Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope during the COVID pandemic.
Our Blog today is called ‘Soul Curry’, and features short stories from our South Asian community, written in their own voices.
The power of stories come when people extend themselves and perform an act of love, service or courage for family, friends and even strangers. They create an image in our minds, touch our hearts and souls and evoke our emotions: laughter, tears and inspiration.
We feature nine ‘Soul Curry’ stories that we hope will create heartwarming experiences for you!
Mehendi by Lakshmi Rajaram
‘Mehendi laga do didi’ ; ‘Mujhe Mehendi bahut pasand hai’ she expressed excitedly! Padma’s voice resonates in my bones even today! She was then, an 8 year old, cheerful, vivacious bubbly personality who just happened to be BLIND!
I wasn’t much older, as a 10 year old, it was my first time visiting the School for Blind Girls on behalf of the local Rotary club. 2 hour scheduled visit lasted upwards of 6 hours as I stood riveted listening to their stories, touched by their souls. Even writing this gives me goosebumps, because after that single momentous day, I returned home profoundly changed!
Sadly the girls at the blind school were orphans, abandoned by their parents for (1) being born a girl child and (2) for being born blind – neither of which is of their choosing, neither of which they deserved.
Yet, in my frequent visits there, all I received was boundless love, lessons in hope, fueling my passions and aligning my purpose.
The girls recognized me by touch, not just the contours of my body but the essence of my soul. They could sense the difference between Sympathy (towards them), and Empathy, and they always gravitated towards the latter.
I visited the school a dozen times (over the course of 3 years) so they recognized me right away and each time we would spend hours together pursuing their passions, partaking in their desires and being witness to their hopes and dreams.
It was on one such afternoon where they wished me to apply Mehendi/Henna to their palms. I was quite struck by this request…foolishly assuming that they couldn’t appreciate the patterns or the bright colors of the wet Mehendi! Was I ever so wrong, as I learned another great lesson that day.
The girls traced the pattern (exactly in their minds) as the coolness of a fine tipped cone of mehendi touched their palms. Their heightened sense of touch gave them acute insight into the designs the wet mehendi created on their hands. And, their keen sense of smell could easily tell the difference between a freshly prepared cone vs. a store bought cone. They were also easily able to sense my energy, and if I was tired after a long day, they would ask me to come back the next day to finish applying Mehendi for the other girls.
Time spent with Padma and others, was invaluable and taught me so much. They were every bit bright and beautiful, energetic and talented, and in many ways much more so than others. They understood what they lacked but more than made up for it via their heightened senses and passions (to their advantage). Padma taught me critical life lessons, that no school or book would. She and the girls sparked the altruistic gene within me. Time spent in their company left so many indelible imprints, the biggest one being – that just having eyes doesn’t mean you can SEE.
Survival From Long Term Impact Of Bullying by Sumi Mukherjee
This is a story of my battle and survival from a devastating mental illness triggered by bullying. This is based on my first book titled, “A LIFE INTERRUPTED: THE STORY OF MY BATTLE WITH BULLYING AND OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER”, which demonstrates a definitive connection between prolonged childhood bullying, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the development of one of the more taboo forms of OCD later in life. Moreover, my most crippling OCD symptoms would consist of mentally picturing images of bullies who had tormented me in the past. These images would soon become further attached with an unspeakable irrational fear… that they would force me to hurt or kill my loved ones if the images were not ‘neutralized.’ If you find these concepts difficult to understand at a first glance, you cannot imagine how perplexing they appeared to me as a terrified teen and young man.
The onset of my OCD occurred in May 1992 at the age of 16. For the first five years of my mental illness, my single greatest struggle and obstacle became simply telling someone what was going on. Instead, I lived a secret life hiding in the shadows being afraid that I was losing my mind. My frightening condition kept me isolated from others and unable to pursue the normal drives of a healthy young man. Friendships were far and few in between, while dating remained out of the question. Before long, merely managing to function through an average day became the greatest challenge of all.
The first success that I can speak about finally came at the age of 21 in 1997, following the loss of my job at a hotel due to my incapacitating symptoms. At last I came out to my family about what was going on, and they were able to get me the therapy and medication that I needed to defeat OCD. But learning about the complex nature of OCD would be a process that would take me several more years to complete. First came a phase of tremendous relief at the realization that I wasn’t going crazy after all, and that I would not have to be institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital! Then second, came a major bout of depression and self pity over the fact that I had been diagnosed with this form of OCD. At last, I was able to change my pessimistic perspective, willingly engage in cognitive behavioral therapy and begin to make significant progress with my illness.
