My brain is leaking out language!!

Last night I lay in bed trying to think of English for the Bengali word ‘abohela’. I tossed and turned to formulate a sentence. I could say the sentence in various ways to convey the meaning but the exact word was escaping me. Every time I tried to think of the English word, abohela took its place. When I can not remember something, I panic thinking this is the beginning of the end. I think of dementia, Alzheimer’s. I think of every horrible outcome that will take away my faculties and while I will breathe, my life would be meaningless. As I panicked, the word eluded me more. I had to get up and use Google translate. The English for abohela is neglect. I could not think of that word.

Just a few days ago, I could not think of the Bengali word for absence. I had to go to Google translate again. It is ‘anuposthiti’.

Interestingly enough, forgetting the English word did not bother me half as much as forgetting the Bengali word. Am I losing my beloved Bengali because I don’t use it enough? I sometimes worry I will forget to read Bengali – the language I love the most. The language in which I can truly communicate what exactly is in my heart or in my mind. But I get to use it sparingly in my life. I sometimes speak Bengali with Sahana or when I call my aunt in Kolkata. For 2 years now, I have not spoken it regularly since the two people I consistently spoke Bengali with, are dead.

My brain stops translating words when I am exhausted, late at night or I am sick or in pain. During child birth, I told Sean to stay by my side at all times. I said, “I know my brain will not decipher any of the English words the doc and nurses will say, so you need to be next to me to translate.” I told someone to translate from English to English to me. Sean does not speak my language. So he reiterated what the nurses or doctor just said but coming from a familiar voice, the language penetrated my brain through the pain. It did.

My brain is always confused also about the he/she pronoun. Bengali is a language where pronouns are gender neutral. My biggest difficulty, when my brain is tired, is assigning correct pronoun to the gender that folks identify with. Non-binary pronouns are easier for me and I make fewer mistakes with those than he/she pronouns. Moreover, there is only one Bengali word for hand and arm. I constantly forget to differentiate between those two body parts. My English pronunciation is different from Americans and I am sure, I often write and speak wrong English. That doesn’t bother me too much. I would, however, be very ashamed if my Bengali leaves me.

I have shelves full of Bengali books in my basement – a collection that my mother curated for me over the years. It is time to pull out some of my favorites to reassure myself that Bengali is not leaking out from my brain. Can someone really lose one’s mother tongue?


Thank you, 90’s Bollywood hits

No, really! Thank you to the toe tapping numbers of the 90’s Bollywood hits, the item numbers as we used to call them. I have loved listening to them in my 20’s on my cassette tapes, hated them being blared out of big speakers from puja pandals during Durga Puja, loved them again when I set up my new life here in United States and brought my cassette tapes with me. Then the songs got transferred to music cds which my baba bought for me and I packed them in my suitcase when I came back after a visit home. Now I listen to them on Spotify. They are a connection to my wild and crazy (not) teens and twenties. The lyrics don’t touch one’s soul or evoke any deep feelings, at least in my opinion. You don’t drown in the soul stirring music – at least the songs I listen to. Tagore’s songs are like a gentle salve for my soul, I listen to them when I want peace. The dhamakedar (upbeat) Bollywood songs that I like to listen to are energetic, often meaningless, and most importantly, catchy. They make your feet tap and even me, someone born with two left feet, wants to sway my hips to the beat.

I wrote in a previous blog that I have started going to the gym for mental health (and also since 4 people asked me if I was pregnant). The 90’s Bollywood hits are the reason I look forward to sweating it out on the elliptical – sometimes for an hour. I lovingly pack my headphones and phone as I get ready for gym. If I ever forgot either of those, I will truly turn around and come back home. Bottom line – I go to gym to listen to music uninterrupted for an hour and a half. The work out, my friends, is secondary.

And when songs from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge come on, or those from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I pump the pedals to the beat. My pace goes up and boy, am I in the zone!

I wiped sweat from my eyes today, huffing and puffing at the elliptical and wondered why I enjoy this mindless music so much when I work out. I have tried music of Kabir Suman or Rabindrasangeet but they don’t quite get me through the pain. Hindi music, that too peppy numbers of the 90’s and early 2000’s, get the job done. As I listen to the same songs everyday and sing along quietly, I remember the memories associated with them. The memories of sitting with my mother or friends in the dark cinema hall, the thin, elderly ushers showing us our seat, the musty smell of the carpet in cinema halls like Priya or Ujjala or Nabina or Aleya.

