Back at it….maybe?

Yesterday, the emails kept coming. Ping…ping…ping. They were from WordPress telling me I had comments on my blogs. That was surprising since this blogsite has been lying dormant for many months. It is not that I don’t think about this space. I think about it all the time. As I drive to work or gym, I formulate in my head, sentences that I would write in the blogs. But when the day is done, I look at my laptop and never turn it on.

Yesterday, my littlest cousin in Kolkata could not sleep so she went to my blogsite and read many of my blogs. Not only that, she kept writing comments on them. My favorite was “I love you so much, Didi.” I read the blogs where she left comments. Some of the blogs were sad, some of them were general observations of life around me. Seeing her comments and the fact that she was reading them thousands of miles away made me feel connected. I have written so much about my life in this space. I have written about my children, my travels, my everyday life that encompasses my joys as well as my grief. I still have not seen a grief counselor, although I am getting closer to the idea but this blogsite has helped me cope by allowing me to write down my feelings. I made those public and readers responded by saying some of those blogs helped them process their grief. That made me feel less alone.

We had beautiful weather this week. The barren trees are sprouting their luminous green, the green that is my absolute favorite. This new green that I get to see every year fills me with hope. This is potential at its finest. What flowers will May bring? How this nascent green will change to a deeper, somber green as the summer progresses till they are leached of their colors and become red and golden? I love this process, this circle of life. And I don’t mind my own transition from somber, deep green to the red and golden of mature years. Sure, I don’t enjoy the new medications that get added to my life, or the daily aches and pains of getting older, but I wonder with some anticipation (and a little dread of losing people I love) how the next phase would be? For the most part, I am eager to move on with life. At certain times, I am wistful. Especially as I see my children become their own people with their own lives. This is what every parent hopes for, yet there is a twinge in my heart as the grip loosens. Did I give them my best? Did I enjoy them to the fullest when they were younger? Why did I complain so much about how busy life was when they were little? Why did I make life so busy? So many questions, so much self critique. However, despite that, I feel so proud of them. Both of them are good people.

Back to weather. Yesterday, Sean and I went for a long walk in a local park. We decided to leave the paved walkway and follow a trail deeper into the woods. I was looking at my feet as I walked, mindful of treacherous roots that poked above the ground dangerously. I had already stumbled a couple of times but managed to stay on my feet. We stopped for a second and I looked around me. Sean was in mid conversation, saying something about his work. I touched his arm, and whispered, “Look! Look around us.” We were surrounded by young royals – trees that were getting their new leaves. The sun tried to peek in through the foliage that rendered the leaves luminous, fluorescent even. There was nobody around us. There was no sound except sweet chirp of birds. I felt insignificant and I felt special all at the same time. Insignificant in front of such majesty and special because I got to witness it.

I don’t go to any building that is designated as a place of worship. The little opening, surrounded by trees, sunlight creating dappled shadows around me was my temple, my church, my mosque. I did not pray. But I gave my thanks.


Yesterday was a weird day.

Yesterday was a weird day. I hardly saw any of my family members. The partner is traveling, daughter was working and my eighteen year old son did an errand and then shut himself in his room for the rest of the day, and night. It is interesting how little I see of him even when he is home. I noticed this with Sahana before she headed out to college and I am noticing this with my youngest too. They let us know that it is time to loosen the grip, it is time to let go. I think of how their little hands fit in mine just a few years ago. I miss that touch but it makes me happy to see they are ready to take the flight.

I ditched going to the gym yesterday and cooked for the week instead. I even baked a cookie cake for no reason at all, because, why not?

I ordered biriyani from a local store. IT WAS NOT A GOOD IDEA. I was sick as a dog at night. I haven’t been that sick for a very long time. Before I got sick though, I spoke to my cousin sister for a very long time and realized how much I needed that conversation. So that was nice. And she offered to be my Piglet when I needed her. She read my previous blog.

This morning, though, the sun is shining. I am sitting in front of my parents (their photos). And I have this book on my lap.

On days, when I feel I have nothing to look forward to this book may provide some inspiration. I forget to focus on the little joys sometimes and require a reminder once in a while that even pouring cup of coffee in the morning can be a simple delight. A hot shower on a cold day. Sitting by the sun on my reading chair. The sunset that I get to witness everyday from my kitchen window. My dear friend, the lop sided oak tree in my back yard is full of buds. The cherry blossoms in my neighborhood are blooming their vibrant pink. The pink and white rhododendrons will appear soon to brighten the world briefly.

My daughter looks hopeful these days and my son can not wait to go to college.

