For the past few years, I have had the good fortune of traveling the world. During my journey, I discovered that I like babysitting and am good at it. Like any skill, I started out as a novice and today I can manage children for a few hours. Each child I meet teaches me a unique lesson and I felt I should write about a few such occasions.
NYC: Ram is my friend’s son born a few years ago. He is adorable but is also a handful, it takes three adults to manage him when we go outside. Every time, we meet, he has taught me to be curious and positively engage with my surroundings. When his parents first let me play with him, I discovered that I liked spending time with kids and this changed my perspective of the babies.
Airplane to Cape Town: My first adventure starts a few years ago with a child named Noah. I was visiting South Africa and I happened to be on a plane from Munich to Cape Town. A young German couple sat near me and the mother placed her cute blonde baby next to me. He stared intensely at me with green eyes and shook his head to say hello. As the plane took off, we tried to get him to watch a movie but he was too young for it and kept fidgeting around. As we reached the cruising altitude, the air conditioners were turned on and it got chilly so he felt sleepy. Noah’s mother covered him with a blanket and he started to fall asleep on the seat.
As he slept, I turned my gaze to my screen and started watching a movie but I forgot to cover myself with a blanket. Noah noticed this and started pushing his blanket towards me. His little hands couldn’t move them past a few inches but he got up and pushed with both. Although he couldn’t speak, he was communicating that I should keep warm. This gesture moved me and warmed my heart, I covered myself with my blanket and he went to sleep. I continued watching the movie but my heart was with Noah. Over the course of the night, his pacifier would keep dropping off and I would subtly put it back in his mouth. We reached Cape Town and I bid farewell to Noah but I knew I would remember his gesture of compassion for a very long time.
Ivuka Art Gallery, Rwanda: Last summer, I stayed in an art gallery in Rwanda and which has traditional African dance sessions every weekend. One such session, I was drawn to the music and I went to watch. I was the only foreigner there and I was feeling self-conscious. Although I was myself, It felt like I was wearing a vibrant dinosaur costume magnifying my every action and drawing attention to me. However, I wanted to observe as it was my rare chance of observing the traditional African dance in person. The dance involved a group of ten people dancing in unison to the rhythmic drum beats.
Me babysitting kids who while their mom’s danced, teaching me that being different shouldn’t stop me from helping others.
I sat on the steps in the corner looking at young people dance to the music. A couple of women happened to be young mothers and they had their baby with them. They placed the kids on the steps, hugged the kids and gently told them to sit in the place. As the mothers started to dance, the children would run up to them and the drums would abruptly stop. After a couple of these scenes, I instinctively caught a kid and made him sit on my lap. He seemed to like the attention and seeing him, another child came and sat next to me. Before I long, I was cuddling two babies on my lap and we were moving with the beats while we watched their moms dance. They taught me that being different shouldn’t stop me from lending a hand if I could.
Walking to office: Since I hung out with kids a lot (read post), they would joyfully greet me when I passed them. Every morning, as I went to work they would come screaming “Vikram”/”Vikramu” even though it’s a hard name for locals. I would give hugs, lift children and cuddle as part of my morning routine. This was so common that the children’s parents would alert them when I walked by their house so the children would come running to me. This magical event had become an ordinary routine for me but it always left me feeling warm in my heart.
The little boy who spoke my name, giving me a sense of belonging to Rwanda.
One day, as I finished hugging the kids and walked toward campus. I saw a toddler(his name is Ivan) standing in front of his house and looking at me. He pointed his little finger to me saying “Viklam” and squealed. He repeated it that a couple of times and his joy grew with every time. I slowly walked from this scene feeling very grateful for it seemed that I had witnessed a miracle. It’s always joyful when any baby speaks your name but since it happened in a place I was new to, it gave me a new sense of belonging.
More Fantastic babies for another day (or on request):
Aoi, the first kid to speak my name.
Hyperactive 6 years old at a restaurant in Macau who taught me that language isn’t a barrier.
Naughty little 3-year-old running around on a flight to NYC
Two 4 year olds at SV Temple Pittsburgh who teach me patience 😛
Although I am very awkward around most people, I have been blessed with enjoying many children’s company from around the world. I am grateful that these fantastic babies have magically found me during my meandering journey around the world. These children made me happy while I played with them, they also helped me reflect on how similar we are in spite of our differences.
Muzungu in Kinyarwanda means Foreigner. I’ve been living in Rwanda for 2 months now and have been called “muzungu” while I passed the streets, by shopkeepers and moto(moped taxi). Although the word means foreigner, a group of children have made me realize that a word can have different meanings.
I stay at Ivuka arts center for my stay in Rwanda. Ivuka is a vibrant Rwandan art gallery and it houses artists who paint and entertain guests all day. The artists take time twice a week to teach dancing and sketching to local children. I happened to be present on one such occasion and had a chance to interact with the children and they first called me “muzungu”. The local kids play near the art gallery so I would bump into them occasionally, as I passed the locality.
I know very little Kinyarwanda and the kids are learning English, so, I was able to make out Muzungu in my initial days. I noticed that the word expressed a lot more meaning based on context. An analogy would be a rainbow, each meaning seemed to exhibit different shades of colors representing each an underlying emotion.
Mooosunguuu’s: An excited howl. This was a howl to announce that I was here and was one of the loudest among the lot. One of the kids would shriek to call their peers to come and play with me. The others playing around would come running to me and would occasionally receive a hug.
Mochungu: A naughty shriek. This was a shriek almost like a call for help, the call would be made by a kid running towards me with a bigger kid after him. The shriek had an aura of naughtiness hidden inside hinting that the little kid had been mischievous and needed my protection.