In fact, the excitement of going to the movie theater started with the mini bus ride to the cinema hall when I was younger. Ma held my hand tightly as we got off the bus and stood in line to get tickets. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that ma, sometimes, even bought tickets from blackers (folks who sold tickets of a sold out show in black market for an elevated price) and I asked her hopefully “Did you get it?” We made the trip from home to the cinema hall in the blistering heat of Kolkata and we were determined not to go home without seeing the show. After the movie, there was always some lip smacking treats like the famous Ujjala’s chanachur, or phuchka or vegetable chop before the bus ride home. The music of those movies stayed on in my memory even if the stories didn’t. And today, many decades later, they still make me groove. Who remembers the huge posters of the actors and actresses that were actually drawn and painted by artists and posted up on the cinema halls and bill boards? Do they have those anymore?

I must have been a teenager when I saw an actress wearing a certain design of a salwar kameez and fell in love with it. I wanted to wear a kameez of the same design! So I cut out the photo of the heroine, Rati Agnihotri (if any of you remember her), from a film magazine and took it to our local tailor.

“Dada, I want my kameez made in this style.”

He took the cut out from my hand and looked at it intensely. He then looked up at me and slowly let his gaze slide down my skinny body. It sounds sexual but it was not. In fact it was the complete opposite. His glance was clinical and devoid of any emotions, He was appraising a body and wondering if his artwork will be worthwhile. Can the skinny frame of a young girl do his masterpiece justice? He then pointed to the voluptuous curves of the actress and looked at my figure that was pretty much a straight line. That glance was enough to convey his message – the cut is not going to look good on me as it looked on Rati Agnihotri. I had him make the kameez anyway. And he was right. The design was completely wasted on me. 🙂

Anyway, back to the songs. They bring back a lot of memories. And here is the thing though. I only remember the happy memories. I don’t remember the unbearable heat, the sweat, the smell, the mosquito bites, the scolding that I received for misbehaving. I remember when I hear these songs – ma, friends, friendships, Kolkata evenings, delicious street food, romance, beating heart as I thought of my boyfriend as I listened to Shahrukh Khan romancing Kajol via songs. And now those same songs are seeing me through pain. So thank you, 90’s Bollywood hits. You rock!

New year, new me, and anticipation

Hello, all you beautiful people. May your new year bring hope and resilience. That is my wish for myself and for everyone. Did you all make any new resolutions? Mine is to lower expectation from others. Bhagavat Gita tells me that is a path to being happy. I have started reading the holy book in the new year – one page a day.

This blog is to wish you all a happy new year, of course and also to tell you about my story of anticipation. A few weeks ago I was given a gift card to a book store. Whenever I think of the gift card, I get this surge of happy anticipation in my heart. Oh the possibilities!! Which book am I going to buy? Which book is a keeper? I drive by the book store almost every other day and each time my face breaks into a big smile.

I work at a library so I have books at my fingertips – literally. When I was a child, my mother bought me books, many, many books. I used to be sick almost all the time. To cheer me up, she brought home books that she picked up on her way back from work. As a teen, I spent my hard earned money buying used books from the very fine make-shift books stores on the sidewalks of Kolkata. Nestled among tattered Mills and Boons and Sidney Sheldons would lie books by Graham Greene, Gerald Durrell. Sometimes Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Jules Verne, Dostoyevski, Hugo….. We were encouraged to read good literature to broaden our horizons and to balance the trashy Harlequin romances which were instrumental in my education about ‘birds and bees’ since my mother never talked to me about any of that 🙂 ! My first date with my now husband was at Kolkata Book Fair. The fact that I did not like him too much that day is a story for another day.

In my before-library days, I used to buy books. So much so that my tiny house is full. I have both Bengali collection and English collection. However, after I started working at the library, I rather like the idea of borrowing and returning unless I find a book that I want to keep. The old habit of buying books and the joy it generated in me, holding a brand new book in my hands, sniffing the pages to inhale the new book smell, hearing the sharp crack as I turn the page – that feeling is intoxicating. The gift card can give me that hit. Yet, I don’t go in to the book store. I hold on to the anticipation of going in, browsing, touching, reading jackets, spending time. I spend time with books at my library so I am not sure why I am looking forward to my time in the book store, but I am. And that is strange yet wonderful. I want to stretch out this feeling of anticipation, my simple pleasure, for as long as I can. When the day is gray and I have plummeted down low, I will make the trip.

I am vacillating between two titles – Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama.

Fourth time’s a charm

The first 3 times my response was, “No, I am just fat.” The questions, as you may have guessed, were different variations of “Are you pregnant?” And these questions were asked by customers at the library. I laughed and shrugged them off. When someone who sees me regularly asked me this question, it irked me. First, it is none of anyone’s business. Don’t ask me such personal questions unless I have offered the information myself. Second, can’t you see the lovely gray streaks in my hair? I am almost past the childbearing age. Menopause is real, meno belly is real. Read about it, know about it and leave us, menopausal women alone! Third, this is body shaming, so stop.

