Interminably magical

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When we talk of descent, this picture of the Horseshoe Falls (or the Canadian Falls) stares back at us.

There’s mist, there’s mystery – as masses of water plunge over 167 ft drop to flow into Lake Ontario. The constant roar of the Falls – interminably magical – excites, scares and transcends us.

Been there, felt that? Share your experiences.

For more pictures, see a post I published earlier.

That leads to curiosity

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I captured this image of the Spirit House – which has its share of intrigue, and in it myriad story possibilities – in Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

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

The stainless steel chairs sit in polished rhythm with the crystalline surroundings – and from the house, one could see in the empty above an interwoven pattern of concrete that links exhibit spaces and elevators — speaking of conflicts and order in stories.

Feel your presence

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In a Central Park pond, 3 male mallard ducks kept circling a female mallard. The reflections of the wispy aquatic plants painted shades of green and straw in the quiet pond, which a breath of wind ruffled to create ripples.

Ripples obscured the trails the moving ducks left, but when wind ceased to blow and ducks stopped circling, nothing moved – was 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

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At White River State Park in Indianapolis, isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well, as we may not capture our shadows when we’re sad. Though some sad folks may seek perspective in their shadows, most happy ones brag about themselves, finding in their shadows only the imperfect imitation. And doesn’t imperfection in others make us think bigger or stronger than we are.

Nighttime

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This nighttime picture of Balzac’s – a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District, Toronto – shows the faded brick walls, stylish chandelier, high haunted ceilings and a lit window, but what transpires below, on the first level, among the crowd of people — chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee — may be nostalgic like the bricks, pompous like the chandelier, frightening like the ceilings, and bright like the window.

And it befits the moment that you – a sad reflection of your past acts – remember how your arrogance scared your friends away, and you were certain that one day you’d sit and sip alone, with no one to talk to. Today, a lone you glance up, hoping that some day this ambiance may reflect well on your years into the future, for you do not want to toe the mend-my-ways line yet.

Endurance

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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 confused ones with “Make me Pure”  - and I saw a couple liplocked by a public toilet never wanting to unlock, and a marijuana addict smoking another with teary eyes.

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

Photo Challenge

Humanity

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch in installments, for he was ready to sell his cones and bars at the sight of the oncoming steps. Those steps might not lead to him, and he could only hope. He took another bite, and when he heard the click of my camera snapping this pic, he glanced up at me hoping my steps might lead to him, which they did, and I had a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I wondered if he’d ever eaten his food in peace. When I asked him, he struggled with English, but managed, “Sales, Peace. One cone, more? please.”

Photo Challenge

The Dying Weeks of Summer

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Today I was in a Starbucks in Town Square, which is a 2 minutes walk from my apartment. The coffee store, though not spacious, is a part of a high-rise, and sits on the first level in a corner by the Hudson River – and has a restroom that remains open to all. Restroom only for Customers is absent here, unlike in most other coffee chains. So, people frequent, sometimes in hordes, if not for coffee then to relieve themselves.

I’ve been frequenting this, and two other Starbucks coffeehouses - both 5 minutes away in opposite directions. But this remains my first stop for the stimulant, where my favorite spot inside is a corner at the far end of the store.

So after I bought coffee in my tumbler, I hastened, walking straight a few steps before peeking at my right to see if the brown chair and table at the far corner was occupied. Luckily not, so my laptop was to be in the esteemed company of the power socket and WiFi.

When I sit in the corner: to my left is the restroom – the second most frequented space in the store – and I watch people walk toward me and turn so they wait in line if the restroom is occupied; the bottom half of the wall lining the length of the passage is wooded and it matches the brown hue of the chairs and tables; the top half is an off-white coat suggesting completeness, while the ceiling – an unadorned stretch of pipes and cables – infuses rawness. Next to the restroom is the Employees Only room, where stocks of beans, muffins, croissant, cheese danish sit fresh on iron shelves; and though the room stays locked, the employees go in to also change their dress when their shift is over.

The more professional they look wearing green over black with a Starbucks cap crowning their pride, the more casual they step out of the room and sashay around, when it’s time to head home. Men and women, young or old, wear ganjis and shorts, on several occasions than more, when, in the dying weeks of summer the weather’s skin-friendly, and women, in particular, look hot and glamorous; to the extent that I remember a girl who had an extreme makeover, and I called her, in my mind, Skimpy Dudette; and who would, I’d seen, welcome customers with a “Hello Sir,” but wear casuals and she’d shoot “Cya Dude” if somebody said bye.

And I’ve reckoned that like the restroom instruction Employees must wash their hands … , their might be a stockroom instruction too, that Nobody must slide a pound cake into their shorts.

To my right is the big stained window, which frames the picturesque view of downtown Manhattan and the part of the Hudson River where rich people dock their yachts.

When I sipped my coffee, the pungent flavor of the blonde roast made me look away, and I saw outside the dying rays of the setting sun, almost dead in their reflections off the mast of a yacht – a three level luxury – docked very close to the window. The ripples on the river, serenely pallid under dock lights, moved in the direction of the sun, which, now devoid of its rays, must look a pale tint of orange.

I glanced at the bottom of the yacht and saw a head pop out of the first level; a yacht cleaner he was, in a white V neck and yellow pajamas, with a piece of cloth in each hand – which he replaced with a muffin in his left and coffee in his right. His Starbucks cup made me wonder as to when he’d come to the store to buy the beverage, as it would’ve taken him 10 minutes of a U-turn walk from where he was. Now if I could open the window that Hurricane Sandy couldn’t break, he could walk in to the store in 10 seconds. He shifted his half-eaten muffin to his right hand, holding it along with his coffee, leaving his left to wave at me. Why, I thought.

I was certain that his gaze locked mine, and his hollow cheeks and wrinkled forehead suggested he might be in some discomfort: an urge, I thought — an urge to relieve, to be precise.

His right hand was free now and he gripped the pole of the US flag tied to a railing. He stood in an army posture, as though he could negate an unexpected drone attack, and his left hand continued to beckon to me. His urge suddenly seemed to purge, and he jumped, smiled, and stood motionless too, which made me curse the insensitive yacht owner who probably locked the restroom in the yacht, so poor souls like him disobeyed the nature’s call. What world are we living in?

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I was helpless, but soon he wasn’t, and his face glowed under the orange sky. His smile appeared to grow into muffled laughter, and he blew me a kiss – which I straightaway rejected – and when he blew me another, I thought enough was enough. But when I watched him closely through the blurriness of my contact lens, I learned that his gaze, the line of sight, was angled a few inches away from me, in fact over my head, to a target perhaps to my left. Just then Stevie Wonder crooned I Believe on the jukebox. I turned my head to my left, and there she stood right outside the stockroom, blowing kisses back, which again went over my head, and I rejected that too.

But when Skimpy Dudette smiled at me indicating that I’d made a fool of myself, I wanted to look mature, and when I opened my eyes wide after a few blinks, she’d disappeared, with a pound cake perhaps, for the lover, who was also not there, anymore.

Keeping it real, and raw!

Chris Martin Writes

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