A ‘Daffodils’ moment, in my case a bare tree.

Had a total Wordsworthian moment as I went to my backyard today, to do something very mundane, like letting the dog in. Wordsworth was awestruck seeing

A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

In my case it was an ordinary tree, that too, leafless. A very familiar tree, standing like a sentry, in my own backyard made me stop and look at it for a few minutes. The beauty of the silent, serenity around me was fascinating. The sunset with glorious colors splashed all over the sky, and the leafless tree standing still at the edge of the yard. I
don’t know what made me stop because I seem to have ceased noticing these splendid gifts that nature has given us in abundance. I felt a sincere joy in being alive and fortunate enough to witness the sunset. Life, right now, seems like a marathon of schedules, plans, deadlines, activities. Passions have taken a back seat for a while, gone way down the totem pole. When I try to read at the end of the day, my eyes read the words yet my mind fast forwards to the next chore on my list. What happened to those days of reading with utter abandonment? Now, my constant refrain to my family is “let’s go, we are going to be late!” Can’t be late, life will go by us! I complain to whoever will listen, my children have no sense of urgency! Ryan and Sahana live in a world of their own where they control the time or timelessness. In my heart, however, I am wistful, envious. The sight of Ryan throwing his football up in the air or picking dandelions in the yard, seeing Sahana absorbed in her book, oblivious to the busy world around her, make me ponder. Where did those days go by? For me?

This tree, bereft of all its leaves, looked so regal and beautiful in the setting sun. I have read, analyzed, written papers on Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” more times than I care to count, but I think I finally understood the poet’s feelings, for the first time! Unlike him, my mind’s eye is not so sensitive and I will probably not recollect this beautiful scene in “vacant or in pensive mood”. Moreover, how often do I have “bliss of solitude” anyway? So I captured it in my camera to at least look at it again and share it with you all. Happy also that I could still stop to look at a bare tree at the backdrop of this splendid sunset. Not all is lost! This phase of my life is full, and hectic, yes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It would be great to have more time to look around me and see the wild flowers blooming, the sun setting in all its splendor between the trees in my backyard, the bird’s nest high up in the leafless tree silhouetted against the clear, blue sky. But one day, when my little ones don’t need me any more, this tree, the flowers and the spectacular sunset will still be there for me to look and rejoice. As long as I can still spot them and stop in my tracks to exclaim “Oh look! It is so beautiful!”, I need not despair.


Help me find a “school for scolding.”

You know how parenting is like building a cathedral? You keep working at it with love and care but don’t see the fruit of your labor till the children grow up. Of course, they grow up to be caring, honest, loving, simply delightful human beings with no baggage at all. Then you realize you have presented the world with a beautiful piece of art. All those years of frustration….err, parenting are totally worth it, as you see the wonderful individual standing in front of you. Hmmmm, when I get carried away, I truly get carried away, don’t I? But one can hope! True or not, when I have just about had it with my kids, I clamp down my lips (so as not to scream), take deep breaths and tell myself ‘You are building a cathedral, you are building a cathedral! Stay calm! Ignore the sigh and the rolling of the eye, control that desire to smack the smirk off your beloved child’s face!” I guess what I am trying to say is, you don’t get to see what kind of job you are doing till the little ones are all grown up.

But both Sean and I got our performance evaluation as parents, by none other than our six year old son. We are doing an ok job of it, most of the time, but both of us are lousy when it comes to scolding! We are both failing….miserably. Over lunch, he told us, in no uncertain terms, that we both can work on our scolding. We can go to a scolding school, if we need to. He was dead serious!

According to him, daddy talks matter of factly, in a normal voice. Hearing this, Sahana, who generally lives in her own preteen world, oblivious to the going-ons in her family, chimed in “Oh, he raises his voice plenty, what are you talking about?” And with that valuable contribution, promptly went back to her la la land, dreaming of books, friends, middle school, smarticle particles and what ever else she thinks about. See how I didn’t mention boys? I am in denial! Ryan completely ignored Sahana’s input and continued with our progress report. He insisted daddy doesn’t have the proper scolding technique down since he tells Ryan in a “normal” voice not to do the naughty thing he is doing. Poor Ryan generally doesn’t pay much attention to it and continues to make a bad choice. And then, wham, without any warning dad takes a privilege away. If only Sean got the scolding down right, Ryan would pay attention, stop making that bad choice and not get the punishment. It is dad’s fault really, for not communicating his displeasure well.

