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Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

28th Sep 2013 -The sky was overcast and it was drizzling but it felt pleasant. I was longing to meet the children and bought some chocolates from the roadside store. From DH Road I turned into James Long Sarani and then after asking some of the local residents found RCFC on 59 Motilal Gupta road.

The moment I walked into the campus I could sense the peace and love around. Although I have been in touch with them since the last few months and trying to contribute to their mission this was my first visit and a very humbling experience.

RCFC was established in 1973 with the aid of a philanthropic organisation from Germany with a mission to improve the quality of life of children with orthopaedic deformities. With a modest beginning the centre grew under the able leadership of a British nurse & Social Activist Late Jane Pamela Webb.

I met Kakoli di who has been working in this organisation for the last 11 years and she told me everything about the NGO down to the minute details & Anupam showed me around and introduced the key people who run the centre. He took me to the post operative ward, OT, classroom, the physiotherapy units, the training unit for children with Cerebral Palsy and also the small factory where the mobility aids are fabricated.

They have been silently working and have achieved the following in the last 39 years:

66,346 patients have been assessed in OPD clinic
More than 10,550 surgeries conducted
17,075 mobility aids & appliances distributed
23,466 children have benefited from immunization program
49,890 patients have undergone physiotherapy program.

Recently they have been experiencing shortage of fund as one of the major sources have stopped funding them. Therefore they are now open to accept sponsorship from anyone who would like to contribute and change some lives.

Let us wish them success in their noble cause and help them within our capabilities.

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A Mouthful of Sky

I saw the wing tremble as the slim yet powerful LOT jet started to taxi on the runway. There were some small aircrafts parked in the distance but they looked more like toys. As the flying machine gained momentum, I craned my neck to get the maximum view of the ground below us. In less than a minute we were airborne and the ground started to get farther and farther away from us.

The nose of the plane was still up and when I looked down I saw at the greenery below dotted by the quaint houses with brick red roofs and chimneys. It must have taken only five minutes to leave the lovely city of Krakow behind us. The sky was clear and we were rapidly gaining altitude. After some time the terra firma would look more like a collage made of tiles of various shapes and sizes and colours. I felt sad and drowned in thoughts.

It was Saturday and John had invited me to spend the day with him and I was looking forward to it. He was at the hotel ten minutes before ten in the morning and by the time we set out it was ten minutes past ten. I was late because I was searching for my sunglasses which for some reason I didn’t need at all.

Mister was accompanying John and was quite friendly on our very first meeting. I assumed that he was in a good mood because he was wagging his tail. As we walked towards the parking lot, he sniffed at anything and everything on the way. John told me that Mister doesn’t get to be in the city very often and so was very excited.

I am a fan of Honda when it comes to motorbikes and cars and John owns a Jazz. As we drove away from the city, John showed me some interesting places of interest. The labor concentration camp was one of them and when we drove past he narrated the history behind it.  It was intriguing to hear about the communist rule in Poland and the country’s struggle to change things. It pained me to hear about the brutalities this country had to face for so many years. He also told me how he met his soul mate Gosia, a Polish girl and then how life changed and they finally landed up in Poland. I could imagine the way John feels about Poland and more so because it had taken only a few days for me to fall in love with this place.

It took us a while to get out of the city before we reached the place where all of a sudden the traffic seems to pause and people take the road through the village. We turned right to take one such road to the heart of Bochnia. The road looked like a ribbon with plenty of greenery on both sides and beautiful houses. It sometimes went up and then leveled. John pointed towards the left where there is a forest. He said that when he goes cycling he takes the road through the forest and in the winter with snow around it seems more like a fairy tale. I was taking pictures and trying to grasp every bit of information John was providing.

For those who do not know John yet, let me tell you that he is a great guide and can translate between Polish and English fluently. By the way, he also expressed his desire to work as a guide part time in the salt mine at Bochnia but we’ll come to that later.