Mosungoo: A pleading squeal. Occasionally, I carry the little kids, since I carry one at a time, the other kids feel left out so they signal me to carry them. The call me and usually pull my shirt to indicate that they want to be carried so they call me and squeal with a little bit of restlessness to convey that it’s their turn.
Moosun-guuuuu: A joyous shout. When I carry the kids, I shake them around a bit if I sense they are getting bored and they yell and it’s followed by tinkles of laughter. This is prominent when one of the kids is getting a piggyback ride. I wobble or jump and I hear this call with excitement.
Moo—sung—uuu: A gloomy gasp. Not all calls are positive, occasionally the kids fight and one of them ends up getting hurt. I try to pacify them by carrying them on my shoulder and patting them. The kid in tears usually tells my name and tells me that one of the kids hit him/her. The tone is quite soft and followed by a lot of sniffs.
Mosungu: A selfish request. The kids have a habit of pleading for my phone and occasionally I give it to them. I have noticed that even when I do, they don’t share it with everyone. A few kids want the phone to themselves and they call me with a sour expression. When I come closer, they plead Musungu phone and point at it.
Moosun-gu: A nervous warning. As I carry the kids or play with them, I focus on keeping the kid safe and have a tendency to be clumsy and messy with myself. The kids call me out of concern suggesting that I avoid the wall or be wary of the dust on the floor. I like the fact that they want me to be safe and look good all the time.
These color of the rainbow describe few of my experiences with the children at Ivuka, There silver lining at the end of this journey, the kids call me Vikram now (with similar variations and more). They see me walking on the streets and yell my name and sometimes come running to me which lights up my day. I will cherish the memories of the times they called me Muzungu. Although the word means foreigner, these children taught me that foreigner need not be foreign.
A few months ago, I read Mrs. Sudha Murty’s book “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven“. As most of my friends know, I am a little crazy about her. I read her books and listen to her speeches with rapt attention to digest as much information as possible. She is my master Yoda of a sort, one story “Acid” caught my attention because it talks about a young girl whose face is disfigured by an acid attack by a former love interest. Thanks to my increased enthusiasm, I could see the event unfold before me in slow motion. I could place myself in the shoes of both the characters in the scene. I felt fear and hatred but I could not stop or change the course of events. I reread the pages over and over again but I was left with a feeling of intense helplessness. I was heartbroken, distraught and frankly traumatized by what I read. I tried to look for the victim’s case online but my great detective skills led me to a rabbit hole which wasn’t productive.
I then realized I should do something where it matters. As a sensitive person, I was too scared to google “acid attack” at first but eventually mustered the courage to do it. I realized that reality was worse than the story, there were cases where children, mothers, and kind hearted men were disfigured for life because of a few minutes of cruelty. They didn’t get appropriate justice nor empathy from society to move past their trauma. I LOST my optimism and “childlike wonder”, the world suddenly got serious, it was not fun and games anymore. As an artist, I lost my inspiration and the only thing that kept me going was “I truly wanted to help”. In the midst of darkness, I found a ray of hope through various organizations making a difference in the world. One of them was MakeLuvNotScars and I figured I should help them in a small way. How would an ordinary person like me go about accomplishing such a task? I had no idea, I just knew that I cared deeply and wanted to help. I eventually found a way to make a small contribution.
A few months ago, I managed to swim from Elephant Island to Gateway of India, a total distance of 14km in 4.5 hours to conquer my first channel. Thanks to some generous donations, we managed to raise ~$3000 to support MakeLuvNotScars an NGO in India supporting acid attack victims. I am grateful that I got this opportunity to use my skills for good and achieve a new milestone as a swimmer. I was able to organize the event thanks to veteran swimmer Santosh Patil who was kind enough to organize the swim in a short notice. We finalized the swim in January earlier this year when I was scheduled to go home for a few weeks. Santosh recommended that I needed to swim 2 hours on weekdays and 4 hours once a week. I practiced at the JCC Pittsburgh in December and even swam when I traveled to NYC for the new year. I practiced as much as I could before my flight. The swim was scheduled on Sunday in Mumbai and I reached Bangalore on Tuesday.
I traveled to Bangalore after 2.5 years and it was touching to meet my family again. I attended my cousin’s wedding before I traveled to Mumbai with my Dad. We stayed at my dad’s friend’s place. Uncle Manohar was nice enough to give us his personal driver to chauffer us around the city who helped me find a pool to practice. I had lost my confidence a bit as I couldn’t practice between travels, I found a pool on Friday and managed to train for 1.5 hours, this rejuvenated me a bit. The positivity helped me reach out to friends and family to solicit donations. I added a personalization touch by saying a donation will make me feel that they are with me while I swim on the weekend. I then made a concise Whatsapp message and asked my dad to share it with his circles. I planned to raise 1L (~$1500) and had managed to raise 20% by the end of the day. I hoped to raise a small amount and didn’t have a lot of expectations.
I woke up next morning refreshed as I had a proper night’s rest after nearly a week of traveling, late nights and jet lag. My mood was brightened when I learned that my dad had stayed up late asking his friends to donate to our campaign, we had reached really close i.e. 90% of our goal a day before then swim. We increased the target to 2L(~$3000) as we had gained momentum. We then decided to go to Elephanta Caves to learn about the landmarks and look for possible challenges we might need to overcome for the swim. To be honest, now there was little more pressure to complete the swim but I wasn’t tensed about it. Now it was time to scour the land and “know the enemy” by visiting Elephanta Caves.