During this time period, I was also able to look up and confront my very worst bully from childhood. This most fascinating, revealing encounter helped me to finally deal with the bullying and with the PTSD from my past. Eventually, I was able to derive a lasting positive impact after spending only 16 days in Rogers inpatient treatment facility – a positive impact that has lasted throughout the past several years of my life. I attribute my lasting success to a specific change in my medication regimen made at the facility, as well as their tough approach to ERP (Exposure Ritual Prevention) which I took to heart upon leaving that place. Though my success did not come until several months after I had left Rogers, the change in my meds and the knowledge I had gained would slowly show their purpose over time.
Today, I am thrilled to report that I have finally regained control over my once ever so incapacitating mental illness! Though my ordeal has now reached this much better point, there are millions of other people out there who continue to struggle hard with OCD or other mental illness on a daily basis. I am here to tell those fellow sufferers that this does not have to be their long-term fate. Just as I took back control of my life, they too are capable of freeing themselves from the powerful clutches of this hideous disease or other serious mental health disorders.
One Small Step Can Make A Hundred Dreams Come True by Santosh Jhanjee
My Grandmother is sitting in the courtyard of our house. I am sitting in the lap of my grandmother caressing her gray hair. Every day I used to listen to things she used to hum….
जब लगि तोरी देह है
देह देह कछु देह
देह खेह हो जायेगी
तब कौन कहेगा देह?
Her words meant that as long as you have a body, help the needy.
Who will come to seek your help when the body is no more?
Grandma’s words started stirring in my mind, when I saw a 10 year old young boy. I saw the desire to learn in his eyes.
It was about 1974 in Delhi when I was working as a teacher in a higher secondary school.
A new water woman was appointed in the school. Her 10-year-old son used to come with her sometimes.
Whenever I used to see him, I saw a unique glow in his eyes, a yearning for learning something that was visible on his face.
My heart told me this kid would do something if he got the chance.
Grandma’s talk started resonating in my mind
देह देह कछु देह….
Then what, I took a step forward and got him admitted to our very school where I worked.
My school was co-educational. I took care of his books, education, uniform – and the young lad also did not look back! He made his own and my dreams come true.
Today that young boy is a well known reputed doctor.
My one small step changed the life of a small child, and made his dreams come true!
Translated from Hindi by Sayali Amarapurkar
Thanksgiving Story by Vatsala Menon
The onset of cold dark evenings and uncertain weather conditions signifies the beginning of a very busy holiday season for most American families. Families far and near make plans to visit relatives, despite soaring airline prices, the hassle of unpredictable weather, and the awkwardness and uneasiness of large family gatherings. Having lived and raised my family here for the last 40 years, I understand the quandary. But large gatherings and unanticipated additions to the thanksgiving dinner do not unnerve my senses. For the first 20 years of my life, large family get-togethers with unexpected guests were considered the norm. Today, while I shop and prep large quantities of food before the imminent Thanksgiving holidays, I have no stress- only joy and excitement to host and provide for the family.
But through the excitement of shopping, planning, and prepping several meals, in addition to organizing sleeping arrangements, an unexplained nagging sensation has begun to settle somewhere deep within my consciousness. I’m not able to pinpoint the reason for this perplexing feeling of incompleteness. I’ve tried to be rational and write it off as the dark evenings and the impending long winter. I do what I can for the families in need. Very often, I cook meals for the shelters, and sometimes I just send money to provide meals. But the haunting image and a mild disquiet persists.
Many years ago, during one of my visits to India, I had the opportunity of visiting The Ivor Madom Temple situated in Pampady, a nondescript village, on the southern banks of the Bharathappuzha, the second longest river of Kerala. The temple, enshrined with an aura of holiness is situated 100 feet above sea level. Massive stone pillars and moss-covered pathways with shelters for many deities surround the main temple premises. The constant rhythm of the river adds to the mystical sensation of the place. People of all walks come there to do rituals for offering peace to the dead.
My sisters and I were there for the same reason. After the early morning rituals for my only brother, who had an untimely death, we were all walking down the untrodden and precarious hillside, content and happy that all the rituals were performed to our satisfaction. Close to the temple stood a two-story building beside a modest church. As we passed by, we were stopped by a priest. He asked us if we would like to visit the orphanage and he pointed to the two-story building. That’s when I looked up and saw, gazing out of the window, many dark faces of children. Their white toothy smiles, with skinny long arms, waving anxiously. Guided by the priest, we went inside to see the home of orphaned boys. The young boys from 2 to 14 were eager to show us their sleeping quarters and art work. The priest explained that charity kept his kids fed and clothed. The rooms looked clean but sparse and well-maintained. When it was time to say goodbye the little ones clung to us, and to this day, that memory has haunted and followed me around.