And mom? Well, mom is on the other end of the spectrum. Mom could use a more business like voice instead of yelling. When mommy yells, it really doesn’t serve any purpose, you see (yes, he said these exact words). In fact, it bothers Sahana, if she is trying to study and it hurts his ears. His advise to me was to use more stern, “business like” tone instead of the loud, shrill, high pitched yelling that I use to convey how upset I am about things. Moreover, it probably disturbs the neighbors too. Uhhh, the more he talked the more I felt like a shrew! Goodness! Do I really sound that bad? Sahana broke her reverie to comment “He is right, mom!” Well, thank you! For the support!

So here I am, looking to enroll in a ‘scolding school’. If you know of one, pass along the info. Both my husband and I would be extremely grateful. Don’t want any cracks in the cathedral that I am building! And now that I know what we can improve on…..

My ‘Oh so international’ look!

Once I left India, at the ripe old age of 26, I realized I could file a claim to be a citizen of the world. Solely due to my very international looks. I assure you, I am not bragging. I have ample proof to support my claim! Seriously! Here are some stories.

I was ‘fresh off the boat’ and waiting for the INS to issue my employment papers. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, around this time, I was scuttling around Baltimore, avoiding eye contact with locals because I didn’t understand a word they said. Trying my best to decipher what the sweet ladies said to me at Lexington Market as they handed me a loaf of bread and I handed them the money, or the homeless man, at the corner of the street, who greeted me every morning. I was itching to do something other than walking around Inner Harbor, frequenting the Enoch Pratt free library and trying new food every day. Looking back, that does not seem like a bad life at all! Why, in the world, was I itching to do anything else??? A friend asked me if I would like to volunteer at the Hispanic Apostolate, teaching English to Hispanic immigrants. I jumped at the opportunity. I went to meet the director of the program, a sweet, elderly nun, whose name, my swiss cheese brain, didn’t retain. She wasn’t at her office so I decided to wait. In a little while she came in, looked at me and started talking to me in Spanish. Alarmed, I exclaimed, ‘Uh, no Spanish, no Spanish. Only English!’ She took a good look at me and said, ‘oh, sorry! You look like you could be from one of the Latin American countries! Where are you from?’ That was not the first time that I was mistaken for a Latina, while I volunteered there. Just sayin’. So there we go, we have covered entire Latin America. Moving on.

On the streets of Baltimore, I was mistaken for an African-American, more than once. Then we went to Thailand. It was before Christmas, Thailand is a shopper’s paradise, so we decided to do our Christmas shopping in the markets of Chiang Mai. It would be good to mention here that my husband absolutely loves to bargain. He is shameless when it comes to bargaining and sometimes I pretend I don’t know him. I loathe bargaining. So before we hit the street shops of Chiang Mai, we made a pact that he will do all the haggling, I will merely choose the stuff. What transpired in the shops was later related to me by my husband, Sean. As we entered a shop, Sean got into business while I just looked around. I heard the conversation between him and the shopkeeper, a sweet old lady with very bad teeth. I am not observant at all, but I always notice bad teeth. Sean was completely embarrassing me by quoting terribly low prices, the shopkeeper said things to him in broken English and then somethings in Thai. I could care less, I was almost switching to the mode of disowning my husband temporarily. Finally, Sean threatened to leave, the shopkeeper, of course, acquiesced and started putting things in a bag. I came back to stand next to Sean. The shopkeeper smiled at me and said to Sean, ‘You marry Thai?’ Sean said, ‘She is not Thai, she is Indian!’ The lady was taken aback, ‘You not Thai???’ She asked me. ‘No, I am Indian!’ She pointed to my face and then hers saying ‘Thai, Indian same, same!’ Supposedly, when Sean was being terribly mean to her about prices of her ware she was looking in my direction and pleading to me in Thai to talk sense to my man! Since I wasn’t paying attention to the scenario, I completely ignored her! After that whenever we went shopping during our stay in Thailand, Sean sported a ‘don’t mess with me, I am here with a local chick’ attitude. I think we benefitted financially from my ‘Thai’ look in Thailand.

