A song


I could not fall asleep last night. My anxiety caused me to hyperventilate as I tried taking deep breaths. This morning I sat on my couch and saw the sunlight hit just the right way on our beloved indoor plant. The green of the leaves sparked joy.

I laced up my sneakers, plugged in the earbuds, turned on my Playlist to Rabindrasangeet and went out to walk in the woods. The cerulean sky, the cold on my face, the green grass despite the patches of frozen water on it, and the bare branches standing tall with the promise of life within it gave me peace. There were many birds out today, all puffed up against the cold, hopping on the fields, looking for grub. They took flight when I walked near them but did not go too far. I think I saw the bushy tail of the neighborhood fox in Sage’s path but I may be wrong. It was just a glimpse. I emptied my mind of all the anxiety to soak in the treasure in front of me. And it worked. My breathing calmed, my mind found temporary peace. I store these scenes in my mind to draw upon them when I have anxiety attacks as bed time approaches.

As I made my way home, baba’s favorite song came on my Playlist – Jokhon porbe na mor pa er chinho ei baate….

তখন কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
সকল খেলায়…
সকল খেলায় করবে খেলা এই আমি, আহা
কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
নতুন নামে ডাকবে মোরে বাঁধবে
বাঁধবে নতুন বাহু-ডোরে
আসব যাব চিরদিনের সেই আমি

A rough translation of this stanza is this:

Who says I am not present on that dawn. My being will be present in the universe. You will call me in different names but being is forever.

I have asked a lot of why’s and where’s since the dreadful month of May in 2020. It has been 8 months looking for peace, for meaning. I realized I find most peace (at least temporarily) if I believe the energy of my parents are now mingled with each and every aspect of beauty in nature that unfolds in front of me if I care to ‘see’. Baba sang this song a lot. I heard but did not listen. I listened today.

Don’t do it..


I spoke sternly to my hand as it slowly reached for the bottled mango Lassi on the refrigerated shelf in the new Indian grocery store that I went to explore.

“Don’t do it. Don’t you do it. Think of the added sugar. Think of your ever expanding mid section!”

My head reprimanded my hand. But guiltily, almost unwillingly, and in slow motion, my hand did grab the plastic bottle of Lassi and put it in the shopping cart. My face almost had a sad expression as I looked at what my hand had done. Right next to them were Indian sweets, among which were silvery Kaku katlis which I adore. I touched a box and moved my hand away. Next to them were Motichur laddus. As a little boy, Ryan used to love those. We called him our little Ganesh for his love of laddus were similar to the elephant headed God whose supposed love for those laddus is legendary. Ryan, however, has betrayed me and grown conscious of his sweet intake. However, I use him as an excuse in my mind when I pick up a box of laddus. “Ryan likes them” I say to myself. Ryan declines to eat a single one and so I eat them all. Can not waste them!

I exerted extreme self restraint and did not pick up either the Kaju katlis or the laddus. I felt Sean’s silent criticism of my choice of picking up sweet mango Lassi as we walked the aisles filled with ingredients, spices, snacks, soaps, oils, body lotions from my home. I picked up some green chillis, some turmeric and masoor dal. Looked for samosas and failed to find them. The new grocery store lost some points right there. Why won’t they have fresh samosas when I wanted them? Anyway, as we walked towards the check out counter, I slowly reached into the shopping cart, picked up the lone bottle of Lassi and put it back on the shelf.

“You don’t want it?” My surprised husband asked.

“Let’s get out quickly before I change my mind.” I walked faster, putting distance between myself and the shelf that held the goodies.

As we got in the car, Sean said it is fun to see me in an Indian store. I am, supposedly, like a kid in a candy store. The analogy is apt, but it is more like an immigrant in a store full of things whose sight, smell and taste bring back very fond memories of home. It is a wistfulness of what we left behind. It is also a joy to hold a tiny part of familiarity in our hands.

Yes, that is my mom.


“That is your mom!! What? How?” – this question has been posed to my white passing biracial son since he was in preschool. I sometimes wonder how it made him feel. By kindergarten, he was so used to this question that as soon as I showed up to volunteer at kindergarten luncheon, he would preempt the question from his peers by announcing “That is my mom. Yes, she is brown. She is from India.”

