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Specks of Happiness

By Keerti Garg

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2011 Keerti Garg

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1- Beginning of the rest of my life

Chapter 2- Believing in yourself

Chapter 3- Have a good day!

Chapter 4- Learning from each other

Chapter 5- Miss Universe

Chapter 6- Sweet Bath

Chapter 7- Testing the Limits

Chapter 8- The Common Themes…

Chapter 9- The Red Bag

Chapter 10- To Sir, with Love

Chapter 11- Too Good to be True

Chapter 12- Feeling Peachy

Chapter 13- The Lady and the lady finger

Chapter 14- The Sunlight, the coffee cake and the Russian tales in Hindi

Chapter 15- The Pond


I am grateful to my mother Dr. Asha Gauri Shankar for making this possible and real. Thank you for your encouragement and support all along.

I would also like to thank my father Dr. Gauri Shankar, my brother Vinayak Garg and my husband Dr. Ajay Gulati for being there throughout the time I was working on this book.

I am indebted to God for making me what I am and for giving me all he did. Thank you dear God for the right experiences and the right people in my life.

Thank you dear reader for picking up this book and making all my efforts worthwhile.



A few days back, I was in Berkeley for a friend's birthday party. They had invited my husband and I for an overnight stay and we were returning back the next day to Palo Alto, which is where we stay right now. Just before heading back, we decided to catch up with another friend of ours in Berkeley. He was busy at work and we decided to wait for him in a yogurt parlour.

This kind of place generally offers a variety of flavours and one can add fresh fruits and nuts, chocolate pieces, gummy bears (my husband hates them and I love them) and similar toppings to the yogurt. This particular parlour had flavours like green apple, coconut, coffee, mint, apricot, butter pecan and strawberry. A diehard fan that I am of sweet and sour things, I picked the green apple flavour and my husband picked the butter pecan. We topped it with fruits only (we try to eat as healthy as possible) and sat down to enjoy our dessert.

My husband, Ajay who is a researcher and has a doctoral degree in Computer Science was working on one of his research problems while I was reading a book given to me on my birthday by a dear friend, Linda. While I was reading and eating the yogurt, I looked up in between and saw a young girl; around eight years of age enter the parlour with her dad.

I do not know what it was that caught my eye, probably it was her curly, bouncy, jet black hair or it was her mile wide smile or maybe it was the spring in her step or probably it was her innocent doe eyes, I guess it was a combination of all. She started scanning the flavours that were available and finally decided to sample the strawberry yogurt. She licked a little from the spoon and closed her eyes while doing that. The look on the girl's face at that time was of pure, unadulterated joy and contentment. She then gave the spoon to her dad to taste some. He too liked it and they bought some. She went out the store, dancing and licking the yogurt from the cup. Such extraordinary happiness at such an ordinary everyday thing!

My book, 'Specks of happiness' is exactly about these remarkable moments of joy in our everyday life. We all experience them but somewhere in the mundane tasks and routine chores, we often tend to bypass these moments and are never able to enjoy them. We keep waiting for our 'big dreams and expectations' to come true and materialise and we put our happiness on hold while these specks of happiness keep passing us by. I am not saying that we should not wait for our dreams to come true, in fact on the contrary, if we learn to recognise these specks of happiness in our lives, the positive energy generated would propel us towards accomplishing our bigger goals even more rapidly. At the same time, our everyday existence would become so much more meaningful and blissful once we start savouring these.

I am sharing some of these moments from my life, small things and significant people in my life who have given me a reason to stop and experience that moment of elation in my life. I have also tried to highlight my learnings' from each of these experiences wherever possible. I call each of these stories a speck of happiness in my life. If after reading my stories, you are able to recognise even some of these moments of happiness in your life, the purpose of my book would be served.

Happy reading and wish you countless specks of happiness throughout your life!


Chapter 1- Beginning of the rest of my life

This was the time when it was a little over a year that I had started working after finishing my MBA. I was living in a new city in an apartment, all by myself.

During the weekday mornings, my routine was something like this-rushing to get ready, make breakfast, pack lunch, get an auto rickshaw to go to work with the minimum amount of haggling, walk through the office doors and rush to the lift, reach my seat and switch on my computer. It seemed as if I was in some race with all these touch points, which I had to cross successfully. Only when I had completed these activities did I begin to breathe that day.

The day I am talking of was nothing unusual. I was scrambling to get ready and managed to reach the office almost on time after wading through the early morning traffic. My office was on the fourth floor and I was waiting for the lift to arrive on the ground floor, constantly muttering under my breath about the slowness of technology. The person standing next to me looked at me like I was a lunatic, muttering to myself.

Finally, the lift arrived. I ignored everybody around me and quickly entered the lift and pressed the button for the fourth floor. Other people pressing the buttons to floors before mine annoyed me no end since it translated to a greater delay for me!

After stopping at every floor for what seemed like an eternity, the lift finally reached my destination floor. I walked out and just as I was swiping my identity card at the entry door on the floor, I saw a sweet, gentle face smiling back at me. Her smile registered in some part of my brain and I returned the smile but continued marching towards my everyday battlefield- my workstation.