Next venture was in Bali, Indonesia. Yes, I fit in there too, as Balinese. In Ubud, a young woman was trying to sell timeshare to us. She got very excited knowing I was from India. She held my hand saying, ‘oh, I am holding the hand of a person who comes from the land of Shahrukh Khan!’ Then she wanted to know how solid Shahrukh’s marriage was to Gauri Khan. How strange! Non-Indian readers, Shahrukh Khan is a Bollywood actor. In our travels together, especially in South Asia, Sean always gets a lot of attention. He attributes that to his irresistible charm and natural good looks, I attribute that to his white skin. White skin is a precious commodity, where I come from. I do get a cursory glance, sometimes a curious look, who is this local woman the white guy is hanging out with. In Bali, the young woman made me feel pretty good about being from Shahrukh’s land. Thank you Shahrukh Khan.

Same thing happened in Egypt. ‘Oh, you are from India? We love Amitabh Bacchan! Do you know him?’ No, I don’t know him but I am so glad he has made India a household name in the far lands of Luxor, Giza and Sharm el Shaikh! In the old city of Jerusalem, people got excited knowing I was from India and shook my hand. I don’t know why, I kind of know why, but we will not talk politics in my blogs!

Recently, I had to go get my blood drawn. I try to joke with technicians when I get my blood drawn, or my ultrasound done, or the hated mammogram done. The simple reason being nerves. Generally, I am met with a courteous “keep your mouth shut lady, and let me do my job” kind of grunt. But this gentleman was very nice. He played along like he got my jokes. He then asked if I was from Philippines. Another feather to my hat. ‘No, I am from India!’ I said. ‘You know, I thought you could be but didn’t hear the sing-song in your voice, so wasn’t sure!’ he said. Sir, you are stereotyping here, I wanted to say but I didn’t. He was a nice man.

Anyway, as you can see I am taking great strides towards becoming a world citizen very soon. Someone who cannot be contained by borders (by the way, the previous line is kind of borrowed from Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Namesake”, love that concept). Now, I am only waiting for someone to mistake me for a Caucasian, then my journey would come close to completion. Gee, I wonder why people haven’t made that mistake yet!

Love thy neighbor

People often ask me if I have family here in the US. All these days I have been saying I have a cousin in D.C, but other than her, nada! But lately, I have changed my answer. I say, my adopted sister lives just down the street, just 3 houses down!

This write-up is going to be about her. You know how you come across a certain person, who touches your life in a special way and makes you a better human? She is one of those people. She loves Jesus in her life, she is a true believer because she tries to lead her life as Jesus intended for us to live. I respect her faith immensely because she lives by it.

Now, I am not an emotional kind of gal, but I know I will tear up from time to time while writing this blog. Wait, while I go get my tissue box! I met her while we both were waiting with our daughters at the bus stop, on the first day of kindergarten. We had just moved into our neighborhood – from India! Yes, huge move. We had no friends, no family nearby and no aquaintances. I was pregnant with my second child, and very sick. She came up to me and introduced herself. Her fourth child, nine months old at that time, on her hips. Next time I
saw her, she was standing by my front door with cookies in her hand to welcome me to the neighborhood. We were very close in age, and the girls were in kindergarten, so we saw each other from time to time. Since we had moved from India with only 7 bags, we had no furniture, no tv, Sahana had no toys, only a few books. It is not a surprise, Sahana preferred to spend time at Ms. Wendy’s house than her own. Towards the end of the pregnancy, my body had had enough of the torture. It decided to rebel! Late at night, (always late at night), my body said “Are you planning to go to bed tonight? Un uhn! Not so fast, your blood pressure is spiking, get yourself admitted in the hospital!’ I generally pleaded to Sean ‘I will lie quietly and not move! The pressure will come down. Please, it’s going to be ok, let’s not go to the hospital!’ Since I had a history of erratic blood pressure spikes, the doctor had mentioned the dreaded word ‘preeclampsia’! My poor husband, worried he was going to end up with two kids and a dead mother, completely disregarded my plaintive voice and called Wendy around 11 at night for help. Little Sahana, fast asleep in her room, couldn’t go to the hospital. Wendy had four kids of her own, yet her response was ‘Coming right up, you guys get ready!’ This happened 3 times! Finally my ob/gyn said enough is enough, I had started to resemble the Michellin man, and that was her cue to get the baby out. Get admitted, pronto! But one little problem, where do we keep our six year old daughter? My mother-in-law had her ticket to fly down and hold the fort while I went to the hospital, but that was not for two days still. Who do we turn to? You guessed it. Sahana stayed the night at Ms. Wendy’s house while I went to climb Mt. Everest, ummmmm….gave birth to the little guy. I don’t know what we would have done if she wasn’t our neighbor.

