My heart is full because I read this book.


The beginning of the pandemic was a chaotic, extreme anxiety provoking, fearful time. On top of a deadly virus killing off human beings physically, there was the political rhetoric in the United States of America that was killing us emotionally. Once maniacal political drama subsided, we started getting hopeful about vaccines and then plunged right back into uncertainties about our turn, distribution, fairness, cutting in line, guilt. Now we are slowly opening up and again we are anxious about our ability to mingle with human kind while keeping everyone safe. Phew! That was an exhausting overview.

Amidst all this, I read a lot of books. Last night, I stayed up till midnight (despite it being a work week) to finish a children’s fiction called The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. It filled me up with a warm fuzzy feeling as I read the last page, smiled at the fact that Gemeinhart was an elementary school teacher/librarian and thanked him for giving this reader solace during these times.

Twelve year old Coyote lives on a school bus driven by her dad Rodeo. They have been crisscrossing the country in that school bus for the last five years which they converted into their home. Five years ago, Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash when she was just seven years old. Since then, her dad left their home in Poplar Springs and drove around with her in their mobile home, the school bus named Yager. They stop at gas stations to fill up with gas, get food – most importantly slushies, and when Coyote can find a kind lady with a cell phone who lets her use it, she calls her grandma at Poplar Springs. Grandma always asks when she was coming home. But Coyote does not have an answer because Coyote and Rodeo do not plan to go home which, they fear, will bring back memories that will torment them for ever. During one such phone conversation, grandma tells Coyote that the park where she used to play with her sisters is being torn up by the city to turn it into a parking lot. But Coyote has a memory box buried underneath a tree in that park which she must rescue. The memory box was created by her mother and her sisters. They intended to go back for it after 10 years but 5 days after burying the memory box, her mom and sisters died in the car crash. Now Coyote needs to get her father to drive back home in exactly four days before the construction begins but she can not tell him that they are going back to Poplar Springs because going back is a hard ‘no go’ with Rodeo. So Coyote must plan to get her way without letting Rodeo know that they were actually heading home. Who knew the journey home is going to be the most difficult one? But Coyote is nothing but tenacious. She figures out a plan to make Rodeo drive in the direction of home. And during their journey back Coyote picks up some misfits who are also searching for their own destinations. There is Lester who needs to find his lady love, Salvador and her mama, Esperanza Vega is running away from a difficult situation, Val is looking for acceptance and of course Gladys needs to go to her mom. But 12 year old Coyote’s first friend, before others joined them, was a cool kitty named Ivan.

The writing is so full of heart, Coyote is such a fierce and spunky girl who carries her sorrow with such bravery and compassion, Rodeo may look like a bearded hippie but one has to look into his eyes and see the kindness that is brimming in him. Everything about this book touched my soul, the tragedy, Coyote and Rodeo’s grief, their overwhelming love for each other and humanity, the friendship, the good will. The author does not shield his young readers from the harshness/reality of life. Life is not easy, tragedies happen, violence happens, lack of acceptance happens but to balance the scale there is love, kindness, friendship, good will and most importantly resilience. The will to continue on this beautiful journey called life wins at the end.

We pivoted.


Last year was very different in terms of the service our library provided due to pandemic. Our branches closed in mid march and we pivoted to online classes within 3 weeks or so. And I had to facilitate my book club – online – via WebEx. I was terrified. New platform, new way of doing things, my very old, tired Chromebook, unknown technology….. recipe for disaster. I am a chicken and I was ready to throw in the towel. My boss said, ‘Just give it a shot. You can do it.’ My intrepid co facilitator said ‘Lets do this.’ My friend from work gave me confidence – “Think of what you will be doing for the community. They will be happy to see you providing their familiar platform in this uncertain time.” I timidly said, ‘okay.’ So I did it. I learnt how to navigate WebEx, sent out invitations to the participants. I pivoted. Many of my coworkers pivoted with confidence, I pivoted kicking and screaming.

On the evening of the book club, several of the participants joined. My old yet faithful Chromebook did not fail me. My co facilitator failed to show up though. I texted her in desperation, “They are all here. where are you?” She said, “I am trying, I can not get on!” I smiled on camera, while in my head a mantra played out, “This is gonna be a disaster! This is gonna be a disaster!” Lastly, I held my phone on speaker near my laptop with my friend on the phone, co facilitating with me. It was not perfect by any means but we were ‘together’ somehow. At the beginning of the session, I could not focus on what book club members were saying as I tried to hold the phone up, check my questions that I had painstakingly prepared, tried to make eye contact with pixelated figures on my screen. There were echoes when someone spoke, we fumbled on our end trying to figure out how to minimize the echo and finally muted ourselves. But before I knew it, I was enjoying myself. And basking in my ability to conduct a virtual book club while holding a speaker phone up so my co facilitator could participate. The participants seemed relieved to be able to talk about books – a constant, in such turbulent times. And they were thankful that we arranged this ‘meeting’. They were relieved that we planned to continue to meet each month. For some, that was their constant during those times. While everything was shut down, they could read a book and talk about a different world, different set of characters. They could escape from their pandemic ridden world with fellow bibliophiles.