We continue to send money whenever we can. My sister in India provides full meals and tells me stories of how happy they are to see her. After so many years, the image of the window in that serene hillside village has never left me. I have given it a lot of thought and have no real answers for these predicaments. Our magnanimity and service does help, but that just clears our guilt and makes us feel good. There is so much more to these troubling questions. I’m sure there are similar homes around the world. I’d like to believe that many goodhearted folks help and provide for them.
But for me the knot in my stomach and the haunting image of the boys from the window, will be a constant reminder that we should be so thankful for what we have, and be willing to share the wealth. I try not to strip off these images from my mind, instead consider it a blessing to be reminded of another kind of life. Every Thanksgiving, and other joyous holidays, I pray that those boys have grown up and crafted a home for themselves, something they never had.
Guardian Angel by Annonymous
It was December 2006, just before Christmas. I went to Charles Schwab to meet our financial advisor, Mark Slocum. Since Christmas was coming up soon, I asked him how his family was planning to celebrate Christmas. Mark said that they probably would not be celebrating Christmas, since his Mother-in-law was sick with cancer. When I heard that, I expressed my sympathies and wished his MIL all the best.
As I was heading back to my car, a thought popped up – “Why don’t you give the ‘Guardian Angel’ pin to Mark’s MIL?” I always carry a Guardian Angel pin with me in my handbag for sentimental value. I decided to walk back to Mark’s office. Luckily he was not busy. I walked over and handed him the Guardian Angel and asked him if he could give it to his MIL.
After that, I completely forgot about the incident and carried on with my life. A month later, I received a card in the mail. I was completely taken aback to see that it was from Mark. This is what he wrote –
Return Of Confidence by Ravin Bhandari
It was India’s Republic Day Celebration in San Antonio. After the flag hoisting ceremony, we started enjoying the cultural performances by local children and adults. Some of the performances were really good, particularly a song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo” sung extremely well by a teenage boy, and the song got a lot of attention from the audience. The cultural program went on.
After 3 or 4 more items another teenage girl entered the stage to present a song. Guess what, she was going to sing the same song too! She appeared very nervous as she thought that her performance would be directly compared with the previous singer. She started singing. Though her singing was fairly good, her expressions showed lack of confidence which were subsiding the total effect of the performance. My wife Amita and I were sitting in the second row and we noticed the problem. We decided that we should send her some encouraging signals. The singing went on. After about two minutes into the song we could make eye contact with the performer, We did not waste even a fraction of a second and gave her a “Thumbs Up” signal. She saw us – she saw our signals. There was a sudden change. Her eyes brightened up with a shiny smile and there was happiness on her face. The performer had got our message that she is performing well and her confidence returned. She completed the rest of the song as if she had sung it the best ever. Song ended with a loud appreciation from the audience.
Usually Thumbs signs are received by the performers from their teachers, parents or known people not from strangers. We did not know the performer nor did she know us. Encouraging a talent to regain her confidence was a very rewarding experience to both of us.
In our everyday life people get many occasions to pass on emotions of love, hope, faith, encouragement, morale boosting etc to others. One must really grab such opportunities to pass on some good feelings to make someone’s day special.
Kindness Of Strangers by Preeti Mathur
When my brother and I were little, we would accompany our parents on occasional Sunday evenings to visit their friends’ homes. While they chatted and visited, we would keep ourselves amused with made-up games. In one of those homes, the uncle, an executive with Air India, had a large glass “showcase,”– an etagere filled with souvenirs from his travels worldwide. I remember sitting glued to it, fascinated, with the two of us trying to outguess each other on the origins of each memento.
I like to think that is perhaps where my passion for travel began. That, and the bedtime stories my father would tell us. Often, he would read the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor or Hatim al-Tai from books in his library. Many nights he would also make up stories from his imagination—about a gamekeeper’s family who lived in a tree house in Salisbury, South Africa, and whose children went on adventures around the world with pixies and fairies.
After getting married, I found my husband, Anoop, fortunately shared my love of travel. As a family and later by ourselves, we have traveled extensively in our 44 years together. He is an ace planner, meticulously researching things to see and do, and the most efficient and cost-effective ways to travel. We also share similar ideas regarding travel outcomes, places to visit, and where to stay. Rather than check off a list of things to see and do, we both love to spend time interacting with locals, which is why we always prefer staying in B&Bs or smaller hotels rather than large, high-end chains.