Once I was waiting in the hallway of a high school to pick up Ryan after a middle school concert. He came out with a few other kids. One girl, upon seeing Ryan greet me and come towards me, exclaimed, “Ryan, IS THAT YOUR MOM?????” And then, with the insensitivity of a 13 year old, she followed up that exclamation with, “No way! But you are white!”

Ryan and I will continue to baffle this easily confused world but I hope one day, the world will integrate colors enough to exclaim less when it sees us together.

Last night, as Sahana, Sean and I tackled the New York Times spelling bee, we got talking about how perception of parents follow us in our lives. Sahana said, “Tell me about it. My friends have told me all my life your mom is so pretty. OMG! Who wants to hear that all the time? Leave my mom alone!” She laughed. I have heard her say that before and we have laughed together about it.

Here is the thing that amuses me – different standards of beauty in the two countries that I belong to. In India nobody would give me a second look. I am old now but even when I was young nobody looked twice. My experience was very different in USA, at least in the part where I live.

I read a few books about biracial individuals who try to find where they belong. Good Talk by Mira Jacobs is a great book to read on this issue.

After 8 months


Sunrise

January 19th marked 8 months since my father died. January 10th was 8 months since my mother died. This journey of coming to terms with what life means now, without the presence of those who gave me life, has been an uphill battle.

Life, at least now, holds no joy.

I pretend. A lot. I pretend to act normal.

I am very mindful to keep my grief guarded so the person I am interacting with does not feel uncomfortable.

I dread going to bed.

I stay up as long as I can so when my head hits the pillow my mind does not race. I am truly terrified of nights and the solitude it brings when all hurtful feelings takeover.

I search a lot for answers and only find peace when I see beauty in nature.

It gives me solace to think that my parents’ energy is, perhaps, part of this beauty now. Or maybe their soul has been reborn in another body. Who knows?

On January 19th, as I sat quietly in the morning thinking about ma, baba and all the ‘why’s’, I saw this sunrise. And I thought “How fitting! Baba would have loved to see this. Maybe he is part of this beauty now. Maybe they both are part of this splendor.”

Music


I am listening to Rabindrasangeet (songs written by Rabindranath Tagore), as I sautè chopped onions, add fresh ginger and garlic paste, spices, chopped tomatoes to the dal simmering on the stove top. Along with the aroma of my very familiar food, memories are wafting towards me of days gone by. Each song that comes up in my Spotify Playlist evokes different memories. Memories of people, memories of moments, memories of a slice of life that I have lived, memories of sunshine and happiness, memories of heartbreak too. Music does that to one’s soul. I did not listen to music after my parents’ death. We listened and loved similar songs and I have innumerable memories of singing along to those in our shared moments together. Listening to those songs alone was simply too painful. I have slowly allowed music to seep into my life again. I realize with astonishment how life truly goes on. How I am living and laughing too at times. Sleeping at night however is a different matter altogether though.

Ma, for the life of her, could not carry a tune. Did that stop her from singing out loud along with songs that played on our radio? No, it did not. I am not a connoisseur either but I can recognize correct notes. I, of course, never said a word about ma’s singing abilities but I did laugh inwardly. I was mean to her singing prowess – in my head.

Baba, on the other hand, was quite a crooner. He would close his eyes when his favorite song came on the radio and croon along with a lot of emotion and actually sung quite well. But more than his singing, I enjoyed hearing about his memories associated with songs that he loved in his youth. He would talk about them sometimes. I tried to picture him as a young man, hanging out with his friends from his engineering college, going on trips, Durga pujas of his youth, a snatched memory of his mother or father.

My mother and father have become memories now. As the songs pour into my soul, I remember our shared moments. Music, today, was bitter sweet.

Tea cups


The reason why I am writing this blog is simply to delay the inevitable. I am all dressed and ready to go to the supermarket to buy groceries for the week. It is my day off and I do all the essential chores and errands on this day and before I know it, the day is done. It is almost funny how I procrastinate on chores. I did my morning Wordle (have you fallen into the wordle trap yet?), then I did the New York Times mini crossword, then I watched videos of Ariana DeBose because she is so gorgeous and so talented. Then I felt guilty for being on my phone for half the morning without ticking off any item on my to-do list. So I got my bottom off the couch, showered, dressed and almost put on my sneakers to head out. However, I discovered my Fitbit is out of charge. Why should I move a muscle if I don’t get any credit for it, so I am charging my Fitbit. Sean asked me to write an email to one of Ryan’s teachers. I fired up the computer to write that mail and now I am scribbling/typing on my blog post. Once my Fitbit is charged up I will go buy food, I promise!

