Whatcha got?


Once upon a time a little boy needed help with homework. He ran to his mom and dad asking questions about math or English or social science. Mom or dad helped him figure out his math problem or his English grammar or told him what they remembered about that particular social science question. Invariably and without fail, the little boy turned to his almost six years older sister and asked, “Sahana, is that correct?”

We laughed. Why do you ask us if you need your sister to validate our answers? I believe he asked us out of habit but his full confidence was in his sister. If sister confirmed that the parents were correct, he would accept our answers.

As the boy and girl grew older, there were conflicts. Both of them grew up with their own views on life, society, media and politics. Both of them are independent thinkers (read stubborn). While they agree on basic values like equal rights, social justice, kindness, empathy, honesty, their means to get there sometimes differ. There are arguments, often heated.

I had the opportunity to watch their interactions during this pandemic in close quarters. While bickering still happens and it still drives me insane, I do get a preview of how they will relate to each other as adults. The girl turned 21 and the boy turned 15. They continue to debate policies and political beliefs with the zeal of their convictions. Debates can be still heated and tempers still flare, yet I often hear, “Ok, I see your point. But….”. Lately, I have witnessed more of sharing and laughing though. Often the laughter is directed at their aging parents, but mostly in a good natured and fun way.

I hear, “Ry, I am making pasta for myself, do you want some?”

Or “Sahana, I made popcorn. I left half a bag for you.”

I hear, “Sahana, I can’t find my phone.” And then, the phone is invariably found by sister accompanied by elaborate eye roll and an indulgent, “You dummy!”

It warms my heart to see they often speak the same language – pop culture language.

I hear, “Hey Ryan, did you watch (insert tik tok star name)?” or “Sahana, you gotta see this.”

A few days ago, I overheard a loud broken teen boy voice shouting from his room to his sister.

“Hey Sahana, I have English homework. You gotta help me.”

“I gotta, huh?” She laughs.

Then he saunters over to her room, slouches on her bed:

“Awright, I have to draw a picture between Victorian society and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Whatcha got?

Sahana, despite being in the middle of her homework, smiles and turns around to help.

They are figuring it out. After years of refereeing conflicts between these two, this mama watches from the side line. A warm feeling of love envelopes her as her two favorite humans in the whole wide world come together in their own unique ways.

The thick and thin of dal.


After about a month of sneaking around with my boyfriend, I finally disclosed to my parents that I was seeing someone. The ‘someone’ happens to be from America, his skin color is white and the only Bengali he knows is “Ami tomake bhalobashi” (I love you) that was taught to him by some mischievous coworkers to get him into trouble. The first reaction was of utter surprise. The rule following me was breaking all kinds of rules of romance. I was never told not to fall in love, so “seeing” someone was not the problem. In fact I was told it is best to choose my own partner if I could. Well, I took their advice to heart and then some. I chose someone from outside my state, my country, my religion, my culture. Anyway, I digress.

After the initial shock, I was asked to invite this man to our house. I have already written a blog on that so I will not elaborate. Today I want to write about dal (red lentils). Sean soon became a regular at our dinner table. I remember he was given a knife and a fork with rice, dal, alur dom and some other vegetable. He moved those aside and used his hand to eat like the rest of us. That earned him a lot of brownie points. “Look, he is just like us!” my family often exclaimed.

They spoiled him though. After several experiments, it was established that he loves a very thick dal, tempered with a spicy masala. That kind of dal or masala masoor is more of a North Indian dish. We, Bengalis, like our masoor dal very thin, tempered with dried red chili, kalo jeere (nigella seeds), turmeric powder and slit green chilis. Sean ate at our house at least 4 nights a week and masala masoor was made for him ALL THE TIME!!! When I complained I was told he is the guest and one should make food that the guest likes. All I did was grumble.

