Here she is, world!

I read somewhere that we, parents, are building cathedrals as we raise our children. No one remembers the cathedral builders when the building is complete, yet our imprint stays on for lifetime. That thought is lovely and overwhelming in equal measure.

When my tiny daughter was placed in my arms 21 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising this small human. I needed to ensure that she stayed alive, she stayed healthy, she grew up kind, responsible, happy. Was I up to the task? I don’t know whether I was up to the task, all I knew was that an inexplicable love surged through my heart when I first saw her. Buoyed by this overwhelming love and tenderness, I resolved to give this child of mine all I had. The new born turned into a toddler, a delightful child and willful as well. A child who constantly pushed the envelop. A child who made sure I was one step ahead of the game because she questioned her boundaries – always. A child who fell in love with written words, like her mama, at a very early age. A child who always loved school and loves till this day. Then she became tween: a very creative, bossy tween. Oh, so bossy! And quirky. I remember volume knob on the radio in our car had to be turned to a multiple of 5. Any other number bothered her. Then came the teen years. Like any other teen, she had fits of rage from time to time and felt completely misunderstood. Her father and I watched in despair, unsure. However, the periods of emotional turmoil were often juxtaposed with sweet moments of affection, intelligent conversation, nuggets of random facts that she liked to subject her family to. And poetry! She wrote deep, thoughtful, beautiful poetry during those years which left me wondering about the depth of her perception and thought. The tumultuous teen years, which I lovingly refer to as ‘the lost years’ were mercifully brief. From those raging years emerged a young woman with a certain maturity and sense of responsibility with an analytical and thoughtful mind.

I held this little girl’s hand and waited for her school bus to take her to preschool, I read to her and then with her, I helped her with homework, packed her lunch, kissed her wounds, both physical and emotional, laughed with her, played with her, listened to her thoughts and one day, all of a sudden I realized that her thoughts were spreading wings. She was ushering in new ideas into my horizon instead of it being the other way around. She was reading more complex books on diverse topics and she was slowly opening my eyes to new ideas and possibilities. That is when I realized she has overgrown her mama. She has truly grown up. 21 is just a number.

At first I thought I would write this blog about parents building cathedrals as they raise their children and when they come of age, the building is done. But no, the building, if I use that analogy, is far from being done. My husband and I have built the structure perhaps, but the real building will be completed by the newly minted 21 year old herself. As a parent, my hope is, we have given our child the right materials – in the form of love, support, encouragement, opportunities, values, beliefs and morals to complete her cathedral the way she seems fit.

Here she is, world. Here she comes. Give her a chance so she can shine her light. Spread her empathy. Shower her love.

Happy 21st birthday, Sahana.


An ode to the queen.

This story begins when Sahana was about 12 years old. She had taken up the challenge of making chocolate chip cookies for the first time, that too for a friend’s birthday. Her pesky little 7 year old brother was flitting around the kitchen, attempting to help. The recipe was carefully followed, the cookies looked perfect when I walked into the kitchen. Little brother was already chomping on one as a taster.

“How is it?” the baker asked, hopeful.

“Mmmmm….it is soooo good Sahana! I love it.” the taster commented, smacking his lips.

“Mom, do you want to taste one?” I was offered.

How could I not try a chocolate chip cookie, baked for the first time by my daughter? I picked up one from the cooling rack and bit into it.

It was SALTY!

I looked at the expectant face, expecting positive reinforcement and I hesitantly commented, “Ummm….. the cookies seem a little salty to me. Try one and see for yourself.”

She did. And her face changed. She had done what many of us have done at some point or another in our cooking career. She used salt instead of sugar.

“SAHANA!!! YOU POISONED ME!!!!!!” screamed 7 year old Ryan, all of a sudden, after finishing one and a half SALTY cookies without batting an eyelid and pronouncing them to be ‘so good’ when asked how they were.

“But why did you say the cookies were good when you tasted salt instead of sugar and why did you eat one and a half cookies? You must have realized the cookies are salty when you took the first bite?” I asked him while Sahana tried not to shed tears.