We went to Gateway of India and took a ferry to Elephanta Island. As I sat in the ferry, I looked at a large island looming over the horizon. Its green forests were covered in fog, it had an ethereal vibe to it. I had seen the enemy and I would be there in an hour. As we approached the island, I saw the landmarks which would be crucial during my swim. The first was the Navy outpost(1) which was a small island with India and the Navy flag flying proudly. Then, there was an array of ships(2) that just stood there, this strip of ocean which looked like lifeless trees that stood there mocking the existence of life (I’m being a little dramatic here) , the next checkpoint was ElephantaMora (3), yes the island I could see from Gateway was not Elephanta but Mora Jetty which was the next checkpoint. I saw an island beyond Mora which looked calm and scenic but with a hidden agenda, it kind of looked like it was on a turtle back and would float away any second. The ferry takes an S-shaped route so we got the opportunity to stare at the island for quite some time. I also saw a long ramp(4), which looked like planes could take off from there towards my right which would be the fourth checkpoint. We turned and slowly made our way towards the island which I finally confirmed to be Elephanta(5). It took about 1.5 hours to reach the island and I knew it would be a tough swim.
Elephanta was a scenic island, it started with an optional train ride towards inside the city. My dad and I bought a few souvenirs and took some pictures in the caves. We roamed around Elephanta for a while and then we went back to Mora where the event coordinator and coach stayed. It took a while to reach his house where we got stuck in a ferry and had to transfer to another boat to finally reach Santosh’s house. Santosh is the veteran swimmer and he works for the Navy. It took a while to reach his house where we got stuck in a ferry and had to transfer to another boat to finally reach Santosh’s house. His house was filled with awards, he had traveled the world and was passionate about improving aquatics in Bombay, especially for kids who were talented but less fortunate. He had conquered the toughest channels in the world of superhuman cadre but he was so humble. He then introduced us to his kids who were 12 and 10 and told us that the awards in his house belonged to his 12-year-old son who was nominated for the Limca book of world records. We were amazed by this amazing family, they gave us dinner and asked us to sleep in their beds so I would be well rested in the morning.
I didn’t sleep well that night and woke up with a severe migraine, maybe it was performance anxiety, my dad snoring or disruption in my eating habits that lead me to wake up with a throbbing headache. I listened to music on my dad’s phone to motivate me while we waited to get ready, I didn’t eat anything that morning assuming I would have some juice while I swam. We left at 7:00 from Mora to pick up our observer who would join us as an objective viewer to document my swim. He joined us on the boat by literally jumping off a ferry. We went to Elephanta and stopped at a dock and I changed into my trunks and my new awesome goggles. Grease was applied to my body and the observer mumbled that the time is 9:00 and whistled. I embraced the dark waters like an old friend and started swimming towards the boat.
Elephanta(5) Me starting the swim
As I swam, I noticed that it was easier to swim because of the salt water, it was slightly cold at first but as I swam I got accustomed to it. I could see Elephanta(5) on the right and the boat on the left. I forced myself to swim close to the boat and kept swimming as the members on the boat watching me. I couldn’t get into the flow immediately because I had to concentrate on keeping an eye on the boat, the rules were I couldn’t touch it. I got accustomed to swimming by its side eventually and I let my mind play songs in my head (To prevent me from getting bored). In no time I had reached the ramp and it was time for my first feeding session. I was given some water and dairy milk, it was hard to chew because of the saltiness in my mouth with my increased heart rate and body fatigue. I had practiced drinking juice in the pool*( I also had not eaten breakfast in the morning).
Ramp(4) seemed scenic because it looked like a long ramp which I had to swim parallel to, kind of like a lane. I had been swimming for an hour and there were times when I could start listening to music in my head, my migraine had reduced significantly thanks to the “swimmers high” presumably. Now, it got a little dramatic, when I refused to have the dairy milk at Mora(3). I figured I would not digest it and it would stick in my mouth with the salt water leading to nausea. At this point, the boat was occluding Mora(3) so I had nothing to see except keep my eye the boat. I tried overtaking the boat at times but I would get exhausted. After a while, the Raj and the observer’s friend jumped in, they were planning a recreational swim and were hoping to support me. I was not used to swimming next to people then and tried to slow down to grab my personal space. One cool thing that Raj would do was hang on to the boat for a while which would look like he was surfing. I managed to swim amidst the distraction and reached checkpoint 2 the array of endless ships(2).
Passing the array of endless ships(2) was hard as I was exhausted and was very low on fuel, the boat got stuck in between but Raj was with me while I swam through seemingly endless ships. The boat was fixed in a few minutes but I was too exhausted to notice that I was being pushed back by the waves. I tried for a while in freestyle but eventually switched to breast stroke to see the naval outpost(1). I am short sighted and I could vaguely see Gateway of India but it gave me the strength I needed to persevere and I slowly swam towards the shore. It was a bitter battle against mother nature and she made me go all in … my lack of self-confidence, poor diet and probably bad luck led me to finish the swim in 4.5 hours. I slowly walked up the stairs when I reached Gateway of India(stop), it was past noon and I was exhausted but it felt great. I had offically become a channel swimmer. My dad of steel who my best friend and has been my worst critic was there by my side to witness it. I am very grateful that we were able to raise 2L(~$3000) to help a good cause. I am happy, that I did something for others in need and grateful to Milaap to and social media ordinary people like me can make a contribution given the right atmosphere.
There are real problems in the world, we can choose to ignore them or do something about it. As an introvert, I find it hard to be in a room with people or do things that people take for granted (e.g. going to restaurants, being in a crowded room) but I think if we care deeply i.e have compassion, we can look beyond our inhibitions to help others in need (my 7th-grade English teacher taught me this). When I was learning how to swim, the swimming coach had given up on me but my dad took it upon himself to teach me how to swim, I eventually started swimming on my own and today after 10 years I am a channel swimmer. I think having compassion, approaching this hard problem from an objective, non-judgemental perspective(like my dad) and working on solving it in baby steps helped(practice) helped me achieve this milestone. I hope my small achievement motivates you to overcome a struggle or helps you through your journey to achieve your dreams.
