the broken bowl

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the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Sun Apr 28, 2013 12:57 pm


Earlier today, I wanted to draw the curtains behind my couch to block the sunlight, so I stepped on the couch and bent slowly towards the window trying to reach the curtains. But I lost my balance, and the recliner slid down all the way, thus turning the laptop which was placed half on the couch, half on the side table. The laptop pushed my tea cup and a china bowl towards the edge of the table, and *bam*. Both fell down, one on top of the other, and with an ominous crashing sound, the bowl broke.

Funny how the memory works. I was instantly taken to a summer afternoon 30+ years back, and could hear Chawla ji speak. I had broken a box of glass tubes in my mom's lab, and was newly learning all the new superstitious stuff. I said horrified, 'Oh no! Is this 7 years of bad luck?'. That's when Chawlaji stepped in, 'No no dear, you got it all mixed up. It's seven years of GOOD luck. Let's be happy about it now', he assured me while cleaning the glasses. I looked at him hopefully as well as suspiciously. 'Good luck? are you sure it's good luck? I heard it's bad luck. At least for mirrors it is. Is it bad for glass too?'. Chawlaji said in his deep smooth characteristic salesman assuring voice, 'It doesn't matter what others say, Viddu. I think of broken glass as good luck. This means the rest of your school years will go great!'

Chawla ji was my mom's lab manager. He would do most of the testing work, and handled reporting, while overseeing or training some assistant or the other. The lab was in the front section of our house, and it had a water cooler. Which meant, most of my summer afternoons were spent there. Which also meant that I became friends with almost all my mom's lab assistants, and now that I think about it, they doubled as my baby sitters, while my mom was in college or sleeping.

That's his last name, Chawla. If I scratch my memory hard, which usually ends up me asking my sister, I may come up with his first name too. My parents called him simply that, Chawla. We kids called him Chawla ji. He must have been in his mid 30s then. He was about 10 years younger to my parents. A chain smoker, and I am sure a heavy drinker, he looked much older with his balding partially-gray head, and wrinkled face. He wasn't much of a looker, at least to me back then. He had an uncharacteristic dark skin, and medium body size, for a typical punjabi man. His cheeks were hollow, that my mom blamed was as a result of his bad diet and lifestyle. When I watched him eat, he would break all the two or three rotis in his plate together to make one big scoop with lots of sabzi and deal. Any amount of food looked tiny in front of his fast moving hands. I had seen people eat only one roti at a time, but this was a man who could eat, and eat fast. So at the time, I didn't know why my mother would blame his bad diet and lifestyle for his sick and old looks.

He was a recluse all his life. An escapist, a drifter, a loner for most of his life. He was a smart man. He had gotten into an esteemed engineering college back in the 50s, and he left no opportunity to remind us that over and over. But he dropped out after one or two years into it, because it didn't interest him anymore. He made sure he clarified this fact to us too, over and over. That *he* left engineering *himself*, and not coz he failed in it. I am not sure what he did next. But he worked for about 10-15 years with my parents. My mom trained him in the field early on, so he had the highest respect for her. In turn, he would entertain them with many stories of his experiences.

He was either a divorcee or his wife had left him years ago, I am forgetting. She had taken with her their only daughter, who was around same age as mine. I met his daughter just once. I don't think he met her that much either, nor did he talk much about her. He lived a bachelor's life, which meant womanizing for most parts, and from what my mom or sis would tell me later, he made no attempts to hide his lifestyle, which I now understand was full of depravity. He would freely talk with my parents about his sexual-or-otherwise escapades, and we would hear snatches of it sometimes. In those age and time, it must have been hard for a man that age to find a "girlfriend". I think he would hang around the hospital near our house, and try to find women whose husbands were in long term care. Most of his women were call girls too, my mom suspects, although he kept some facts blurry. He used to claim that he would befriend traveling mothers-on-vacation during train journeys, which would end up with him fingering them from under their petticoat. I remember my mom telling me this much later, and how they had discarded it as his bluffing back then, but he kept insisting these to be true. 'Madam you are very naive, you don't know that all kinds of women exist out there. Married women are the biggest culprits, and most easily accessible. Don't be fooled by their mangalsutras and red sindoor, they are no sati savitri. You just need to know how to work them'. But my mom was a true idealist, and still is. She always defends the woman, so she would ask him to stop BS'ing, and stick to true stories. But she would still hear him out quietly, so did my dad. Guess he was just a gifted story teller. At the time I thought his claims was impossible too. I was too idealistic myself. But as I grew older, I now think he wasn't lying.

