Recently I watched a Hindi movie English Vinglish, by myself because my husband flat-out refused to sit in a movie theater for almost three hours. The much talked about English Vinglish, according to the rumor mill, was made by the director to apologize to her mother.

The story line doesn’t include the usual song and dance sequences that are the trademark of most Hindi films. The movie tells the story of a woman – a mother, wife and a daughter-in-law, who constantly puts the needs of her family ahead of her. Her morning cup of coffee cools as she gets up to make breakfast for her mother-in-law, her husband and cater to the various needs of her children. She is the symbol of the quintessential Indian woman, or at least how the society expects them to be- traditional, domesticated, loving…and a martyr. If there is frustration in her, it doesn’t show, she takes care of everyone with elan and also runs a small business of making and selling an Indian dessert – a laddoo.

She wears the traditional dress of India – a saree, and doesn’t speak English, the language of choice of the middle and the upper level of the social strata. Her teenage daughter is ashamed of her non-English speaking, traditional attire wearing mother and screams her annoyance at this social ‘lack’. She wants to keep her mother hidden from her friends and teachers in school. The husband and the daughter ridicule her English pronunciation as the camera zooms in on the woman’s uncomfortable, embarrassed and sad smile.

A lot happens but I will let you go to the theaters to watch the rest. The plot written above is just a teaser which I got paid to write to lure audience (kidding!)

This dynamic between the mother and the daughter paused me to think back and reflect on my relationship with my mother when I was going through the turbulent years which we call teenage. As a child, I remember a sense of wonder filled awe towards this beautiful, strong, opinionated woman, who was my mother. I was her faithful follower. I emulated her laughter, thought the way she did, observed her kindness towards others and tried to please her always. She drilled in me I had to be someone in life, she told me I was bright and smart and I could do absolutely anything I wanted. I worked hard and got good grades to see the brilliant smile that shone on her face as she looked through my report card. She didn’t have a strong command of the English language but she enrolled me in an expensive, English medium school, the fees of which, we hardly could afford. She foresaw the need for English in my future, where a solid knowledge of the language will give me a boost in life. She struggled financially to pay the fees, but both my parents grit their teeth and paved my way for a better future.

As I thought hard about my feelings, as a teenager, towards my mother, I remembered many emotions I felt towards her over the years. Embarrassment was not one of them. Why wasn’t I ashamed of the fact that she didn’t speak the language or didn’t wear western clothes. First, it was a different age. Speaking in English was definitely important but the disregard for vernaculars didn’t reach to the degree that I see today when I go back. Most of the women of her era wore traditional clothes so I didn’t have anyone to compare her to and be embarrassed about her. But more importantly, I believe she had this aura of self-confidence around her which earned my respect. I never felt embarrassed about her for her lack of another language because she introduced me to a treasure at a very early age – literature in my vernacular. She told me stories, read me books in Bengali when I had no letter recognition. I was taught to read and write in English before I learnt the Bengali alphabets. She cleverly introduced in me this lust for more and more Bengali literature by reading to me works of Sukumar Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore and numerous other magic weavers. And did they weave their magic on me! I followed my mother around with an open book while she gently reminded me I could read these all by myself if I learnt to read the language. Learn, I did and how! I was like a sponge, I soaked up the language with a determined focus – to read Abol tabol, Buro Angla, Raj Kahini, Shishu, Aryanyak, Pather Panchali, Adarsha Hindu hotel, Bindu r chele, Chander pahar….

She taught me how to think and scratch the surface. Before I read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Horton hears a who’, she taught me a person’s a person no matter how small. Her comment about lack of English was something I tell non-English speakers in this country. She said, ‘I can still speak enough English to get by, most English speakers can’t speak my language. Are they ashamed of it? No? Then why should I be?’ When I grew up and married an English speaker, who doesn’t understand a word of Bengali, he whole-heartedly agreed with her. When a lot of people including my extended family exclaimed how lucky I was to find a husband like Sean, my mother was the only one who smiled and said to Sean, ‘You know you are the lucky one, right?’ Sean said he knew.

