Thursday, November 05, 2009

Coming to America, (cont’d)

A follow-up to this post

Sometimes one’s pen and paper captures their voice well. All too often what drove the clarity in the writing is a powerful topic. Below is a letter from my dad along with my 1st passport that he dug up and sent to me. The passport was originally needed so I could be chaperoned by an Air India hostess from Cochin, Kerala, India to JFK, NYC in May of 1966. It was shortly before my 4th birthday and it was the 1st time we were meeting, as my dad had left India when my mom was 7 months pregnant to land an elusive surgical residency in the US. My mom joined a couple of years later and I was expertly taken care of by grandparents who had raised a whopping 21 children between them. My dad's letter goes as follows:

Murphsyboro, Oct/31/2009

Dear Santhosh,

Enclosed is your first passport. I remember coming to JFK Airport to take you to Cleveland. I was waiting on a balcony of JFK airport. I saw you coming down the staircase from Air India holding the hand of the air hostess who was assigned to you. You were walking into the airport on the ground. Dr. Sebastian and Shanti were with me at the that time.

When you came out of the customs you were weeping saying “that man took away my peraka” (Goa fruit). Ammachi gave a few Goa fruits to you in a bag to eat on the way. They were grown on the Thodupuzha property. No fruits could be taken into the U.S.A. by law.

I gave you a small electric car and you were very happy. We flew to Cleveland.


A mountainous moment in my life, to say the least. But arguably a bigger day for the more aware and nuanced parent of the toddler. God bless moms and dads, and the many sacrifices they make for their families’ futures, eh?

image image-1

My 1st Passport… and Visa…

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Photography?

In the 4th grade, my father brought home a used Mamiya Sekor range-finder camera, of all things, from a medical conference.  I never did ask where he picked it up, but he took time on the very day of his arrival to share his thoughts on how photos come to be.  Since then, photography has been a persistent part of my journeys, like a slow burning ember that at times will pop into a flame before returning back to a quiet glow.

But why photography, rather than some other pursuit?  Well, nothing intrigues or delights me more than a photograph’s ability to help us “older folks” notice the nuances in life.  When humans are in their early youth, they are oblivious to time’s passage.  They will spend inordinate volumes of effort to notice details.  These young kunduns will scrutinize like art critics, ponder like philosophers, and dispassionately dismantle anything from food, to insects, to toys to better understand the essence of all the wondrous things around them.  As we grow, movement and pace rise in importance, and we notice less of the interwoven fabric that surrounds us.  The future worries us, the past dismays us and the current moment is ignored too easily.

That is where still images come in.  A camera, a patient eye, a trigger finger and our intuition can arrest the inflection points of the day.  The upshot: a moment’s essence is preserved into the uncharted future.  Later, when we look at a photo from say, 5  or 25 years ago, we cannot but help feel an emotion, be it a smile, frown, or perhaps sadness, seep into our being.   We remember a moment seemingly unnoticed when it occurred.  A narrow element of the photo has served as a key and unlocked a memory deep in the sleepy or introverted corridors our minds and hearts. It may be a distinctive smile, the cut of a dress, a faddish haircut, a long forgotten hangout, or the surrounding people.  All of these remembrances lurch into “motion” and the stories come forth the way a flash flood surges across a parched plain.  In doing so, photos reaffirm the tapestry we are part of.


Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day Dream Proof Zones

Being Catholic, I regularly attend the Saturday or Sunday church service.  The mass has breathtaking consistency regardless where in the world you attend it.  However, the week to week regularity means that I for one, need to vigilantly be ‘in the moment’ so that I don’t wind up thinking of some other notion, conversation, news item or worry that I have.

But at the church in Bellevue, WA where I attend now (St. Louise de Marillac) portions of the service are simply impossible to “miss”.  Here’s one of them: when the parishioners can make an offering, the children present may drop off a food item or a check / cash offering.

It is amazing what happens.

