Tragedy struck…

I found out about the shooting in the Columbia mall within minutes after it happened. A co worker radioed the information to us and we clicked on the internet right away to find out more. As I read the little snippet of information on the web, my brain clicked furiously as to determine what my next action should be. The decision was not hard to take, I needed to call my family and hear their voices. I called and heard an enthusiastic “Hello Mama!” as Sahana picked up the phone. The greeting, her voice, the innocence in it and the enthusiasm jarred me somewhat, as my shocked brain registered the contrast – her complete ignorance that an evil has fallen in our community and the horrific tragedy itself. Her sweet, happy voice was a salve to my disturbed soul. A relief too, that my family was safely ensconced in our home and in their ignorance of the evil – for the moment. They were spared a few more minutes of peace of mind. The fact that these are the precious lives that are in jeopardy as the rage in the world reaches its zenith leaves me dispirited and weary at times. I wonder about this inexplicable rage that made an unassuming young man of nineteen years bring a shot gun to a mall and gun down innocent people.

As we waited for more information, I fervently hoped that the investigators would find some sort of connection between the shooter and the two victims – a twenty one year old mother and a twenty five year old young man, who, I later found out attended a high school which is couple of miles from my house. I thought if there was a relationship between the shooter and the victims, I could find some solace, if any is to be had, that this was vengeance or retribution or grievance, and not random or mindless. I believe, I, like many others, wanted a reason, a meaning, a ‘why’ for this dastardly act. Well, there were none to be had. Investigators found no connection….yet. That concerned me the most. The shooting is heinous, the deaths, so tragic. But the randomness is spine tinglingly scary, for me at least.

I got through that day, busy in my work and after work, the shooting remained in the corner of my mind however, as an unhappy, unwelcome fear. As I went to bed, the fear took form and loomed large. The mall, where Aguilar brought his shotgun, is our community’s place of comfort. My friends who grew up here, spent there youth going to the mall. The mall, for my kids, represents carousel rides, McDonald treats, Stride rite shoes, movies. My daughter watches back to back movies at the mall with her friends. I drop her off and drive away, completely complacent about her safety. On a cold winter day, ‘Lets go to the mall’ brings coats and gloves out without anymore reminders.

I felt violated that night as I thought of the shooting. I felt robbed of ownership of my ‘happy place’, and vulnerable as well. I did not feel anger, it was more fear and helplessness. I feared for my family and myself.

As I lay there, afraid, I also realized I can not live in fear of randomness. That would be living in perpetual fear of when and where disaster would strike. How binding is that kind of living?

I can not talk gun control anymore. That thought tires me too. The problem, obviously, lies deeper than just gun control. We need to figure out why young men like Darion Marcus Aguilar, who turned vegan a year ago because he saw a tv show on how the animals are slaughtered, becomes a slaughterer of his fellow beings.

A friend of mine, visited the mall the day it reopened. She couldn’t stay more than a few minutes, she said, because she needed to breathe. But she was happy she went, she felt part of this wonderful community that we belong to. She will go back again. And so will I, this week. I will go back and roam around the mall to reclaim the ownership of our happy place. We don’t move on from a tragedy like this. It is now ingrained in our fabric of life, but while remembering these lives lost, we live on. We live on, and perhaps, join our heads together to come up with solutions, resolutions, positive actions. I felt comfortable and safe seeing how the police and the county officials handled the crises. I believe my children understood tragedy happens but good people out there outnumber the bad. And that is a happy thought. Their world is not a perfect place and they too, when their turn comes, need to work on it.

I needed to air out my thoughts and I needed to remember. Thank you, if you read this.

Peace be with you all.


Thou shalt not judge….or in my case, thou shalt not presume!

I go to an inexpensive hair cutting salon for primarily two reasons. I can not justify spending a bunch of money on a hair cut, it is just not that important to me, and secondly, the beautiful, decked up stylists intimidate me. I like this particular chain of hair cutting salons where the stylists come primarily from South East Asia. I have been going there for the last 8 years. While I do have my favorite, I can’t always make an appointment with her due to our mutual schedule conflicts. When I get into her appointment book, I feel a joy comparable to winning a lottery. The joy, not because I will come back with a Vogue’s front cover worthy hair cut but simply because I love talking to this gentle, unassuming, kind lady from Vietnam. She always remembers my children’s name, their grades, she inquires about Sean. I like to know about her aging mother, her only son’s summer internship, her husband’s failing health. We are not friends, yet we share some meaningful slices of our lives with each other as she gives shape to my hair. I cherish that.