That was back in April 2020. Now I love our virtual book club discussions. From a free WebEx account our library got licenses for wonderful Zoom accounts. The connections are great for the most part. I feel so much more comfortable with the technology. I can not believe I was so fearful of this new way of doing things – pivoting, a year ago. Since my book club meetings are in the evening, I throw on a pretty sweater over my pajamas, put on some earrings, light make up and voila! I am ready to roll…. I mean, have literary discussion.

While I do miss face to face discussions, I have noticed through our various virtual classes that participants with limited mobility can join us. Participants who do not have child care can join us. I have changed my mind about virtual classes – they are more inclusive in a way. There are folks who do not have the luxury of owning a computer, smart phone or tablet and eventually in person classes will start when it is safe, but I hope some of these virtual classes will continue to give equal access to all.

Fellow humans scare me now!!


After a year of staying secluded, I am strangely reticent to in person socialization. I will certainly need to brush up my skill of public interaction once my library opens to public in a week’s time. A year of being afraid of human contact has made me jittery if unknown people come near me, especially if they have their mask hanging by their chins or below their noses. I went to the city yesterday and I could not wait to jump in the car and drive back home. There were way too many people eating at restaurants, walking around with no mask on, laughing, singing, hugging. That used to be a good thing before pandemic. Right now, all these good gestures are freaking me out.

This morning I woke up with achy jaws. I was clenching my teeth last night. I do that when I am anxious. I am anxious about helping public again. The fear is not simply about my personal safety since I will have my second vaccine shot right before we reopen. I was analyzing my gut wrenching anxiety about facing public again and I realize I have grown to fear interaction with anyone outside my family or my colleagues in my safe work environment.

My favorite part of my job was interacting with customers and while we were working behind the scenes I missed that interaction. When our management declared we are opening, I was oddly energized that customers will come back to our beloved library for their needs for limited time slots. Yet as the day draws nearer, I am gripped with anxiety along with a surge of excitement about seeing people again.

Every change is somewhat anxiety provoking. And this too shall pass. I freaked out at the start of the pandemic when we pivoted to virtual and look at me now, facilitating classes in my pajamas (underneath a fancy sweater adorned for Zoom camera). All will be well. All will be well. Repeat! 🤣

Moving on and leaving behind.


As the growl of machinery continued in the background, cutting down our once magnificent tree in the front yard, I reflected upon how some animate and inanimate objects are disappearing from my life as I march on in this journey.

Sage left us last year after showering his unconditional love on us for 10 years.

Yesterday, we donated our trusted chariot of 16 years, our Toyota Sienna to an organization. I said goodbye to Midnight (yes, we name our vehicles. You don’t?) before going to work, when I came back she was gone. It was just a car yet I felt a twinge because of all the memories associated with it. We bought Midnight 10 days before Ryan was born. We brought Ryan home in brand new Midnight. We took countless trips in it – Boston, Tennessee, Shenandoah, beach, Florida, Pennsylvania, Niagara falls……

Sage was only allowed to travel in Midnight to contain his fur in one car, so innumerable memories of Sage, memories of driving with my parents when they visited us, little Sahana and baby Ryan strapped safely in their booster seat and infant seat. The evolution of music that played on the car radio as requests changed while the kids got older – Veggie tales, Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, a brief period of country music, other pop songs.

Once the car got old, Sahana got her license and took control of Midnight. It served her well taking her to high school, jobs.

As I write this, my beautiful tree is being cut down branch by branch. The tree is dead. It has been dead for a couple of years now, mushroom growing on its powerful trunk. The bare branches brought no new leaves for the last two springs. I knew it’s removal was inevitable but I did not want to consider it. The silhouette of its bare branches against the backdrop of blue sky was still beautiful even though there were no new buds adorning them with the hope of spring, Finally workers from our county came this morning and said the tree is rotting and they need to take it down. I nodded. As I see it go down, I remember the summer afternoons over the years when I sat out on the bench in the front yard as my two little children played underneath the tree with a puppy. Sean hung a swing from it and for a few years, Sahana and Ryan regularly swung on it, taking turns to push each other. Ryan started a lemonade stand underneath its shade and employed Sahana to work the stand. There were many falls where dead leaves from the tree were raked, piled, jumped upon and then disposed.