A day of deep breaths and blinking away tears

I woke up with a soft kiss on my cheeks as Sean said goodbye before he headed to the airport. I tried my best to fall asleep but sleep eluded me. I was dreading the day. It is ironical that I dread March 2nd since it was a day of excitement and happiness in my life for many years. It is baba’s birthday.

Today was a day of deep breaths and a lot of blinking. As I drove to the gym, I felt my chest constrict with pain. I tried to breathe in, hold it and exhale slowly. No matter how much I tried to focus on the happy memories, all I could think about was the last few days of his struggle and my utter helplessness.

A few friends still remembered him. They wrote on his Facebook page. Khushi wrote too. She said she missed him so much. She hopes both of them are blessing her from heaven. I also read a passage from A.A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh where Pooh is having a very Difficult day and Piglet asks him if he wants to talk about it. Pooh doesn’t want to talk. So Piglet just sits with him. When someone is having a very Difficult day, it is wonderful to just sit with them. Perhaps that is what friendship is all about. I needed a Piglet.

I had a very Difficult day but I went about my life – gym, work, dinner, without Piglet. I got through it. Today brought back glimpses of the very painful place I was in. I am certainly getting out of it and I am sure tomorrow will be better and as years go by birthdays will hurt less. Grief is like the waves – it ebbs and flows.

Don’t ask me…please don’t!

I brace myself for ice breakers in meetings. The worst of them is “tell us your strengths”. What are you good at? My mind goes blank. I hear others come up with wonderful strengths but my brain freezes. The only thing that surfaces is reading. I read a lot. But I don’t read informative non fiction. I read books that appeal to me. Stories appeal to me so that is what I read.

After some thinking, I stammered, “I have been told I ask good questions and I listen.” Another friend in the meeting chimed in, “You ask outstanding question.” She comes to my book clubs so her compliment was wonderful. I was relieved when I could pass the mike to another participant in the meeting.

I was complaining to my daughter that I can not think of my strengths when asked and I hate ice breakers. She asked me what I said. And then advised, “Mom, don’t start the sentence by saying you have been told that you are good at something. Own your strengths. Tell them you are a good listener. End of sentence.”

I said she was right. Why am I so wishy washy when it comes to saying my strengths out loud? I blame my upbringing. I always blame my upbringing when something goes wrong. Don’t you? 🤣🤣

Don’t sing your own praise, let the world tell you you are good – this mantra was ingrained in me since I can remember. Be humble. I take humility seriously. Too seriously, as I find out these days.

I asked my son, “I stumble when I am asked about my strengths. I never know what to say.”

He kept it simple. “Tell them you are a great mother.”

“Thank you. But how does that relate to my work?”

“What are you talking about? Great mothers are great leaders.”

This blog is not about you all (those of you know me) telling me my strengths. Nor am I fishing for compliments. I actually quite like myself. My strengths are kindness, being available, empathy. I am indeed a good listener. People feel comfortable talking to me and I do ask good questions. See, I can write them all down. I can not articulate them when asked.

Do I want them or not?

As I did a puja for my parents after their death, the priest explained that I am releasing them from the worries of this world. As a daughter, I am telling their soul that their watch (over me) has ended, the priest explained. Go in peace, I told them as their souls supposedly merged with water. We come from water and we become one with water when the soul leaves the vessel, our body. Whether that is true or not I don’t know but the idea is beautiful. After a lifetime of watching over me, they were released from the responsibility. It will be 2 years in May. I truly spend my every morning with them before I begin my day. When they were alive, my day began with either a message with them or a phone call. A quick message or a quick phone call, but some connection nonetheless. Even today, my days begin with a connection with them. A silent communication or remembrance but a connection nonetheless.

People say they will always watch over you. Or they are blessing you and loving you from far. While I want their blessing and love throughout my lifetime, I don’t want them watching over me. I want them to be free of me. I don’t want them to witness my grief. I don’t want them to see the hollowness or the eyes that remain sad no matter how much I try. Parents don’t live forever, that is the absolute truth. No one lives for ever. More than the deaths, it was the cruelty of it. It was how they went. I could not be there. I did not even know where their bodies were taken to be cremated. They did not receive the last rites. They, along with thousand other Covid patients in India, were deprived of the honor that the dead receive. I am devastated about their death and I am devasted how it happened. The question ‘why’ that I often ask the universe is not necessarily why they died. We will all die. The ‘why’ is more for the way they were taken, without the comfort of them knowing I was with them.

