Ghost in Grand Central

We paid to be a part of a ghost tour at the Grand Central terminal on 42nd street, almost a decade ago.
The tour host welcomed us, maintaining an eerie voice, as he not only briefed us about the haunted areas in New York City but cautioned us; this appeared more gimmicky to market his tours than the possibility that a ghost would reveal itself.
But, every time he said many places in Manhattan, including Wall Street and Canal Street, remained haunted and that people had heard native Indian death chants, about twenty of us thrill-seeking strangers peeked at one another, ticking each one off, ensuring there was no zombie in disguise. Worse, when he blurted that the Grand Central itself was haunted, we braved a quick 360-degree whirl. It didn’t help that it was raining outside in the month of December and we were at the terminal in an off-peak hour. It helped though that in the first fifteen minutes of the tour, we didn’t experience any paranormal kicks or slaps.
The host informed us that the terminal had been constructed for the wealthy; that Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built and owned the station, had once ferried people from Staten Island to Manhattan, charging 18 cents per person; that his ambitious vision had driven him to build railroads.
If one noticed the sloping ramps in the terminal, the system was built to provide an efficient flow of passengers to and from trains.
Twisted yet beautiful

The mural painting in the vaulted ceilings was based on the designs of constellations. History: after the layout image was designed, it was projected onto the ceiling for painting. But it was erroneously projected upwards, reversing the image. Responding to critics, Vanderbilt suggested that the design be looked at as a new concept. Then, at one point, the whole ceiling was black from cigarette smoke; and though it was cleaned, a black spot in a corner was left untouched for souvenir-sake, if you will.

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Archaic and haunted

John Campbell, another rich man, and Vanderbilt’s friend, had requested the latter to rent him a room. Hence, there is a Campbell apartment within the complex where you’d see a locker. Legend has it that Campbell’s ghost lives there. Besides, there’s an oyster bar in the terminal where customers have reported hearing strange voices and sounds of breaking plates.

There’s a safe passage from under Grand Central station to the Astoria hotel, which VVIPs like the President of the USA take in case of emergency.

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Any beautiful city in the world has a mysterious past, or present, to it. How’s New York City an exception?

One World Observatory, The Freedom Tower

I have written two posts earlier about the views from our apartment. Please see Beginning and The Tallest Building.

When we moved into our apartment a decade ago, there was no Freedom Tower. Memories of 9/11 still fresh.

Over the years, One World Trade Center or the Freedom Tower has become what you see below. We have seen it evolve while witnessing our own evolution. And last weekend, we visited One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, fourth tallest in the world. A symbol of resilience, rising from the ashes. The apartment view.
That’s our apartment building. Witnessing the witnesser of the past ten years from the 102nd floor of One World Observatory.
Zoomed-in view from the ground
As expected, there were airport-like security checks.
The tunnel, en route to the Sky Pod elevator, has mock displays of the natural rock foundations of the building. The bedrock of New York City: how an ancient mountain range made its skyscrapers possible.

Sky Pod elevators. We reached the 102nd floor in 47 seconds. Inside, on our rocket ride, we experienced a three-dimensional time-lapse panorama of NYC history unfolding on three walls of the elevator cab. (Warning: The elevator ride you are about to experience utilizes large format media displays to create the illusion of dynamic motion and viewing beyond the elevator cab walls. Individuals who are sensitive to simulation experiences, or suffer from fear of heights or motion sickness are advised to either close their eyes or face the elevator doors to avoid discomfort.)
See Forever Theater. After you disembark the elevator, you walk up to a big rectangular screen where you’ll see a multi-media presentation highlighting the NYC timeline, introducing you to the observatory.

360-degree views:

East River, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge
Financial District, Governors Island, Brooklyn
Midtown and Uptown Manhattan
The iconic Hudson River separating New Jersey from New York City.
The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Staten Island, and Jersey City in New Jersey.
At One Dine, One World, celebrating our son’s birthday.
Exploring the Sky Portal: a real-time perspective from HD cameras affixed to the tower’s spire, projected right at the feet.
The Buzz gives all the information you need about NYC.
Calatrava’s Bird in Flight, the WTC transportation hub that cost $4 billion.
The Oculus, the transportation hub
The West Concourse

It starts with Lines (Photo Challenge). It starts with Rivulet, too (Daily Prompt).

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

When we were in Los Angeles, we didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Getty Center.

The J.Paul Getty Museum turned out to be one of the best museums we ever visited: the sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, pre-20th century European paintings, to name a few.

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Museum entrance
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The cable-pulled tram took us from the parking garage at the bottom of the hill to the museum at the top of the hill.  The museum has a 7-story deep underground parking garage.
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One of the outdoor sculptures

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Inner courtyard
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Los Angeles, seen from the top of the Getty Center. 405 San Diego Freeway lines the middle.
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Bust of an African woman (in marble) by Henry Weekes
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Bust of Christ (in bronze) by Constantin Meunier
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Head of Saint John the Baptist (in bronze) by Jean-Baptiste Chatigny
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Self-Portrait as Midas (in patinated plaster) by Jean-Joseph Carries. Midas, the mythological king of Phrygia, was known for his foolishness. Apollo, punishing Midas for having favored the satyr Marsyas over himself in a musical contest, gave the king the ears of an ass.

 

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Mischief and Repose (oil on canvas) by John Godward
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The Ransom (oil on canvas) by John Millais. Millais’ praise of medieval chivalry is at the same time a lament for its absence in contemporary life

 

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A Young Girl Defending Herself against Eros (oil on canvas) by William Bouguereau. A young girl playfully struggles with Eros (Cupid) to avoid love’s arrow.
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The Fright of Astyanax (by pen and brown ink) by Benjamin West. As the Trojan hero Hector bids farewell to his family, his son Astyanax is frightened by his father’s helmet and runs to the nurse.
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The Holy Family (oil on canvas) by Joseph Paelinck. Here the Virgin Mary and her mother, Anne, hold the Christ child, while Mary’s husband, Joseph, and her father Joachim, quietly observe.
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Herm of a Vestal Virgin (in marble) by Antonio Canova
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Apollo Crowning Himself (in marble) by Antonio Canova. Apollo’s idealized body and balanced pose recall ancient representations of nude male figures
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Juno (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens
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Venus (in marble) by Joseph Nollekens

 

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The Elements Paying Tribute to Friendship (in marble) by Louis-Simon Boizot. The four elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Air) in the guise of ancient gods pay homage to Friendship who’s standing on the pedestal. (Love this one!)
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Dancer (in bronze) by Paolo Troubetzkoy. Countess Tamara performed throughout Europe and the United States.

More sculptures:

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This visit made me smile (Photo Challenge). While it was breezy, it wasn’t frigid (Daily Prompt).