From every direction, children flood into the front.  Some walk.  Most run, jog, skip.  Some trace very clear arcs in their path, and even lean into the curve they are carving.  Some walk in with certain trepidation at first, but gain confidence and verve from their counterparts.  Older siblings literally carry younger ones up and down the shallow steps.

A regular contingent will walk up to say hi to the priest and deacon, and even give brief updates: a new haircut; boo boos on their elbows; something their sister did.  (The priests relish it too.  These are the most vibrant parishioners in their flock.)

And none “go thru the motions”.

There is a passion, an immediacy to their actions.  The volume to this energy is nearly deafening for me.  One has to smile at these kunduns showing us how to carry on.  It is humbling and inspiring at the same time.


Taking care of business...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Great Risk, Sizeable Reward

Every so often, something (potentially obvious) makes my whole constitution just leap. Here is one of those…

As context, having observed a few weddings, I find that the bone crushing number of details often will squeeze much of the joy and spontaneity out of the event for the very wedding couple and party that it is all about. Furthermore, they can become exercises in conformity. Any detail that is outside "the norm" gets scrutinized, commented, lobbied for back and forth.

(Almost as remarkable is how much of this is invisible to the average attendee. For them all too often it is just a formal function, great food, people you catch up with, and some fun in general.)

Here is a video of a couple who took a great leap outside the norm - I don't know hard or easy that was to pull off with respect to the their extended family. But given that it’s been viewed 27 million times, it has struck a chord with people, both for the rules they broke and the joy thereby created.

I smile from inside when I watch it. The message: just come out with your smiles blazing, your hearts thunderously preempting and assuaging all the hesitations in the audience, and "show, don't tell" them how happy you are.

Let the goodness of life shine thru and engulf all those in its presence.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Prolific Brilliance

Roses stand out from many other flowers in one way I like a lot - they take advantage of the WHOLE summer. From spring until fall, they are industrious like ants, but elegant like orchids. Day in, day out, they just keep sprouting one masterpiece after another. Something I find inspiring. It is akin to the frenzied work of those who leave behind a big footprint, like Van Gogh, Michael Jordan, or Madamme Curie.

We had the good luck that the house we moved into in Redmond had a collection of high end roses planted by a previous owner. Each day a collection of beauts come up.
Head Shot 1...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Head Shot 2... Head Shot 3...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Head Shot 4... Head Shot 5...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Primal Traditions

Just a very few tendencies seem to need no training or introduction. Sitting around a campfire is one. Funny how you don't need much conversation or other such distraction either.

I first came across this routine when I worked at a camp for physically and mentally handicapped for two mesmerizing summers during my undergrad years. For two summers, 5 nights a week for 10 weeks, people sat around a magical fire, stared, chatted, sang, romanced, laughed, vented and gathered up energy from the crackling, glowing, scintillating jewel in their midst. Oddly the only thing you needed was the fire. All other activity, such as conversation and company, were (and still are) simply nice to haves.

Nowadays, we join a few friends for two camp outings each summer somewhere in the Washington state park system. Each night I so look forward to tying things off with a fire. People gather, crack jokes, emphatically join songs with no worries of harmony. Then you slip into moments of quiet before another raucous round kicks up. Whether you are a moth or human, the magnetic pull of a crackling fire is hard to resist. And when you see how peacefully all ages will sit and stare at a campfire, be it grandparents, or toddlers, you know you are in the company of something ancient and remarkable.

Following Reuben's Lead...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Warm Gathering...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Extreme Luxury of Being Huge or Tiny

It is hard to beat non-verbal communication. Consider your standard issue hug - - it has expression within it that is beyond our vocabulary.

A hug by someone 10 times your size - - well, it’s even better, with such features as an ocean of arms and chest, that cozy corner under mom’s chin inside the curve of her neck. It’s the comforting aromas of a grandfather’s shirt or cologne. Time is held at bay. Dissolved into nothingness are all those upsetting elements; again one can know and feel the world is a good place to be.