She bailed me out on several occasions, when I had to run to Sahana’s school, when my father had to be taken to the hospital and I had nowhere to keep the kids. She was there for me on numerous occassions, I can’t possibly write down every one of them, but she knows I am thankful for every one of them.

I do want to mention this one story, when I, yet again, felt her love! I take my dog out for a walk every morning around the neighborhood. I go by Wendy’s house, we generally exchange pleasantries. One morning, she was there by her door, I yelled good morning, waved and continued on my walk. All of a sudden, I heard thunder and the sky broke open! Sage and I were caught in a heavy rain. We tried to take shelter under a tree, but the effort was completely futile. So I spoke sternly to my scaredy dog. “Dog” I said, “We are not going to melt in the rain, lets just keep walking!” Under protest, with his tail behind his legs, my dog followed! After a few minutes, I saw the headlights of a car coming my way. It was my friend coming to rescue me from the rain. To see if I needed a ride back!!! She saw the rain, she knew I was out walking and would get drenched! She came looking for me. She had to get her 5 month old infant and her 3 year old toddler in her car, in that torrential downpour. She did it, though!

She is the kind of person who does things which I would LIKE to do, but don’t do it because of the inconvenience. Things like opening her home to neighbors so the community can be more close-knit. She cooks casseroles to send to homeless shelters, she cooks dinner to take to bereaved families and others in need. She offers her house to young women who are struggling to get their footing. She takes the initiative to open a community book club so we can meet and discuss books.

It is not mere lip service when I say I am a better person for knowing her. She is truly my hero. And at this festive time, I would like her to know how much I care for her and appreciate having her in my life. Wendy Gladstone, you rock!

‘I don’t have an accent lady, you do!’

I didn’t have many culture ‘shocks’ when I first came to this country, more like culture ‘surprises’! I was surprised (well, that maybe an understatement) when Sean’s three big, huge brothers enveloped me in a bear hug to welcome me into their family. Keep in mind, I came from a land where we didn’t touch, we folded our hands in namaste and greeted others. I came from India, that too mid-nineties India. Not only did we not touch, we didn’t hug MEN, unknown men at that! Goodness! So when the brothers gave me welcome hugs, I was culture surprised! Looked up at Sean to see him smiling benignly at the scene. When we had a moment together, I hissed ‘What was that all about? Why did your brothers hug me?’ ‘They were just welcoming you to the family! That’s how we do it here!’He tried to soothe me. A little tutorial before meeting his family would have been helpful, but that was obviously overlooked by my fiance. No matter, I learnt in due course, now I go back home and try to hug friends to show my love and feel them stiffen!

Another instance of surprise was when we took shelter from torrential down pour, under the awning of Baja Beach Club and peeked in to see what was going on inside. People were trying creative ways to drink shooters aided by scantily dressed buxom beauties. That experience could be qualified as culture shock and not mere surprise but we are not going into nitty-gritties here. Then there was my first Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in Central Park in New York. Hmmm, I forget if that was surprise or shock. Just remember gorgeous men and women wearing very little clothing or no clothing.

My big issue, as a new comer, was the heavy, Baltimorean accent. I could not, for the life of me, understand a word that was being said! And here I was, a person who took pride in knowing a foreign language so well! I was in for a rude awakening. There was a really nice young instructor in the gym we went to. Gary, the instructor, was a nice man with a heavy, heavy Baltimorean accent. He took a liking to me right away since I was from India and he loved Indian food! He tried to engage me in a conversation whenever he could. After a few ‘I beg your pardon’s (I was very formal those days and spoke the Queen’s English), I looked at Sean to translate. Sean, fortunately, understood my predicament and rose to the occasion. He learnt to read the utter incomprehension in my face and jumped in to rescue me. Despite his help, I felt like a complete idiot! It became so bad that I didn’t dare go to the gym if Sean wasn’t with me! And if I did, and Gary was around, I tried not to meet his eye! It was very embarrassing. Poor Gary! And poor me!!!

