Growth in Isolation

Social distancing is the need of the hour. The fear of the deadly Covid-19 is everywhere. We all are aware of this pandemic. Suddenly there is a lot of free time and so everyone is confused about what to do. Be it television, radio or whatsapp its the same fear everywhere. As we isolate ourselves this fear seems to be gripping us even more. This stress needs to be reduced before it starts affecting our relations. All we can do is to keep our distances and pray that a vaccine is discovered soon. Until then we all need to find a way to use this time. This is the opportunity to look at your lives, find out those dreams and work on them. With schools and colleges closed, one needs to find ways to spend quality time with your family.

I have always wanted to read books randomly but always picked those about which I had heard. The day before the library was closed, I went there and browsed through the stack. This time it was not the bestseller list or recommendations, it was any book which intrigued me be it the title or prologue or even the book cover. Similarly there are whole lot of hobbies one can take up. It is important to do something creative with all the tension around. Go ahead, pull out the old guitar, clean it and start playing it. If possible make a video and share it on social media. Your effort will definitely inspire many. Watch a movie and put up a review or make a video of that recipe and share it, organize the closet or find an online course. If not anything start meditating but do not allow the negativity to stop you from discovering yourself. Let there be growth in isolation. As the times are getting tougher, let us pray that a vaccine is found soon.

Warm Smiles on Frozen Ice

Every city has its own way of celebrating festivals. I always look forward to the Christmas tree on ice rink in Pittsburgh. The entire PPG place comes alive during Christmas. Winter Garden is decorated with Santa of the world and live orchestra. The place holds a special warm family vibe during Christmas. People, dressed in their winter best, skate on the ice with their families. One would see people of all age groups in all colors of sweaters, mufflers and hats. Toddlers would be learning to skate. Their determination to skate is so strong that even after multiple falls on the frozen ice, they stand up and try again. They always have their elders to cheer them. This just reminds one that family support helps one defeat all problems even that caused by freezing cold.

This tradition is followed in the city every year, still it amazes me so much that I go there every year. The warmth of the smiles overcomes the bitterness of the cold. The secret is the presence of family. No matter how cold it is, the warmth of families skating together makes this a sight to behold. The spirit of festival lies in the time one spends with near and dear ones. When we are with our loved ones, the place and surroundings don’t matter, all that matters is the presence of everyone. The belief that there are people to love me, to cheer me even when I fail, is all one needs to be happy. A common question is “What is the best gift?”. I think the answer is to spend quality time without any gadgets buzzing around. So the next time you wonder about doing something special for someone, just spend quality with them.

Diwali Beginnings

Goddess Kali

The festival of Diwali has a special place in my life. There are tons of memories associated with it. The holiday, cleaning of house, preparation of sweets, new clothes, decoration and every activity makes the festival even more enjoyable. The bengalis conduct big celebration of Kali Pujo. Goddess Kali is the destroyer of evil. We pray to her to destroy the evil within us and guide us towards enlightenment. It is the time to clean our hearts and minds, to forget the pains of the past and to brighten our lives with goodness and positiviy. Diwali also marks the New Year in western zone of India.

Fall colors in park

It is a good time to make resolutions. This year I made a resolution to not give in to cold and explore my city. One way to do it is to find parks and wander around. Parks in cities are generally around monuments and have their own history. I started off with Monroeville Community Park. Fall was in full bloom with the tree leaves displaying an array of colors. To add to that an event for Halloween Trick or Treat was going on. There were kids dressed up in their Halloween costumes. Both the trees and the kids displayed a plethora of colors which would fill any heart with joy. I roamed around the park which completed my daily walking schedule. Trying to discover something through a healthy habit motivates us to continue it. The trip helped me discover the Halloween event. Lets see what the next park helps me discover.Till then Happy Diwali and Happy New Year to everyone.

Navaratri Gifts

Navaratri is a special time when the nine incarnations of Goddess Durga are worshipped. I got posted out of my hometown when I started working. I requested my mother to give me any spare kitchen items. She gave me six plates and bowls out of which none of the two plates or bowls were same. I asked her, how she got this unique set. She said those are my Navaratri gifts. Small girls (Kumari) are worshipped during Navaratri as Goddess. This is called Kumari puja. As part of this ceremony, they are invited, a small dot with vermilion is placed on their forehead. They are then offered food cooked specially for this occasion. After this they are gifted with plates, bowls and sometimes toys. As kids we used to have invitation from numerous houses in our neighborhood. If we were unable to make it, they would send the gift to our house. It used to be fun to get up early in the morning, take bath, wear new clothes and go for the ceremony. The festivities would turn even bigger from the 7 day (Saptami), when we used to visit the Bengali community. There we would have a huge idol of Goddess Durga along with her four kids. We would offer our prayers and meet up with everyone. Although these festivities are only for few days but we used to start preparing three months before.