I did my customary work with my usual boundless energy levels; feeling frustrated at the laidback and lackadaisical people on whom the final output of my day was dependent, but who were busy gossiping amongst themselves about their boyfriends/husbands/mother-in-laws and discussing the latest fashion accessories that the actresses were donning those days.

I decided to take a walk outside to calm myself, repeatedly chanting ‘I love my job and handling people is a part of it’ and came out into the lobby area where the lifts were located. I was the recipient of a sweet, gentle smile for the second time that day. Forgetting my frustrations, I looked at the person smiling at me.

She was wearing a sky blue salwar suit with a dark blue dupatta. Her smile was reaching her eyes. I looked at her in awe. She was the lady who operated the lift doors for all of us the entire day. Her job was simply to press the buttons to open and close the doors of the four lifts on our floor. Atleast that's what I thought. Later on I realised that she was also the cleaning lady.

It must be tiring for her, I thought to myself after seeing her working the second time that day. She kept beaming tirelessly at all the people passing by, not discouraged by the majority of the population who never even looked at her and treated her as if she was invisible.

I wondered how could she do that and be so placid about it too. With my mind crowded with the worries of my work, I walked up to her and tried to talk to her. She didn’t understand English and I couldn’t speak her native language. But I smiled at her. She smiled back at me and that was all the communication we needed. I felt myself lightening up regarding the pressures of my work instantly.

I returned to my workstation with a new vigour and greater energy levels. The lady in the lobby taught me with a mere simple smile that I should just continue to be myself, irrespective of what others do and how they behave. She taught me a valuable lesson of life that we should not lose our goodness just because others are not so good to us. She continued smiling at all the people even though they pretended that they hadnt’t even seen her. Then, why shouldn't I keep on working in my usual manner even if other people didn’t behave the way I would have liked them to?

The next day, I got ready for work like any other day and reached office. I patiently waited for the lift to arrive and stepped into it. I reached the floor where my office was located, walked out of the lift, smiled at the lady in the lobby and walked towards my work station with a resolve that I would work with my usual perseverance and would not let the casual attitude of the people around me affect my work, and life for that matter.

A simple yet precious smile from a lady I did not really know but saw everyday was the beginning of the rest of my life- one in which I learnt to be myself irrespective of how people around me were. I should not lose my individuality just because people around me do not respond to me the way I would like them to. I am what I am and should continue to be that.

Chapter 2-Believing in yourself

I was in class eight at that time. I had always been shy and tended to be on the quiet side. Often, ordinary people take that to be a weakness but the intelligent ones realise that it is actually otherwise. I was often labelled a sponge, absorbing all that was going on around me with great intensity.

We had an elocution contest which consisted of a poem recitation. There were three rounds-quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals. Our class consisted of five sections with fifty students each. The quarterfinals were section wise, semi-finals were amongst the students selected from each of the individual sections and finally, the crème of the crème would compete for the finals.

I had taken part in public speaking contests before but had only managed to win consolation prizes. I now think that the whole idea of a ‘consolation prize’ was plain stupid. What was the consolation about? Shouldn’t the schools be encouraging students to discover themselves rather than making every activity a contest in which the creativity of the students is lost and it just becomes another ‘win the trophy’ contest? They should be celebrating their students rather than consoling them.

Since participation in this contest was compulsory, I took part in it, though not with great willingness. The quarter finals selected four students from each section. I had recited some random poem, I don’t remember which one now but it was an ordinary one. Surprisingly, I got selected for the semi-finals.

I was greatly motivated after this. Realising that I was amongst the top twenty students out of an odd two hundred and fifty made me want to be amongst the finalists. I worked hard for my recitation for the semi-finals. The poem was about a bird which preferred the open blue sky as compared to a cage made of gold. I felt the inherent passion in the poem from my heart and even today, I can recite a major portion of it from my memory. It was no small wonder that I got selected for the finals. I was elated.

Though I had not won top prizes in public speaking in the past but this time I wanted to.

I selected my poem for the finals with great care. It was a simple but a strong, passionate, patriotic poem. I wanted to do so well that I actually recited it one hundred times before the finals. I remember counting the number of times I had practiced it using tally bars (a mathematical technique we had learnt in junior classes) and felt really happy utilising my education in the practical world (as per my standards at that time).

The day for the finals arrived. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach right from the time I woke up. The elocution was in the morning. The finals use to be a mega event in our school and were held in the auditorium. I reached the school and entered the classroom. There was some time before the finals were supposed to start. Our class teacher asked the participants to practice one last time before heading to the auditorium. There were two of us from our section. The other student recited his poem. I recited mine after him. As soon as I finished, the bell rang indicating it was time to go to the auditorium and battle for the top prizes. I felt tremendous pressure on myself since this event was one of the highlights of the year.

Just as all the students from my class were lining up to go to the auditorium, a fellow classmate of mine came to me and said-‘You know what- the poem you just recited in the class as a practice for the finals was very childish. You will embarrass yourself when you recite it in the auditorium in front of more than two hundred and seventy people. Just forget about winning any prize! Even a kindergarten student won’t recite it in his elocution!’ Having said that, she turned on her heel and walked away. I was left staring after her but walked towards the auditorium quietly.