Talking about the gym, I must mention another culture ‘surprise’! Sean went to exercise and I went to pretend to exercise but primarily to hang out with my husband. Newly married and all. I noticed, the men who exercised there hardly ever looked at me! What’s up with that? Here was a cute, young woman (I was kind of cute and definitely young) working out next to them and not a single, stolen glance! That didn’t bode very well for my ego. Sean got a lot of stares, and this I noticed! Finally, I asked him ‘Why do the men ogle you and not look at me?’ ‘Because they are gay!’ He answered. Oh, the joy! Phew!! I was just not the right gender. I was ok with that! We lived in a predominantly gay neighborhood, and I never felt so safe living in crime infested Bawlmore. Sean got a few cat calls from time to time, but me? Never! I could walk home from work late at night without a worry. It was great!

In a few months, I got a job as a guest coordinator in a hotel in downtown Baltimore. Things were getting better, I was beginning to break the code of Baltimorean English till bam…..telephone conversations!!! I had to frequently talk to guests on the phone and the thought of phone conversation was enough for me to break out into a cold sweat! I tried to avoid picking up phones, hoping my colleagues would take pity. But they yelled ‘ANSWER THE PHONE!’ I still cringe remembering how many times I had to say, ‘I am sorry, could you please say that again?’

Since, I still didn’t understand what my colleagues were saying when they spoke fast, I kept to myself and didn’t contribute much. One nice lady asked why I was so quiet! I smiled but another lady answered for me. And I am NOT JOKING, this is exactly what she said, ‘Well of course, she is quiet, because where she comes from, if she makes too much noise, the tiger will know where she is and come and get her!’ I didn’t think she was joking but hopefully, she was! Remember, all this happened about 14 years ago, when people didn’t have much idea about ‘incredible India!’

Around that time, when I was trying to understand my fellow humans, I went into a store to buy some stuff. Probably cough lozenges, I was addicted to those! The cashier, a young man, said something to me jokingly. Of course, I didn’t get the joke because I didn’t understand anything that he said! So I asked, ‘Ummmm, beg your pardon!’ he said it again, I failed to comprehend, yet again. This time I said, ‘I am sorry, I didn’t understand your accent!’ The man must have felt irritated about me not getting his hilarious joke, he said this loudly and clearly, ‘Lady, I don’t have an accent. You do!’ He was right.

The irony is, now I talk like Americans, gone is my Queen’s English. But my Indian friends get somewhat frustrated about this, ‘Gosh, you put on such an accent! Talk normally!’ This is now normal, or I have forgotten what is ‘normal!’ Looks like I simply can’t win!

Who’s Sting?

A very, very dear friend came from the State side to visit us in India. Whenever guests came from outside of India, the first thing we did was to grab them and take them to Varanasi! We felt one needed to see, sense and feel Varanasi if they really wanted to experience India. Most of the times we didn’t give them a choice. ‘Ok, this is where we are going folks! Pack your bag!’ ‘But how about Agra, the Taj?’ they sometimes tentatively ventured! ‘Later, maybe!’ we firmly retorted, and headed for the airport! Jeez, weren’t we in charge of taking them around and planning their vacation? In the chaotic land of India, we were their sole life line to navigate the traffic, the shopping and bargaining, the public transport, the beggars. We were in complete control of their itenerary and time! Wow, feel the power?

Anyway, our friend was very interested in seeing Varanasi so we didn’t have to coerce him to go. We stayed in a little bed and breakfast called Ganges View on Assi Ghat! That place is a real treasure, friends, if any of you are planning a trip to Varanasi! We were having a delightful stay and a simply wonderful visit. We woke up before the sun came up and sailed along the river Ganga watching the sunrise and seeing the city come to life. Walked along the ghats taking in the peace, serenity and timelessness of Varanasi. We trudged along the narrow lanes and by lanes of the ancient city, dodging the holy cows and holy cow dungs, little boys playing cricket, peeking in the houses to see what the inside looked like. So wrong, I know! Salivating in front of the sweet shops and tea stalls, looking at the temple of Vishwanath with reverence (we didn’t go in since Sean and our friend weren’t allowed in, being non-hindu) where the widows came to beg, sing songs and try to make a living. Serenity and peace juxtaposed with sadness and poverty. But such is life.

