The sunlight reflected in her brown eyes and highlighted the gold in her brown hair as she focused intently on the high school coursebook that she held in her hand. She perused the book in front of her, chewing her lip, brows creased in concentration, thinking of her four year course plan. As I glanced at the utter focus on the young face, on the threshold of yet another phase in her young life, my heart constricted with an overwhelming feeling of love for this young person who was just a little bundle in my arms some years ago. I made a mistake as I held her, I blinked! And here we are, at this juncture in life. She is on her way to high school,  deciding upon the courses she wishes to take.

Sahana is going on to high school this year and I am not ready. Just like I wasn’t ready when my fantastic radiologist took a look at the ultrasound report and said, “This baby isn’t growing in the womb, she is not thriving. We need to take her out now. Call your obstetrician. Get admitted tomorrow!” I remember sitting down in the nearby chair, looking up at Sean and saying, “I am not ready!”

Ready or not, she came. Grayish blue eyes, snub nose, pink skin, coconut head, rosebud mouth. She looked up at me with a stern expression as she tried to focus her eyes on this face looming large on her. “Here I am, mother. I am yours for a while. Yours to love, yours to nurture, yours to cherish, yours to discipline, yours to mold, yours to encourage and support. I am yours to help me to be the best I can possibly be!  Are you up to the task, mother? You better be, because I am not going back!”

She, of course, said none of these. She just kept looking at me, or somewhat in my direction with all the loveliness, all the cuteness, all the sweetness that is possible in this entire universe. And I thought of nothing of the responsibility that I held in my hands either. I was happy! No, wait, that doesn’t quite say it. I was ecstatic. I was ecstatic that she was born, I was ecstatic that she was healthy, I was ecstatic that I still lived to watch her grow, I was ecstatic my husband held my hand and helped me breathe through the contractions. When the neonatal unit took Sahana away to administer the necessities, the other doctors took it upon them to sew up my torn body. While they worked on me I thanked everyone who happened to be within my eyesight. Sean reminds me that I supposedly thanked every single person in the delivery room with enthusiasm till I passed out from exhaustion.

There were many firsts, of course. The teething, the first step, the first words, the feel of little soft hand in mine as we both entered her preschool. I don’t remember who had the most trouble letting go of the other’s hand, it probably was me. I sat outside the preschool with other anxious mothers, and tensed every time I heard children cry, convinced that it was mine. I was later told she didn’t cry at all but watched everybody with interest.

We moved to US after her preschool years. She started kindergarten in a new school, in a new country, far away from her familiar world full of friends, neighbors, family. I felt an emptiness in my stomach as the big black and yellow bus swallowed my curly haired little girl to her first day of kindergarten. I was waiting, anxiously, at the bus stop for her when she got off the bus. “How was your first day of school?” I asked, nervous. “It was great! School is the best thing ever! And I think I met an angel!” she replied. She had made friends with another little girl who had blue hair and beautiful blonde hair. Her angel.

At the end of fifth grade, I started panicking again. Two dreaded words – middle school. I had grown up from age 5 to age 18 in one school with the same set of friends. My daughter was going to leave all her friends to go to a different middle school. And I heard stories of the horrors of middle school from friends in this country. Meanness, popularity, need for acceptance, dejection – all these become major factors as children navigate through the confusing corridors of middle school. I read books, I talked about the non importance of popularity, I talked about being herself, focusing on her schoolwork. She was nervous, but I was petrified. Again I watched nervously as she boarded the bus first day to middle school. The reply to ‘how was school’ wasn’t as exuberant as in kindergarten but it was still good. Middle school was a blur. She did well, she seemed happy bar a few occasions. Just recently, on a walk, she confided how difficult the first year in middle school was. How lonely she was. And friendless. Media center was her solace, she escaped there whenever she could and hid behind a book till she started finding like minded children. As the months went by, she became happier. Now middle school was something she was sad to leave behind. She didn’t tell me because I couldn’t help her and she thought she could handle it on her own, in her own terms. I was saddened and heartened to hear this. Sad to realize what she had gone through, happy to hear she learnt to be happy.

