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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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With love from Romania
  By A.J. Philip  
  I FIRST read about Mircea Eliade when last year my friend Santosh Kr Singh of Punjab University presented me a research journal which had biographical details of the Romanian scholar. His was a captivating story. Eliade came from Romania to do research under an eminent Indian philosopher, fell madly in love with his young, beautiful daughter and wrote a sensational novel woven around their passionate love. It took years for his lady love to know that the barely disguised fictional account of their love was a runaway success in Romania. I wanted to write a piece on Eliade in 'The Tribune' but circumstances forced me to leave Chandigarh and return to New Delhi.

Eliade came back to my life when I had a long chat with Mihaela Gligor, who has been writing regularly for The Herald of India from Cluj-Napoca in Romania, when we travelled together to Serampore from Kolkata. When I told her that I had read about Eliade in a journal Santosh had given to me, she mentioned that she happened to be the founder and Chief Editor of the journal. Mihaela was extremely reticent to the point of uttering only monosyllables. But then she is a doer, more than a talker.

Mihaela has already accomplished much in her life, a Ph.D on Eliade, starting an international academic journal where the likes of Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen are contributors, visiting India several times on post-doctoral fellowships, translating Prof Sen's The Argumentative Indian and, now, setting up a Tagore Center at Cluj Napocea. She is confident that the Tagore Centre she has in mind will be an institution of excellence where debates and seminars on India and Indian culture will be as regular as publishing books and journals on Tagore. All this she manages while holding an academic job at the Romanian Academy. The only thing she regrets is having to return from India every time she visits the country. Such is her love for India, its people and its culture. Following is the text of the interview Mihaela Gligor granted to The Herald of India:

Question: How did you become interested in India?

Answer: I never even dreamt that I would be able to visit India. For a very long time India had been a far-away land, something like a beautiful fairy-tale. But then life offers unthought-of surprises and leads to great places. I first learnt about India at school and it fascinated me. During summer vacations, when I stayed with my grandfather, he used to tell me stories about distant places, about Gods and travelers. He was a simple man but wise enough to put me in the quest for knowledge. Many of his stories were about India. They were just stories; the real "encounter" came later, when I read Mircea Eliade's book, 'Maitreyi' or 'Bengali Night' as it is popularly known in India.

Q: When you read 'Maitreyi', what was the impression you gained about India?

A: Well, India appeared to me a very exotic place. I was charmed not only by the description of India (nay Calcutta), but also by the story itself. Eliade tells a beautiful love story, between a European and an Indian girl. They broke all the rules of Indian society. I learnt a lot about Calcutta from this book. When I came here first, I had the opportunity to see the house at Ripon street where Eliade (and his main character, Allan) stayed during that time. I also had the pleasure of meeting Maitreyi Devi's family members and seeing the house where much of the action took place. The novel is almost autobiographical. The characters were real and so were the feelings. Reading 'Maitreyi', I fell in love with India.

Q: When did you visit India first? Did the India you saw conform to the India in your mind?

A: I came for the first time in 2007, to participate in the International Seminar on History of Religions, organised by JNU, and dedicated to Mircea Eliade. It provided a forum for scholars to exchange views, on such diverse subjects as history of religions, Indian nationalism and European inter-war politics. In short, it was an inspired and inspiring seminar.

I came to India with an open heart and mind, wishing to enjoy every second here and nourishing big plans in my mind. India touched me from the very first day. It is a world completely different from ours, a strange universe, just like a fairy-tale. All that hustle and bustle, all the colours that attract one's eyes, the perfume of India... all this one can read in a library. But it is only by being here that one realises that everything is different from what was thought before. I guess any foreigner who visited India has her own image of India. My India is a wonderful land. It surpassed all my expectations. What I like most are its people -- very straightforward and open-minded, very warm and welcoming. The emotional side of the Indian mind is very different from ours. We, somehow, have the tendency to complicate everything, but for Indians things seem simpler. One only has to open one's heart to be able to receive what life could offer any moment. The people of India are amazing. As former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam (whom I had the honor to meet last year in Delhi) used to say, the real power of India stays in its people. Indians, no matter their education, their religious background, or the caste to which they belong are very modest and always ready to help you. I was indeed impressed by the Taj Mahal, the Fatehpur Sikri, Vishwa Bharati, the Victoria Memorial and my City of Joy Kolkata but what found a place in my heart are the people of India.