Breathing Well: In And Out

Prostitution is illegal in the US, except in some rural counties of Nevada state. But it thrives in the alleys of the online world.

Websites like Craigslist and Backpage do what brothels and infamous streets once did. A large percentage of the women – that you see on these websites in New York City – are not locals, and might have exceeded the duration of their tourist visa. Since you can’t solicit in strip clubs, strippers too sign up with these sites.

The advertisement is carefully drafted to avoid direct mention of the offer of sex. But most would assert how much they expect to be paid using the word “donation” for the time spent with them. As long as the girl or the john is not from law enforcement, it’s a happy ending; but, if either is, it has to be established that sex was offered and money had exchanged hands to initiate an arrest.

The fear of getting caught always exists, but the carnal desires potentially overtake these fears. The fewer the arrests, the more the web profiles, the more the discreet hours paid for as donation.

This is a big, treacherous well that nobody should fall into:

One: Anything illegal can’t be legal no matter how conspicuous it is in their vibrant presence. There might be johns who respond to these ads and are lucky to have never been caught, but there might be a first timer, too, who’d arranged a meeting with a police officer in disguise.

Two: The johns and the women should know that condoms, if they even use them, can only guarantee 85% protection. Though latex rubber acts as a brilliant barrier against STDs, including HIV, the 15% possibility that it might break or slip off could be catastrophic if either has STD.

Three (most horrid): You are encouraging trafficking by employing these women (and men) for your eleven minutes of pleasure. Behind the lure of the tempting flesh is a world filled with pain and suffering.

A friend’s friend who I’d never met had signed up with a dating website. He had previously responded to ads on Craigslist and Backpage and when his brother found this out, he’d taken a pledge that he wouldn’t surf those sites to avoid detention and disease. With the dating website, he’d hoped that he’d find someone special; he wanted to get married.

Months later, he informed my friend that though there were intelligent and good-looking women on the site, none responded to his courteous messages. Those – including men – who’d responded, wanted to know if he had fetishes. The more time he’d spent on the site, the better it dawned on him that half of the women and some men were only the upgraded versions of those infamous websites. They’d promised him fun and secrecy, essentially looking for No Strings Attached “sugar daddies” who could pamper, spoil, and give them five-star treats. Dignifying prostitution, if you will.

The last I heard, he’d signed up with a meditation school and was happy to share that he was breathing well – both in and out

Ascend the soul (Photo Challenge). A Miraculous escape from detention and disease (Daily Prompt).

Seek Respect, Not Attention

It’s a fact that universally, men look at women more than the other way around, at least evidently. It’s again a fact that men gape at women while women stare mostly when they know they’re not being stared at. But, have you heard about a man gazing back at a woman because she ogled at him first? Not that it doesn’t happen, it’s unlikely to be routine.

Women look at men, but there’s patience and permanence with which they process their image. Men’s processing of women might be quick as though they have more images to capture. But, why do men goggle at women even after they know their gaze is not welcomed? Worse, why do they wait to be asked to mind their eyes?

Sometimes, he may be looking at her bag or hair clip, noticing how stylish or clumsy it looks on her.

When we wear captioned t-shirts, are we prepared that people will read us? If my t-shirt says something and a woman reads it, taking her time, I may not – am not supposed to – be offended. But if this happens the other way, is that a sign of lechery? If a man – wearing a formal suit and lust in his head – reads it, she might ignore him; but, if a shabbily dressed man with purity in his thoughts reads it?

Apparently, how you dress and think are two different worlds. I don’t read captioned clothes. Are they meant to be read?

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My t-shirt

I remember an incident in a restaurant where a good-looking man, sitting alone in a corner, was harassed by a group of women, frolicking in the adjacent table. They stared, giggled, and prattled about him – which was not harmful- but what was not was the extent to which they went, for example, showing their middle fingers to him in drunken unison – forcing the man to realize that he was now a tool of their taunt for no fault of his other than not giving them his attention. The haunted man appeared to feel hunted with the group’s growing viciousness which had come well disguised as women-partying. He was offended, but didn’t react.

How grossly inappropriate it would be, rightly, if a group of men did this to a woman. The point being that not every man can ignore being ridiculed.

When we step out of our homes, we take in images and multiple moods, irrespective of gender. The outside world is full of faces and expressions: some faces are alluring; some expressions are not. But it’s easy to be trapped in its varied lure.

We might fulfill what we set out to do in a day, but plenty of exterior flashes drain and dare us along the way. How somebody’s anger, joy, lure, and lust can effortlessly become ours. The only soul we might look at without offending is the one we see in the mirror; where, though neither is piqued hopefully, it’s in our control to decide whether the person grins or frowns.

But: men’s eyes flutter at women more than they do at their smartphones; and though it’s not a crime to feel attracted to the other person, she should not be uncomfortable in your presence.

And, since most culprits are men, there’s a saying to which they might want to heed: Seek respect, not attention, it lasts longer.

 

One-Way rarely works (Daily Prompt). Transformation is when you seek respect (Photo Challenge).

Squirrel’s Instant Messaging

I met this squirrel a few years ago in Union Square park on 14th Street, New York City.

I remember that I’d given him the peanut that you see in his nimble hands. He had sniffed it before picking it up and strangely, unlike most squirrels, he hadn’t eaten it yet.

Give the picture a closer look – you might believe he’s looking at you.

Normally, I wouldn’t look at a squirrel with hope that it would deliver me a message. That morning, I hoped.

I’d lost my uncle the previous night in India and that morning, I was to perform in a play at Lee Strasberg. It was the last day of our month-long intensive and expensive acting course.

The tragedy in the family hadn’t stopped me from going to Strasberg, because I knew that if I hadn’t gone, I would’ve upset the departed soul. But I was crestfallen, and unsure if I’d remember my lines from the play.

I’d told my acting teacher about the death. His advice: Give it your best, Mahesh. Let it be a tribute to your uncle.

In the park, the more I’d gazed at the squirrel, the more I’d felt he wanted to tell me something.  And I remember that he hadn’t – until the last glimpse I had of him on my way to the Strasberg building – eaten the peanut.

I performed in the play thinking only about my character. My fellow students applauded the act, and my teacher praised that it was the best tribute I could give.

A few days later, somebody told me that squirrels do come with a message that one should take life a little less seriously. Perhaps the squirrel that morning wanted me to take it easy, demonstrating it by sacrificing his instant urge to eat the peanut.

An actor friend of mine who hadn’t known about my family tragedy linked the squirrel-behavior to indigestion.

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Take life a little less seriously is the Panacea (Daily Prompt). Take a Peek (Photo Challenge).

Window To Man’s Soul

There’s something about windows. In the words of Quentin Blake: You see, I don’t draw from life at all, but I do look out of my window a lot.