This was the first time I was speaking in front of such a large audience. I was naturally nervous but I took my seat. I tried to practice my poem while we were all waiting for the contest to start but again and again, the comment of my classmate was haunting me.

The recitation started. Before I knew it, my name was announced as the next finalist. I remember walking up to the stage with a never felt before calm. When I reached the podium, I turned and faced the audience. I stood at just the right distance from the microphone. I waited for everyone to quieten down. What felt like eternity was only two minutes from the time I had gotten up to walk towards the stage. I looked at my audience and started my recitation.

I remembered no one and felt nothing but the passion inherent in my poem. My poem was in Hindi and the title meant ‘keep moving ahead’. I recited my poem slowly and calmly, making sure to make eye contact with the people sitting in the audience and the judges. I expressed the passion I felt with the actions of my hands. Throughout my recitation, no one moved-the only voice that rang out loud was mine. When I finished my recitation, there was a pin drop silence for about ten seconds and then, there was a thunderous applause. I got a standing ovation.

I came back to my seat with a sense of satisfaction at having done my best. My parents have always taught me to simply do my best and not worry about the results. They taught me to work hard, give it my best shot and then get on with my next job. I did exactly that.

There were three more speakers to go before all the eight finalists finished their recitation.

Finally, it was time for the results to be announced. Often they were revealed in a bottom up manner. So, the third prize was announced first-it was not mine. I was not sure if I should even be expecting a prize but I kept my hopes high anyway.

There was a girl amongst the finalists who had recited a very difficult and long poem. It was impressive and she was a legend as far as public speaking was concerned. She had always stood first in every contest she had taken part in. I was new in this school.

It was time for the second prize to be announced. I held my breath. The name was announced. I was shocked. The girl who had always stood first came second in this contest. There was an audible gasp from the audience and immediately, there was a lot of murmuring as to who might be the winner if not her.

The judge had to wait a good five minutes for the audience to settle down before he could announce the first prize. I remember thinking-‘Who must have displaced the queen of public speaking?’ I looked around me and started ticking off people mentally, who could be possible first prize winners.

The first prize was announced. I could not believe my ears-it was me. My legs felt like jelly and I got up to receive my prize. I had never counted myself amongst the people who might have displaced the ‘elocution queen’!

I was ecstatic. As we were all filing out of the auditorium to walk back towards the classes, another classmate of mine walked up to me and said-‘Your poem was fabulous. When you recited the line about the fact that the sky spits fire, your tone and actions made the whole scene come alive in front of my eyes! Congratulations and keep it up!’ I was on top of the world.

And it was then that it dawned on me that what people say about us is so fluctuating that if we start taking everything they say seriously, there would be no time to concentrate on our lives. We would simply get entangled in the web of other people’s remarks about us. The best strategy is to listen to people but filter out the information and comments that we get. Positive comments are obviously great and as far as the negative ones are concerned, we should try to learn from them if they were given with a genuine sense of concern else we should simply ignore them, for often people who are jealous of us tend to say negative things because that is the only weapon they think they have against us. We should always believe in ourselves.

It was no surprise that the girl who gave me a negative feedback just before my recitation was actually the topper of the class before I displaced her when I joined this school. The comments were her insecurity speaking. I would be eternally thankful to her because she taught me one of the life’s most valuable lessons-believing in oneself despite anything anyone might say.

Chapter 3- Have a good day!

It began as an ordinary day yet ended so differently from the rest of the ones that I had been having lately.

I had gone shopping all on my own in a new country! Yes, it was an adventure! I didn’t know the way, didn’t know the people but most of all, I didn’t have any conveyance with me and the last of the things made it the hardest of all! I am in America and everyone here has their personal conveyance and the concept of public transport is almost like an alien one. I obviously belong to the category of people who do not have any conveyance since am new here. Still, I was tired of just waiting to get my driving license or a bike since neither of these was in my hands. So, I decided to go ahead with doing what was in my hands and that was to get on with my life with the resources I had.

And so began my adventure. I got out of the house, taking with me little money and lots of enthusiasm. I wore a sundress and my big smile. The sun was shining brightly; it seemed to be matching my mood. I decided to go to one of the biggest malls in the area without having a clear idea as to exactly where it was but I knew one thing unequivocally-I wanted to go there.

I had been to this mall once before with my husband but had no idea where exactly it was located. I started walking in the general direction of the mall. I took photographs of whatever and anything that captured my mind and my imagination- trees, different colored flowers growing in the same area, a mom walking with not one but four babies, small plants striving to reach the sun, people biking and singing along, cars rushing past the pedestrians etc. I saw a number of small, around the corner shops selling things like dainty and beautiful cakes, clothes, beauty tips, pizzas, crepes, jewellery and so many lovely things. The traffic moved at its own pace and the pedestrians at their own too! The two paces were very different, yet somehow everyone was engrossed in themselves. I was relishing the thrill of walking and absorbing so many new aromas, things and people, all at once! I was enthralled by my surroundings! I realised that one doesn’t need much to be happy, one only needs to be content and at peace with oneself.

