I had to do something productive, or I would've died of boredom.

Making a mosaic art mural on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Volunteering on MLK Day:

Each year, the third Monday of January is a federal holiday and is celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day #mlkday. This is around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The day is observed as a national day of service when people take the “day on, not a day off.” Dr King is known to have famously said, “Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.”

To celebrate his legacy, the MLK Day of Service “encourages all types of service, particularly projects that have a lasting impact and connect participants to ongoing service”.

Last year – 2017 – I painted hubcap flowers that were later used to beautify a neighborhood in East Jacksonville.

This year – 2018 – I chose to participate in a volunteering activity that attracted my artistic instinct immediately – mosaic art. The project was interesting – we were invited to help complete an artist’s vision of a wall that would decorate an old heritage spot of Jacksonville.

Mosaic art to revitalize a neighborhood:

The project was organized by Groundwork Jacksonville, a local non-profit doing some really interesting environmental work around neighborhoods. Their website says they are “working to restore and connect the streams and parks of Jacksonville’s Emerald Necklace to revitalize the historic neighborhoods of our city’s urban core.”

The mosaic design is inspired by Sugar Hill residents, past and present. The mosaic will be installed along the S-Line Urban Greenway as it passes under I-95 near the intersection of 13th at Davis Street. Photos of the area look like it has been neglected for a while. I was told that the neighborhood was once home to an active African-American community with several prominent leaders that have made important contributions to the country. So the conceptual 7-pillar design has been inspired by the residents of Sugar Hill. Most of the past residents moved to make way for projects like the construction of i95 and the expansion of a medical center.

Here is an interesting piece describing the history of Sugar Hill.

Mosaic art is a slow, meticulous process

The creative brain behind the project are artists from RouxArt, a local art studio. Our project was indoors at their studio where they had all the material ready for us. We started by placing circular medallion mounds that had been made by the residents of Sugar Hill. This way the mural will be a community project involving the residents of Sugar Hill and citizens from around Jacksonville. The circles would be surrounded by our artwork called the ‘parentheses’.

We were then showed how to put blobs of mortar – using popsicle sticks – on little colorful stones, pebbles, tiles and mirrors and then stuck them onto a panel in different rows. The key tip was to use a spacer and ensure the stones were placed at an equal distance from each other. Guiding us through the process was Kate Garcia Rouh, the lead artist and designer of the project. Each tile had to be carefully placed and then pasted onto the layout. The whole process was pretty meditative.

Here are pictures from the event. I intend to make my own mosaic mural soon.

Mosaic tiles being placed carefully
Adding mortar to mosaic tiles. The Space bar was used to ensure we stick the tiles at an equal distance from each other.



We used different shapes and sizes, textures and materials.




Painting hubcap flowers for East Jacksonville

I love participating in projects that beautify public spaces. Art – in the form of sculpture, murals, mosaics – interacts, reflects, enhances the urban landscape adding character to it.  My first experience participating in a public art project was in Mumbai city, where we painted dilapidated sidewalk walls with graffiti. The paintings transformed the face of an otherwise unnoticed piece of sprawl to something that people would stop and watch. It became a ‘selfie point’ too.

Last year, I participated in my first Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteering activity – I was part of a group that painted car hubcaps with spray paints. We used bright colors -red, blue, pink, yellow and orange to transform the round metallic spheres into circular petal faces of flowers that would line housing projects, parks and community gardens in East Jacksonville.

Here’s a photo of me (red tee) spray painting hubcaps in the project that was organized by The United Way of Northeast Florida and conceptualized by the Jacksonville Cultural Development Corporation.

mahafreed painting hubcaps
Photo via

I absolutely loved the idea particularly because it made use of waste – car hubcaps. Otherwise discarded or usually found abandoned on highways, hubcaps are defined as the ‘removable covers for the center area of the exposed side of an automobile wheel, covering the axle’, as per Merriam-Webster.

Here are photos I took of the whole process. We made the petals, stems and leaves.

hubcap art1hubcap art2hubcap art3hubcapart 4



Fried bitter gourd in 3 easy steps

Bitter gourd can sound and look like an intimidating vegetable. It’s crocodile-like spiny rough skin is actually delicious when fried, shallow or deep. I prefer shallow frying and this recipe strictly follows my preferences.

