You learn to live…..


…..is what I said to my cousin this morning who lost her mother to Covid a couple of weeks ago.

Right after my parents died, a friend messaged me saying I will learn to rebuild my life around this chasm of loss. She learnt to do it after her parents’ death. At the time it seemed impossible. But after six months, I understand what she said. And it is so sad that I am heping my little cousin deal with her mother’s death by drawing on my own experience of loss. She went back to work last week.

“I am worried about facing people, answering their question about how I am doing,” she said.

I was too. I was afraid of making people uncomfortable as they came face to face with me and my grief when I went back to work. I told her to be sincere in her one sentence acceptances of condolences and then ask the person how s/he was doing. It worked for both parties. It deflected the discomfort and conversation moved to a neutral zone. She followed my advice – with success, she reported later.

She sent me a poem today by E.E Cummings – I Carry Your Heart With Me and I sent her this quote from The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Kate O’Neill – “Everything that happens is part of your wholeness. The sadness, the loss, the hurt, as well as the joy, the love, the friendship – it is all part of your tapestry.”

All through time, I believe, humans have held up each other this way as they navigated through labyrinths of intense grief and loss. I believe there lies the beauty of life, in forms of solidarity, support. I received it (and continue to receive it). I am paying it forward to my little sister. “I am here for you. Lean on me”. This sentence carries so much power. And meaning.

Ignorance, insensitivity or microaggression?


At the call center of our library, the conversation went like this:

Customer: You have a sweet accent. Where are you from?

Me: Thanks. I am from India.

Customer: Which part, North or South?

Me: I am from the east, Calcutta.

Customer: Ah, you mean Kolkata. It is called Kolkata, right?

Me (a little excited): Yes, Kolkata. Have you ever been?

Customer: No. Now, do you still throw your dead bodies in the water?

Since I have been in this country, I have been asked if I went to school on an elephant or if tigers roamed in our streets, but this was new.

Me: That is not the norm, sir. The dead bodies are either cremated or buried depending on the beliefs of the dead person. However, India is a huge complex country. There may be bodies that are put in the water but those cases are exceptions.

At this point, the conversation shifted to pre independent India and for some strange reason, my father. The next question was:

Customer: So did your father know Gandhi?

Me: My father was a little child when India got its independence.

He asked where my father was. I told him he died of Covid this year.

Customer: So did you take his body to Varanasi? Don’t you go to heaven if you are cremated in Varanasi?

At this point, I asked if there was anything else I could help him with since I had other calls coming in. I had helped him already with research questions before the topic of my ‘sweet accent’ came up which was followed by deluge of questions about India.

Later, I thought about the conversation and his questions. There was no intention to hurt me or malice behind those queries. He was an older man who wanted to exhibit his book read knowledge about India. Yet the questions reeked of microaggression. So what was it? Ignorance, insensitivity or microaggression?

A place where I want to be…


This is not necessarily a glamorous photograph that I would share with the world for likes and compliments. This was taken just a few days ago by Ryan to test out the picture taking ability of his new iPhone, a phone that he purchased with entirely his own money. This was taken in a moment of happiness when I was with my family in a fall afternoon.

He took photos of me as we sat on opposite sides of each other in our favorite Indian restaurant. He put different filters on the photos, laughed at most of them as I looked ridiculous. But he shared this one with me. Unfiltered.

The “me” in this photo is almost the “me” before my parents died. This “me” is the one who almost always had an inner joy. Even on the darkest day, this “me” could talk myself out of despair. The current me is “walking a narrow path through the loss………taking sips of sorrow…..” as Julia Alvarez says in her beautiful novel Afterlife. One day, I want to be back where, once upon a time, the previous “me” used to be. I have embarked on the journey, the path is narrow and I am trying (and failing sometimes) to not fall off the edge. One day I plan to arrive.

A poem was found in the stacks.