Giving a hug to someone 1/10th your size is a quantum leap better than the same done to a person of similar dimension as yourself. In one fell swoop, you get to engulf their entire being. Like a super hero who can change dimension, you become protector, consoler, a human blanket and cocoon whisking them away from all that is troubling.

The era for this is fleeting – all too quickly the recipients transition into larger frames, into stages where things are explained more often in words than gestures. The supply of comfort and encouragement is increasingly timebound, in part to groom the younger ones to know how to enter back into the fray. Until one day in the future where the former recipients, despite having no memory of the good actions enjoyed during their infancy, will reverse roles to comfort a new flock of tiny beings.

Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2004

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Chuttumbee 2 Turns 6

One possible measure of how young at heart you are - - how carefully you track your upcoming birthday. Sidd followed his 6th the way the FAA monitors a 777 coming in from London; or how NORAD would have watched an ICBM coming in from Siberia. (I fear I am repeating an earlier post.)

"Only 73 more days left dad...." 18 days later, "Dad, there's only 55 days left to my birthday. Are you watching?"

Well the momentous day came in 3 stages:
  • First a party in Atlanta at the house of his cousins Ava and Audrey.
  • Then a little shindig at our place on the actual day. But by then he had decided one's "real birthday" actually occurs on the day of the official party.
  • So finally we gathered with a few of his friends to go bowling, after which he casually let his brother open the presents for him. Paul did this with all the seriousness and duty of someone processing taxes, though the gleeful gleam in his eyes says that deep inside it was a different story.

I figure in about 8 months, it will be time to track the next incoming big day.

Finally Six Years Old...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reinventing Haloween

Sidd was 26 months on his 1st halloween. He had rarely had candy and really had no clue what the evening's festivities were about. Paul at 3 was not much more clear on it. But they were a bit excited about getting out, and even at that age noticed the kids walking around in the evening with big smiles and bags or buckets with things in it.

At the 1st house we visited, Molly and I urged Sidd to extend a little bag we gave him. He looked very puzzled as a lady dropped 3 candies in, "oohing" and "aahing" at the site of the cute boys. He looked down at the candy, up at her, down again, paused, smiled, reached in, grabbed one of them, and triumphantly tossed it back in her platter. Afar as he was concerned, this was a fun new game.

The lady looked at Molly and I, thunderstruck. "My Lord, in 33 years, I have never had a child give me back candy! What a remarkable child!" Truth was he had no idea what to do, nor the signficance of these things being plopped into his bag.

So for 6 more houses, he came with great anticipation for the give /get game. And left the residents stupified at this toddler's behavior.

Paul was in deep observation of the colors, sounds, feels of the various Reese's, M&M's, and other candy wrappings.

US Athlete at Beijing Olympics... Teddy Bear... Out and About...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Important Travel Gear

Always interesting is what a child considers important to take on a trip, without guidance from an adult. For a long overdue visit back in March to his Uncle Geoji in Austin, here was the contents of Paul’s carry-on (he was, in his own words, “almost 7 years old” at the time):

  • Teddy, his confidant, don’t leave home without him

  • Light saber, never know when it will come in handy

  • Journal, to capture “mental pictures” as his teacher Mrs. H has asked for on many occasions

  • Pencil / coloring pack, to ensure the visualizations are vivid

  • 3 books to flip thru

Sidd followed suit in a somewhat expected, “monkey see, monkey do” fashion

Teddy is Ready to Go
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

6 More Days to My Birthday

The CarTalk guys once mentioned a simple insight - when you are young you round up your age and look forward to the birthdays. "I am 4 and a half." Later in life, your approximate at best. "I am feeling great," may be the closest to a number that is mentioned. Sidd has been tracking his upcoming birthday the way that NORAD would track an ICBM coming in from Siberia. At his request, I created a simple chart in Excel about 100 days ago and routinely I hear him refer and say "43 more days, dad". Like a sales guy needing to keep in mind the number of selling days left.

Here was his early birthday party in Atlanta, blowing out the candles with Paul and his cousin Ava.

The countdown continues.

Birthday Hurricane
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Volume vs. Value of Time

Ah when you're young you have more time that you know what to do with, you just don't track your precious wealth that closely, like a billionaire with 47 estates across 6 continents. Hey, there's more where it came from, right? you get older? Well, your awareness, appreciation, and value of those minutes and hours rises astronomically but your supply of it (usually) diminishes dramatically. There was a time you traded in weeks and months, and now your currency is hours and afternoons for the most part.

So is it the young age we look back to so endearingly, or perhaps the nutty array of free perks lavishly slathered upon us during that time? Someone to bathe me, feed me, drive me around, take my orders, stop conversation to hear me out? Wow, what would that cost to do tomorrow for a week?

Perhaps a greater awareness and appreciation of what one had in those faraway days would have made it that much more sublime, but the contrary may be true: that ignorance of so many things was the source of our bliss, eh?

Take off.... Airborne!
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Value of a Free Gesture

"This is the BEST airplane, dad!"

That was Paul's thundering proclamation as we left the cockpit of Delta 1059, preparing to depart for Seattle. As we had boarded, I realized the last time I had seen a cockpit was pre-9/11 - - it was a 747-400 Lufthansa back in early 1997, when Molly and I were returning from India. So I asked the flight attendant at the doorway.

"Sure but you should do it now. Just stand over here and have them go to the cockpit."
Molly watched the bags, and I followed the boys down the small hallway as this sounded like a photo in the making.

Before I arrived I heard the welcoming words, "Are you gentleman here to see us? Okay, older brother, why don't you sit over here." In one orchestrated move, the co-pilot glided out of his seat, found his hat and lightly placed it on Paul.

"You got a camera dad? This needs a shot, you know."

Just like that, Paul was living the dream, at the helm of a widebody jetliner; not one of those dismembered museum cockpits where you have to visualize the rest of the plane. This baby was getting fueled, loaded with food, & had the pusher truck waiting below. This was the real deal!

"Okay, let's let the little brother sit down." Sidd started twisting the control arm, and the co-pilot triggered a cockpit alarm. It did get Sidd's attention, and the #2 smiled, "Just messing with you, buddy".

The scene ended as quickly and politely as it started, "Okay guys, the captain has to fly this bird" and Sidd was eased out of the chair.

The cost: a little bit of time and effort from one quick minded flight attendant and two amenable pilots.
The value: two boys who are crazy about planes now in a surreal, happy delirium.

Thank you Delta.

Captain Paul... Captain Sidd
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Your Best Work is in Front of You

"Dad can you take a photo of my new truck?" Once that request comes in, I usually have 1 calendar day to document the concoction. Any longer? One of the two will say, "You missed it, dad. I broke it and I am making a plane" or some other creation.

I am always shocked at how they don't hang on to any new contraption for more than a couple of days. Even the ones they REALLY love. The urge to re-use the parts for something in their head is just too strong.

My only thought is this is in part self-confidence in one's work, combined with a great curiosity in what is around the corner and a firm believe that "my dreams are bigger than my memories."
Robot Shovel
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Where’s the Waterbed

There is something unnerving yet spell-binding about the non-complacency of people when they are drunk, particularly in a group.

Back in my East Lansing days, Mikey, Jim and I would occasionally sojourn up to the Windy City and stay at Grady’s palatial 3rd floor flat (we are talking 3,000 square feet, 4 BR, 4 bathrooms in an indestructible grand building). On one of those trips, we joined a Christmas party I remember well.

Two guys at the party who were proud of their wrestling pedigree (and a bit drunk) got into a well meaning wrestling match, feeling the need to represent their high school names (to the entertainment of a few others.) They slammed into Grady’s king sized waterbed at one point, creating a small rupture. Not a big tear, so not a big problem; literally a contained one, as the mattress sat in a liner that sat in a wooden frame. But 50+ lubricated onlookers simply could not ignore this. It needed a “NOW” answer.

  • “let’s just staple it, I mean, they do that for people”
  • “tape it to seal it up, then drain it”
  • “how about we connect a hose, and sit on it to make it go faster”
  • “you got any of that glue for flat tires? we can spray it on the hole”
  • “I say let’s drink now and do something about it tomorrow”

Someone did actually attach a hose to the mattress’ main drain hole, hang it out the window and let the water siphon out using gravity. A simple, dry answer, brilliant given the situation, but slow. Hard to demonstrate progress to all the people watching. Drunks want action, now.

After 10 minutes the hose had steadily drained perhaps 2 gallons of 1,000 out the window but the onlookers had drank another 25 beers and arrived at a clear conclusions: slow answers are not good enough. No way.

A “tiger team” of savants had a better idea: pass the mattress out one of the 3rd floor windows to the driveway below. It will: more visually show success; use the energy of at least 15 people; and “solve the problem” in a few minutes, right? A much better idea. Disregard the weight a king size waterbed, the collateral damage to the carpeting, the difficulty in just getting it out of the frame, or the cost of fixing vs replacing a king size mattress they were not paying for anyway. ACTION = SMART.

Even before the team of Einsteins had pulled the mattress out of the frame, Mikey in all his insouciance said, “hey mush head, let’s get a good view from the next window , this is amazing!” And it was. Weird visions came to mind: here were 15 people hell-bent on teaching a baby blob to walk. Initially, getting the mattress up and thru the window’s opening was tough going. But it became less resistant as it's own gravity drew it out into the frigid winter night, slithering out on its own weight.

Unfortunately, no one had “looked down” from the window for anything below. So it was with horror that we watched as this large creature hurtled downward, indiscriminately ripping out the power and telephone lines for the 1st and 2nd floor flats. At each level the mattress met with a burst of electricity as cables were ripped from the building. Building lights flashed dead on the 2nd, then the 1st floor. Finally, the mattress sprawled on the floor, a dead blobbish creature, while the electrical cables writhed around, momentarily arcing electricity and then going dead. (To make matters worse, the 2nd floor unit’s new owner had just moved in that day).

"Oh shit, you guys, oh shit" was the basic reaction three floors up.

People’s true character shines thru in times of conflict. And clearly, the party goers were seasoned pros. “Hide the evidence” was the call to action. "Hey let's just chop it up and throw it in the different dumpsters, all that's left is a bunch of water in the morning." Without any more discussion a dozen single minded partiers raced to the kitchen, then brandishing the knife of choice but without waiting to don coats for the numbing January air they thundered down the stairs, out to the alleyway and hacked the mattress and its patent-pending “wave-neutralizer” filler into pieces. It was a bizarre scene. At the time impressive for their speed and pragmatic approach. But now looking back it's more chilling memory. The tossed the mattress’s “remains” into dumpsters across the nearby buildings, and the came back in with proud grins for solving things so fast. And the water, well it blended into the snow and ice. What people don’t find cannot cause problems, right?

A few mins after the party has resumed a knock emerged from the door. Brian was summoned as one of the hosts, the music was muted. "Hi I just moved to the 2nd floor and my power just died - any idea why?" came the question from the new tenant. "Hmmm, gosh I wish I could help, would like you like to join us for some food or beer?" replied Brian in his trademark helpful manner. His gambit worked, the tenant declined as it was late for either but used the phone to contact CIPS.

I came away with two observations: perhaps what had transpired is a version of what must occur more often than we care to believe in terms of impatience and alcohol; in this case, the drunk cohort iterated two different solutions, from a better, slower one to a faster, much much dumber one.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Roadtrip Veterans

For anyone who has been on a bonafide roadtrip, you know that the real secret is how you discover your fellow travelers in ways you had never imagined nor expected. The journey is truly the destination, in good and bad ways. We were in Florida back in May for my cousin Ninon's wedding, and had the chance to head out to various venues. Here are shots on the return leg after visiting Cape Canaveral (worth the visit, btw).

We had never put Paul and Sidd in the very back until now but it was a master stroke. They had a hoot, and the howling, hammering and yelling was slightly more dissipated by having them at the very other end of the vehicle, and Molly, my mom and dad, and myself together. Luckily they are two good friends so the trip had not notable bad outcomes.

Spin, Bonk and Laugh
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2009 (click for larger image)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Prolific Creators

"No one works harder or with greater purpose than a child at play."

How true. And few toys feed the mind's imaginaton like Legos. The trick is to ensure the DaVinci in us stays unbottled so we ponder and explore at voracious rates. All the better where there is a sibling to bounce your ideas against.

Collaborators... Early Morning Concentration...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

The thought that goes into these is at times remarkable. As example, the "Spaceship for Two" comes with an imposing gun pointed at the back of the pilot's head. But it is intended for bad guys. "Dad, if a bad guy pushes the pilot out of the chair and flies the spaceship, then the gun shoots him in the head so that he can't steal the ship." Wow. At age 5.

Police Car... Spaceship for Two
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)
Mountain Gondola...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stopping Time

Around the time I turned 15, I came to notice things I truly enjoyed, carefully measure how much had transpired, and for better or for worse, assess how much was “remaining.”

The halfway mark was a wistful moment. All the more reason to be in the moment, burn the candle at both ends. If only I could stop things completely for just a while. Do we really need to go home now?

…only 12 more days left in this trip... Only 5 1/2 weeks left in summer vacation... Man, it is Sunday morning already – just one day left in this weekend... I recall measuring everyday of the 20 I joyously lollygagged in Koh Samui back in 1989, and the wistful sense as I neared the last day...

Funny how when you are young, time is abundant but awareness of this resource is lacking. As you get older, the awareness becomes acute, but the supply dwindles, eh?

I think that is why the movie Cinema Paradisio struck such a personal cord. When Salvatore watches the reel of outtakes, it recalls the insouciant, playful ways of his unencumbered childhood.

Dear Lord, do I act as if I am beyond the “halfway mark” and take advantage of the time, talents and treasure at my fingertips?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Postures and Textures

We had the superb luck to attend a dance performance - it was one of those free events that could have easily commanded a $25/person door charge. The performers ranged from 6 years old to the teacher of these girls. The music, including the singing, was live. The outfits and make up were superb as you see here. And again, it was free. Crazy how uneven life is, eh?

The Mountain...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Telling Younger From Older

One way that a child stands out: emotions don't "stick" with them more than 15 minutes. It is as if their personas are teflon coated so emotions slide off. Sure the normal interactions of the day will bring anger, frustration, sadness, joy, etc. But what's remarkable is that these dispositions move along, like clouds moseying across a blue sky to make an appointment beyond the horizon.

Adults, well, all too often emotions stick to us one at a time, the way barnacles latch to the hull of a ship. Think of how someone's comments or actions make you stew inside. For how long? And why so long? Perhaps it is the scale or intensity of what we experience.

But is it something else? Perhaps that when we are young we live in the moment, as veritable kunduns; perplexingly, as we "grow up," we teach ourselves too well how to live in the past and the future. Hard to know why or how this evolves in us, but I have seen the stark difference, now that we have two young boys.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feel the Music

Some people naturally like sports, others to make things. Some, like Sidd, enjoy music.

Looking forward...
Abe Pachikara, Copyright 2008 (click for larger image)

He used to bob his head at the age of 1 when we played the stereo in our Boston house. And certain songs in church would slowly make his eyes well up and he'd start to cry. Here's another way he falls into music - - at social events.

A recent example: We were at a get together after a friend's baptism and someone started to play music on a boombox. Pretty quickly, Sidd left his friends and joined the Indian men who were dancing it up. (Sounds like a Pachikara, eh?)

Call it pre-training for my cousin Ninon's wedding reception in May.