Q: What do you find great about India?

A: India is great because here I can be myself. I can dream here and I can make my dreams true. India gave me so much. I love the feeling I have when I am in India. I feel like I belong here; like I was here all the time. I feel free to do whatever I want and think. Kolkata is now my second home. I have so many friends here, more than I have in Romania and I think this means something.

Q: How did your interest in Tagore originate?

A: Through Mircea Eliade, of course. While staying in India on a scholarship, Eliade had the opportunity to meet Rabindranath Tagore several times. A brief description of these encounters also appeared in his novel. He also published several articles about his Indian life in Romanian periodicals, a couple of them about Tagore. I was impressed by his personality. I've read Gitanjali and I knew that I want to learn more about him and his works. So I applied for an ICCR scholarship. This year I came to Kolkata for six months to study Tagore. I have learnt many things about Tagore but I want to learn more. I have started an "Indian Library Collection" at Cluj-Napoca, my native town, a major University Center in Romania. Our Collection is only at the beginning stage but we have already translated one of Tagore's most important philosophy works, 'Sadhna', and also Maitreyi Devi's 'Mongpute Rabindranath'. Working in the area of philosophy, our intention is to introduce Tagore's philosophy to Romania.

Q: How did you start the International Journal on Humanistic Ideology?

A: It is a biannual scholarly journal devoted to the study of Humanities, the nature and origin of humanistic ideas. It encourages interdisciplinary approaches. I started this Journal last year and until a couple of months ago I was struggling to publish it. I had financial problems; I supported the first three issues with my salary. It was difficult to bring it out. After the last issue appeared, a big Romanian Foundation -- Fundatia Dinu Patriciu -- took the Journal under its patronage and all my financial problems have been solved. I am very grateful to them. From now on, I will make it much better. The Journal is already indexed in many international scholarly data bases.

Q: Eminent scholars like Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen write for you. How do you manage all this while doing your regular job at the Academy?

A: Well, in a way it is part of my job. I work as a scientific researcher in the field of Philosophy at Romanian Academy. My job is to read and write, to participate in seminars and conferences, to publish books and things like that. So, editing such a Journal is part of the job. Only that I am not paid for it. But that is fine. Being in the company of Noam Chomsky or Amartya Sen is priceless to me.

Q: We understand that you are planning to set up a Tagore Center in your city. What is the progress so far?

A: I want to establish a Tagore Center in Cluj-Napoca, an institution which, hopefully, will bring together two far-away cultures, yet very similar, nourishing the hope of drawing from each other the most noble elements of life. Through this Center, I want to promote true Indian culture. You know, there are many Indian "things" in Romania, but all of them show something which is not so Indian at all. Romanians know about India, especially from Bollywood movies, and I don't think those are representative of Indian culture. I like Indian films, too, but for somebody who doesn't know much about real India, it is very easy to mix things, to think that those movies tell the truth. My Tagore Center will present the real Indian values. And for that I have the support of many people from Jadavpur University, Kolkata -- people who work on Tagore. This time I came to India to participate in the Tagore Festival, organized by the ICCR and Tagore Center, Kolkata, and being here I've learnt not only about the poet and his works, but also about managing such an institution. As regards the financial support, I have to thank the Alchemist Group, New Delhi, which has promised to help. I also get support from Mr. BK Poddar, the Honorary Consul of Romania in Kolkata.

As soon as I get back home, I will start working on this Center. Our Indian Library Collection will go forward, as a part of this Center. We intend to publish important books of and about Tagore, and also about Indian culture, history and identity, and we do this by presenting, for the first time in Romania Amartya Sen's book, The Argumentative Indian.