I kept on walking, asking for directions in between. The people were very helpful and gave useful suggestions. I kept on walking and walking, on and on…

After about two hours of strolling in the sunny and pleasant weather, I saw a board indicating the arrival of my destination. My momentum increased and I started running. I soon reached where I wanted to be. It was nothing short of a victory for me since I reached there all on my own, without knowing the way and after walking for over two hours. Not having a conveyance did not stop me. I was delirious with joy!

I started browsing the various shops. I felt like a child let loose in a fair. I was ravenous after the long walk. I saw a French pastry cafe and stood in the queue waiting for my turn. Even the wait proved to be fruitful. I absorbed the different colours and textures- peach, raspberry, blueberry and wild cherry, all artistically arranged on a variety of tarts, pastries and breads. I finally decided on a kiwi and peach pastry topped with almonds and raisins. I got it slightly heated and it just melted in my mouth!

After getting a boost of sugars, I continued my tryst with shopping for clothes. I tried an endless number of dresses at many different shops.

Finally I entered a chocolate shop, tried almost half a dozen before buying another half. They were heavenly!

The day was coming to an end and it was time for me to head back home. Since the mall had a number of exits, all going into different parts of the town, I had to choose the correct one. I exited from one, only to come back and recheck that it was the right one for me. I finally started walking back home and on my way, a young sweet college kid asked me the way to this very mall. I felt delighted in guiding him, atleast I was able to help someone with my new found knowledge.

Soon afterwards, I saw one of the shuttles going by. I waited at one of its stops. The next shuttle had no passenger in it and the driver patiently answered my question as to where he was going and if it would be helpful for me to board this one. It was not going where I wanted to but he guided me to where I could get the right one. I walked till that place and sat at the bench to wait for the next one. A lady was already waiting there and asked me when the shuttle would arrive. I told her I was new to the place and was not sure. She wished me good luck with the place and hoped that I would enjoy my new surroundings. It is touching when a stranger wishes you like that.

I finally boarded my shuttle. I started enjoying the bus ride. I liked the trees rushing past me than barely moving by when I was walking earlier. I missed getting off at the correct stop and instead kept on sitting. The bus reached the last stop- a medical centre. Many people boarded there including a particularly loud black man. The bus started following its route back and this time I was keeping out a careful eye for the bus stop I was supposed to get off at.

People were talking amongst themselves or simply watching the outside scenery. I was watching the scenery and listening to other people’s conversations. The black loud man was even louder when he started talking on phone. He was sitting on the seat next to me. He made atleast half a dozen calls to someone named Anna, Tim, somebody else and then back to Anna and Tim. Apparently Anna and Tim had to meet each other the coming Saturday and he was the common thread between them. I was irritated at his lack of concern for other passengers when he was talking boisterously. What also bothered me was his incorrect and repeated usage of the word ‘okay’ in every sentence that he uttered, coupled with a particularly nasal accent. A fellow passenger, who apparently knew him called to him- ‘Mr. Brown…”.

The rest of the bus ride passed off uneventfully. I checked with the driver to confirm if my stop was approaching. Mr. Brown also offered his solemn advice that yes, my destination was approaching fast and that I better get ready to get off.

The bus stopped and I started to get down the stairs of the bus. Mr. Brown was right behind me. Just as we got off, the bus went away and we found ourselves walking in the same direction. Mr. Brown asked me if I worked in the medical centre from where he had taken the shuttle. I answered a no. He asked why not. I felt like telling him to shut up. But instead I told him that I recently shifted to this country after getting married. His response to this was an amazed expression that I was so new to the place and still, was already moving about. He seemed very impressed. We reached at the corner and I started to look around as to which direction should I take next. Mr. Brown guided me to the correct one without me asking him. I thanked him and started to walk away. He called from behind and said- ‘Have a very good day young lady!’ and off he went in the opposite direction.

There were tears in my eyes as I started the final leg of my walk back home. How very narrow-minded I was! I thought him to be rude and unsophisticated while he helped me selflessly, going out of his way. It was then that I realised that real class was not determined by the colour of one's skin or by the way one talks, it was decided by the way one’s heart responds to strangers.

Chapter 4- Learning from each other…

They have spent more than twenty five years with each other, in good times and in bad, in happiness and in sadness, in pleasure and in pain, in sunshine and in rain…

When they got married, they didn’t know each other. Each one was a stranger for the other but now they know each other well, ‘rather too well’ as they might say!

It was a few days back that I had visited them. Aunty was teaching how to use the World Wide Web to Uncle, in other words she was teaching him internet. Their children stay in different cities because of their jobs. So, they communicate via email with them, and hence finally Uncle was learning the internet.

Aunty indicated me to have a seat while I waited for her and said that she would join me in a few minutes.

I quietly observed both of them at the computer - struggling, laughing, poking fun at each other and learning.

