Din 181: This year means too many goodbyes.

I got up this morning to some unappetizing coffee and gave my sister a Skype sermon on doing what she loves and loving what she does. Then, I went outside with Dadi and photographed some flora. To see what I saw, click here.

I sent a few Gyaan Ghar administrative emails before the students started to arrive (they were dismissed early from school). Today's class had a lot of highlights, but the one that filled me with the most glee was  playing Certamen (in English) with the older students! Click here to read all about it.

After class (which went pretty late), I worked some more on the painting I started on Day 171, the blessed day when I met Sonal. I managed not to make as much of a mess today, and I think I'm almost done! I'll post a photograph tomorrow.

Thank you, God, for all you have given me, and good night, all.


P.S. Mama just made me a pinboard on Pinterest.com -- it's so wonderfully random! Click here to check it out.

Always invading their personal space . . .

Leucanthemum vulgare

Tropaeolum majus

Osteospermum barberiae

Senecio hybrida

Citrus limon

Lathyrus odoratus and Ratnus Gillus

Din 180: I know where the time goes.

I yanked myself out of bed at 7:06am (Ludhiana time) to call Priya at the exact time of her birth -- 8:36pm (EST). After talking to her for two hours and wishing her a happy birthnight, I lay my weary head down to rest. At some points during these next few hours, I got a massage and played a GRE vocabulary game on Dictionary.com (if only I had known what "quaff" means!).

I recovered from my daze and washed up in time for the arrival of Jaan Bhaiya, my soccer-playing, apple-cutting cousin.

In the afternoon, Jaan went out while I headed to Gyaan Ghar. I spent the academic period of class observing the teachers and making notes on feedback to give them at our meeting tomorrow. After class, I took the kids out and they taught me two more of their favorite games -- which I actually understood!!

Click here to read about our students' daily after-school routine in five succinct sentences and five verbose photographs.

After class, the three of us enjoyed a cup of tea and some memories before it was time for Jaan to take our leave and head back to Chandigarh.

I've been helping Dadi with paperwork and cleaning up some blogs of my own for the past hour or so . . . and I am SO ready for dinner. I also just realized that it's been exactly one month since I landed here in my motherland -- Jai Hind!

Just playing around . . .

Photographed by Ratna Gill at 60 New Lajpat Nagar.

I'm afraid of the dark.

I'm afraid of the dark words whispered by uncertain girls in middle school hallways.

I'm afraid of the dark shadows in minds where there should be bright open spaces.

I'm afraid of the dark cloud that comes over your face, where laughter has also been, usurping those rare and hauntingly tintinnabulous smiles.

I've started sleeping with the light on.

Din 179: How can words express the feel of sunlight in the morning?

Priya's birthday has treated me really well. I started the day with steam (to free my pores of the make-up from yesterday's photo shoot) and a warm shower. I then headed outside, where Dadi was tending to her prize-worthy sweet peas.

Next, I ambled into the park, where I spent the morning photographing the spectacular flora and talking to an old Uncle. He always buys a packet of cookies or a bag of fruit and brings it to the park, offering the snacks to anyone who stops and says "hello." We discussed his past and his family -- he wishes all families could be joint families because his children are educated and have moved away, leaving him alone. Talking to him made me think about how old people are just like children: Uncle was so pleased when I asked if I could take a photo of him, and called all his friends to jump in as well!

In a way, they reminded me of my Gyaan Ghar students, who always leap into the frame excited to be photographed. I guess some things never change. (Remember that when you're old, Priya!)

In the early afternoon, I started getting ready for a prayer ceremony Dadi had arranged at a nearby gurudwara in honor of Priya's birthday today, and Jaan's birthday on March 1st.

I was very happy to be in this serene environment, and especially happy to have the company of Sonal, who was praying by my side. After a short period of silent reflection, we took a break to run home (the temple is very close to our house) and give the birthday girl a good morning call!

She opened her material gift (a sweatshirt) in front of me and then I emailed her her "emotional" gift. This was a compilation of words from different Priya-philes (lovers of Priya) who had something to say about her on her birthday. I disguised the document as a report I wanted her to edit, and this was her reaction when she opened the file and saw what really lay inside (except there was screaming and laughing too):

Click here to download the document.