My dad and I have raised 6L(~$10,000) over the past year by crowdfunding to help the needy. I hope to take my fundraising to the next stage, I am looking to build a small team that can help me during more events like this. I expect a team of 3-4 to travel with me and a few who can help coordinate on social media. I self-fund the events but we can work something out.
I am planning for a swim in Florida in September and another swim in December. I could use help in fundraising, medical support, building technology or anything that you think can help me. If you see an opportunity to collaborate, please fill up the form and I will contact you.
Credits: Dad, Santhosh Patil, Raj Patil, Manohar Uncle, Milaap Team, MLNS Team and my friends and family who supported me through my journey.
About two years ago, I read an article about a talented individual who had shown a lot of promise at a young age. She was the top of her class, the captain of an under 19 cricket team and a person who was destined to make a positive impact on the world. Sadly, a small accident made her lose her lose mobility of her limbs and she was confined to a wheelchair. In spite of her special needs (which isn’t well supported in India), she graduated college and took up a job that sustained herself. She had even started an organization called SoulFree to help other people like her. I was inspired by this story and wrote my first check to help them. I could not contribute a lot during my Masters and once I graduated, I started contributing to SoulFree again.
As a part of my yearly goals, I wanted to swim in open waters this year. I found an event near my city and registered for the 5km swim. I hadn’t participated in the open water events before and for the past year I had only been swimming in the indoor pool at the university. The highlight of my swimming career was when I swam the Micheal Phelps 10Km challenge almost a year ago. Theoretically, the 5k seemed doable but I hadn’t covered over 3km in one session in a while. The event was a good opportunity for me to get a practice routine and correct my stroke a little. I also wanted use this occasion to raise money for soul free. A few years ago Sarah Peck swam Alcatraz and raised 33,000$ for charity water. Inspired by Sarah, I found a site online called Milaap which helped me transfer money to SoulFree in India. I contacted Preethi who encouraged me to raise money for the wheelchair donation drive that needed funding urgently.
I assumed if I ask my circles to donate we may be able to contribute 500$ (~30,000 Rs) which would account for three wheelchairs but soulfree needed thirteen. It was far more than I could contribute personally and I would get to learn about crowdfunding. It took a while to setup but we finally created a campaign on milaap. I started by asking friends individually, first over the phone and then reminding them over email(s). I made a list of people who I knew would contribute based on my relationship and their financial situation. I assumed Preethi’s story would move people who woud read it but I needed to validate my assumption which turned out to be true. Luckily, I seem to be surrounded by generous people and we raised 500$ within a week. I was happy with the outcome but I emailed my friends as much as possible. Thanks to people’s generosity, on the week of the swim we reached 1500$ (~1Lakh) which was 60% of our goal. This was thrice the amount I hoped and I figured it was a good place to be.
I planned to go to Miami with a friend but sadly due to poor planning I ended up going alone. I booked a cheap Airbnb with good reviews about 15 mins away from the event. I had a promotional offer from Lyft so I planned to use it to travel. The Airbnb turned out to be a very small house with lots of decorative lights, cute dog and hidden stories. It was run by a Cuban senior citizen called Maria with help from two of her house guests. The house had a vibe of having an eternal Christmas with lots of cute little dolls. On the first day, I walked around the beach and was accidentally dragged into a Turkish restaurant by a very attractive woman. I have a hard time saying no and this lady looked almost enthusiastic about convincing me to spend my money there. Her eyes behind the makeup were fatigued and bored, she knew I didn’t have a lot of money but I looked like an easy kill. I asked for a quiet place to sit and worked on a blog post that I had been putting off. The restaurant was pricey and I have learnt to say no now. I bought some items from CVS and retired for the night. The Lyft driver during my return journey could not understand English and I used Google translate to speak to him in Spanish.
The next day, I got up early and contacted the race officials and asked for a place to practice. They recommended I try the Jewish community center pool. It was very sunny and the water was much warmer than the pool at the university. I knew the sunscreen was critical as I needed to prevent my already tanned skin from deteriorating further. I swam in intervals of 30 mins and got out of the water to add sunscreen on my face and hands. I did that for 6 sessions after which my body was dehydrated because of the heat. I knew this stress test was the most vital practice for the 5k swim as I needed the outdoor exposure. My arms were uncomfortable because of the direct sunlight and warm water so I occasionally swam with fists to alter the circulation in my hands. At the end of the session, a coach told me that she had been watching me and was amazed that I had been swimming for three hours. She had been teaching a child with special needs to swim the mile and said she would be cheering for me in the race. I remembered my coach had given up on me when I started out but my dad taught me how to swim. Today, I am a long distance swimmer thanks to his effort and encouragement.
On Saturday, I got a call from Milaap’s community manager Athira saying that they were willing to take over the project and help us with the rest of our journey. She said that she will take an additional two days to set up their process and I can continue emailing my friends. Preethi was excited about the development and I was happy to form this connection between the two organizations. Preethi had bigger plans for SoulFree to start the first rehabilitation center in India to help people with spinal cord injuries. Milaap would back SoulFree with their marketing campaigns and I felt it would be the baby steps needed for Preethi to receive the critical mass for her organization to grow. I had two more days to raise funds but I had exhausted all my contacts so I was content with reaching 66% of our target. I had to register for the event and practice in open waters today so I put that as major priority. Sadly, the event organizers didn’t have proper provisions for me to practice, I had to change in a portable restroom and deposit my bag at the registration kiosk. I met an elderly gentleman(John) in his late 60s who said he had completed the 5k before and was planning on swimming the 10K tomorrow. He offered to help me out by watching over me while I practiced as it wasn’t safe to swim alone. I got into the water and it was strange to walk in muddy shallow waters. I started swimming after walking a few steps and it felt very natural. The sea gave me additional buoyancy and I was able to swim easier than swimming at the pool. I am not the best at flip turns and was glad that I didn’t have to do it every 30 seconds now. I aimed for the ships in the far corner and started swimming towards them.
