Your Word

Recently, I came across a quote on ‘commitment’ that reminded me of another one I had read many, many years ago, and which has stayed with me since then. The recent one was this:

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do, long after the mood you said it in has left you.”


It sounds great, very strong, however, it left me with a feeling of ambiguity. It does not convey the whole message. The stress on caution was missing. In the spur of a moment, caught up by a wave of emotion, we may commit to something without even giving it a second thought. What are we committing to? The reference to “the mood” is ambiguous. The mood could have been anything: frivolous, drunken, even just a dare or vicious, bitter or vengeful. What message is it conveying exactly? To a narrow mind, a narrow perception this message could be misleading. Before we make a commitment; a promise, we must be careful before we give our word.

The message seems to justify any commitment made in any “mood.” While commitments must be kept, it is important to know what we are committing to. Is it violating our value system? Is it going against the law of the land? Is it the right thing?

The value of commitment was written on my heart when I was in grade five. It was the year my father decided to put in his papers and take early retirement from the Navy to devote his time wholly to the “Lord’s Service.” After the formal send-off by his department, he was invited by the Chief of Staff, Admiral B.S. Soman, to a private dinner at his home. My elder sister promptly gave my father her autograph book for the Chief’s autograph. Admiral Soman obliged with more than a signature. He wrote these wonderful words of caution and wisdom:

“There is nothing more valuable than your word, so be careful.”

I read it. I re-read it. I liked it. It sounded profound. I didn’t get it.

It was too profound for my limited intelligence in this area. So, as always, I had to ask Daddy. And, as always, he sat me down and explained it to me, supporting it with simple examples and some biblical references too. I nodded. It all made sense, but I still needed to think more about it. I mulled over it and then so many other matters of change occurred in my life, that I had no time to ponder over such things as my word. But, neither the words nor the lesson was lost on me. I remembered. It was ingrained in my mind. This small sentence with a huge message has stayed with me ever since; nudging me, poking me, stabbing me so many times during the years of growing up. If I thought I had learned it well, I had another thought coming. Some lessons have to be learned and re-learned as long as it takes to get them. Even today, it kicks me hard, especially when I find myself caught in a maddening situation of honoring a commitment foolishly made.

It is better, any day, to say an emphatic ‘No’ (or a mild one!) but a definite NO, rather than lie outright, make lame excuses, or give outrageous, ridiculous reasons to wiggle out of keeping your word on a commitment foolishly and hastily made!

Would you like to be known for the commitments you never kept? Or by the ones that got you into hot water? I guess not. So be careful to whom or to what you give your word.

Your ‘word’ is valuable.



Tele-Sympathy – Very Short Stories

From the archives: The answering machine, in this story, popped up in my mind when some of my calls were answered with fed-in messages on a couple of answering machines. It popped up as an ideal instrument and provided the answer to the protagonist’s dilemma!

Rrrrrrring Rrrrrrring. Susan waited for the ringing to stop.  She was thoroughly fed-up with the anonymous calls.

The bell rang insistently. She picked up the receiver and waited to hear the mocking and taunting remarks. Susan had retired from her teaching job and settled in this little hill-town, where she intended to start a Bible-School Holiday Resort, for school children. A place where they could come during their summer vacation, for a two-week program.

The concept was to approach the teaching of Christian values and principles with less legalism and preachy methods. She wanted Christian children to learn the practical way of applying God’s word to their lives so that they could enjoy being Christians while they continued to be in right-standing with God. Her friends had volunteered to contribute their cultural, artistic, and musical expertise to enhance the program. However, she wasn’t granted permission to open the resort as the locals opposed the proposition. They thought the resort was a cover to brainwash young minds.

Susan was disappointed. Then the anonymous calls began. Most of them were filled with taunts, jibes, and resentment. Susan was at the end of her tether. She had to do something about this. 

“Use their instrument but to provoke unto love and to good works,” whispered her inner voice.

Susan couldn’t understand how God wanted her to use the telephone. She decided to shift her mind away from this unpleasant situation. She called up a friend. No luck just the answering machine. She tried another and then another. Three answering machines later, she decided to go for a walk. 

Oh, God! Help me, she thought, and added as an afterthought,  at least YOU don’t put me on an answering machine! and she laughed. Then abruptly she stopped laughing. 

The answering machine, the answering machine! she whispered.

Without wasting a minute more, she hurried back to the town. A few inquiries, a few calls, and Susan returned home bursting with hope and great expectations. Finally, the answer to her prayers arrived securely packed in a cardboard box. With the help of a linesman working with the Telephone Department, the answering machine was connected and Susan waited.

All the calls were now greeted with a cheery message that said,  “Hi, I’m praying for you. If you have any problems, let me know, I’ll pray for that too. Thanks for calling.”

After a few days, the calls stopped. Was it the calm before the storm or “the peace that passeth all understanding,”  Susan wondered?

And then it came; a call; a prayer request made in a breathless, hushed voice. Others followed. Susan could recognize the voices of her five persistent callers, and she believed they were between twelve and seventeen years old. She had even given them names according to their attitude and tone and language so she could identify her anonymous callers.

Now she learned that Saucy Sue was exasperated with her parents’ constant quarreling, Giggly Gertrude wanted to run away from the orphanage because they sent the kids to work as domestic help during holidays. Stuttering Stewart didn’t like being teased, Arrogant Aaron didn’t believe in an invisible God or that one even existed, and Martyr Marty was always feeling the victim. Long conversations with each other led to a special bond of trust and faith between the two sides. This continued for some years. Susan never tried to find out their true identities.

That was fifteen years ago. And now Susan would meet them for the first time. Their visit coincided with the welcome reception her church had organized for the new pastor. Two happy events. She hurried to church eagerly that Sunday. To her surprise, Susan found Reverend Sushil Simon, the new priest, younger than she had expected.

She delivered her welcome speech and as she returned to her seat, a familiar voice said,  “Thank you, Susan, for such a warm welcome. It’s nice to come home again.”

Susan almost fainted. Arrogant Aaron! She was sure she had heard the voice that had argued incessantly with her about a non-existent God, almost to the point of making her give up.

She stood still. She couldn’t believe her ears. And was sure she wasn’t mistaken. 

“It is you!” She whispered. Later, when the formalities were over, Sushil walked up to her and smiled.

“I’d like you to meet some of the others,” he said. 

He introduced her to the others. All had done well for themselves. Susan looked at Arrogant Aaron (she still couldn’t call him anything else!) with a question in her eyes, which he answered softly, “1 John 4: 12, I finally understood it. Thank you.” (12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.) NIV

Susan couldn’t speak, but her tears spoke volumes, as she led her friends home. There was so much to say, so much to hear.

This was first published on (2006-2009).

Life Begins At Forty…

When I was a young kid in the middle Sixties, I thought anyone above forty was old! And even in my twenties, it was the general assumption that once you hit forty, you were no longer a youngster. You became a newbie in the middle-aged group.

Most girls would get a college degree, a B.A or BSc, even if they weren’t thinking of being ‘working women’ and marriage was their goal. A degree would ensure an educated groom from a good family.

Girls who wanted to work before they got married studied for a professional B.Ed degree and/or a Masters too, to bolster their B.A degree. As did some who were practical and wanted to add qualifications against a stretch of misfortune, where they might have to work after marriage. This assured them of a teaching job and a better salary. These girls usually married a little later… 24-25 years old.

There were not many educated girls who remained unmarried in their late twenties. At least that’s how it was in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana. My elder sisters were in this last category. They were career-oriented girls and got married in their late twenties, just before hitting their thirties.

I was in the first category. I had some professions in mind that I aspired to, but my father didn’t approve of any. He gave me a couple of professional options, which I shot down. So I stubbornly dug my heels in and said I didn’t want to do anything beyond a Bachelor’s degree. He said I should go in for an additional degree to augment that. A bachelor’s degree in education. A B.Ed degree. I told him the last thing I wanted to be was a teacher!