Anyway, I digress. I was saying that I don’t want them watching over me because they should be free now. But when their grandkids achieve something, my first thought is how proud they would have been. I hope, then, that they are watching and beaming like they used to. Sahana graduated from college right after their death. Ryan learnt to drive, Sahana got jobs, she bought a car, Ryan became captain, he got into college. After each achievement I said to them, “Are you watching? Do you see that your grandkids are growing up? Since they were born, you two lived for them. You cherished each phone call, each laughter, each joke. When they came to visit, you bought all the toys from the toy store and all the books from the book store. Do you see how they are growing up and becoming decent human beings? You would have been proud of them. You would pick up the phone and announce to the entire extended family in Kolkata how great your two grandkids are. You would tell your friends and post on your social media. You would shout from the rooftop.”

I don’t want them to be witnesses of my sorrow. I want them to be free from that. I do, however, want them watching their grandchildren as they grow. I don’t want them to miss out on this joy. I feel like they missed out being part of the lives of their most loved people. So I am in two minds – do I want their watch to end or do I want them to watch over us?

Hindsight is 20/20

I realize now, at my ripe old age of 52, that I have been such a fool. I did not appreciate all the wonderful things that I took for granted in the past.

I still remember grumbling and pouting as I was forced to take a nap in the afternoon next to my mother in the blistering heat of Kolkata as a child. I wanted to listen to stories (or read when I was able) from my mother but she needed a break from me, I am sure. So she mandated that I close my eyes and fall asleep in the afternoon. I would open one eye to see if she was sleeping so I could quietly sneak away from her and have a few hours of freedom. Some days I could, most days, I got caught. It seemed like a punishment in those days and now afternoon naps, when I can get one, are such decadent luxuries that happen once in a blue moon.

Every morning, before I left for college, the woman who cooked for our family prepared pomfret fish in mustard gravy and hot, steaming rice for me. I barely touched it. I was so eager to leave home and eat junk food from Milanda’s canteen at Jadavpur University that I turned up my nose at the lovingly prepared meal at home. I picked at the rice and fish and Jhumadi (the chef extraordinaire) yelled at me, “Didi ar ektu bhat khao. Oi jonye tumi oto roga.” (Eat a little more rice. You are so thin because you don’t eat.) I grabbed my bag and shut the door behind me. I would kill for someone to prepare that exact same food for me. Especially when I come back home from work and have to prepare dinner.

Last night, I was massaging argan oil in my hair. It was a chore when I was little. Not that I had to do anything myself. Someone sat me in front of them, massaged coconut oil in my long hair, braided them tightly before I could go to bed. The belief was, if you tied your hair very tightly in plaits before going to bed, your hair grew faster. And hair oil was necessary for a full head of hair, of course. I dreaded this ritual. I hated anyone touching my hair. And the tight braids before bed time hurt my head. I was a demure child but I did rebel against hair tying before bed time. My mother, who cut her hair short, relented and let me go to bed with my hair open. That was such a win! But hair oil was a must. As I massaged hair oil last night, I longed for those loving massages again. I could go to a salon, of course. But it was not simply the massage though, it was the entire ambiance. Me sitting on the floor with my long hair down my back in our one room flat. The TV blaring in front. Ma sitting on the bed chatting with the household help and Jhumadi telling us her life story while putting oil in my hair. I can almost see the scene in front of my eyes.

So, the moral of this blog is soak up any nurturing that you are getting at his point in your life. If someone is doing something for you, enjoy every minute, don’t take any of it for granted. When you are adulting real hard and there is no one massaging oil in your hair or making you pomfret fish in mustard gravy or forcing you to slow down and take a nap, you will look back and sigh. Hindsight is always 20/20.

An accidental sunrise

The most important part of my morning ritual is sitting quietly in front of the photos of my parents with my cup of coffee and staring at their smiling faces. The world around me is quiet, fast asleep. The only sound that I hear is of the heating unit pumping blessed heat in our house on cold, winter mornings. I do this every day, without fail.

Today, as I got up to put my coffee cup away after my morning ritual with my parents, I happened to glance out of the window. I caught the sun rise, accidentally. Everyday, I wake up early and look inward instead of outside. And while I introspect and look back at memories or wipe away tears or question ‘why’ again and again, the sun rises with resplendent glory. I guess, this is nature’s way of balancing sadness with beauty. I will, perhaps, incorporate looking outwards in my morning ritual. After all, life is about balance.