After a moment’s pause, Ryan replied, “I was trying not to hurt her feelings.”

I think he tasted chocolate and that is all he cared about.

From making salty cookies in her first attempt at baking, Ms. Sahana has grown to be a self taught gourmet chef. I use the word ‘gourmet’ in jest, of course, but the girl has really taken a flair to cooking and we, her family, have benefited from it.

Cooking relaxes her so she does not think twice about making cheese filled tortellini at home from scratch, or finicky chocolate croissants which take hours of folding and rising before going in the oven, or she whips up a spaghetti carbonara: the spaghetti, of course, made from scratch. Store bought spaghetti?? We now frown upon those. (Not really, but she does!) As an Indian mother, I felt she had arrived when she carefully filled a perfect samosa, fried it and made it stand. You need to understand the importance of a samosa standing. That, my friends, is ultimate success. If the dough is not kneaded to the right texture, they fall. They do not stay up. Also, I have never made samosas from scratch. I have only watched and wondered when others did it. Now my daughter does it.

Since Covid brought her back home from Spain, cutting her junior year abroad short, Sahana has calmed her anxiety by kneading dough, grating cheese, stirring sauce or rolling sushi.

Below are some photos of food made by her during the time of Corona. While Corona virus brought a lot of unhappiness and anxiety in our lives, our daughter transformed our mood by providing us with gastronomical delights.

Chocolate croissants
Spicy salmon rolls, sashimi AND homemade dumplings
Focaccia bread with olives
Baked gnocchi (Homemade gnocchi, of course)
Homemade samosas

And finally, from salty chocolate chip cookies she has transitioned to delectable chocolate chip, walnut cookie cake that she makes every year for my birthday. All these years, after the first time, she has used sugar instead of salt 🙂 !

The reigning kitchen queen is stepping down, folks. A new queen is picking up the crown and spatula….err, I meant scepter. Bow to her, heap praise upon her. Who knows? You may receive an invitation to her kitchen. Live in hope.

The Magic Words: Free SAT Practice Tests!

A work blog but also tells a story of my venture to high school Back to School nights. They are an experience in themselves.


The picture depicts a student writing in a notebook while looking at an open laptop computer.

By Piyali C.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I parked my car. I think you will agree, finding parking in a high school parking lot on a Back to School Night is a sheer stroke of luck. I did a mental check as I walked towards the high school carrying my bag of library goodies. Did I have all that I needed? Howard County Library System’s tablecloth? Check. HCLS pens to give out as gifts? Check. Brochures with library information? Check. Little giveaways with the library logo? Check. I was ready. With a deep breath and a bright smile, I entered the high school. I was going to represent HCLS in one of our local high school’s Back to School Nights, to inform the community about how we supplement students’ academic pursuits by providing free databases for research. It’s a fond memory and one I hope to experience…

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“I will not diminish you by saying thank you.”

Little cousin

We are fundraising for my little cousin sister, Doyel, to help her fight cancer. You can read about her ordeal in my blog:

Kindness of Strangers.

I urge you to please donate/share the following link to your social media pages to help her prevent cancer.

Although we have a long way to go to fund her entire 30 months of extremely expensive medicines to prevent the relapse of her cancer, we have been touched by strangers’ kindness. People around the world have donated money to Doyel and shared the link to raise visibility to the cause and raise funds. When Doyel heard about the expenses of her medicine, she balked. Unless one is a millionaire, how can one afford medication that costs $3850 a month? But one of her friends, who is truly a guardian angel, Arundhati, decided she will start a crowdfunding initiative. Doyel needed to be convinced and finally she agreed to try.

My cousin sister is fighting the real enemy, the big C, valiantly while we are fighting alongside her trying to procure the necessary medicine. Interestingly enough, complete strangers joined our ragtag army and we are seeing progress. All of you who helped by donating, sharing, sending her good wishes, saying a prayer for her, helped her in her fight. We request you to continue to spread the word. I do not know whether we can raise enough funds to cover the cost of her meds for 30 months but we know we will give it our best shot. And with your help we can come close.