Everything was going great till some pesky foreigners, attired in Indian clothes, came and brought confusion and chaos. The sleepy, little bed and breakfast became a hub of activity, all of a sudden. The owner, who was taking very good care of us, forgot to ask us every two hours, if we were doing ok, or if we needed something. He seemed preoccupied with those foreigners wearing saffron dhotis and saffron sarees. In the evenings, they would play the harmonium and sing songs, accompanied by tabla. My husband and friend kept whispering something about a certain individual resembling Sting. I didn’t pay much attention. Just told them it was bad manners to stare when they were staring! One evening, I was enjoying a beautiful sunset over the Ganges, from the balcony, the B&B owner came to me and asked very politely if dinner at 9 would suit us since Sting wanted to have dinner at that time. I shrugged and said ‘That’s fine!’ When my husband and friend came back I informed them we were having dinner at 9. At dinner time, we were passing the dal and vegetables with these, very polite foreigners, who I still considered pesky and wished them gone. The conversation between my husband and our friend went like this ‘Gosh, I swear that guy looks like Sting!’ ‘Why, even his butt looks like Sting!’ I just focussed on my food.

The next day, we were waiting for our flight back to Delhi, guess who should walk in? The bunch of foreigners, still in their Indian outfits! Going back with us in the same flight. Seriously, are they following us? I groaned. My husband and friend perked up immediately. ‘Gosh, how can two people be identical? I swear he looks just like Sting!’ This time I was listening. I piped in ‘He is Sting. Who’s Sting?’ They whipped around to look at me. ‘What did you say? How do you know? And how do you NOT know who Sting is???’ ‘Hold your horses, I know because the b&b owner told me he is Sting. Who the heck is he?’

My sweet husband did not disown me but very patiently explained who Sting was. For that, I am grateful. Sting was in Varanasi to promote Indian cotton, on a UN mission. We stayed at the same place, ate together, listened to their music. Justifying my ignorance here, I hardly listened to English music those days, didn’t quite get the lyrics. That, my friends, is my excuse for not knowing who Sting was. Now? Now, I roll down my window and sing ‘Every breath you take….’ at the top of my voice while driving till the kids say ‘Mom!! STOP!!!

Heart and soul of my city.

I have to confess something before I go any further. I have been told (read accused) that I have Bong love pouring out of my pores. For my non-Indian readers, Bong is an endearing name for Bengalis, people who come from the state of West Bengal in India. So the incidents that I will write here, although truly heart warming, are also being written by a die hard Bong, who tries to see everything concerning Kolkata, in a very favorable light.

Having said that, we can now move on. I was going to Kolkata, the city where I was born, after 3 long years. I had left India with one child, was going back with two. My daughter was 6 and son was fifteen months. Although my heart was singing ‘I am coming home, coming home/Tell the world I am coming home’, I was busy making sure the baby didn’t scream bloody murder and the girl didn’t constantly kick the seat of the unfortunate fellow sitting in front of her. After eternity, I felt a sudden lurch in my tummy, it was a wonderful feeling really, because it meant we had begun our descent. Between crooning to the baby and reading the twenty third book to the daughter, I managed to glimpse outside the window. And my heart filled with an inexplicable emotion of joy, longing, love. The sweet,little houses down below, the lush green pastures, the silvery, serpentine roads, the tiny little bodies of water, the palm and the banana trees all were calling out to me. I didn’t live in Kolkata since I was 26, but no matter! Kolkata was the witness to my coming of age, my childhood, my youth, my falling in love! No matter where I live or how far I go, coming to Kolkata is
always ‘homecoming’!