Long story short, I was the girl in the first category who got married as soon as she passed out of college. I was lost when it came to domesticity. I hadn’t any experience in domestic chores, except for helping mummy now and then. And then, I was a mom at twenty-one! Totally ignorant about motherhood. That’s when I realized the wisdom of my elder sisters.

All I can be grateful for is that I was an observer and learned a lot just by observing my mother and grandmother. Also, I was very communicative. I would ask them about the why, how, and what of many things they did or didn’t do. And I always hung their gems of wisdom on the hangers in my mind to refer to and keep whichever proved its worth.

I had ignored the wisdom my father was trying ever so hard to knock into my nineteen year old head. I couldn’t get it then, I couldn’t see the sense in what he was saying. Why he wouldn’t let me do whatever I had chosen. Years later, in my forties, I knew why he had counselled me to change direction to other careers.

Why is it so hard to pass on wisdom to others? Why do we find it hard to accept wise counsel too? Counsel we can lean on later in life when destiny knocks on the door. Fortunately, I had kept all the wisdom I had been given rather than throwing it out before testing it. I rifled through all the pearls on the hangers in my mind-closet.

Coming back to the forties. By the time my elder son reached his fortieth year, the scene about age had changed. Hitting FORTY was now a huge celebration. ‘Life begins at forty’ had taken a totally different color. At our time forty meant the start of winding down.

I can recall talking to my husband about planning and saving for the future. And we were in our early thirties then. I’d caution him that life happens, as he was on tours traveling by car three-four days a week. Anything could happen. What would I do? I wouldn’t know what to do!

He smiled and reassured me he had it in mind and would start thinking about it when he got to forty. That was how we considered the forties in our day. It was the time to shift our thoughts to plan our after-retirement life. In the forties, we’d be in a pre-seniors batch! Life wasn’t “beginning” for us. It was the start of the downtrend.

We didn’t think much about the wisdom offered to us by people wiser in experience than us until we reached our fortieth year.

But I didn’t share his views. I began to almost nag him about it. I wanted to do something concrete so we could secure things for the future, earlier than later. And then freely enjoy our lives and the relative freedom we’d get as the boys grew older and more independent.

I was thinking mid to late forties, well before the official standard retirement age, which was sixty years. I was thinking vacays for just the two of us. Dinners for two. I guess I was thinking more progressively than our middle class society did then.

Retirement for most in our social circle and in the family too meant – Sit at home. Be on-hand and on-call grandparents (if you have grandkids). Become super religious. Attend as many religious functions as possible until you feel a shining halo above your head, and then you could preach to all and sundry. Be staid. And “act your age” whatever that meant.

I didn’t subscribe to any of these silly notions and I didn’t bother about what anyone thought or labelled me. I wanted to start living our twosome lives with some more to it than just the grind of dull routine even during the weekends or festival holidays. The forties held more promise for me than what the others thought of it. I was looking forward to it with a lot of hope and expectations. It held a promise of new chapters beyond just run-of-the-mill stuff. Adventure, new experiences, new learnings, growth, and more freedom.

So, he was waiting for his fortieth to build a strong, secure future. And in a way so was I looking forward to it. I was looking forward to a more secure future and more freedom. But life has too many lemons and curve balls. It tossed the lemons and curve balls. Eight months before his fortieth birthday, my husband died on one of his tours. Three massive heart attacks, within a few hours, took him away at the young age of thirty-nine. I couldn’t even be with him at the time of his death.

I was thirty-six. No knowledge of the workings of the big, wide world. Cocooned and safe in my little world all these years. From parental protection to a hubby’s protection. Everything had been taken care of for me. I only ran the house. The only time I went out alone was to work in a school and back home. I had lots of bookish knowledge no real, practical knowledge of how things are in the other sectors of the world nor how to handle them outside of the home and school. All theory.

For me, Life Begins At Forty, stands true, in a very different way. It took me two-three years after his death to find my bearings. I floundered, struggled, fell, got up, and kept moving forward. I was able to keep the home fires burning. Keep my boys’ education going. Keep wolves in sheep clothing away. Keep both my jobs going and money coming in. Learn how the world runs. And how I had to change. And also deal with how friends and family can change.

Coincidently, the age forty kicked in at this point of my life. And in truth, my life really began at forty. I found my bearings, confidence, and the strength to rebuild my life even better after it fell apart only in the forties.

I learned about trust… how and who to trust. I was learning bitter truths on the way. I was also growing along the journey. This is when I fell back on the wisdom that had been given to me when I was a girl. It helped me to understand better what each meant. It also opened my eyes to the hypocrisy of some whom I trusted implicitly. I was gaining experiential knowledge and experiential wisdom.

The hubs had been at the helm always. I was in the backseat when it came to matters outside the home. I was the Queen of the home. It was my “Queendom”! Earlier I was carried along, I was not in the driver’s seat. Now I was steering the ship. Choppy waters, gales, smooth runs, breakdowns. Through it all, I was in the driver’s seat, and I had to keep the home running. It meant dealing with everything.

It was scary because I knew nothing about this new position that was dumped on me out of the blue. I had no time to crib or cry about fate and how unfair life was and all that. I had no time to dwell on the faithlessness of those I relied on and trusted for help and support. The wisdom that had been shared with me kept me going trusting in God’s grace and mercy. And I learned more about faith through these years.

Yes, life begins at forty. This period found my life rebuilding even better after crumbling around me. Wisdom tells us that life is a book which has many chapters. We write some chapters and life dictates some. Are we writing a good story? Are we rebuilding and making the best use of the experiences, and the opportunities that come our way? We have failures. We have losses. We make stupid mistakes. Wrong judgments. Are we using wisdom to set the wrongs right? Are we being wise in the choices we make? Are we writing a glorious story of faith and trust in God? Are we making good friends along the way? Are we being the good neighbor or friend we ourselves want to have?

I realized how important wisdom is. Wisdom that was shared with me, and that I have picked up from reading, from stories, from sermons, the Bible, and some wise people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. This is why we share our stories and wisdom. Someone might need to read them. People can read our experiences and stories and find something similar to their situations in a way that helps them.

I didn’t want to be a teacher. I didn’t study for my B.Ed despite my father insisting on it. But, eventually, I took up a teacher’s job when my youngest started going to school. In those days it wasn’t important to have a degree in education. If one was proficient in their teaching subject and had studied the subject for their Bachelor’s degree, they got the job. I taught English.

But a few years before my husband died, I got this strong desire to get a Master’s degree in English. He was totally against it. But the gut feeling inside was too strong and I went ahead and with the help of a friend in church and an English professor they knew, I got into the Master’s program for private study candidates who were working. My husband didn’t like it. He thought I’d not be able to see to the home and needs of the family with a job and studies to boot. I assured him nothing would change at home. And I made sure it didn’t by studying after domestic work was done for the day. This meant I was studying while I was cooking and then late into the night when the family went to bed. I used to study from after ten in the night to 2.00 in the morning. I’d be up at 5.00 am to start the day… breakfast, packed lunches for the boys, lunch for the family and then I’d rush off to work where I had to check in at 7.00 am! Long story short… I passed with a good second division. Two years of hard work. My husband was surprised and confessed that he had allowed me to go ahead because he thought I’d flunk and give up studying further!

A year later, I wanted to do my B.Ed. He wasn’t for that either. I went ahead anyway. I’d have to first give an entrance exam. As usual, nothing changed in the running of the home… nor the hubs’ guests who we’d have for a meal, dinner usually, quite often. I never fussed and never failed to serve delicious meals. I studied as I had done for my Masters. When the results came in, I couldn’t find my roll number in the result sheet. I couldn’t believe it! I knew I couldn’t have failed this exam. Then a colleague at school congratulated me as did the Principal and Vice Principal when I went to school the next day. I was surprised and told them that I thought I had failed because I didn’t find my roll number in the Pass List. They asked me if I had checked the section of toppers. No, I hadn’t! Well, that’s where I was among the toppers! I got through that with flying colors. Then I applied for the main course.