After bidding my baby bye-bye, Sonal and I returned to the gurudwara for the remainder of the ceremony. The priests honored the grandmother and sister of the birthday kids with a special pink scarf that I donned for the rest of the day and have now packed to give to Priya when I see her.

We walked home after the tea and snacks that Dadi had arranged for everyone at the temple, and Sonu dropped by for a while in the evening. I was happy that Sonal was able to meet one of my most interesting students.

Sonu looks thrilled!
She too noticed from interacting with Sonu that he is very intelligent, as well as very different. I told her a bit about his case, as well as some of the other students I've been working with one-on-one, and we both marveled at the amazing talents they have to share with the world -- if only they are allowed.

After some more Sonalese antics, she was off and I was left to start this post. Dadi and I just enjoyed a nice dinner with talk of Laura and pilgrimages. I've had a delightful day, and I hope every day of Priya's year will be just as blessed!

How can I like jewelry when plants exist?

<3 Best Birthday Blessings for Precious Princess Priya <3

Sooo, February 27th is my little (huge) sister's birthday. Aaaand I'm traveling in India while she's studying in America. (So basically, I'm a bad sister.)

I've prepared some surprises for her to open tomorrow (I am 10.5 hours ahead), and I really hope she likes them.

But I just wanted to take a second to let everyone know that PRIYA GILL IS TURNING 14!!!! (Click that hyperlink or the picture above for a special surprise.)

Din 178: Dancing it up till the sun goes down . . .

Today, my soul sister and I took photographs.

We primped and prepped.

Sometimes, we stood.

Other times, we kneeled.

Then, we sat.

We went among trees.

Our eyes opened and closed.

As the sun set, we collected our things.

 Afterward, we laughed and laughed.

Din 177: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I started today with a call to my dear sister. Priya is working on an essay about To Kill A Mockingbird right now, and when she shared with me the thesis and structure she has in mind for the piece, I flipped out. Her idea is so brilliant that it brought back the old rush of writing English compositions, and then Priya was a bit taken a back by how excited I got. Shameless English geek over here!

After telling Nanaji and Ruby Chachu about her plan for her essay, I got to work on a project of my own. It's for my princess's birthday, so I won't describe it, but I will reveal and write about it shortly (February 27th). Over breakfast, I played Dictionary.com's Word Dynamo game. Have I mentioned I like English?

For lunch, I went to the new and stunning Khanna residence. I got to see Nomita Auntie after quite a while, and also met the two newest additions to the family -- awesome Aakriti and adorable Avyaan!

(Avyaan wasn't in the mood for paparazzi.)

This has been an incredibly eventful and fortunate year for both of our families (knock on wood), so we ladies sure had a lot to discuss! Our conversation started from colleges and ended with the new house, with tons in between. We had a nice afternoon, and I look forward to seeing them again soon!

I returned home in time for the activities portion of class at Gyaan Ghar. Click here to read about the games we played today in the park. In my mind, however, I made more progress with a student after class today. You can read about my lesson with Sonu in more detail by clicking the link above, but I'd like to include my takeaways here as well:

I think Sonu's process is a perfect example of how rote memorization in Indian education is so, well, rote. For us in the US, "cramming" means studying non-stop the night before a test. Here, it means cramming information into your brain even if you don't understand it at all. Sonu just expected to memorize English questions and answers without noticing any patterns in the letters that made up the words -- this is normal to him, and truly shocking for little me, a product entirely of the American education system.

At the end of an hour and a half together, I was very pleased with our progress. A boy who couldn't recognize what he was even being asked when he walked in walked out knowing how to read and respond to 7 English questions. But of course, I will review this again with him tomorrow. And that's what's different about the work we are doing with our students. At his public school, the teacher would write each sentence once and tell him to copy it a number of times and bring it back to school the next day. I'll instead remind him of the patterns we discovered, so that he will be able to make similar connections when he is taking an assessment. And I'm not even an experienced teacher -- this is just the type of attention we are used to in America, and the type all these students would be getting if they had had the random fortune of being born into a different environment, as I have.

