February 23, 2012

I am...what you made me...eh life!

I signed up for NCC (National Cadet Corps) during my three years of graduation, my first step towards making it to the Republic Day Camp (RDC), at New Delhi (the Mecca for all NCC cadets). One and a half year of rigorous training and loads of hard work bore fruit, and I made it to the RDC. While at the Pre-RD camps I signed up also, for YEP--which meant I would be one of the cadets from India, to represent her in the country I would be sent to, as an 'Exchange Participant', IF selected, of course! Yes, YEP meant Youth Exchange Programme. YEP definitely would be not just a(nother) feather in the cap, but also the bigger and more vibrant one. So, the entire group of YEP signees were on the most serious mission of their lives--being selected! Losing a few hours of sleep each day, in the name of tests and discussions for preparation didn't look like much of a sacrifice!

So, the day soon arrived, a couple of months post RDC, when all the efforts and hard work bore an excellent fruit, and the best news of my life, ever, arrived...yes! I was selected for the ICYEP (Indo-Canada Youth Exchange Programme)! "Seven months on the Programme!" My elation knew no bounds! For, ICYEP is a prestigious cultural exchange programme for the youth (the best of NCC's YEPs), where in the NCC cadets are are looked up to, to represent the beautiful culture called India, in its entirety! My elation and all that is another journey of course, and I would rather not venture on to that road, here...

A couple of months of preparation, and we were all set to go! Two teams of twenty five cadets each. One headed to Toronto, the other, to Vancouver. I went to Vancouver, and never came back the same person!

After a couple of weeks of orientation and acclimatization we finally arrived at the communities we were to be in, for the next three months, a small group of eight Indians, each with a Canadian counterpart, put up as a counterpart pair, with a host family, as a part of it, during our stay. Our routine there mainly included voluntary community service four days a week. The 'work placements' as they were called, were judiciously chosen, and we were all thrilled to be of some use there!

I of course, couldn't have asked for a work place better than the one I had been assigned! The Hilltop House--a senior citizens' home nested on the hill top, in the breathtakingly beautiful, Squamish! Every moment spent at the Hilltop House was sheer bliss for us both--my counterpart and me. So much so, that we always made time to return there to spend at least part of our Saturdays and Sundays with the residents. It was as enriching, as fulfilling it was, to be in company of those lovely people who showered us with immeasurable amount of affection and wisdom! The short span of three months there, left an indelible mark on my personality, and changed me for good! I learnt a lifetime worth of lessons--even more--in that short span! And all this, because of the beautiful people I met there!

Edith Maggie, an extremely affectionate lady, nearing ninety, had been a missionary in India, and nothing gave her more pleasure than seeing me come by! "Here comes my sweet darling as beautiful as her country India!" was her usual welcome note for me, or, "My! How beautiful my bitiya (daughter) looks in her salwar kameez and odhni, with that bindiya on her forehead!" I'd revel in all that affection she would shower on me, realizing little, about the indelible mark she was making on my life! She had Alzheimer's and there were days when she couldn't recall where she was, and who the people around her were...but she somehow always recognized me, and would ask me to help her find her lost shoe, (that she's sometimes be sitting on, on her wheel chair). Immense love from Edith taught me the best lesson of life. That there is no happiness in this world greater than giving happiness and love to those around you! That a touch of affection/love, a smile straight from your heart has the power to soothe and calm even an Alzheimer stricken person, when in deepest of her trauma, of having just been miraculously saved from being drowned by some nasty women! (Edith's bathing days were worst days for her!) The smile that lit up on her face through tears rolling down her cheeks, gave me such great happiness, that no words can ever describe! She loved my visits, for, they transported her to her happy days! And for me, I couldn't get enough of her affection! I always thirsted for more...still do!

Mary Campini, another resident citizen at the Hilltop House, was a beautiful woman with a dainty figure, somewhere in her late seventies. A very gentle, polite person, thoroughly graceful...I loved being with her! She would smile and greet me each day, and always keep a chocolate or some goodies for me! She taught me to make the most of  the time you have, and not to put away for tomorrow, what you really want to do/get from life! That was her life's biggest learning, she'd say. She helped me chisel my love for travel, in its very early stage, through her accounts from her life's experiences...though this wasn't all.

My love for scrabble came from daily scrabble sessions with Mary Donald, a short tempered old woman, who left nothing unsaid, if you rubbed her the wrong way, by way of winning over the game, or something! Too proud to ask you for a game each day, though all she wanted was for you to play scrabble with you. Each day, I'd walk up to her, where she sat alone, scrabble on the table, and ask if she'd do me a favor and let me play a game with her. The glow on her face at that was my reward each day...as also was humility, that I didn't realize then, I imbibed in ample measures!

Reene, a quiet woman, always found in the activity room, like Mary Donald, but with a deck of playing cards, was another person I spent some time with, daily. She'd play rummy all day, punctuated with her meals, or short walks out in the lawn. Reene was 88 years, a person of few words, each a very meaningful one, at that! Serene, unruffled by anything, self contained--that was Reene who had pleasantness writ large over her entire persona. Walks with her were very enriching indeed, for she taught me things so powerful, so very subtly!

Mr. Kurtenacker had a few 'couple-of-thousand piece' completed jigsaw puzzles under his belt, that dwarfed the walls of his room; and a flourishing little garden blooming with pretty flowers and some vegetables...need I say I always got greeted with a lovely flower and a "How u doing today, sweetheart"? A very happy man--never as old as his age, wiser though--who endeared himself to anyone he met--though the last was small! The reason--he was hardly left with any time to socialize with people, from his busy schedule of socializing with and dating nature! Wow!

Those three months were much shorter than usual, and soon I found myself gone from the Hilltop House! We performed a small cultural show for the citizens there, (our entire group of 16 participants) as a mark of out respect to them, and as our way of bidding goodbye. (Tough, tearful goodbyes had already been shared earlier! With promises to return asap! Promises I have yet to be able to keep...promises I long to keep!)

The last I saw of Mr. Kurtenacker was at our community cultural show, with his date, the beautiful Mary Campini, whose nails I'd filed and polished a couple of days ago...Reene, and Mary Donald had made it too, with some others...

Little had I know then, that a few months' hard work and sacrificing some hours' sleep for a few month, could (would) bring such immeasurable returns that enriched me for more than a lifetime! A rewards much larger than the ones I'd aspired for--the pleasure of having the RDC and ICYEP feathers adorn my cap!

This chapter of my life still remains incomplete though, for I have promises to keep--to them, (who, may not even be around anymore!) and to me--I (still) have to go back to Hilltop House...I must! (I hope with all my might, that I do!) Yes...I pine for more! I will! For, I will know no rest until!


  1. Such a beautiful post Sheen.....really heart touching

    1. Thank you so much Seema! :-)
      Thanks for visiting too! :-)

  2. After reading your post, I can understand what you mean that your life was never the same again.

    Good luck for the contest, Sheen. :-)

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