Today when I come back from work, the tree will be reduced to a stump. I don’t know what memories of the tree my family will have of it, but there is a sadness in my heart for those long gone days associated with the tree. But such is the cycle of life. We move on. Not everything or everyone we love move on with us. They leave memories though to sustain us in our journey. For those memories, I am grateful.

Leftover queen: Part 2


See if you can follow my leftover transformation process:

From a cook book called The Arabian Nights Cookbook that I checked out from the library, I made baked beef kebabs. My kids and I had a few. Then I packed the remainder and stored them in the fridge.

I knew the children (why do I still call them children? One is 21, the other is 16) would not eat the kebabs any more, they move on to greener pastures (new food, not leftovers) during meal times so I crumbled the kebabs up, cut some potatoes, chopped some onion, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, threw in some spices along with bright green peas and transformed my kebabs to keema mutter. I ate the keema mutter with rice for 2 meals. There was still a lot left. I really need to learn to cook in smaller amounts.

Yesterday, I made home made paneer for Sean. This time, instead of throwing the whey away, I saved the liquid. After reading up on the nutritional value of whey, I made home made rotis, and used the whey to knead whole wheat instead of water. I made a few rotis for Sean. I left some dough to make mughlai paratha, or a version of it to use up leftover keema mutter.

Mughlai paratha is generally meat stuffed bread and the bread is cooked with egg. I made balls with leftover dough and rolled them out to about 7 inches in diameter. Once the griddle was hot, J placed the roti on the griddle. I had 3 beaten eggs ready and right away put 3 or 4 tbsp of beaten eggs on the roti on the griddle and spread the egg all over. Then I spooned in 2 tbsp of keema and folded the roti on both sides over it. Poured a tsp of vegetable oil around the sides. I was supposed to make a pocket but I failed. I let the folded roti cook till egg had set and flipped to cook the other side. Once done, I had a very poor relation of the delicious moghlai paratha. The poor relation did not taste like the real deal but it was quite good. Both kids approved.

I was so thrilled with myself that I proclaimed myself queen of leftovers yet again.

I reused, recycled, reimagined! There is such joy in transformative creations.

Struggle


Do you remember your struggle at 21? Did you struggle to figure out where you are going and where will you end up? Or did you have a clear path ahead of you? I had no clear path. I took up jobs while finishing my education and flitted from one job to another for better pay because my family desperately needed money. None of those jobs required my education but in retrospect, all of those jobs prepared me for the job I do now. All of them honed my customer service skills and today I can say with certain amount of pride that my customer service skills are sharp. I got my Customer Service Specialist job at our public library due to those skills which I developed in the jobs that I took at random in my youth – desperate, directionless. Working at customer service at the library was my foothold, and once I was in, I interviewed for an Instructor and Research position which I was lucky enough to get. Now I use my skills and knowledge in what I do. I also use love. I have said before and I say it again, I love working at a library. My path, in terms of career, became clear later in life, after marriage, after motherhood. That is the story of my life thus far.

I now can look at the young adult in my house, somewhat in a similar position as I was at 21. She landed in this position because of the pandemic that disrupted the plans she had for herself. Being a planner, she had created charts and spreadsheets for the route her life was going to take, the classes she was going to take, her junior year abroad, senior year at campus, perhaps a job in the area or at the university as she looked for grad school. And then pandemic hit which cut short her year in Spain, brought her back home, her senior year was spent taking virtual classes in her tiny room, working a few hours virtually for her campus job. And just like that the path ahead of her became murky. What job was there for her after her degree? What is the path ahead? Where will life take her? Insecurities, uncertainties, ‘am I good enough’ – questions, concerns bog her down.

I look on helplessly at her despair yet I know in my heart and from the place I am in life, her path will clear. This internal struggle and feeling of helplessness will be a distant memory. The uncertainties and her ability to cope with them will infuse her with strength and when she looks back she will see these were essential to her personal growth. Life is hard as a young adult, the lost year of pandemic has thrown extra obstacles in their path with hiring freezes, job cuts. Graduates of 2020 and 2021 have been harshly tested and most of them will come out stronger.

Right now, I stay beside her as she flails and try to project my conviction that this struggle is necessary and temporary. Her path will emerge. She will chart her own course in life because she has what it takes to move forward. Conviction, strength, intellect. She is a mighty girl.

Book Evangelist


In this blog I will write about my two annoying habits. I am living the age old adage, ‘old habits die hard’ but I am making an effort to change – at least one of them. I will start with the one I am unwilling to change.