Aunty was trying her level best to teach my novice Uncle the mind-boggling use of the internet and the Google. She taught him how to open his email, compose an email and finally send it. Uncle, on the other hand, though understanding all of this, was having trouble keeping up with her since it was all new to him. They both patiently sat there and finally after half an hour, Uncle succeeded in sending a line saying ‘How are you?’ to his son.

They looked at each other, pure happiness and triumph shining in their eyes.

Aunty got up and asked me whether I would like tea or coffee. I answered coffee and proceeded to help her in the kitchen.

I had a great time with them, listening to Auntie's narration of Uncle’s antics while learning to use the email. She described how he would type with only one finger at a time as if the computer will shut down if more than one finger was used. To this, uncle countered that he deliberately did this as in his opinion; it was faster, at least for him. She then mentioned how Uncle would insist that she kept on sitting with him while he checked his email. Aunty added with a smile- ‘Now this is another one my daily chores, teaching the old man the new technology!’

I wished them good luck with their further adventures with the internet and started my car to drive back home. As I was coming back, I realised that in a good marriage, the couple stays happy with each other but in a great marriage, they keep on learning from each other- all their lives…

Chapter 5- Miss Universe

I was in Malaysia for work and had a formal dinner party in the evening. The theme of the dinner was ‘Traditional Dress from one’s country’ and around one hundred and seventy colleagues of mine from twenty seven different countries were attending it. I had planned my dress for the evening many weeks in advance, after great care and some serious deliberation.

On the evening of the dinner, I started getting ready. I had chosen an ethnic Lehenga Choli (an Indian dress consisting of a skirt and a matching top with a stole) from Rajasthan to wear for the evening ahead. It was a red and black one with extensive mirror work on it. I wore red and black bangles, coordinated red danglers and stepped out of my room to proceed to the ballroom of the hotel where the dinner was being held.

My room was on the twenty fourth floor of the hotel. I went to the lobby of the same floor and pressed the button of the lift. It arrived and the door seemed to open, as if in slow motion. To my utter horror, the lift was full. I saw all the people in it looking at me and I felt extremely conscious. Despite my discomfort, I stepped into it and the doors closed. Even though I was not looking at anyone in particular, I could feel the eyes of everyone on myself. A colleague from Malaysia exclaimed-‘You are looking so…’ he was unable to find a word to describe me immediately but after a few seconds said-‘sparkling’, I guess because of the extensive mirror work on my dress. I burst out laughing. It was sweet of him to say that.

We all reached the floor where the ballroom was situated. As I was entering it, one of the senior persons in my company told me-‘you are looking gorgeous’. I couldn’t help feeling delighted at being noticed and singled out from so many. I went inside the ballroom and mingled with others.

There were so many people in the room that it was hard to meet all of them and keep track of everyone at the same time. Everybody was dressed at their very best. We all clicked photographs together in various poses. It was colourful and mesmerising.

Finally, the host started the evening's events. It was a sit-down dinner. A cultural program had been organised and we sat, ate and relished the evening.

The exciting celebration was about to be wrapped. I wondered if they had forgotten about the theme of the party since I had taken great pains for my dress.

It was as if the host heard me. She announced that they would soon reveal the best dressed person of the evening. She said that it had been wonderful to see people from so many different countries, dressed in their traditional costumes and it was a difficult decision to ultimately choose one winner. But then she said that, she was sure that everyone would agree with the choice of the winner, once announced.

I looked around myself as to guess who that lucky person might be. I mentally made a list of top three people who according to me were the strongest contenders.

I held my breath. I don’t know why it was that important to me but somehow it was. The name was announced. It seemed similar to mine. But I thought I might have heard incorrectly, I was especially not sure because of the different accent of the host. I didn’t get up from my seat to walk towards the stage and continued sitting, waiting for the right person to get up. My neighbour nudged me and told me to go to the stage. It was then that I realised that I had, in fact heard accurately before.

I will never forget the walk towards the stage. I could feel the eyes of nearly two hundred people on me. I have always been shy and I felt great being selected for this award. It was truly one of the proudest and most memorable moments for me. It made me feel so beautiful and I am not talking of physical beauty here because the criterion of the award was not overall appearance alone but the entire personality of the person selected. I truly felt like Miss Universe! It was at this moment that I realised that beauty is not skin deep, but heart deep.

Chapter 6- Sweet Bath

This couple is a family friend of ours. We go a long way, almost close to thirty years, which means that the family ties are older than I am right now. Please don’t start making guesstimates about my age now!

Auntie and my mother are colleagues as they are working in the same university. Their friendship is unique in the sense that both are eccentric geniuses who can be fully understood by each other only. I believe this is the foundation of their friendship (both are professors in Mathematics, so may be now you would be able to relate better as to what I just told you).

Auntie and my mother are writing a book together. Thus, in the past several months, they have been working quite closely with each other. Often, one will go to the other’s place early morning, work together the rest of the day and wind it up in the evening. Auntie’s husband is retired now and thus stays at home.

It was like any other day when my mother had gone to Auntie’s house to work on their project. They sat down and started brainstorming the format of the chapter in context. They first jotted down the learning objectives and then proceeded to write the chapter. By the time, they finished this; it was afternoon and they took a lunch break.