I loved spending time with my non-English speaking, traditional saree clad mother even in my late teenage. I remember coming back home early to go see a movie with her and answering friends’ questions ‘Who goes to movies with their mothers?’ with ‘I do!’ When I started to think independently and started spreading my fledgling wings, roles reversed a bit. She started listening to my points of views and nodding in agreement sometimes. She has this amazing ability to learn from anybody so today she can keep up with various generations and speak and understand their language. I started bringing home new music, new ideas, different thoughts. We disagreed often and debated on issues but she realized I was coming to my own. I was her long time companion, and I was slowly letting go and she felt the pain

I am a mother of a teenager now. I often talk to her about the heritage of my land that I am, hopefully, passing on to her – respecting an individual for what they have and not insulting them for what they do not. I often emulate my mother while parenting my children. Sometimes I find myself saying the exact same thing my mother used to say to me. I break down laughing, ‘This is what your didiya used to tell me when I was your age!’ I tell them. This continuity sometimes diffuses a stressful situation when the children smile with me, picturing their mother as a little girl and at the receiving end.

As I narrated how the teenager demeaned her mother, my teenager asked me gravely, ‘Mom, do I ever make you feel that way?’

I asked her back, ‘What do you think will happen if you made me feel that way? Do you think I will take that kind of behavior from you?’

‘I will be grounded till kingdom come? But that is not an issue because I don’t feel embarrassed about you, anyway!’ she responded.

My mother was and still is my biggest fan. She was the champion of my cause, my number one supporter, the sail beneath my wings. She loved me unconditionally, stayed up all night to tend to my sicknesses, nourished my intellectual needs She did all that and she demanded respect in return. I was not allowed to get away by being disrespectful. She was not the conventional mother figure to stay at the background and be a martyr. She is a strong woman who made her presence felt in my life and I am ever so grateful for that.

A life time of love and respect (oh well, alright frustrations too at times:) ) can’t be captured in a blog unless I write reams and reams about it. Unfortunately, some emotions can not be expressed no matter how much one writes about them, those are special feelings meant to be just felt in one’s heart. So I will end my tribute to her here. It is her birthday today and I am physically thousands and thousands of miles away. But in my heart

‘I’m already there
Take a look around
I’m the sunshine in your hair
I’m the shadow on the ground.

I’m the whisper in the wind
I’m your imaginary friend
And I know, I’m in your prayers
Oh I’m already there’


The blog is my feeble attempt to show my love and respect that I have for you as my mother and as a strong, beautiful woman of the world. Thank you for helping me to be who I am and sorry for causing you sadness and frustration at some points in our life together. I now fully comprehend when you said to me, ‘Wait till you are a mother yourself!’ I know now.

Shubho Jonmodin, Ma! Happy birthday!


You are weird, I like you!

I wouldn’t dream of generalizing, of course, but can I please say the above lines to all the middle schoolers out there? ‘You are weird, I like you!’

I found this sentence on my thirteen year old daughter’s i Touch welcome page. The conventional me frowned at this and condescendingly shook my head, ‘Kids!’ I patronized.

Weird, in our days, was used mainly as an insult. A brief history of the word ‘weird’, according to Oxford Dictionary is this:


Old English wyrd ‘destiny’, of Germanic origin. The adjective (late Middle English) originally meant ‘having the power to control destiny’, and was used especially in the Weird Sisters, originally referring to the Fates, later the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth; the latter use gave rise to the sense ‘unearthly’.

The ever evolving language had changed the meaning to the ones we know now – bizarre, odd, something preternatural or supernatural. The teenagers seem to have embraced the original meaning of the word, and are bowing to this power to control fate. They are slowly emerging from the cocoon of their innocent childhood and looking at the huge world around them with a fresh pair of eyes and newly formed sense of self. They are trying to make sense of the chaotic world in their own terms. According to them, the possibilities are endless, they are in charge of their destiny. They are slowly letting go of their parents’ fingers as they test the waters, push the envelope. They believe they have the power to control their fate, they are weird and they like it. At this junction of my life, when I am mostly tired and wilting, I look up to them to draw energy. They are my sunshine, so bright and radiant. I celebrate this age along with the poet Sukanto Bhattacharya

এ বয়স জেনো ভীরু, কাপুরুষ নয়
পথ চলতে এ বয়স যায় না থেমে,
এ বয়সে তাই নেই কোনো সংশয়–
এ দেশের বুকে আঠারো আসুক নেমে।।

E boyesh jeno bhiru, kapurush noy
Poth cholte e boyesh jaye na theme,
E boyeshe tai nei kono shongshoy-
E desher buke atharo ashuk neme.