A moment with Durga

This year I went to Boston to celebrate Durga puja with my cousin sister. Boston Durga bari’s Durga Puja is a beautiful four day affair that brings back memories of Durga puja of home. The ambiance, the joy, the rustle of new clothes, the trendy blouses, the designer kurta pajamas, the elegant sarees, the intricate jewelry, the smoke of dhunuchi and the crowd – all of these evoked the quintessential pujo feelings. If it wasn’t so cold as soon as one stepped outside the mandap (the tent in the parking lot of Braj Mandir Temple) in Holbrook, MA, one could totally feel like one was in a ghoroya puja of Kolkata.

I have my own unique relationship with the goddess. I don’t feel the need to participate in pushpanjali, or boron or any kind of ritual. My relationship with Durga is not one of a devotee and a deity. It is much more personal. To me, she is an embodiment of my memories of special four days every year. She is a feeling in my heart that is precious and invaluable. It is hard to explain. She is also a symbol of everything that I consider good. She is the divinity that, I hope, resides within me and within others. Every year, her celebration, reminds me to nurture this divinity within me and slay my inner demons so I am kinder, more considerate, less judgmental. Durga is also shakti – power. Those who wrote the Vedas knew the inherent power that women possess so they made a woman the symbol of power. Durga is all powerful yet when she comes to us she comes as the daughter of the house coming to her ‘baaper bari’ (her parents’ house). She is our beloved girl as well as the epitome of ‘mighty girl’. We do not worship her because we fear her. We worship her and love her because she is our very own, our dearest girl who assures us, inspires us, loves us and also blesses us. At least, this is how I relate to her.

During the four days of Durga puja, I sat far away from the idol while devotees stood in line to see a glimpse of Durga’s face. I admired the fashion, the jewelry, the little children instead of focusing on the mantras and the aarti. When everyone had left late at night and my sister was busy arranging the kitchen for next day’s massive preparation of food, I walked over to the front of the tent where the idol of Durga was placed decked with weapons in her ten arms and adorned with jewelry. The repentant ashura sat at her feet looking up, seeking forgiveness. And Durga had forgiven him. Her eyes, in this particular idol, radiated kindness, assurance. I bowed my head in front of the idol made of clay. But in reality, I bowed my head in gratitude for all the memories that her advent to the world has gifted me. She is my ‘shorot kal er neel akash’ (the blue sky of autumn), she is my ‘kashphul’ (according to Google, wild sugarcane that grows in Bengal during autumn), she is my smell of new clothes, my puja vacation from school, she is my mother’s laughter and my father’s relaxation, she is my memories of first crush and beating heart, she is my intolerable crowd, my pandal hopping, my Kolkata lights. She is the blisters on my feet due to new shoes, the rustle of my new clothes. She is my delicious street food and outing with friends. She is my counting pocket money to see how far that will take us. She is the crowded traffic on the streets, the red ribbon on the hair of the little girl who lives on the streets with her homeless family. She is the ‘bonedi barir pujo’. She is house full of relatives. Mostly, she is my feeling of joy and love and family.

She is all these memories that I keep in my heart all year and take out to savor during these four days every year. I will never get them back but I am so blessed that I have them forever.

“You don’t age!”

He commented as I put paper in the printer so he could get his print job. I have written about this customer in my previous blogs. He calls me ‘my lady’ but not in a creepy way. He calls me lady in a way that makes me feel almost regal. I feel I should raise my hand and give him a regal wave. I just smile instead while in my head I am waving – regally. You can read about him in this blog .

I just gave a foolish ‘Haha’ and thanked him. Yet as I walked away from the printer, I chuckled. I said in my head, “No sir! You are not getting off that easy. You are the one who asked me a few months ago if I was pregnant. And when I said I was just fat, you were so embarrassed and did not know where to look. You are just trying to get back into my good graces by calling me ageless. I am not falling for that. Moreover, you just saw me yesterday and the day before and the day before that. It is not like you saw me after a long time and realized that I don’t age. But you are still one of my favorites!”

I said all that in my head, of course. He is a regular at the library. I look for him if I don’t see him for a few days and hope he is ok. There are other regulars that have truly become part of my life. Some I talk to everyday while some I don’t. But if I don’t see them for a while I think about them. One gentleman tries very hard to convince me that I should buy stocks in India because the country is doing well and I will make a lot of money. I try equally hard to convince him that I don’t have the head for investments. He is undeterred. One gentleman prefaces his research questions by saying, “You know I am very curious….”. Another man said it meant a lot to him when I greeted him with a hello. He is somewhat passive aggressive to the library workers and I am a little wary of him but I greet everyone with a smile, he was no exception. It was good to hear that it meant something to him that day. We never know what battle each of us are fighting. One woman comes and shows me the salwar kameez that she wears from time to time – a gift from her Indian friends. She is very interested in India and tries to engage me in conversations about the country any chance she gets. Another gentleman finds faults with everything we do and I greet him with an energetic hello every time I see him. He gets a little flustered at my enthusiasm and grunts a hello back at me. I will take it. He needs help with computers sometimes and is actually quite appreciative when I help him. If I can get a smile out of him, I feel like my day is made.

