Guest Blogger: My Love Story with India

Iris E. Holliday has contributed to Life Untapped before, to share her journey into a fulfilling season of retirement after a lengthy career in corporate philanthropy.  She returns this week to share a heartwarming essay about achieving her lifelong dream of visiting India. Settle in and enjoy this bird’s eye view of her adventurous spirit as a solo traveler….

My fascination with India began in the living room of the Holliday home in Washington, D.C. My father and I began what would become our monthly ritual-filling out the “for more information” cards in magazines, circling numbers for destinations, products and such.  This began my lifelong addiction to mail, starting with the first mail addressed to Miss Iris E. Holliday from the Embassy of India, and one from the Embassy of Morocco. There were so many stamps on these large manila envelopes.

Of course, my 8-year old self proclaimed that I would travel to India and ride on an elephant. And quite a few decades later…I recently did.

The India of this child was images of princes and princesses, majestic palaces, statues of mythical gods, home to Gandhi and the sacred river Ganges, and people clothed in silks reposing on their heavily adorned furniture. Such is the fantasy of childhood.

The India I saw as an adult in my travels to the Golden Triangle-Delhi, Agra and Jaipur- screamed of complexity, beauty, contradition, conflict, passion and intensity.

My body of historical knowledge was woefully inadequate to receive the jaw-dropping architectural marvels of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (called UP everywhere I went); some now UNESCO sites.

India is a moving color wheel-people, clothing, food, flowers, transportation, and art. It is also dramatic as joy and sadness come in high octaves. The sheer number of people occupying the public spaces with you brings a dazzling affirmation of humanity in fast forward motion.

Anyone who really knows me acknowledges my obsession with preparedness, so reading a dozen or more books on travel to India would come as no surprise. I also confess to being a fan of Bollywood movies and Punjabi music, all tastes cultivated way before the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I credit award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair and her movie Salaam Bombay for further piquing my interest. After all, I have carried the dream of traveling to India for 57 years.

Each airport has its own Zen, especially after 9 p.m., and Dulles and Frankfort are at opposite ends of the spectrum to me. The snowstorm I encountered in New York on the first leg of my trip posed some interesting flight challenges. However, there was no problem hitting 10,000 steps as I traversed the gates en route to a new carrier and flight time, and in desperation, not wanting to raid my rather large snack stash, I got a tuna melt. Oh God, why? Awful, inedible.

The time was made tolerable and rather entertaining by a brief encounter with a Duke University MBA student on his way to India for the first time. Our chat was so lively about technology and art and Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama that I forgave him for dissing my iPhone SE. He had an iPhone X.  Yep, tech matters and in all things shallow and cultural, tech is a distinct marker of status, intelligence or hipness.

On this direct flight to Delhi, I heard voices more audible in different languages, predominantly Hindi, as the time zone changed. I also noticed the sea of orange, lemon yellow, ruby red and fuchsia turbans reflecting the Sikh faith of my fellow passengers. Time to tackle the large print Word Search on Plants and Flowers scored at the Dollar Tree. Not one to miss out on free movies, I viewed The Greatest Showman and really disagreed with the move critics who panned the film. I downloaded the soundtrack as the flight info screen showed “7 hours and 5 minutes to Delhi.”

On the movie roll, I discovered a two-part epic Indian movie Baahubali – the sixth largest grossing Indian film worldwide. Watching both parts would absorb nearly five hours.  No popcorn, but that was okay.

It wasn’t hard to settle in, wrap up in my pashmina, and position the pillows. This fantastical movie had handsome stars, romance, and political intrigue with powerful, immoral rulers, bromance, martial arts, religion, kingdoms on mountains beneath blue skies with billowy clouds. I loved the descriptions of the hero of the film: “His strides are like the wind…Even death does not scare him…He is like a bright shining star…an immovable mountain.” Oops, forgot to mention the music. Yes, there is singing and tattoos.

The now-quiet flight of the sleep deprived is inching to Delhi over Ankara, Kabul, Doha, Dushanbe and Ahmadabad. In less than two hours, I will be there, after eating a way too spicy “chicken puff” and reflecting on this engrossing movie.

Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport is truly magnificent, more like one gigantic hotel lobby. It is 2:00 a.m. As one of the sleep deprived, it is truly funny when you are looking for the right Immigration and Custom’s counter and realize that you are now the foreign passport holder with a visa.

Candidly, I don’t remember all the details of the early morning hours except the spacious hotel room and the note to meet my driver and tour guide at 9 a.m. Oh, I do remember being greeted with “Namaste” and responding in kind.

The beauty of solo travel is travel without negotiation, compromise or resignation.

Being the museum devotee that I am, I began to embrace Delhi through the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Iris reflecting on her visit to the National Gallery of Modern Ar

Established around the time of my birth, the collection shows 5,000 years of Indian history through arts and crafts. The sculptures both wood and bronze and stone, textiles, miniature paintings in a range of styles, terracotta pieces captured my interest for hours. I lurked in the “jewellery” gallery lusting after several eye-popping gemstone pieces; didn’t know that diamonds have been mined in India for over 3,000 years.

Museum visitors are intriguing, and it thoroughly surprised me to meet students on field trips. These students (who appeared to be ages 12-16) were not guided through the galleries as is the norm, but were self-guided based on interests. Hip-hop culture is global and their fashions were the latest sneakers and strategically torn/ripped jeans. Some of the students wore hijabs and still dressed in Gen X wear. They enthusiastically agreed to pose for pictures. Smiles are still part of the universal language. Not a huge fan of audio-guides, I am glad that I used it in this museum.

Old Delhi offered the Red Fort and the India Gate, the homage to Indians who fought in World War I, and modeled after the Arch du Triumph in Paris. The much anticipated visit to the Jama Masjid, one of the largest in Asia, welcomed all, however only Muslims were allowed in the actual mosque prayer area. With shoes off, men and women entered separately and the security was highly visible. Those who did not respect the site enough to wear appropriate dress were given long covering robes to wear. The sun was blazing and I am so glad that there were long runners leading from the entrance to the interior. One step on the brick pathway meant scorched feet.

With all the people I crossed paths with, what are the chances to see again, a Muslim woman I had encountered in a different part of the city. With that recognition, we exchanged greetings and mental hugs. Truly a serendipitous moment.

The UNESCO World Heritage sites of Qutub Minar and the tomb of the Emperor Humayun left me in want of more details of Mughal architecture. Named after a Sufi saint, Qutub Minar is a minaret on the Qutub complex that stands 239.5 feet tall with 5 tapering towers. Construction began in 1192, and each of its columns are of a different stone-pale red sandstone, marble, marble and sandstone and are engraved with texts from the Holy Quran and decorative features. It is alleged to have been inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and built by Hindu artisans.

The Emperor’s tomb has the distinction of being the first garden tomb in India. Commissioned by his first wife, the Mughal Emperor Humayun’s resting place is a solemn garden now filled with tombs of his descendents. The Persian-influenced architecture and gardens divided by walkways or flowing water intentionally reflects the view of paradise described in the Holy Quran. I found it hard to focus on this site as a tomb because of its astonishing beauty and serenity.

The streets of Delhi require bravery to navigate, with the mode of transportation being either foot or rickshaw, tuk tuk or car, bicycle or motorcycle – doesn’t matter. Not one to be skittish about close encounters, I exercised deliberate calm in the car as a passenger, and certainly in the rickshaw. The proximity of one rickshaw rider to another in a separate rickshaw was hands distance, and the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk redefined the word narrow. There was constant conversation with other drivers and vendors. The horns of vehicles never stopped and continued all through the day and night.

The rickshaw ride is also an opportune time to talk about Old and New Delhi, education, the gossip on Salman Khan (film idol), and preservation. I was struck by children, very young children, who were selling loose peacock feathers and a fan made of peacock feathers. Of course, they should be in school; however school is mandatory from ages 6-14 but not heavily enforceable. And to the issue of peacock feathers, it is illegal to sell these; they are banned like ivory for commercial or retail sale.