As a library worker for last ten years, I have come across strange things in either the shelves or in our book drop boxes. A coworker kept a tally of strange things that got returned with books and DVDs. Gross things like dental floss, used tissues, important things like checks, naturalization certificate, sentimental things like handwritten cards, letters – all used as book marks. One of the strangest things that I recall was a single men’s sandal that came in through our book drop.

While shelving, we collect empty water bottles or soda cans that folks leave behind in the stacks. A few days ago, while shelving in the finance section, I found a page torn off a notebook with a poem written on it. From the handwriting and content I assume it was written by a young child. I picked it up to recycle it. Then I kept it. I wondered if the person/child who wrote the poem would come back for it.

The poem was about having fun in Neverland. Although we may age in years, we should nurture our inner child and never let the innocence die. There is the threat of Captain Hook, sure, but we should remember it is Neverland – full of fun.

Every time I went upstairs for my shift, I checked to see if the page was still there at the kiosk. I took a photo of it for memories. Not for the artistic value of the poem but for the fact a child (most likely) wrote this and left it in the stacks, in finance section no less. A work of art in a section devoted to money seemed lovely.

Today, the poem was gone. I doubt the poet came back for it. Most likely one of my coworkers cleaned up the area and recycled the page. But for the days it stayed at the kiosk, it gave me joy. Simple thing, simple pleasure.

My big, fat Bengali family continues to party…


About a week ago I told Sahana I want to get back to writing blogs again. Blogs that not necessarily document my grief journey, but something different, something happy perhaps. She gave me some suggestions and left me with ideas to mull over. My dear aunt was in the hospital though, fighting Covid in India. I got updates everyday and tried to focus on the positives that I heard – the thrust of oxygen that she was receiving was reduced, her O2 saturation was maintaining at 96/97 with oxygen support. She was weak but her vitals were strong. I talked to my cousin every morning and said to her what people said to me six months ago “Hold on to the positives. She will fight it off. After all, she has had both her vaccinations. She has protection.”

She was put on ventilator on November 13th (my time) and died within 4 hours. Her presence is so large and so joyful in my entire childhood that whenever I think of her I can see her bright, wide smile and hear her hahaha laughter. She was great friends with ma. They had similar jovial, vivacious personality. And she had the kindest face. When Sean met her for the first time when he came to meet my family, he said, “If I entered a room filled with strangers, I would go to her first. Her face exudes kindness.”

There are many, many happy memories of this woman who lived her life with joy (for the most part) and left the world without long term sickness or pain. I am spending sleepless nights again and waking with the memories of all those who we have lost this year – 5 so far in my family alone. It gives me comfort, in a weird way, to think that my big, fat Bengali family is continuing to party hard somewhere. Yes, a raucous, loud, full of laughter party. My aunt has joined them now. My mother loved her. I hope she is happy and safe to be up there (or who knows where) with them.

I miss writing blogs about silly things – about my kids or my everyday observations or memories of India. I hope to find topics other than loss and sorrow – soon. I hope and pray to the universe to stop this procession of death in my family. We have lost enough. The world has lost enough.

It is a happy day!


Ma is not going to grow a year older today. And there is no point in wishing her happy birthday any more since she has crossed the realm when ‘be happy on your birthday’ is meaningless. In the years past, we wrote or made a video the night before so she got our “happy birthday” message first thing in the morning. The message brought on a big smile and a ‘thank you’ in a smile-soaked voice. I do not know where her soul went after her heart stopped beating. I grew up with the Hindu belief that our souls enter a different body and lead a new life after it leaves the old one. And this process continues till one attains moksha or nirvana. This thought is comforting. If that is true, then I hope her next life is much happier than the one she left. Also, the thought that energy is indestructible and ma’s energy surrounds me is also very comforting. But the point is I am not wishing her happy birthday. Instead I am claiming her birthday to celebrate the woman she was, the mother she was.

For the rest of my life I will not be wishing Ma a happy birthday but it will always be a happy day. So today, when tears threaten to blur my vision I have to tell myself it is a happy day. A happy, happy day.