Fast forward to our first year of marriage. After eating boring food cooked by Sean for about six months, I took matters into my own hands. I learnt to cook Indian food. Sean praised my initial attempts at making dal and sabji to high heavens so I would take up the mantle of cooking for the family. Since I am a foodie and I realized I enjoyed the task of cooking, I did become the primary cook. Sean is a vegetarian and I am concerned about his protein intake, I make a pot of dal for the family often. It is always thick masala masoor. Unfortunately, my 2 kids love the true Bengali dal which they eat when they go back to Kolkata and they LOVE that. They always complain I make the dal of their dad’s choice and not what the others in the family like. They are not wrong. If you look at the 2 recipes below, you will see that the masala masoor does seem more flavorful, and folks may turn up their nose at the Bengali patla ‘mushur’ dal but trust me, patla ‘mushur’ dal, jhirijhiri alubhaja (finely cut potato sticks), gondhoraj lebu (lime juice) and perhaps a piece of fried hilsa fish or at least a boiled egg is one of the most delicious food to a Bengali. Soul food!

Masala Masoor Dal.

Boil 1 cup of masoor dal (red lentils with about 3 cups of water. Add water if needed to reach desired consistency. It generally takes about 20 to 25 minutes.

In a different pan, heat oil, add a cup of chopped onions and fry them till golden brown.

Add 1 tbsp of ginger garlic paste to the fried onion. Cook till the raw smell is gone, about 20 seconds.

Add one and a half cup of chopped tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes in medium heat till oil separates.

Add a tsp of turmeric, one and a half tsp of coriander cumin powder, half a tsp of red chili powder and 1 tsp of garam masala to the tomato mixture.

Mix well and stir the mixture for about 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the mixture to boiled dal.

Add salt to taste.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, if so desired.

Serve with roti or rice (or eat this as a soup).

Masala masoor

Patla Mushur dal

Boil 1 cup of masoor dal in about 4 or 5 cups of water. There should be adequate water even when the lentils are boiled.

In a separate pan, heat a tbsp of oil.

When the oil is nice and hot, add a tsp of nigella seeds (kalonji or kaalo jeere).

Once they splutter, which they will start immediately in hot oil, add 2 dried chili.

Stir once and add the oil infused with nigella seeds and chili into boiled dal.

Add turmeric, slit green chilis (optional) and salt to taste.

Simmer for 10 minutes and your patla (thin) mushur dal is ready.

This is how we eat patla dal. We take a mound of rice on our plate. Then we make a hole in the middle of the rice and serve the dal in that hole. Then we mix the rice and dal, squeeze some lemon juice on to it and eat it with thinly sliced potato sticks.

Patla mushur dal

Just writing this down transports me back home. Make both types and then tell me if you are Team thick daal or Team thin daal.

Arranged marriage and daal bora (red lentil fritters).


I was about 8 or 9 years old when I was allowed to tag along with some neighborhood girls. They were teenagers then, and very interested in boys and marriage. This was late 70’s India, where girls stole glances at young men and vice versa but very few openly had a relationship. Arranged marriages were prevalent, love marriages were rare. One of the girls in that group was from a big family. She was the youngest of 10 siblings. Her older sisters were regularly sitting in front of families of prospective grooms to be ‘shown’ for marriage. She had a lot of ‘insiders’ information on how the process went and we were her adoring audience. She told us one of prospective groom’s father asked a sister in one such ‘viewing’ that if the family had only rice and masoor dal (red lentil) in the house what food can the girl make out of those ingredients. She was being judged for her resourcefulness in a mid to low income level Bengali family. The girl responded she would make rice, daal, dal bora (lentil fritters), daal bora r jhol (fritters in a curry), daal borar chutney……. and I forget what else.

Although I have eaten daal er bora occasionally in Indian restaurant near me, I have never ventured to make any from scratch. Just a few days ago, in a conversation with my college buddies on wsapp the topic of daal er bora came up. I eagerly asked for the recipe and when my friend gave it to me, I thought “This is easy. Even I can do it.” And I did.

The fritters are simple, delicious and yes, a tad unhealthy. I thought of frying them in my airfryer but instead I went old school and fried them in oil.

  1. You need to soak 1 cup of red lentils overnight or at least for couple of hours. This is what masoor dal or red lentil looks like:

2. Drain the water in a sieve and put the wet lentils in a food processor to pulse it to a paste with a few tsps of water.

3. Add 1 tsp of kalounji seeds (nigella seeds) with the paste – optional

4. Add 2 tbsp of finely chopped onion – optional

3. Add 2 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves. I love coriander leaves but if you don’t like them, you can leave them out.