Travel has opened many doors for us and taught us in ways no textbook can. It has helped us connect with people and cultures vastly different from ours. Yet, with each trip, we have come back, realizing that despite all the differences, we are all the same—human beings with similar wants and needs and the same capacity to give to others, even if they are strangers.
The kindness of strangers on our trips, even when things were not going well, has reinforced our faith in humanity. It has made us intrepid travelers—ready to explore and try anything (within reason, of course!). I could share several stories and experiences of how fellow travelers or locals helped us, but this one of how a stranger went out of his way to help us tops them all.This trip was back in the early 1990s, before we had the Internet, GPS, or mobile phones. I had joined Anoop in Brussels at the end of a work-related course he was attending. After exploring the city, we rented a car to drive to the medieval town of Brugges via Waterloo. As we left the car rental place, we found ourselves stuck on the Centrum—the city’s center. Round and round we went looking for the exit that would take us out of Brussels. Finally, in exasperation, Anoop took the nearest way out, and we found ourselves on a narrow street in front of a cafe. Since I know a little Fench, I hopped out to ask for directions. A man eating his breakfast began giving them to me in rapid French, which was way beyond what I had learned in college. Finally, when he realized he was not getting through, or perhaps seeing the desperation on my face, he left his breakfast and came out. He gestured to me to hop at the back and then seated himself in the passenger seat. Following his hand gestures, we drove more than a mile out before he made us stop and pointed to the correct exit. He then hopped out of the car, waving away our money offer. Repeatedly saying Bon Voyage, he turned and walked away. We were unsure how he made it back to his breakfast which must have become stone cold.
But his kindness, sans any expectations towards people he would never meet again, left much warmth in our hearts that we still remember today.
मैं और मेरी आजादी की चादर! by Santosh Jhanjee
आज नई पीढ़ी जिस आजादी की चादर ओढ़ कर चैन और शांति की नींद सो रही है, जब कभी उसकी तहे एक-एक कर खुलने लगती है, तब अनायास ही मेरे चेहरे पर मुस्कान, गर्व और आंखों में आंसू और उदासी छा जाती है. इस चादर की एक एक परत में आंसू भी है और मुस्कुराहट भी.
बात १९४६ -४७ की है. मैं १०-१२ साल की थी. देश में “अंग्रेजों भारत छोड़ो” का आंदोलन जोरों पर था. गली-गली नारे लगाते, जोश से भरे भारतीय जुलूस निकालते. सुबह सवेरे देशभक्ति के गीत गाते, प्रभात फेरी निकलती. जोशीले नौजवानों पर लाठियां बरसती, गोलियां चलती, फांसी को दुल्हन मान उस पर देश भक्त हंसते-हंसते लटक जाते!
देशभक्ति के इस जोश को देखकर हम बच्चों के मन में भी देश प्रेम हिलोरे मारने लगा. पड़ोस के और घर के सब बच्चों ने मिलकर तय किया कि हम भी जुलूस निकालेंगे. हम सब ने मिलकर पेपर से छोटे-छोटे झंडे बनाए और उन्हें लेकर गली में नारे लगाते हुए दोपहर में जब सब सो जाते हैं हम निकल पड़ते. हमारे नारे कुछ इस तरह होते थे: मेरा भाई इस टोली का लीडर था,
भाई नारा लगाता : नौजवानों!
हम कहते: हां जी !
भाई नारा लगाता: काम करोगे?
हम कहते: क्या जी?
भाई नारा लगाता: जेल चलोगे?
बच्चे कहते: हां जी.
भाई नारा लगाता: चीज मिलेगी!
बच्चे कहते: क्या जी?
भाई नारा लगाता: आजादी
हम सब बच्चे कहते: आजादी.. आजादी.. आजादी.. कहकर जोर-जोर से हंसते!
हमारा शोरगुल सुनकर बड़े-बड़े मूछों वाले अंग्रेज गार्ड आ जाते. उनके हाथों में लंबी बंदूक और पैरों में लंबे जूते होते, जिन्हें देखकर हम ना दाएं देखते ना बाए, और जो घर सामने दिखाई देता, डरकर उसी में छिप जाते. हमारा रोज का यह काम था. उन दिनों की इस घटना को याद कर आज भी होठों पर हंसी और आंखों में आंसू आ जाते हैं.
उन दिनों कर्फ्यू लगता था. बाहर निकलना मना था और उस समय घरों में फ्रिज तो होते नहीं थे. कर्फ्यू लगने वाला है तो महीने भर का सामान लाकर रखते. मेरी बहन बहुत छोटी, लगभग १ साल की थी और रात को दूध के लिए रोने लगी. घर में दूध नहीं था. मेरी मां ने उसे चुप कराने की बहुत कोशिश की पर वो रोती ही रही. फिर माँ ने आटा पानी में घोलकर और छानकर बोतल में भर कर उसे दिया. वह रोते-रोते इतना थक चुकी थी कि उसे ही पीकर सो गई. इस आजादी की चादर में हम बच्चों की खिलखिलाहट है और आंसू भी! इसे संभाल कर रखिएगा और याद भी करते रहिएगा !