After class, Dadi and I went for a quick round of the park before dinner. Having eaten, we started a Ruby Chachu recommendation --  As Good As It Gets. I've now bid R. Chach good night and goodbye, as he leaves for Delhi tomorrow. Can't wait till he's back next week!

Why did I cut my hair?

Why did I cut my hair?  My hair used to be my favorite thing about my appearance. There's the quick and dirty answer: "I thought short hair would be easier to manage." (It's not.) My long hair was always a crutch. A beautiful one, at that. One quick hair flip and I could avoid an awkward conversation or cover up a clingy sweater. Those lovely strands of protein provided me a comfort zone, a place where I could hide.

Why did I deactivate my Facebook?  Facebook used to be my favorite way to express myself. Those precious surface-level conversations and passive aggressive inside jokes meant to be seen by everyone but the person to whom I sent them were my jam. The hours logged being pretty just to post pictures were some of my most enjoyable -- and rewarding, too, viz. OMG RATNAAA your gorgeoussssss<3 and the like.

Why did I take a gap year?  School used to be my favorite place to be. School is safe. Knowledge is God's most beautiful gift to mankind, and it's scary for me to have to get it anywhere but in school. But I kind of dared myself, just to see if I could. And the funny thing is, I win either way because whatever happens, I'm learning.

Truth is, sometimes I feel naked without my hair, lonely without my Facebook, and lost without an institution to call my own. But for me, this year is about learning to be all those things. So Emerson, I'm making my own path and leaving a trail -- even if it's a trail of hair.

Din 176: I need to learn to be where I am.

I woke after a good night's sleep to an assignment from Ruby Chachu -- memorize as many headlines as possible from The Times of India, as a retention exercise. I spent a few hours studying for this and still could only recite about 25 percent, I think. This is in part due to the fact that my brain could not retain any headline which related to sports or had a number in it (no surprise there). So this reduced my "bank" quite a bit.

After my quiz, Chachu explained a few of the articles to me and educated me on the art, economy, and social stratification of India. I then got a call from Sonal, the sister of my soul, who decided to start a blog today! We talked a bit about how to set one up, and behold -- click here to see her new web log and become a follower. Soon after this, it was time for lunch and class.

To read about the games taught to me by the students today, and how they laughed and made me happy, click here. After class, I compiled a list of our students and paired the names up with students of The Newton School based on age and gender, so that we can start preparing our letters for them, and vice versa!

Before dinner, I got started on some improvements to the Gyaan Ghar website, which I just finished up. I'm a sleepy zombie right now, so I better get some rest!


Quote of the day: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." -- Rabindranath Tagore

Din 175: It's difficult singing in unison with oneself.

After some below par beauty sleep last night, I awoke to thoughts of Rockstar. Dadi and I discussed the film again, still awestruck by its power and artfulness.

We then moved on to Gyaan Ghar talk, specifically involving expansion. We are thinking of moving out of current classrooms into a more spacious facility, and are considering hiring an additional teacher to further improve the student-to-teacher ratio.

After breakfast, I recorded the female track for a surprise musical project Paul De is currently working on. We'll see how it turns out!

I later enjoyed a full spa treatment at home -- massage coupled with steam in our home sauna. (Sitting in a three-feet-by-six-feet box of white alone with one's thoughts for half an hour is fun.)

Before I knew it, it was time for my open pores to head to class! I'm really happy with today's progress, since I got to present our new Sisters' Circle initiative to the school's lovely little ladies. (Click here for a summary of class.)

I was pleased with the girls' level of participation and insight, and can't wait to get some inspiring women to come address the group! Volunteers?

In the evening, I dropped by Sonal's house for some noodles and introductions. I got to meet her mom, dad, and little sister Saumya ("Donal"), who is Priya's age. I can't wait for the four of us to hang out! I also got to see Auntie's bridal studio, where I plan to avail myself of her makeup artist services soon. :)

After my sis showed me around the house and made me a delicious snack, I got to chat with Saumya a bit. The little sis complimented me on my English skills, my Hindi skills, and my acting skills (when I got down on one knee and begged her hysterically to take a photograph with me). This kid is quite a hoot. However, her Didi poses for pictures far more readily than she.

