A woman and a mother too.

My mother at an event giving her first public speech ever.
My mother at an event giving her first public speech ever.

That is my mother’s picture that you see up there. My mother, who just the other day said to me, ‘Nijer jonye to anekdin bachlam. Ebar ektu anyer jonye bachi!’

(I have lived for myself for a very long time, now I want to live for others)!

My mother was the extroverted extension of me while I was growing up. I was a quiet shadow behind my gregarious, fun loving mother. As I look back, I realize we were just that – an extension of each other. I did not know where she ended and I began, till I started branching out to become my own person. Since I was so intricately woven into her being while growing up, I did not consider her as a woman in her own right. She was my mother and that was the whole of her. The perception was selfish and yet that perception arose from a blind love too. Only when I became a woman and looked at my mother from the perspective of a fellow woman did I see the complete portrait of her. Not just the unidimensional one of a mother but also the little girl, the young woman, the young bride, the rebel, the survivor, the fighter, the whole entity of who she was and who she has become. Her journey, if you will, as a woman.

She fought for her right in the patriarchal family that she was born to right from the start. Fiercely competitive, she fought for her place with her brothers and boy cousins and strangely enough, she got it too. Stories of her spunk and competitiveness have been told and retold by her peers and elders with indulgent laughter. I have heard so many stories beginning with, ‘Tor ma….bapre, koto golp.’ (Your mother….oh dear, so many stories..)!

As a young woman in early seventies when women’s beauty was measured by the length and width of their hair, she went to a salon and cut it all into a fashionable page boy cut. Her society, family and friends were aghast. When covering a woman’s arms was the norm, she went and fashioned sleeveless blouses. There was talk. Married at 19 and a mother at 20, she did not have a chance to finish her graduation, so she went back and finished it when her child was 6 years old. I remember the celebration. When leaving your child and going out to work was frowned upon, she went and got a job. Almost everyday she came home with a book for me, so I was happy as a clam, waiting for her and a book at the end of the day. When women thought husband and hearth were the purpose of their lives, she declared loudly she did not like cooking and cleaning. Life has to be more than just that for a woman. She devoted her time to reading and on her child instead – reading Bangla literature to me, telling me stories that I still remember, reading poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Roy, relentlessly helping with whatever I needed help with. She fought with everyone and provided the best education that she could for her only child going beyond the family’s means. And she told me again and again that I was no less than a boy no matter what society wanted me to believe.

In her personal life, she always tried to break the glass ceiling by pushing a little more. She will perhaps be the first to admit that she made mistakes along the way. But she did not let that stop her from following her heart or taking chances while always choosing the best for me. Now that I look back, she truly lived for me, and then for a while, through me. When I went to college, the dynamics changed and she became an extension of me.

The woman who wanted to do things differently could not contain herself in her retired life. When I set her free, she soared. Yes, I set her free from my dependance, need and my responsibility. She and some like minded friends opened an organization to help the unfortunate men, women and children. I was uncertain about this venture but as she grew I looked at her with utter amazement and then pride. The picture above is from one of the events that her organization organized in Hridoypur Pronobananda Kanya ashram – a school for orphans. When I skyped with her later she said, ‘I was so nervous talking in front of all those people. I have never done it before.’

My father said, with a proud gleam in his eyes, ‘Your mother was very good!’

Life is a journey, I hear. Some rough terrains, some smooth sailing, some uphill battles, some downhill glides. Towards the end of our journey some of us get bogged down by the stress of it all, some of us choose to sit and rest and look back satisfied at the path they traversed, while some get a second wind, take flight and soar high. They finally get to spread their wings after all the responsibilities are done. The shackles that they sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly tie to their feet fall free with a resounding, joyful clang. My mother got the second wind. She is flying.

I look up to her flying high and unmindfully hug the shackles that tether me to the ground now. The shackles that I love more than my life. I smile upon them as I turn my face skyward. I say to myself, ‘One day I will learn to fly. One day my time too will come. One day I will grow up just like my mother!’

Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.


Off to visit the Mayans – Day 6, Tulum

We slept in on the sixth day. Our vacations are those that you NEED vacation from, but all of us seem to thrive in action, yes even Sahana, if she is not dragged out early.

After yet another chocolate croissant Starbucks breakfast we got in Escargot to drive 40 Km to Tulum. Both the children had enough of ruins at this point but not their ruin loving mother. Tulum was built between the 13th and the 15th century and was an important port for trade, especially obsidian. The ruins, perhaps, do not match in grandeur with the impressive ones at Chichen Itza or Uxmal but the setting of the ruins is indeed spectacular! It stands on a bluff facing the east and the ancient shrine of the Diving God greets the rising sun every day over the breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean sea.




I am not sure what word would describe the blueness of the ocean. There was not just one blue though, there were different hues and shades of blue. No matter how talented an artist or a painter is, can they ever produce that perfect hue in their canvases or papers? Is that blue an example of what perfection is? Just so? Not a bit more and not a bit less? As I read my journal, I see I wrote down ‘pristine, turquoise, aqua marine – none of these seem to really bring forth the true hue of the color blue.’

The children decided to jump in the water while Sean and I continued to tour the entire site paying homage to the reigning deity of the area – the descending god. It is a figure with legs splayed upwards and head down diving from the sky to the ocean.

According to Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The Temple of the Descending God, located at Tulum, is an intricately designed structure which is illuminated brightly by the setting sun every April 6th – which is the birthday of The Descending God (so named because he is always depicted with his feet in the air)and is carefully aligned with the planet Venus. While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.

The camera, as some of you know, is almost surgically attached to my hip. As I walked the ruined walls at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the brilliant emerald sea beneath, I kept stopping to take pictures. And when I looked at them later, I discovered I had taken picture of the same scene again and again – a multitude of times, obsessively. My desire, perhaps, to capture the entire day, along with the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the magnificent ruins, the mass of humanity speaking various languages of the world, the sea, the moments, my family, my feelings of joy and fulfillment, in each shot.

After walking throughout the site, Sean stripped to his swimming trunks and entered the water. I did not bring any change of clothes. Nor did I have swim suit underneath. So, like a true Indian, I followed my husband in the water, fully clothed. And had the best time swaying with the waves.

Finally, when nobody could ignore the pangs of hunger any longer, we made a unanimous decision to bid adieu to the sea, the sand and the ruins to head towards Akumal, north of Tulum, towards Playa Del Carmen. We were on a mission to find the restaurant La Buena Vida in Akumal, as suggested by some fellow travelers from Canada. The nachos there were to ‘die for’ they said. The setting of the restaurant, on a tiny cliff by the sea, was unparalleled, they said. We had no directions, no GPS and Sean refused to ask directions. By sheer instinct he got us there while I grumbled about typical male pride about directions. He parked the car and said, ‘Here you go, we found it!’ smugly as we walked in. There were palapas roofs on picnic tables by the water and we were directed to one of those.

La buena vida – the good life. The name is chosen from one of the cardinal principles of the ancient Mayans, live the present moment fully. Be in the moment. Nothing is more important than being in the moment, living it, doing it justice. The worries can wait.

I live by the important (for me) mantra ‘This too shall pass’. In moments of sorrow, this thought gives me solace and the courage to face my sorrow. In moments of joy, this reminds me that happiness too is transient and I must make the most of it. The memory of the happy times become that jewel that I wear around my being, which embellishes my soul. Hence the photos, hence the journal.

I remember sitting there with my little family looking at the vibrant blue water, the coral reefs afar, the gentle sway of the palm trees, the yellow sand beneath my feet, I thought ‘this moment too shall pass’. But I am so grateful to HAVE this moment, to be able to live it fully. I remember thinking this must be what true happiness feels like…la buena vida.

