Cooking for myself


A few years ago I was the sole keeper of my two children. I kept them clothed, fed, alive. I also kept my husband fed for the most part. Since Sean is disinterested in food and only partakes nutrition to live and I live to eat, I took it upon myself to cook for the family. Also I decided to stay home to take care of our children. So cooking dinner fell upon me. The kids did not have a choice, they ate what I cooked. Now that they are older, they do not depend upon me any more. The daughter is a really good cook herself so she often makes her own food and sometimes ours as well. Ryan will eat my food only if he is tired from practice or the food is to his liking. He also makes his own food often. Sean eats what I make still but only if it is vegetarian affair without any vegetable in it. Yes, he is a strange vegetarian who is very limited in the types of vegetables that he eats.

I have finally learned to cook for myself. I have been freed of the responsibility of feeding anyone. So I cook the food of my choice without guilt. Sean does not love Bengali cuisine (he does not know what he is missing). Since I love him, I put his preferences over mine (there can be whole debate about this but my love language is feeding my loved ones) and learned to cook North Indian food – dal makhni, paneer bhurji etc, etc. When I cooked alu posto, Sean politely put it aside. He found kanch kolar kofta and dhoka r dalna too dry. So I gave up on those and cooked the dishes of his choice with great love. And I glowed when I saw my picky husband eating the food I cooked with relish. My children complained that I always catered to their father’s wishes when it comes to food.

Lately though, I have decided to focus on making what I love to eat. I scour the internet for recipes for macher matha diye dal, lau chingri, salmon er kalia…..

Today, on my day off, I cooked a shrimp dish just the way I like it. I put shrimp, thinly sliced onion, potatoes cut like French fries, turmeric, red chili powder, poppy seed paste, mango mustard (aam kashundi), salt and mustard oil in a pot. Added half cup of water and let the whole concoction cook in medium to low heat till potatoes were well cooked.

There were stray vegetables loitering around in the fridge – a small head of broccoli, carrots, red pepper. All those went into a skillet with some potatoes, sliced onions, turmeric, chilli powder and mustard oil. Chemistry and heat did their thing. The result was delicious.

Nobody ate any of it. But as I sat down to eat, the smell of mustard oil and the taste of poppy seeds took me back home – to my sunny City of Joy, to my summer afternoons, to my ma and baba.

Stat line is flat


Well, hello world! I peeked in to my oft neglected blog after a long time and saw to no one’s surprise that the statistics line of my blog site is flat. For all these days, no one has peeked in to see if mama is thinking. Mama has been thinking but she has been too lazy to put those thoughts down on her blog site.

It is summer in the library baby!! After spending just 2 hours in the children’s section, helping young readers find books (but lets face it, none of the books I suggest are on the shelves), toys, handing them and their parents reading lists, giving them hints as to where the scavenger hunt clues are, giving out tickets for children’s classes, listening to little ones scream because it is their naptime and their care giver refuses to take them home, I fall flat on my face and do not feel like writing. After a day at the library, I come home and surf Instagram to watch food vlogs and animal videos.

I have had some fun times with both my kids. Sahana took me out to celebrate my 10 year work anniversary. I still have to wrap my head around the fact that I have an adult child. I had made it clear to her when she was an angry teen and I had to lay down ground rules that I am not here to be her friend, I am and always will be her parent. But I feel the line is getting a bit blurry from time to time. She asked me what I would have changed, if I could, in these 10 years of working at the library. I did not have an answer right then. But after giving it some hard thought, I realized, there were times I put my responsibility towards work over my children’s activities. It is too late now but I wish I had done things differently.

Ryan at age 17 is a much nicer young man than he was a couple of years ago. He is really fun to talk to and as he grows up, I find his wicked sense of humor very similar to my father’s. He resembles his grandfather as well and sometimes, when he talks I lose my focus as I see baba peeking through his eyes, his smile. He will assume some leadership roles in his senior year at his high school and I think he will lead with maturity, empathy and grace. Very surprisingly, he does not fight me like he used to when I ask to do chores for me. If I ask him to do something, he says ‘sure’ and does it (except for making his bed or keeping his room clean, and that drives me crazy). I am a very involved parent and like to know everything that is going on in my children’s lives but I am learning to stay silent but present so they come to me with questions/thoughts/ideas. I fail often, but I try again.

Sean and I have not had much time to relax together. We both have been working hard. I miss him and often feel lonely. I guess such is middle age. I realized that now that my parents are gone and children are growing up to have their own lives, the person whose companionship I crave and when he is not around, miss is my husband’s. We vex each other often and I realize we squabble more as we get older and crankier but we laugh too, despite and still.