A window is alluring as it gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossomings beyond our reach, frightening us as much, the high altitudes.

Here, I captured the little dragons through the window of their Taekwondo class.

 

Racing upwards at 14 miles per hour in a glass-fronted elevator, it took us 59 seconds to reach the observation deck (116th floor) of the CN Tower. For more CN Tower posts, visit CN Tower defies gravity and CN Tower in Toronto.

 

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From atop the CN Tower, and as the sun peeked through the clouds, Billy Bishop Toronto city airport (center-right) looked abandoned.

 

I’ve said this several times, and am saying it again, that we are lucky to be living in this apartment. For almost a decade now. What you see here: Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn, Marina yacht club in Jersey City. -It was early morning Sunday. The Norwegian Cruise Line ship was returning to Manhattan from the Bahamas. We’d taken this ship for our Bahamas and Florida tour some years prior. See Life on board the Norwegian Gem and Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas.

 

The window that gave us the utmost happiness also worsened our fears during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The effects were severe in NJ and NY: businesses lost billions of dollars, half a million homes were destroyed, around 50 people were killed. I took this picture around 9 pm. Storm surge/strong wind pounded Newport, flooding the walkway up to ten feet. Sustained wind speed: 75 mph. We’d taken this advisory from our building management seriously: “…all windows in the apartment are maintained closed, locked and the blinds in the lowered position…that the wind is not permitted any opening, which if allowed, can potentially result in the further opening of window or, worse yet, ripping out the entire window.” Though we’d lost electricity and the fire alarm beeped all night, we survived unhurt.   -Strange that I remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

 

We had fun riding this tramway that spanned the East River and connected the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. Midway to the island and at the tram’s highest elevation of 250 feet, we saw another tramway journey back to Manhattan. The window overlooked East River, the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

 

As we approached the Toronto-Pearson International airport in Canada, the pilot’s reminder that we fasten our seat belts matched these bumpy clouds we saw through the window.

 

At Mount-Pleasant station in Brampton, Ontario, the windows of this moving bus reflected the not-so-clear activities behind me. Billy Wilder had said: An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.

 

Mail trucks do not use window doors in summer. Here I see the driver’s seat and its blurry ambiguity.

Windows to a soul (Photo Challenge). Witty with attitude (Daily Prompt).

All About Downtown Street Fair At Grove Street

I was not keen on attending the Annual All About Downtown Street Fair, but my wife insisted, and we did. It was a good decision. Wife’s always right?

On September 16, 2017 – between 12 noon and 8 pm – the street fair returned for its seventh year.

Featuring over a hundred vendors, the fair sold all kinds of products: handmade jewelry, exclusive art works, specialty cuisines from more than a dozen top food trucks in the tri-state area; there were band performances and fun rides for children. It was reported that in the year 2015, this event brought over 30,000 into Downtown Jersey City. Hope it has crossed that number this time.

When we entered the fair around the evening, the crowd was beginning to swell.
A mural depicting rough waves, the Statue of Liberty unaffected. Murals and graffiti have come to define Grove Street, bringing the urban city back to life.
Stained glass studio stall – they do stained glass installation, custom fabrication, and restoration. A smiling Bob Marley wants you to know this.
Books, and more books. Do you see Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened
Curious eyes scanning the stalls. No running out of options or varieties here…
Except for this, and how rare. A banana pudding sold-out stall.
Orale Mexican kitchen where…
I bought a corn with cheese and mayonnaise.
Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan waited to be picked.
White Birch Candle offered products that are hand poured, 100% soy wax, and dye free; they burn clean (no soot), have 150+ burn time, and always burn even. Ta-da!
Face painting for kids stall, hosted by Jersey City Pediatric Dentistry.
Time to pause and experience some Latino beat.
The men in white entertained
The best part of the fair owned the biggest ad.
At the crack of dusk, the crowd size increased.
Highlight of the evening: Guatemalan street dance with heavy costumes, drums, and ropes.

Any fair we attend, a plate of funnel cake is a must.
One of the rides we did: the three of us sat in a teacup with a wheel in the middle that we could steer 360 degrees, while the tray carrying all of the cups rotated; whirl within a whirl.
This mural invites your interpretation.
As night approached, this band performed soft melodies.
We ended the fair with a banana boat ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, and walnuts.
This was it.

Pamper yourself (Daily Prompt). Layered is the culture (Photo Challenge).

Confessions Of A Social Media Mind

Some taboos thrived in our home in Delhi. Meeting male friends was fine if they didn’t belong to rogue families; females could be friends only from a distance. Our precious lives mirrored pensive sadness.

As a teenager in the mid-90s, I was a victim of my previous generation’s regressive outlook, which had shown no signs of letting up. Their puerile conduct bound and confined me such that my superficial layers had remained unpeeled, pushing me to maintain the status quo of my limited social interactions.

Then came the dial up connection and world wide web, which turned me inside out.

With an email account on Yahoo in the year 2001, it was easy to sign up on Yahoo messenger. Soon I was in several group chat rooms: abusing Pakistanis and Australians because their teams beat India in cricket matches, flirting with (hopefully) women from Bulgaria and Hungary because they pinged me first, becoming a Slovakian woman myself to excite equally curious chatters. A certain resurgence kept me going and I was everywhere, mitigating melancholy too. One deterrent was the eldritch sound the dial-up made in the middle of the night, waking up my parents in the other room. But they got used to it and which prevented my rebellious bubbles from bursting.

AOL had acquired Instant Messaging Client or ICQ, a simple program that made abusing or flirting user-friendly without pop-ups. My stint with MSN Messenger was brief, using it to fight with a friend who’d only used MSN.

As time passed, I was making friends from as far as Honolulu to as near with a random chatter in Delhi; the fiery virtual world made me poised and assertive; there was nothing to lose. I was meeting my friends in the real world, too, which didn’t appear rosy enough to have the pull of permanence. What then felt permanent were anonymity and ubiquitousness. I chose to leave my aggression for the evenings, post the howl of the dial up.

A friend suggested Orkut, a social networking site that was quietly replacing the few real rendezvous we had. The best of friends were thrilled to be connecting online, sharing their recent profile pictures, which eliminated the need to see one another frequently. The polished stillness of these pictures simply belied the truth of the moment, as what was captured in a flashy edited-version moment was a poor indicator of how a person would appear when in the real world. Instagram deepened this divide.

Skype, which Microsoft acquired for $8.5 billion, brought me closer to family and friends, especially after I’d moved to the US. But Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion and made sure I was addicted to it. I was on Twitter too, but unaware of how I’d publicize my views since everyone was tweeting.  LinkedIn tempted me, but who cared about professional networking: if the quest for freedom from arrested development was the A of the alphabet, professional networking was Z — was a long psychological stretch.

