Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thinking of you on this day and always.
Love, Ro

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What I Love About You Kalpna .. by Inbal Alon

A few months ago I wrote something short about how I have been dealing with Kalpna’s passing away, but I did not share it. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps because it is personal, perhaps because it is sad. Then, a few days ago I was thinking about Kalpna and the genuine and authentic person she was, and I felt the need to share this. That perhaps some of you are feeling similar emotions of love, sadness, regret, and joy, and that by sharing we would come together, and bringing people together is something I have always admired about Kalpna, so here we go…


What I remember most about Kalpna is her death, and that makes me sad because she had such a full life. A life full of life, which not many people have these days.

I was in my office, just getting used to the air-conditioned air after coming in from the hot summer morning. I look out at the water, and then at the piles on my desk – piles of articles wire requests, budgets, and reports – the day to day work of someone like me. I open my work e mail and decide I need a few more minutes. I check my personal e mail and a few websites. The computer screen is already starting to hurt my eyes and the blue sky outside seems appealing. As I surrender to the work ahead and e mail comes in that Kalpna Mistry died on August 4th in the Philippines. I didn’t even know she was there. I follow a link to a website and a beautiful picture of Kalpna appeared. She is wearing a stunning red scarf and gold jewelry, both outshined by her smile.

‘Kalpna received medical treatment and was among friends from her Fulbright Program,’ the black text on a gray background declare. ‘The family is working to get the body home and funeral arrangements will be announced on this site.’ Funeral – somehow that word makes it feel real. I search my e mail for the last time we wrote each other. I am disappointed when the most recent e mail is more than a year old. I quickly scan through Kalpna’s facebook wall, searching for my name, looking for hope, but find nothing except permission for tears. I feel different but I am not sure how, like a seed has been dropped into my heart and I must wait patiently to see what grows.

That night I have to write. I have to share memories of Kalpna so they do not disappear. I remember our first Voices for Africa meeting in graduate school. We were all so nervous and Kalpna came in with a huge smile, every tooth showing. Without any experience in Africa she just wanted to learn and help with anything. I write down everything I can remember.

For the next few days I read everything people wrote about Kalpna. I saw pictures of places and people she never told me about. I read about stories she never mentioned. I saw videos of meetings I missed for reasons I cannot remember. The stories that moved me most are of Kalpna as a teacher, her ability to connect to students and inspire them.

In the weeks after Kalpna’s death, I felt like I got to know Kalpna better each day. We were becoming better friends – my friendship with a memory. At night, we would talk, or mainly I talked and she would listen, or I like to think she did. ‘I’m sorry we did not spend more time together. I miss you. I hope to be a great teacher like you someday. I hope you can see how many people love and adore you.’

In the weeks that followed, Kalpna inspired me. I’d smile more, care more about others, try to show it more – like Kalpna did with her thank you biscuits, a habit I read about in a post. The seed that fell on the day of Kalpna’s death grew from anger to grief to friendship. A friendship with a memory and Kalpna is always a part of each of my days.

I wish I knew her better when we had the time, but I know I love her to my heart’s full capacity. She reminds me of all that is good in the world and to believe in change and in people. I wish she was around to see Obama win the election and to see her students graduate from high school and then college, as I know she would push them there. I like to think that someday our paths would have crossed again. She’s with me each day, more friend than memory.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Kalps! I miss you so much!!!
Love always,

Monday, December 1, 2008

Great Teachings of Kalpna Mistry

Speech given by Kalpna's Sister, Priya, at Berkeley High Memorial

Hello Everyone –

I’m Ms. Mistry’s middle sister. Been thinking about what I wanted to share with you all about Kalpna. Then I started thinking about the time we spent together just before Ms. Mistry left for the Philippines. As always, she had great stories to tell about her first year teaching experiences and her students.

She went on and tell my sister Raakhee and I about the spring final exam she had just given her freshman world studies class. She was rather smitten with herself over it, which was nice to see. I found the exam on her Mac... a device that you would think was an appendage to her… she rarely left home without it.

Clearly the class covered a unit focusing on Asian studies. The test starts with some routine questions covering topics about Buddhism and Hinduism and so on and so forth. Then she threw in a questions like this…

5. Your Hindi friend lost all his money gambling on the NBA playoffs. He is down and out on his luck and needs money. Being the knowledge BIHS student that you are, you recommend he prays to:

a. Shiva
b. Sareswati
c. Lukshmi (answer – goddess of wealth)
d. Brahma
e. Irish lepricons

A few questions later, after question #22, Ms. Mistry writes….

Quietly whisper your favorite ice cream flavor. – Do it, don’t be a whimp.

After question #26, she writes

Now say, “Mmmmm….” And rub your tummy

After question #43, and this is one of my favorite….

Sing one line from your favorite Michael Jackson song…then say “he-hee” just like Michael

Some of the students came up with a great line and several others looked at Ms. Mistry and said Michael who?… Ms. Mistry noted, generation gap…. Maybe Justin Timberlake next time.