4. Add 1 tsp of turmeric powder and if you like spicy, 1/2 tsp of red chilli powder

5. Add 2 tbsp of corn starch to make the fritters crispy

6. I like to dice one of two green chilies in the mix. If you like them, throw them in. Who is going to stop ya?

7. Add salt to taste and yes, a tiny bit of sugar. We Bengalis like a little sugar in our food.

8. Mix all the ingredients together. Heat oil in a pan or wok, put tbsp full of the lentil mixture in the hot oil and fry till they turn golden brown.

These crispy fritters taste delicious as a snack with your evening tea or as an accompaniment to rice and daal.

So I ate them for dinner with my rice and dal. Sean ate a few with his sandwich. Ryan bit into one and gave the rest to me. Sahana ate a few dipped in her daal.

Since I made many in my excitement, we still had quite a few leftover. I remembered the resourcefulness of the ‘would be’ bride of my childhood and made red lentil fritters curry the next day when the crispiness of the fritters was gone.

For the curry:

  1. Cut a potato into small cubes.
  2. Make a tsp of fresh ginger paste or finely grated.
  3. Heat a little oil in a wok.
  4. When the oil is hot, add a tsp of cumin seed. It splutters, be careful.
  5. When cumin splutters, add the grated/paste of ginger and let is cook for 20 seconds till the raw smell of ginger is gone.
  6. Now add a small can of tomato paste. Lower the heat and let the tomato mixture cook till the oil separates. Add 1 tsp of turmeric and 1/2 tsp of red chili powder. Add a little water from time to time so masala does not burn.
  7. When the tomato mixture thickens, looks rich red and oil separates, add a tbsp of tomato ketchup. Mix together. Add a cup of water to the mixture and add the potato cubes.
  8. Let the potatoes cook in the gravy. Add more water if needed.
  9. When the potatoes become tender, add the fritters. Add more water since the fritters soak in water and the gravy dries.
  10. Add salt and let the gravy simmer for 10 minutes or so.
  11. Before turning the stove off, add a tsp of garam masala and 1 tsp of ghee (clarified butter). The ghee is completely optional.

The widows in Bengal were expected to live a life of austerity after their husband died. The measure of austerity involved giving up not only meat, fish and eggs but also onions and garlic. The ladies became creative and derived delicious meals with the ingredients that they were allowed to consume. Daal er bora is supposedly one such dish that the widows of Bengal invented. Tasty and versatile that can enrich your taste buds even without the use of garlic and onions.

Resourcefulness has been the means of survival for women for centuries in every aspect of life including food.

5 cents! Just 5 cents will do.


I wanted to be a journalist for a while. No, scratch that. When I was really small, I was told I wanted to be a doctor. So I wanted to be a doctor for a while. Pssst… I am from India. We are all told we want to be doctors, engineers or government officials in high positions. So I wanted to be a doctor till I was 14. Then I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to write. My language teachers boosted my confidence by grading my essays very generously. I was buoyed by the idea that I could write well. Then I went to college to study literature. I hope you already know where this story is headed. You guessed it, heart break, shattering of dreams.

I had to sit for an entrance exam to get into this coveted college. I had to write essays and all. I got in. My self confidence, already high, went up a few notches. More so, when at the beginning of our first semester, a professor congratulated our small class by saying only ‘creme de la creme’ got admission in that college. Then classes started. Then I met my classmates. Then I saw their brilliance. Then I realized I was nowhere near their level of intellect. My merit was average, if you are kind you can call it slightly above average (only if you are kind). I hung in there though, finished my undergrad and even got a Master’s in English literature. I still held on to the dream of becoming a journalist. I went to a renowned newspaper in Kolkata hoping to get an internship. The sub editor asked me to write a paragraph, which I did. He picked it up in disdain and almost threw it down, saying I was not good enough. I was crushed. After that I did some free lance writing for free in a Bengali newspaper. They gave me passes to go see music events and theaters, I wrote reviews for them. I remember waking up on Wednesdays with trepidation. The reviews got published on Wednesdays. I remember the thrill of seeing my name in print. I never got paid.