Unfortunately, I am no translator but the gist of the lines is this:

This age is not one of cowardice,
This age is unstoppable in its pursuit of its dream
This age has no doubt or fear
Let this age bless our country.

Often times, when the children were young, they would pass a judgment on a peer ‘Mom, so and so is so weird’ only to be reprimanded by me, ‘nobody is weird, people can be different and that makes the world so much more exciting.’ The word ‘weird’ was not entertained in our household, precisely because the mother and the father grew up disliking the meaning of the word. It stood against our value of celebrating our differences. It reeked of segregation, disrespect.

But language is called fluid for a reason. My daughter likes someone who is weird. What does the word mean to her? Weird is someone who is non conformist, who thinks outside the box, who pushes the boundaries without hurting others. Weird is the new word for visionary. At this age, teenagers form a band – the band of the misunderstood, the victims of their parent’s persecution and unfair curfews. They break free from what the parents think is normal. Normal is so relative, I am reminded often. Being weird is a good thing, I learn and accept.

I like this weird generation a lot. Yes, despite the eyerolls, the grunts, the exasperated sighs, the trance like state when they are busy communicating virtually, I simply love them. I love the excess of emotions, both tears and laughter, (and yes, there are frustrations sometimes). I love the positivism, the self-reliance, the emerging independence. I love their view of their world. I love their new-found ability to peel off the surface and look beneath for deeper meaning of life, of world. They are vulnerable still, they are still malleable, to some extent, but not for long. They are a work in progress still, but inching closer towards completion.

The poet who I turn to again and again to find a way to express my emotions, Rabindranath Tagore, celebrates the youth with these words; and he too uses the word adbhut, a Bangla word that can be loosely translated to…..wierd!

Amra nutan jouben er i dut
Amra chonchol, amra adbhut.

We are the messenger of New age
We are restless, we are strange;
We are the messenger of Youth.

Strange denoting different. Different is good, different should be revered, celebrated. Isn’t that what we teach our children as well?

We walked a walk and talked the talk – a bit early maybe.

Sage (my dog), Ryan (my son) and I went for a walk today and did some serious exchanging of ideas. Sage didn’t share much. He was somewhat preoccupied with the various dog pee smells in each and every tree trunk or light post that we encountered. Ryan and I did most of the talking. Ryan may well be seven years old, he is very wise for his age.

The conversation started with how summer was going;  is Ryan excited about second grade; is mom excited about her new job and such like. Then we moved on to the question of how the first tree was created and whether the trees that we see around us are the descendants of that first tree. Then next topic we discussed was how Sage’s shadow resembled one particular type of wolf, and my young scientist gravely declared that Sage has descended from that particular wolf who has left his shadow with Sage as an inheritance.

We got into serious grounds next – drinking alcohol. Sean and I don’t drink alcohol. I tried it as a youngster, never liked the taste, never felt the need for it in my life. Sean made a conscious choice to stay away from alcohol because he too didn’t feel the need to introduce that poison in his body. In fact, I heard this story on my wedding day from his friends:

“Your husband is a piece of work. He went to a bar in Costa Rica with friends and ordered a glass of milk!!!”

Ryan and Sahana have decided not to drink alcohol as well when they are adults.

On our walk, Ryan asked me if making the choice (of not drinking) was difficult and more importantly is it going to be hard for him when he grows up. Teaching moments, or rather talking moments like these don’t come up often in our hectic schedule. So I put it to good use.

For me, the choice was relatively easy. In the mid eighties India when I was a teenager, drinking was still considered a taboo among the middle class, especially for girls. Most of my girl friends abstained from drinking and the boy friends didn’t expect us to drink anyway, so there was not much peer pressure, or the need to conform. Sean had more of a difficult time growing up in America where drinking alcohol had more acceptance as a social norm. But after the initial ‘Come on man, just one drink’ people respected his choice and left him alone. They also appreciated his voluntary service as their designated driver after parties.