This blog is really not substantial. I am just showing some love to this online journal of mine. Not sure why you would be interested in reading about my children, but some of you do read so thank you. I have some ideas to write more substantial (may be not, but it is my blog so I can write whatever feels substantial to moi) in upcoming weeks.

I want the stat line not to stay flat – it is an ego boost to see the line go up, so please click 🙂 !

Looking back


I promise this post is not sad. It is more wistful and perhaps a didactic one. Continue reading though, I will try not to sound preachy, I will preach/teach only to myself.

Let me say one thing right at the beginning that I do not consider myself overweight…..yet. My BMI, if you believe the chart, is still within normal range. Let’s ignore the fact that it is creeping towards the higher end of normal but those are nitty gritties. This blog is about how I have perceived myself over the years as I was living in that moment, and how I see my photos of past years, now.

I weighed 112 pounds, 50 kgs when I came to this country in my mid twenties. I ate whatever I wanted, ice-cream and desserts for dinner, drank copious amount of soda and did not gain any weight. I did end up with 2 cavities in my teeth within 7 months of being here though. At age 29, I had my first child and put on some weight because I continued to eat indiscriminately. Then I saw my photos at Sahana’s rice eating ceremony. I gasped. After getting over the shock at the fact that I, in fact, can gain weight, I started being mindful of the quantity of food I ate, started walking and lost the extra pounds. I think I was satisfied with how I looked but I am not sure. Looking back, I can never remember a time when I was comfortable with how I looked. That is a terrible way to live. Anyway, I had Ryan at 34. Losing the weight after him was not too much of a struggle because running after young children took care of the extra calories I consumed . Also, I hardly had time to eat. With each decade, however, I packed on some extra weight which I was unable to lose till that became my new normal. I turned 50 a couple of years ago and I have a new bar again. I have never been this heavy in my life. My mid section and face are carrying all the extra weight. I have been asked twice this year if I was pregnant. On top of it all, I simply love food. I try not to indulge too much, I try to stay active, I try to incorporate fruits and veggies in my diet but clothes still feel tight. Errr…I sometimes cheat though. I sneak in a brownie at work or two despite my good intentions of staying away from added sugar. Oh well!

What is interesting, however, is when I look back and see some of my photos in my twenties, thirties, forties or even a couple of years ago, I think to myself, “Oh, I looked mighty fine at that age.” I am quite sure though that I did not think I looked mighty fine when I was at that age. I am positive I had misgivings about my body shape, my skin, my hair. I think I will look back on this age in 10 years (if I am alive) and think “Hmm, I looked quite good.”

Here comes the preachy part – to myself! I wouldn’t preach to you, I wouldn’t dare. Appreciate myself today, not ten years later while looking back. In this journey of my life when I feel I am learning new things constantly, this new lesson just got added to the curriculum.

Grief inequity


It is traumatic to lose a loved one. I don’t even know a strong enough word to evoke the sentiment that one feels when one loses two loved ones within a span of 9 days. It has been over a year that this happened to me and the surge of grief is more of a simmer than a boil. However, certain words, emotions, events often bring the emotion to a boiling point even now. My colleague recently died. The day I heard that I could not stop this overwhelming sense of despair engulfing me. My gentle coworker and I had many conversations over the course of ten years that we worked together, most of which featured the topic of caring for our parents. When I heard the news that she passed away, I was crying for her and I was crying for my own loss. I simply could not control my tears and the deep feeling of heart wrenching sadness.

I play a game with my grief sometimes. That sounds morbid and perhaps game is not the right word for what goes on in my mind either. There are days when I miss my mother too much. I miss her so much that I can not bear the fact that she is gone forever. Then I think in my mind “Oh no, baba would feel left out. I am not missing him enough. That is not right. I need to miss them equally.” I start thinking of his memories. On other days, some words or smell or the beauty of nature bring baba’s smile to my mind. My memories become awash with his words, actions, sense of humor. And suddenly I think, “Yikes, ma would be upset that I am not missing her right now with the same intensity.” I start thinking of her. I don’t allow myself this inequality in grieving.

I scold myself for this silliness, laugh at myself too. They don’t care what goes on in my mind. They are beyond caring.

The “goods”.


“Mom, are you seriously going to let Sahana take an Uber from the airport?” Ryan asked me last night, aghast at my non motherly gesture.

“Yes!! She is coming in at night. I will be in my pajamas with a book at that time. She is a big girl.” I replied nonchalantly.

It was obvious this response bothered 17 year old, new driver Ryan.

