It is my ma’s birthday.


I thought I would go to the local Kali temple after work to celebrate ma’s birthday. After their death, I did a ‘shanti pujo’ at the temple. I remember experiencing a fleeting sense of peace as the priest explained the path of the soul and me freeing them by saying, “Go in peace. Rest now. You don’t have to take care of me any more.”

I felt peaceful then but ma would have laughed out loud if I suggested a trip to a temple to celebrate her birthday. I simply can not wish this woman “Happy heavenly birthday, ma”. She did not believe in heaven. And if heaven exists, she certainly did not aspire to go there. She was a trouble maker, rabble rouser, a materialistic woman who had a loud laughter and lit up the room with her presence. She teased and laughed and loved despite many, many years of struggle that she had to go through. She was flawed, she was kind and she was my idol. She refused to fit into a mold. She loved me deeply and gave up a lot in life to provide me with the best opportunities that could possibly be provided. She wanted to give, always. She was a giver. My friends from both school and college came home and promptly went to chat with ‘kakima’ because despite all the hardships, ma had joie de vivre that appealed to both young and old.

On this day, every year, a boyal mach er lyaja (a fish) came to our house for her. If you are reading this, if you live in a place where you get boyal mach and if you like that fish, eat a piece in her honor. I don’t get that fish here. Sahana and I plan to hit the mall, watch a movie, eat Chinese food and celebrate her life-long love. The tradition of watching movie with moms continue, as Sahana pointed out to me this morning. I left my friends and adda to go to movie with ma. My friends joked, “Who goes to movies with their moms at this age?” I laughed and said, “I do.”

It is my ma’s birthday. This was a happy day in my life. I will try very hard to remember that this used to be a very happy day in my life.

Dog walking


Dog owners know that our dogs need to be walked rain or shine unless you have have a large yard for them to run around and do their business. For 10 years of my life, Sage kept me fit. He was a big dog and needed exercise to maintain his svelte, athletic shape so every morning he looked at me with imploring eyes – “Mama, let’s go.” Every morning we would do our usual round of two and a half miles around our neighborhood. On our daily walks we saw other dog walkers and most importantly our puppy friends. Some days the pups sniffed and played bowed, they told each other about the exciting scents and deer sightings while their humans chatted about life/work/children and boring things like that. While on other days, if we were in a hurry, we simply said a quick hello and pulled our dogs away from their friends much to their chagrin.

One of the regular dogwalkers that Sage and I saw every morning was an older couple. They walked two dogs – one was a senior golden retriever and the other was a black dog of indeterminate breed. It was clear that the black, younger dog was adopted from a shelter and the couple was trying to train him to walk without pulling as well as socialize him. The golden was calm while the younger dog was anything but. He wanted to charge at Sage every time our paths crossed. My timid Sage cowered and then walked fast to get away from the angry dog. As months went by, we noticed a huge change in the black dog as the owners worked relentlessly to get him used to other dogs. As we came within their vicinity, I saw the dad start training his guy with treats and soon the dog understood that if he saw us, he will get treats. Instead of charging at Sage, he learnt to look at his dad with expectant eyes. The mom walked the sedate and dignified golden while dad gave the younger dog treats and showered him with praise when he ignored Sage and walked briskly past him looking for treats. He progressed enough for us humans to actually exchange a few words without him lunging and barking at Sage. Sage was still fearful and did not want to sniff him but he stood by my side quietly. We continued this for years.

Then Sage died on January 31st 2020. I could not continue my walks on the route where the two of us walked so I chose another path for my daily walk. I discovered Sage’s path. I did see the couple walking their dogs as I drove by our neighborhood. Many months later, I decided to walk what used to be our usual route since Sage’s path was wet and soggy. I met the couple. They said they missed us and where was Sage? I had to tell them and saw their expressions change. I smiled at their dogs, the golden was struggling with arthritis and the black dog had some whites around his muzzle. After a few months, they were walking only one dog, the black one. I knew the golden had crossed the rainbow bridge. We said hello. I did not ask where the golden was. I walk at different times these days and often I choose Sage’s path since that is more picturesque. However, one day, I did go to the neighborhood. I saw the couple walking without any dogs. I did not assume their dog was gone. I figured he was home. But I have seen them walk just by themselves on multiple occasions without their buddy. I think he too has crossed the rainbow bridge.