Auntie was making mixed vegetables. My mother was also helping her in the preparation. Suddenly uncle woke up and came to the kitchen to ask about the menu for the lunch. Auntie told him- “You will not get food until you have a bath. If you go and take a shower immediately and get ready within the next ten minutes, I will make kheer ( an Indian sweet dish- milk cooked with sugar and rice) for you just now.”

Uncle hastily rushed to the bathroom and literally got ready in the next seven minutes. During all of this, I was a silent but stunned spectator.

Auntie was laying the table at the time he came out. She looked up and told him, “Yes, I know, there are still three minutes to go. You will get kheer for dessert after lunch today.” Uncle’s face broke into a smile and his happiness was a sheer mirthful treat to see. He cheerfully sat down to have lunch.

Often it takes very little to make ourselves happy. We just need to identify these petite but compelling situations and ensure we keep getting and giving regular packets of these to our near and dear ones. If all of us do this, this world will be full of small bundles of happiness which in turn will create convivial people which in turn will make this world a better place to live in.

Chapter 7-Testing the limits

I had never been fond of running. It was my brother who was the one running marathons. I was in awe of him and use to wonder how he managed to run so many miles without stopping!

The time I am talking of, I had gone to Mumbai to take part in the marathon. I ran the 'Dream Run', a mere six kilometres and felt exhausted and drained after the run or, I should rather say, walk. It was my mother who was actually walking faster than me and with more energy. I looked at all the people walking/running around me; they were present in various shapes, sizes, volumes and dimensions. I could not understand their motivation to run. For me, it was merely an excuse to come to Mumbai and enjoy my weekend in a different city.

The following month had a marathon in Hong Kong. There was a contest in my company, sponsoring ten people from India to go and run the marathon. I applied for it, not really thinking that I would be amongst one of those ten people but I was! I remember being thrilled and titillated about the whole trip. I was not much of a runner but while applying for the contest, I had filled in the half marathon category as I never believe in doing anything in small measure.

When I got to know that I had been selected, I was on cloud nine. I started practicing running and it was a lot of fun. My family was quite concerned whether I would be able to manage the run. My mother thought that I may faint on the way and they would not even come to know about my whereabouts since I would be alone in a foreign land. In the hindsight, her concerns seem valid and reasonable but at that time, they didn’t humour me.

My kid brother also expressed his doubts over my abilities as a runner and whether I would actually be able to run even a few kilometres, let alone twenty one and complete the half marathon. I just let all this seep in slowly.

Finally, the day of my trip arrived. I happily boarded the plane and thus began my journey to test my limits.

I arrived in Hong Kong, a little tired but excited about the marathon. As I was going from the airport to my hotel, I saw the arrangements for the marathon being done in a huge playground. Just at this sight, my heart started doing somersaults and I couldn’t wait for the next morning. I guess, slowly, it was beginning to sink in, that in less than twenty four hours, I would be running the half marathon.

The day of the marathon was clear, cloudless and pleasant. I got up much earlier than usual as all marathons start early and it was still dark when I woke up. I ate two bananas before leaving, took my bib number and set out. The walk till the starting point of the marathon was an experience in itself. All around me, I saw people walking in t-shirts and shorts, going to take part in the marathon. It seemed some scene from the history where all the people were out of their houses, as if to take part in a revolution.

I reached the spot where the marathon was to start and the countdown began. It was at this point in time that I began to have serious doubts about my abilities as a runner. But the din around me was loud enough to drown these nagging and negative thoughts running in my mind. I remember thinking; at least my thoughts are running even if I am not!

The atmosphere at the marathon starting point was nothing short of a festival celebration. There were cheerleaders who were cheering the crowd as the countdown to the start of the marathon was already on. I couldn’t help feeling goose bumps on my skin!

I distinctly remember the exact moment the marathon started. I felt like a sheep in a herd, being goaded on ahead by the runners behind me. I felt trapped and suffocated suddenly. I wondered how long it would be before I would stop. If somebody had told me that it would be an almost good three hours before I would be resting again, I would have seriously considered them fit for the rehabilitation centre.

As I kept running, the crowds thinned out and people became more spread out. It was such a relief when I got some space to run. I kept on running for what felt like ages but the sign of the first kilometre didn’t appear. I wondered if the mathematicians of the world might have suddenly made one kilometre more than 1000 meters just recently and I was the only one not aware about it.

After an eon, the first kilometre was finally over. But I hadn’t stopped. I kept on running and just started feeling the rhythm of it. I crossed the milestones of 2, 3 and before I knew it, 7 kilometres. By this time, I felt like I was the only one there. I felt that there was some divine force prodding and pushing me forward. Surprisingly, I still hadn’t stopped.

I kept running and soon was more than halfway through. I congratulated myself mentally and couldn’t help feeling amazed at myself. Everything was going fine till about the 16th kilometre and that was when I started feeling terribly exhausted. I felt like giving up and saw one of the mini-vans which carry the runners who have quit mid-way due to exhaustion or some health problems, to the finish point. But no matter how much I wanted to climb one of those vans at that point in time, somewhere deep down, I felt that I could not quit when I was so close to my goal.