After question #50, it reads

Please turn in this test as well as your scantron so I can give you the short answer section of the test.

Wow! Although entertaining, Ms. Mistry’s tests were no joke! I know her students can and have attested to that. She was all about challenging her students. She clearly set the bar high and worked with her students to learn how to process information and think outside the box. It wasn’t about simply regurgitated dates and facts… she helped her students analyze, conceptualize and really challenged them to think about our county, our world, our history through different lenses… understanding different cultural perspectives.

Just before this last statement on the test, Ms. Mistry writes a note to her students….

You rocked it, I’m sure of it – you’re smart.

I recall one of Ms. Mistry’s students sharing that she loved how Ms. Mistry would add silly and fun multiple-choice options to help them have a better chance of picking the right answer. Be that as it may, Ms. Mistry had an alternative motive. The truth is, and this is what Ms. Mistry shared with me that day before she left for her trip to the Philippines, “These students are freshman and they are so stressed about finals. I wanted them to take it seriously, but I also want them to fun. Hopefully realize that life doesn’t always have to be too serious. They will only young once and they should enjoy it!”

I have sincerely appreciated the opportunity to get to know so many of Ms. Mistry’s students, parents, teachers and faculty over the past couple months. I didn’t pay close attention to the names, but I recall all the stories that Ms. Mistry would share about you all last year. She loved you. So many of you have shared with me… with my family about all that Ms. Mistry has done for you. I want you to leave here today knowing that you gave her an opportunity to do what she loved… teach. She was an extraordinary teacher, and likewise, she had an extraordinary group of students and collogues. She clearly made the right choice when choosing Berkeley High.

I want to thank you all and I look forward to coming back in June 2011 to celebrate with all the students here today as you walk across the stage and embark on the next exciting stage in your life. You will do great things! I know Ms. Mistry is right about that. To all the students, teachers, administrators, parents, Thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do. I am certain that Ms. Mistry is looking down and is honored to see your generosity and love.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Intensely Personal

I often find myself picking up my phone or physically turning wanting to say, "Hey, did you know..." and realizing she's not there.

It's crushing to not have the same avenues of enjoying life, so I have to find new ones. My dog Gobi's presence sometimes isn't enough during the heart-wrenching nights. By the way, that was Kalpna's favorite photo of Gobi because Kalpna said it made Gobi look like a girl (ever the feminist). What follows is an intensely personal reflection that normally would be held between Kalpna and myself. I find sharing my thoughts more than just helpful or theraputic--it's essential because otherwise I feel I have no handle on reality. This is just my way of living--I have no judgements on myself or others. Being more open is the least of my recent transformations, it's only the start. Frankly, it's a coping mechanism as I am unable to handle this alone. Every phone call, card, email, text, hug, smile, and thought, all has helped me and everyone involved grapple with this. Life's too important and too short to be private. Besides transparency as a motivating factor for this entry, I might also feel a bit misunderstood--being married to someone who literally gave her heart to the rest of the world was not without it's paradoxical issues. At least I, surprisingly, have no regrets. They made me who I am and her who she was--imperfect, but real.

With social interactions as a positive constant, the journey so far involved first having less-fitful sleep, then an appetite, and finally, the desire to exercise and move around. Now is the unintuitive desire to be ultra-positive. Part of that rests with Kalpna's attitude--her smile was just a window. Though, despite being more positive than I cynically could have ever imagined, there's the ugly side. Joe Biden wrote that when his wife died tragically, he "kept walking the dark streets to try to exhaust the rage." I know exactly what he means. I have felt anger towards old people, smokers, the obese, corporate gimps, myself, and even Kalpna. I have no spouse, no home, and no job. And now I see death everywhere--in the news, and in our routine conversations ("My cell phone died."). The best analogy I could think of as to how I feel sometimes is that it's like waking up in the morning everyday with your dominant arm missing. There's pain, loss of function, but not completely because you can still walk, speak, eat, and do nearly everything you used to.

I keep turning and wanting to tell her that she passed away. And I know exactly what her reaction would be. I know that she would be thinking about her relationship with each and every one of us and the potential left unrealized. I know what went through her mind, what she was trying to do in those last minutes. I didn't have to be there to know this. It's burdensomely clear in my mind.

But, I've learned to be more resilient than I would like to be. Part of that is instinctually being positive now. Life's not all boring, drab, and sad--there are the light-hearted moments, moments that I would never have expected to make me smile.

At Cafe La Taza in the Mission District, while studying for a job interview, Mariah Carey's "I Can't Live" started to play and instantly I teared up and grinned. Earlier this year, me and millions of my internet friends came across a video of an American Idol clone in Bulgaria. I shared the video with Kalpna and she thought it was an amazing example of cultural diffusion that she could show her class. She pointed out the Paula Abdul-look alike and just started laughing. I sang "Ken Lee" everyday for an entire week. I never paid attention to the lyrics, even after watching the video too many times. But now, they are relevant on a whole other level.