Q: Why did you choose The Argumentative Indian for translation? Do you think the Romanians would be interested in this kind of a book which does not deal with the passionate love of a European for a Bengali girl?

A: I just love this book. The book explains so well the whole Indian argumentative tradition and the essays on Tagore or Satyajit Ray are such a great introduction to the real Indian culture. I am sure the Romanian readers will appreciate this book. A true bestseller doesn't have to deal with a passionate love affair. A bestseller should be a book from which you learn something about a culture and you gain for yourself a certain kind of knowledge. I did this reading The Argumentative Indian and I am sure that the Romanian readers, too, will benefit from it. I could meet Professor Amartya Sen a few days ago in Kolkata and we talked about this translation.

Q: When you write for The Herald of India, it evokes a very good response from its readers. What could be the secret of this? Is it because you even overlook all the blemishes of India?

A: I don't know exactly. Maybe, the secret is that I am writing with my heart! I am making everything very personal. Each time I write, I put a part of me there. I am not writing about something which is outside of me, but about things that are inside of me; things that happened to me. I think when you write with your heart, those who read can feel that. The secret is to be yourself and, I told you, in India and regarding India, I am myself. I just love my India.
Caption: Mihaela Gligor with Prof Amartya Sen - Photo by A.J. Philip
Born to succeed
  By A.J. Philip  
  Dr Mini Shaji Thomas has always been an achiever. She ranked first in school and topped her college as well. She graduated from the University of Kerala, completed her M Tech from IIT Madras (both with gold medals) and PhD from IIT Delhi, all in Electrical Engineering. Dr Thomas is at present Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), as well as Public Information Officer (PIO). She received the prestigious 'Career Award' for young teachers, Government of India. She was instrumental in setting up the first SCADA lab and Substation Automation Lab in JMI. She is also the coordinator of the Special Assistance Program (SAP) on Power System Automation from the University Grants Commission. She has several awards to her credit. In an interview to The Herald of India, she throws light on her life as a child in Kerala, her love for teaching and her association with the IEEE.

Q: Tell us about your early life? About the influences your parents had on you.

I was born in Ayakkad village near Kothamangalam to strict orthodox Marthoma parents. My parents, who were teachers, were dedicated and worked very hard. I was brought up in strict discipline -- not allowed to wear gold, pierce my ears or watch movies. My parents continuously prayed for my brother and me. My grandmother, who lived next door, had a strong influence on me with her Christian principles and love for missionaries.

Q: How serious were you as a Sunday School student? What impact did it have on your later life?

We attended a very small church. It consisted of 10 families, mostly relatives. We had regular Sunday school classes, taught by my aunts and uncles. However, it was at home that we learnt most about Jesus and the Bible. We had a 'children's prayer time' at 7 pm, where we read the Bible and prayed. Our parents and grandmother also taught us lessons from the Bible. I still remember Sunday School camps where Dr Yuhanon Tirumeni provided leadership. Attending church was a must, no matter what. I never studied from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon, even if I had an exam the following day.

Q: Why did you choose science? What did you want to become?

I was an excellent student all my childhood and always topped my class. The only good career options that were available were that of a doctor or an engineer and as I was scared of blood, I chose the latter.

Q: Tell us about your education.

I studied at a local government school till Class IV. I was then sent to an English medium school, where I studied till Class X. I then joined St. Mary's at Trichur and scored 96 per cent in Class XII. Although I was assured an engineering seat as I had scored good marks, and could join any prestigious engineering college, I decided to stay at home and so joined MA College of Engineering, Kothamangalam. (I had no idea about IITs at that time). I topped my BTech class and got into IIT Madras for MTech, which I topped again and joined IIT Delhi for a PhD; all in Electrical Engineering.

Q: You were afraid of success. You never mentioned that you were a rank holder? Why?

I preferred to be led, rather than lead. I concealed my capacities as a leader, as I was afraid of failure. It was only at a leadership training course that my perceptions changed and the leader in me was revealed.

Q: How did you come to Delhi?

