukherjee.

The Thing About Tough Love…


Foreword By Piya Mukherjee : It is not every day that a parent gets a pat on his / her shoulder. When was the last time someone ever told you that you were freaking awesome as a parent?  And for that very reason this story by Barbara Stanifer is a must read for all parents. It will make your day (I smiled and did a little dance when I read it) and make you want to send her a Thank You note for all the kind words, acknowledgement and appreciation she expresses about what parents do. Like always her story is from her observation in the course of her day.
On my walk this morning there was a mom a dad and two boys probably 5 and 7, all riding bikes.  Going around a corner the youngest boy bit the dust – literally – wound up in the dirt, skidded for a bit.  The mom rides on, the dad stops and as the older boy approaches the scene the dad tells him to keep riding.  The little one is sitting on the ground crying.  The dad pulls him up and says a few times, “brush it off, stay strong”. 
I think to myself do dads really still say that to their sons?  I want to say out loud geeze hug him, don’t give him the don’t cry, be a man crap.  Then the dad says, “dude, you were focusing on me and where I was on the path, you just focus on you and everything will be fine”.  A few minutes later, they both pass me from behind, the Dad is riding well ahead of the little one and the kid is good to go.  No tears, riding confidently – and as they round the corner the mom sees him and shouts out “whoo hoo, yay Josh!”  And now I want to cry.

I thought this is such a testament to why kids need both the soft love AND the tough love and that is ideally delivered as a team.  If I were his mom, the kid would probably never get back on the bike again – with all the “poor baby” I’d lay on him.  I was so impressed by this dad, he knew exactly what was needed to get his son confidently back on that bike – that the ultimate job of a parent is to raise self-assured, productive humans not just make them comfortable.  
He knew it had to be a focused conversation between he and his youngest son that the older one needed to ride on so the little one didn’t feel embarrassed.  He explained why it happened so the kid could self correct and understood that the old adage still holds true about “getting back up on the horse” being the best way to conquer fear. 
I know for you parents out there this is just daily existence, one that some days you get right and other days you get wrong.  It’s a tough job you have, cheers to all of you who master the large and small victories every day!  Good parents are freaking awesome!

An Old Man’s Wisdom

Foreword by Soumi Haldar: This Father’s Day weekend we were very happy as the families were together after a long time. The children were having a blast with the fathers. And we had an abundance of stories for Father’s Day. Amidst all this, I kept thinking of the picture I had taken of Piya and her dad a few years ago and kept wondering why she was not writing anything for the occasion. Here is a post we want and need the world to read about.
It was a phenomenal week of storytelling at Chatoveracuppa last week. We heard from Dads. We heard about Dads. Raw emotions. Real stories. Life Lessons. Real Pictures. Memories. In all the stories there was one common aspect. We imbibe so much from just observing our parent in our growing up years. We may not have valued it then but we treasure it now.
I read, edited and published a few of those stories. Sadly, with a lump in my throat, all the while remembering my old man. It was not a super happy father’s day week or even a weekend for him. I drew a blank and did not know what to write about my own father. And then this morning, while going through some of my old posts on my personal blog, I stumbled upon this piece. This is for the man who taught me endurance in the face of adversity, who ingrained tolerance in me and who taught me to be content.
My Dad was the original author of my personal blog, the original storyteller. Throughout his life he has worked 6 days a week and 12 hours a day to generate zillions of megawatts of electricity to light up homes in India. We forced him to retire two years back. He is in his seventies and has survived three heart attacks (the last one nearly took his life).

He wears a couple of stents in his heart along with his salt and pepper hair, both very sportingly. He tells me often that he looks at least 10 years younger than his age. I kind of agree with him. A man of few words but of brilliant eloquence when he speaks. A man of principles and he is too rigid about them. Like Ma aptly says he cannot even lie to save his own life. Very true.

I inherited his looks, his voice (to an extent only), his handwriting, his mannerisms, his determination, his endurance, his sense of contentment and his nature to worry all the time (Yes my dad and I are enough to worry for an entire nation). My principles are not as strong as his and Ma taught me to lie enough to save my life.

I realized he had pampered me just too much when on my first day in the boarding school I realized I did not know how to tie my shoe laces. I was 12 years old then. I realized his sense of achievement when I got my first job while he was recuperating from one of the heart attacks. I realized he was too possessive about me the day I told him about the husband. I realized he believed in me the day he gave my hand off to the husband. And I realized I had to share his love for me the day my kids were born.