We drove past the gate of a house which John mentioned belongs to a very rich guy who minted money by making telephone cables. Finally we reached house number 557 and parked. Gosia was out and we were supposed to meet her and her parents at their place later for lunch. The house is very beautiful and got to know that both Gosia and John had spent a lot of time and effort in giving it shape from a very basic to the modern form. Gosia’s brother’s involvement must be mentioned too in this context. I spotted a Spanish guitar in the drawing room which told me that John has interest in music too. I also saw this place in the house where he has all the tools and tackles to work with his bicycles.  If I remember correctly there were three of them one belongs to Gosia and the others to John.

‘Do you use gas or electricity to heat?’ I asked when I noticed the fireplace. John took me to the back yard and showed me a huge pile of wood stashed away neatly. ‘I have enough wood for the winter’ he smiled.

Mister was in a very playful mood and I would take the ball and throw it and he would make a dash for it. This went on for sometime while John got busy preparing coffee. As I sipped coffee John showed me some pictures of the house which showed how it looked when they bought it.  We left Mister in the house as we headed towards the market where John bought a few things. We met some elderly ladies selling vegetable and other food items. They were very sweet and were excited to meet an Indian. We took pictures.

‘We are now cruising and would serve refreshments now’

My train of thoughts was interrupted by the cracking voice of the crew from the speaker above. I was hungry and the bread and wine was perfect for my appetite. I noticed the puff of clouds and they appeared like a load of cotton in the clear blue sky. So far no turbulence and we were 35000 ft above and cruising. I noticed that I was still glued to my seat and so unfastened the seat belt to be at ease. I remembered that every time I forgot to fasten the seat belt in the car, John would alert me.  Soon I found myself rewinding to resume from where I had left off.

We just made it to the salt mine in time. The guide would speak in Polish and so they gave me a gadget with a numeric keypad with play & stop buttons. This device has the capability to narrate in the user’s preferred language (I think there were two options- Polish and English). You could select the language by pressing the stop key and entering a number. In the mine wherever you came across a point of interest, you would notice a number indicated somewhere in the line of sight and pressing the same on the gadget would start the narration describing the story behind it. I would soon realize that John was a lot better than the gadget because he translated everything that the guide talked about and updated me in real time.

 

 

 

We walked through the entrance and then got inside an elevator of the old kind. It was more of a metal box than anything else and soon we were plunging deep into the earth to witness something that was built in the 14th century. The transporter rattled and creaked and we could feel the speed at which we were being dropped. Finally it stopped and we came out and sat on the bench as instructed by our guide. Our guides were an elderly gentleman and an elderly lady and there were two groups. There was a railway track originating from this point and it was hard to digest that we were 450m under the ground and the air was still so fresh.

We passed through a metal door and the guide was speaking all the instructions to the groups. He said that we would take a train to go further and that this train is even better than the trains at Krakow. People broke into laughter.

The train arrived and I had never seen something like that before. It was a caravan of wooden benches on a framework of metal with iron wheels running on iron track of maybe 70 cm gauge. We made ourselves comfortable with our legs on each side. It was fun because it made a lot of noise and we were in a big cave which would never end.

The train stopped after going a certain distance and we got down. Everyone followed the guide to all the points of interest and all the time John was translating for me. I came to know how the workers in the mine would carry out excavation with simple tools like pickaxes and spades in a place where danger lurked at every corner. I learnt that in those days a block of salt would cost more than gold. With a block measuring approximately 1 cubic meter in volume   you could buy an entire village. The mine had methane in certain pockets and the gas being lighter than air would hover like a cloud overhead. Prisoners who served life term sentence were the candidates to lead the way and look for these gas reserves and blow them out. Battery or dry cells were still not invented and so they would carry fire torches. There would be explosions and some would die. However if any such prisoner survived this feat for an year he would be set free and could choose to still work in the mine for a wage. It was considered that he had been forgiven by GOD and so we mortals must also do so.

It was very thrilling to be 450 m down there looking at things done 773 years back and learning the process of salt mining. We finally came to banquet hall and the play area. John had told me about the dormitory and the guide showed us the place where 270 persons could be accommodated. It was very exciting and I suggested that this could be the ideal venue to host the annual day event but that would mean convincing our CEO Sascha.

I enjoyed a glass of beer while John settled for coffee. He told me that besides being a tourist attraction the place has also health benefits. People suffering from respiratory problems would come and stay here for a certain period of time to get cured. Now the health chapter is run and promoted by this guy I talked about before. Remember the guy in Bochnia who minted money from telephone cables?