I loved Kerala so much that I never wanted to leave the state. Therefore, after my MTech, I took up a job at REC Calicut, although I had received a large number of excellent job offers from across the country. However, it was my marriage to Dr Shaji Thomas that brought me to Delhi. I resigned from REC and shifted to Delhi, where I did my PhD and later taught in Delhi.

Q: You are a brilliant scientist but Jamia Millia did not think of anyone else when they wanted a PRO? Tell us about that phase of your career.

I am Jamia Millia Islamia's PIO (Public Information Officer). I handle all the RTI applications that come to the university. When I finished my headship, the Vice-Chancellor wanted me to take over as the PIO, as the job required someone who was unbiased and strict, and he thought that I was fit for the post. While serving as the Head of the Electrical Engineering Department, I had to face several problems, but I stood my ground and stuck to my principles, although it annoyed many. During the past one year as the PIO, I have learnt a lot about how a university functions. It is a new experience for me. I still have my full teaching load and have six PhD students registered under me.

Q: Tell us about the nature of your work.

I am a Professor of Electrical Engineering at JMI, a Power Engineer working on the Automation of Power Systems. My field involves Substation and Distribution Automation and Smart Grid Implementation. I was instrumental in setting up the first-of-its-kind SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) lab at JMI in 2003. In 2008, I set up a unique Substation Automation lab at JMI, one that is not available at the IITs or even at top research institution across the world. I also started a unique MTech Program in 2003 on 'Electrical Power System Management'.

Q: You have become the vice-chair of IEEE? What is IEEE and what does it do?

IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, is the world's largest technical professional society with around 3,80,000 members in 160 countries. IEEE celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. I have been elected Vice Chair of IEEE MGAB 2010 (Member and Geographic Activities Board) and I will be in charge of six global committees.

Q: How do you visualize your future? What are your unfulfilled dreams?

According to student feedback at institutions where I have worked, I am rated as an excellent teacher and motivator. I am satisfied with my life, as I have always wanted to be a teacher. However, living in Kerala is an unfulfilled dream, which I may do sometime later in life. I don't believe in setting goals. I tackle things as they come along. However, once I take up a job, I give my 100 per cent and do my best. I never calculate the gain I will receive out of the job, as everything you do will teach you something. Positions have come to me as surprises and I have found that help comes from 'somewhere' in those moments when I felt that all was over.

Q: Tell us about your family.

My husband, Dr Shaji Thomas, is a Professor of Surgery at Lady Hardinge Medical College and SK Hospitals, New Delhi. My daughter Shobha has completed her BTech in Computer Science and Engineering and is currently pursuing an MBA. My son, Mathew, is in Class XI.
Lahore to Chennai
  By A.J. Philip  
  GRIT and determination aptly describe veteran educator Visharda Hoon, the founder principal of Chennai's Adarsh Vidyalaya run by the Punjabi community. From being jailed at the age of 16 for taking part in the freedom movement to being sent on a foreign posting to Nepal; she has done it all. Hoon is a model and inspiration for women all across the country. She has had an illustrious career as an educator. In an interview to The Herald of India, she throws light on her life as a child in Pakistan, her tryst with politics and what it means to be an educator.

Q: Please tell us about your early life in what is now Pakistan.

I was born on June 20, 1926, at Shekupura, about 150 km from Lahore. My father Raisahib Swamidas was posted there as an executive engineer with the Public Works Department. He was transferred back to Lahore in 1927, where he built a spacious house in suburb Model Town. It was named 'Vidya Niwas,' after my mother.

My mother was his second wife. I had two older stepbrothers, Lachman Das and Roshan Das. Lachman was 20 years older than me and was another father figure. My mother had four children -- Vimla was her firstborn, followed by Vinod, me and Vivek. My mother was well-versed in English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Punjabi. She could read and write in those languages, although she never had any formal degree.

Our life was leisurely. We had a lot of freedom. We were fond of swimming, sports, yoga and dance. There was a floodlit badminton court in our backyard. Whenever a new commodity like the radio, record player or refrigerator came into the market, we were sure to get it. We often went to Lahore in my father's old vintage Essex car to see movies and attend fairs.

