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).

When The Restroom Is Not For Customers

While I was waiting for my prescription drugs, scanning the aisles and passing my time, I heard a commotion. I could figure out from the distance that a pharmacist was in a verbal duel with a customer. I walked toward the pharmacy counter and paused at the edge of an aisle, which was a strategic spot where I could do this reporting.

It was windy outside and my drug pick-up still ten minutes away, and since I was in search of a topic to write on, I listened in to the argument.

The pharmacist and the store manager appeared relaxed on the other side of the counter; the lady customer stood across from them, a few feet away from me. Her voice was shaky as she chastised the pharmacist, asking him to be more sensitive, and that Duane Reade’s reputation might be at stake if he failed to tend to its customers.

Fifteen minutes earlier:

The lady wanted to use the restroom. (Having lived in Newport for years, I knew that the restroom in this Duane Reade wasn’t for customers.) When she’d asked the pharmacist if she could use it, he responded in the negative. When she insisted citing abdominal pain, he said he’d check with the store manager. Ten minutes passed before the manager arrived and who replied in the affirmative, giving the lady the keys.

After using the restroom, she came out and began to reason with the pharmacist.fight-breaking-up-stopping-stop-break.png

Still standing at the edge of the aisle, my eyes saw Tylenol, my nose smelled VapoRub.

She complained that he’d taken a long time to allow her access; that she was an insulin-dependent diabetic who lived 45 minutes away from the pharmacy. The pharmacist, who was relieved that she’d relieved herself, repeated that the restroom wasn’t for customers (his vocal clarity now bathing in confidence). But, her argument as to why the manager had permitted her silenced him. Refusing to surrender, however, the man yelled, at times, which looked fair given the lady was shrieking throughout this conversation.

The aisle that I’d made my corner was suddenly buzzing with customers. The narratives in their murmurs were mostly divided.

Upping the ante, the lady protested that if she had fainted in the pharmacy during those ten minutes; if an ambulance had to be called in and she’d died en route to the hospital (her choking voice surgically removing any melodramatic pretentiousness); if the law enforcement then questioned the pharmacist, could he justify his decision to deny an insulin-dependent diabetic restroom access?

This terror of a hypothesis whacked a reluctant apology out of him. However, to be fair to the man, most narratives from the aisle agreed that he was not aware of her diabetes.

Now:

Who was right? Who was wrong? Restroom policy? Exception? Who deserved the exception?

I believed the lady. Imagine she’d fought with him for 30 minutes. She looked educated? Yes, she was howling.

Had she shared her insulin-dependency fact at the start, he might have responded differently. But her illness was private knowledge, rightly, or should she have revealed it?

He was following the store policy, and might be more upset with the manager than with the lady. Would the manager have patted his back had he been considerate to the lady?

A pharmacy may look like an extension to a hospital – where one can access restrooms – but it isn’t. It’s a pharmaceutical corporate from whom the lady expected a little humility.

Trademark is Duane Reade (Daily Prompt). Glow of the store (Photo Challenge).

Elevator’s Very Known Strangers

Life in a 36-floor apartment building – where elevator’s routine – is fascinating.

Each floor has ten apartments, so roughly a total of 360 apartments. Two each on the left and the right are the four elevators in the building. Each elevator can hold up to 1500 pounds; ten people may be the limit if you average 150 pounds each; then, there are strollers, carts, luggage, and bikes guzzling up the space.

In almost a decade of living in the same building, I haven’t seen a single instance where the elevator carried more than the permitted pounds of weight. You could figure this out by looking at how cramped the lifting device is.

The elevator queue is apparently long during peak hours. After the first person in line has pushed the cream button lighting it up, the rest would – from our positions in the queue – try to read the four little screens right above the elevator doors. We’d watch the ascending or descending red digits and adjust our necks to see which elevator lands first to a creaking halt. When the screen reads 1 – and amid a collective sigh – courtesy demands that we wait for the people already in it to exit like we do on subway trains. Ninety percent of the people in line would wait for the passengers to step out while the rest might show incredible urgency.

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Most are known strangers in the world of the elevator: you may have seen them everywhere, all these years, but recognize them only in the shaft-cage. Here are five incidents that I’ll remember for a long time:

  1. If you see someone on a particular day, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the same person a second time in the same elevator. A ten-year-old boy was in the elevator for a while, cruising up and down in semi-peak hour. A lot of known strangers saw him. I’d seen him on my way to the grocery store. When I returned, he was standing at that very corner, staring at nothing. We see this kind of behavior on light rail trains, where people buy a $3 ticket to use the transport for the duration of its two-hour validity. As I was exiting at 6th, I smiled at him, and he answered a question I’d never asked: “This is my way of busting school stress.”
  1. When there was a line of about ten people at 6 pm, I saw this fine gentleman – perhaps a Fortune 500 company director – walk up to the first man in line. And he ended up being the first to walk into the elevator. Ironically, I was the tenth in line and all ten – including the gentleman – made it and though the nine of them were bruised at the man’s discourtesy, I was injured.
  1. At 3 pm, when it was not rush hour – and no soul around – the elevators looked tempting. I was hauling a cart full of groceries to take up to my floor. I stepped into the elevator, and when the door was closing, a child, whose footsteps I’d just heard, threw his hand in the narrowing gap of the closing door. The door now opened, and he stood there, holding it for his mother who’d possibly instructed him to while she was still 20 seconds away. When she appeared, she was pushing a stroller with a toddler in it, followed by her another son who was maneuvering a grocery cart double the size of mine. I made space for them which was a mistake. What else could I’ve done since their stroller, the cart, the mother, and her children had crunched me into a corner. I didn’t mind that there was no apology from the lady, but what I did mind was that their floor was the 29th and mine was the 6th; and we’re not discussing streets here. Well, it pained them as much making space for me by exiting at 6th with all their belongings. Once out, I held the door till they were back in the cage. I don’t know why I thanked the lady: I knew it would go unacknowledged.
  1. A genius got into the elevator on the second floor to go down to the first. He’d taken the ascending one, failing to notice the up arrow. The two men who were already in the elevator had stops at 36th and 6th. The man had no choice but whoosh all the way up to the top floor before swooshing back down to his destination. Pointedly, there are four staircase exits on each floor, and only ten counts of steps from second to first; the genius was brawny, too.
  1. In an elevator with six people, we were going down to the first floor. But, before we could exit the first, a lady moved in, pushing the button for a certain floor; she then held the door and said, “Sweetie, come quickly.” She wasn’t an alien, nor did she appear to believe that she was invisible; her Chanel attracting some of the trapped men inside. Since I’d met the Fortune gentleman only a week prior, I wondered if she was the Fortune lady. The two men, including me, who were stuck right behind her, had to wait until the chanelized Romeos exited. And guess what…there entered the Fortune man, alias, her sweetie.

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Loyal to our very own elevators (Daily Prompt).

Propose a Scale to four elevators in one frame (Photo Challenge).

How A Vaping Tattoo Artist Felt Insulted When He Was Insulting

My first tattoo – Sagittarius the Archer – at Hoboken Body Art. The artist was friendly, dexterous.

My Yelp/Google review points:

1) My wife and I had two tattoos each, done at Hoboken Body Art over the years. We loved the place.

2) Last week, she got her third tattoo, and yesterday, I was to get my third.

3) For our first four tattoos we’d paid $80 each. We had four free touch ups but never used them, saving HBA’s ink and artists’ time.

4) Last week, J – the new/head artist – looked at the design my wife had drawn: her mom and dad’s short signatures, a musical note on either end, and a heartbeat linking them. He said he’d charge $160. Which was double what we’d paid previously for more or less the same work. Also, we’d given him print outs for the design, making his job easier. He was clearly overcharging since my wife’s tattoo was 30% smaller (as requested by her) than originally planned.

5) He said, “I’m a very famous tattoo artist. You know me.” His eyes awash with pride as he let out a squeal of laughter. I smiled without a clue about who he was. I suggested that I too would get a tattoo and we’d pay $125 each ($250 in total). I even said that for my design I was willing to forgo the symbol on either end (like the musical notes my wife had) if the total was $250. He said his final price was $300 ($150 each), and it was clearly understood that if he was charging the extra $50 we both would get the same kind of work. (One tattoo = $160, both = $300; same work.) I was not keen, but my wife had made up her mind to get pricked. It was her birthday week.

6) So, last week, she got her tattoo done. We paid him $160. I told him that I’d get mine within two weeks. He said he’d charge me $140 referring to the $300 package. All was well.

The reception

7) On Saturday, I called HBA twice within a span of 5 minutes for a time with J at 12 pm the next day (yesterday/Sunday). Both times A – the front desk manager – confirmed the appointment.

8) When we arrived at HBA at sharp 12 pm yesterday, A said that J was running late due to a Light Rail commute issue and that we would have to wait for 30 minutes. Now, we have a toddler son who accompanies us and it gets difficult when there’s a waiting period. However, as suggested by A, we went out for a walk, grabbing some coffee at Bwe Kafe, and came back half hour later. But it was not before 1 pm that J arrived. No hint of apology from him.

9) J looked at my design and said he’d charge $160 since it had a symbol on either end of the heartbeat and parents’ short signatures. I reasoned that we’d agreed on a $300 package (not $250 where I was willing to forgo those) and that I was only getting what my wife had got. $150 each. Nothing extra.

10) J didn’t remember the discussion we had seven days prior. Since A was not party to the discussion he had no clue.

11) J didn’t give me a good vibe even the previous week, appearing slightly intoxicated. He was a cry baby who kept bragging about his skills. And yesterday, he was obnoxious, rude, and unprofessional. One, he came an hour late. He said “people have to wait even at doctor’s.” Two, he wanted $320 total. From $250 to $300 to $320.

12) Why weren’t we given the appointment for 1 pm? It turned out that A had tried to reach J on Saturday, but could get hold of him only Sunday morning. If A had informed us Sunday morning not to come before 1 pm, we wouldn’t have wasted an hour.

13) J was smoking indoors in front of our child. A Big No!

14) Forget about an apology, he was accusing us of being amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying. He said he’d come all the way from his house for us and that he was being insulted; that his each hour was worth $160, completely forgetting that all of us value time. My wife and I are professionals and we can’t wait for an hour at a tattoo shop. How are we amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying?

15) A apologized to us three times; he even tried to hand a $20 bill to J for his Uber expenses. Perhaps, J wanted those $20 from us after he’d made us wait? If he hadn’t taken Uber, he wouldn’t have been at the shop before 2 pm. Apparently, A didn’t want to lose us, but J, a greedy and self-centered blockhead, wouldn’t care.

16) It’s unfortunate that our relationship with HBA has ended. They should get rid of artists like J — I say this because HBA used to have professional, well-behaved artists.

17) Appointments should be honored — it’s between HBA and the artists. No apology from J was very discourteous.

18) Such a waste of our time, energy, and the $25 we Uber-paid for commuting from Newport in Jersey City. There are so many tattoo shops nearby, but we paid the price for our HBA loyalty.

19) Three of our friends had been to HBA upon our high recommendation. Not anymore.

Entrance window

Now: it wasn’t that we couldn’t have paid the extra $20. In fact, we were planning to tip him. What enraged us – how odious his behavior was: last week, a trailer; yesterday, a performance.

Establishing a good vibe between a tattoo artist and his customer is crucial. If there’s a lack of respect, a customer might not trust that his artist would do a good job. Imagine, a tattoo is permanent, and nobody wants to be scarred for life. We are required to sign a consent form before the procedure, making us legally vulnerable.

I went to bed thinking everything happened for the best, convincing my wife in the same breath that she need not worry about her tattoo.

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.

Up To My Head

Our child began his swimming lessons last month.

When he’s in the pool, he smiles and splashes water on other children, but when they reciprocate or retaliate, he gazes at me. (His eyebrows shrinking together = he’s complaining.) From the comforts of the lounge chair, I could only gesture him to focus on his lessons.

When he’s out of the pool, he’s shivering, his teeth chattering, legs struggling to move, feet unsure of the wet concrete.

Last week, as part of the drill, all the kids had to wait in line before they jumped in the water. But before he jumped, he said, “Up to my head,” while pointing his finger up and trembling enough to win his master’s empathy. His robust sound, rare in public, echoed off the arched glass ceiling, eliciting laughter.

“Up to your head?” his swim instructor retorted.

We knew he was not ready to put his head in the water yet.

After that session, when he was standing under a hot shower in the locker room, he stressed that I tell the instructor that he should always do, “Up to my head.”

Glancing at his face, I saw that the space between his eyebrows shrank, the shower sound muting us.

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 Yacht Man

For Day 3 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I present to you the Yacht man. I captured these moments one evening from the living room of our apartment.

He was up on the mast, repairing the halyard. When I was clicking him I wondered: what he’d eaten for lunch, if he’d fought with his family that morning, and weirdly, if he’d added coke or soda to his vodka.

I don’t think he’s checking his phone here. He may want to — the altitude might give him a good reception.DSCN1555

Here, he’s trying to pull a tool out of his repair kit; he’ll have to find it first.DSCN1564

Work has begun, and he’s peering in the direction of Brooklyn.DSCN1553

Is someone calling him from below, or is he gauging the altitude? “Will I survive if I fall, and if I survive, what’ll be left of me?”DSCN1554

He has a good view of downtown Manhattan, and with dusk approaching, the Hudson River traffic will peak.DSCN1562

The full view of the yacht and the man. Way ‘up’ to go.DSCN1545

A wider view.DSCN1559

The widest view the camera could get. Spot the yacht man?DSCN1561

The most zoomed-out click. He looks tired.DSCN1565

I figured by the end of it all that I had forgotten to eat lunch, fought with family in the morning and that, I would’ve added soda to my vodka.

I link Blewbird for this challenge. This blog has several breathtaking pictures.

Love/Hate Snow 2

For Day 2 of my B/W Photo Challenge, let the snow assault continue. But I promise I’ll kindle you with warmth from Day 3 onward.

Tried sitting on them? If they are flurries the first five seconds may feel cushy. Then: sit at your own risk.IMG_0359

Workers shoveling snow was a good sight. The sun shone bright; their shadows were big.11053084_10153219093570625_6815545349298158174_n

Insignificant when we don’t have to answer nature’s call? But when we do, this has top significance. There are some who want cleaner options even in the times of crisis.IMG_0329

What tires could do to snow: it becomes muddy, slushy, and lose what, the white.11025163_10153219094380625_8579846165506570706_n

All of us have a long, lone journey. We come and go, alone. The only truth.IMG_0371

I link Maniparna for this challenge. Her posts and photos are interesting.

Love/Hate Snow

This is my B/W post for Day 1 of the 5 Day photo challenge. The wonderful Prior linked me for this challenge.

We all know what happened in Massachusetts when it topped 100 inches of snow in a record breaking winter. Contrary to what the weathermen had predicted, New York, New Jersey, and the other states in the East Coast were spared the assault.

Though it’s been snowing in NY and NJ intermittently, the snow that fell for two consecutive days last week showed aggression:

This gull’s perched on a snow-assaulted railing. When you look into its eyes, you see purpose and no purpose. Contradictory? Well, gulls live a purposeless life, I believe, but are purposeful enough to be purposeless. They’re the spiritual heads of the birds’ fraternity.DSCN1816

Bicycle told snow: “Spare me. Jam Mercedes’ tires instead.” DSCN1838

These are not my footsteps — could’ve been mine. I followed them, some followed mine.DSCN1867

Gravity-defying stunt

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Whose car is it? Mine. What next? What next!IMG_0379

I link the great Kim Gosselin for this challenge. She’s a lovely photographer, too.

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.

In The Present At Central Park

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In a Central Park pond, three male mallard ducks circled a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants were hues of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a gentle wind often ruffled to create ripples.

Ripples decimated the trails the moving ducks left, but when breeze stopped and ducks paused, stillness prevailed. That’s when nature offered me a moment to reflect, and I felt my presence.

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.

Imperfect Shadows At White River State Park

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Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Sad folks may not like their shadows though some might seek perspective in them. Happy folks, however, may brag about their shadows, and some may take pictures.

If a shadow, which is immune to being judged, looks imperfect, it’s normal. What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.

Drama At Balzac’s

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This nighttime picture of Balzac’s, which is a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District in Toronto, shows faded brick walls, a stylish chandelier, high ceilings, and a lit window. But what transpires below on the first level among a crowd of people, who’re chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee, may be hard like the brick, classy like the chandelier, empty like the ceiling, and bright like the window.

You, a bitter reflection of your past acts, now realize how your egotism scared your friends away; how you were unsurprisingly certain that one day, you’d sit here to sip alone with no one to talk to. The lonely you glances up, hoping that someday things might change.

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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