Before the course started, hubby dear had died. I was shattered. My whole world had crumbled. I was scared. But I didn’t give up. The very situation that had devastated our lives, gave me the courage, strength, and determination to go on and complete my B.Ed studies even as I went through the turmoil of settling into a new life which put me, an ignorant driver, in the driver’s seat.

Well, this wasn’t the only challenge. I found that for my B.Ed exams, I didn’t have any notes in English. I mean even Psychology was in Hindi! I am not very good in Hindi but not so bad either. I was working and now playing both the roles of man and woman of the house. Meaning, I had to see to all that he used to see to… paying electricity bills, rent to the landlord, groceries, any job that needed professional help – electrician, plumber, gardener etc. So little time for study.

I didn’t give up. I sat and translated the notes into English, writing them in registers. Then I’d study them. Along with that went my teachers work too of checking note books etc. and exam papers. I never gave up even when I’d be in pain… headache, body ache.

Final day arrived. I went to write the exam. I was so nervous that when the doors of the examination Hall opened, I felt like puking and I just made it out into the garden outside the hall and puked my guts out near a bushy plant. Someone gave me water from her water bottle to gargle and wash my mouth.

I sat down to write my exam and forgot about fear, nervousness. I wrote and wrote and felt relieved when I handed in my papers. But it wasn’t over yet. I had to go for a practical exam in a higher secondary school. I wasn’t nervous about this. I had to make some charts etc., I conducted a class there while two examiners sat and assessed my teaching skills.

I got First Div. marks in both written and practical. I was thrilled. And so grateful to God for giving me the will power, strength and ability to go through this.

Looking back, I realize how important it was that I get these qualifications. If I hadn’t gone through the difficulties and around the spokes my hubby put in my way to dissuade further education, how would I have looked after my boys. The rules had changed already in the Education Department. All teachers had to have a professional teaching degree, and for higher classes, a Masters as well. I had both, and just in time.

Turning 40 is often a big symbolic point in one’s life. In the 20s we feel we can do anything, but as the 30s progress we become more mature emotionally, and in terms of work tend to focus. These two things combined: emotional maturity and career focus, often produced an explosion of self-purpose in our 40s.

-Tom Butler Bowden

The Collaborator


I bring you another one from my journals. This incident also centers in the period of war with Pakistan in 1965. Refer: My Sister Makes A Wish!

We were well into a full-fledged war with Pakistan. And placed where we were; close to an important main road and the railway line that was coming under fire. It was unnerving. Take a seat and come with me to a town in Punjab.



It was all about location. We were between two prime targets, the GT Road and the railway line, both of which were the main transit lines for military equipment, troops etc. to reach the northern borders where the fighting was fiercely on. And as mentioned in my earlier post, we weren’t too far from the Air Force base.

For some time we were sitting ducks for stray bombs that missed the target. I didn’t know whether I should applaud or cry… a miss was good for the country but bad for us! Then the bombs began to fall farther away from us but closer to the targets. Fortunately, none caused any major damage.

But this story is not about the fighting. It’s about another side of a war.

One house away from ours lived an elderly couple. The gentleman was known by his sobriquet, Mr. Major. I never learned what his real name was. In fact, I wonder if anyone even remembered it. He liked to be called Major which wasn’t his name, but his rank in the Salvation Army! I’m not sure if anyone ever ‘retires’ from the SA, but he was no longer an active member.

He and his wife, a soft-spoken little lady, lived a quiet life in a small house. They had a patch of green in the front, where they grew flowers and a vegetable patch behind, where he grew amazingly huge snake gourds among other vegetables.

We never met them socially. However, there were cordial exchanges now and then over their garden hedge and our boundary wall. A vacant plot separated our houses.

When the war broke out, the authorities solicited security measures through citizen awareness and participation. Daddy and Uncle Johnny were a part of this special group. They had to inform the people in our residential area about certain things, like how to observe total blackout, and what the “shoot at sight” order meant. This was when we met him and his wife for the first time. 

I remember the day Daddy and Uncle returned from a meeting with the authorities in charge of vigilance, security, law, and order. Both looked serious. Along with a few others, they had been given the authority to challenge suspicious persons and shoot-at-sight, if necessary.

Daddy and uncle had defense service backgrounds, they owned firearms too; including the Carbine; a semi-automatic rifle. So they gave the authority to shoot-at-sight to them.

For the first time, we saw the rifles coming out for a purpose other than ‘shikaar’. It was unnerving. I watched as they checked the rifles and counted the ammunition.

“Will you really shoot a man?” I asked Johnny uncle who had been a gunner on INS Betwa, a Type 41 Leopard-class Frigate; had seen action against the Portuguese in the liberation of Goa, and was a crack-shot in this family that loved shikaar.

“Yes, Bina, if he doesn’t come clean. In war, we shoot the enemy. But you don’t worry your head about it. We’re here and you are safe. Nothing will happen.” He had spoken too soon.

Something did happen.

From then on, Uncle took up position, every night, on the roof of our house with the carbine. Our house had an elevated structure on the roof and this provided a better and farther view of the terrain around us. Sandbags had been placed around as fortification. Daddy patroled the boundary of the two houses; ours and my grandparents’. He carried a 202 rifle. Grandma would also be with him. She refused to get into the trench even when an air attack was on. Except for one occasion (read here)My Sister Makes A Wish!, I never saw either of them in the trench. A few nights passed without incident. Just as I began to relax, it happened.

One night, I heard Uncle loudly challenging someone. I rushed out of the house only to be hastily sent back with stern orders to get inside and stay in and away from the windows and doors. Uncle informed Daddy and Grandma that there was someone in the field behind our house with a lighted cigarette. It was a dark night, and the glow was bright and clearly visible.

He called out a warning. No response.

“If you don’t come out,” he shouted again, “I’m going to shoot.”

There was still no movement or response. As Uncle prepared to shoot, Grandma intervened.

“Wait!” she shouted, “Give him another warning.” 

“I’m counting to three, you have been warned.” He began a slow count… “One… two… ”

NO,” bellowed a voice. A dark shadowy figure rose from the field.

“Raise your hands. Who are you?” shouted Daddy, his rifle cocked and ready.


“Get out here, you bloody S&*%#. And keep your hands up,” swore Uncle.

While Daddy kept his rifle aimed at Major, Uncle made his way down from his lookout post on the roof. By the time Major had walked to a few meters from the rear boundary wall of our house, he was down and ready for him.

Major begged and pleaded with both the men who weren’t satisfied with his explanation of what he was doing in the field with a lighted cigarette when it was a blackout. Twice, Uncle lost his cool and raised the rifle. Twice, Grandma asked him to wait and make doubly sure that he was doing the right thing.

Major had said that he had gone to the field to answer the call of nature! This reason fell flat as their house had an attached toilet. He explained this away with the excuse that his wife was in the bathroom and he had an upset tummy. He kept crying and giving all kinds of silly reasons for not answering when challenged. He was lucky that Grandma was there.

If it hadn’t been for her, he would have been shot that night. But he went home alive. Daddy and Uncle were not convinced that he was innocent; Grandma was not convinced that he was guilty. The jury was divided 2:1.

She kept telling her sons that rural folks differ from city people. They react differently, think differently, and this was a unique situation where one couldn’t expect them to fully comprehend the emergency conditions and the implications of their actions. One should not judge them by a city yardstick, she cautioned.