The couple seem incomplete without their companion. I bet they felt the same way about me when they saw me walk without my shadow too. It made me sad. Dogs are such incredible gifts to us but they come to us for such a short time.

I am getting ready to open my heart to another four legged child. Sean and I both are somewhat ready but when we do bring one home, I want to be there for the pup. Right now most of our time is spent outside the house and that is not fair to a new dog. One day, I hope we will be blessed to have that unconditional love in our lives yet again. I think back on the ten years we had with Sage and my heart fills with such a warm feeling. I think we all are better people because Sage came in our lives.

Nature playing Holi


Nature, in my neck of the woods, is playing Holi right now……or dying, however you want to think about it. I chuckled as I thought of dying. Never did I ever think of death when leaves changed colors in past years. Since last year the thought of death lingers in my mind like a constant. Not in a scary way, more in an ‘absolute truth’ way.

The leaves turn red, they fall, they turn to dust, and then they return again. Each year they come back in new form. As I thought of resurrection, I wished the same happened with our loved ones – except I want them to come back in their old form, as my ma and baba. They, of course, don’t come back to us in a tangible form, but their essence remains imprinted on us, within us. Life goes on in its own rhythm.

The idea of resurrection brings such hope to both the religious and non religious. Our physical life is finite, but the soul perhaps recycles in some form. Or it becomes one with nature and radiates the beauty that surrounds us.

I thought of this as I walked around my neighborhood marveling at the gorgeous colors on the trees.

On a separate note, our county planted a baby elm tree at the edge of our property to compensate for the dead oak tree that they had to cut down last summer. Sahana and I disagree over naming our bald, and if I am honest, quite bare and unassuming baby tree. I want to call it Elmo and Sahana wants to name it Freddie Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.

You vote!!

Solitude


I shared this pond with no one this morning. The resident ducks and Canada geese were nowhere to be seen. The sun was not strong enough for the little turtles to climb up on logs and sun themselves. I stood by the edge of the pond to look for them. They were perhaps snoozing in their nests.

It felt strange and beautiful all at once to find myself alone in this tiny bit of universe. The cerulean sky was sparkling with golden rays of the sun. That color, I have realized, makes me immensely happy. The trees and bushes stood quietly, their reflection in the water somehow doubling their silent presence.

No matter how much I sparkle outside, I struggle most days to get off the couch and put my game face on. However, on days when I feel the gentle sun caressing my face and the splendid blue of the sky penetrating my soul, I feel I will be okay. I get up to face another day. I love, I am loved. I will live today and remain hopeful for tomorrow.

Continuity


As we moved the curtains from the window of our hotel room, we saw the ocean raging. There were red ‘no swimming’ signs fluttering in the breeze as far as we could see.

“Wow, Poseidon is angry today!” I thought. The fury was awe inspiring and also humbling.

Sean and I went to the Outer Banks, North Carolina for our 26th anniversary to spend a few days by the ocean. There was a storm brewing not too far from the coast so the rip currents were deadly. Since swimming in the water was dangerous, we decided to walk on the beach, feeling the wind on our faces and the misty spray of the ocean. There is nothing peaceful in the crash of the high waves yet I felt peaceful. I think the continuity and the assurance that each wave will be followed by another was reassuring. In the shifting landscape of my life, where uncertainty about my very existence and those of my loved ones leaves me unsettled, the constant rhythm of crashing waves salvaged my bruised soul. Instead of the ocean, Sean and I decided to immerse ourselves in the golden rays of sunsets instead.

There were many moments in this trip that will stay with me for a long time. Here are some of those.

On September 8th, the day of our anniversary, we decided to drive to Duck, NC to see the town and find a place to eat. After a dinner of Mediterranean cuisine, we walked along the boardwalk to see the quaint seaside stores and restaurants.