The first habit (or perk) is my obsession for checking out books from the library. For my work, I subscribe to different publication houses and I also do a fair amount of handling books – shelving, pulling for requests, scanning. Yes, you guessed it, I work at a library. As I shelve a cart, at least 3 or 4 books from that cart end up coming home with me. Do I have time to read all of them? Nope! But the possibility of perhaps having the time to read them is wonderful. Then after 3 weeks when I cannot fit any more books on my book shelf designated to library books or my bedside table, or the coffee table in the living room, I put some unread books in my work bag, go to work and sadly check them in. I have analyzed this habit and I have decided it is an addiction. An addiction for which I will seek no help. I will live in that wondrous possibility of being able to read all those books that I bring home – one day.

The second annoying habit is showing my disappointment on my face when someone does not share the same enthusiasm for a book that took my breath away. I do quite a bit of reader’s advisory for work and also outside of work. I give completely unsolicited book recommendations to folks who have not even asked for suggestions. If I have read one of THOSE books (you know what I am talking about, the books that you cannot stop thinking about), I make Facebook posts about them. Talking about books and sharing book suggestions is my way of connecting with fellow humans. If you don’t read, I am sorry, are you even worth connecting with? Just joking!!

When I was young and naïve, this is how my reader’s advisory played out. I would swoop down on an unsuspecting victim, start talking about the amazing book that I just finished, gush, gush, gush. I would talk up the book so much, the victim would often times read the book just to shut me up. The next time we met, I would ignore the victim’s shifty eyes, not question why s/he was not making eye contact with me but delve right in, “So what did you think?” I would also have a wide smile and expectant eyes. Most folks would simply say it was good (many would have loved it as much as I did) but of course some did not love the book at all. And they would say to me. “It was okay. I did not love it!” Before I became conscious of my annoying habit, I know I showed my feelings on my face. The judgement on my face was evident. You did not love the book I adored? That is it! I am judging you.

I spoke sternly to myself about this as part of my personal growth. Not everyone likes the genres I enjoy, not everyone relates to the story/facts the same way I do, not everyone interprets/perceives the events in the book like I do. And that is completely fine. I loved the book. That should be enough. I do not need to be a book evangelist.

So I want to apologize to all those folks who have been subjected to my judgement because you did not share the same enthusiasm as I did about a certain book. I still love you. We are still friends.

Here are a few (very few) titles that took my breath away. I am not evangelizing mind you, I am simply giving suggestions, and yes, unsolicitated.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Once Upon a River by Dianne Setterfield

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

I will stop here…… for today.

Help thy neighbor


We were standing at the check out line when I saw Sean’s subtle body movement in front of me and I knew he is getting ready to help someone. I wrote in one of my blogs that Sean is a giver. His love pours over not only his family but all around him – including perfect strangers. Ahead of us in the check out line was a very elderly woman with a full cart of groceries. Among the groceries were two big bags of bird feed. As the woman slowly put her items up on the counter for the clerk to check out, I could see Sean eyeing the bags of bird feed and I detected the familiar twitch in his body. That is when I knew he is going to leap – to help. And I opened my mouth to stop him. Yes, I tried to stop my husband from helping a frail, elderly woman from lifting heavy bags of bird feed on the check out counter. You read that right. Why? Because we are living through a pandemic. I do not know how people would react if you randomly touch their stuff at this time. But before I could pull at his sleeve, he lifted the bags on to the counter for her. I shook my head. The woman and the check out clerk thanked him and the woman asked if he could accompany her to unload her car at her house – in jest.

I heaved a sigh of relief that no one got upset at Sean touching someone’s grocery. It took a long time for the woman to finish since her hands shook as she slowly wrote her check to pay. The employee helping her was kind and wonderful. Although there was a long line forming behind us, nobody showed impatience. My husband struck again. He zipped around the woman, went to the end of the check out counter and hauled the 2 heavy bags of bird feed onto the woman’s cart. I was wildly gesticulating at this point to stop touching other people’s stuff. The woman thanked him profusely and he offered to take the cart to her car and put the bags in it. She said she could do it and appreciated his offer and help.

When he came back to me I said I truly appreciate how he helps everyone but can he not touch other people’s stuff randomly please since we are in a pandemic? He smiled and said he supposedly had asked the woman’s permission before touching her groceries. I had missed that conversation.