This year I decided to offer gifts to Goddess through Kumari puja. Luckily all the Kumaris I knew were fond of books which happens to be my hobby as well, so I gifted them classics. All the kids were happy. We also visited the Durga Puja organized by Bengali Association of Pittsburgh. These festivities always take me back to my carefree school days. On the tenth day we have Dashami when the idols are immersed in water. We take blessings of our elders and wish everyone “Happy Dussehra”.

Promise at 9

When I was told the story of the amazing speech by Swami Vivekananda at Chicago Conference of 1893, I had wanted to visit that hall, feel that moment. I have heard that speech but the wish to visit the hall was buried somewhere deep in my heart. Finally it was time to fulfil that wish. I went to The Art Institute of Chicago. Its a huge museum. I was unable to control my excitement. While booking ticket at the reception, I mentioned the Chicago Conference of 1893. The person at the counter realized my excitement and immediately mentioned Swami Vivekananda. He gave me directions to the hall. It is called the Fullerton hall. The hall was at the opposite end of the museum from the entrance I was at. I walked quickly at the other end. A huge image of Swami Vivekananda is placed there along with the immortal address of ‘Sisters and brothers of America’. One can enter the hall if it is not booked. I requested the museum person to let me enter the hall, as it was not booked that day. She accompanied me inside the hall. Once I entered, I was the 9 year old girl. My heart was beating so fast, I could imagine the sound of the applause in that hall. The museum person understood my condition, smiled and suggested I can walk the steps till the stage.

The Hall

The drive named after Swami Vivekananda

The museum has many beautiful artifacts from different parts of the world. Everyone in the museum knew about that conference. When I came out of the entrance near the hall, the street is named after Swami Vivekananda. It felt so great to see Swamiji has the same admiration here as in India. When we are kids, the heart makes certain wishes, which may not be fulfilled at that time. As we grow up, those wishes get buried somewhere underneath the daily grind. I just came to know, one of the ways to revive the child within is to fulfil those wishes. When one does that, one feels the happiness filled with innocence that the heart of child has. Let us look back into our childhood, find those wishes, fulfill them and revive the child within ourselves.

Introduction to Chicago

Views on the Cruise

There are two ways of touring a city. One is to view it and the other is to know it through its history. I went for the latter. One can either go for a guided tour through land or by river. I woke up to a beautiful clear morning. After a hearty breakfast, I decided to walk till Shoreline Sightseeing stop. This was my first trail, the Lakefront trail. Its a beautiful walk along the lake. One gets to see different kinds of boats, yatchs, etc. By the time I reached there it was 10:45 am. I went to the ticket counter and requested a ticket for the 11:15 Architecture tour. The person at counter said, the 10:45 tour has a few minutes to start. So I was booked for the 10:45 Architecture tour. It was an brilliant experience. We got to see all the landmarks of the city.

Sights at the trail

The guide started with the history of Chicago and then went on to describe each landmark. It was as if we were getting introduced to Chicago. For the first time, there were restaurants with not only car parking but also boat parking. We came accross many bridges. There were buildings with European Architecture as well as Modern glass buildings. People sitting on restaurants, bridges and steps waved at us as we passed them. I was so engrossed that I did not even realize how 75 minutes passed. Then I went to Navy Pier. It was a children’s world. There were rides, food, toys, museum, everything. The next time you visit Chicago, try meeting the city through the cruise.

Navy Pier

Chicago Traveler

Buckingham Fountain

There are certain stories which are so motivating that they become promises. The story of Swami Vivekananda addressing the Chicago religious conference of 1893 holds a special position in my heart. I was 9 or 10 years old, going through a stage fright when mother told me this story. That was the first lesson in public speaking. I was so inspired that I made a promise to myself, I would visit that stage one day. Years passed, I completed my education and started working. There were many times I passed through Chicago, once my flight got cancelled and I spent a night in Chicago. I began to wonder why I always have long stop overs in Chicago. It took me a while to realize, it was the promise of that 9 year old me.

Downtown

Garden

Finally last Friday, I visited Chicago. That auditorium is part of The Art Institute of Chicago. By the time I checked in to the Hotel, it was almost time for the Museum to close, so I wandered around. The downtown presents an amazing combination of History as well as modernization. The heat of the summer is cooled by the Buckingham Fountain. It is surrounded by sprawling gardens. One can easily spend hours roaming around it. There are ice cream and juice shops nearby to sit and talk. But I started walking towards the cloud gate. Although it was Friday, the streets were crowded with tourists. I passed through the Art Institute which was about to close. The Cloud Gate was another beautiful sight, everyone wanted to see their reflection. It is very entertaining to see people coming up with unique poses for their photos. A walk in Gardens, Cloud Gate and Buckingham Fountain. That was my first day as Chicago traveler.

Cloud Gate