All was not good with Chawla ji though. He was always strapped for money, and felt caged in in our small hometown sometimes. So once, when my mom trusted him to pick up about Rs. 7000 payment from another place, he took that money and ran away to Delhi. We learned of this a day later. Rs. 7000 was a big amount in early 80s. I was crushed! My parents took it in their stride though. They told themselves they should not have trusted an employee this much. Mom soon trained up the other assistant, and hired a couple more to do reporting, etc. But no one could stick other than the one assistant, and hence we saw many changes and rotations in her staff. Chawla returned after two or three years. He apologized honestly and openly, and returned the money to her. He assured them that if given another chance he would prove himself to be more sincere. To my disbelief, my mom hired him again, since she was convinced of his remorse. No she never trusted him or anyone with money again.

I liked him as a kid, even though he wasn't that kid friendly, compared to others. He didn't indulge in me like others did. He sometimes had a bad temper, which was directed at other lab assistants or at my nanny or at us. We did have some good moments. He once made the mistake of taking me to his brother's place. His brother owned a children's book store, so it was a paradise for me. He and his wife also treated us with excellent home made drinks and snacks. So, I would keep pestering him to take me again, but he would take me only once a year or so. Sometimes, he would tell us kids some big philosophical stuff, that I didn't understand then, but remembered enough to make sense of it later. Whatever he said or did, he was always always very interesting, and full of life. His loud laughters were infectious.

But I had lost respect for him after he had run away. He was not the same wise philosophical character for me anymore. By the time I was an adolescent, I grew less and less tolerant of him, and remember having two or three greats shouting matches with him, up until my sister or mom would intervene and ask me to cool down. I could not understand why my parents were so lenient towards him. But now as I am that age myself, I think I understand.

Things came to an end regarding his employment with my mom eventually. He had become more eccentric by the time he hit late 40s. He drifted on to some other employment that my mom helped him find, but would come frequently to meet parents and his older colleague. Since both my parents worked out of the house, we would get to meet him too. He was as cocky and full of wise cracks as ever. Regaling everyone with his stories. From what we understood he was now fully engrossed in the world of prostitutes, and HIV being so newly popular in India, my parents viewed him more suspiciously than ever.

Then one day he came with his 'new' wife. She was an ex-prostitute that he had visited for a few years, and had fallen in love. For me at that late teenage, this was shocking. I found the whole thing repulsive, and yet something straight out of movies. It seemed like he had finally reformed, and reformed her too. This was the one and only time, that I came face to face with a prostitute. She shook up my entire bollywood dreamy idea of super-beautiful tragic courtesans, because she was anything but that. She was a tiny frail middle-aged creature, with very crooked teeth. Compared to her, Chawla looked like a handsome prince. But now that I think back, she was all smiles when they came to visit us. So was he. She was trying to make a lot of eye contact with me, as if she had also known me through my childhood. I am sure she must have heard all about us from him. Her incessant smiling was the only thing that helped me keep the disgust out of my demeanor, even though inside I was looking down at both of them.

With time his visits lessened, and then he stopped coming altogether. I do know his second marriage survived. Have no idea about his daughter. Have no idea where he is now, or if he is still alive. But sometimes, all it takes is a broken bowl, and some words of wisdom from memory, that makes you sit back, and re-think about some person from past. Now that I think back, I know he was an atheist. But instead of lecturing me not to believe in negative superstitions, he encouraged me to make up some positive new ones, and stick to those. I think that's how he lived his whole life. In a country like India, where everyone was so bent on living to conformity, Chawla was one radical man I knew who never stuck to any social rule. I remember reading somewhere that it's always a good thing to have someone very radical in the bunch, coz it helps others to open up their views a bit and shape their thought process and personality, and this helps a generation evolve. For good or bad, for whatever my personality is, I am glad I knew someone like Chawla when growing up and its effects on me.