He also taught me the single most important lesson of my life – the difference between my needs and my wants. He sent me to a boarding school where kids generally came from very affluent families. We could just about afford it. He knew I would see some mismatch and told me this one thing that I still remember. “What you need I will provide that for you, but what you want (is not necessarily something that you may need) is something that you will have to create yourself.”
I lived through many such mismatches in the years that followed and that one statement stayed on with me. It enabled me to appreciate what I had. What I did not have didn’t disturb me. It kept me grounded. Looking back, I think he could have provided a little more. But he did not because he knew I will then forget to appreciate what I have. He instilled in me that belief that I could create things for myself. And today when I have much more I know it was all worth it.

The husband comes from an equally modest background and knows well what it means not to have it all. So now that we are attempting to instill that into our kids, we are also realizing it is not easy. As a parent you want to provide your children with everything that you have access to and in turn forget that it could be overwhelming for them. Or that they can take the provision for granted. How do you balance it? How do you provide such that it is just right? How do you draw the line? Isn’t it true that we, the new age parents, are the ones that introduce our children to the plethora of choices and then blame them for getting addicted to it?

I have seen so many homes with more toys than the child could play with, more gadgets than what is appropriate for the child’s age, more accessories than what a girl child can probably wear in her lifetime, more time on TV/ Laptop /IPAD than what is really required and more junk food than what the child should eat. Do children really need to be on social networking sites? Whatever just happened to playgrounds and classrooms? And this one irks the hell out of me – a house turned into a Disney Pixar or Nicklodeon museum with the amount of theme toys and stuff. The children did not make those choices, the parents did.
In attempting to be a good parent and making the right choices as a parent, we always remember our own parents. This post is my way of just doing that. I hope my old man is listening.
This post has been contributed by our one half of chatoveracuppa, Piya Mukherjee and has been specially written for her dad. 

Amazing Grace



For me going to the Hollywood bowl is as synonymous with summer as swimming pools and eating ice cream.  Live music, communing with friends under the stars on a warm night, the good stuff of life all in one place…  I inaugurated summer 2014 with James Taylor this past weekend.   Sitting there listening to the lyric “shower the people you love with love” I was jetted back to the summer of 2006.

 When I was 12 and my sister was 6 we got a new dad and three new brothers.  Russ wasn’t a step dad to us, he was just dad.  He breathed life and love back into my mom, my sister and I.  The kind of love you knew you could fall back on and it would catch you.  He was the complete opposite of everything our lives had been up to that point.  A gregarious, life of the party kind of man, he taught us to be out in nature, to water ski and camp, to just relax into life, and simultaneously toughen up our outer thin skins.  He had a weathered, manly exterior stuffed with a nougat of kindness and compassion.  He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he propped it up there with the one hand while enjoying life with the other, dancing at parties and singing in the car. He taught us to work hard and play hard and that a man can contain multitudes of love and emotion.

 My sister and I had tickets to see Al Green at the Hollywood bowl near the end of August 2006.  By the time the concert rolled around we had learned that Russ at the age of 65 had pancreatic cancer.  When people talk about the five stages of grief, they’re not kidding, it’s not a cliché.  So with just two weeks of cancer under our belt my sister and I were fully steeped in denial.  We all spent our free time looking up healthy diets, alternative treatments, curative teas – certain we could beat this thing.  We were a strong, tight-knit family who had overcome so many odds; we could definitely get to the other side of this.  There had been tears, but not when we were together.  When we were together we were proactive, positive, busy…

So there we were under the stars in the warm night air my sister and I, doing what Russ had taught us to do relaxing into life.   Al Green lifted the mic to his reverend – rock star lips and sang Amazing Grace and the crowd of thousands sang too.  And the tears came and came.  Finally, we cried together, we held hands and saw a glimmer of  “acceptance” that lay far ahead in the distance.  As we left the bowl, inching along in a penguin waddle the way you do when you dismount a stadium full of people.  The crowd broke into song, hundreds of people squashed together with no care of whether they had a good voice or a bad voice belted out “Let’s Stay Together” in unison.

My sister and I, faces swollen with sadness sang too, we sang because Russ taught us no matter how bad things get, go ahead and sing, go ahead and let happiness win.  In the egotistical way that we humans can sometimes believe that things are meant just for us, it felt like that crowd wrapped around us in a cumulative hug as if to say it’s ok – go ahead and feel this sad thing that’s happening to you, we’ll be here to catch you.

 Father’s Day is coming up, I think of Russ I still miss him but I am so grateful that we got a second chance at a dad, that our dad was a man who let both his strengths and weaknesses show.  A man who let us know in words and action that he loved us completely – we kids who were not his own flesh and blood – he loved us completely anyway.

This story has been contributed by Barbara Stanifer. Barbara writes a great deal about human relationships. Her life experiences are enriching for others. Shirley and now Russ, the Chatoveracuppa team is grateful to Barbara for being so forthcoming in sharing her personal stories always. 

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