“I will pick her up. I will write to her.” He shook his head.

I could not stay home as Ryan drove to the airport. It was his first time and I wanted to be his co-pilot negotiating with Sahana where she was waiting to be picked up. As he drove and I chatted, I told him this was very nice of him. He said, “Well, she picked me up after my prom at 1 am. This is the least I can do.”

Sahana, understandably, was very pleased with her little brother for helping her save Uber money. She thanked him profusely. And as I listened to them chatter, I thought I have been building cathedrals all these years and now that I am getting close to seeing the whole structure, I like what Sean and I built.

I have given up writing about the ‘goods’ in my life due to laziness but I wanted this sweet act of paying kindness forward to live on my blogsite. These little moments, gestures create joys in life.

“Girlie things”


Sahana never really played with dolls when she was little. I don’t recall us buying her dolls. Her Grammy gave her a plush puppy on her 3rd birthday, and that was the only toy that she slept with all throughout. When we moved to US from India, we donated all her toys except Puppy. That toy traveled with her in her bag pack to a new country and brought her 5 year old self a sense of grounding when her whole world went through an enormous change.

Sahana and I never did things that are stereotyped as “girlie”. Neither of us enjoy shopping so we did not find joy in that, I do not know how to put on makeup effectively so there were no makeup tutorials, we never did our nails together, growing up she never wanted me to touch her hair so did not do that either. When she needed clothes before school started, we would go to Target, pick up whatever she needed without a lot of deliberatation and ran to the book store nearby to detox from the shopping experience. Neither of us had any trouble spending time there. When I look back at Sahana’s childhood, I think so fondly of our time together reading books. Our biggest excitement was going to our local library where I would sit in the children’s area with a book and she would lose herself in the world of a thick tome that she picked up from the stacks. Even today when I see a child tucked up in a corner completely engrossed in the pages of a book I think of little Sahana.

Well, little girls grow up. And mine did too. This Saturday she gave me an early birthday present- a gift of getting manicure and pedicure together. As we got our nails cleaned and polished, I looked at this kid in wonder. Like every mother on the planet, I wondered how did we get here? When did she grow up so? Did I blink? Anyway, we got all fancied up and both realized that this is truly the first time in all of Sahana’s 22 years that we have done our nails together. We laughed about our lack of girlie activities that mother daughters do. Our activities involved going to book stores and libraries. And then we laughed out loud. Why? Because while we got our nails done and legs massaged, guess what we primarily talked about? Libraries!

Khushi’s 9th birthday


“The month of May is just awful!” Khushi, whose birthday is on May 27th, told Sahana during our recent visit to Kolkata.

“It is your birthday in May. Why is it awful?” Sahana asked.

“Didiya mamma and dadai died in May.” Khushi replied. Those are my parents, her adopted grandparents. Sahana told her despite those terrible losses May is wonderful because the world got Khushi in the month of May.

Little Khushi is 9 years old today. Every time I see her I marvel at her maturity and poise at this young age. Even at this tender age she sees her mother’s struggle to give her a chance at a better life and most importantly, she recognizes it. She knows that they live in extreme poverty and she is resigned to the fact that she has to go without. She goes to a school where her peers come from middle class background. She is a popular child, kind and well liked by others so she gets a lot of invitations to her friends’ houses to play. When she goes to their houses she sees how the other half lives. She can never invite them to her house because she lives in a tiny room where the bed takes up the entire space. There is no space to even move around. Her mother cooks somehow in a tiny space in the same room. Water leaks when it rains. They have to put a bucket underneath and stay up at night if the storm is too bad. She knows all this. So she never asks for anything. I sent her some gifts through Amazon. I have asked Gouri to buy her a cake. Every year my parents celebrated her birthday at our house with cake, pizza and gifts. Last year was a year of loss but this year I want to acknowledge that the world is a better place because little Khushi is in it. But she does not know any of it yet. I called her mother to keep all this a secret. I asked Breshpati if they are celebrating Khushi’s birthday with their family. Breshpati said, ‘Na didi.’ Money is short and Khushi knows it. She told her mom she does not need anything but if it is not too much would her mother make her pizza? She LOVES pizza. That will be the celebration – home made pizza. They do not have an oven. The pizza will be made on stove top.

On this day, I hope you will join me in blessing this little girl and wishing her a wealth of happiness in her life. And success – whatever is her measure of it. I am so very happy to have her in my life.

Nope, still not pregnant.