I just wrote about some of the regulars. There are so many small interactions with customers at the library that make me feel connected. These are our wins as library workers. At the end of the day, these interactions are mostly rewarding. There are days when I am frustrated with the red tapes and delayed responses and unnecessary paper work, but interactions with my community – smiles, laughter, talk about books, research questions, book clubs balance out the frustrations. When I take stock of my work life, I realize I still love what I do.

Going back to ‘You don’t age’ – no sir, my favorite customer (and I don’t even know your name), flattery will get you nowhere! 🙂

Observations from the elliptical… and beyond

I chose the worst possible playlist from Spotify before getting on the elliptical machine today. I generally listen to 90’s Bollywood hits or a mix of Bengali songs about social change but today I chose the Bollywood Workout Beats (or something like that). Big mistake! The first song was almost ten minutes long Sanskrit prayer to Lord Shiva. Now, I have nothing against Shiva. I always thought he is a pretty cool deity although I find his wife (Durga) much cooler, but I don’t need to listen to someone singing paean to him for 10 minutes when my thighs are burning. I need songs that will make me forget the thigh burn. I don’t keep the phone available near me to discourage my inclination to check messages while I exercise, so changing playlist was out of question without interrupting the work out. Anyway, the songs that followed after that interminably long prayer song were not up to snuff either. So instead of focusing on the music in my head, I looked around and surveyed my fellow gym users.

  1. First, I love to see diversity in race, age, body types doing something for themselves. Older men, in their seventies, walking slowly or running, on the treadmill. Older women, doing the same and also stretching, practicing their balance.
  2. Young men and women focused on their phones, grim expression on faces doing feats, either freehand or on the machines, that I can only dream of and never achieve. I saw a young woman pull herself up a pull up bar and hold it for, what it seemed like, eternity. I marveled at her ability and strength. You go girl!
  3. Another young man held a plank forever. The core strength was incredible. My muscles quiver like jelly after 30 seconds.
  4. After a weight round, young men surreptitiously checked themselves out in the mirror, gently touching their biceps and strutting a little. It made me smile.
  5. One woman, a regular, gets on a elliptical, and has so much inner joy as she goes hard on the pedals. She raises her hand sometimes, moves her head, her hair flips all around, smiles. It seems her whole body is in tune with the work out. I would like to know what music she is listening to. She seems so very joyful. She was flipping her hair around today, moving to a tune that she could only hear.
  6. A very friendly trainer went around high fiving regulars, primarily older men and women. It is lovely to watch the camaraderie. Some regulars, after work out, meet at the lobby and chat over cups of free coffee.
  7. I observe the forms of some serious gym rats and make a mental note to emulate their form when I use that particular machine.

After my hour on the elliptical ended, I got off the machine, drank some water and changed playlist. With Arijit Singh crooning in my ears, I stretched and continued observing humanity around me. After a good hour and a half at the gym, I went into the locker room and got the shock of my life as I happened to glance at the mirror. Pagla Dashu stared back at me. A female version of him, of course. The top of my hair was completely frizzy thanks to the head phones, my face drenched in sweat, eyes puffy from lack of sleep and basic age related wrinkles. Pagla Dashu, my beloved fictional character is young, crazy and charming, if a little insane, but his name popped up in my head as I looked at myself in the mirror. If you are not familiar with him, click on the link – I already wikied him for you. I am considerate like that.

Before heading out, I put an online order for chicken biriyani from a local Indian restaurant. I justified eating biriyani right after a good workout by thinking, I am exercising for mental health and today, biriyani is essential for my mental health. I went to the Indian grocery store, right next to the restaurant, and picked up boring things like cilantro and spices. I also picked up a big bar of Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate but I put it back on the shelf again. I did work hard to burn some calories, I was about to put all those back in my body in the form of biriyani. Chocolate bar had to wait for another day. I did pick up a bar of Mysore Sandal soap. I have been missing ma and baba terribly these past days. That soap was their favorite. I wanted the smell of that soap. It is incredible how deep associations that mere smell can bring up.

I see no change in my weight so far. However, random folks have not come up to me and asked me if I was pregnant. So there’s that. And I feel a change in my mental health. I am more peaceful for longer stretches of time than before.