Crispy fried bitter gourd fritters

  1. Slice two small bitter gourds into thin rings.
  2. Create a marination with
    2tbsp curd,
    one tsp turmeric,
    one tsp chilli powder,
    one tbsp salt,
    two tbsp gram powder /besan,
    one tbsp rice flour
    one tsp lemon juice.
    Marinate the sliced bitter gourd for 15 minutes.
  3. Shallow fry the slices on both sides till they turn crispy brown.
    Your fried bitter gourd is ready to be eaten. You can serve it with a sour cream dip or hummus.
  4. sliced bitter gourd roundels
    Sliced bitter gourd roundels

Fried bitter gourd fritters
 Tips and tricks:
1. Ensure you have a large pan so that the roundels do not overlap while frying.
2. The thinner the slices, the faster they will cook.

5 ways to organize your earrings

Studs, hoops, chandeliers, danglers, clip-ons – earrings are the most creative way to make your face look different each day. They are great conversation starters and can make a simple outfit look grand. I love earrings and have a huge collection, mostly gifts, of earrings from India and around the world. My collection consists of fashion jewelry and because it is so large, it’s hard for me to organize. Most of the earrings I have are hook earrings and danglers and if not kept neatly, tend to get entangled with each other. So I’ve always tried different jewelry boxes and organizers to help keep them – accessible, tangle-free and dust-free.

1. Wooden jewelry cases
Musical boxes with carvings and embellishments layered with decks and drawers and hidden shelves inside shelves make for attractive organizers. If you are someone who likes to hide their jewelry away into a mini closet, then these would work perfectly for you. The con of closed boxes like these is that you have to open each section to see what’s inside before choosing what to wear.

earring organiser

2. Earring nets and stands
A convenient way to hang earrings with hooks is to place them on a earring net or stand. (Like the pictures below)  I found this idea to be extremely useful for quick view and access to my collection. The only drawbacks are that the earrings do not stay dust-free and you have to place the net upright somewhere.

B6HSkTKCcAAE34Jearrings in a shop

3. Small plastic boxes and bags
My mother would always get me small plastic boxes to keep my earrings well organized. The clear ones are convenient cause you can view through them and open the one you need. If you use one box for every earring pair, it will also ensure they don’t get entangled with each other. The disadvantage here is that this arrangement may not look very attractive as compared to having a fancy jewelry box.


4. My frugal hack 01: Old plastic bottles

This hack was more out of need than anything else. I had a huge number (more than 60) of earrings and didn’t have enough boxes to store them. So I cut up used plastic bottles and used the base to compartmentalize pairs.


5. Frugal hack 02: Plastic egg cartons

This is perhaps my favorite organizing hack for earrings – it’s cheap, easy and a clever space-saving storage trick.


Took a shuttle to visit new Ikea in Jacksonville. Surreal

So after a long wait, Ikea’s 290,000-square-foot Jacksonville store finally opened its doors on November 8. I was one of the many Jax residents who wanted to visit the new store to buy some fancy-looking décor and furniture for my house, my priority being a shoe shelf.

For months earlier, there were rumors and then news about the new Ikea store being built at St. John’s Town Centre, a large shopping area in Jacksonville’s Southside.

Interestingly, the open date was announced with another important date – the date when people could start queuing up for the opening. So two days before the store opening, Ikea enthusiasts lined up – some equipped with tents, chairs, mattresses and food supply -outside the store. Why the frenzy, I wondered only to learn that the first few entrants were going to be welcomed with great fanfare and also receive a freebie.

On its website, IKEA made the announcement – the first 46 visitors would get an EKTORP sofa in celebration of the 46th US store opening while the next 100 visitors would receive a free POANG armchair.

Ikea freebies advert on Ikea website
A banner calendar on Ikea’s website with details about freebies for the first few customers in Jacksonville

I decided to avoid the crowds and go on a later date. Unbelievably, when I visited the store on November 11, the parking lots were full. I actually drove a mile away to a parking lot and took a shuttle to the store. Here are pictures of the massive number of visitors’ cars and some photos from first visit to the store.

Weekend scenes: Ikea parking lots were packed
Weekend scenes: Ikea parking lots were packed

Packed parking lot at Ikea Jax

The shuttle that was taking customers from the parking lot to the store.



Inside the store, there were 50 room displays that showcased Ikea furniture assembled in mock settings. I walked in and out of rooms.