We drove back to Merida on the seventh day and headed back home on the eighth morning. I brought back happy times, laughter, thoughts, bonding and the realization how different traveling with the children is becoming. I remember hauling luggage and entertaining both of them during long flights to India. This time, however, Sahana navigated the airports, Ryan lugged around our heavy suitcase and a backpack. My offers to help carry luggage were refused with ‘we got this, Mom!’ I ended up carrying only my purse the entire trip. That was sweet, but somehow bittersweet.

This was the last post of the trip. Thank you so much for reading my journey and being a part of it. I appreciate you all greatly.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 5, Xcaret.

If any of you have traveled with a teenager, you probably know to give them a wide berth after waking them up early (very early) to catch a plane, bus or train. We woke Sahana up amidst whines and groans to catch our scheduled Easy Tour van at 8:30 am to go see Xcaret (eshcaret). Xcaret is one of Maya Riviera’s most popular destination – a ‘eco archaelogical’ theme park where one can go snorkeling in the part underground river, relax on their impossibly soft, yellow sandy beaches, swim with the fishes, pet dolphins, eat a 28 course buffet lunch, visit a mariposa (butterfly) garden, take pictures with macaw on one’s shoulders, see soft pink flamingos, tapirs, pumas, jaguars, turtles – all this at a high price. And yes, it does possess the ambience of a Disney theme park. You can have your adventure under well controlled environment.

After packing our bio-degradable sunscreen (only bio degradable are allowed since you get up close and personal with sea creatures), swim suits, change of clothes, hats, shades et all, we grandly exited our Adventure Experience Hotel after greeting the lovely receptionist a cheery, ‘Buenos Diaz’. Sahana just grumbled.

We had no time for a sit down breakfast so we ran to grab something from a nearby Starbucks. Cafe latte and chocolate croissant for me, chocolate croissants for Sahana and Ryan while Sean got something distasteful and healthy – egg white and cheese sandwich. We chomped on our breakfast while waiting for the van and slowly, like the rising sun, Sahana’s disposition became sunny with every bite of the croissant. It is funny what chocolate can do to a choco lover.

The van arrived promptly at 8:30 am and after stopping to pick up some other fellow Xcaret adventurers, it dropped us off in the expert hands of our guide, who then expounded upon the do’s and don’t’s of the theme park for the next 20 minutes – in Spanish! After 10 minutes or so, Ryan asked, “Can we please just go?”

Finally his very elaborate lecture ended, he extracted promises from us to meet him at the exact spot no later than 9:20 pm and after procuring that he let us loose and left us to our own mischief.

The plan was simple. Three of my family members would get on a boat with their rented snorkeling gear and get thrown off the boat mid-ocean to swim with fishes while I would find a lounge chair by the aqua marine water and update my journal.

Snorkeling in mid-ocean was not my idea of fun. As we waited for Sean, Sahana and Ryan to board their boat, we watched people getting kissed by dolphins, petting them, hugging them, playing with them – at a steep price. When Sahana heard how much it cost to touch a dolphin, she exclaimed, ‘Gosh, no!’

Macaws at Xcaret.
Macaws at Xcaret.

As the children and Sean waved goodbye to me and their boat turned a corner, I walked back to the beach, found a quiet spot under a beach umbrella and brought out my notebook and pen to retrace our steps with words. I realized a smile often formed at the corner of my lips as I recalled a particular incident in our journey together, a special moment of bonding as my notebook filled up in that hour and a half.

The gorgeous indescribable blue water.
The gorgeous indescribable blue water.



After an exuberant retelling of how exciting the snorkeling was, how fearless Ryan and Sahana were, how many fishes they saw and how they separated from the group to swim with a sea turtle, we went to an elaborate and sumptuous lunch in an international restaurant within the park (the price of the ticket included the buffet) which incorporated varied local delicacies along with dishes like pasta, fish and chips etc to accommodate all kinds of taste.

My plate. I went back for seconds and thirds.
My plate. I went back for seconds and thirds.