Facebook changed everything, and after it bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in Feb 2014, we knew that the influence of social media was not disappearing any sooner.

I’ve been a member of a school WhatsApp group for two years. The friend who created it remained the admin for long before he – upon consensus or otherwise – democratized it by making every one of the 50+ members a group administrator. Most members are based out of India, the rest spread across the globe. Meetings among friends became rarer. Two guys (including the one who created the group) who were best friends had a financial tiff. One had allegedly owed the other close to half a million Indian rupees.

When their coffee didn’t brew in person, the lender brought up the matter of his roasted ground beans in group chat. He tried brewing it by way of naming and shaming the borrower and his family, not realizing that using profanity wouldn’t separate liquid coffee from the used grounds. The borrower – with not much as a convincing explanation in his defense to the group – was yet to roast his coffee beans.

Now since everyone was group admin, the two barista protagonists deleted each other, one after the other, and they could repeat this feat because they were being added instantly upon deletion by some friendly group members. Hurt not only by the naming and shaming but also by being deleted, the creator of the group, who’s also the alleged borrower removed everyone from the group before adding them (minus the lender) and becoming the sole group admin, like before.

Their coffee hadn’t brewed in person because the edited glory of their online presence had uncharacteristically replaced flesh and blood of their human presence. The lender’s trust of the borrower had died alongside the death of the humans’ valuing one another; the e-intimidation as opposed to a heart to heart talk became the norm. Nobody was surprised. Weren’t we waiting for this?

In contrast with how it was in the mid-90s when the hunt for freedom stocked up its shares on a single window, the year 2017 has forced open many windows without offering a wholesome view. These rusty and creaking windows are blinding us from any possibility to view, witness, and experience the real. Precious lives still mirror pensive sadness.

Waiting for the connect (Photo Challenge). The Sting of Social Media (Daily Prompt)

Build A Door

We see doors everywhere, and I’ve seen some interesting doors in my lifetime. For this particular week, I’m uploading door photos that I’ve found in my folder. Going forward, though, I’ll try to capture as many doors as possible. After all, I like what Milton Berle once said If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. And here, I replace ‘build’ with ‘capture.’

Central Park is an oasis in New York City and the Zoo is its integral part. We saw this glass door entrance to a gift shop. The painted image of a penguin, the door reflections, the patches of shade outside.

 

This black door of Rev. Dr. Ercel F. Webb School in Jersey City has an arch with designs on top. Wide concrete steps, a weary window on the left with tied curtains, and a message on the wall from Tupac Shakur: “The rose that grew from concrete – did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete – proving nature’s law is wrong – it learned to walk without having feet.”

 

The blue majestic door with waffle designs – on 23rd Street/6th Avenue, New York City – appeared to be permanent-shut. The sunlight spared most of the door. The little man totally owned the facade.

Want to see more doors or to join in on the challenge, click here where Manja Mexi Movie is hosting for Norm 2.0.

Bowlmor Friday Fun At Chelsea Piers

First off, bowling has always been popular. Millions of people have played it for thousands of years, believe it or not.

Way back in 5,200 B.C., bowling balls and pins were found in the tomb of an Egyptian king. In fourth century Germany, where bowling was part of a religious ceremony, those who could knock down the pins were believed to be of good character and those who couldn’t had to do penance.

Popular in America since Colonial days, bowling started the American Bowling Congress in 1895, which is now called the United States Bowling Congress. Martin Luther was a bowler.

Located at Pier 60 – just off the West Side Highway – and with 40 bowling lanes, laneside video walls, the flashing lights and sounds of arcade games, Bowlmor gave us the outing we’d long sought: a ride into a zone that settled us into getting our focus back, decimating the days of distraction.

The entrance is a mix of dark hues, symbolic of a thick colorful interior.
To the right of the entrance is this Golf Club: Manhattan’s only four-tiered outdoor driving range. Practice putting, take lessons from professional golfers, feel free to hit full shots.
Entering the building, the first things you see are ropes and harnesses, which Bowlmar claims is NYC’s only indoor ropes course
Stacked on the shelves behind the front desk are bowling shoes. These shoes have a sole which allows a bowler to slide before releasing the ball.
The length from the foul line to the head pin is 60 feet. On either side of the lane are gutters.
Rolling the ball at the pins
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Thick bright lounge area

Here, in the brief clip, it’s my second roll at the pins. I knock them down. It’s a spare.

We got a few strikes. See the X in the small square.
With reservation comes food. Chicken tenders, french fries, cheese pizza; also, fruit punch and sauces.
His first attempt at an advanced racing game…

Guess what, he did really well.

I don’t know how he managed it but he came first. He thanked me, and I kissed him.

Though our fingers, elbows, and legs were sore, we were all smiles.

In The New America People Get Slapped For Doing This

In July last year, I was feeling groggy from Cyclobenzaprine and Naproxen that I’d taken to treat my neck spasm. The muscle-relaxant and anti-inflammatory pills often helped except for the drowsiness that accompanied them. Although my wife had suggested that I avoid grocery shopping fearing the weariness might get too overwhelming, I followed on with my decision for there would not be time the rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went into inactive mode. So, I was alert for the entire duration: the train ride to the store, grocery shopping, then back to the station with the cart.

I’d found a seat near the door when the train left the Square station. My destination was Port Station with Grove in between. The total travel time wouldn’t exceed ten minutes. Though my eyes were shutting from the drowsiness, I heard the sounds of the door slamming shut, footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, when an old man flipped the pages of his book, and the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I was aware that I coughed softly a few times.

Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open while coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)

At the Grove station, a group of people boarded the train, followed by a middle-aged man. The train wasn’t crowded, but all of the seats were taken, and the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes and let out a couple of soft coughs, my mouth still closed. Within seconds, I heard a sound barreling toward me from my right where the man was standing. “This is sick. You should cover your mouth when coughing.”

angry man

I turned my head to glance at him. He was a short man whose face turned a tinge of red that I thought meant intense dislike for me. I told him, as my eyes were shutting again, that my mouth wasn’t open and that I was drowsy from a muscle relaxant. This explanation – that I hadn’t needed to give – didn’t satisfy him, and he came at me more aggressively. “This is America. You’ve no idea what you’re doing.”

None of the people who were sitting across from me uttered a word, which sort of vindicated me because they could see that my mouth wasn’t open. I told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.

He said, “I’m so sick myself and don’t want any sickness from you.”

Now: he looked sick.

I was not sick.

My discreet coughs were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.

I said, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”

“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on public transport,” he retorted.

I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Port. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, perhaps forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon.

What I figured out later was that he was livid that even a grocery cart had found a space near the seat. He wanted to take his anger out on someone, and I happened to be the non-white guy he found a punching bag in? If he’d asked me, I would’ve given him my seat (I always offer my seat.)