Posing with the famous Ikea store bag inside a custom-designed patio area inside the store.
Dining room products on display.
Edison bulbs are really the in things to buy.
These crushed paper pendant lamp shades looked quirky. They are called KRUSNING
Getting comfortable on a dorm-inspired setup
Shelf units
Ikea rats
The kid’s toy section
Ikea mice

I did not quite understand why there were stuffed rats and mice. And so many on display. When I googled them, I found their product pages on the website. One says Gosig Mus and the other says Gosig Ratta. Gosig means cuddly or huggable. I also found a very funny and relatable post by a ‘husband’ who visited IKEA with his wife. He too was wondering about the abundance of stuffed toy rats at Ikea. You totally must read the post titled My Wife and I visit IKEA again and I try to figure out why. 


Pet accessories and furniture
Plates and other cutlery


The check out

My purchases from my first Ikea visit were minimal cause I plan to go again when it is less crowded. I want to visit the famed restaurant inside for the Swedish meatballs and try the yogurt too.

Here’s what I bought:
1. White microwaveable plates and bowls
2. A countertop utensil holder for my spoons called ORDNING
3. A glass bottle with a cork called Korken.
4. Dark chocolate called Talanda – my best purchase!

Side observation: It’s really interesting how the Scandinavian product names are connected to English. For example, Korken – a bottle with a cork.

Here’s some more:

  1. Mus – Mouse
  2. Hanga – coat hanger
  3. Frostig – refrigerator

Found this Ikea dictionary. It’s a fascinating list of IKEA product names and their meanings. The website makes for a fun read.



Shopping inside a train in Mumbai city

Mumbai’s local trains are synonymous with rush-hour crowds and over-packed compartments. Everyday, commuters scramble, shove and push to squeeze into their choice of transportation. Inside, catering to these crowds are train salesmen and women. These professionals sell all kinds of ware – knickknacks, food items, jewelry, clothes, and household items.

Each one has a unique selling style to grab attention and win customers – a rhyming jingle, an eye-catching display, an engrossing demonstration or a personal request to try the product on sale. Senior citizens, single moms, young children, persons with disabilities- the Mumbai train vendor could be anyone.

vendor in Mumbai train.png
A differently-abled vendor sells stationery – extra long ball-point pens – in the women’s compartment of a local train.

I absolutely enjoying shopping in a local train. I’ve found some really pretty earrings like this pair…


The pair of red earrings I purchased during a train commute in Mumbai
Earrings and hair accessories are common wares sold in Mumbai local trains. The prices range from Rs 10 to Rs 500 per piece.

Hair accessories are best purchased during train travel. Check out the variety this vendor was displaying.

Toothpicks, hair clips, earbuds, necklaces on sale in the Mumbai train
Sweet corn, lime, green chilies: Who needs to go to the market for groceries?

It’s fascinating, inspiring and distressing, all at the same time, to see some women vendors carrying their babies in tow. Some have to enter over-crowded compartments to get home. This is what peak-hour train travel looks like…

Over-crowded inside of the women's compartment of a Mumbai local train.
Overcrowding is a common feature of Mumbai local trains especially during peak times – in the morning and evening – when commuters are heading to and fro office.

Here’s a small video dedication we shot documenting these fascinating professionals unique to trains of Mumbai, and India.

I found two bloggers who have posts about Mumbai local train vendors. They make for interesting connected reading.

Do check them out.
1. Local Train Vendor by Poonam Choudhary
2. The Ladies Compartment in Mumbai Local Trains

Related: A must-follow photojournalist on Instagram is Mumbai-based Anushree Fadnavis, whose train diaries capture the essence of the daily commute in Mumbai locals.

My grandma

She loved listening to the radio
In her terrace rose garden,
On the top of a bakery,
That she lived in,
To be close to her baker sons,
And speak to customers,
Who loved her sense of fun.

She didn’t like long bangs,
She thought they damage the eyes.

She loved her camera, like she loved her radio,
And her knitting needles.

She would give biscuits to strangers,
And make random conversation with anyone.

She carried a photograph
Of a man with a swollen throat,
And warned smokers on the street
About the consequences of smoking.

She rocked me on the rocking chair,
When I was a baby.
She got me Cooper’s chocolate walnut fudge,
When I grew up.
She had a long cane,
And caned me when I was naughty.

She made the best vasanu – A parsi sweet made of nuts.
She loved her children and grandchildren.
She wore long gowns,
And could make anyone smile.

The last time I met her,
I took an instant photo of us;
She loved it so much,
She hid it under her pillow.

You went away, your photos are with me now.
Inside my phone and heart.
I know you’re watching me.
The sky looks beautifully painted,
Ever since you have been gone.

We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still

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