It’s time for my dinner and the night lights illuminate Delhi’s sky, and even on the fifth floor, I can hear the incessant sound of honking. I am craving a bowl of dal, with yellow lentils and garlic naan. Soon, my appetite was satiated by the best dal on the planet and the most attentive food manager and wait staff at the Radisson Blu. The open kitchen afforded the view of chef creating elaborate dishes and it was a wonder to see my soup being blended, spiced and adorned based on my preferences. It was as if there were no glass wall between the chef and I. The night was capped by my first cup of masala chai.

This would be my beverage for the start of the day and the ending. With cows being sacred, did I even ask what type of milk was used in making the chai?

Nope, I just savored it. The question would be asked and answered at another time.

 

Retirement makes time for dream travels. Iris Holliday is featured here in a 2017 trip to Lisbon.

Iris E. Holliday is a third generation  Washingtonian (Washington D.C.), a Cruzan (St. Croix) and Hoosier (Indiana), and both a Howard University University Bison and VCU Ram. During a career spanning more than 35 years, she advanced the reputations of government entities, corporations and nonprofits, including serving as Director of Corporate Philanthropy and Community Partnerships with Dominion before retiring in 2016.  A recent graduate in museum studies, she looks forward to traveling to other dream destinations and sharing her excursions with Life Untapped readers.

Why Your Next-Level Thinking Must Begin Today

Are you ready for your next level?

You don’t have to have it all together before you start (no one does),

Or know exactly how it all will unfold (life happens),

Or be without flaw (curveballs and mistakes are par for the course).

What you DO need is a belief in your vision and a belief that you’re worth the self-investment, because you are.

So go after your personal goals with faith and focus,

And recalibrate your professional ones with strategic creativity and heart.

Your tenacity, passion and purpose will inspire others to embrace their best life, too.

Don’t wait until 2018…start now.

We are Watercolored Pearls – In Honor of #NationalPoetryDay

I’m not a poet, but every now and then I dabble. Since today is National Poetry Day I’ll share a piece I wrote in 2014, to reveal at a brunch I hosted to celebrate the power of women’s stories – women like you and me.
Read on, and be inspired…

Her Story: An Obstacle Became My Stepping Stone

By Guest Blogger Lillian Lincoln Lambert

Entrepreneur – A word I didn’t know as a child. Becoming one on the final leg of my career was paradoxical.

Having little interest in college after high school, at the age of 22, I enrolled in Howard University and obtained a bachelor of arts degree. There, a professor became my mentor and convinced me that I was Harvard material. In 1969, I earned my Master of Business Administration and achieved the historical milestone of becoming the first African American woman to receive a Harvard MBA.

With a Harvard MBA, one would think I could write my own ticket. Not so.

Recruiters were not aggressively pursuing me and I was not assertive with them. The four years after graduation, I had five different jobs. The last, as Executive Vice President with a small family-owned business, was challenging and rewarding.

Into my third year, friends started asking me had I ever considered starting my own business. The idea was intriguing. I finally took the leap and filed incorporation papers, but did not quit my job.

Respecting my boss, I decided to tell him my plan so he’d not hear it from someone else. Since I’d be a competitor, this was not welcome news to him. I assured him I would not solicit his clients and he would be a friendly competitor. He accepted my explanation and seemed supportive.

We agreed that I would remain with the company to help recruit and train my replacement. When we both felt things were running smoothly, I’d leave to focus on my venture. I was on cloud nine with the best of both worlds.

Three days later, the bottom fell out. My boss met with me and informed me that his board had convened and decided that I should leave at the end of the week. I was fired! This was devastating.

Married with two small children and accustomed to living on two incomes, a major decision had to be made quickly – find another job or get my newly-established company off the ground? Becoming an entrepreneur was my choice, and I decided to concentrate on government contracts – a market I knew well.

Timing was critical. This was May and the government fiscal year ended September 30, with most contracts issued prior to that date.

I persevered and ​landed my fir​st contract about three weeks before the end of the fiscal year. With that launch, entrepreneurship was my career for the next 25 years – a period during which I grew my company to $20 million in sales and hired 1,200 employees.

Getting fired from that executive position all those years ago turned out to be the first of many obstacles.  Yet, had I not been let go, building my company would have been a part-time effort with a lesser chance of success. What seemed like a disaster at the time was instead a blessing in disguise; and as I have faced other obstacles over the years they, too, have become steps leading me to higher levels of achievement.