In more than a decade of my life in the US, this was the first experience of its kind.

I am apolitical, but was as much against Hillary Clinton’s alleged deleting of thousands of emails as I’ve been against President Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric. The day James Comey testified before the Senate that the President had asked for his loyalty, the following happened in the Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.

Blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.

I was a mere witness and didn’t know what to make of this. For some, it meant Trump’s ephemeral longevity; for others, it was a protest against his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

But, let’s not forget that Donald Trump became a president because he had the required electoral votes, although the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in America’s election is ongoing.

In the new America – yes – anything can happen. Since the new president took office, we’ve heard a few incidents where non-whites, especially Indians, were targeted, resulting in deaths, too. So, I decided to go back to my kickboxing routine.  For self-defense. And if the man walked the talk next time, I should be ready.

But, my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.

 

Central Park Zoo

On Sunday, we visited the Central Park Zoo in New York City.

This was our second visit in the last year and the tickets were paid for. Reason: Last year, during our first visit, the zoo was closed due to an explosion nearby. It was very unfortunate that a teenager tourist lost his foot in the blast. The visitors who’d purchased the tickets were given complimentary tickets, valid for a year, since most of us couldn’t see all the attractions. I remember we were on our way to watch a 4D movie when the blast had led the zoo authorities to initiate an early shutdown.

The complimentary tickets were to expire in July this year, so the last Sunday had to be the day.

The Central Park Zoo began as a menagerie in the post mid-19th century. The place has since seen several modifications, making it the modern zoological garden, now home to an indoor rainforest.

You enter the zoo with a sizable crowd before disappearing down the trellised walkway. It might look like a conflict zone if you believed the fear-mongering of some, but multiculturalism thrives, and it works toward a peaceful co-existence. The vine-clad purity, the breath of fresh green, the brick trimmed with granite.

Since we missed the 4D movie last time, we began this tour with a movie: Ice Age – No time for Nuts.

How a saber-toothed squirrel on a chase after his acorn, which a time machine dispatches into different time periods, makes for a fun viewing experience.

Our 4D glasses on; son thoroughly enjoyed the film.

We avoid fast food but have to make do with it when options are scarce. The monopoly of a lone restaurant in the zoo can drain your wallet: $14 for a cheeseburger. I ate half of my burger in disapproval. The street vendor right outside the zoo would charge more or less the same, charging $3 for a 700 ml water bottle, for example. In other places, the same bottle costs $1.50. Uniformity in prices kicks competition out. But, french fries tasted better after a while.

Right outside Tisch Children’s Zoo which was to be our next stop, this brilliant musician played Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round on his saxophone.

At the Children’s Zoo, we waited to feed the goats

Alpaca, which resembles Llama, is a domesticated species of South American camelid.

Feeding the Alpaca. (Look out – Alpacas can spit.)

Spider web play area

White-naped Crane needs shallow wetlands and grassy marshes to forage, nest, and raise their chicks. 70% of these cranes breed in Mongolia which provides perfect habitats.

Ducks’ feeding time

 

Cavies come from the same family as guinea pigs. A family of rodents native to South America.

Intelligence garden (in the Temperate zone) is an idea borrowed from a Chinese emperor who believed that the best way to develop intelligence was to observe animals in their natural state. 

Where next?

Walking toward the Tropic zone. Glass-roofed pergolas add to the beauty.

A grizzly bear stands 3 to 4 feet tall on all fours, but can reach 6 to 7 feet tall when standing up straight.

The bear’s private pool

California Sea Lion can dive hundreds of feet deep and stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Flora that lends beauty…

It was zero degree Fahrenheit…descending from the pass were the marks of the Snow Leopard; they can venture as high as 19,000 feet. Watch its eyes at your own risk.

Red panda – found in the Himalayan foothills, this flame-colored animal shares both territory and a name with the giant panda, but not genetics. Red panda is actually related to Raccoon.

The Victoria-crowned pigeon is a large, bluish-grey pigeon; has elegant blue lace-like crests, maroon breast, and red irises.

Blue-headed Macaw Parrot. Pointed tail, large bill.

Amazon Tree Boa is non-venomous, found in South America.

Banded Mongoose – females give birth within a few days of each other and everyone cares for the babies.

Texas Tortoise thrives in exposed dry scrub and grasslands; forages on cactuses.

Slender-tail Cloud Rat – one of the largest rats in the world. Guess its weight when fully grown? Around five pounds. Its penetrating look as if it knows what we’re thinking.

Penguins in the Polar zone. Just chill.

The Mob Is Ready, And Blind

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In mid-1998, I made my first solo train trip to Kerala in South India from Delhi. I was in a reserved sleeper class, the train had pulled up in Pune, and it was late evening. I’d just finished my dinner and was preparing my bed on the upper berth when we heard a loud trumpet of bum bum bole, followed by the clatter of footsteps of people boarding the train. It was a mob of Shiv Sena, a far-right regional political party, who, in their saffron attires, and with some carrying trishuls, emboldened one another to grab not only the empty seats but also the ones that were occupied.

A mob can infuse dread in anyone: their terror is synonymous with terrorism, only that their ideology isn’t firmer or clearer yet to push them into taking their own lives, as happens in terrorist killings; plus, the fear of the law softens some of their fury. I was lucky that no sainik wanted a share of my seat, but not everyone was as fortunate. The passengers who happened to be in the toilet then, lost a good percentage of their seat space when they returned; and those who protested, received some choicest local Marathi abuse. Shiv Sena was running the state of Maharashtra in an alliance with BJP, which is the ruling party of the Indian government now.

It was a mob of RSS – a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization – and VHP, its outfit, that demolished Babri Masjid five years earlier in Uttar Pradesh, and it was the same mob that was active during Gujarat riots three years later. These fiendish events, etched into our collective memories, had resulted in deaths then and in the aftermath, when sorrow and revulsion were the feelings shared by both communities. A mob pattern was emerging which – with the tacit approval of the states, BJP-ruled in the above two cases – attempted to assert that India is a Hindu nation (almost 80% are Hindus) and the minorities, especially Muslims (14% follow Islam), should know this.

It’s been almost 18 months since the BJP came to power. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been travelling the world, talking of investments, and talking Mann ki Baat on radio. He was given a grand welcome by several Heads of States, NRIs, and the media overseas, until a journalist in London asked him about the climate of intolerance in India. His response was confident that India is a land of Buddha and Gandhi and that her culture wouldn’t accept anything that is against the basic social values. Two months prior, a Muslim man was wrongly suspected of having beef in his fridge. A mob barged into his house and lynched him to death. This was amidst the frenzy of beef ban the BJP-ruled states were imposing, the monitoring and implementation of which was leased to the religious zealots who became the mob on the ground.