I was almost getting teary eyed with emotion when the baby started shaking his head and screaming. Ears were popping and that can be pretty uncomfortable for anybody, especially little guys. So romanticising Kolkata went out of the window, I got busy settling Ryan. Finally, the airplane parked, the ladder or whatever they do to get us down, was in place. The immigration was a piece of cake since I had filled out all the forms, without a single mistake! I really am amazing! Baggage collection was a different ball game altogether! There were literally thousands (I may be exaggeraing a bit) of people, completely oblivious of any personal space, was jostling each other, shoving and elbowing to get close the the carousel where the luggage was coming. I, like a mad woman, parked the carriage with the baby, spoke sternly to my six year old to stay right next to the carriage and joined the fun. But in vain, I was pushed away. I could have gotten into the spirit of the game and jumped right in but I had to keep an eye on my children, since I live in constant fear that somebody will take them. My husband calls me a helicopter mom, but that’s a different story!

When I was just about ready to cry in frustration, and ready to let out some choice expletives against my ill-mannered fellow Bongs, a man came to me and asked me for my luggage tags. He had the identification hanging around his neck, an official porter. Now, if you have grown up in India, you are taught at a very early age to watch out for con men, along with your ABC’s and 123’s. Never, ever let people make a fool out of you were my parents’ mantra when I was growing up. So the first thing I said to this man was ‘I have no Indian money, can’t pay you!’ He gruffly said this to me ‘Didi, I have been watching you for a while, trying to get your luggage while managing your children. You don’t have to pay me, just give me your luggage tags!’ Totally humiliated, I handed him the tags. Not only did he gather my luggage but pushed it for me while I pushed Ryan’s carriage till I met my parents waiting for me at the lounge. Without a word he turned to leave! I asked him to wait, got money from my dad and gave him. He did say it wasn’t necessary, but he took it.

My father and I went to the same university. He got his degree in Engineering and I got mine in English. I had to get my transcripts from the university so I went to the office. My dad came with me. I was a woman in the wrong side of 30, yet the clerks in the head office of the university made me feel like an unsure teenager, in a matter of minutes. Most of them were drinking tea, reading the newspaper or just chatting about Tendulkar’s century. One or, maybe two, were writing in a very important looking ledger. The lady who I had to talk to dismissed me quickly ‘Come back in 15 days, these things take time!’ she turned to her colleague to talk about the new pattern she was knitting. I got my cue, get the heck out!

Seething in anger, I followed my dad to a canteen to get him a cup of tea. ‘No wonder West Bengal is going nowhere, the work culture is terrible, no wait, the work culture doesn’t exist!’ I vented to my dad while he looked around him with a pleasant smile on his face. I knew I had lost him, he had gone back to his university days and I was going to have to listen to some fond memories. I didn’t mind, though, it was sweet. Its kind of fun that we went to the same school. He had his memories, I had mine! We entered the canteen which he frequented – a lot, as a young student. He ordered his tea and because the manager wasn’t busy, started telling him how he and his friends used to come to that canteen all the time. They spent some glorious days in that very place. The young manager was very sweet, asking him which year and all that. When his tea came and dad reached for his wallet, the young man stopped him saying ‘Oh no, don’t pay for it, it’s on the house. You have spent such good times here, its for all those memories!’

Me? I was melting, melting. Kolkata was working its magic on me again! I was very close to even forgiving the knitting lady, who should have been working on my transcripts. Very, very close.


Last night, the dinner table conversation was about crushes. Since I have a preteen girl, the conversation does veer to romance and crushes from time to time. But only when daddy is traveling. Daddy, for some reason, doesn’t enjoy any talks of “boys” from his daughter. What’s up with that? It sure is coming!!!! He kind of gets grumpy, pretends he didn’t hear anything and says to me “We probably shouldn’t be encouraging her to talk about such things!” Encouraging her????? Does she need encouragement to talk about the crushes her friends have on boys! Yes, mind you its never her, it is always a friend or the other.

So last night at dinner, she started telling me “crush” stories of certain friends. I nonchalantly posed the vital question “What about you, girl? Do you have any crushes?” “Oh no! Nobody is cute enough for me to have a crush on!” That answer should have been reassuring to a mom, but…and that is a big but, because it was accompanied by a mysterious, shy smile. So I probed further. Nothing. When I was ready to let it go, the boy, who was intently focussed on his food, chimed in “Well, when I was 3, Sahana told me in my ears that she kissed a boy!” Ryan was 3 three years ago! I looked incredulously at my daughter, who was laughing uncontrollably, saying “I did NOT!” Of course, then this follows “Yes, you did!” “No, I didn’t!” “Did too!” “No, I DID NOT!” Till I say, “Quiet, both of you! Eat your food!”