A new beginning yet again, another transition –  high school, preparation of adulthood. Although, I am not ready, I do not have a choice. Everyday as my daughter stands a little taller and I stoop just a little tiny bit, as her face glistens with the freshness that only youth can boast and a new tiny wrinkle appears on my face, I see life slowly coming to a full circle. Many people don’t understand this, but I truly revel at every new stage in my life. Middle age is no exception. I have lived my youth, Sahana is starting to live hers. What an exciting time for her and what a simply amazing time for me to watch her bloom.

It is a new beginning for me as well, as a parent. With my first born, every stage of her life has been a new beginning for me. I have often been flustered and confused. Sometimes, the journey hasn’t been fun. I have had embarrassing moments galore but I have also learnt as I went along. I have identified my strengths and weakness. I have focused on my personal growth as a human and as a parent.

As I said, I am not ready yet to let go. I will never be ready to let my beautiful child go. But I have taken the first step. I will learn – to let go of her hands when she is ready. And will watch, yes anxiously, and learn with her as she steps into a new beginning, yet again.


In another land, on another day I met a girl…

Although, I didn’t spend my childhood with you, we grew up together when ‘growing up’ really mattered. I crossed the threshold from childhood to youth, holding your hand. I met you for the first time in the campus of Jadavpur University – fresh from an all girl’s school, wide-eyed, innocent, naive and sheltered, and with clearly demarcated views of right and wrong.

Our friendship strengthened as our horizon broadened. We learnt to think together, we expanded, we filled our heads with new thoughts, we discussed endless possibilities, we fell in love with the Romantic poets, we cut classes to sell tickets for the drama club, we dragged our feet while leaving the infamous J.U lobby to attend classes we didn’t particularly like. We walked the nooks and crannies of the J.U campus talking, sharing, learning, feeling, drinking life in and growing.

On the eve of your birthday, I was exploring our friendship of 23 years. We were physically together for 5, maybe 6 of those. But the friendship that I share with you transcended time and distance. We stayed in each other’s lives from far away, holding each other up in times of need, sharing our happiness in times of joy. We found our partners around the same time, we became mothers within a year of each other. Our talks changed from Rape of the Lock, Paradise Lost, philology class and tutorials to nap times, diaper rashes, teenage angst, husbands and sometimes ‘Lets go back and walk the campus! I am tired of these responsibilities of motherhood!’

But today, I want to revisit some of my favorite memories with you. Come on this journey with me. Let’s walk!

I met you on the first day of college in Fresher’s welcome. I naturally gravitated towards you because you had the most approachable face in the crowd of new faces. My first thought was ‘I have never seen more beautiful eyes than these’ as you turned to smile at me, a nervous one! We were both terrified.

Since then our friendship deepened. I had so much to share with you, so much to learn from you and about you. And learn, we did. Through endless walks, through trips to the British Council library, through your insistence that I treat you to Luchi, alurdom from Milanda’s canteen, through poetry and prose, through other friends and just by being inseparable.

I remember telling you the first day, in a somewhat 18 year oldish melodramatic way ‘Don’t desert me!’ I wanted you by my side to garner strength to face those frightening seniors. You didn’t leave my side.

I remember our trips to the Kolkata book fair. I remember the torrential downpour, your shoe strap breaking and us trodding in Kolkata mud.

Do you remember the walks to 8B busstand? Our destination always came before all the talk was talked. How could we part then? We had to walk all the way back to Gariahat to get you on another bus. After we reached Gariahat, there was nowhere else to go but home. I had to say goodbye to you and turned towards home, hoping the next day would come soon so we could finish our never-ending discussion of life, college, friends, future, tutorials, examinations, marks, love, crushes…..