Cow-reverence being a practice in Hinduism, has a political history to it. In the book “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” the author writes: “The first agitation over cow slaughter in the Raj took place in the Sikh state of the Punjab where cow slaughter had been a capital offense right up to the moment when the British took over…In 1888, a British court in Allahabad ruled that a cow was not a sacred object, that Muslims who slaughtered cows could not be held to have insulted the religion of the Hindus, and that police were to protect Muslims who wanted to slaughter cows…At the Bakr-Id festival of 1893, riots broke out involving the entire Hindu population of villages, and thousands of people attacked Muslims…Cows continued to provide a lightning rod for communal violence from then until the present day.”

Modi’s condemnation of the lynching wasn’t specific, as he appeared to restrain himself. Agreed, this happened in Uttar Pradesh where SP, a regional party, was ruling, but a local BJP senior justified the mob’s action. Besides, the Prime Minister hasn’t reprimanded the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som, the party hardliners. His limited reaction to their polarizing statements has been vague; and his party unleashed fingers at other parties’ hardliners, including a Muslim political party that threatened to unleash bloodbath against Hindus.

The truth is, if the PM – who has the people’s mandate – doesn’t nip the Hindu fringe in the bud, the impression he leaves is that he’s in agreement with them and that this is part of a conspiracy theory.

Since India’s independence from the British, the Congress party has ruled the country for six decades. The 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India, enacted in 1976, asserted India’s secular identity. The state has to enforce religious laws instead of parliamentary laws, and respect pluralism; whereas in the West, the concept of Secularism envisions a separation of religion and state. Congress has long shown a contrived secularism mindset, which their opposition contests can best be construed as minority appeasement. Six decades is a long period for generation after generation of Indians to have faith, though shaky at times, in the secular fabric of the country.

There were communal riots under Congress’ rule and though, the party has had no alliances with religious fundamentalist groups, it failed to prevent the riots or maintain peace. What perhaps worked for them was that if a communal fire was lit somewhere, the top leader of the party, more often than not, would address the nation condemning the riots, appearing to do the right thing. In retrospect, this looked more like the appeasement of both sides for political survival than an effort to bridge the religious divide.

In my growing up years, I have heard not only Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, but also Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai. Congress’ minority appeasement politics, the BJP has long said, took the majority for granted. The vengeful BJP is now reversing the trend: appease the majority and take the minority for granted. The danger of doing this, which the BJP ignores, is that majority of Hindus don’t want to take their religion seriously: at least not serious enough to consider other religions inferior. The recent BJP debacle in Bihar elections was an eye-opener for the party.

Now: if the seed of conspiracy has been sown at all by RSS/BJP, it’s not working — because as I said above, Congress’ rule has prepared a comfortable secular mattress to sleep on for the majority of us, and our genetic code is peace-personified to begin with. However, if the theory blooms, it’ll take decades for the majority of Hindus to have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder about Hinduism, and the OCD once diagnosed may only be to countervail Muslims’ obsession with Islam. How secular or communal we will then be, only time can tell.

Intolerance has been the darling word of the media for some time now, often used against the Hindus in matters of religion to favor the Muslims. However, if a Muslim family refuses to stand up while the rest of the crowd does when the national anthem is being played in a theater in Mumbai, it calls attention to their strange conduct. The government guidelines say that one must stand up when the national anthem is played or sung; the crowd that stood up in the theater might also have Muslims among them. The crowd’s jingoistic bullying of the family to ensure they leave the theater, wasn’t perhaps as harsh as the family’s intolerance to the anthem. Media may want to coin the use of intolerance both ways to bring balance and depth to debates.

Recently, Aamir Khan, a famous Indian actor, expressed his views that there was intolerance in India and that his wife was scared to live in the country. There was an immediate backlash and people reviled him. Several reactions flooded the internet including that he became a superstar because majority of Hindus had paid money to watch his films, and that he’d played a “Hindu” good guy killing a “Muslim” bad guy in a movie.

Let’s look at this in the right perspective: Aamir Khan was born a Muslim. He’s free to follow his religion and verbalize his thoughts. He became the fall guy, however, going from the one who beat up the Muslim bad man to the beaten one himself. Was the problem with Aamir Khan or with people who’d adored his films? Had they expected Aamir to extend his reel characters on to his real life? Was there an implicit agreement between the ticket paying majority and him that they’d watch his movies only if he never spoke his mind? His speaking his mind doesn’t make him a Pakistani. And the loud cry now to boycott his future films? Well, the majority will still flock to the theaters to watch him; the fringe minority will continue to burn his effigies outside.

We are in a democracy, not theocracy.

The Prime Minister was on the cover of Time with paragraphs chronicling how he’s the dynamic leader of a vibrant democracy. I have personally experienced a transformation here as people look at Indians with a lot more respect. Though India’s economic growth was talked about in the West under Manmohan Singh’s government, Modi is touring the talk, and his broader objective is development indeed. His vision appears to be that of an India where each citizen is strong and self-reliant; also, where Hindutva’s representation of cultural nationalism is understood not as an attempt to get a Hindu nationhood, but rather to attract all of the communities under one mainstream fold. But, could the development agenda mask for now, or eradicate for ever, the communal agenda? As things stand now, he only knows his Mann ki Baat.

When the train departed Pune that night, I wasn’t looking forward to a sound sleep, as loud lullabies of bum bum bole reverberated through the compartment. A Shiv Sainik who seemed comfortable under a white sheet, grinned at me from the opposite upper berth. When I asked him if he really was a Shiv-bhakth, his response was abrupt: “You pay me Rs. 50 and I’ll become Krishna-bhakth, Ram-bhakth or any bhakth.’ He smirked, then continued, “We make more money as sainiks than as laborers, you see, and we don’t have to carry weights.”

Sugar’s The Target

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Target, the retailer, announced that it would remove signage that has long communicated separate aisles for boys and girls. Boys’ aisle had toys and action figures; girls’ had dolls and costumes.

The reactions that came pouring in post the announcement were divided among the shoppers. Some complained that the removal of signage was preposterous. That boys and girls would always be boys and girls. I too thought the signage was necessary as it carried forward a long-held tradition, also saving shoppers their time. But, when some shoppers welcomed the announcement and I understood why they did, I scrapped my deep-seated rationale, appreciating Target’s move wholeheartedly.

The belief that boys can’t wear pink or girls can’t play with action figures is a fundamental mistake. If a boy wants to play with a Barbie doll or a girl wishes to imitate a superman figure, let them. Let us not decide what they should have or which aisle they must avoid. When we make these decisions, we apparently are limiting their evolving worldviews. What let-them-be will do is that when they grow up, they may be far more schooled about gender diversity and complexity.

If a girl loves action figures, her inclination to take up a sport or join the military in the future might be natural. Similarly, a boy’s fascination for dolls may, in later years, put him at ease when caring for a baby as a father. Being natural helps.