Life went on. I gave up on my dreams of making money by writing. I still loved writing though, just not the kind of writing with mellifluous language that was popular in India when I was a student. I started this blog as a parenting blog while my children were growing up. Writing for myself was joyful enough but then a few friends started telling me that they loved what I wrote. They could relate. I basked in their love. Sure there is no monetary gain from my blogs but if readers, albeit a handful, liked them then I am a writer, I told myself. A few years ago, my friend, who also writes a blog, upgraded his blog site to premium level. That meant he could earn money if his blogs got hits. I thought about it for a while. A tiny flicker of hope rose in a corner of my mind. The hope of making money by writing was never extinguished, only dormant, I realized. Could I earn money too? Would my blogs invite enough readers so I could get advertisements on them? After a lot of deliberation and after a lot of encouragement from family, I went premium as well. I check my earning once in a while, I see a big 0 where it says earnings. I just want to earn 20 cents from my writing, maybe 10, oh ok, just 5 cents. Is it too much to ask? Then I can say to myself, “Look I did earn from my written words.” That will be a little dream come true.

I will stay premium for a year. One year, people. That is all you have to help me make my dream come true. So hit my blogs, share them. Flood them with hits so advertisers pay notice. 5 cents. Just let me earn 5 cents from writing.

Readers, consider your power. You have, within your grasp, to make my dream come true. My dream of earning 20…er…10….oh fine, 5 cents from my blogs. Hail ye mighty, all powerful readers of my blogs.

Oh, this blog is so desperate but I will publish it. What do I have to lose expect for my dreams?🤣

I did read somewhere that flattery will get me everywhere. 😜

Filling in with life.


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The beauties featured in the photograph are the cynosure of my eyes right now. After Sage’s death, a dear friend gifted me a blooming orchid. She said seeing a new life bloom may soothe me after the loss. She was absolutely right. As each bloom unfolded its potential and spread its beauty, I was mesmerized. I sat by it thinking of my years with Sage but not in a melancholy way. The quiet splendor of the orchid gave me peace.

Another friend is a nurturer of indoor plants and succulents. The pictures of her plants on Instagram inspired me to buy a succulent for myself. Although I enjoy flowers immensely, I am sad to admit, I kill plants. Understandably, I was nervous to buy the succulent fearing I may be incapable of keeping even a hardy plant alive. My friend encouraged me. “I believe in you” she said. I ventured out and bought 3 succulents. I kept them on the sunny ledge of the balcony where Sage used to sit and reign over his domain. I added 2 basil plants, a mint plant and 2 pepper plants to the mix. Now Sage’s ledge is completely covered by new life. I like to sit by them, savor their quiet beauty and think of him.

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This was his space. He ruled his world from here.

I managed to keep all the plants alive this year. They seem to be thriving. So I got ambitious and bought more succulents for inside my house. I work and read next to them now, glancing over often to marvel at how beautiful they are, how full of life. Sahana bought some baby ones for her room and now we have quite a collection of quiet yet vibrant life in and out of our house.

Sage left us with emptiness and quiet. The plants fill up that emptiness with their lives. They maintain the quiet. I don’t mind it. Their radiating beauty soothes my soul.

Catching a sunrise.


I wanted to catch a sunrise from the balcony of our ocean front hotel room. I did not set any alarms to wake up at the time of sunrise, thinking my body will wake up in anticipation. It did, except it woke up just 10 minutes late. I saw Sahana sitting on the balcony, soft light of the morning sun gently illuminating her beautiful face. She turned her bright, happy smile towards me “I watched the sun rise!” This is what I got to see.

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Reflected

The sun had risen just above the horizon and the golden ball was reflected over the water. I missed sunrise by just 10 minutes. I consoled myself thinking it was the first morning of our last-minute beach vacation. We still had 5 more mornings to catch a sunrise.

The pandemic played havoc with our plans of going to India in May and Sahana’s move to college for her senior year. As each plan fell through, we shed a few tears and then hoped that that this year will pass, life will resume, perhaps in a reimagined way. We will see our loved ones in different parts of the world. Our children will go back to in person learning in a safe, virus free environment. Since Sean and I had both taken leave for a week to move Sahana in to her apartment in college (that plan fell through), we decided to take the time to replenish our reserves of patience, hope, resilience. We splurged and booked an ocean front room with a kitchenette. If I felt too anxious to go among people, I could simply sit on the balcony and count waves. Our previous beach vacation at the beginning of July was anxiety provoking for me. I wrote about it in “Kissing in the time of Corona”.