In watching the only known video of her teaching this year, what evoked the most emotion was her wrapping her computer powercord at the end of the clip. Everyday, she would come home, open up her laptop, plug it in, and there would be this tangled mass on our floor getting in the way of chairs, dogs, and movement. Gobi even chewed it up a little because it reminded her of a hard string ball. When I needed to power my laptop, I had to sometimes fight with the gnarled growth and made sure Kalpna knew about it. Now, it's what evokes the largest response in a poignant video.

Besides these hidden gems that pop up occasionally, one thing that's kept me going in the down moments is a sort of pocket manifesto of lessons I learned from Kalpna. It's a reduction of who she was that makes sense for me, maybe not you, but that doesn't matter, because I am on my own path and not bitter about it.

Take care...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Memories of Ms Mistry - By Lucy Sundelson

One of the most satisfying experiences of my Freshman year was a trip to Sacramento to protest Governor Schwartzenegger’s proposed education budget cuts. We spent the day buttonholing members of the assembly, touring the state capitol building, and demonstrating. The whole experience happened only because of the determination of Ms Mistry. She raised money; she arranged for the buses, parent chaperones, and meetings with individual legislators; she even bought pizzas for everyone at the organizing meetings with her own money.

Ms Mistry chose a classmate and me to represent Berkeley High in meetings with members of the California Assembly. This role made me feel, for the first time, that I had an important place in my enormous and somewhat impersonal school and could make a difference there. It also made me feel that I had a place in the world.

Ms Mistry’s classroom was always alive with ideas. She got her students interested in current events and politics. We talked about what we read in the newspaper and how it related to whatever we were studying.

Ms Mistry created a comfortable classroom. I never worried about coming up with the right or wrong answer. She had unlimited energy and devotion for her students. She would stay up all night grading papers or preparing for a field trip and come to school the next morning as enthusiastic as ever. She would eat only a bite or two of lunch—once, she told me that her lunch consisted of five almonds—because her students needed to talk to her.

Ms. Mistry rarely complained. Instead she always worried that she wasn’t getting through to some of her students but didn’t see that she made a difference just by trying so hard and not giving up. She was always ready with a hug—with a huge one when I told her that I wanted to be a teacher.

The day before the trip to Sacramento, Ms Mistry drove a classmate and me to a meeting in Oakland. At the meeting, we practiced talking to legislators and planned the trip. She insisted on driving me home, even though it was out of her way. On the freeway, she missed an exit and got lost. It was late, and I knew she had more planning to do and papers to grade, but she kept laughing and said it didn’t really matter.

It is hard for me to believe that Ms Mistry is gone. The loss of her warmth and vitality is truly terrible. It was especially hard for me to come back to school this year because I wasn’t able to see her or talk to her about my classes and projects, or my worries and hopes. However, her loss has made me determined to become the kind of teacher that she was, so that some part of her survives. I can still hear the sound of her voice, and I will go on hearing it for a long time.

The Miraculous Ms. Mistry - By Clio McConnell

In writing this speech, one thing I’ve realized is how many positive adjectives can be applied to the miraculous Ms. Mistry. An almost infinite amount, I would say. She was compassionate, dedicated, diligent, beautiful, charming, funny, enthusiastic, and just generally the most awesome teacher and friend a kid could ever ask for, and I didn’t even really know I had asked for it. Until now, I don’t think I really realized I had gotten it.

Last year, I was in her second period class. She would often tell us that we were great, but that we should really try to make more of an effort to be a core, not just a class. Whenever we weren’t paying attention, she’d just get this exasperated look on her face and go “Second period!” in a voice that gave no doubt that she was lovingly rolling her eyes. It was like she was an older sister telling you to get your hands out of that cookie jar right now… but only after you get her one, too.

For myself in particular, she’d always encourage me to participate more, because she said she knew I had great ideas rolling around up there. Honestly, I did try. It was only second period, though, so my brain was not in full-function mode. I would always point out to her at the end of class when I had made a comment, to make sure she’d noticed. When I did that, she would just smile that famous Ms. Mistry smile and say “See, I knew you could do it.”

For me, this situation is the ultimate case of “you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. Although she wasn’t the type to fish for compliments or expect a “thank you,” there are so many times when I could have or should have expressed how much I appreciated her. Now that I can’t, I hope she knows how much I’m going to miss her, and how much I already regret not telling her how amazing she was at every chance I got.

Selfishly, I wish she was still here so I could have given her a big hug at the beginning of the year and shown her how I look with glasses. In general, it’s devastating that we’ll never get to see how many marvelous things she could have accomplished, nor be a part of them.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to miss her as much as she deserves, but at least I know I’m not the only one who’s trying.