Then the bomb drops “Mom, did you ever have crushes growing up?” I firmly believe in being honest, without going into minute details. So I said, “Yes, I had a few crushes. The boys didn’t know, I was too shy, but yeah!” The son looks up from his food, and that is huge, believe me. That kid never looks up when he is eating. The daughter says “Wow, I can’t believe YOU ever had crushes! Hahahahaha! So funny! I can see daddy having crushes and all, but you?????” Talk about being crushed. “Why can you see daddy having crushes and not me?” I asked, playing defensive. “Well, I don’t know, daddy just seems….” She doesn’t finish.

Ouch! Time to shed the matronly sweat pant sweat shirt attire and reach for that make up box, mama!

Faith is truly a beautiful thing.

Faith fascinates me. It always has. What is it that make people believe? It gives them the peace of mind that there is a higher power looking out for them? That must be such a comforting thought, that thought itself can see one through difficult times! God will take care of me, I will leave my worries in the hands of God! Must be a lovely, secure feeling.

Varanasi is one of my favorite cities in India. Sitting under one of the chhatris in Dhashashwamedh ghat one can view the mass of humanity in their various phases of proclaiming their faith. They come asking the Almighty to take care of their loved ones,to keep them safe. And they believe that Vishwanath is going to listen to their plea. The misfortune in their lives, whatever they may be, are God’s way of testing their faith. And they come out strong.

In Bethlehem, I stood in line with many others, to catch a glimpse of the Grotto which was supposedly the manger where Jesus was born. To me, it looked like a tiny hole, but to those who believe, it was the holiest place of all. It was simply amazing to see men and women shedding tears of joy because they touched their Savior’s birth place. There was similar jubilation at the spot where Mary’s milk was supposedly spilled. It was a beautiful and touching. It wasn’t so pretty, however, when a Korean gentleman, upon knowing that I am not a follower of Christ, told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to Hell. But there was still time to redeem myself. He wanted my address so he could mail me a bible. I didn’t want to be rude to an elderly man, I confess I gave him a wrong address.

Since this blog is about what mama thinks, my kids’ faith needs to be mentioned here. My 12 year old is a cynic. She believes that there is a super power who probably created the first spark of life but she doesn’t feel the need to go to church or temple to pray. She’d rather read the Bible, Gita and other religious texts and learn the good lessons that the good books teach.

The 6 year old boy is a true believer, though. He told me, not too long ago, ‘Mom, I don’t think God is real, but I will still believe in Him all my life!’ ‘Can you tell me why you think God is not real?’ I asked. ‘Well, because God doesn’t have a mommy and daddy so He can’t be real but I still like to believe in God!’

As I said earlier, faith is fascinating.

‘Reading to me is what junk food is to you’

My 6 year old son is not fond of reading. When he was younger I freaked out a little. Why is he not picking up a book?? Why is he picking up little cars and action figures instead? Aaaaahhhh! Somebody help!!! His older sister started reading in kindergarten and the punishment she gets for bad behavior is her reading privilege being taken away. The little guy was rather fond of keeping his distance from any sort of written word.

I talked to everybody who would listen, what could be the matter with him? Is he dyslexic? It is only natural that my child will be an avid reader since I am one. After some agonizing years and a lot of reading up on dyslexia and other learning disorders, I came to terms with the fact that Ryan is one of those people who may not think books are the best thing in the world next to white bread. He is perfectly fine when it comes to learning skills. He is not dyslexic, he just doesn’t enjoy books unless they talk about his football team or baseball team!

Lately, his reading skills have improved considerably! But what he told me today at the dinner table made a whole lot of sense. He said, ‘Mom, reading is not so bad! I kind of like it! Reading to me is like what junk food is to you!’ ‘Huh! What do you mean, Ryan?’ I asked. ‘Well, you know, you don’t LOVE ice cream but when you eat it you don’t dislike it, you kind of like it. Reading is like that for me. When I read a book I KIND of like it!’ That seemed to make sense to me.

I also acknowledged that he is different. He is a unique individual with his own strengths and weaknesses. I was being so unfair trying to put him in a mold just to feel good about having two children, both of them voracious readers. Ok, lesson learnt, Mama!