After my parents died last year, I gave up on life. For a while, I did not want to be alive because I couldn’t see the point. There was enormous amount of guilt, grief, depression. I went to work, put my sparkles on so nobody knew I was hurting, came home and sat on my chair staring at the ceiling. I wasn’t aware of ‘smiling depression’ till a friend shared an article after tWitch’s death. As I read the article, I checked all the boxes. I was not brave enough to ask for professional help. I am still not ready. This blog was my coping mechanism. Writing down my feelings helped. As I was crawling out of the quagmire of grief, as I was starting to learn to live around the loss, my baby cousin sister died. She was terminally ill so the end was not completely surprising but it shook me nonetheless. However, the way she lived till the end inspired me to live too. Despite cancer, despite chemo, despite horrendous sickness, she went out there and danced. She was a dancer. Her zest for life despite knowing her days were numbered and perhaps, because of that knowledge, inspired me to get off my couch. Before all these losses, I lived with a false sense of invincibility. These two years have taught me a hard lesson – life is short, unpredictable and we only have one shot.

That realization and my vanity, the double whammy made me reluctantly get up, lace up my sneakers and tentatively enter the gym. Moreover, my dexascan shows I have started losing bone density. The doc said I can’t fight genetics (yes, osteoporosis is my heirloom) but I can certainly delay it. Gravity is my friend, she said.

When I first went to the gym a few weeks ago, my desire was to work towards a flat belly so people will stop asking me if I am pregnant. However, my goal changed as I sweated on the elliptical. I don’t care about my belly any more. I care about how I feel after spending an hour or more at the gym. I feet better mentally. Even when my body tires, my mind rises above the usual stupor. The release of dopamine and serotonin during aerobic exercise is real. I have been aware of it. And then there is the music. I slap my head phones on, connect it to my phone’s bluetooth and get lost in the music that rains down like a salve for my soul – Rabindrasangeet, Suman, Nachiketa, Lopamudra, Chandrabindu, Hemanta, Manna De, Kishore Kumar, Rafi, 90’s Bollywood hits, I listen to them all. That one and a half hour is completely dedicated to my body and soul.

So yes, these days I look forward to the gym. Not to flatten my belly but if that happens in the process, I won’t complain, but to do something for myself, release the happy hormones to help with my mental health and surrender to the music of my soul.

The fourth time was the charm. It dragged me out of my house to take care of myself. I am grateful to the fourth person, after being angry with them. 🙂

Holding the door

Yesterday I held the door for a young man as we exited our local YMCA. He was right behind me as I went out into the chilly outside from the comfortable warmth of the building. I held the door for him. He hurried forward and said, “Oh, thank you so much.” Nothing unusual in those words of courtesy, what was unusual, however, was in the manner it was said. There was a certain intonation in those words, a certain dip in his head, a certain respectful smile that caught my attention. As I walked to my car, my heart felt happy at my simple gesture and the kind reciprocation of a fellow human. We often say “thank you” to strangers without meaning it. This man meant his “thank you.”

Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights has left a mark on me. This was my delight yesterday – a few meaningful words from a complete stranger.

It is my ma’s birthday.

I thought I would go to the local Kali temple after work to celebrate ma’s birthday. After their death, I did a ‘shanti pujo’ at the temple. I remember experiencing a fleeting sense of peace as the priest explained the path of the soul and me freeing them by saying, “Go in peace. Rest now. You don’t have to take care of me any more.”

I felt peaceful then but ma would have laughed out loud if I suggested a trip to a temple to celebrate her birthday. I simply can not wish this woman “Happy heavenly birthday, ma”. She did not believe in heaven. And if heaven exists, she certainly did not aspire to go there. She was a trouble maker, rabble rouser, a materialistic woman who had a loud laughter and lit up the room with her presence. She teased and laughed and loved despite many, many years of struggle that she had to go through. She was flawed, she was kind and she was my idol. She refused to fit into a mold. She loved me deeply and gave up a lot in life to provide me with the best opportunities that could possibly be provided. She wanted to give, always. She was a giver. My friends from both school and college came home and promptly went to chat with ‘kakima’ because despite all the hardships, ma had joie de vivre that appealed to both young and old.

On this day, every year, a boyal mach er lyaja (a fish) came to our house for her. If you are reading this, if you live in a place where you get boyal mach and if you like that fish, eat a piece in her honor. I don’t get that fish here. Sahana and I plan to hit the mall, watch a movie, eat Chinese food and celebrate her life-long love. The tradition of watching movie with moms continue, as Sahana pointed out to me this morning. I left my friends and adda to go to movie with ma. My friends joked, “Who goes to movies with their moms at this age?” I laughed and said, “I do.”

