Meet Balaka

Meet Balaka

 

Balaka can compete with Salvador Dali, well almost… so far as childhood memories are concerned.  Her detailed visual imagery of her childhood moments surprises even her parents as she narrates incidents from when she was barely 2 or 3 years old.
But the one that she remembers with utmost fondness is the day she rang the doorbell at Mother Teresa’s home. It was a moment filled with goose bumps, love and hope.
The Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity was less than a mile from her home, and each time they passed by, her mom sowed in her the hope of being able to volunteer for the saintly soul. This special opportunity came after her college graduation when she had a few weeks of free time.

Working for Mother Teresa —
As Balaka pulled the long rope that slipped through the large wooden door to strike a metal bell, a young “sister” opened the door and led her in, her cousin in tow. “Mother is still recovering from a major illness”, she said in a quiet voice. She was still meeting people and doing her work as much as she could, the sister assured them.
In an open veranda the two young ladies waited on a wooden bench observing all the sisters going about their business in quiet, loving, dignity. They were both 21 years old, two very inexperienced adults in this world.
Very soon, the special moment came. Mother came out of her room and held out her hand to hold theirs. Balaka’s fingers lay trembling in her firm, loving grip. In spite of her sickness there was the electrical effect in her touch, secured by her unwavering faith. It almost felt like something flowed through that grip, all the way to her soul
Mother’s words were tinged with humor and encouragement. Soon they were signed up to be her volunteers at the nearby orphanage, starting the next week. They were lost in a trance as they walked back home.
This day has stayed etched in Balaka’s memories forever, making its mark in everything she did. Even now, she feels that strong, loving grip and considers herself a representative of a messenger of love and caring, both in her personal and professional life.

A Public School Teacher —
Balaka’s boss at school never had to worry about personal dynamics when it came to putting her in any team. “You’ll always get along with practically anybody, without a fuss,” her principal confided in relief.
Even as a firm task master, her students at school felt that she was like the stern and loving mother who had high expectations from her children. Just like she has been taught all good values by her loving parents with almost a tinge of loving despotism. To this day, Balaka is grateful for that unadulterated training of lofty human values she has had through her childhood, and even to this day, from her parents. Those idealistic, open-ended, global values prevented any narrowness of social walls from creeping into her psyche.

A  Storyteller in Every Occasion —
This freethinking individuality of Balaka also owes it to her almost vagabond life – she developed a well-rounded personality and a very wide knowledge of people and places because of that. She can bond with all kinds of cultures and learns like a curious child. Balaka’s father’s job required him to move often on important assignments every 2-3 years, sometimes even sooner. Having moved through 9 cities in all corners of India during her early life, she studied in 10 different schools and colleges. No wonder Balaka can speak 5 languages or more. Today her Facebook account is teeming with people who have known her as a friend in all these years.
Balaka’s travel extended to different parts of the world after she got married to a wonderful oil-and-gas engineer. She traveled to different parts of Europe and America. And even Japan. But so much exposure hasn’t made her haughty. Simple and modest, Balaka has friends from all walks of life.
As you may have guessed by now that Balaka would evolve as a Special Education teacher, with compassion and knowledge to boot. She has that innate skill of boiling down tough mathematical processes and scientific jargons into simple doable tasks around the classroom, and relating them to the real life.
Balaka’s math class was full of stories and anecdotes. Her Friday classes were paperless – playing with patterned blocks, math manipulatives of different kinds. In fact the only paper used on Fridays was play money dollar bills that students used to run a store of interesting items.
She even ran an organized Ghosal Bank where students had jobs as tellers and managers. Unknowingly, they were learning to handle money! And do a good deal of calculations, too!

Spokesperson for Mother Earth —
One sunny morning, Balaka was tiptoeing through the famous forests of the Houston Arboretum with a group of ten inner city school children who hardly ever went out into nature. They were out on a rare field trip to experience nature.  She asked everyone to whisper in very low voices so they wouldn’t frighten the birds and animals.
Just as they settled themselves on the boardwalk by the pond to watch the turtles, a bright little boy asked if it was a fake forest with a fake pond, with plastic turtles bobbing their heads out. For a moment Balaka was shocked with the question.
Couldn’t this boy tell if the trees were real, the grass real under his feet? Could he not see the ripples on the pond’s water?
It felt funny to round up her lips to show a big “NO”.
And then it struck her. About how this generation was used to seeing realistic models of everything, starting from human body parts at the museum to dinosaurs. It was a revelation that children these days have very little experience of how things really are in nature.
The rest of the journey was a beautiful session where she led them to roll logs to find little critters hidden under it to watching snakes basking in sunlight on the tree branches and run with the dragon flies at the playground.
Then on it became her mission to make presentations on environmental issues for children and adults through games, organic gardening, various hands-on activities, PowerPoint presentations and simple speeches with visuals.
Balaka started organizing environment day camps for children between the age group of 6 and 16 years to raise awareness. Birthday parties, after school parties, even New Year Resolution parties – she took every opportunity she was offered to talk and break the molds of old ideas and to usher in new approaches and attitudes.
It became her life’s mission to show everyone around her the fine balance of the ecosystems in the world and how our daily habits leave a lasting impact.
Her effort has not gone to waste. Many of these young children have grown to be stewards of an eco-friendly life. This experience of environmental education has been very rewarding to her.

A Writer to the Core —
After toying with a few professions, Balaka is finally back to her true love – writing. Passionate about the environment, she believes in working at the grassroots, even as a writer. She reaches out to people through her stories, and of course, talking relentlessly on living close to nature. Her lifestyle is a living demonstration of her waste-free simplicity.
Even to this day, Balaka takes every opportunity to research and learn, to sign up for various trainings, and to teach others through Earth Day programs and summer camps, developing educational curriculum on conservation for one of her business clients.
She loves to motivate others to be eco-friendly, passes on her own energy in that direction, loves to change her old ways and looks at change as an opportunity for growth.
Quite in contrast to that go-getter and go-deeper personality, Balaka is a BIG-TIME dreamer. She can weave all her learning and experiences into a gentle fan to bring in the fresh air of change. Her family and friends, her spiritual being all weave into one whole beautiful bonding. In her free time, Balaka also spends time stroking and talking to her 10-year-old almost-tech-savvy-gadget-craving cat, Laney.
Deep in her heart, the teacher in her is still active and alive. She continues to be a member of the Environmental Educators’ Exchange in Houston. As a member of the international Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator, she has authored children’s books in Bengali in India.

As a freelance environment writer in English and Bengali newspapers and magazines, Balaka will always be the voice of many people and products that have a promise to save the world.