What did we talk about? Do you remember? I am just left with the heady feeling of having someone by my side who understood me completely. I don’t remember our conversation.

I fell sick, you came to my house almost everyday sharing class notes and yelling at me to eat fruit and get my strength back. You needed me back at college.

I fell in love during our Master’s and missed classes to be with my boyfriend. You yelled at me again and held me firmly to terra firma by supplying me with class notes while all I wanted to do was live in the rosy world of love and passion. I passed my Masters – thanks to you.

I know I can’t enumerate the special memories that I have made with you since there are way too many. The trip to Mukutmanipur, the Copper Sheen lipstick, the hot summer afternoons spent in the cool of your living room, the numerous trips to BCL, the walks along James Long Sarani, your love for Manna De’s songs, your love for Buddhadeb Guha’s books, your Amaltash, Sangaskriti, the songs we sang sitting at the lobby – “abhi na jao chodke ke dil abhi bhara nahi”, discovering and drowning in the voice of Suman Chatterjee…. Even as I pen these down, several others crowd around in my mind’s eye. How can I put them all down in words? Those are our shared memories. They are and always will have a special place in my heart. College years are special for most. My five years in Jadavpur University were special for many reasons. I spread my winds and learnt to fly there. The line between right and wrong weren’t so clear anymore, I learned to think and I learnt to feel. I found new ideas, discovered new poetry, learnt to love literature. I also found you – my friend for life. My golden years spent at Jadavpur university turned so special because you were so intrinsically part of them.

Our physical presence in each other’s lives ended there. But not our friendship. Never our friendship. Girl friends, special ones like you, are a blessing in my life. You are my soul sister, my confidante, my partner in crime, my endless giggles, my shoulder to cry on, my guidance counselor, my picker upper when I need to be picked up. I share my joy and sorrows with you. You are the person who goes to Tirupati and prays to God to end my unhappiness. And when you are unhappy, I send a prayer to the universe for your happiness. You are my unconditional love – a source of love and friendship that is permanent in this transient world of ours where values, morals, relationships are constantly shifting.

The mindless crimes happening today make me heart-sick from time to time. But friends like you, good souls like you keep the faith alive. Happy birthday, bondhu. Have the happiest time ever. Please know, I am celebrating this special day with you, despite the distance. I will celebrate the birth of my best friend, whose presence and goodness of heart add to the beauty of this world of ours and gives me warmth and energy to keep going in the bleakest of days.

This is the kind of friend you are to me, Reshmi….

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
― William Shakespeare

Thank you!

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Moving on.

On December 16th, 2012, a young woman boarded a public bus in New Delhi, India with friend after a late night movie show. Six people on the bus brutalized her beyond belief and threw her down the moving bus once they were finished with her. Her friend was beaten up and left to die. She clung on to life despite the odds – broken, mutilated, ravaged, brain-dead, but alive, breathing. She succumbed to her injuries a few days ago, on December 28th, 2012, after fighting desperately to cling on. Her body simply gave up.

Her fate and death stirred India into a huge protest against the indignities that women suffer and nudged the conscience of the whole world regarding the general attitude towards women, universally. Candle light vigils, marches with placards, protests against politicians and lackadaisical policies, accepting responsibilities that we all failed her, made it amply evident that people were not going to let this one go easily. This heinousness of the crime touched a raw nerve in the psyche of the nation. The fact that rape happens and goes unreported were brought to the forefront and discussed.

The bright young woman, a medical student, whose identity has been kept a secret, was given different names as movements and protests started against what she suffered – Nirbhaya (fearless one), India’s Braveheart, Amanat (treasure), Damini, Daughter of India. I know not if the woman was fearless. I am sure she was an Amanat, treasured by her parents, her family, ones who loved her. There have been no incidents cited that prove she was seeking to make a social change that night. She was a young woman, studying to become a doctor, she was full of possibilities, and she wanted a fun night out with her friend. She didn’t go out that night to become a martyr so people in India and the world could be shaken out of their complacency to do something about gender equality. She is a victim of a grievous crime, l don’t know why she is being called India’s Braveheart, but no matter.