I have known Sean for 26 years now and I have seen him going out of his way to help strangers who cross his path. The help in small scale could be getting luggage down from overhead locker for someone, entertaining babies so harried parents could get some reprieve on a long plane ride, giving up his seat to others in need including coveted aisle seat in airplanes (who does that?) carrying groceries, and in bigger scale – staying with a young mother with an infant in Colombo airport when militants tried to bomb the airport, lying on the ground with the baby between them as bullets passed over them and then accompanying her home safely, holding up a half upturned car (along with a few others) with the driver in it till rescue came. There are zillion instances, big and small, of how Sean helps. And I am in awe of how much he gives. Truly. However, it has fallen upon me to somewhat keep him under control during pandemic. His first instinct is to pick up a fallen glove on the road and shout after the person who he thinks has dropped the glove. I am the one who swoops down to stop him from touching the glove, or litter, which he picks up regularly to throw in a trash can. “DON’T touch!!! Pandemic!” I have been shouting regularly these days.

This is an ode to my husband. A truly good man. And although there are times when he drives me up the wall, I consider myself blessed to spend my life with him. I am a better person because of him. The world is a better place because he is in it. And today is his birthday.

Woman’s day! What does that mean to you?


Seems appropriate to repost this on this day.

whatmamathinks

I was invited by a friend, director of an AIDS hospice, to speak to a room full of women on Women’s day, some years back. I wasn’t the intended speaker, Sean was. I was just a tag along. After Sean spoke, the director of the hospice, our friend, came towards me with a big smile on her face. “Say something. As a woman, to all these women!” she said. With cold clammy hands and sweat dripping down my shirt, I walked towards the lectern, my mind racing. I was the undeserving cynosure of at least 50 pair of eyes. By accident of birth, I was on the other side of the lectern. My family’s expectations from me were degree, job, good marriage, a happy life, in that order. They worked hard to get that for me. I didn’t have to struggle to achieve anything. The women sitting in front with…

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I failed as an Indian parent.


I knew right away that I failed as an Indian parent when my 16 year old son sent us a video of Greatest Recorded Speeches in American History. Along with the link was a short message “cool stuff”. Instead of math and science, both my kids ended up loving liberal arts. My oldest is a Shakespeare nerd, a poet and writer. She is one semester away from graduating with double major in English and Anthropology. My son loves history and is thinking of pursuing political science. While he is good with numbers and can solve scarily long algebra equations with relative ease he does not spend all his time solving word problems and doing science experiments. He listens to discussions and likes to discuss the pros and cons of issues. He despises the divide in political beliefs that polarizes this country and wants to find a common ground. As I looked at his message of the recorded speeches, there went my hopes of either of my kids getting a 40 dollar an hour internship in a tech company while finishing college and a fat salaried job right out of college. As an Indian parent, I am a total failure. I did not steer my children to exclusively math and science like a parent from my part of the world who told me she wished her child could drop world history so he could take another science course.

The title of this blog is written in jest of course and I am doing a gross generalization of all Indian parents when I say they push their children towards science. However, till date many parents from where I come from, believe their child should study science to get ahead in life, including my father. It was clear from early on that I was a lover of literature. Yet, when I passed my 10th, my dad insisted I take up science in my 11th grade. I believe he still dreamed that I will excel in math, physics, chemistry and biology, sit for Joint Entrance Exam and finally get into med school. In reality, although I enjoyed biology, I struggled in all 3 other science subjects. My grades, as expected, at my school leaving exam were dismal and more importantly, I was very unhappy. My self esteem plummeted and self confidence took a nose dive. At that point, I took a stand and declared I wanted to study English. A degree in English literature was not very promising those days but my parents let me pursue my choice, for which, I am immensely grateful. I was lucky enough to attend a university that was not simply an educational institution, it somehow molded my outlook and view points and helped me become the person that I am today. And while I am never going to be rich, I have a job as a public library worker, where I can use my education and be happy with what I do.

The truth is, when I see Ryan enjoying the greatest speeches of famous men and women, when I see Sahana quoting Shakespeare verbatim, when Ryan discusses difficult issues of life with reason and logic, when Sahana writes beautiful poetry my heart rejoices. They are the progeny of two parents who pursued liberal arts. Instead of building robots in their childhood or conducting fun science experiments or doing mental math, we read to them, talked about Sean’s work about helping vulnerable communities become self reliant through out the world. We did not give them a boost towards science in their early childhood. In retrospect, science may have even taken a back seat because their primary care giver, me, did not enjoy science. That is on us. We should have made more of an effort to encourage them to explore science.

However, as a lover of liberal arts, I am thrilled at their curiosity to learn more about literature, philosophy, history, political science. I may be biased but I firmly believe we need a section of lovers of liberal arts to hold up half of the sky so our compatriots, the science lovers can hold up theirs. And by complementing each other we strive towards completion. It’s just that the other half will do the balancing act with much more bank balance than we will but hey, money can’t buy happiness, right?😜