I joined Punjab College for Women in 1941. It was run by my aunt Amar Kumari Verma. Those were crucial years in Indian history. Some of its famous students include former Prime Minister I.S Gujral's wife Sushila, actor I.S Johar's wife Rama Hoon and Congress Socialist Party leader Prem Bhasin's wife Kamla Ahuja.

We gradually got involved in the freedom movement. On December 9, 1942, I participated in a strike and procession in Lahore and Anarkali market. We were lathicharged, rounded up and sent to Lahore Central Jail. It was a new experience for me. I was only 16 years old. Those four days in prison taught me a lot.

After completing my BA, I joined Government College, Lahore, and took Psychology for my masters.

Q: You were associated with the Left movement. Why did you choose to be a Leftist? Were you not influenced by the communal propaganda?

Once again, I found myself involved in politics. My mentors were Congress Socialist Party (CSP) leaders including Tilak Raj Chadda, Prem Bhasin, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashok Mehta, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and Ramnandan Mishra.

Jayaprakash Narayan and Ramnandan Mishra had escaped from Hazaribagh Jail. They were our heroes. The CSP attracted more youngsters than the Congress did. I started participating in rallies, college strikes and soon became the women students' wing secretary.

Communal propaganda did not influence me much. Some of my close friends were Muslims. I specifically remember Aziz from the Frontier province. Model Town was a heterogeneous colony and I had several close Muslim friends. In fact, our Muslim friends helped us during the riots. We did not want the Partition to take place. We were not prepared to leave. No one anticipated that the Hindus would have no place in Pakistan.

Q: Tell us about the circumstances in which you left your homeland and came to India? Was your education affected by the turmoil?

When things became intense and displaced persons started coming in from interior west Punjab, my parents panicked. It was decided that we would go to Dehradun for a while. My uncle worked at Doon School as a housemaster. My aunt also worked in the same school as a matron. We arrived at Dehradun in May 1947 with the notion that we would return home once the riots stopped. I carried only my books and clothes.

On August 14, 1947, one of our relatives was shot dead by Muslims at the Lahore station. So my brothers, who had gone back to take care of the house, took the car and crossed the border, leaving everything behind. There was utter chaos and large-scale massacres had started on both sides of the newly defined border.

From Dehradun, my parents shifted to Delhi as all the refugee rehabilitation work was being done there. I was worried about my studies and MA examinations. Punjab University partly shifted to Solan near Shimla and a camp college opened in Delhi. In April 1948, I finally wrote the examination and passed with a first division.

Q: Was your marriage arranged?

Meanwhile, my marriage was fixed to Ranjit Singh Hoon, my aunt's stepson. We had grown up together. You could call it a love marriage, as I had known that I would marry him. He had an MA in history and ran an interior decoration business in Lahore.

We got married at a friend's house on January 30, 1948, the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. About 100 guests attended the function. At 5.05 pm, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. Within five minutes, the news reached us.

After marriage, my political activities stopped as we were looking for livelihood. My father-in-law was rather conservative and did not like my mingling with young men. I was also expecting my first child.

We moved to Calcutta in 1949. Ranjit started a scrap iron business there. I took up a teaching job in Birla's School for Girls as a Hindi teacher in 1952. By now I had two children.

Q: How did Punjab Association start a school? What was your role in it?

Soon, there was a need to start a branch of the family business in Chennai. So we left Calcutta and moved to Chennai in 1953. My third child, Vineeta, was six months old.

Not used to staying quiet, I went to meet Ellen Sharma, a German lady who ran a teacher training school called Children's Garden School. She liked my enthusiasm and asked me to come and attend the training school as an observer. We became good friends. She was my first guide and friend.

One day I saw an advertisement about Punjab Association wanting to start a school. I applied for the job. Soon, general secretary of Punjab association P N Dhawan and two other members came to meet me. They liked me and wanted me to help them. So I started visiting several kindergarten schools, recruited teachers who knew Hindi and started Adarsh Vidyalaya on July 11, 1954. It began with 40 Punjabi children.