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Sugared drink manufacturers will do anything to make consumers sip Coke, Pepsi and other sodas. They were covertly funding some scientists to come up with findings that a good exercise could offset a bad diet.

There hasn’t been a single evidence to prove that if we exercise every day, we can eat anything. When food enters our system, it causes metabolic and hormonal changes, and exercise can only do so much. Science says that the more sugar we consume the more pressure we put on the insulin to process it. Insulin will gradually lose its power and make way for diabetes and other diseases.

Isn’t this shocking enough that a can of sugared drink has 15-18 teaspoons of sugar?

People drink their coffees and teas without sugar, leading by example how much they value their health, only to then drink a can of sugared soda.

Spiritual Dessert At Santo Domingo And Amsterdam

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A calming, bluish dusk at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Labeling a quiet place as serene is interesting, but the one who’s labeling it might be miles away from serenity. The moment we’re out of a serene location, which certainly pumped us up, our psychological dominance if you will, might crush under the weight of life’s routine chaos.

It’s a given that all of us cannot visit serene locations all the time; at best, once a year. We should, therefore, enjoy find-serenity-wherever-you-are spiritual dessert.

This dessert might taste bitter. Our tasks would be uphill. Clock’s ticking.

Hence, we must either develop the will to bludgeon the issues or, seek peace while issues bludgeon us. Playing a victim is weakness and dumb, given life will come at us hard, every time.

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As time approached sunset, Vondel Park in Amsterdam was quieter

 

Breathing Halloween Skeletons

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We met this bunch of suave guitar-holding skeletons at a Halloween party for children, which our toddler son thoroughly enjoyed.

My first reaction looking at them was that although they were barren, their presence was paramount; shrouding the rest of us in the hall. They gave vibes of joy, and were unlike other blood-curdling, spine-tingling skeletons.

Their smile was endearing, but their eyes cautioned that they’d long been dead. Stare at the eyes and you’ll know.

How different are we from them? Are we too dead and insensitive? In flesh and blood we certainly are breathing, but we are worse shadows.

The Spirit House At Royal Ontario

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I captured this image of the Spirit House, which was a hall of intrigue with myriad story possibilities, at Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower in New York City, designed Lee-Chin Crystal; also designing some of the chairs in the Spirit House.

The stainless steel chairs synced well with the crystalline surrounding. From the center of the house, one could see in the arch above an interwoven pattern of concrete, which linked exhibit spaces with elevators, speaking of conflicts in stories.

Kailash Satyarthi, The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Is My Ex-Boss: A Brief Tribute

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I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.

It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”

His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew Mr. Satyarthi wasn’t a politician, I’d still braved through, with raised brows and wet palms, the jitteriness of my first formal meeting with him. When a 6-foot man, bespectacled, with black beard and hair neatly parted and slicked to the side, breezed into the room and glanced at me, I stood up, holding out my hand when he did his, to shake, and poor man, he had to wipe his hand with a kerchief, as he advised, “You don’t have to worry at all.”

The softness of his voice belied his domineering posture, and the nicety of his demeanor made it easy for me to want to work with him for next several years. He was a presence of immense hope. If we look at his graph – until the moment he won the Nobel Peace Prize – he had given thousands of voiceless children a smile, touching their hearts and enlightening them with his never-say-die attitude.

In my 9 year stint with him, being responsible for his schedule and travel as well, I’d spent most of my time in the office than at home with my family. And the only reason I could pull that off was that I worked for a man, who I rarely saw in a state of exhaustion. He traveled domestic and international, extensively, with the mission of eliminating child labor; and the success of Global March Against Child Labor, under his leadership, proved that, with partnerships and collaborations, groups and teams, we were cruising along to end the menace.

Way to go. His travel continued for days on end, and yet, one fine morning only a couple of hours after he’d arrived from a trip to the US, he was in the office – fighting jet lag – to meet with a local organization, which had come to him for guidance. He’d welcomed them, and stressed how if everyone involved in the movement displayed the passion the mission demanded, the endeavors would yield results. And he’d also warned that the path to mission’s success faced stiff opposition from more quarters than we could imagine — but so long as we didn’t devalue the power of our collective conscience for the sake of the cause, we were right on course. His philosophy and pragmatism kindled each other in the design of his thoughts, where children became the only focus.

He was running high fever one day, but still wanted to lead a team to raid a factory in North Delhi, where some details earlier had suggested that the brick kiln owner was employing forced child labor. All of us had requested he let somebody else lead the raid so he could recover, but his stubbornness was nonpareil, and he wished to go. I remember I’d handed him some pills of paracetamol for fever. A day later, when he’d returned with his team in a foggy evening, he looked fresh, with dozens of rescued children following him into the conference hall — where he stood in a corner, unattached, smiling at the children, who cheered and celebrated their new-found freedom. His detachment, I thought, was a moment during which he pondered upon the day gone by, when he and his team had conducted another riskier raid, converting its success into the laughter that reverberated in the building. His fever pills were intact, and his fever only worse, and he tossed the first one into his mouth, and informed us that he’d better get rest, and stepped out, into his car and disappeared in the fog.

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I remember he had a couple of meetings in Germany and an important one in London, but his UK visa had expired, and he had to leave within two days. We were not scheduling anything in the UK because we knew we had to renew the visa. I remembered a get-together that BBA had, the previous week, and a senior visa official from the British High Commission had been in attendance, and I remember how he’d admired Mr. Satyarthi and the organization, and had left his visiting card. I called him around 3 pm to check if renewal of the visa was possible at such short notice, and he asked me to meet him in the embassy with Mr. Satyarthi’s passport, and by late evening the same day, his visa was renewed. The next day, I’d written to BBC HARDtalk, a popular show where global leaders are grilled, sending them Mr. Satyarthi and organization’s profile, asking if he could be interviewed – since he had a day to spare in London – and by next morning, I received their confirmation that they’d be pleased to have him.

Later, when I updated Mr. Satyarthi about these two developments, he patted on my back and said that he was proud of me – to which I said that I hadn’t done much, and that he was a known figure fighting for a just cause, and somebody only had to contact the right person at the right time.

Years passed, and his hair and beard turned grey and he began to look weary. One weekend, the entire office went to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Jaipur, to spend time with the children. And I remember we were playing volleyball, during a recreational period, and Mr. Satyarthi looked washed-out, but when somebody lifted the ball for him to smash, his strike had so much power that I had to duck my head on the other side. He has always been too mentally strong to allow fatigue to weaken him, and I know that his commitment for child rights will stay alive till his last breath.

Behind the glitter and glamour of the Nobel Prize are his incredible patience in handling complexities, live-in-the-present motto, taking risks to life, seeking truth, and delivering on the promises – the qualities he was born with, and which made his actions for the children languishing in slavery, be counted.