I started running with even greater vigour, testing my limits with each step that I ran.

Soon, I reached the 19th kilometre milestone. The last two kilometres of the marathon were unforgettable. There were huge crowds gathered on both sides of the road to cheer all the runners. They were cheering and clapping for each of the runners. I felt so motivated and touched, being cheered by people who didn’t even know me that I actually started running faster. I remember feeling the wind in my hair and the sweat drying on my face. When I was just 500 meters away from the finishing line, I heard cheers saying- ‘Go, go, go- you are almost there!’

The feeling that I got when I saw the finishing line from a distance is indescribable. I could not believe my eyes that I ran 21 kilometres and it was my first half- marathon.

I kept running and crossed the finish line. There was no blowing of trumpets when I did this, but in my mind, this was the exact point when I had crossed a big hurdle in my mind. It was the moment when I realised that the only limits that exist are the ones we set for ourselves. If we do not set any confines for ourselves, we can achieve anything under the sun, even what may seem like impossible at first. The only barriers that hinder us from realising our true potential exist in our minds alone, not in reality.

Running and completing this marathon helped me test my limits and I realised that there are no limits to one’s abilities; it is all a state of one’s mind.

I read the following lines (written by Napoleon Hill) sometime back and cannot agree more with them-

If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don't.

If you'd like to win, but think you can't

It's almost a cinch you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you've lost.

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow's will:

It's all in his state of mind.

Life's battles don't always go

To the stronger or faster man,

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the one who thinks he can.

Chapter 8- The common themes…

I have recently had numerous changes in my life, all of them good and am trying to get used to these changes. I got married, left my job or rather joined a new and different kind of job (believe me, husbands are a species who take all of one’s time), changed continents and am sharing my entire life with someone I do not know very well! Wow, these changes are so many!

As I shifted to United States from India and started my dewy and exciting life here, I was looking for a non-profit organisation to get attached to and volunteer for. A couple of months before my wedding, I fractured my left foot. It was a major setback and helped me to count my blessings all over again and realise how lucky I have always been. While recovering and learning to walk again (as there was considerable swelling once my plaster had been removed), I had vowed to work for a non-profit organisation to help physically different people after my recovery since I could understand their plight so much better now. I would like to emphasize that these people are merely physically-different, not disabled. They are as able as you and me and can do anything they want to.

I got lucky and got an offer to work with a non-profit organisation within ten days of my arrival in this new land. I guess America is rightly called the land of opportunities!

I am working with this wonderful lady who has changed my life. I feel overjoyed going to the office once a week and I feel that I am probably getting more than what I am giving. I am devoting my time, efforts and expertise but am getting a truckload of happiness, something which cannot be bought in a marketplace.

I am very grateful to this lady for giving me the opportunity to work with her. She has a pet dog called Heidi.

It would be a fair statement to make that I for one, am petrified of dogs. They scare me more than stories about ghosts or some random late night horror show! If I see a dog approaching, I change my route even if I have to walk double the distance than if I had not done so. My fear may be attributed to the fact that both my parents have been bitten by a dog at one time or the other. My mother was bitten when she was still a child but my father was nipped when he was feeding biscuits to a dog. Is it believable? I mean he was only giving him food, yet that dog bit him! Anyway, the bottom line is that I am very scared of them.

The lady I work with at the NGO brings her dog to work occasionally. When I first saw Heidi, all my fears about dogs just vanished into thin air. I haven’t seen a more serene or a peaceful dog. She has this mystical air about her which makes one so calm.

Heidi has these almond shaped eyes and has white fur all over her body. She sits so quietly that sometimes I forget that she is in the same room as me. If I pat her, she looks at me with those angelic eyes of hers as if saying ‘I like you too’ and gently saying ‘thank you for your love’ in her own style.

Heidi doesn’t expect much and is a content dog. I once fed her a biscuit and she looked at it for some time before munching on it at a leisurely pace. She didn’t pounce upon it or grab it.

Another time, I covered her up with a blanket while she was sleeping. She opened her eyes, stirred so as to make it easier for me to wrap her with the blanket, smiled with her eyes and went back to sleep. Or atleast I imagined her smile.

Everyone adores Heidi! Whenever she comes to office, she receives a pat or a kiss from everybody right from the cleaner to the person who photocopies stuff to the director to the marketing executive! There is something about her that just and only attracts affection to her. How I love her!

Heidi is such a bundle of joy and bliss that after being with her for even a small duration of time, one feels that it is the exclusive feeling that exists in this world. Everyone loves her but I think the reason for this is the fact that she is very lovable, warm and giving. She likes one and all, irrespective of that person’s status, clothing or income.

After getting to know Heidi, I realised that one always gets what one gives. People reciprocate the same way in which we have behaved with them. When we are gracious to others, we too get back only goodness. Of course, I am talking of the long run here and not of mere one or two aberrations. It is possible that even if we are affectionate towards someone, that person may not be likewise to us in the short run, but in the long run, life always comes a full circle. The common themes in our behaviour attract similar ones back to us. It is thus important to keep in mind that we should treat others as we want them to treat us.