They resumed their positions on the roof and at the rear boundary wall. But Uncle was on high alert. He suspected something was very wrong. The night wore on. All was quiet. Suddenly, gunshots filled the air as bullets whizzed through the air, barely missing Uncle. He was ever alert and retaliated with a few shots. There was a cry of pain; he had hit someone. The attack stopped as suddenly as it had started. There was the sound of feet thudding through the field.

A heavy silence descended. Before anyone could gather their wits, the siren went off and planes zoomed through a night sky that was dotted with red blobs of tracers and the glow of the sporadic anti-aircraft fire. That was a tense night; the biggest concern being, the security of the family.

We had encountered saboteurs!

When had they landed? Where had they landed? Speculation was that it would have been either before Major was spotted in the field or while he was being questioned. Uncle was sure he had hit one of them.

In the morning, a reconnaissance of the place from where the men had fired at us revealed the tracks of four people and signs that someone or something had been dragged. This incident was reported to the police but nothing about Major was mentioned. He had the benefit of the doubt.

As the events of the night were analyzed with police inputs collected from the inspection of the area, it became clear that the saboteurs knew where to shoot. They knew that the more dangerous weapon was on the roof and the lookout provided a better view of the area. Also, the ‘something’ that was dragged was a body. The police had found a bloody trail too. This gave Uncle and Daddy some consolation.

Slowly, some other truths began to trickle in.

We were informed through anonymous sources that Major was a non-smoker and his wife wasn’t at home that night he was caught in the field. In fact, she hadn’t been home since the war broke out. Also, this wasn’t the first time he had gone into the fields with a lighted cigarette. He used different locations. We were shocked to learn that on a previous night, saboteurs had landed quite close to our residential area.

But it was too late. This information was of no use to us. Major had disappeared, and the house remained closed for a long time. They had been private people, and no one knew where their roots lay; family, friends and general information was nil. The police found no clues to their whereabouts.

Grandma felt awful… not because she had saved a traitor, but that her intuition had been so off the mark! Each one had their own takeaways from this incident. She’d keep saying, “How could I have been so wrong in my judgment of character? Mere ko bewakoof bana diya us Major ne aur uski aurat bhi!”

Mine was the intense fear coupled with a sharp sense of adventure. I had clutched my baby brother close while I munched my way through a bottle of dry fruit that my mother had kept in a makeshift shelter in our half-built house. (it was under construction when the war broke out).

My fear manifested itself when I slept, in nightmares. I’d run around wildly shouting things like, “They’re coming… the bombers are coming!” Or “Look… look the sky is full of bombs. They’re falling!”  Then, Grandma would catch hold of me and gently take me to her bed, all the while soothing me with soft talk. That always calmed me down. In the morning, I’d have no recollection of it and would not believe that I had done that in the night! 🙂

Holding my brother protectively made me brave; I forgot my own fear. Eating… I don’t know how that helped!!

When a ceasefire was declared, I welcomed it with mixed feelings. A big relief, no doubt, but now, I’d have to go to school!





Shikaar…. hunting

Shikaari... hunter 

Bina… Uncle called me by this name. He pronounced ‘i’ with a short vowel sound.

Mere ko bewakoof bana diya us Major ne aur uski aurat bhi!”… The Major and his wife made a fool of me!

GT Road…The Grand Trunk Road (commonly abbreviated to GT Road) is one of South Asia’s oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and Western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan. Today, the Grand Trunk remains a continuum that covers a distance of over 2,500 km. Within India, the major portion of the road – the stretch between Kanpur and Kolkata – is known as NH 2 (National Highway 2),  the stretch between Kanpur and Delhi is called NH-91, and that between Delhi and Wagah, at the border with Pakistan, is known as NH-1. Between Delhi and Muzaffarnagar is National Highway 58 which further goes to Dehradoon.






A Prophecy & A Bowl of Butternut Soup

“When you say something or sing something enough times, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s almost as casting spells. I don’t mean in the necessarily flighty, ‘I’m going to buy a cloak with a hood now, way.'” –Feist

I don’t shush predictions and ‘prophecies’ if they’re made sincerely and by a person whom I trust not to be dramatic or religiously overenthusiastic! My mother-in-law was such a person who wouldn’t make much of hocus-pocus prophecies. But here’s one prophecy that gave me many thoughtful, doubtful moments before I found what to believe.

Once more, I dig up a story from my journal. Meet Rosaline Thomas, my MIL.


The Prophecy

I discovered two things in the past few days: First, the truth of a prophecy, that’s such a biblical word, but then, I guess it fits in this case and the second, the deliciousness of a butternut squash soup.

To my mind, butternut squash is a variety of ‘kadu’ aka a pumpkin in India. I like kadu as a vegetable, cooked Indian style. I also like the kadu halwa (a dessert) my mother used to make. A laborious task which she’d undertake after I’d begged her almost on my knees! So, when my daughter-in-law said she would make a butternut squash soup for dinner, I balked.

I could imagine a kadu mashed up in a soup, what I just couldn’t imagine was me drinking it. She reassured me it was yummmm… yes, she stretched the yumminess. I thought it was simply to psych me into drooling. Only the night would tell.

But I’ve meandered. To come back to the prophecy.

Once upon a time, as stories began when I was a kid, my mother-in-law, who I shall refer to as Ma Rose going forward, told me about a lady who would visit the family home in Barmer; very often out of the blue.

She was a very religious woman; old but healthy and mobile and with the gift to predict things. These things she predicted were referred to as prophecies because she was anchored in the faith. On one such unexpected visit, she told Ma Rose that she would die when one member of Ma’s family would go into the Lord’s service. She made this prophecy some years before I heard it from Ma.

Both Ma and I contemplated the meaning of this. Not because it was hard to understand the prophecy, but because we couldn’t find more than one promising candidate who qualified as a servant for the Lord’s work in the future.

This person, one of her grandsons, was a teenager then. He was quite keen on listening to Ma Rose’s religious talks and was a regular churchgoer. In short, totally religious unlike all the other youngsters his age. But as time went by, our hope in him diminished. I told Ma Rose that the old lady must have been a bit off the mark this time. She refused to accept that. I shut up. Just my mouth, not my thoughts! 

Then came the day when one of the granddaughters, her daughter’s child, decided to marry a boy who was all set to become a priest. Ah! The prophetic words resurfaced in our conversations with renewed strength. Ma told me, rather triumphantly, that the old girl was not off the mark. We were off the mark! We hadn’t thought of the girls.

Now, one was going into the Lord’s service and the time for the prophecy to come true was drawing near. It made me uncomfortable to discuss Ma’s demise, in the near future with her (she tended to make it nearer than it was) in such an objective manner. So I tried to drill holes in her theory. For quite obvious reasons, it was clear her enthusiasm to prove the old lady right had blinded her to the fact that her grandchild was not going into the Lord’s service. She was only going to marry someone who was going to serve in the church.

But Queen Victoria, as I and my hubby would refer to her in private, could not be influenced or side-tracked so easily.

“It’s the same thing,” she said with regal finality that discouraged all arguments. Again I zipped my lip and only my lip!

Ma Rose passed away a few years later. Her said grandchild’s husband changed direction. The priest moved out of pastoring a flock and became the head of a Bible College instead while she continued her teaching job. Ma Rose had gone, but the prophecy and its veracity remained a point of thought. It didn’t fit in, not to my mind at least. The pieces didn’t fall into place so the picture wasn’t complete. At least not in the way she had thought it was.

Many years later, I learned that the only other granddaughter, her son’s child, had become a pastor! The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I will have to take the story further to complete the picture.

This grandchild, who I’ll refer to as ‘R’, was a simple girl with no college education. She was brought up, mainly, in a small town. She stayed at home and did the domestic chores. Later, she did a beautician’s course and worked in a cosmopolitan city. But that career was short-lived. She returned to her small town home and domesticity. I remembered ‘R’ as a lively, witty girl but not inclined to intellectual pursuits. So hearing she was heading a church in a big city, came as a huge surprise.