We still had a little time before the sun to set so we decided to drive to the next town, Corolla. As we drove down the narrow road, listening to music and talking, we lost track of time – sunset was imminent but there was no place to pull over to watch the glory. Just as I was giving up hope, we found the entrance to the Historic Corolla Park, complete with a lighthouse. We pulled in, parked and ran to the water bank as the sun was close to touching the horizon, spreading molten gold rays all over us. We were awash in its glory, wonder and love. We looked at each other in that moment. What a perfect anniversary gift was that sunset.

A couple of days later, the breeze had died down and the ocean had quietened. We decided to spend the morning at the beach, me reading and soaking in the gentle sun and Sean feeling the ocean. As a wave crashed on him and he turned around, ready to be crashed upon, there was an expression of uninhibited joy and exhilaration on his face that touched my heart. I will always remember that expression – expectant, joyful.

We wanted to see sunset from the dunes. Jockey’s Ridge State park, we read, was home to the tallest living sand dune system in the Atlantic ocean. It was close to our hotel so we decided to catch the sunset there. After parking, we started hiking up a dune. Neither of us knew what was beyond the sand hill. As we crested the dune, the world of sand open up – a huge expanse of sand was in front of us flanked by the ocean far away. And the sun was setting, coloring the yellow sand in golden pinkish hue. We were golden too. The moment when we climbed up the hill and looked what was ahead of us was so poignant and beautiful that I will remember it for a long time.

Everytime I am near the ocean the continuity of the waves gives me a sense of grounding. Despite the upheavals in our lives, one wave will follow the other. This absolute truth is comforting and peaceful.

Wearing ethnic clothes in a foreign land


I have always worn colorful kurtis to work during the summer months here in USA. Every year I went home and bought inexpensive but beautiful cotton kurtis and brought them back with me. When I first opened my suitcase and held them up, I smelled the quintessential smell of Kolkata. The fragrance enveloped me the first few times I wore those shirts till the smell of detergent, after a few washes, erased the trace of home. I wore them because they were colorful, the cotton felt comfortable on my skin and they made me feel beautiful. They were meticulously chosen by both ma and baba, with some input from me sometimes.

Things have changed now. Instead of kurtis and dress pants (or jeans) to work, I often wear salwar kameez with custom jewelry from home along with a stick on bindi. Many of the outfits belonged to my ma. When I wear them, I feel wrapped in her love. It makes me feel close to her, and baba too, since he chose many of the fabric. I always fought with her growing up when she wanted to dress me up in her style. I lived my teens in t-shirt and jeans and rebelled against Indian outfits except an occasional saree for a special day. These days, though, as my bond to my country frays I cling on to the clothes.

I have noticed something when I wear salwars to work. The older South Asian (and South East Asian) men and women who come to visit their families over the summer look at me and give me a hesitant smile. We live in a diverse community. Our library sees customers from different parts of the world. During summer, their elderly parents come to visit them. And they come to the library accompanying their sons, daughters, grandchildren. I notice their hesitation, their uncertainty and discomfort in a foreign place. I recognize this as I have seen my parents feel this way, out of place, in a country where they did not understand the language very well. However, when these men and women, many of the women wearing sarees or salwars themselves, see my outfit, they make eye contact with me. They either stare or smile. I often smile (behind my mask these days) and with the smile I reassure them that they are welcome here. Not just me in my ethnic wear but all my colleagues, other public library workers, are happy that you came.

Representation matters.

A perfect day off..


My driver’s license almost feels like a waste these days. Since Ryan started driving, I have relegated the wheels to my two kids so they can go to their jobs, practices and occasionally social engagements. Unless the husband has meetings in far away places, he also works from home. Most days when I am off from work, I am pretty much home bound due to lack of a vehicle. I can always go for walks which I generally do but I did not go anywhere today.

Today I woke up determined to vacuum the house, weed the flower patch, cook dal and sabji, launder the towels and mop the kitchen floor. As I sipped my coffee this morning, I questioned why I put all that on my to-do list on my one day off. That list, on this beautiful morning, seemed ridiculous so I scrapped it. One should be flexible, right?