The day I missed my sunrise, we walked by the bay to catch the sun set. We were not disappointed. Nature, perhaps, knew that our soul needed some resuscitation and it suffused us with its glory.

The second day I missed the sunrise by 15 minutes. Why did I not set an alarm you ask? That is a good question. I guess I trusted my innate clock yet again.

My eyes opened on the third day when it was pitch dark in the room. I glanced at the clock to see the time. It was 6:05 am. The sun was supposed to rise at 6:10 am. I sat right up and rushed to the balcony. I open the door with care so as not to wake the rest of the family. Dense fog over the ocean dashed my hopes of seeing a radiant sunrise. Crestfallen, I went back to bed and slept till 8 am. I woke up to a sun kissed day and glistening sand. Fog robbed me of my sunrise but then the sun burnt away the fog to gift the ocean worshipers a gorgeous beach day.

Finally I viewed the glory on our penultimate day at the beach. Again, my biological clock woke me up. I looked at the time, whispered to Sahana if she wanted to view sunrise. She grunted something inaudible. The boys had no desire to chase sunrise, so I did not bother calling them. I tiptoed out to the balcony with my phone and witnessed the ball of fire making its journey to my part of the world. I found my religion in its splendor.

Sun rise

My phone camera, of course, does not do any justice to the ephemeral beauty of sun rising over the ocean but the memory of that resplendent dawn is captured in my heart. This is simply a fragment of what I saw.

Life was at bay while I looked at the expanse of the ocean for 6 days, while my family kayaked in the still waters of the bay and I pulled my chair in the water soaking in the stillness and serenity in my soul. Life was at bay when we delighted in the sightings of wild ponies and walked the marshy lands to see unknown (to me) birds and snowy egrets, while we stopped at unexplored ice cream shops to taste homemade ice creams, while we ordered crab imperial and legs of snow crabs. The question “Do you have your mask on?” every time we left our hotel and seeing masked people on the road reminded us we were living through a pandemic. Those 6 days, from the safety of my balcony and sometimes from empty stretches of the beach, I simply sat and stared at the ocean. The hypnotizing crashing of waves, the endlessness of the ocean, the sand between my toes, the laughter of children playing on the beach, the comfort of a book in my hand and the closeness of my husband and children made me completely happy. The feeling of happiness was a conscious realization really. I said to Sean, somewhat bewildered, “I feel happy.” In these 5 or 6 months, I had forgotten how it felt to be completely happy.

We were masked for most part of our vacation. We cooked our meals and got take outs for some dinners. We never played miniature golf, which is our constant (apart from sun and sand) when we go to the beach. Yet, we found peace. Most importantly, perhaps, we filled up our reserves of hope that this phase of our lives too shall pass. We will reunite with humankind instead of going the other way, fearing contamination from my fellow human.

One day…..

In the meantime, I will look back to this memory for sustenance on a dark and gloomy day.

My fight with television.


Do you remember those times when you wrote hand written letters and waited in eager anticipation to receive a reply in your actual mail box? I date myself when I write this that I am one of those people who checked my mailbox in the mid nineties everyday with the thrill of ‘maybe today there will be an aerogram’. These days checking the mailbox mostly involves a slight irritation at how many pieces of junk mail are going to the recyclable. It was not so about 24 years ago. We wrote letters home. We received letters from home. When I first came to United States in the mid nineties, at least twice every week, I gathered my new life in a new country and poured it on several pages of paper, documenting new sights and new experiences. I sealed the envelope, attached stamps and mailed them to my parents with a wistful sigh. In return, I received a white and blue aerogram bringing with it news from my home across the sea. It told me my cat had new kittens, the Krishnachura tree just outside our bedroom is full of new blooms, the little girl next door got into college, a cousin got engaged. It asked me when I was coming home. It told me I was loved, I was missed.

Along with the letters, there was a monthly phone call. I regularly went to Indian grocery store to buy calling cards to call home. I had to dial in what seemed like a thousand digits, the mechanical voice gave directions to next steps, after which I heard the home phone ring….all the way in Kolkata. Ma or Baba picked up the phone, their voice tinged with excitement and anticipation: “HELLO?”