Anyway, this news soon got buried with so many other things piling up, it no longer held my attention. But not for long. For some unknown reason, my thoughts back-tracked to the prophecy again; to Ma Rose and to the many conversations we’d had over the years. And I had a eureka moment! Stay with me a wee bit longer, as even now, I have to catch my breath by the revelation.

On the last night, before she died, Ma Rose was talking to ‘R’. It was getting late, past midnight, so ‘R’ told her to rest and try to sleep. Ma agreed and asked her to put her hand in hers. She held ‘R’s hand and closed her eyes. After some time, ‘R’ went off to sleep with her hand in her grandmother’s hand.

When she awoke, her hand was still in Ma’s hand only Ma’s hand was cold. Very cold. Ma had passed away peacefully in her sleep, and in passing on had also passed on the prophecy to the most unlikely person in her family!

I had been off the mark; disinclined to believe without the shadow of doubt. She had believed implicitly. Five months after Ma Rose died, ‘R’ was married to a widower with two sons. This was the first step towards the fulfillment of the prophecy and building a new relationship with Jesus.

The marriage, from what I heard, became a bit rocky. Whatever happened, it made ‘R’ turn to the church and God in a way she had never dwelt on the Word before. The thing is that the most unlikely person was chosen to do God’s work. She became a pastor.

Now I understand. It was a prophecy… it holds its aura… it holds that strength and firmness… it holds that belief!

Phew! Talk about soup for the soul!

The Butternut Squash Soup

And here comes the butternut squash soup. I peeked into the pan as M, my daughter-in-law, stirred the creamy, lovely, sunshine yellow broth around. I have to admit, it was inviting. Not a reaction I had expected. Soon, I was impatient to taste it.

She took her time cooking it just right, pouring it into the cups, dropping in the croutons… and I took the first spoonful. Yummmmmm…….I went… Had I been psyched?!!

Here’s the picture of the first cup of ‘kadu’ soup that made me a die-hard fan and advocate of its goodness. I am a new butternut squash soup nut! For my Indian friends; it’s just another kind of ‘kadu’ in a soup made with an Indian touch. 🙂







My Sister Makes A Wish!

“If you are a dreamer come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hoper, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer,

If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,

Come in!

Come in!”

Shel Silverstein


They say, ‘if wishes were horses beggars would ride.’ Not always, I say. Getting a wish sometimes isn’t quite the “beggar’s horse ride.”

My sister made a wish… and she got it! It all started as a game and became a terrifying reality. But I must start at the beginning.

Daddy had decided to put in his papers and take an early, premature retirement. Premature it was; he was only forty-five and had a long way to go. But his heart was set on dedicating his time totally to evangelism.

So in 1965, he left the service and we moved to his hometown in Punjab. He was going home; we were going to Never Land! Of course, the descriptions differed in each of our minds. I am not sure what Never Land signified for my siblings, for me, it was rich in every way: experiences, adventure, fantasy, challenges, and fun.

My eldest sister didn’t fancy it much I guess because as soon as she completed her Senior Cambridge, she came to the “village” from the boarding school in the hills, and dashed off to Delhi to train as a nurse. Daddy wanted her to join the college in Ludhiana and get her Bachelor’s degree. She didn’t want to stay in Punjab. She had mummy’s support and she joined her nurse’s training course in a hospital in the capital city.

This left four of us kids (my younger brother had arrived by then) with Grandpa, Grandma, Mummy, Daddy, the cattle; cow and buffalo, chickens, rabbits and a dog named Tommy; fruit trees, open spaces, and rolling fields around us.

It was a marvelous new life for my elder brother and me because we had no school to attend (the new session and admissions would start in two months), and we spent the whole day exploring the surroundings. Shooting at pigeons and whatever flew or ran or crawled with our catapults!

I don’t remember how my elder sister spent most of her time, but there were rare occasions when she would join us to spend the afternoons in our treetop getaway. We would carry up some books, a few munchies with lemonade, and while away the lazy afternoons swaying gently in our hammocks that were way up the tree! We had to climb up a ladder placed against the trunk of the Tali tree to get to the hammocks.

Looking back, I admit, it was dicey! Climbing from the ladder into a swaying hammock more than eight feet from the ground wasn’t safe. I was barely ten years old then. Anyway, life was different then. Kids played and survived many outdoor games and activities; things parents wouldn’t allow their kids to do now.

To get back to the story, on one such rare day, the three of us were sitting around in the vegetable garden behind our house and sharing our wildest dreams, wishes, and fantasies. As we tried to outdo ourselves in our imaginings; she blurted out that she would love to see two planes right above us in active combat. My brother and I guffawed. We knew she was right off her track because she wasn’t into these sorts of imaginings. She was very ‘girlie-girlie’ and didn’t dream of such stuff. Besides, we were not at war with anyone. However, we agreed that she had indeed outdone us in ‘bizarre’.

Not much later, we heard the roar of planes and looked up. It wasn’t unusual to see these fighter planes in practice sorties, as the Air Force base wasn’t far in airspace terms. There were two Gnats chasing a plane we couldn’t identify. It was bigger than the Gnats. My brother and I were intrigued. By then, they were almost over us and he yelled.

“It’s an attack! Run! That’s a Pakistani plane. Look at the insignia.”

It happened in the twinkling of an eye. Before we could even digest what he was saying. The air was rent with staccato gunshots. I ran and hid behind a Jasmine bush nearby and watched. The other two stood transfixed and watched. There was a dogfight raging in the sky above us.

I can recall the feeling even today. It was all in the extreme… the fear, the excitement, and the amazement. Then, in front of our eyes, the Pakistani plane took a fatal shot and burst into flames. It careened wildly and began a wobbly descent, thankfully, away from ‘our’ airspace and crashed in a field close to where we were.

Our yelling had brought out my uncle who was on one of his breaks between joining ship again. He wouldn’t believe us because by then the plane had gone down, but the trail of black smoke convinced him. He ran out with the others who appeared from nowhere in an instant. We followed; my brother and I.

I was slower and lagged behind. My uncle who was way ahead, saw me coming and stopped me at a distance. All I saw was the plane burning with huge, angry flames, and a mob shouting and yelling curses and abuses at the dead pilot. It was a terrible sight. But not as terrible as what was to follow. We were at war with Pakistan.

I peered at my sister, later that night, when we were huddled in the trench and our town lay trembling as some flak from attacks on the Air Force base and the G.T highway strayed and fell around us. She smiled wanly. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking but I had to say it.

“Couldn’t you wish for something better,” I shouted to be heard through the cotton plugs in her ears.

She wouldn’t reply. Her teeth were clenched on the handkerchief in her mouth. I stuffed mine back into my mouth as Daddy yelled a warning. A bomb exploded two-hundred and fifty meters away.

This was just the beginning… 








Chile Diary- 11

“Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is “timing,” it waits on the right time to act; for the right principles and in the right way.”-Fulton J. Sheen

Chapter 11 brought back the mixed feelings of that time when all plans began to fall apart. Hopelessness enshrouded me and I was at an all-time low. It also brings home the truth that although the plans were right, the timing was not! That’s why I had been not just nervous but “scared” too about moving.


The building in the background is where the Company Guesthouse was.


The Chile Diary Chapter 11

Hitches and Glitches

I had many apprehensions about coming to live in Chile. I even recall repeating that I was scared. Unfortunately, the people I spoke to think in narrow grooves or are eager for fresh gossip. So everyone, without exception, wanted to know why I was “scared” to live with my son. I had not mentioned my son! The inference was wrong and born of deliberate misinterpretations.

I shook my head and smiled wondering how could they dig for gossip and create mountains out of non-existent mole-hills endlessly; year after year. But many people thrive on malicious, irresponsible natter.

I wanted to answer their queries but I could not understand why I was using such a strong term for my apprehensions. I wasn’t able to put my finger on the reason for my fear.

Why was I scared?

It isn’t in my nature to be scared of traveling to a new, unknown territory. Nervous, perhaps, but frightened? No! It was definitely too strong a word to describe what I was feeling about my pending travel.

I made sure to shoot down the insinuations and gave all the practical reasons I had to feel nervous about.

I was closing home in India. Everything I had worked for and built laboriously and lovingly through the years was gone. I would have no home to return to. No place to call my own. I had left myself bereft of all options. Wasn’t that a scary situation? It certainly did sound like one to some who agreed while others directed their minds elsewhere. But here’s the thing… I still wasn’t sure if this was the reason why I was scared!

One month later, with the benefit of hindsight, I realized it must have been intuition. (You can read about it here.) I had been begging Ranjit to let me stay in India for three or four months more. I wasn’t comfortable with the haste. There were many questions that were either not being answered to my satisfaction or answered too soon.

Four weeks later, of which three I’ve spent being in a refugee status, stressed and in nervous tension, I know why I was positively scared to come here. I’m isolated; physically, emotionally, spiritually… I cannot get through to my own.

But, surprisingly, the Chileans can feel my anxiety. They have been warm and supportive. Friends and strangers alike have extended encouraging moral support. Yet, Chile has been scary and terrifying in spite of the warmth and help extended by the hospitable people in Viña del Mar.

I want to fly out to Canada where my other son lives! That had been a part of my travel plans. In fact, I wanted to stay back longer in India to apply for my visa.

The latest information that was conveyed to me yesterday was that I wouldn’t be able to go to Canada from here. My return ticket had been booked by the company. So if I did not use it, my son would have to bear the cost of the same! He asked if the destination could be changed to Canada. They said it couldn’t.

Both my boys were okay with that thinking they would get my visa and I could meet my first and only grandchild in Canada. So bearing the cost of the cancellation didn’t seem to matter.

Before they conveyed their decision to the company, we found out that a particular document, necessary for my Canadian visa, was in the vernacular. We had to translate it in English and get it notarized by a government-certified notary. As luck would have it, I hadn’t submitted my visa application, yet. Thank God for that!

Getting a document translated from Hindi to English in Chile would have been impossible. At least now, I can think of returning to India! I’ll present my documents to the embassy there.

Many important details were not checked earlier making things difficult not only for me but the others too! I was to come here to settle for good as a dependent. Now, my son finds out that will not be possible as birth certificates of both mother and child must prove the biological relationship. This means that both the certificates must have the child’s name too.

Well, at the time of my birth and that of my sons, birth certificates did not carry the name of the child. Children, in India, were named formally only after a month or two. So it would mention a girl child or boy child born to so-and-so at such-and-such place, on such-and-such date and time. And this is how ours were too!

I’m sure I’ve made my point clear about my intuition of “scary” situations turning up with all the haste. I remember telling my son that they were “jumping to X, Y, Z before going through A, B, C.” Well, short-sightedness has taken its toll.

Granted the earthquake of this magnitude could not have been anticipated, but the quakes and tremors situation is constant. Problems coming up concerning me being left alone almost all the time should have been anticipated. The problem of language and communication should have been considered. My need for entertainment and company is real and should have been thought about. That I’d be a part of their outings, if not all the time, then quite often until I settled in properly was also an obvious given; a situation that should have been anticipated. These are predictable situations. Previous knowledge grants that this isn’t the best place to leave me alone at this time.

That’s the mood Saturday sees me in; despondent and disappointed. But one must go with the flow… always. I’m in God’s hands and though I might feel let down at times, that’s not the permanent attitude. My sons are trying to do the best they can and I appreciate all that they are doing. It’s just that they are too headstrong to listen to reason at times. I still have hope. God will show us the way where there seems to be no way… it’s only ten past one in the afternoon. I have a long day ahead of me!

That’s me venting and I’m done.

Early morning, Ranjit and I went to see the house on 15 Norte. It is beautiful. The houses here are on a rocky hill and made in the terraced style where the houses are built along the slope of the hill and do not rise up in one perpendicular block. So it seems to be a hill of jutting terraces and the terrace gardens add to the beauty.

Although it is smaller than the present apartment, it is well-planned to provide sufficient space for a neat living-dining room, a small but adequately-planned kitchen, two bedrooms, bathrooms, and a good-sized walk-in wardrobe. They have selected the furniture with taste keeping the limited space in mind. The best part of the house is the terrace in front. Location is also great; sea-facing, the view is simply amazing. But there are some hitches.

Like most rented apartments in this area, the apartment is on rent for only ten months; from March to December. This means another change of house at the end of the year. That’s the minor snag.

The major issue is, it’s on the 4th level. Being built on an incline, each level has more steps and more flights of stairs than the previous one, according to the floor they’re on; less on level one and more added as you progress to the higher levels. So this one is ruled out.

Back in the guesthouse, the other mom staying here was trying to ask me something. The only word I could comprehend was “problema.” 

What now, I thought while I threw up my hands and shook my head and smiled a helpless smile, hoping she’d understand that the only problem was that I couldn’t get a word of what she was saying.

She caught on and indicated that I should wait until she got her son, Mauricio, on the phone. Now I was sure she had a major problem and was keen to know if it involved me.

As it turned out, she was getting her friends over for lunch and wanted to know if that would be a problem for me. And, if necessary, she would call off the lunch. How considerate and kind of her to make that offer!

I told her son that since I was, at the time of speaking, a permanent fixture at the dining table, I’d be the problem to his mother and her friends. And since I was in the mood to write, I had no time limits. I could close shop in ten minutes or continue till the evening. So, if the group could carry on around me, it was fine with me. This brought an overly demonstrative response of gratitude from the mom who hugged and kissed me profusely!

Anyway, neither of us had to bother about it. The Indian group, comprising us, had a lunch of rajma-chawal and after a short nap left to pick up my track pants and buy some stuff for the house. The other mom’s guests hadn’t arrived until then! That’s when I learned that lunch ‘parties’ in Chile started very late… late afternoon; actually early evening! By the time I returned to the guesthouse at six in the evening the guests were leaving. What a relief!

I thought it had worked out fine for all concerned. But that was the forethought. Once again I have to remind you that ‘relief’ isn’t a long-term companion in Chile. I walked into the apartment to find there were still more people in the house and although I hoped against hope they would leave, they didn’t. 🙂 

But I didn’t mind that… much! (Read more about that here Chile Diary-12)



Rajma…………… Rajma is red kidney beans. It’s cooked with spices and tomatoes to make a thick gravy dish which is usually eaten with rice.

Chawal………… rice.







Rajma-chawal………….Rajma is red kidney beans cooked with spices and tomatoes to make a thick gravy which is usually eaten with rice (Chawal)

Chile Diary- 4

This day was as scary as the day of the big terremoto in Feb., even though it was lower on the Richter scale. It was bad because it came with warnings of a possible tsunami. What was worse… I was alone in the guesthouse and the kids were at their office in another town. It was not very far about twenty-five or thirty-minute drive away. But given the circumstances, the drive back took longer.


Beautiful Viña del Mar

The Chile Diary… chapter 4, March 11-12


Terremoto y Tsunami

Two earthquakes in quick succession; first a 7.2 followed by a slightly smaller one measuring 6.9, sent me scurrying out of the guesthouse. With me were the other residents from the apartments above us. We stood gathered on the stairs not knowing whether to walk out of the swaying building or wait it out. The decision was taken out of our hands! 

Within minutes, the public address system blared out a tsunami alert! EVACUATE.

I didn’t know what to do. People began running, and all in one direction. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the announcements. I began walking down the sidewalk. It was a painful and slow walk. I was strapped with my back support. The collar supporting my neck was firmly in place as was the knee support around my right knee. The ’emergency bag’ which was rather heavy with; a change of clothes, passport and other documents, plus all my meds weighed me down. This emergency bag was always packed and ready and stood by the front door ever since the big one struck.

A young mother with her baby clutched tightly to her bosom spoke to me in rapid Spanish. I shook my head and said, “No español.”

She pointed in the direction of the sea, then to the people, and waved her hand indicating that I should run in the same direction. I only had time to ask, “Tsunami?” before she got into her car. She nodded and I began to walk as fast as I could without hurting my knees and back.

There was pandemonium in the streets. People were making a dash for it on foot and in cars. The roads and pavements were overflowing with panic-stricken folk.

My cell phone rang. It was Tintin, my son. His voice brought some relief. I told him what was happening and that I was clueless about where to go. So he told me to look for his friend Reggie at the pub. I brightened up a bit.

I made my way, huffing and puffing, to the pub – disappointment awaited. The pub was locked and deserted. By now my throat was parched and I was almost gasping for breath. I called back to inform my son.

“Stand there Mama, I’m on my way.”

“I’m not standing here,” I said. “The roads are swarming with people and cars on the move. Noone’s standing. I’m not going to either.”

Although I said that so firmly and decisively, I was not so sure where to move… where was this sea of people headed?

“Please, Mama, stay put in one spot. How will I find you if you move around?”

I could understand the panic my son felt by my decision and decided to stay put. But, once again, the decision was taken out of my hands. A carabinero on a bike called out to me to keep walking. That’s when I noticed the bike-borne policemen on the roads getting people to move and not stand. All in one direction! Highground; further away from the coastline.

I started walking down the street in the direction the whole world seemed to be going.

“I’m walking down 8 Norte,” is all I could say before we lost contact. I tried to call back but there was no network coverage. Now I was really alone. I could feel the tears welling up; not of fear, neither of self-pity, but of sheer frustration and helplessness.

I began to catch hold of people to inquire if any spoke English. Their negative replies only made it worse. I began to talk myself out of the mental state I was in. I repeated portions of Psalms 91, especially the parts that speak about God protecting us from “sudden disasters at noon,” and reminded myself that He “is my fortress, my place of safety” and He would “send His angels to protect me.”

It was reassuring, but the tears were already perched on the edge and I couldn’t blink them back. I kept up my slow, painful trudge. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned to find a young girl, perhaps twenty-one or so. She handed me a small bright yellow card. I took it without bothering to read it. I was keen to know if she knew English.

“Very leetle,” she smiled and I was so relieved that the tears which hung precariously on the edge tumbled down.

“Tranquila, tranquila,” she said softly, over and over again, as she gently stroked my arm. I didn’t have to be a genius to understand what she was saying. It sounded like ‘tranquil’ and the look on her face and her actions made it quite obvious.

“Yes,” I replied drying my eyes.

“Yehwah is there,” she assured me in her faltering English and her hand pointed to the heavens above.

“No, Jesus is here,” I emphasized the “here” with my pointer and managed a smile. Sub-consciously, I had corrected here. Once a teacher always a teacher was the vague thought at the back of my mind.

“Okay. Now I going.”

“Where? Please stay,” I was almost begging.

“I have…go to… umm… my room friend,” I nodded to convey that I understood and thanked her.

I carried on walking down 8 Norte and she turned off right. I was feeling a bit calmer now. But, the tears didn’t stop and my throat was still parched. My mouth was dry and I was choking and try as I might there was no saliva to wet it. This set off coughing spells. My heart was pounding.

All of a sudden, I realized I had come to the end of the road, and it was a long road indeed. I could either turn right or left. I decided to stick with 8 Norte so I crossed the main road it joined and stood at the traffic light on the divider of the two main roads. I was tired and wanted to sit, but there was nowhere I could rest my aching back and legs. So I continued to stand and watch the tsunami of cars and people flow past me. The noise on the roads was loud and irritating.

I was wondering what it was about the honking horns that bothered me. It happens a lot and all the time in India; the noise pollution on the roads! Then it struck me; one doesn’t hear car horns on Viña’s roads. An occasional honk of an impatient driver would make people turn and stare at the driver disapprovingly. Today was an exception. Just then, I turned and lo and behold, there was the young Christian walking toward my traffic light!

“Hola,” she beamed.

“Hola,” I responded, surprised to see her return to find me. But thankfulness, more than courtesy, kept me from asking. She joined me and a few others who were standing there as well.

“You know… where you stay?”


“I stay with you.” 

“Okay,” I said not very sure what she meant. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and took it to mean that she’d stand with me. Since she continued to stand with me and also gather the latest information about the situation, I was pleased that I was right. She laboriously translated the important parts for me. The alert had not been called off but the emergency situation had passed. That was something to be happy about.

“Come, I go with you,” and she caught my hand and took me across the road and we walked back the way we had come. I was walking even slower now.

She realized I was exhausted and would stop at every traffic light for a while to give me time to rest. Later, I understood how wise it had been for us to keep stopping at the traffic lights. It was the best way to get seen by the people looking for you.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that I didn’t even know her name and asked her.


“Joy,” I answered and we shook hands and in true Chilean fashion, she hugged me and kissed me on my cheek while I kissed the air around hers!

“I’m sorry, I’m being such a pain,” I said enunciating every word as slowly as I thought would be easy for her to understand. “I have a back and knee problem,” I continued and pointed to my lumbar support around my waist.

“I know. I see it. I am… a… a physiotherapist.”

OMGosh! I stared at her surprised. “Your angel?” my incredulous mind queried. I shushed it.

We had moved on to another traffic light and she struck up a conversation with a youth who had walked up and was waiting to cross the road. She wanted to know if he knew English. Fortunately, he did and better than hers.

She asked him to tell me that I shouldn’t worry as she would take me to my residence. I wondered why she kept telling me that. It made me uncomfortable. But I thanked her once again and added that I knew my way home. I was also uncomfortable that the boy, who she had shown she didn’t know, didn’t seem like a stranger she’d just met. So I told him that I could make my way back home now and didn’t need them to walk me home.

Before she could say anything, Reggie, my son’s pub owner friend who was driving someone to a safe place, spotted me and called out. He told me to wait and he’d be back for me in a few minutes. Magdalena didn’t seem too pleased with this. She shouted out something to him in Spanish and he retorted brusquely. And once again, Reggie told me to wait where I was. She asked me if I knew the man and how well I knew him. After she learned who he was and that he was a-okay, she dropped the topic. I was relieved.

We exchanged email Ids, phone numbers, and she wanted my home address. Once more it unsettled me, however, reluctantly I gave her my ‘home’ address; the guesthouse add. and we parted when Reggie returned.

This was a strange encounter! A total stranger picks me out of a milling crowd and gives me the moral support I need. Stranger still was the fact that she stopped handing out the little yellow ‘Jesus’ cards after she found me. Whoever she was, whatever her intentions, she provided me with the support I needed at a very difficult time. And no harm was done. I was grateful then and I remain grateful to date. Besides, when I didn’t require her assistance anymore, a friend appeared to help. Strange are the ways of God!

I didn’t see her again and neither of us called up or emailed each other. If she visited the guesthouse, she’d have known it wasn’t my home! Reggie told my son that he was glad he found me when he did. It seems that during times like these, a lot of petty thieves are on the prowl. That boy we chanced upon midway who without my permission joined us, didn’t augur well, according to him.

We waited at a prominent place where my son found us a short while later. He was with a colleague, Gabriel, who suggested I stay at his home till the evening. For a split second, I thought I should turn down the invitation as I didn’t know how I’d communicate with the family. They were going back to the office. But, I’m glad I went to his home.

The home was warm and hospitable. Besides, it was full of people so I wasn’t jumpy. The evening saw me leaving rather reluctantly because I was loath to stay the night alone at the guesthouse. But as things turned out, Tintin and Manu stayed with me. Though I did jump out of my bed in the middle of the night or perhaps the wee hours of the morning when my bed was rattled, I did get some necessary sleep.