The next adventure was snorkeling down a part underground river – along with the mother this time. The water in the river was about 6 feet deep and the mother had already asked the guide in very broken Spanish whether it was safe for someone who can not swim well to go down it. The guide had said, ‘Oh sure!’ The mother was not sure if something had gone lost in translation. Bravely donning my snorkeling gear I took my valiant husband’s hand as I flopped my flippers on the stairs going down to the river. The first touch of water sent shivers down my spine. It was a chilly 75 degree Fahrenheit. There were two options to go down the river – one way was outside, lit up by the sun and pleasant foliage overhead to form a lovely canopy over your head, or the dark, sinister tunnel through which the river flew secretly and where the rays of the sun were prohibited. Ryan chose the tunnels. And I unhappily complied. Mistake.

I have claustrophobia and I have a fear of water. An unhappy combination if you are about to float down a river that flows through pitch black tunnels. As soon as we entered the tunnels, floating and splashing, I knew I was in trouble. I felt panic rising in my throat. And for a few moments I thought I could not do this. The tunnels were pitch black, there was not a single glimmer of light to illuminate our way, we had to feel for the sides of the caverns through which we floated by or jutting rocks with our hand. While struggling with my fears of enclosed space and drowning, I felt something touch my legs.

“Sean, is that you? Did you just touch my legs?” I screamed.

“No, I am right here. Next to you. Here hold my hand.” He said.

“Oh my gosh, something touched my leg. Something living touched my leg. A rat touched my leg!” I was almost hyperventilating in panic.

“No rats, no rats. Rats will drown here!” He tried to pacify.

“Then it was a snake! We are swimming through sewage water with rats and snakes! Why did you agree to come through the tunnels? Why did we not go the other way?  It is all your fault!” I was wailing.

“You are doing great! I am right next to you!” The good man consoled me as he pulled me along.

A man, trying to navigate his family around my thrashing legs, had touched my legs. Not rats, not snakes, I discovered in a few minutes, when he said a fearful sorry – fearing my madness!

Thankfully at regular intervals there was sunlight pouring in through holes above us. We found Sahana waiting there for us, waiting to see how her brave mother was faring. She too, did not like the dark and was complaining that Ryan always gets his way about everything. Floating down the river in the sunlight would have been so much more pleasant. After gulping down the sunshine at these breaks, I sorrowfully plunged in the murky dark waters again, just to get to the end of it. Those moments of light were such blissful ones. I truly appreciated the phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ when the tunnels regurgitated us floaters into clear water and blinding sunlight. Surprisingly though, somewhere between starting the river journey and ending it I learnt to rely on my life vest and finally started believing I was not going to drown. Somewhere along the way, when we got out into those sporadic moments of sunshine, I put my snorkeling gear on and put my face in the water, I learnt to breathe through my mouth. Somewhere along the way, I pried loose my fingers and let my tightly held fear slip away. Instead I grasped on to the belief that I can do this. And that is when I started having fun. As I put my face in the water and opened my eyes, once the tunnels ended and we emerged onto the sunlight, I discovered a brilliant world underneath me. Fishes of different hues swimming along beneath me. It was a moment of wonder, a boon of sight – ‘I once was blind but now I can see’ moment.

The day ended with a truly spectacular show of the cultures of Mexico which dated from the cultural aspects of Ancient Mayans and ended with modern-day Mariachi music.

Ancient Mayans playing a game resembling field hockey with a ball of fire.
Ancient Mayans playing a game resembling field hockey with a ball of fire.

By the end of the show the people in the entire stadium, irrespective of their country of origin, were rocking, clapping and chanting “Mexico, Mexico” It was a moment of bonding with the beautiful, hospitable, very pleasant people of a truly enchanting country of rich cultural heritage.

We kept our promise and returned to the tour guide by 9:20 pm. We were dropped back at our hotel tired, hungry and very content. After a quick dinner of lousy pizza and a promise to Sahana that we will let her sleep in tomorrow, we turned the lights out.

Oh, and if you are worrying about my infected finger still….rest easy, the antibiotics are working. Both the swelling and the pain are down. Dreaming of the ruins of Tulum that we plan to see tomorrow…