It was different from swimming in the pool, where I could clearly see where I was headed. I had to glance up every now and then to steer in the right direction. As I swam for a few minutes, the salty water got me nauseated but I managed to stay focussed on the goal. To be honest, I had no choice as I could not stop and hold anywhere!. As I crossed the halfway mark, the currents pushed me towards the shore and I was able to see plants and weeds underneath. Suddenly, I noticed a distinct feature jutting out of the weeds, it looked like a tail……!. I ignored it for few seconds after which I reasoned it could be a SHARK!. I quickly turned around and used the adrenalin rush to swim very quickly towards the nearest dock, which was 10 mins away. I was hopeful about being safe because the tail wasn’t moving. To be honest, the alternative was not a painless way to leave the earth. After a few steeled minutes, I reached the dock and was glad to see John waiting for me. He told me that there are no sharks here and I probably saw a debris of a broken ship. I then swam for about 20 more minutes and got back as John recommended I rest before the race day. The beach didn’t have showers that day so I had to go home. I had food at a vegetarian restaurant, walked at the beach nearby and came home early because of the rains. Maria, my landlady gave me some soup and vegetables and told me that I was like her grandson. I was moved by her gesture and slept early.
Sunday.. Race day!
I woke up early as I had a bad dream in which I was late for the race by an hour because my friend switched off my alarm. In my dream, I was annoyed when I realized it but I immediately reconciled thinking that I probably should have told him earlier. I decided to go to the event immediately because I was in it to swim. I then woke up to see that a friend(Abhinav Asthana) had donated ~400$(25000Rs) which pushed us to 85%. This was the highest contribution by far and it also renewed my spirit to complete the donation drive. I sent a reminder email to my friends who were most likely to donate and then I contacted more people whom I had forgotten but were less likely to donate. I was ready at 8:30 even after waking up at 5:30. The Lyft driver I met was a Spanish speaker again we conversed with each other through google translate. I thanked him for driving me there and I went to the registration desk. They told me to check in my bags and report to the starting about 10 mins before the race started i.e. at 9:50. I kept my bags inside and was really thirsty but noticed that all the cash in my wallet was missing. The only water available could be bought by cash for 2$. I decided it was too late to and I walked towards the starting position. Luckily for me, they were giving away free energy drinks for participants and I took one and quenched my thirst with a few gulps. I kept a small bag with a towel in a secluded location and wore my trunks. They had given us disposable anklets which were meant to track your times. As we gathered, I spoke to a few people who said they had participated in the event before. They told me about the dangers of being accidentally whacked by competitive swimmer and I could avoid it by swimming at the sides. Then the announcement caught my attention.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE ARE NOW READY TO START OUR 5K SWIM”
“LET’S GATHER AROUND FOR A DRONE SELFIE!!”
It was exciting to see people bursting with energy, there were people of all age groups participating in 800m, 1 mile, 5k and the 10K. We each had different colored caps which helped us distinguish each other while swimming. The under nineteen boys were to go first followed by men, girls and then women. I saw the children start off enthusiastically and then it was our turn in a few minutes. We were supposed to swim into the track which was a mile long, swim for 3 laps around it and return to the starting position. I knew, I could swim the distance but was intimidated by the thought of being whacked. I decided to stay clear of others and let them pass ahead of me.
“5…4….3 …. 2 … 1 … GO!”
I waited a few seconds till everybody was about a 50m ahead and then I started the race, I noticed that the water was extra murky today. My goal was to complete the first lap as soon as possible because the 5k girls, 5k women and Miami mile swimmers with the pink cap would be behind me shortly. I swam on the outer rims of the track and the winds helped me stay away from the track when I was swimming closer to the beach. I swim with bilateral breathing but couldn’t turn towards the direction of the wind. I turned right and occasionally forward till I reached the first buoy where I had to take a U-turn and swim in the opposite direction. The turn was tricky because I had to take a larger curve to avoid all the other swimmers. While swimming in the opposite direction i.e. westward I had to breathe in the left direction and couldn’t swim in the right direction as the winds were too strong. I occasionally found myself in between a group of swimmers and I imagined being followed by a shark and swam in the north-west direction to swim outside the track. As I finished the first lap, I noticed people cheering as the mile swimmers were completing their race. The second lap was easier but I tried speeding up a little because I was slowing down (procrastinating). I found it harder to swim with the currents pushing me. I assumed this swim would be like any other practice where I would be playing a song in my head or thinking some happy thoughts. Sadly, the water refused to let me do any of that. I was in survival mode and I had to be constantly vigilant for other swimmers or mindful about my sense of direction. In the midst of the swim, I remembered master Oogway’s quote. “Your mind is like this water my friend when it’s agitated it becomes unclear but if you allow it to settle (taps his staff) it become clear”. I calmed myself down and got a rhythm and continued swimming, I was mindful of the time as I wanted to complete by 2hrs. Though that calmed me down, I wasn’t quite at peace to swim in a periodic rhythm as I would have hoped because I would slow down when I had to look up. I wish I had practiced sighting (looking forward) which is an important part of open water swimming. I finished the race in 1 hour 48 minutes which is not bad for a start considering this was my first gig outside the pool.
After the race, a volunteer(Margaret) noticed that I was alone and convinced me to take some pictures of me with the race medal. I was not keen on it but I took the picture for the sake of memories and sharing with my family. She and her husband told me about traveling to Fort Lauren del instead of Miami to save money next time. They also suggested I stay at South Beach because it’s safer there. I thanked them and called home to tell my parents that I am safe. I went back home and took a shower and cleaned myself. I traveled to the South Beach and ate at an Arabian restaurant which had a lentil soup. I had a long walk on the beach and played with the sand to make a gigantic Yin Yang. I returned home and booked a ticket for the Miami bus tour the next day.
The bus tour started with me rushing to the city center. The tour guided recommended me to try the art district which has a nice view of the graffiti in the houses. I got off the bus and spent about an hour taking photos in the Wynwood neighborhood. I liked the “stop wars” from Yoda and Peter Tunney’s work. His work was writing things like “Gratitude”, “Everything will be ok”, “You are amazing” and “All is well” using newspaper clippings in the background without proper spacing. To be honest, those were the words I needed to hear then and was soothing to see it. I got off the bus and took the ride to the center. We then toured the upscale Coral Gable neighborhood and ocean driver. I got to know about the history of Miami and the art deco buildings that were preserved there. We saw the awesome multimillion dollar houses and passed occasional ships along the way. It was a wonderful experience to be in the magic city.
I woke up early on the day of the flight but I missed the flight because of an accident near the airport. The Lyft driver dropped me off at departures which has a tram to the main airport.The authorities were kind enough to give me an alternative flight and I reached home a few hours late. In retrospect, Miami trip was filled with people who were passionate about life. Miami is known as the magic city and the city of dreams. I was able to see it reflected in it’s people, who were immigrants from neighbouring islands. They went about doing their daily jobs and worked hard through odd jobs like driving Lyft to make ends meet. Some people had a language issue, they could not speak English but they were learning English through Duolingo. My landlady “Maria” worked all day and was very helpful inspite of being an octogenarian. The elderly gentlemen in the mid sixties was an inspiration too, he was retired but would run marathons and swim across reefs. All these people were humble, extremely passionate about ambitious goals and smiled in spite of their tough lives. A friend of mine suggested that people like them are called “The Salt Of The Earth”. They are the cogs of this gigantic ecosystem that we have and sometimes we may not give them enough credit. I feel, I need to learn to be like them. Humility, professionalism and passion are qualities which I feel are vital towards making a larger impact. For various reasons mine had dwindled and this adventure helped me revive it a little.
I came home and emailed a few more friends and we were able to meet the campaign’s goal a few days ago, it was a magical experience. This journey through crowdfunding, swimming and meeting people in Miami has given me hope. I have learned that an ordinary person like me can make a small difference thanks to the support of generous around me. I am grateful for my friends and family for supporting me in this adventure. A special thanks to Milaap, Preethi from SoulFree for giving me this opportunity to contribute. Hope to try something similar in a few months, feel free to contact me if you are interested in helping out early.
P.S. Here is the complete set of photos of my trip, I am not a good photo grapher but hope you get to enjoy a bit of Miami.
Recently, I met a European gentleman at the pool who noticed my sacred thread. He commended me about following my tradition. I felt good to be praised for something which only my parents valued, It was also a rare occasion when I received praise for my tradition.
As a Brahmin, I had been ridiculed a lot in my school days. My friends interrogated me about my diet and looked disdainfully when I told them that I used to eat fish. It so happens that I come from a small minority of brahmins who are pescatarians from ancestry. Usually, most brahmins are vegans and not eating meat is an attribute of being a brahmin. I seemed like a renegade weirdo to my classmates. It was easy to be singled out when a long dangling thread sticks out of you. I remember kids at the swimming camp talk out loud and wonder what was the significance of wearing this thread i.e. being a Brahmin.
So what is being a brahmin?
Honestly, I can only answer what it is for me. Upanayan a ritual signifying coming of age in Hinduism, it’s now done to boys because it was discontinued for women a few centuries ago due to historical reasons. It is meant to make you wise and grant you access to the holy scriptures i.e. becoming a Brahmin.
To me, it started out as a humiliating experience. I was asked to shave my head by my parents (which was optional) and I had to hide in my native for a month for my hair to grow back. I wept as the barber shaved my head and my cousins laughed at me. In their defense it seems really funny right now, I am also grateful that there was no youtube back as it was recorded on tape :P. In retrospect, I had to be assertive to my parents about shaving my hair or should have reacted like an adult. To make things worse I was short and people would tease me for my height. I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire and I stayed back in my native. In all honesty, it was a fun experience at my cousins and I am glad that my baldness helped me spend time with them. In spite of everything I did my prayers dutifully and even do it today. It became my mini morning ritual so I guess it made me a slightly better(or at least cleaner) person because I did my ritual.
The ritual is pledging our Divine Mother who is the supreme deity of Hinduism to purify our sins. She is considered very sacred and a lot of other gods need to be worshiped before asking her to bless us. To be honest, until recently I didn’t know what the mantras meant, I have been babbling them at high speed out of force of habit (Gods are probably like “What the Heck was that” to my prayers). A few months ago, I looked up their meaning online and made a google doc. This small task led me to read more about Hinduism, I learned about Ishwara, Brahman and got some better insight into my own culture.
There’s a Zen saying “The way a person does one thing is the way they do everything”. I don’t think this can be generalized but I believe Sandhya Vandhanam was supposed to be a morning ritual to keep people healthy. Doing that one act probably made men and women of that time disciplined, which might have led them to become wiser. My opinion is that religion, gender, race and physical attributes are items you enter in your driver’s license. It should have little or no effect on how you drive through life. It’s ultimately what you do in your journey that matters. Also, learning a little about your tradition isn’t that bad.
