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.

Sunshiny today


Every morning after I wake up I sit in my reading chair and take a few moments to look at the smiling pictures of both my parents on our coffee table. When they were alive I reached for my phone as soon as my eyes opened. There would be a message from ma in whatsapp. Most of the days the message asked “ki korchish?” (What are you doing?) The woman never really got the time difference right 😀. I would obviously be sleeping during her waking hours. My response would be “ei uthlam.” (just woke up). Most days I would call later to have a longer conversation but some days, that was our only exchange. But we connected everyday. I snooped on baba’s activity on Facebook and when I saw he was active and posting something funny every hour, I would breathe easy – he was well.

These days my whatsapp messenger remains silent. So I commune for a few minutes everyday with them in the morning. At a certain time, the sun hits their smiling faces just right and both of them light up in front of my eyes. I watch the transformation happen. In a strange way, it makes me happy. I took a picture of sunlit ma today. Sometimes this feeling is all I need to carry in my heart to get me through the day.

Kemon achish? How are you?


How are you? This is such a loaded question, isn’t it? How easily I answered this question before May 10th of 2021. Despite all anxiety, despite occasional sadness, sickness, anger, despair, I was well. I was doing fine. People I love the most, people who were my center, were alive. Covid 19 took that away. I have climbed up a steep hill of hopelessness and grief but when someone asks me “How are you?” I stumble. Do they really want to know? Do I really know?

A dear friend from Kolkata asked me today, “Tui kemon achish?” I gave her the rote response, “Bhalo achi.” (I am well). And that is the truth. I am well. I am just not as well as I used to be. How can I?

Mary Oliver’s poem Heavy has taught me to carry my grief well, reposition it, balance it, bear it. Yet there are times, so many times, the resilient muscle that I am trying to grow goes limp. I have to start strengthening it all over again. A friend who lost her dad to Covid told me about ‘resilient muscle’. We are both trying to make it stronger. But a certain memory, a certain slice of my past life, certain song, certain smell is enough to break down resiliency. I have accepted that though. I know this is my new state of being and I will try to remake this new me and despite all, I will be well. I am well.

But this is such a beautiful question one person can ask another. How are you? Tell me. I really want to know. I want to sit by you and hear how you truly are. I don’t want to give you advice, or sympathy or pity. I just want to be with you and listen, truly listen to how you are. Tell me. I care. I am here for you.

I have arrived safely in….


For almost all my married life I have waited for those words. At the beginning of our marriage, in late nineties, Sean called once from whichever country he was traveling to, if he could, to let me know he had arrived. After that phone call, I did not hear from him till he came home. We moved to India soon after and he traveled to Taliban controlled Afghanistan. He made calls home via satellite phones sometimes to let me know he was safe. Now I think back and wonder how I managed my anxiety then. He was at Colombo airport trying to fly out to Delhi because baby Sahana was very sick and I asked him to come home. He was at the airport when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group or LTTE tried to blow up the airport. He and a young Srilankan woman with a small baby escaped the airport together and hid while bullets flew. Next morning I woke up to my landline ringing. “Have you landed in Delhi?” I asked. He hadn’t. He was having breakfast in Colombo at the home of the woman whom he took back to her family in the middle of the night. Her family was very grateful. The woman was flying out to Rome with her baby to join her husband but the rebel group destroyed Colombo airport. Sean was stuck in Srilanka. I met her when I went to Srilanka with Sean. She said “Your husband stayed with me and my baby the whole time. I don’t know what I would have done without his help.” When 9/11 happened Sean was in Bangladesh.

With cell phones, it became easier to communicate when he traveled. He texted “Arrived safely in _____”. And with that message safely tucked in my mind, I went about taking care of home and children. Now we have whatsapp. “I have arrived safely in…” message has transferred to our group chat in whatsapp so the two children can see that he is safe. Sean tries his best to just drop in a line whenever he can but sometimes he can’t connect to the network or whatever and that line takes time to appear. I still go about my life but I wait for that line all day.

These days, however, I know things are well when I get his Wordle results in the whatsapp group. Everyday, even when he is traveling, he diligently shares his successful Worldle completion. Followed by “I have arrived safely in….” Wordle results of my husband when he is in a faraway country gives me peace of mind. We, indeed, have come a long way.

You got to laugh


I wasn’t laughing at 7:30 am this morning. After complaining to literally everyone whole week about how tired I was, I finally made it to the weekend. Friday night (after my sink got fixed) was glorious. I came back from work, made a quick dinner, grunted hello to Ryan (and he grunted a ‘what’s up back), settled down to watch Gilded Age on HBO. I woke up on Saturday morning with a to-do list. But first and foremost on the list was a refreshing long walk. I laced up my sneakers, did some stretches, debated whether I wanted to listen to music or just get lost in my thoughts (always a dangerous proposition) and then went downstairs to go out through the basement. I landed in water. Yes, my whole basement was flooded. My first thought, interestingly enough, was an irrational anger towards my partner, the poor guy. Things always happen when he travels. I just had the plumber fix the blockage in my kitchen sink the day before and now my basement is flooded!! Not just water but entire gunk from the blockage was on my basement floor. The rugs in front of the tv was sopping wet. At that point I did not know where the water came from, there was no leak in any of the pipes. I came upstairs, woke Sahana and Ryan up, took the heavy wet rugs outside to dry in the sun with their help. Sent a thank you to the universe for blessing us today with a scorcher – yup, you read that right. I am so thankful today was 100 degree F so my rugs, thousand towels and two mops that I used to mop water from my basement actually dried.

The same plumber who thought of his friend’s mother when he saw me, came back. He discovered there was a bigger blockage in the main pipe which he snaked out. I ran the kitchen sink and the disposal to make sure there was no water or goop rushing out in the basement. I also heard how much money the guy makes in this profession and all about his personal life. I will encourage Ryan to consider the plumbing profession if he wants to make it big in life in terms of money. He is a very friendly guy but I was outwardly friendly, silently seething because I had a ton of water to mop in the basement. He said he won’t charge me as if he is doing me a favor. I said he shouldn’t charge me because this was a recall. Anyway, I did not have to pay but I did have to listen to various stories of his life.

Sahana had work today but she brought me coffee from Dunkin Donuts before leaving for work. Ryan followed the plumber around with me and nodded his head seriously at all the technical talks of blockage and snaking. He took his role as the man of the house very seriously. Anyway, after the plumber left, my real work began. By the time the water and awful gunk from basement was cleaned up, I was done for. I wrote to my husband a long message about how everything was awful, how hard I had to work and so on and so forth. He responded with a sad emoji to my long, woeful story and promptly followed that with his Wordle completion score. He is definitely sleeping on the couch when he returns.

I kept checking my basement all day. Either I went down or sent Ryan down to check. It has remained dry. Nervously, I did a load of laundry but stood downstairs just in case the water started spouting from the pipes. The water remained where it is supposed to remain – inside the pipes. We ordered Afghani food after Sahana came back from work and the three of us laughed as we ate. Ryan is big into investment, now that he is earning money and his voice rose in excitement as he educated his mother on his research about index funds and S&P 500 charts. His mother is clueless about investments and should really take a class. At one point, when his voice started bellowing as he got very invested (see what I did there?) in his topic of investment, the stereotypical librarian in me shushed him (most public librarians don’t shush anymore, it is truly a stereotype 🙂 ). After dinner, Sahana and I went for a walk which was lovely.

It was a good end to a bad day. There was laughter and that is, sometimes, just enough.