Slowly the school became popular and more non-Punjabis started enrolling. In 1957, I decided to complete my B.T. (now B.Ed) at Lady Wellingdon Training College. By 1958, the school had reached sixth standard and we started recruiting trained graduate teachers. By 1961, we reached ninth standard. In 1962, I got a Fulbright Scholarship to go to the US for six months. I was placed in the Harvard Graduate School of Education for one semester. It was a wonderful experience.

By 1963, we had sent our first batch of students for matriculation examination. In the first year itself, two of our students secured state ranks.

I also grew along with the school. I completed my B.Ed and got a Postgraduate Diploma in Geography.

In 1960, I became a member of the University Women's Association of Madras (UWA), which is affiliated to the Indian Federation of University Women (IFUWA), a part of the International Federation of University Women. Through this forum, I attended international conferences in Japan, New Zealand, Finland, China and Bangladesh.

Q: Tell us about your experience as a KVS principal? What was the most memorable event in your career as a teacher?

In 1964, Punjab Association's General Secretary enquired with the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) if Adarsh Vidyalaya could be converted into a KV. For this, KVS commissioner L O Joshi visited our school and consented to the request. However, he laid down the condition that I be the principal of the new KV. I still remember what he told me: "You are a frog in the well. Come out into the ocean and develop new schools." Thus, I left Adarsh Vidyalaya and joined the KV.

In June 1965, the new KV was started. There were other KVs in IIT, Avadi and Tambaram. Ours was the only one run by civilians. I enjoyed my work. There were regular inter-KV meets and competitions. Though our school was small, we did well in debates, recitations and plays.

My most memorable experience was a song written by our Hindi teacher at my suggestion. This song was incorporated by all KVs to be sung during their assemblies. Two of our students recited it for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Vice-President Zakir Hussain and other dignitaries. Our national play 'NEFA-KI EK SHAM' was adjudged the best play at the national level. Vineeta got the best actress award.

In 1971, I was stationed at KV Tambaram, an Air Force station near Madras. It was a different experience, where I had to deal with intellectuals and senior Central Government officers.

Apart from my school work, I was also the president of the Geography Teachers' Association and managing editor of 'The Geography Teacher', a magazine with a circulation of 800.

I must say that I received a lot of love, affection, cooperation and regard from teachers and students. I had the added advantage of being an outsider to the caste-based divisions of southern India and was not party to any group loyalties. Till today, they remember me fondly.

After five years at KV, IIT, I was transferred to KV, Kathmandu, a foreign posting. I was selected for the job because Commissioner Chauhan knew that I was well-connected and felt that I could handle the embassy diplomats and bureaucrats. The schoolchildren's parents ranged from diplomats to lower staff mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, whose children had never been to an English medium school.

After three years, I was posted back to KV, AF Station, Tambaram, and within six months transferred to KV, CLRI in Madras.

In 1984, I was promoted as the Education Officer (Shiksha Adhikari) at their regional office at KV, IIT, for Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I had to tour extensively on inspection duty. There were 42 KVs in the zone. Each school had different problems. Solving them was a challenge. I was named 'Disaster Manager' for this.

I was nominated as a member of the syndicate of Mother Teresa University and became the Coordinator, International Scholarship for the Indian Federation of University Women.

In 1986, I retired from KVS and joined Punjab Association as Honorary Correspondent of Schools. I looked after their four matriculation schools for the next 10 years. I was also chairperson of the PA's Trust Board. I am still involved in some of their activities, but have stopped travelling due to health and age factors.

Q: Have you ever visited Pakistan? Would you like to visit your native place if given a chance?

I could never visit Pakistan again. I made friends with some Pakistani ladies whom I met at international conferences. A few years ago, I saw photos of my old home, with my father's name and 'Vidya Niwas' still inscribed on a marble slab. I would love to visit Model Town, just to see how it has changed, but would not like to live there, as I have become a stranger to the place.

My professional achievements were only possible due to the cooperation and encouragement of my late husband Ranjit Singh Hoon. Life has been interesting, and there are no regrets.
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