On a totally different thread, I am visiting Miami to swim at Swim Miami for charity. If you can help us out please contribute here https://bitly.com/soulfree_milaap. It would also help if you could contribute by sharing it on your network.
P.S. link to my google doc if you happen to be a Hindu Brahmin from my community.
I moved to Pittsburgh eighteen months ago. I rarely travel and prefer to spend my time indoors. I found it difficult to find apartments while moving to the new city. To make apartment hunting easier, CMU conducted a meetup in Bangalore to build connections and meet people. We had a happy hour session after an extempore about life in Pittsburgh from our seniors. My inferiority complex coupled with shy nature led me to walk out of the event. I wandered for an hour before I took a rickshaw home. I searched online and ended with a basement and a hall as my potential housing options. I decided to take the hall as my friends commented thar the basement was a difficult place to stay. I called the contact (Veeru) and agreed to take the place in B708 at Kenmawr Apartments.
My cousin was kind enough to help me in my first day in Pittsburgh and he dropped me at Kenmawr. My first impression was that the apartment was messy and it seemed that I would have little or no privacy while staying in the hall. I hoped that this would push me out of my comfort zone and help me come out of my shell. I got to learn a lot from my amazing roommates and am lucky that they chose me. We had a lot of fun in past year, travelling to temple, eating at Tamarind, playing Liar’s Dice(it’s like poker) and cooking together. During my stay, I also learned how to cook ( a hundred others will say I still don’t), I understood the importance of earplugs (My roommates discussed a lot :P) and finally I learned the value in helping others.
When I first entered the apartment, my prospective roommate (Mama) offered to travel to my hotel to help me carry my stuff. I was shocked and amazed by this kind gesture. People find it hard to help friends in need but this person was willing to dedicate a few hours to carry the luggage of a random stranger. My roommates (Sashank, Veeru, Ravi and Mama) always made extra food so I could have enough to eat. I usually came late at night and there would always be something kept in the kitchen. I rarely cooked (many will say I shouldn’t be allowed to) but my roommates weren’t selfish or vengeful for me not taking initiative. I used to be engrossed in my assignments and they were compassionate enough to help me selflessly through my difficult times. I was lucky to spread their hospitality to a few of the guests who came to Kenmawr for conferences.
The day I left I learned another very important lesson, doing good is it’s own reward. Irrespective of how many people I helped move, I moved my luggage out of the apartment alone. Luckily, I am a minimalist so I could move my things in an Uber. To be honest, I was secretly hoping someone would help me move out (at least the Uber driver for a tip). Sadly, nobody did, I came to learn that self-help is the best help and I should not expect others to help me because I helped them. I’m not wise enough to comment about Karma or God but I enjoy helping others and that should be a reward in itself.
I was requested to return to Kenmwar to supervise cleaning after Christmas. Another acquaintance of ours lived next door and I was curious as to why they called me all the way there for a simple task. Anyway, I dropped in to see that the apartment was a “HUGE MESS”. It was a wreck, there were garbage bags filled with junk everywhere and furniture that needed to be moved out. The cleaning lady (Rebecca from DustbunnyExpress) was expecting far less garbage compared to the wreckage she was supposed to deal with that day. To add to her dismay, her colleagues had bailed on her and she had gotten her teenage kids to help her clean. She had allocated two hours for the job and cleaning alone would take her three, she also had to remove the furniture. My inferiority complex and shy nature prevent me from speaking up but I had a strong urge to help them that day and that out weighed my insecurity. I was disappointed that the owner had left out the gore details about the apartment and felt that it was wrong on his part. The cleaning lady was sportive, she took it as a challenge and decided to clean the wreckage herself. I was impressed with her positive attitude and decided to help them.
Growing up, I aspired to be a superhero like Spiderman. They portray a weak, scrawny kid like me who magically transforms into a superhuman because of a spider bite and uses his skills for good. To me, compassion is that radioactive spider that helps me come out of my shell. I was sad that the kids had to work so hard on a Saturday afternoon. I am weak and can barely open sealed jars (I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables growing up). Nevertheless, I told the lady that I would help and carried all the furniture outside the apartment with her son. The 17-year-old kid was much stronger than me, he easily managed to carry things and I used to be out of breath in minutes. Seeing us struggle, the building janitor helped us by giving us a large movable trash can, this made our work a whole lot easier. In two hours we were done and there was only cleaning left to do. The lady thanked me and said she would handle it on her own.
I walked away with my muscles aching and returned to the room in an hour. They were almost done and I could listen to them giggling and chatting with each other. It reminded me of my times with my mom when she took us to carry groceries. I used my spare time for a quick drawing to convey my gratitude to the cleaning lady. She was happy with what I gave her and even added it to her facebook page :). I was impressed by her sportive nature and recommended her to the building manager.
It’s amazing how a little compassion can turn a shy, weak person like me against my nature. I am unable to speak to people when my life depended on it for finding apartments but was able to help a stranger because I cared.
“Let me live in my house by the side of the road. And be a friend to man.”
It is a verse from a poem which says people live secluded lives or go on tedious journeysaway from society to find the meaning of life. The author argues that other people are no different than him and they have positive and negative characteristics that are in him. He ends the poem by saying that he chooses to lead a meaningful life by metaphorically living in a house by the side of the road so he can help people around him. I think there’s wisdom in those words, helping people in small ways through random acts of kindness is a very positive way to live. Hope to build on this skill, thank you Kenmawr for helping me get started.