On our way back from the mine my friend showed me a unit which produces hot water for circulation in the town but only for blocks of houses and not for the stand alone ones. This was one good thing introduced in the communist era and this facility is available at a very cheap price. As far as the availability of this facility is concerned, this is only for the cold winter months and not on need basis.

Well I have talked a lot about John already and at this point it would be unfair not to bring up Gosia and her parents.  John had showed me Gosia’s picture back at his residence and when I met her in person I understood how special she is. She is calm, composed with a very kind look in her eyes. Gosia drives a FIAT Punto and John parked his car beside hers when we reached their locality. As we walked towards the house John mentioned that long time back when the family was under pressure to give up the land, it was Gosia’s great grandmother who put her foot down and remained firm and just wouldn’t give up. In the end, her resistance paid off and this is something that the family would always be proud of. Gosia went to art school when she was younger and at the moment she is doing a course in Accounts. Jolek, Gosia’s father was at the gate and he greeted us. ‘Salaam Walecum’ he said. ‘Walecum Salaam’ I replied. I’ll never forget the smile Jolek carried on his face all through.

The dining table was in the lawn and I didn’t waste any time in making myself comfortable. On my right was John and on my left Gosia. Jolek was sitting across me with Teresa to his right. Teresa looked like a wonderful companion to Jolek and one who has stood by him all through the thick and thin of life. I was the first Indian to visit the Polish family and this was enough to spark a conversation on culture and tradition of my country.  I told them about my marriage, about the chariot, the rituals, the caste system, different languages and lot of other things about my beautiful country.

Over a variety of cakes ( three kinds out of which I liked the one with coconut the most), blueberries, sandwich , vodka we talked about gods, goddesses, festivals in India and also a lot about Iraq especially Baghdad.  For Jolek, Iraq would always find a special place in his heart because in difficult times he had worked there and earned enough money to build the house. Jolek narrated his experiences in the foreign land and I came to know that the sun appears a lot bigger in Iraq and so does the horizon. He also showed me a picture of him dressed as an Arab. There was another one with Teresa, Gosia and Gosia’s brother where Gosia’s mother looked like a movie star. I picked up the topic on how Jolek met Teresa and it turned out to be another interesting story and we found out that it was Teresa who had proposed to Jolek. Teresa’s family had no objections about the guy because his family name sounded royal. John told me how funny some names could sound in the countryside like ‘Mr. Onion’, ‘Mr. Little Mushroom’ and so on and I laughed and laughed.

I must have lost count of time because when Jarek called up I remembered that he had told me about a concert in Krakow that evening. I was so engrossed in imbibing everything I got to know from people around me that I thought a context switch would arrest the flow. Besides it was already late and we still had a couple of items on our itinerary. I told Jarek that by the time I reached Krakow it would be late and it would be better to meet the following day.

We then went to see what was grown in Jolek’s garden. I found turnip, peas, onion, cabbage, tomatoes, coriander, beans planted. On the right was the grape vine and I was amazed when John told me that Jolek makes wine from them. Among the trees are walnut trees, cherry, plum, apple and maybe more I cannot recollect.  I also learnt that he makes hay for the rabbits. The rabbits were many in number and some of them were bigger than any I have ever seen. Jolek wanted to gift me something and for once he thought a rabbit could be a good idea. I also saw the small room where Jolek would make his cigarettes and it had some of his personal belongings like a camera and so on. I said that I liked the camera and he immediately wanted to gift it to me. He sure is a darling.

We visited his garage next. Well not sure if you would actually call it a garage. Maybe we can say it is a ‘Tech Shack’.  In there were welding machines, spanners, wrenches and all other kinds of tools and tackles. On the floor was a container with a variety of nuts, bolts, washers, bushes etc. John remarked that whenever he would need something, he would hunt through this place and always find what he wanted.

‘Would you like to say ‘Hi’ to my neighbor?’ Jolek asked me.

Across the wire fence I extended my hand and shook hands with them. They offered me a drink and we spoke to each other for a while, me speaking in English and the others in Polish. Well I guess by now you would know for sure and I need not tell you who did all the translation.