Ryan and Sahana, I believe will have more of a difficult time standing their ground, if they choose to stay away from alcohol, than we had. I say this because in first grade play ground  discussions, little boys and girls have already questioned Ryan about his choice, “You are so funny! Why won’t you ever drink? I have sipped from my parents’ drink, I like it!” I told him he is going to hear more of it as he becomes a teenager. Teenage drinking is a huge problem world wide. And really, what is the harm in one drink? One glass of red wine is even beneficial for health, I often hear. The harm is, one drink often becomes two and then becomes three. His strength of character will be sorely tested when and if he refuses drinks in people will back off and respect his choice if he stands his ground.

I am a firm believer in ‘live and let live’. I have made my choice in my life. I respect other ADULTS’ choice of enjoying their alcoholic beverage as long as they don’t harm others under its influence and don’t get behind the wheels after downing a few. We have spent way too many moments of silence in different sporting activities, in memories of teenagers who lost their lives to drunk driving. I am not going to go into statistics, it is out there right in front of our eyes.

Life is about making choices. My children will make a choice on this when they are at a legal drinking age (I hope). My job, as a parent, is to make sure they are aware of all the ill effects that alcohol has on human body and let them make an informed decision. All I can hope is my children stay away from it.  And if they don’t, then I hope they make good judgments of how much and when to stop. Most importantly, I hope they designate a driver!

Do our children suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder?

‘Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.’

Richard Louv talks about Nature Deficit disorder in his book “Last Child in the Woods. He writes about how the wired generation is slowly yet steadily severing the connection with nature as they remain glued to their smart phones and tv screens, resulting in rising obesity, attention deficiency disorder and depression.

Children stay indoors, hooked on to their smart phones, busy staying connected with the world, sharing their one liner responses and repartee. They are oblivious to the inconspicuous little violet flowers blooming amidst the green grass, or the bright yellow dandelion growing in their own backyard, or the red breasted cardinal trying to woo his plain brown mate, and the butterfly fluttering around the rhododendron bush. They don’t see these anymore as they are completely submerged in their virtual world. But the virtual world is just that, virtual! There is nothing new that I can say about the lessons of nature! It has all been said before! The great outdoors broaden our horizon, rejuvenates our souls, humbles us in its great expanse, reminds us we are mere specks in the grand scheme of things. Nature inspires us to create, we aspire to touch its beauty in canvas, in written words, through lenses. The changing season teaches us transience of time, the fleeting moments we have in this world and we should, indeed, seize the day. We really do not need to hike the Pacific Crest trail to be one with nature, we simply need to look up and look around.

I grew up in the congested city of Kolkata, far away from nature. Granted Kolkata was greener than what it is now, but it was still bereft of much natural beauty. Sure there were more trees, maybe some more green fields for children to play in; yes, a few more ponds that had not been devoured by man’s growing needs. Kolkata wasn’t sprawling out to the country side so when we took the train outside the perimeters of the city, we could still see the soothing green. So how did our generation, that grew up in big metropolises and far away from natural splendor escape some of the ill effects of Nature deficit disorder? I believe literature and human connection saved our generation – the generation of city dwellers. We still developed the sensitivity to appreciate the great outdoors because we read books and let our imaginations soar. We saw the ‘host of golden daffodils’ along with William Wordsworth and we too, with the poet, rejoiced at the memory, when ‘in vacant or in pensive mood.’ We went on journeys with poets and authors and learnt to look at nature through their eyes and through their words. Their words seeped into our hearts and made permanent tattoos of woods covered with snow and a lonely horseman pondering the miles to go before he sleeps, or the bright star that ‘not in lone splendor hung aloft the night’ (Keats)! We accompanied Apu and Durga of Pather Panchali (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) as they lost themselves in the magnificence of nature and discovered the joys of the unknown along with them. We, too, witnessed ‘Starry night’ along with Van Gogh. We named the nameless tree growing next to our window, “Amaltash” because we loved the name in Buddhadeb Guha’s books and imagined ourselves under its shade.

We heard stories of kings and princes and again our imaginations took flight. We fought along with them to bring peace, save the princess and slay the demons. But our children have routine, they have structure, they have practices. They have soccer and swimming, they have piano lessons and dance classes. Their evenings are structured to the very last minute till bedtime. So this summer, I decided to break free. My seven year old didn’t do any summer camps, my thirteen year old was left free to read and listen to music to her heart’s content.

They had time to lay on the grass and stare up at the sky.

And imbibe this serenity in their young minds!