The times I don’t get her, we nod to each other conspiratorily as she looks up from whose hair she is styling and I follow the stylist I got that day. Every stylist I get, I get a story as well, a quick peek into another individual’s life, that they willingly share. I hear about a promising footballer’s high school football team, as his mother cuts my hair. I hear the hidden pride in the mother’s voice as she tells me he is a scholar athlete. We commiserate on parenting woes and both agree it is the toughest job on earth. I congratulate her on raising a great young man. Another stylist complains to me her husband doesn’t support her in teaching her biracial child her language – Spanish. She is from Colombia married to an American. A different stylish calls me ‘honey poo’ and ‘sweetie pie’ as I try hard not to stare at her HUGE false eyelashes. They don’t always give me great hair cuts, but I feel at home with them. And that comfort, to me, is important.

On a Saturday morning, I went to get a hair cut and found the place teeming with customers. As I waited, I played the guessing game, which stylist will I get that day. I knew all of them except one. She was elderly, somewhat stooped with age, frail with thick glasses, of South East Asian descent. She was at the front of the store struggling to understand the workings of the computer as she tried to take payment from her customer. The customer, a middle aged woman, was obviously in a hurry to be on her way, as she made certain gestures of impatience and mumbled under her breath, ‘oh dear Lord!’ The elderly woman was trying all sorts of keys and was getting increasingly flustered as the impatience of her customer rose. The manager finally came to help and I discovered her grasp of English was seriously lacking.

As I said earlier, I am not discerning about who cuts my hair as long as they have a license, yet I found myself wishing that I don’t get the elderly lady. I had already judged her seeing her lack of computer skills, her flustered demeanor, lack of confidence that I perceived. I got her, though.

‘Next!’ She said.

As I followed her to the chair, I thought to myself, so I will go home with a bad haircut. No big deal, my hair grows fast. It will be fine in 2 weeks.

‘Shampoo?’ She asked.

As she shampooed my hair, I started to relax under her gentle, yet firm massaging of my head. And like a predictable fairy tale ending,she gave me the best cut that I have ever had in that place! She didn’t speak much English, but that has never deterred me from conversing with an individual. In the course of 20-25 minutes, she not only gave me a fantastic hair cut, she also imparted life lessons like the purpose of life, selflessness, needs versus wants and that much sought after happiness that can be found in simple things. She said she had been a hair stylist all her life in reputed salons. But she doesn’t do it anymore because now she has a little grandson who needs her. Her daughter doesn’t earn enough to pay for childcare, so she gave up her career to care for her grandchild. She said there is no end to our wants and needs, and yes she needs money, yet she is not ready to trade the joy of watching her grandson over dollars. She is ready to go without. She opted for happiness at this point in her life. She takes her grandson to free library classes and playgrounds. She pushes him on swings and chases butterflies, she pets puppies with him and goes to pet stores to look at kittens, she cooks his meals and puts him down for naps. And she tells him stories. Life couldn’t be better. I saw her smiling through the mirror as she talked and I smiled with her.

‘Looks like you have a sweet young man to keep you company!’ I said.

‘Oh! He sweet! You see picture?’ She laughed with a young girl’s trill.

‘Yes please!’ I said.

She stopped cutting my hair midway, got out a picture of a chubby little 2 year old from her wallet and handed it to me. I cooed over it and the proud grandmother stood tall in her diminutive frame, smiling the sweetest smile.

She resumed her work, and I silently chastised myself for presuming. I strive not to judge, yet I fail.

As she swung away the protective cloth from my body she asked me,

‘You like?’

She made me look good, very good.

‘I don’t like it. I love it! Thank you. May I have your card?’ I asked.

She handed me her card with a smile. She works just one day a week, when her daughter is home to take care of her grandson. I left a large tip, not just for the hair cut but for the life lessons as well. And, perhaps, atonement?

I need some madness.