My body was aching in the morning. The previous day, I was in shock and didn’t realize the wear and tear my body had taken. But today is another story… it hurts.

I’m spending the day at Gabriel’s house in Miraflores. It’s a reprieve from the scary ‘home alone’ situation. I must tell you all about my day stays in the Segura’s casa in Miraflores; the lovely family and pets. But tea beckons and I must go. Ciao.







The Messenger

This is an old article and I’m reposting it here after an interesting conversation with a friend about intuition, telepathy, sixth sense, spirits, superstitions etc, reminded me of this experience.

It was the month of September 1991, and the clock chimed eleven times to tell me it was an hour to mid-night and I better hurry. The house was shrouded in the blessed silence that comes with slumber. I was the only one awake. I usually did my baking at night as I struggled to juggle my time between home chores and a career.

In order to understand what occurred next, I must explain how the kitchen was built. A long corridor led from the dining room, past the children’s room, staircase and ended in a little cul-de-sac, which had ample storing facilities. I used it to keep all the crockery. From this little store a door opened into the beautiful, large kitchen where I was working, softly humming to myself. Then I experienced the strangest of sensations! I stopped humming, stopped what I was doing and stood stock still.

My back, down the entire backbone, was tingling and slight shivers ran down my spine. I sensed someone staring at me from the store area, which was behind me. My heart was pounding wildly while my ears strained for some sound. I couldn’t stand the tension any longer and turned around. Nothing! No one! I was puzzled. I brushed it off without dwelling on it too long. I had a cake to bake and I had to be up early the next day. Picking up the tune I had left off, I happily popped the cake into the oven.

Then it happened again! Once again tingling, shivers, turn around – no one! I was beginning to get a bit uneasy now. I switched to singing hymns for good measure, and a bit loud too, as I mustered all the courage I had, to make my way through the store, down the corridor and into our bedroom, where I felt safer. I thought of waking my husband, but decided against it, knowing he wouldn’t believe me and I’d be the new drawing-room joke. Instead, I sat it out till the cake was done. Now I had to go back. I switched on all the extra lights and finding myself in a better shape to face my ‘demons,’ ventured into the kitchen, making sure I zipped through the store. Nothing happened. I took out the cake, left it to cool and went to bed.

As expected, husband dear pooh-poohed the whole thing as the result of an over-imaginative mind, fuelled by the horror movies I watched.

“You had better not talk about it. And especially not in front of the kids, you’ll only scare them,” he laughed.

“You’ve got to believe me Nanan. I’m not a loony. This was real,” I said emphatically. But who was listening.

My husband was often out on tours, so I was quite used to living alone with the kids and was never scared or nervous about it. However, after a month or so when the incident occurred again, I wasn’t very comfortable any more. This time it was a bit different, I sensed the presence of a person or thing or whatever it may be called. I could see nothing, but I could tell where the person was and also that it was a male. I still can’t explain this but I felt it as strongly and surely as if I could see him. I also sensed that he was on the advanced side of ‘middle-age’. Once again, my husband laughed it off. As the ‘being’ didn’t visit in the next few days, the topic was closed.

A month later, it happened again and it became a frequent occurrence. Almost every day….afternoons, evenings….and always it stood in the same place. The most unimaginable thing was that all fear had dissipated. I sensed that I was in no danger. Once my comfort level had been restored, I began to feel that ‘ It’ was trying to tell me something. When it started or how I do not know, but I was communicating without words or any visible signs with my invisible visitor. I became aware of a deep sympathy flowing from it. As if it was feeling sorry I wondered why. “Why, why, why,”…my mind cried out. The answer I got knocked the air out of my lungs. “I’m going to die? When? How?”… I was in total shock.

I can still recall how I felt. I went about my chores in a trance. In the evening, as I passed the children’s room, something snapped. I stood and watched them as they waged a pillow fight and I was swept with grief and pain. That day I communicated a lot with God. I begged Him not to take me away just yet, as my children needed me. I reminded Him that they were His gifts to me. I knew that my husband would never be capable of looking after them by himself. He would pack them off to his relatives. Where would they study and how would they adjust to life in a remote village in Rajasthan? I also knew that my husband would be married off before a year had even passed. The thought of my children’s plight wrenched my heart and I cried. All that I prayed for at the end was, “If it is possible, for the sake of my children, spare me. Otherwise help me to accept your will, Lord.” I was exhausted and I slept very deeply that night.

After carrying this burden within and no one to share it with, this prayer released me of all anguish and I felt, strangely, very relaxed. It was the first week of January 1992, and after this encounter I never felt the presence again. Life went on as usual. Sometimes I wondered what fate had been decided for me – but these were fleeting thoughts. Republic Day (1992) was approaching, and the preparation for the parade and cultural function took up a major part of both time and energy, leaving me with very little scope for reflections on my life.

On a beautiful, sunny winter morning, I sat in the lawn drinking my coffee, planning and listing all the jobs that my husband would have to see to, when he came back from his tour.

Suddenly I was cut off from reality – out of nowhere, a picture flashed across the screen of my mind – I saw Mr Singh, a friend, telling me that my husband had met with a fatal accident. Then the frame changed to a picture of me dressed in white, looking bewildered at a number of women wailing around me. It ended abruptly and I was back in my beautiful garden with an empty coffee mug in my hand.

I shook myself and got up immediately, immersing myself in work lest my mind painted any more horrifying pictures. My husband was right; I did have an over-imaginative mind. Still I was on tenterhooks the whole day. In the evening, the familiar honk of the car sent me dashing out, and I was more ecstatic than usual to see hubby dear. He kept trying to figure it out, but I passed it off as the end to an unusually hard week. The next day was Republic Day. Nanan had to leave on yet another tour in the evening. He found it odd that I should be a bit put out by his tour.

” It’s only a two day tour. I’ll be back on the twenty-ninth,” he said consolingly. He had been out a lot lately.

On the twenty-seventh night, while the kids and I were watching TV, the doorbell rang. Mr Singh stood there with tears in his eyes, “He’s not coming back Bhabi, he has succumbed to a major heart attack,” he said and broke down.

Two days later, on the day of his funeral, I was dressed in white and I was bewildered as I looked at the women crying around me. “Why are they crying?” I thought to myself. “Why are they asking me to be strong for the kids? What do they mean he’s gone…of course he’s gone on tour. I hope they stop crying, they’re making me cry too. Don’t they know I can’t see any one cry? What do they mean that he was so young…he is young. Thirty-nine is young.” I was in shock and denial.

Prior to this, I would take such a narrative with a huge pinch of salt and scepticism. To me these things oozed of superstition, ignorance and misplaced faith. Even today, I often ponder over this event, wondering what to make of it. I have no definite opinion. Was it imagination running wild? Then how does one explain the events that followed? Or was it mere coincidence? I’m torn between unbelief and credulity.

Later I confided to Sudhaji, an elderly neighbour, about the presence I had felt and all that had happened. She listened quietly and patiently, and then asked who I thought the presence was.

“I’m not sure,” I said, “but I did feel it was my Father-in-law, which is very strange because I have never seen him. He expired many years before our marriage.”

She nodded her sage head and said, “It could be. Yes, it’s possible. Lekin, there’s something I must tell you. Some years back the landlady rented out this house, for the first time, to a Mathur family. Mr Mathur was near retiring.The place you store the crockery didn’t exist at the time. Mr Mathur got it made at his own expense because he wanted it so much. He died a few months later of cardiac arrest.”

You could hear a pin drop in the silence.


Bhabi….a term of respect used for a brother’s wife. It is also used by a man’s friends to address his wife, in small towns or orthodox families.

Lekin….a Hindi word meaning ‘but’

Nanan….David’s pet name