“Thank you bole toke chhoto korbo na.” (I will not diminish you by saying thank you). Doyel said those words to me as we discussed fundraising to fight her cancer. And with those words she ushered in sentiments that men and women my age or older, grew up with in India. I have long moved over to the world of “thank you”s and “I love you”s but I did not grow up with them. I was not taught to say the words thank you when receiving something. That may seem shocking and/or uncivilized to Western world, but then they will miss the sentiment behind giving and receiving in my world.

So how did we show gratitude when we received something? We smiled and we gushed how much that object or word or gesture meant to us, how much we loved it. It was, and among my family members still is, unacceptable to say thank you for a generous deed, word or gift. You don’t thank your own, you simply love them and they know. There is no right or wrong about it, this is just a difference in culture. The sentiment of gratitude and appreciation are conveyed in different ways – by words in some countries and by gestures in others.

You, kind people, all are my own. I will not diminish you by simply saying “thank you”. I think you are absolutely amazing to join in the fight for life of someone that you have never met. I say you are amazing for showing empathy, for showing grace to a fellow human in need. I say you make this pandemic ridden world beautiful by showing that compassion is greater than any calamity.

I bow to the divinity in you.


Please share the link to raise funds to cover Doyel’s medicine so can beat cancer once and for all.

Kissing in the time of Corona

A staged kiss with the moon in the middle. It is a joke, not really romantic.

This blog is not really about kissing during Corona. It is about going to the beach during the time of Corona and comparing it to how beach vacations used to be just a year ago. It seemed like kissing your beloved with mask on.

Our family hunkered down and diligently maintained social distancing since March 13th. We believe this pandemic is real. We believe wearing masks is necessary. We believe staying at home is needed to flatten the curve. We did all that for over 3 months, going out only to get provisions every 10 to 12 days. Our state started opening up cautiously and so did Delaware. All 4 of us thought a quick get away would be beneficial to our collective psyche. So we booked a hotel for the July 4th weekend.

Although the other members of my family looked forward to the beach, I was apprehensive. We took the right measures. The hotel provided no room service, much to our relief. We went armed with sanitizing sprays and wipes. Before we settled in to our room, we sprayed and wiped every surface, door knobs, light switches. We washed hands constantly and often sanitized them. We never ate in any restaurant, instead we brought as much food as we could from home and only used drive through or take out a few times.

I never relaxed though. Fully masked, I glared at people who did not have masks on at the beach or those folks who tried to settle close to where we had our umbrella. I felt safe only when we came back to our hotel room. It was a sad, stressful vacation for me. There were all kinds of people at the beach and the board walk. Families like us, masked up: enjoying their time away from home cautiously. Perhaps, they too came out for a change of scene. And then there were many who wore masks only when there was a police cadet around to remind them mask wearing is required at the beach and on the board walk. Many had their masks hanging on their chin. They made me upset and anxious. I wanted to go back to the safety of our hotel.

Who would have thought I would be afraid to be at the beach even a year ago?

So much has changed in a span of 4 or 5 months. What all remain unchanged? The crashing waves, the ocean, the moon at night, glowing in all its splendor, transforming the ocean front into a magical universe, the boardwalk brightened in its cheerful light, the ice cream stall, the boardwalk fries, the joy in my son’s face after spending 6 hours in the water, reading with my daughter on the beach, peanut butter sandwiches and chips – our regular beach lunch yet the magic of ‘going to the beach’ was certainly missing.

My beloved was right there in front of me, yet I saw everything with Covid lens on. It felt like a masked kiss.

Fear of running out.

This is just a short blog about books and is written mainly for the bibliophiles out there. Tell me if you relate to what I am about to write.

That I love books and have loved them forever is no secret to those who know me. Growing up, I could be found either in one corner of the house, or on bed, completely engrossed in a book. So engrossed that when friends and family came to visit, I was reprimanded for not being social. After being chastised, I would come out to socialize but my mind would be lost in whichever world my book explored at that point. Did that happen to you? That you could not wait for people to leave so you could get back to reading?