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” – Lillian Lincoln Lambert

As the first African American woman to receive a Harvard Business School MBA during the tumultuous 1960s, then becoming a barrier-breaking entrepreneur in the mid 1970s, Lillian Lincoln Lambert is a role model for how to treat obstacles and barriers as opportunities to succeed. Her inspiring journey is detailed in her memoir, The Road to Someplace Better, and she occasionally speaks to corporate and civic audiences about her journey. Lillian is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award, the Dominion Resources Strong Men, Strong Women Excellence in Leadership Award and the Library of Virginia’s Women in History honor. She is also an inductee of The HistoryMakers, an organization dedicated to preserving African American history. Learn more about Lillian at LillianLincolnLambert.com and visit her on Facebook at facebook.com/lillian.lambert or LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/lillianlambert.

 

 

Why Women Matter

By Stacy Hawkins Adams
Today is International Women’s Day, and I salute the women who have helped raise, nurture, mentor and encourage me and others.
From our mothers and grandmothers to
our biological sisters (in my case, three of them, and their friends) to
our teachers and youth program leaders to
women mentors in the workplace to
sister-friends with whom we’ve mutually shared triumphs or tears, and who’ve climbed beside us or pushed us higher –
Thank you all.
It is in honor of you that I write women characters in my novels who stand together through highs and lows, tell each other the truth, love even when it’s hard, and grow together in purpose and grace.
Women who, like you, change the world for better.
Even in the darkest of hours, places or seasons, and even when you don’t realize it, your presence brings life-sustaining hope. Thanks for being the light.

Her Story: No More Chains

By Guest Blogger Renee Spivey

I vividly remember the day 25 years ago when I sat on a bathroom floor with a knife to my wrists, ready to end it all. I was tired of the devastating challenges I was enduring, and thought death was better than what I was going through.

That’s not the only time I was suicidal. The second time was when I was sentenced to prison for eight years. Me, the church going, good grade-getting, mostly-obedient child. I had no business going to prison, but sure enough, it happened. Even though I was a first time offender, I was convicted of felony theft by check, and I would go on to serve almost two years of that eight-year sentence.

The day I arrived at the minimum security women’s prison, I was so devastated that I was put on suicide watch. I was asked during the intake process if I was thinking of killing myself and I said yes, because honestly, once again, I thought death was better than what I was facing.

Every hour or so, an officer was at my cell calling my name, making sure I was still alive. After the first two days, I was fine. I had read, cried, prayed and accepted my situation, and a peace finally came over me. After that second day, I told them I was fine and no longer thinking of killing myself. They took me at my word and didn’t perform the hourly checks anymore.

Being locked up for 22 months was the roughest thing I have ever experienced. To be treated as simply a number and not a person was a very humiliating, but humbling experience.

Even though this was the worst time of my life, it ended up being the best time of my life. It took me going to prison to realize that God had more in store for me than just a continual life of heartache and pain. He had a calling specifically for me.

The road has definitely not been easy, but through it all God kept me and blessed me. I did not let my past dictate my future. I refused to be known only as Smith #744519.

I’ve gone on to do some incredible things, such as go back to college at age 40 and obtain an associate’s degree in Information Technology/Web Design. I am currently working on my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I own a business called Literary Signature Services, where I work with authors and small businesses, helping them with their website and graphic design needs. I’ve held the same full time job since my release in 1997. And now, I am working on becoming a published author.

I am a wife, a mother, a homeowner and founder of the Women of Worth ministry, which was started to encourage women to step out of the shadows of their past into a brighter future. ~ © Renee Spivey, 2017

Renee SpiveyRenee Spivey, an avid reader and aspiring author, owns Literary Signature Services, a company that focuses on graphic and web design. Her client list includes authors Suzette Riddick, Regena Bryant, and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Brenda Jackson, to name a few.  Renee also has a short story in the recently released anthology, When Women Become Business Owners. Learn more about Renee at her websites The Masters Vessel and We Are Women of Worth. She is also active on Facebook at Empowered Women of Worth, Instagram at Renees1971 and Twitter @empoweredwow.