Chapter 9-The Red Bag

It was an ordinary bag yet it made me feel extraordinary. It gave me a feeling that I belong, that I care, that I am needed and that I support others.

How can a non-living piece of cloth stitched into the shape of a bag make me feel so special while many human-beings failed to do the same?

I am talking about the time when I had just gotten married. I had quit my dream job, one which combined travelling and managing people and had shifted from India to California, US. Too many changes in one go, did someone say? I bet they were.

Initially, right after my wedding, I didn’t feel anything; I was in a state of shock and felt numb towards my surroundings and people around me. But within two to three weeks when the reality had starting sinking in, I felt bereft and lonely. I felt like I had lost my identity. I started hogging. Food gave me comfort. I was in a way, in a state of self-abuse and in some unknown way; it gave me a weird kind of pleasure.

One day, as I was walking alone, I passed the office of a non-profit organization. On an impulse I walked in. I met the director of fund development and introduced myself. I asked her if I could volunteer at the NGO. She told me that the person responsible for volunteers was out of country and would be back in a couple of weeks. I should come and meet her after that.

I was disappointed.

I came back home, had lunch and logged in my computer to do some reading on the internet.

After a few hours, my phone rang. It was the lady from the NGO whom I had met earlier that day. She asked me to meet her the next day in and to start working with her. Apparently, she was quite impressed with my resume which I had forwarded to her by email after returning home.

It was the rising of a new sun for me.

I started going to the NGO on a weekly basis. After a couple of weeks, she asked me if I would like to have the official red bag of the organization from last year’s event. I said yes.

I got the red bag home. It was an open bag, made of cloth and had enormous capacity, I am sure if it was a person, it would have had a big heart.

For the first time after my wedding, I felt that I gotten something because of who I was. It helped me to find myself again. The bag boosted my confidence and helped me believe in myself all over again. It enhanced my self-image in my own eyes. It gave me a feeling that I was worthy of something and that I was working to support people in my own small way.

Since then, I carry this bag with me wherever I go- to buy vegetables, to go to the library, to go on a hike etc. I feel proud and happy to be with the red bag. A few days back, I was in a five star hotel with the bag and was exiting the ladies room. A girl passing me looked at my bag. I smiled at her. I experienced a feeling of worthiness, all thanks to the bag.

The bag has become a part of me, it has merged with me. Even as I am writing this, it is happily sitting next to me, maybe wondering if I am writing about it.

It may seem weird and even funny how I could get so much from a bag but the fact of the matter is I did. It gave me a new direction and a new life. It made me feel like a new-born, all over again.

Chapter 10- To Sir, with Love

It was the beginning of the summer season, more than thirteen years ago. I was a little girl of twelve. Only now I realise that I was still very young at that time. Of course, back then, I thought I was very mature and adult-like and knew all that any person over the age of eighteen knew.

I had joined a new school. Any kind of change is painful for every person, and adapting to a new school meant getting familiar with new teachers, new friends’, unfamiliar environment and unknown settings. For a mere twelve year old, this was a real challenge.

I had never scored very high marks in Mathematics in my previous school though I liked the subject and had a flair for it. My mother holds a double doctorate in Mathematics and so I can say that numeric ability is in my blood.

It was my first day at the new school. I was taken to the classroom by a peon after having been introduced to the Headmaster.

As I settled down in the class, in came a bald, short, fair man wearing spectacles and a stern expression. I was taken aback and a little scared on seeing him. When he entered the class, all the students rose to wish him a good morning. I did it too and just as I was beginning to open my textbook, I heard my name being called out. I looked up to see that the teacher wanted me to come to the front of the class. I got up and went to him, unable to comprehend or imagine as to what might be the matter. When I reached the front of the class, he turned me around so that I was facing a group of fifty monkeys, some wearing bored expressions, some animated and some were plain nonchalant. His thunderous voice suddenly boomed in the zoo- ‘Please welcome your new classmate’. He then addressed me and asked me to introduce myself. I didn’t know what to say but overcame my hesitation within a second and mumbled something related to myself. I remember walking back to the seat feeling everyone's eyes on me and when I looked at him again, I think I saw something akin a twinkle in his eye.

He had an innovative approach to teaching. We would have oral tests, mental maths exercises and many more similar exercises, which were uncommon in other schools. He would never make us learn by rote but would encourage creative and new approaches to solving problems. I remember that once he had given a question to the entire class and the children who had studied the topic at home already through tuitions did it in a jiffy. I was not taking any coaching classes because my parents always encouraged me to study and learn on my own. Being professors, they believed that after the classroom sessions were over, self-study was a sure shot way to learn the maximum possible and also retain the subject matter for a very long time since one would have struggled through all the concepts rather than being spoon-fed. I am really thankful for their approach now. I solved the same problem through a totally different method, taking a little more time but got the correct answer as well. He walked up to my desk and saw my notebook. He then took it to the front of the class, explained the method I had adapted to the entire class and said-‘this, dear class is what is real learning. I do not want correct answers from you but I want you to use your brains to solve the problem yourself, not through some method you have learnt from your tutor’. I was stumped and speechless!

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