I hear Midterm madness. At least, that is what the High school teachers are calling these exams. I am getting urgent emails from teachers about study guides being posted on the particular teachers’ pages, I receive invitations to attend meetings about mid term madness. I sign up students to use the study rooms at the library where I work, I help students look up books, resources for the subjects they are studying, I politely ask students not to block the isles with their laptops and books, where they have set camp since all the study rooms at the library are booked. There is a constant stream of students at the library, hard at work. I hear snatches of conversation, ‘dude that is not the component, look…’. ‘No, we have to balance the equation here…’! I look around and see preparation for battle. Battling mid terms.

But my house, where a participant of mid term madness resides, is a picture of tranquility. It is like that beer commercial which urges you to “find your beach” amidst the madness of life. My daughter has found her beach! There is no anxiety, no studying, no rush. There is, however, sleeping in, lounging leisurely in pajamas, waiting for breakfast, playing with Sage, bickering with brother, reading Sherlock Holmes and after half the day is done, retiring to her room with the iPad. The iPad, I am told, is necessary for reviewing. The music plays. As I turn it off, I am told, music is necessary for math. I leave the room in a huff!

I had read an amusing anecdote by one of my favorite authors, Nabonita Debsen, where Dr. Debsen, talks about her elder daughter preparing for her school final examinations. The story was written from a harried mother’s point of view who is appalled by the nonchalance of her teenage daughter before her important exam. I seem to be living that story.

I have lost count of the number of times I have reminded my high schooler, ‘Sahanaaaaaa!!! Mid terms!!!’

‘Yeah, I know!’

‘And?’ I leave an open-ended question.

She turns her beautiful face towards me and says, ‘I got this.’

I believe in that style of parenting where I vow not to nag and let her take the fall….if there is one. So I clamp down my lips and don’t let the lecture spill out that is so ready to not merely spill, but burst forth. I walk away, bursting at the seams with unspent anger and fury and gnash my teeth.

This ‘not to nag’ doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to work at it. Like most women my age, I am becoming my mother, for the better or worse. I still remember my mother’s shrill voice, ‘Porte bosho! Dudin baade porikkha’ (Go study, your exam is around the corner)! I remember the sleepless nights, the red eyes, the last minute cramming, the discussion with friends, the shared excitement of “oh I am so scared!”

The morning of the first exam, I wake up early to see her off to school. Her face looks pale.

‘I am nervous.’ She says.

I gulp down all my anxiety, bitter words, ‘told you so’s.

‘You will be fine. Just try your best. That is all you can do!’ I send her off.


I laid my head on my husband’s shoulder and said, ‘We have given birth to the reincarnation of Shylock!’ My insensitive husband guffawed at that, I snapped my head up, glared at him and showed him the white of my eye!

We were seated at my parents’ house in the summer of 2013 in Kolkata enjoying a few stolen moments while the rest of the family played up on the terrace.

This story is about my 8-year-old son, whose love of money has assumed legendary proportions amongst family and friends. Ryan has been often spotted sitting in a corner with his money jar, counting pennies and dimes. He saves everything he gets for birthdays and Christmases and puts it in his college fund (his money jar). He claims he is saving every penny from a young age to help us pay for his college since he has heard us talk about education in America being expensive.

Ryan’s Shylockism started innocently enough. On the second day of our vacation in Kolkata, his grandfather (dadai) asked him if he wanted to accompany him to the fish market. Ryan agreed. Upon return, I received an excited boy glowing from sweat and happiness and a chuckling grandfather.

‘Your son is something else. That boy will go far!’ His grandfather was still laughing.

I learnt, in due course, that Ryan offered to carry dadai’s tholi (jute bag carrying fresh fish) home. Dadai was touched by his young grandson’s offer to help and let him carry the bag. When they reached home, Ryan innocently asked if dadai thought he deserved to be paid for his services.

‘Paid? Why?’ Dadai played along.

‘Well, first I carried bloody fish and fish head which is extremely gross and second, didn’t you save some money by not getting on the rickshaw because I carried your bag? Don’t you think I deserve the rickshaw fare?’ He asked.

‘I hope you didn’t pay him!!!’ I exclaimed.

My father said with a chuckle, ‘How could I not? I was defeated by logic!’

