Who is this other Viara?

Back in November, I had my first-ever giveaway. I was admittedly worried the post wouldn't get seen by many people. I thought only two or three people - my family? - might enter, but I told myself this would be enough. Well, the joke was on me: more then 350 people tagged friends or family, hoping to win. 

The stellar response meant we had a nice full jar of paper strips to draw from. It was a full-family effort: The kids helped me print and cut the names out, we stuffed them in the jar, and then they picked three winners

All three winning names were a few degrees of separation away from people I'd known at the University of Mississauga, during my PhD days. Maybe it's not as serendipitous as it seems at first glance. I spent over five years at UTM, and met some of the best people. They were really tremendous. Really the best kind of people. (no, but seriously, they were)

On top of that though, these people have supported me from the beginning of my new career, even though I don't talk to all of them often. Old friends and colleagues - once sitting around the lab and talking about our research - now have become my support on this new journey. I'm not overly sappy, but this support means the world to me, so thank you <3

Onto today's photo-story: I went to Brampton a couple of weekends ago to photograph one of the three giveaway winners, Shamsul Huda, and his family. I had sort of caught on to the fact that there would be high energy and lots of people there. In fact, I'd encouraged them to bring as much family as they could, and make this 3-hour session really unforgettable. They did not disappoint.

There were wardrobe changes, girls getting ready with lots of hysterical laughter and good vibes, kids being kids (read: jumping off couches and playing pretend shooting games), and even some serious dabbing. There was Bollywood-posing outside by the tree, and delicious food and hot coffee and the inauguration coverage from the previous day completely faded into the background for a couple of hours.

At the end of it all, they pulled out a box, and told me that I have to take a photograph of what's inside. This was a dumb moment for me. It was a cake - a delicious looking cheesecake, and I photographed it, and I'm reading 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY VIARA' on the cake, and still I'm thinking, "wow, there's someone else called Viara in this crowd? and they have a birthday... what a coincidence..." So if it looked like I was initially ungrateful for the cake, it was only because I didn't want to claim as mine something that belonged to another Viara in the room. #facepalm

...The cake was for me. They'd found out it was my birthday the previous week, bought a cake for me, and they all crowded the kitchen so they could sing happy birthday. 

And I ate the cake and photographed them eating theirs, too. As far as photojournalistic approaches, I suppose I blew it because rather than being a 'fly on the wall', I found myself at the centre of a loud celebration... of me. But this was one of those moments when I had not a shred of doubt in my mind that what I am doing connects me to wonderful people, and feeds me enormous bits of humanity (and cake!) just when social media seems to tell me those bits are disappearing. I'm forever grateful for each glimpse I'm privy to, each moment a family shares with me, and each home I'm invited to. 

I'm so glad to have met the Shams family. I hope the photos convey just how wonderful of a day it was.