Determination Cuts The Shackles Of Dilemma by Santosh Jhanjee
Sometimes an incident happens in our life that changes the direction /course of our life. Something said by someone makes such a deep impact on us that we make the impossible possible. One such incident changed the course of my life.
I was probably twelve years old then, used to study in 6th grade.
Till then I used to speak in a lisp. People used to understand my words only partially/half-heartedly. Even in appearance I was the least beautiful in the family.That’s why feelings of inferiority had settled deep in my mind.
I was shy to meet people, or to talk to them.
I used to hide if someone came to the house.
Once my maternal uncle came home and sat for four hours and hiding from him I sat under the cot for four hours!
But the incident I want to tell you happened right after this :
My elder sister was very dominant in the family and we were all afraid of her. That day she was scolding me on some issue and I kept on replying back to her, and arguing with her. That’s when my sister’s friend, whose name was Pushpa, came there. Seeing me answering and arguing with my elder sister, she said, “Don’t you have any shame, you are talking back to your elder sister? First become something, become like them, then think of arguing with them”.
Just then, “First become something..,” that single sentence changed my life! This sentence haunted me day and night. It wreaked havoc in my mind. I made up my mind that now I have to become something. I practiced speaking in front of the mirror for hours every day.
And slowly my lisp started reducing and I started speaking properly. I told myself everyday that “I can do something!”
I put my soul into studying and moving forward.
And today when I speak, people say that they forget to even blink.
Don’t take someone’s words negatively, take them positively, and your life will change.
Translated from Hindi by Sayali Amarapurkar
AshaUSA hopes you enjoyed our first “Soul Curry” blog, featuring these personal stories written from the heart, and generously shared by members of our South Asian community. We hope to publish more editions of “Soul Curry”, so we encourage you to send your stories (800 words or less with a photo) of love, laughter and inspiration to ‘email@example.com’.
Our goal is to start a dialogue with the stories we present here. We hope you will post a comment at the bottom of this blog. By entering your email at the ‘follow’ prompt at the end of the page, you will be notified when a new story is published.
AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘ashausa.org’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.
Amazing stories Each one is better ghan the other, message that has touched my heart from each story being positive helps you rise, to Seva, being Good Samaritan, lending help, encouraging others has touched me deeply and thank each story teller for giving strong message s. Special thanks to Ruby for creating these stories that touches our heart and be of help in this world , show gratitude become a guardian angel!
Thank you for inspiring me.
We compliment. You for the effort to put wonderful & inspiring stories. The topics are interesting & educational.
Great stories. Thanks for all the hard work you put in. We appreciate it. 🙏🙏🙏
It was great pleasure to read all these soul curry stories. The very first story “mehndi “ by Laxmi Rajan was such an eye opener. And inspirational.Suni Mukherjee’s honest account of his struggle with mental illness deserves the special thanks to him. It takes courage to come forward and embrace yourself with grace.
Both stories by Santos’s Jhanjee was intriguing and heartwarming.
Thanksgiving by Vatsala Menon was also excellent. Educational aspect of Ivor Madom temple and her own soul searching was very appealing.
Guardian Angel by enonumous was such a small simple act of kindness can make so much impact teaches how one tiny step can become huge comfort for anther human being.
Ravin Bhandari had that insight of human nature. Only small gesture of thumps up boost confidence in stranger. Preeti Mathur’s account of her love for travel and her experiences with strangers being so helpful focuses her positive attitude and to have that ability to appreciate smallest goodness in human race. In this fast paced mechanical technical ly savvy world these stories are like breeze of fresh air. It warms your heart and confirms your faith in all that is positive, good and courteous.
Thank you Ruby for this brilliant collection.everyone needs to read it and recharge your battery for next day.
Beautiful stories! Enjoyed reading them all. Thanks for posting and sharing.
looking forward to more stories!!!
Amazing and very inspiring stories written beautifully by all of you . Truly appreciate all the time and effort by you all 🙏
Thank you for sharing
Each and every story is so well written, and brings out the message and essence of what the writer is saying so well. They are very inspiring for all generations.
Many thanks to Ruby for bringing these soul full stories and life lessons to all of us.
Beautiful and inspiring stories! Thanks for sharing.