I left the organization in 2004, but I followed its activities online, and I’m so thrilled that 10 years later, Mr. Satyarthi won the prize after being in the running for it for several years, as per the Nobel Committee. But for me he had won it much earlier, when I’d realized that his passion and mission were noble enough.

Endurance On The Venice Beach

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He strummed tune after tune on the Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

His shabby attire belied the soulful melodies of his performance. He endured, plucking the strings, reaching the broken hearts with “Careless Whispers” and the confused minds with “Make me Pure.”

I saw a liplocked couple standing by a restroom, never wanting to unlock; and a marijuana addict who smoked another joint with teary eyes.

The performer was a homeless marijuana addict himself and he, after hours of non-stop plucking, hollered, “I haven’t eaten for days,” and went back to strumming.

 

Humanity Outside The Museum Of Royal Houses

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, though this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch, he was ready to sell his cones and bars as he stood up at the sight of the oncoming steps. He was taking another bite when he heard the click of my camera snapping this photo. He scanned my body language hoping that my steps would lead to him, which they did. I bought a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I asked him if he’d ever eaten his meals in peace. He said, “Sales give peace. One cone, more? please.”

The National Pantheon Contrasts

This shot was captured from the inside of the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church; today it serves as the final resting place for the nation’s honored citizens.

The guards and the flags were in the resting place; colors dim, painfully quiet. The heat of the summer outside painted the walls white; it was loud.

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The Caribbean Sea Conundrum

In the fading twilight, as the Caribbean Sea lends quietude to a noisy park in Malecon, these musicians showcase their skills; their objective is to earn some Dominican Peso so they buy dinner for their family in this poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.

Three ladies, a gentleman, and a child appear to be a family. Though the ladies may love some music, spending pesos is hard given their expenses and there’s a child, too. So the gentleman on the left initiates a look-elsewhere strategy triggering a look-elsewhere response from the rest.

The performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too; he’s begun to understand the futility of their collective tune.

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Sinterklaas In Amsterdam

We were out in the evening and I saw people swarm a corner circling a god-like figure. The figure had white hair and beard, wore a red chasuble and a red miter.

He was Sinterklaas. This was in Amsterdam more than a decade ago.

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Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas: a Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected and loved man. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when loved ones get their gifts.

 

Twists In MIT

It’s odd if there’s no oddity from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): a producer of great minds.

The Intellectuals’ Circle. 16 people can sit here. Half facing in, half facing out. Whose brains will seal the first deal?  

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Pivoting Garden Bench. Who will pivot here? Someone with nothing better to do? Then don’t wait. Image

Backless bench. For minds and spines. No old professors, with due respect. Image

 

The Honor To See, 24/7, The Tallest Building In The Western Hemisphere

I’ve had quite a journey with the World Trade Center in New York City.

When the dastardly act of 9/11 happened, I was on vacation in a remote village in South India. When the news spread in the US, it was evening in India, and since we’d been out all day and were exhausted, I’d retired to bed without watching television. Next morning, my grandfather woke me up to tell me the news, and I’d spent the rest of the day in front of the television. It was hard to believe.

In late 2002, I had an opportunity to visit Washington, DC and New York City, but couldn’t travel due to personal reasons. In 2008, my wife and I moved to the US, renting an apartment that gave us the downtown Manhattan view.

Of the four towers being built in downtown today, the Freedom Tower is almost complete and will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and fourth tallest in the world. We’ve been witnessing its growth from our apartment; the incredible progression from infancy to adulthood has been a stupendous feat; the skills, the workmanship, the will, and the conviction to regain what was lost.

Never taking the apartment view for granted, we’ve been awestruck – mornings and evenings, days and nights, weeks and months – by its evolution, majestic presence, and symbolism of hope and freedom.

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This is how it looks now from the living room.
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2008: When we moved to the US and into this apartment, there was no Freedom Tower in view, and though construction had begun, the project was taking longer due to disputes among business leaders, real estate lobby, and civic organizations. We loved the moon in the picture.
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2009: Here, we spotted the building for the first time; cranes promising speedy work.
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2010: It appeared the tower announced its arrival: start noticing me.
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2011: The structure looked tall, standing out in the twilight. Seventy floors up.
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2012: The Tribute in Light gave us hope, year after year, in the autumn. Here, the Freedom Tower is making its presence felt. Ninety floors up.
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2013: The day after the 408-foot spire was installed on top of the structure, giving the tower its 1776 feet, and 104 floors. Apparently, 1776 was when the US got its independence.
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2014: With the winter leaving us, the dawn gave this view a golden hue. Yachts were back.
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The night view

Sister Oracle At Quincy Market

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She became a work of art herself standing there hours on end, which required a lot of strength and resoluteness. This was in the summer of 2011 in Boston.

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She moved only when she had to give chits.

Place a dollar in the column and receive a fortune. Though we didn’t place the bill, the ones who did were given chits. She kept her expression intact as she picked the chit from her funnel bag, her movement graceful.

She’s Sister Oracle. Oracles are like the portals of heaven through which gods communicate directly with people.

 

Corning Museum Of Glass In New York

Founded in 1951, Corning Museum of Glass is the world’s largest glass museum in Corning, New York. We visited the museum on our way to Niagara Falls.

If you’re keen to learn the art, science and history of glass, this is the place to be. It has on display 35 centuries of glass artistry, from the Roman and Islamic periods up to modern art glass; has live demonstrations for glassblowing, glass breaking, lamp working; has exhibits showing commercial uses of glass like fiber optics, telescope lens; has thousands of glass artworks by renowned artists.

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Bronze Threshold In Battery Park

We know that the immigrants built this country, suffering years and years of toil and struggle. This bronze sculpture in Battery Park celebrates the diversity of New York City.

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The figures with their dramatic poses include a freed African slave, a worker, a priest and an Eastern European Jew. Indeed this was a threshold before the freedom beckoned guaranteeing our rights and responsibilities.

 

 

The Breakers At Rhode Island

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We visited The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, more than a year ago. We were two of the 300,000 visitors that year, which is roughly the number of visitors every year.

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The Breakers – a Vanderbilt mansion, a national historic landmark, the most luxuriant house in a summer resort, the top Gilded Age gem, considered the social capital of America – was constructed in 1895.

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Since interior photography wasn’t allowed we couldn’t take pictures, but from what we saw and learned: Italian and African marbles, and mosaics and rare woods from several countries were used to design the interior. Interestingly, the gold room in the mansion was constructed in France before disassembling and shipping the parts in airtight cases to Newport, Rhode Island, where it was re-assembled.

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View from the mansion – oasis of green and blue.

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Steel trusses were used to make the structure fireproof.

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