I always, always worry about running out of books to read when we go on vacation. I pack ‘just one more book’ in my book bag, in case I read them all. I can not possibly read 5 hefty books on a 3 day vacation but I throw in a 6th book. Just in case.

I do not enjoy reading books on my tablet but on top of physical books, I borrow another 4 books on my tablet. Just in case.

The only time I do not carry physical books with me or carry just 2 is when I travel to India (I borrow books on my tablet though). There are 2 reasons for that. One, of course, is the weight that we are allowed to carry on the flight. Second, I get my fill of Bengali books when I get home. I make my annual pilgrimage to Ananda Publishers in Gariahat market to buy books of my favorite Bengali authors.

What did you hoard up on when the pandemic started? I hoarded up on books. I work at a library. When we found out that the library will be closing for 2 weeks (ha, that sounds so funny, right now), I made 2 trips to my car with bag full of books. And then I worried what if I run out of reading material in 2 weeks? Well, that 2 weeks stretched to 3 months and I did not run out of books, thanks to ebooks borrowed on Libby and Netgalley. I have become semi comfortable reading on my tablet although I still don’t love it.

Once our library opened for staff and Contactless Pick up, I found such pleasure in shelving books and like an addict, checked out piles to read. Is this an addiction? If it is, I have no desire to break out of it.

During school and university days, I gave myself a treat between studying and snuck in a few chapters of a book to free my mind from information. If you ask my mother, however, she will tell you I gave myself more treats than study hours. (So don’t go asking her). The idea that a book will be my reward after certain hours of studying was so inviting. Today, I smiled back at that memory. I needed to do research on an unpleasant subject. My dad, all of a sudden, developed a health crisis. I am far away and unable to be with him. Before I settled down to research and scare myself with all that internet will throw at me, I decided to eat a sandwich and read a few chapters of my current book before I fired up my laptop. Real life waited as I turned the pages. Sometimes I don’t like being an adult at all. I don’t want to deal with all that I have to. I hang a carrot stick, in my case, a book, in front of me to keep going. Do you ever feel that way?

With that promise of escape, real world which has pandemic in it right now, and a faraway, unwell dad on top of it, becomes bearable.

Kindness of strangers

I know it is a lot to ask for a stranger to show kindness towards yet another complete stranger and I would have hesitated to ask if life was not at stake. So this blog is going to be about a fundraiser for my cousin, Doyel Choudhury, who is fighting for her life. I call her cousin, yet when we were growing up in our Kolkata, the line between cousin and sibling was blurry. Since she could talk she was a wild child. I was 6 years older than her and determined to teach her good manners. When 3 year old Doyel did something naughty, 9 year old me would gently chastise her, “You have done that. That was wrong. Say sorry.” Little Doyel would raise her lovely little face up to me and say, “Na sorry bolbo na.” (I won’t say sorry). Her spirit was indomitable. She used this spirit in every aspect of life – her singing, her dance, zumba, her relationships.

That spirit came in handy when she decided to take on cancer. All the indication she received that the big C has taken hold of her body was a little shortness of breath. She had difficulty breathing when she walked. The prognosis, after trips to cardiologist, internist and finally oncologist was metastatic ovarian cancer. The indomitable spirit that kept us in awe her entire life of 43 years took on the fight.

She was definitely not going to go gently into the night. 12 hours of complicated surgery later, 4 or 5 times of more operations to fight infections later she was declared in remission. However, here is the catch though. They discovered the condition is genetic and in order to prevent a relapse she needed to take a medicine for 30 months. Each month’s medication cost 240,000 Indian rupees ($3180). This is beyond her means.

Some of you who read my blogs do not know me at all. And you have no reason to trust me. However, I am appealing to your kindness today because my beautiful, 43 year old, mother of my lovely niece, daughter of my ailing aunt, cousin (sister) is fighting to prevent cancer. I can not be with her or do anything for her. The least I can do is share her crowdfunding initiative so we can raise enough money for her medication. I share this now because the campaign will match 15% of every contribution made today and tomorrow. The link to contribute is below. Thank you for considering.