Obstinate Ma plant keeps on giving…


I planted this geranium on May 11th, 2021. It was the day after ma died. Sahana had given me this plant on Mother’s Day, which was the same day as my mother exited this world. So instead of pacing the house, trying to collect my grief, bewilderment, confusion, helplessness, I put all my feelings in digging a hole in the ground and planting a life. Perhaps to compensate for the life that just left me. Since that day I have spent many hours by this plant’s side. I called this my Ma plant or refer to her as Didiya plant to my children jokingly, but if I am completely honest, a part of me believes this plant carries my mother’s energy.

Sahana was somewhat concerned about my attachment to Ma plant and warned me that it too will die. I know that. However, I will always remember this particular plant as my refuge during one of the saddest periods in my life.

It is mid October now. Slowly I am saying goodbye to my summer blooms. One by one they are falling asleep as cold weather sweeps in our area. Not Ma plant though. It had stopped giving flowers for a while during the peak of summer so I asked it why it was being obstinate. Since then we refer to it as Obstinate Ma Plant. Obstinate Ma Plant did not grow in height much but it made up for its stunted growth in beautiful blooms. Even now it is budding new flowers and opening new blooms in its full glory. It seems like it wants to live its life to the fullest before it goes. It seems like it wants to radiate all of its beauty before death claims it. I like to think it mirrors my mother’s life. She was a vibrant woman who lived her life in her own terms. She nurtured me my whole life but when the day to day taking care of me was done, she turned to see how she can nurture others. So she opened an NGO to serve the underprivileged in her area.

Although some health issues had curbed her will to live in the last few years of her life, she lit up when she talked about the NGO. (And talking about her grandchildren lit up the inner light as well). She was waiting for the pandemic to pass so she could start the work again. It was not meant to be.

Anyway, what I want to say is ma’s alter ego, the Obstinate Ma Plant keeps giving just like ma did till she could give no more.

Lastly, I have been trying to write blogs that is not full of my grief but I can not at this time of festivities.

The “goods” in the week of October 4th.


Today, as I write this, ma has been dead for 5 months. Today is also Panchami, the beginning of the biggest festival of Bengalis – Durga Puja. Every year, around this time, I get terribly homesick. I used to call up home to listen to the sound of dhaak (drum) as the neighbors welcomed the idol of the goddess in the pandal. Baba took initiative to light up the entire apartment building. And he sent me a photo of it. One year I even made it back home for the Pujas. This year, the first year (of many to come) without them is especially hard. So why am I writing this in my list of “goods”?

I walked in the woods with Sean this morning in companionable silence. As I walked I thought about how peaceful ma’s exit from this world was. Even though she had very high count of the virus, she never felt ill. Her oxygen level was depleted and she was extremely tired so she went to sleep and in her sleep, her soul left the vessel.

Her alter ego, the obstinate ma plant, has bloomed beautiful flowers.

Sahana’s papers to go to India arrived this week, 10 weeks after the application was submitted. She is now all set till she is 50. I do not know if either of my children will ever go back to India now that the reasons for going back are no more, but I want to make sure they have the hassle free option. It makes me happy. Ryan’s papers came earlier this year. I had filed for his papers before his grandparents died. When his papers came, they were dead.

I have had lunch by the pavers dedicated to ma and baba at work whenever the weather allowed. I have walked out and stood by the stones every day.

My delight this week was finishing Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier again. I read it as a 15 year old – almost in another life.

There were many tears this week. They are cathartic and cleansing so I put them in my list of “goods”.

Ryan had two days of great swimming. He got his best tines in all his events. His excited voice is definitely in my list of “goods”.

It has been so comforting to have Sahana home at this time. One day this week was especially hard. She picked me up that night from work and we went to a frozen yogurt place after 9 pm. We both sat outside and had big bowls of frozen yogurt with all kinds of unhealthy topings. It was the best.

Last evening the four of us went out for dinner. These dinners are rare now and hence, special. We talked of all the places we want to visit.

Hope your list of “goods” is long. Have a great week.