It is my ma’s birthday. This was a happy day in my life. I will try very hard to remember that this used to be a very happy day in my life.

Dog walking

Dog owners know that our dogs need to be walked rain or shine unless you have have a large yard for them to run around and do their business. For 10 years of my life, Sage kept me fit. He was a big dog and needed exercise to maintain his svelte, athletic shape so every morning he looked at me with imploring eyes – “Mama, let’s go.” Every morning we would do our usual round of two and a half miles around our neighborhood. On our daily walks we saw other dog walkers and most importantly our puppy friends. Some days the pups sniffed and played bowed, they told each other about the exciting scents and deer sightings while their humans chatted about life/work/children and boring things like that. While on other days, if we were in a hurry, we simply said a quick hello and pulled our dogs away from their friends much to their chagrin.

One of the regular dogwalkers that Sage and I saw every morning was an older couple. They walked two dogs – one was a senior golden retriever and the other was a black dog of indeterminate breed. It was clear that the black, younger dog was adopted from a shelter and the couple was trying to train him to walk without pulling as well as socialize him. The golden was calm while the younger dog was anything but. He wanted to charge at Sage every time our paths crossed. My timid Sage cowered and then walked fast to get away from the angry dog. As months went by, we noticed a huge change in the black dog as the owners worked relentlessly to get him used to other dogs. As we came within their vicinity, I saw the dad start training his guy with treats and soon the dog understood that if he saw us, he will get treats. Instead of charging at Sage, he learnt to look at his dad with expectant eyes. The mom walked the sedate and dignified golden while dad gave the younger dog treats and showered him with praise when he ignored Sage and walked briskly past him looking for treats. He progressed enough for us humans to actually exchange a few words without him lunging and barking at Sage. Sage was still fearful and did not want to sniff him but he stood by my side quietly. We continued this for years.

Then Sage died on January 31st 2020. I could not continue my walks on the route where the two of us walked so I chose another path for my daily walk. I discovered Sage’s path. I did see the couple walking their dogs as I drove by our neighborhood. Many months later, I decided to walk what used to be our usual route since Sage’s path was wet and soggy. I met the couple. They said they missed us and where was Sage? I had to tell them and saw their expressions change. I smiled at their dogs, the golden was struggling with arthritis and the black dog had some whites around his muzzle. After a few months, they were walking only one dog, the black one. I knew the golden had crossed the rainbow bridge. We said hello. I did not ask where the golden was. I walk at different times these days and often I choose Sage’s path since that is more picturesque. However, one day, I did go to the neighborhood. I saw the couple walking without any dogs. I did not assume their dog was gone. I figured he was home. But I have seen them walk just by themselves on multiple occasions without their buddy. I think he too has crossed the rainbow bridge.

The couple seem incomplete without their companion. I bet they felt the same way about me when they saw me walk without my shadow too. It made me sad. Dogs are such incredible gifts to us but they come to us for such a short time.

I am getting ready to open my heart to another four legged child. Sean and I both are somewhat ready but when we do bring one home, I want to be there for the pup. Right now most of our time is spent outside the house and that is not fair to a new dog. One day, I hope we will be blessed to have that unconditional love in our lives yet again. I think back on the ten years we had with Sage and my heart fills with such a warm feeling. I think we all are better people because Sage came in our lives.

Nature playing Holi

Nature, in my neck of the woods, is playing Holi right now……or dying, however you want to think about it. I chuckled as I thought of dying. Never did I ever think of death when leaves changed colors in past years. Since last year the thought of death lingers in my mind like a constant. Not in a scary way, more in an ‘absolute truth’ way.

The leaves turn red, they fall, they turn to dust, and then they return again. Each year they come back in new form. As I thought of resurrection, I wished the same happened with our loved ones – except I want them to come back in their old form, as my ma and baba. They, of course, don’t come back to us in a tangible form, but their essence remains imprinted on us, within us. Life goes on in its own rhythm.

The idea of resurrection brings such hope to both the religious and non religious. Our physical life is finite, but the soul perhaps recycles in some form. Or it becomes one with nature and radiates the beauty that surrounds us.

I thought of this as I walked around my neighborhood marveling at the gorgeous colors on the trees.

On a separate note, our county planted a baby elm tree at the edge of our property to compensate for the dead oak tree that they had to cut down last summer. Sahana and I disagree over naming our bald, and if I am honest, quite bare and unassuming baby tree. I want to call it Elmo and Sahana wants to name it Freddie Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street.

You vote!!