Then came emails, followed by Facebook, followed by Skype calls, followed by Whatsapp video calls. I can call every day if I want. I don’t, due to the time difference, my work schedule and……Ma’s tv serial timing. Many moons ago, when I was naive about the importance of the television serials, I would call sometime in the morning (my time) thinking I will catch them sipping evening tea in the living room, ideal time for exchange of news and let’s face it……some satisfying, old fashioned, harmless gossip. I would call and the TV would be roaring in the background. Ma would answer yet her eyes would be shifty, glancing up towards the TV, responding with a very polite yet clear, “not now, get lost, we are just at the good part of the show” tone. I would say, “Why don’t you turn the TV down?” She would do it, but still the conversation would be half-hearted or she would say, “Here’s your baba, talk to your baba.” and hand over the phone.

After many such thwarted attempts at conversation, I realized what exactly was happening. Loknath Baba (tv serial), Rani Rashmoni (yet another tv serial) were going through important transformations in their lives (not really, these shows are masterful about dragging on and on) and ma was missing those milestones if I called at wrong time. I wizened up. Now I check my time and call right before the tv serials start or after all the shows have ended. If I call then, the tone is so different. It is a “tell me all about your life” tone. It is “I now have all the time in the world” tone.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. Instead of me, if Sahana calls her, she pays more attention to her grand daughter. Most days, Sahana’s call gets precedence over ongoing tv drama. She gets the “I am so glad to talk to you” tone. In Ma’s own words, “the interest is sweeter than the principal” (ashol er cheye shud misti). I am kind of evil. I make Sahana call and then I jump in to talk before the interest wanes and television takes over. 🙂

First time griller.


We inherited a small grill from a relative. Since we are not big meat eaters and hence, non grillers, the grill collected dust and spider web underneath our back deck. Ryan, one day, excitedly declared he wants to make spicy chicken wings on the grill. I did not pay much attention to him thinking this was a fleeting fancy and if I pay no attention, it will be forgotten. Well, I was wrong. He persevered and requested to be taken to the grocery store to pick up organic wings and accompanying sauces. He had seen this recipe in Tik Tok and could not wait to try.

“Heaven help us! Tik Tok recipe?” I thought, yet I wanted to encourage culinary aspirations thinking I may benefit if aspirations such as these continue like his sister’s has.

“Ask your sister to drive you to the supermarket.”

Sahana, came back from work and like an obliging big sister, turned around and drove him to the market to buy ‘organic’ chicken wings. That night, I heard a lot of noise in the kitchen and smelled some spicy smells as I read my book. Before going to bed, I went to inspect the kitchen and found everything cleaned up. Without investigating further, I went to bed.

After a busy day at work, I came home to delicious smell of grilling. I went to the back deck to see a smiling boy looking up at me with a tong in his hand, grilling chicken wings for the first time. The father, however, was looking down from the deck, with an indulgent yet exasperated expression.

I heard the story from the father of the grilling man. Since Ryan had never grilled before, he needed some advice from his dad. Sean told him to clean up the grill and then he said he would come down to help him fire it up. As Sean worked on the deck, he heard Ryan doing something underneath. He heard the hose going. Then he got the call, “Dad I am ready.”

He went down to see the grill completely hosed down along with the coal that was in the grill.

“Why did you hose down the grill?” he asked Ryan, exasperated.

“Why not? There were spiderwebs all over it. I was not going to touch spiderwebs!” Ryan replied indignantly. He is deathly scared of spiders.

“How do you intend to light a grill with soaking wet coal? Did it occur to you to empty the charcoal before cleaning the grill?” Sean asked.

“Oh!” was the response.

They had to throw away the wet charcoal, fill the grill with new charcoal and light the grill. When I came home the grill was going strong and the chicken wings were cooking beautifully. When I laughed and asked if he was sure he was ready for sophomore year, he said, “Absolutely. The first lesson a student is taught is to learn from their mistakes. Hey, I learned from my mistake.”
Can not argue with that. Today, he is making burgers and sausages on the grill. Hopefully, the charcoal will be dry if the lesson from mistake was learnt right. I will let you know.