I guess we can’t have superheroes in the real world. The real world needs real heros. (Kickaass)
P.S. My superhero is and always will be Sudha Murty 🙂
Twenty years ago a little boy peaked at a photograph in his father’s hand. The photo portrayed a majestic African elephant charging towards the world in all it’s glory. His dad was standing right next to it smiling and with an air of confidence in his poise. The scene captivated him and it was imprinted into his mind. He later learned that the elephant was a wax figure in a museum in DC. He patiently waited for twenty years to visit Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to witness him realize his dream.
We planned a trip to DC for the 4th of July weekend with most of our wing members (dorm mates) from my undergrad. We had an initial head count of 10 people, but we ended with 3 when people heard that I was going. My friend “The silent guardian” and me “Write wing” decided to take the greyhound mobile. “The boy wonder” flew to DC. We rendezvoused at a protest near the White house and were stunned to see it flocked with so many people. We took a lot of pictures around that area to interrupt tourists. This never-ending stream of confusion concluded when the security guards chased the tourists out and then us. We decided to check into our hotel next.
The boy wonder had booked a very cheap hotel on the outskirts of Maryland which may have been controlled by the mob. “The boy” made me pay for the hotel as the card “miraculously” stopped working :P. We headed back to the city because we found the need to utilize our daily passes to their full financial extent. We loitered around the memorials took a lot of photographs of us posing next to the monument, posing as if we were not tired of walking and weren’t sleep deprived. Well, our ride was at 5 AM and I ended up watching Big Bang Theory instead of sleeping to recharge myself. Once we had enough pictures when photoshoped could fool people into thinking that were smart, good-looking and rich (It’s a new icon in the latest version) we decided to go have dinner. We chose a Mexican restaurant because I had a craving for flat bread and “the boy wonder” thought they were cheap.
“The silent guardian” used his gadget that used satellite technology to guide us to the hotel (would have been faster if I hadn’t dropped it earlier I guess). We walked quite a few dark alleys and didn’t draw attention to ourselves by yelling “I’m Batman” (Leave the boy wonder a voice mail saying you want to sell him something and he will be happy to return your call and repeat the same). After traveling around the entire neighbourhood following the gadget, we saw that the restaurant was next to the board that blinked “Mexican Grill” (Who would have known?).
The restaurant was playing a Spanish television channel and was light with dim red light. It had a guy in a suit singing (some would say yelling) to a tune. We pretended that weren’t new to this kind of stuff and sat calmly in our seats. The waitress blinked a lot at the silent guardian. She kept side glancing at him and rolling her eyes. The boy wonder told me that love was in the air, meaning him and I would have to sleep outside our hotel rooms that night. When our bill arrived the boy wonder tipped the waitress lightly and ran out of the restaurant. This was a ruse to prevent her from falling in love with the silent guardian. Fortunately, she didn’t chase us after we left the restaurant and we can never visit that “Mexican Grill” again ….. EVER.
We would have slept well if it weren’t for the boy wonder’s fascination of elephants which turned him into one when he slept. We decided to procrastinate for a few hours by attempting to break into a company website. This would have gone for the whole day, if the silent guardian hadn’t interrupted us by saying “YOUR GRANDMOTHER, YOU SPENT 200$ TO DO THIS IN A HOTEL ROOM OR SEE DC?” (In a hoarse voice in Kannada). Our escapade started with memorials and our routine of posing so we could be photoshopped and added to our timeline. We were hoping the sunlight would make us look fairer than we actually were so our friends would feel bad about their complexion.
Once, the boy wonder had enough photos for his matrimonial site we decided to go to the Museums. We paused in between to have icecream cones. We did a quick stop at the botanical gardens in DC where Jurassic Park (The old one) was filmed. We visited the Aersospace Museum, where they had the original equipment from the space visit. It kind of killed the magic after reading the conspiracy theories. The boy wonder and I tried a flight simulator. The silent guardian found two people locked in a closed space, that rolls and twists as they scream mildly disturbing. The goal was to fly towards the enemies and shoot them, but I read it as roll the plane in random directions and make your friend swear. I think, I hit 20 by the time we were done.
We were finally headed to the Museum. It started raining heavily and I ended up squeezing into the boy wonder’s umbrella(Because I lost mine, don’t tell me grandma!). We reached the elephant which was swarming with hundreds of people. The Museum had extended the hours that day so “The silent guardian” and I decided to visit the museum to learn something, but the boy wonder decided to take a nap to rejuvenate for the photo. Towards the end of the Museum hours, we managed to take a photo of the boy wonder that looks almost as bad as his driver’s licence. We asked a random passerby to take our photo and he managed to take a snap with all of us blinking and said it’s a great shot.
We went to Jefferson Memorial next, saw the fireworks which lasted for almost half an hour. In India, we can hear the sound when a cricket match ends (which happens all the time). It’s an incredible sight worth watching anyway. We walked a lot and reached on time to catch the last bus to our hotel. Since the Mexican grill was out of the question, we had dinner at iHOP. We all slept well that night because we were exhausted.
All of us were happy that the trip ended well with the boy wonder fulfilling his dream. He was also happy with the fact that I paid for the hotel. We were glad that he waited 20 years to take a photo next to an elephant instead of using photoshop ten years ago. If you have a place you want to visit, just wait two decades and my team from Gotham will be happy to take you there.
The boy wonder: NR
Write Wing: me
The silent guardian & Photo credits: Sisya
I wanted to add a satirical tone to our squeezed trip to DC, added a little of Melodrama from the Batman to make it theatrical. My friend Sisya took these amazing photos, kudos to him :). Satire was just to get over the writer’s block, hope you enjoyed it.