I want to write down what I realized this morning while grabbing my coffee mug for my morning cuppa. Every morning I wake up, press the button on my coffee maker even before my eyes are fully open and browse my WhatsApp (when the cobwebs of sleep have not cleared from my brain, I still instinctively think there will be the usual message from ma waiting for me in the morning). The coffee maker makes my coffee, I reach to the cabinet where we keep our mugs, I don’t even look which one I grab as long it contains substantial amount and pour the coffee. Only when I have had a few sips do I glance at the mug and never give it a second thought. Now, I am not a tea drinker. People often assume that since I am from India, I enjoy tea. I don’t. I drank tea – milky, sugary tea as a young person. But I never enjoyed it. It was almost a cultural thing to do, a ritual almost. When I moved to USA, I tried coffee, I liked it and stuck with it. However, I have discovered herbal tea now, thanks to some of my friends. Especially Bigelow orange spice black tea. On very cold days, either at work or at home the idea of holding a hot cup of tea in my hand seems very cozy. So I do that. I heat some water, reach for a mug. But here is the difference. When I am about to pour hot water in a mug to make a cup of tea for myself, I choose the prettiest mug that I have. I actually pay close attention to aesthetics of my mug, I love to see the gradual transformation of the color of water as the tea steeps in it and changes the flavor of the hot water. The transformation of color in a pretty mug gives me a simple joy. The taste of the tea almost becomes secondary. It becomes, again, the ritual of making tea – an act of self care.

Do any of you do this? Take more care to choose your tea cup than your coffee mug?

An ideal day


A friend wrote about his ideal day which got me thinking about what my ideal day would look like. This vision of my ideal day is a wistful one which I will never have again.

My ideal day would be waking up in our apartment in Kolkata while everyone still slept. Steal a couple of biscuits (they are called cookies in my adopted country) from the biscuit tin and sit by the window to watch orange hued sun rise over the coconut trees while the crows start congregating on the antenna on our neighbor’s roof to start their morning meeting.

Once the sun’s rays illuminated the top dome of Ramkrishna mission, people in the house would start slowly waking up. The municipality taps would get busy providing water to the women in the neighborhood, filling buckets, washing their dishes, exchanging news. A typical start to a day in Kolkata. My ma and baba would come out of their room, sleepy eyed and happy, greeting me with good morning and ‘how did you sleep?’

The morning would have Sean’s loud laughter, baba’s smirk, ma’s indulgent offering of her phone to little Ryan so he could play solitaire on it and Sahana’s teenage wisdom imparted to all. Khushi would have her breakfast while baba dictated what should be cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

There would be visits to West Side to pick up kurtis. Ma would want to buy the whole store for us. There would be sumptuous meals, visit with innumerable family members, invitations to those visiting us to stay and have dinner with us. If not dinner, then store bought chicken rolls and sweets. There would be raucous, competitive games of ludo. Khushi would win and do victory dance. Ma would advise all the players but never play herself. Baba would beam, pace and discuss with Gouri what needs to be bought for next day’s meals. And I would soak it all in because I would know these blissful days will be numbered.

I will never have these days again. I am thankful I have had them.

You are looking very handsome these days….


I have been giving Sean compliments for the last 4 days. Maybe I am noticing more, maybe the 10 day long break he took did wonders, maybe the sun hits him the right way illuminating the green in his eyes and highlighting his gorgeous smile, I don’t know why but he looks exceptionally handsome. So I told him that. There may have been some surprise in my voice when I told him, “You look very handsome.” He looked a little abashed and happy 😊.

Last night Sahana noticed it too. She exclaimed, “Dad, you look so fit. You look very handsome.” I found an ally!

“Doesn’t he? I have been telling him that. He looks very handsome these days.”

I gave both of them an arsenal.

“These days? He looks handsome these days? You did not think he was handsome before? Dad did you hear your wife?”