Instead, I cooked dal and sabji, warned Ryan to hand me back my tablet once I finished cooking. He was finishing a math packet and watching Seinfeld simultaneously – I worry about accuracy of those math problems. He handed my device back without a fight so I could read Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars (in e-book format). I finished the book, wrote a review on Goodreads and pondered upon the story of Nurse Powers trying to help pregnant women afflicted with Spanish flu in the maternity ward of a hospital in Dublin, Ireland in 1918. The book is relentless, honest and a stark narrative on the condition of women and the expectations that society placed on them.

Anyway, after finishing that heart rending book I needed something light and entertaining. I am also queuing up books for the book club that I hope to start – Light but not Fluffy. And Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits seems to be a worthy candidate…..so far.

Between those two books I thought a lot about Sage, once I found out today was National Dog Day. I also thought about our back to back losses. Sage died in 2020 and ma, baba died in 2021. As a Hindu, albeit a non practicing one, my thought goes directly to bad karma. What did I do in this life or my past life so bad to deserve such sorrow? Death is natural and a part of life I know, but this absolute truth is still hard to swallow.

I mindfully set those thoughts aside as I tried to lose myself in Julie Murphy’s story of modern day Cinderella, If the Shoe Fits. The heat is not oppressive today. There is a light breeze. The sky is bright blue and the clouds are snowy white and fluffy. The sun is sweet and golden rays are reflecting the rich, shiny green of the trees and bushes in our backyard. The majestic oak tree at the fringe of our property is lopsided now. Part of its limbs fell on the ground after some severe storms in the past but it still stretches its remaining limbs up to the sky. It is undaunted despite its loss. I think there is a lesson to be learnt there.

I see it. I am still new at it.

No matter, this moment is good. I will take this moment and consider it a blessing.

Peeking in


I was away for a few days looking at colleges for my son. When I travel I don’t look at the blog. However, when I opened the app over the weekend, I saw that many people have read several blogs (or one person has been reading them, I don’t know). I also have several new subscribers. Thank you and welcome to my blog, new people! I appreciate you stopping by and pressing the subscribe button.

Whenever I see new subscribers, I get this feeling of responsibility that I should write something for them to read. However, on this humid Monday morning, my mind is blank. I even went for a walk where I get most of my ideas for a blog post. Today, I was simply cutting through the humidity, huffing and puffing as I crested a small hill in our neighborhood. I thought I would write about a few observations and realizations about our travel.

First, I still feel slightly taken aback when I look at Ryan walking beside me on a tour of college campus. When did he get so big?

After a few tumultuous teen years, say from 14 to 16, when I loved him but did not quite like him, he is turning a corner. He is funny, engaging and loving. My kid is coming back to me!

I realized after staying in New York for a couple of days that I do NOT like a city anymore. This came as a complete surprise since I grew up in Kolkata and always considered myself a city girl.

Due to my work and Sean’s constant travel all summer, I felt we were leading parallel lives. Ten days of traveling together with him made me feel reconnected.

Sahana cooked this amazing steak last night. And despite the fact that I have really limited my meat intake, I ate it and loved it.

And I finished Horse by Geraldine Brooks. Friends, if you pick up one book to read this year, I suggest this one. I finished it last night and I am sad and fulfilled at the same time.

Smiles


We celebrated Sahana’s birthday recently. After quite a while, the four of us went out for a nice dinner. I wore my mother’s saree, Sahana wore one of her kurtis and Sean wore baba’s punjabi. I felt we carried their essence with us that way and they were present as we celebrated the birthday of their precious Sahana. Ryan was entrusted to take photographs that day since he has the best camera app. He took some candid shots of me when I was smiling, or laughing even. When I looked at those photos, the joy I felt in those moments were palpable. There was a point in my life this past year when I did not believe I will feel that emotion fully. But I did. And that surprised me. Just as Mary Oliver said in her poem, Heavy, the joy on my face startled me – in a good way.

Next day at work, I took my friend aside and said, “I need to tell you something. I felt joyful yesterday.” There was a sense of wonder in my voice and I think she heard it. She said, “I am so happy to hear that.”

I have poured out my grief in my blogs. I will now leave this memory of joy too, here. If I can dissociate myself from everyday living, I can look at the tapestry of my life – woven with love, loss, friendship, laughter and joy.