What must have gone through her mind when this assault on her began, I wonder. Fear, first and foremost. Confusion, bewilderment, agony – ‘Why are you doing this to me? I am a human like you. You are hurting me so bad!’ Then she must have lost consciousness at some point, or at least I fervently hope she did because just the thought of the pain the men inflicted on her makes my skin crawl in horror.

Her death and the brutality done upon her opened the third eye of the nation – dare I hope? Will the women who are being subjected to rape, both marital and otherwise, and other form of indignities, garner enough strength to come forward with the tale of their woes and hope to be believed and vindicated?

And I wonder what led the six men to behave so cruelly towards another human? Was it alcohol? What did they suffer in their lives to become so dissociated with simple empathy? How much pain did they endure so they were capable of committing such unfathomable act of cruelty on another human? The men were from a slum in South Delhi, I hear. Does economics have any part to play in crimes such as these? Does education? The answer is no. Jessica Lal was murdered by the son of a minister. The wealthy kill and get away, the poor get caught – that is the only part economics play (Jessica Lal’s killer was caught, however)! And education? What is education in the true sense of the word? Does a degree from prestigious educational institutions make one truly educated enough to believe in human equality? It does not. Unfortunately, female infanticide happens in homes of doctors, professors, lawyers more than in the homes of folks without degrees from college. Aamir Khan, the renowned actor of India, did research for his reality show Satyameva Jayate and came up with the statistics that the rate of female infanticide still happening in the homes of wealthy and ‘educated’ is, in reality, much higher than the lower middle and poorer section of society. True enlightenment comes from opening one’s mind to accept, respect and value another. Rote learning doesn’t make one educated.

Enough has already been said, written, talked about women’s right. Many have voiced their opinions on hanging the rapists. I won’t go into that debate. I don’t have a solution to what will stop rapes right away. But I do think it depends on how we nurture and bring up our sons and daughters. Our actions today will determine what kind of society the next generation will create. First lesson they need to learn today is mutual respect. I still hear comments like ‘Don’t throw like a girl’ to teach a son athletic prowess or “Go wear a bangle and sit in the house’ to show a lack of courage in a male. As long as mentalities such as these exist, women will not be considered an equal to her counterpart.

What does woman’s equality mean, anyway? Men and women are different, physically and mentally. There is no denying that fact. But one needs to realize and respect that the contribution men and women make in society and in each other’s live are EQUALLY important. The roles of men being the bread winners and women staying at home are not rigid anymore, that line has been blurry for a while now. When men accept and respect that and when women start believing that their contribution in the family and their role in society are equally important, we can hope for gender equality. That is a first step – respecting another and believing in oneself.

It is a new year. January is a month of hopefulness, it starts off with new resolutions, new hopes, new beginnings. It is a month which tells us to move on from the mistakes of the past and build on the future. And we will move on. But we will not leave behind the innocent little children of Sandy Hook Elementary school. We will not leave behind the young woman who was brutally raped and beaten with a metal rod and thrown out of the bus to die on December 16th in New Delhi. They are moving on with us. We need them to remind us that enough wrong has been done in 2012 and the years before. We need to right those wrongs. Their memories won’t let us get complacent and self-absorbed. Their fate will remind us that each of us are vulnerable and unless we work towards a change, our loved ones could suffer the same fate. My hope is 2013 sees at least baby steps in the right direction – towards gender equality, towards social equality, towards a progressive mindset, towards true enlightenment, towards rehabilitation and prosperity. These words sound lofty and idealistic, but I do believe we are moving in the right direction. The Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, brutal rape of the young woman, other unreported rapes and other killings are stumbling blocks to prevent the forward march. But the uproar, determination, empathy and rage from the world that arises over incidents such as these prove that we are not going to tolerate such acts and these will not stop us from moving on – for the better.