We were getting late and the castle visit was the last item on the itinerary. As I was leaving Jolek gifted me two cigarettes which he had made by himself. I gave him two cigarettes in return from my pack of Indian Gold Flake Lights. He saw us off at the gate with that same smile and heard him say something in polish. John told me that he said ‘May your God protect you’. I was touched. There I was in another country some 7000 kms from my land and yet it felt that they are my own and I could feel them very close to my heart.  As I bid them farewell, I said to myself ‘We’ll again meet in time and share our joys and sorrows in that very garden amidst the beautiful surroundings with wine and food.

The castle is located in a place which is serene with lot of greenery around. John parked his car and we got down and my eyes caught a black Harley Davidson. I circled around it and took pictures.

Gosia pushed open the small gate on the right and went in and we followed. The castle looks exactly like the ones you would find in story books. John told me that the stable has been converted into a hotel & café. We went in and I ordered a beer for me and coffee for Gosia. Not sure really, was it for John? I’ll have to ask him. Anyway it doesn’t matter who had coffee and who didn’t but what you need to know is that all through the day John could not have any alcohol because he was driving and the rules of the land do not permit. So that was kind of sad. Poor John!

We sat outside in the sitting area beside the castle and I enjoyed the beer as we discussed about life in general. I must say it was quite interesting to get John’s & Gosia’s views about our expectations from life and we were very much in sync with each other. It was one of those rare occasions where I was just myself and was thinking free. It felt like I had set myself absolutely free and surrendered to all the elements around me. It was magical.

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Another Day in Paradise

“I am leaving,” she said.

Alex’s thoughts were interrupted as he glanced sideways towards the doorway. There she was standing with all the beauty and grace in the world. He was staring at the prettiest face he had ever seen. His heart skipped a beat and his mind seemed to stop functioning. This was the moment he had always dreaded…the moment of parting. He wanted to say so many things but the words wouldn’t simply come out. He seemed paralyzed. He seemed frozen.

“Actually I am not well,” she said.

“Oh that is bad.” He managed to say.

“See you in the city” she said with a smile.

“But I seldom see you.”

“I am usually at home” she replied.

 Alex nodded and smiled and then she disappeared from view. A stabbing pain shot through him when he realized that this was perhaps the last time. It was just a matter of coincidence. …. The time he had spent with her.

 From the balcony he saw the vehicle pulling away and disappearing from view. He was suffocating every instant. He could not breathe properly. He felt a lump in his throat. He closed his eyes and tried to remember.

 It was the other day at the shore. The sun had almost set and the dusk had engulfed everything around. The sky still held the last layers of the chrome glow. He looked ahead at the sea. She was sitting next to him and seemed lost in thoughts. Alex never felt like this before. With her enriching presence beside him, his heart was already stepping out into the sea. He felt like being in the deep and calm waters. The waves rose high with the rumbling of the sea and broke against the shore. And then the water retreated unwillingly into those depths once again. “Why wasn’t it always this way?” he thought.

 It was a different dimension. He had felt it when he had seen her for the first time. There was something different about her. Her eyes held the depth of the sea. Her face had a strange kind of glow and her voice almost melted and recast you into a different form. One could die a thousand deaths to be with her.

 Sitting there Alex had lost count of time. He had merged into the infinite. Nothing else mattered. Everything had stopped. It seemed as if only the two of them and nature existed and everything else seemed virtual.

 There are times when the heart speaks the silent language because the best of words fail to convey the deepest feeling within. Ripples of feelings went through him. All of a sudden life had a new meaning… there was something worth living for…. perhaps for the first time he felt complete and realized why all these years he had always felt so incomplete. She was singing and the wind carried the voice far across the sea to distant lands and uncharted islands. It was ecstasy It was beauty in its purest form and it was more colorful than the rainbow. Alex felt like being reborn. He wanted to surrender his complete self forever…

 The doorbell rang bringing his though stream to a grinding halt. He opened the door and looked at his friend. He knew it was time to leave.

 “Was it just another dream?” he thought when he saw the sea disappearing behind him.

Alex felt the sea water rise in his eyes.

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