Sean jumped in, acting all aggrieved.

I tried to defend myself saying he was always handsome but he had started looking haggard with his intermittent fasting routine and too much exercise. Now he has just the right amount of weight and sleep. He looks fresh.

But I was not allowed to finish my sentence. They jumped on the word “haggard”.

“Wow, mom, you are digging yourself into a deeper hole. Haggard? You are calling your husband haggard? Dad how does that make you feel?”

Sean acted all hurt and said he did not want to talk about it. The more I wanted to defend myself, the more my words were twisted.

There is a mischief making demi God in Hindu mythology called Narad. He causes mischief and initiates quarrel among people. Sahana was Narad incarnate. The three of us laughed. I am documenting simple, every day joyful moments whenever I can.

Take it over, kid.


Once upon a time I was a super human. I kept all important dates of school, practice schedules, concert schedules, swim meet schedules in my head – for both kids. Before Google calendar, I wrote all the dates down on our wall calendar in our kitchen for easy access for all. However, easy access for my family meant asking mom/wife.

“When is Ryan’s baseball practice and Sahana’s softball game?” Sean would ask. And crazily enough, I would know the dates.

My kids never went to the same school. When Ryan entered kindergarten, Sahana started middle school. So I got bombarded with emails from 2 schools. And I read each one of them meticulously. I knew the dates of PTA meetings and string concerts, and first grade author’s tea. While I did not attend PTA meetings, I did my share of classroom volunteering when needed. Anyway, bottom line is that once upon a time I was my family’s walking Google calendar. I knew it all in my head.

As Sahana got older, she started taking more responsibilities for her own schedule. Gradually, all her schedule information started sliding off from my brain as she started keeping track. She arranged for her own rides to school concerts, and when she started driving, drove herself to places where she needed to be. My brain then focused on Ryan’s schedule and I did him a disservice by constantly supplying him with dates of his events. Even when he went to high school he depended on me to know the important school dates and swim meet dates. And the control freak that I am, I continued to keep all those in my head. Till I realized I don’t need to anymore. I can clear that space in my memory by giving him the reins of his own activities. So when he asked about dates of his meets, I calmly told him to look it up by logging on to the website.

“Just tell me, it is easier!”

“I have to look it up too. So you do it since it is your meet.” That was a white lie, but it worked. Ryan started looking up on his own. Slowly and I mean, very slowly, he started getting responsible for his own activities.

The husband, on the other hand, was more difficult to train.

“When is…?”

“I am not sure, I forwarded you the email. Look it up” – became my standard response.

I still get the emails from Ryan’s school, which I still read but I do not keep the dates in my head for the most part. I jot down important parent’s meetings in our Google calendar but the rest I simply forward to Ryan. Recently, I saw a text exchange between father and son, which happened while I was still sleeping.

Ryan: “When is my SAT prep class?”

Sean: “I am not sure. I don’t remember getting that email. Mom will know. Let her wake up.”

Me, after waking up: “I forwarded both of you that email. Check your mail.”

They did. The information was there. It was so fun to simply write “check your email”. It is such a relief to not be as responsible anymore. From a super human, I have become just a human with memory space cleared for what I want to store in it.

I love being a parent. And I love seeing the slow transformation of my children taking over the control of their lives. There is a slight pang in my heart, I will not deny, at the fact that they are grown up. However, the dominant feeling is satisfaction and yes, relief.

I am old…


“Sahana, I am getting old!” I proclaimed this morning before heading out to work.

She was deeply contemplating which music to play on her Spotify. But she heard me and reflexively replied, “No you are not.”

“Yes I am!”

“NO, you are not! Why do you say that?” She did look up from her screen – interested now in knowing.

“I pulled a muscle near my elbow brushing my hair. That happens to aging folks. As we get old we have trouble drying hair, get pulled muscle while brushing hair.” I provided fool proof example of my advancing years and utterly weak elbow muscles.

“Pffft….that is not a sign of aging. You simply have so much hair that brushing them gave your arm a muscle pull. This is an example of abundance of your hair not advancing age.”

Bam! She turned the ailment to compliment. One needs to learn from her how to convert criticism to compliment. We both laughed out loud. And I want to remember this moment so here it goes in my blog post.