A pattern thus developed. Ryan refused to go on fun outings, if there was a possibility of accompanying dadai on errands. Dadai let him keep the change from rickshaw fares and bus fares – which Ryan termed as his payment for ‘companionship’. This story spread far and wide. All of a sudden, there was an amusing competition among the adoring aunts, uncles, grandmothers (my aunts) and grandfathers (my uncles) to pay Ryan money for kisses and hugs. I have pictures of Ryan holding bills while a grandmother kisses his cheeks.

I laughed along for a while and then tried to stop relatives from playing this game. But as it happens whenever I go back home, my children hide behind the indulgent family members and smile at me cheekily as I get chastised for being too strict.


Ryan often counted his ever increasing pile of notes with a gleam in his eyes and proudly told his sister how much he had. I shuddered at his mercenary tendencies. I talked to him in private about not accepting money from family, he shrugged and said, ‘But they want to give it to me!’

The night before we left for home, Ryan carried some of his money when we went out for our last stroll in Kolkata. He disclosed he needed to find a toy store as he planned to buy a toy for 3 month old baby Khushi, who was living in my parent’s house at that time. Khushi is the baby girl of the young woman who cooked delightful meals for us during our stay in Kolkata. A toy shop was found, a toy for Khushi was bought, Ryan’s own money was spent to buy it. That made me smile.

As we headed home, Ryan ran into Bancharaam – the famous sweet shop in Gariahat. During our two week stay, Ryan dashed into every sweet shop or cake shop that we came across to longingly stare at the varied sweetmeats displayed in the show cases. We hardly bought any, yet he went in to see them and salivate over them. As he went into the sweet shop, he saw a little girl, about the same age as Ryan, tugging at my shirt for some money. He came out and whispered to me, he wanted to buy her some sweets. The girl chose the sweets she wanted and Ryan bought them for her. My smile widened.

On the morning of our departure, Ryan kept insisting that his parents hand him over all his money at once. He had given his money to us for safe keeping. He was getting in the way, so I gave him his money back and told him sternly to stay out of our way so we could finish packing.

In a little while, his grandmother came into our room, holding a bunch of bills with a baffled expression. Ryan had taken all the money and given it all to his grandmother to spend as she chose fit, after he was gone.

Sean and I exchanged glances. I gave his apple cheeks a kiss as I laughed and wiped away a tear at the same time.

Everything was alright with the world again.

How can I be with it?

Every man should be born again on the first of January. Start with a fresh page.

Henry Ward Beecher.

The logical me always says January 1st is just another day and the emotional me disagrees.

Byartho praner aborjona puriye phele agun jalo, agun jalo…

Rabindra Nath Tagore’s immortal lines come back to mind on this day.

Rid yourself of the baggage in your soul, burn the light in your heart and let the flame soar. The celebration of New Year is more in my heart than in the popping of champagne. Refreshing the page of life on the first day of a new year.

I am done with resolutions, I say every year.

But this year I will make one. My resolution will be to be mindful of myself and whatever I do. To be mindful of my actions and all I love and all I touch. To be mindful of my imperfections, my pettiness, my anxieties, my concerns, my thoughts and my mortality.

And in being mindful, I want to explore how I can BE with it all. I want to know how to be with my actions and all I love and all I touch, how to be with my imperfections, my pettiness, my anxieties, my concerns, my thoughts and my mortality.

I want to be aware of the ground beneath my feet and the air that I breathe. I want to be fully present and focus on my children’s words, their thoughts, complains, hurts.

I want to be with my husband when I am there with him.

I want to be with my friends when I am there with them.

I want to pay heed to the little twinges in my body and learn to accept the decline instead of fighting it or denying it.

I want to be fully present in a situation no matter what lies next. I have realized through the years that without fully being present I am not fully living every moment.

I perhaps will fail to do so at all times. Life itself will interfere but I will accept my failure and learn to be with it and try again.

I wish you a refreshing new beginning, my dear readers. A new start, a positive energy and a time to look back and relish the achievements of the past and let go of the miseries. There is no need to make new resolutions but just be open to happinesses, no matter how small and the new possibilities. Also be ready to embrace new heart breaks and disappointments that perhaps lie ahead as well and think in your minds ‘how can I be with them all?’

That is a powerful question.