I'm back home now and eagerly awaiting the arrival of "R. Chach" at home. Let's hope I sleep better tonight!

One day, waiting to be made.

I stayed up late tonight, searching for the meaning of life.

I looked online. I read poetry, plot summaries, a message or two.

My phone didn't have the answer.

I even looked out the window!

I didn't find it. Perhaps I'll look again tomorrow.

Din 174: Are my senses becoming greedy?

I woke to a delightful email from Varlet #0 (PSang) today -- he loves Harvard! He has been visiting colleges this weekend and I am so pleased to know that he likes my school. Hopefully we will end up there together . . .

I was psyched to spend today with Sonal and thus a bit thrown off when Ruby Chachu's alleged "Pedicure Prodigy" walked in -- apparently I had some sort of appointment this morning. So my soul sis watched me wince as some dude fixed my feet. A fantastic experience for us both, to be sure.

Gosh, what gorgeous glasses she has . . .

When my peds were perfect, we popped the film Rockstar into the DVD player. Oh my goodness, drop whatever you are doing and watch this movie right now -- but only if you are willing to bawl for the next four days straight. If I could be any more enamored of Ranbir Kapoor than I already was, this film did it for me. His acting defies description. The movie's editing is genius. And the plot is to die for. Dadi likened the story to Heer Ranjha, a classical Punjabi tragedy. I just wept. Sonal was amused ("Tu toh paagal ho gayi hai iss film par!" -- "This film has made you crazy!") and very happy that I loooved it.

In the afternoon, I introduced "Sonal Didi" to my Gyaan Ghar students before she had to go (but not without another photo shoot!).

The silly geese in grey.

Click here to read about today's class, full of mispronunciations of "goose" and giggles galore.

After our running around, I was just a little bit wiped out. I put all my technology (well, most) away for a few minutes and shut my eyes, before calling up Nanaji and Nani and having nice chats with them both. I then hand-laundered some clothes, and Dadi and I just finished Skyping with Mama over dinner, and I'm now waiting to talk to the aforementioned Varlet.

I also got the great news today that Nora Okoth will be interning at Sasha Bruce for her senior project. Since SBY is probably my favorite organization in the world, I couldn't be more thrilled! She will be able to give them so much, and learn even more -- I'm so happy for her.

And so I sign off, content and still in awe of Ranbir Kapoor, the Rockstar.


Quote of the day:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.

I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”

-- Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

Din 173: I love you unanimously.

I woke up late this morning and readied myself for a brunch meeting of the Park Club Society, of which Dadi is the president. The meeting itself was basically a kitty party, where, after the usual pleasantries ("You don't speak Punjabi, right?" "You only eat bland food, right?" "What, you're not in school?"), the ladies were startled by a new version of Bingo presented by one woman ("This is puzzling. Can we play something simpler?").

I soon grew tired and headed back inside to call Nani and rest. In the early afternoon, Kiran Auntie came over to take me out shopping. We went to West End Mall and I found some nice Indian attire there. She told me about her son Pranap, who is into extreme car racing (I forget the actual name for it) and currently competing in a competition where he has to drive through sand dunes in the desert at night. And my mom gets worried about me when I cross the street!

I returned home to my children. To read about today's class, click here.

I had to give the kids a bit of a lecture today about being respectful as I was presenting directions, which, embarrassingly enough, one of the students caught on camera (I had asked him to click some photos). I now have a very nice video on my computer of what I'm like when I am slightly irked and pontificating in choppy Hindi! :)

After class, I did something I had not done before during this trip to Ludhiana -- took a nap. After the much-needed rest, I called Nanaji and Ruby Chachu before Dadi and I set out for dinner at Nita Bhua's house.

We had a very nice evening! I particularly enjoyed receiving a tour of their house, which has just been completely remodeled. We also discussed plans to clean up an alley near our neighborhood that tends to be littered with household solid waste. The best strategy we concocted tonight was to line the walls of the area with images of religious figures. "Negligence will turn to piety," is basically what Bhua said about the plan. Let's see how it goes!

I'm now back home, pooped, and starting to feel the buzz of an impending headache -- it's time to sign off!