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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Propagandhi711 on Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:04 pm

it took me a full ten minutes to do a page down on this post. damn

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Seva Lamberdar on Sun Apr 28, 2013 1:29 pm

Propagandhi711 wrote:it took me a full ten minutes to do a page down on this post. damn

Nice narration.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:11 pm

Thanks Seva Smile I know it's horrible. But I just wanted to get this out of my system. And I am regretting the two hours I wasted in writing it when I could have accomplished some other chores. Anyway. Will have to make up for that now.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Jeremiah Mburuburu on Sun Apr 28, 2013 2:16 pm

Vidya Bagchi wrote:
Earlier today, I wanted to draw the curtains behind my couch to block the sunlight, so I stepped on the couch and bent slowly towards the window trying to reach the curtains. But I lost my balance, and the recliner slid down all the way, thus turning the laptop which was placed half on the couch, half on the side table. The laptop pushed my tea cup and a china bowl towards the edge of the table, and *bam*. Both fell down, one on top of the other, and with an ominous crashing sound, the bowl broke.

Funny how the memory works. I was instantly taken to a summer afternoon 30+ years back, and could hear Chawla ji speak. I had broken a box of glass tubes in my mom's lab, and was newly learning all the new superstitious stuff. I said horrified, 'Oh no! Is this 7 years of bad luck?'. That's when Chawlaji stepped in, 'No no dear, you got it all mixed up. It's seven years of GOOD luck. Let's be happy about it now', he assured me while cleaning the glasses. I looked at him hopefully as well as suspiciously. 'Good luck? are you sure it's good luck? I heard it's bad luck. At least for mirrors it is. Is it bad for glass too?'. Chawlaji said in his deep smooth characteristic salesman assuring voice, 'It doesn't matter what others say, Viddu. I think of broken glass as good luck. This means the rest of your school years will go great!'

Chawla ji was my mom's lab manager. He would do most of the testing work, and handled reporting, while overseeing or training some assistant or the other. The lab was in the front section of our house, and it had a water cooler. Which meant, most of my summer afternoons were spent there. Which also meant that I became friends with almost all my mom's lab assistants, and now that I think about it, they doubled as my baby sitters, while my mom was in college or sleeping.

That's his last name, Chawla. If I scratch my memory hard, which usually ends up me asking my sister, I may come up with his first name too. My parents called him simply that, Chawla. We kids called him Chawla ji. He must have been in his mid 30s then. He was about 10 years younger to my parents. A chain smoker, and I am sure a heavy drinker, he looked much older with his balding partially-gray head, and wrinkled face. He wasn't much of a looker, at least to me back then. He had an uncharacteristic dark skin, and medium body size, for a typical punjabi man. His cheeks were hollow, that my mom blamed was as a result of his bad diet and lifestyle. When I watched him eat, he would break all the two or three rotis in his plate together to make one big scoop with lots of sabzi and deal. Any amount of food looked tiny in front of his fast moving hands. I had seen people eat only one roti at a time, but this was a man who could eat, and eat fast. So at the time, I didn't know why my mother would blame his bad diet and lifestyle for his sick and old looks.

He was a recluse all his life. An escapist, a drifter, a loner for most of his life. He was a smart man. He had gotten into an esteemed engineering college back in the 50s, and he left no opportunity to remind us that over and over. But he dropped out after one or two years into it, because it didn't interest him anymore. He made sure he clarified this fact to us too, over and over. That *he* left engineering *himself*, and not coz he failed in it. I am not sure what he did next. But he worked for about 10-15 years with my parents. My mom trained him in the field early on, so he had the highest respect for her. In turn, he would entertain them with many stories of his experiences.

He was either a divorcee or his wife had left him years ago, I am forgetting. She had taken with her their only daughter, who was around same age as mine. I met his daughter just once. I don't think he met her that much either, nor did he talk much about her. He lived a bachelor's life, which meant womanizing for most parts, and from what my mom or sis would tell me later, he made no attempts to hide his lifestyle, which I now understand was full of depravity. He would freely talk with my parents about his sexual-or-otherwise escapades, and we would hear snatches of it sometimes. In those age and time, it must have been hard for a man that age to find a "girlfriend". I think he would hang around the hospital near our house, and try to find women whose husbands were in long term care. Most of his women were call girls too, my mom suspects, although he kept some facts blurry. He used to claim that he would befriend traveling mothers-on-vacation during train journeys, which would end up with him fingering them from under their petticoat. I remember my mom telling me this much later, and how they had discarded it as his bluffing back then, but he kept insisting these to be true. 'Madam you are very naive, you don't know that all kinds of women exist out there. Married women are the biggest culprits, and most easily accessible. Don't be fooled by their mangalsutras and red sindoor, they are no sati savitri. You just need to know how to work them'. But my mom was a true idealist, and still is. She always defends the woman, so she would ask him to stop BS'ing, and stick to true stories. But she would still hear him out quietly, so did my dad. Guess he was just a gifted story teller. At the time I thought his claims was impossible too. I was too idealistic myself. But as I grew older, I now think he wasn't lying.

All was not good with Chawla ji though. He was always strapped for money, and felt caged in in our small hometown sometimes. So once, when my mom trusted him to pick up about Rs. 7000 payment from another place, he took that money and ran away to Delhi. We learned of this a day later. Rs. 7000 was a big amount in early 80s. I was crushed! My parents took it in their stride though. They told themselves they should not have trusted an employee this much. Mom soon trained up the other assistant, and hired a couple more to do reporting, etc. But no one could stick other than the one assistant, and hence we saw many changes and rotations in her staff. Chawla returned after two or three years. He apologized honestly and openly, and returned the money to her. He assured them that if given another chance he would prove himself to be more sincere. To my disbelief, my mom hired him again, since she was convinced of his remorse. No she never trusted him or anyone with money again.

I liked him as a kid, even though he wasn't that kid friendly, compared to others. He didn't indulge in me like others did. He sometimes had a bad temper, which was directed at other lab assistants or at my nanny or at us. We did have some good moments. He once made the mistake of taking me to his brother's place. His brother owned a children's book store, so it was a paradise for me. He and his wife also treated us with excellent home made drinks and snacks. So, I would keep pestering him to take me again, but he would take me only once a year or so. Sometimes, he would tell us kids some big philosophical stuff, that I didn't understand then, but remembered enough to make sense of it later. Whatever he said or did, he was always always very interesting, and full of life. His loud laughters were infectious.

But I had lost respect for him after he had run away. He was not the same wise philosophical character for me anymore. By the time I was an adolescent, I grew less and less tolerant of him, and remember having two or three greats shouting matches with him, up until my sister or mom would intervene and ask me to cool down. I could not understand why my parents were so lenient towards him. But now as I am that age myself, I think I understand.

Things came to an end regarding his employment with my mom eventually. He had become more eccentric by the time he hit late 40s. He drifted on to some other employment that my mom helped him find, but would come frequently to meet parents and his older colleague. Since both my parents worked out of the house, we would get to meet him too. He was as cocky and full of wise cracks as ever. Regaling everyone with his stories. From what we understood he was now fully engrossed in the world of prostitutes, and HIV being so newly popular in India, my parents viewed him more suspiciously than ever.

Then one day he came with his 'new' wife. She was an ex-prostitute that he had visited for a few years, and had fallen in love. For me at that late teenage, this was shocking. I found the whole thing repulsive, and yet something straight out of movies. It seemed like he had finally reformed, and reformed her too. This was the one and only time, that I came face to face with a prostitute. She shook up my entire bollywood dreamy idea of super-beautiful tragic courtesans, because she was anything but that. She was a tiny frail middle-aged creature, with very crooked teeth. Compared to her, Chawla looked like a handsome prince. But now that I think back, she was all smiles when they came to visit us. So was he. She was trying to make a lot of eye contact with me, as if she had also known me through my childhood. I am sure she must have heard all about us from him. Her incessant smiling was the only thing that helped me keep the disgust out of my demeanor, even though inside I was looking down at both of them.

With time his visits lessened, and then he stopped coming altogether. I do know his second marriage survived. Have no idea about his daughter. Have no idea where he is now, or if he is still alive. But sometimes, all it takes is a broken bowl, and some words of wisdom from memory, that makes you sit back, and re-think about some person from past. Now that I think back, I know he was an atheist. But instead of lecturing me not to believe in negative superstitions, he encouraged me to make up some positive new ones, and stick to those. I think that's how he lived his whole life. In a country like India, where everyone was so bent on living to conformity, Chawla was one radical man I knew who never stuck to any social rule. I remember reading somewhere that it's always a good thing to have someone very radical in the bunch, coz it helps others to open up their views a bit and shape their thought process and personality, and this helps a generation evolve. For good or bad, for whatever my personality is, I am glad I knew someone like Chawla when growing up and its effects on me.


i enjoyed reading that. you wrote well, describing how a nearly insignificant accident in edison, new jersey stimulated childhood memories of an interesting man you had known in a distant village in northindia. also of much interest to me was the northindian way of life, including the ever-present prostitute. sad to say, there was no hijda in your account. the first time i had ever heard about hijdas was when i spent the first year of my professional life in baroda/vadodara, gujarat. that was also the first time i ever heard about prostitutes dancing to music for their clients.

on parts of your writing: "He didn't indulge in me like others did" is meaningless; what you should have written is, "He didn't indulge me like others did." and "His loud laughters were infectious" is incorrect because laughter is not countable; "his loud laughter was infectious" is right; so is "His loud laughs were infectious."

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Kris on Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:18 pm

Nice story.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:52 pm

thanks! Smile

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Captain Bhankas on Mon Apr 29, 2013 4:00 am

over the years, my attention span has dwindled to a 10th of what it was when i was a child. any multi-paragraph post here inspires me to attain a top speed of 9.3 kmph. however, your first paragraph made me finish the entire story. that was a very good narration.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Mon Apr 29, 2013 2:59 pm

Oh wow. This is big. Thanks cb!

Ps: you are the new cb now?

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by seven on Tue Apr 30, 2013 12:06 am

good narration.
story has some disturbing things like you learning about his sexual escapades and different types of women he encountered when you were still in school i'm guessing (?)

will you write about the broken cup/ mug next?

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Merlot Daruwala on Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:04 am

Very nicely written Ms Bagchi. The narrator's own growing up has come out beautifully, from the distaste back then to acceptance or even admiration today.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Merlot Daruwala on Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:16 am

Jeremiah Mburuburu wrote:sad to say, there was no hijda in your account. the first time i had ever heard about hijdas was when i spent the first year of my professional life in baroda/vadodara, gujarat.

Bwahaha Unkil, your notions about northindia continue to be comical. As it happens, most of the hijras in Mumbai are from Tamil Nadu. If only you had stepped out of your sheltered existence during all those years in Chennai, you would have seen this.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Captain Bhankas on Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:06 am

PK unkil never stepped out of madras christian college compounds until he turned 17 and then never left the IITM compounds until he turned 21. designing complex mathematical models for a chemical factory in baroda never allowed the unkil to leave the premises for nearly two years after that.

forgive him for his limited exposure of india.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Captain Bhankas on Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:22 am

@ VB - new cb? bole to?

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Merlot Daruwala on Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:31 am

Captain Bhankas wrote:PK unkil never stepped out of madras christian college compounds until he turned 17 and then never left the IITM compounds until he turned 21. designing complex mathematical models for a chemical factory in baroda never allowed the unkil to leave the premises for nearly two years after that.

forgive him for his limited exposure of india.

Haha..good analysis Captain. It certainly explains his bizarre opinions and worldview.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Apr 30, 2013 6:45 am

Captain Bhankas wrote:@ VB - new cb? bole to?


Old cb = Currel bell.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:02 am

Vidya Bagchi wrote:
Captain Bhankas wrote:@ VB - new cb? bole to?


Old cb = Currel bell.
currer bell

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:08 am

Lol. That was an honest typo caused by autocorrect.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:19 am

Merlot Daruwala wrote:Very nicely written Ms Bagchi. The narrator's own growing up has come out beautifully, from the distaste back then to acceptance or even admiration today.

Thanks! Yeah that's a big part of the story. Growing up changes the perspective of so many things.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Maria S on Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:55 am

Tracy,
You are a superb storyteller!

Let's do a quick mini-mini interview:

Do you enjoying telling stories in person or writing more?

In person..are you expressive and animated when you tell stories? Or subdued..and methodical like others?

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:09 am

Thanks M. In person, I am all over the place. I go in present, past, future, abstract, concrete w/o much warning. Only a trained listeners e.g. my BFFs can keep up. Otherwise, I have been told politely, rudely, subtly, that I am sleep inducing when I talk too much.

When it comes to story telling in person, I am a mere shadow to my siblings, aunts, and cousins. Tough to say which side this came from, coz I see an abundance of story tellers in both my mom and dad's side.

You should hear my sister telling stories. She is such a great impressionist. She could be talking about 5-10 different characters, and her stories are mostly dialogs, but within minutes of her anecdotes, you would not be confused whose dialog she is telling. In fact, I hear stories of her friends/relatives/anyone, without knowing them personally, but when I do get to meet them, the moment they begin talking, I know who they are w/o anyone giving me their names, lol. And then they don't understand why I am chuckling.

If my sister is an equivalent of a good writer, my brother is an equivalent of a good caricaturist and stand up comedian. He will spot the most peculiar characteristic of everyone, no matter who you are, and later make stories based on you. Once you have met him, you would think he isn't even visible, but within minutes after you leave, rest assured, we might most likely be laughing our hearts out to his impression on you. In fact, with him, you never know when a practical joke or an impression is coming. I have dozens of funny anecdotes with him.

The worst is when the two of them get together talking about ME. I am not spared at all. That's the reason why I don't tell them more than 50% of my business. Whatever they know is what they eye-witness, or if my kids snitch.

Overall, I have a very goofy family. If we sit down remembering past pranks/jokes/incidences going back to my grandparents generation, we can pass hours easily. My kids think I am the most boring person in my family. All I do is lol endlessly to their tales. The only two other boring peeps are my parents. It's all the others who are super fun/funny.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Maria S on Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:25 am

Appreciate the responses Tracy.

Ah..you seem to be carrying on with the family legacy well! Nice to know more about your family..seems like they are lively and a lot of fun!

All families are goofy- some more than others..yet to see any exceptions! Funny how we see our parents- is often the way our children see us:) I am sure children are observing and "listening"..and will continue with the storytelling traditions.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Nila on Tue Apr 30, 2013 1:07 pm

Nicely narrated how our thought process changes with age. This morning as usual I lighted the diya and recited the usual prayers and was disturbed to see the diya was off. I lighted it again, but was feeling creepy. Thank you. I feel much better now.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Guest on Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:18 am

I asked today why chawla left engineering school. Turns out he did it to go to indo-china war, as sudden feelings of patriotism had arose within him.

I was like, 'wasn't he such an interesting character?'. Mom was like, 'Ya, someone can write a book on him' (I laughed secretly). Then she said, 'In fact his experiences were so many that he can write a very interesting memoir himself''.

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Kinnera on Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:53 am

Vidya Bagchi wrote:I asked today why chawla left engineering school. Turns out he did it to go to indo-china war, as sudden feelings of patriotism had arose within him.

I was like, 'wasn't he such an interesting character?'. Mom was like, 'Ya, someone can write a book on him' (I laughed secretly). Then she said, 'In fact his experiences were so many that he can write a very interesting memoir himself''.

Vids, catch hold of him wherever he is and have him narrate his stories. He probably has grown up kids now.

Kinnera

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Re: the broken bowl

Post by Sponsored content Today at 12:23 pm


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