Or soak in every bit of happiness that such a scene can evoke, right in their backyard.

We chased butterflies.

And saw one settle on a flower.

We caused ripples.

And we noticed the wild flowers and the bee.

Our children belong to this age of technology. They will be outcasts if they are not wired but then again, they will lose out so much more if they don’t cast off their wires often and open the door to the great outdoors. At the end of the summer, the children were ready to go back to school. They actually voiced their need for structure and routine in their lives. The seven year old, however,  knew a lot more about spider webs, butterflies and skimming rocks; the thirteen year old surprised me with quite a few songs that she wrote over the summer. And also this poem….

Beauty is nature
The pounding waves,
Scarring immortal rock
Leaves but a grain of sand.

Beauty is nature
Lulling me to sleep.
The darkness surrounding,
The whispering wind.

Beauty is nature
A leafy green tree
Wildlife vastly stretches
As man, a speck of dust, screams his significance.

Chasing my dreams! Wait, what are they again?

A friend recently wished me ‘May your dreams come true!’ When I hear such a wish, I say a thank you, I do feel gratitude towards the person for wishing me well, but to be completely honest, I don’t think about what the wish was. I feel happy for having a well-wisher and reciprocate the good wish.

But today, my friend’s wish made me wonder about my dreams. What are they? All I could think of was dreams FOR my children. I couldn’t think of a single dream of mine, a personal dream, a personal aspiration. In the process of growing up and becoming a mother, my personal dreams have been left somewhere along the way.

As a young woman, I dreamed of studying theater, that didn’t work out due to circumstances. I took up other jobs to earn money but they were just jobs, they were not stepping-stones to fulfil any dreams of doing something with my life, being someone! They were jobs, not my passion. Then came marriage and children. I got busy being a mother and without my knowledge my personal dreams gave way to dreams for my children. My dreams are my children grow up to be healthy and happy! Oh, did I forget successful? Yes, successful too, in finding happiness, that is.

To be truthful, I felt at a loss for this lack, in my life. But then after pondering some more, I thought was dream different from aspirations? I dream of going to Spain one day, I want to see the Angel falls, I would like to visit Yosemite. Can those be considered my personal dreams? And are aspirations what I want to be in life? I posed my husband this question. He aspires to be a better father, a better husband, he aspires to serve more people in his daily work, see a farmer grow his own crop to sustain his family, a mother open a small business to earn more money, one more child receive the light of knowledge. His dreams? To travel together and see the world. I now have to figure out what I aspire to be. All I could think of was I aspire to be less judgmental, more patient. I aspire to evolve and learn and grow in kindness, love and acceptance of others.

He led me to the right track. Aspirations need not necessarily mean success in the material world. I am not saying that is not important. Making something out of one’s life is fulfilling indeed. I am trying to say that qualitative not quantitative aspirations may bring us that elusive inner peace that we all strive towards.

Upon realizing that my dreams are all FOR my children, I made a mental note NOT to live my dreams through them but to be the wind beneath their sail when they embark upon that journey of pursuing their dreams.

Having written the above paragraphs on a rare Eeyore day, when the sun must not have been shining, I thought on my lack of dreams some more.  I do NOT want  this blog to become one of the sacrifice I made for the sake of my children. I did NOT make any sacrifice at all. It is my absolute good fortune that I have the opportunity to stay home – raise my children, read good books, write blogs (alright throw in some of the chores). My husband can’t wait to trade places with me one day. I am no martyr when I say my dreams got left behind somewhere. I realized, on a lovely walk with my dog on a beautiful, sunshiny day, this was my dream all along and I am living it. I dreamed of marrying Sean, I am living it. I dreamed of traveling, I lived it and hope to live more of it one day, I dreamed of having children, I was blessed with two healthy children who fill up my life with joy….mostly, and lets admit it, frustration sometimes.

I ask myself a question when  the existential angst creeps in my mind (blame it on those gray days, when the sun doesn’t shine on my face). I ask myself if I could change anything in my life at the moment, what would it be. I come up with ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ is good, ‘nothing’ makes me take a deep breath, appreciate my life and move on.

But before moving on, I want to raise a cup of cheer to the universe ‘Here’s to living our dreams, people of the world. Let’s chase those dreams, whatever they may be!’ I want this post with this thought that I found very beautiful:

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau