At age 70, my memory goes back only 65 years, to when I was in kindergarten. My older siblings, over the years, have filled in on the missing stories of my childhood from birth to age 5 with their memories. In telling my stories, I took the liberty to play with words, to enhance some experiences with my imagination. For example, I wrote one purely fictitious story, a proclamation of my birth as celebrated by my sisters. I called this story “Forever Young Kapila,” and I wrote it for my oldest sister, Kapilaben, in 2014, when she turned 80. Her children had organized a surprise birthday party in London, and we four brothers in America decided to take part in the celebration in person.
My beloved wife nudged me to write something special for the occasion, something that no-one in our family knew, or perhaps that only my sister knew. So, I designed a greeting card with an imaginary story. After reading the story, my sister decided on the spot, to my surprise, to share it with all the family and friends in the audience. She said, “How wonderful it feels that I danced on the street in India for the birth of my brother who’s 65 now, who came here from America to celebrate my birthday!”
Her emotional sharing heightened my confidence in writing emotional stories of my life, which my darling daughters had been telling me for years to write. Being in the profession of engineering and information technology all my life, I couldn’t imagine being a professional author. It felt like switching my left brain to my right brain. I asked myself whether it was even possible. To put my thoughts onto computer pages was a whole new endeavor. I should thank the three most beloved people in my life—Rita, Anita, and Sarita—for pushing me over the edge and plunging me into these new waters!
Finally, I thought to myself, I will write my memoir . . . when I retire! So, within a couple of weeks of my retirement, Rita delicately nudged me with a subtle hint: “Do you recall something that you promised?” When she saw no hint of recollection on my face and saw no change in my daily activities, she changed her tactics. No more hints. She went on an offensive with the approach of shame.
“You’ll disappoint your darlings, so act now.”
“That time is long overdue.”
“So, start writing stories now.”
It was almost a command.
Early the next morning, I furiously banged on computer keys to crank out a sample five-page story. Reading this story, my daughters reacted with pleasant surprise that finally I might fulfill their dream of seeing my childhood stories on paper!
My family and close friends lovingly call me by my given name of “Bhupendra.” The question of how to spell my name never came up while I was in Gujarat, India. My Dada advised me, “It’s not the name. It is your words, your actions, your thoughts, and your intentions that count. That is what defines your true character and that is what everyone looks for. Therefore, you’ll be judged by character, abilities, actions and reputation.” That was my guide, all my life.
In the summer of 1973, during my summer break from Brigham Young University in Utah, I came to the East Coast looking for a job. A big and burly foreman from a company known as Moldcast Manufacturing, which made lighting fixtures in Newark, New Jersey, proclaimed on the first day at work, “Booopepe . . . , whatever your name is, it’s too complicated. It uses the whole alphabet. From now on, I will call you, ‘Joe.’” Upon pleading and insisting that he use at least the first initial of “B,” he settled on the short and simple name of “Bob.”
After graduating from Catholic University in Washington, DC, I got a job at the Norfolk and Western Railroad. I checked into the Del Mar Hotel one night when I had just been transferred to Portsmouth, Ohio. A sweet old lady at the counter, encountering a young immigrant man for the first time, took a keen interest in my name, Bhupendra Patel. She struggled, mumbling a few times. Finally apologizing in a soft tone, she said, “Would you mind if I call you ‘Pat,’ short for ‘Patel?’”
My local friends and acquaintances in Mystic for the last 35 years and my co-workers at General Dynamics, Electric Boat Corporation, where I helped design and build the world’s best nuclear submarines, always knew me as “Bob,” for, given the choice, they preferred “Bob,” surmising “Pat” would be confused with a feminine name.
Benefits of Good Handwriting
My handwriting practice began in the language of Gujarati. However, my practice in writing continued as I learned English through my middle school years. Interestingly, the English alphabet opened a unique opportunity for me, since I had to learn three alphabets! Upper case, lower case, and cursive. Observing, appreciating, and learning new styles of writing, with embellishments, is still an extremely joyful experience for me. Soon after I developed my English handwriting, I embarked on finessing it by adding graphical plays and different layouts. Even today, when I see an impactful message on a large billboard, I say to myself, “How wonderful it looks!” and genuinely appreciate different fonts and effects.
Below is an illustrated list of the benefits of good handwriting, which I developed for informational purposes. Some of the benefits listed below, I can still recall Mama telling me during my childhood. Other benefits, I have derived from my personal experience over the years.
Honed fine motor skills.
Enhanced hand and eye coordination.
Increased tactile experiences.
Acquired graphical design ability.
Appreciated art & beauty.
Quality of Content
Made words legible.
Easily proofread my own words.
Easily identified my own mistakes.
Paid attention to details in my writings.
Learned to plan before executing sentences.
Avoided scratching or the need for an erasure.
Increased concentration and thinking activity.
Increased reading fluency and comprehension.
Clarified written material.
Lead to focus on content.
Processed and absorbed new information.
Reframed and manipulated new material.
Helped brainstorm ideas.
Improved my memory and retention.
Built my confidence.
Enhanced my self-esteem.
Impact of Written Material
Conveyed moods and personality.
Reached the appropriate audience.
Improved teacher’s assessments.
Enhanced my academic success.
Improved learning opportunities.
Benefits for the Reader
Made good impressions.
Paid attention to details.
Recognized quality of my composition.
Received and accepted my intended message.
Understood the mood and my personality.
Saw weight and value of the message.
Imparted positive feelings for me.
Evoked respect for myself.
Please note: The practice of good handwriting is still an evolving practice of mine.
my favorite cooking
The Wonderful Cooking of Zavarba, my Grandmother
Here are my favorite items:
Gujarati Farm Food
I loved Zavarba’s open-fire cooking. I still can visualize those smoke-enhanced farm-fresh ingredients with their mouth-watering aroma. Oh, how wonderful!
Dada planted a lot of tuver. Zavarba made a delicious thick, red tomato, onion, and garlic gravy with cloves which I ate with rotla for lunch. The rotla were sometimes accompanied with jaggery, ghee, pickles, and other such accompaniments. Fresh tuver vegetable curry was made with kadhi with its slightly sweet taste. This particular recipe has migrated on to our family living in the US. The rotla are made from bajri flour which I still prefer today in place of wheat bread.
Bajri Rotla or Moriya
Flatbreads made from millet flour are called bajri rotla or moriya. They are very easy to make, and they make a good accompaniment to dal or any Indian vegetable-based curry dish. Bajra is the Hindi word for pearl millet. These flat breads are gluten free and an excellent, nutritious option for people who have gluten intolerance, and for everybody else, too.
Zavarba kneaded moriya using hot water until the dough became pliable and easy to roll, but warm water works, as well. The rotis had a soft texture too. My preferred way to eat moriya was when it was served with bharli vangi—stuffed eggplant in peanut-coconut-sesame gravy.
Boiled tuver beans with chana flour and yogurt makes a wonderfully spicy and mouthwatering gravy that I love so much. So, when I learned in Luna that once a year that girls did not eat any salt for five days, I wondered how they could last without eating salt for five days, especially irresistible in the aromas of tuver bakra, a wonderfully gravied beans, and kadhi being cooked on open fire. However, the girls could eat as much sweet as they wanted to. I envied them for that, for I was offered just a small sample of penda, milk halwa, or some other sweet.
Khichdi and Kadhi
This is one of my favorite dishes. Whenever Zavarba made kadhi from freshly churned buttermilk with an ingredient called hadiya-karsan in place of mustard seed, oh, what a heavenly taste! I drank a small bowl by itself, even before my meal. Those were amazing moments of my life.
She made kadhi by adding chickpea flour to sour yogurt, tempered with some spices, and then simmered. It had a thick, creamy, soup-like consistency. Her kadhi was delicately sour, deliciously sweet, and just enough spicy. I still like to have kadhi once a week, served with plain rice or with khichdi, boiled rice and tuver dal, which I prefer with large lump of ghee, just as Zavarba served it.
This delicious and healthy Gujarati dish Zavarba generally prepared during the cold winter season, for evening snack or dinner. She served it with curd, ghee, or butter. Her bajri dhebra recipe sometimes included farm-fresh methi (fenugreek) leaves. She cooked on open flames but on occasions deep-fried these.
Topics for your Book Club
1. Who are some influential women in your life? How do you think they shaped who you are now?
2. Have you ever moved? How did you adapt to your new surroundings?
3. Describe some memories from your earliest childhood that you still vividly remember. What feelings do you have from those memories?
4. Describe some games that you played when you were little. Do you think children will enjoy playing those same games 50 years later? Why or why not?
5. Do you remember traveling when you were little? What were your favorite and not so favorite recollections?
6. How does it feel to visit your childhood home? Does your neighborhood still look and feel the same as you recall? What has changed?