My favorite customer came up to me at the kiosk at the library. “Hi, how are you? The printer needs paper.” As I bent down to retrieve some printer paper, he gave me a big smile, pointed at my tummy and asked, “Are you having a baby?” This is the second person within a span of 3 months who asked me if I was pregnant. So, obviously I look pregnant but I am not. I said to him, “Nope, I am just fat.” You should have seen his face. I wanted to laugh.

Since I was too lazy to do laundry, I had to wear a shirt whose fitting has become somewhat snug over the last few months. It used to look good on me when my girth was not bulging as much as it does now. So to play the devil’s advocate, my customer was not wrong in thinking I was hiding a baby in my tummy. But why does one blurt out things like that? Keep that thought in your head, dude! Has the whole world lost its filter like I have? After turning 50, I sometimes say things that have no business being spoken out loud but even I, the new filter less me, would not ask anyone if she is pregnant.

Moreover, see the carefully nurtured lovely streak of Cruella Devillesque white in my hair? See the wrinkles on my face? See the bags under my eyes? And the constant tired look? Those are all signs that I am old. And the belly that you see is not a baby bump but menopausal mountain (I saw that term in a menopausal tea advertisement that Facebook keeps throwing up on my newsfeed).

Anyway, next time you see me just don’t ask about my pregnancy. I assure you I am not pregnant. Despite this faux pax on his part, the customer is still one of my favorites. After that uncomfortable exchange I laughed and talked a bit longer with him to make sure we were good.

In my opinion, life is too short to be upset over these things. Gotta laugh!

Bangali?


I can not speak for all immigrants but this immigrant whips her head around if she even hears a whisper of the most lyrical language in the world, Bengali, being spoken around her. You all know I work at a library in the suburbs of America. I get to meet a lot of people from all over the world at my work place. Talking to them, connecting with them as a fellow immigrant, learning their stories are some of the highlights of my job. But my heart sings when I hear a couple talking to each other in Bangla, or better still, a child calling out to her mother, “Ma, ekhane esho, dekho.” (Ma, come here! Look!). This is exactly what happened at the children’s section the other day. I was minding my own business, (wo)manning the children’s desk when I heard a sweet voice calling her mother to look at a certain book. I looked up at the little girl and turned to see the mom. Do you think I wasted a single minute getting up and approaching the little girl to ask, “Tumi Bangali?” (Are you Bangali?)? I did not. Now we all know the question ‘tumi Bangali?’ is redundant. If the child is speaking in Bangla to her mother, she is Bangali but that is how I always open a conversation. The young girl was slightly startled to see a middle aged librarian so enthusiastically asking her about her ethnicity. She nodded yes, gave me a little hesitant smile. In the meantime, her ma had come closer. The little girl whispered to her mother, “O Bangla bole.” (She speaks Bangla). The rest is history. The mother and I talked and talked and talked. We talked about which part of Kolkata we were from, where we went to school, which year we came to this country, how old our kids were, the best store to get hilsa fish…..We concluded with the promise that she will look for me when she brought her kids next to the library.

The next day I was shelving at the children’s area when ding……I heard sweet, soul satisfying Bangla being spoken near me. It was a Bengali couple. It was their first visit to the library. My head peered over the shelves, perhaps scaring them a tiny bit – “Apnara Bangali?” (Of course they are! They are speaking in Bangla, aren’t they? But that is my conversation opener as I wrote before. Don’t judge me!) After a second’s hesitation, their faces lit up at finding a fellow Kolkatan in their first visit to their library. We spoke a lot in Bangla. They were relocating so they had a lot of questions. I gave them information about the library, the classes their little son could attend, what a wonderful resource the public library is and how we didn’t have this growing up, which Bengali association they belonged to if any, did they find a good Indian grocery store, how long I have been in the country and at the library, the other Bengali couple that we both knew in the community. For anyone else, it would have been an exhausting long conversation. For us immigrants, it was a connection with our shared roots.

I don’t always assume that all Bangla speakers are from West Bengal though. I have come across many folks who hail from Bangladesh. So my follow up question to “Apnara Bangali?” is “Kolkata r?” The conversation with Bangladeshis go a little differently but the enthusiasm is the same. My mother’s family immigrated to India from Bangladesh, so I have a connection there. Ma and baba both visited Bangladesh and loved the country as well as the people. So I tell them that. And I talk about the library.

The connection here, more than the land, is the language. I don’t get an opportunity to speak Bangla at home because 2 out of 3 of my family members don’t speak the language. These chance meetings with fellow Bangalis become extra special. They bring a smile to my face.

Possibilities


Perhaps cliché and oft repeated but this act of blooming and the hope it provides to tired souls never gets old.

This peony plant was given to me by a friend last year after my parents died. She said the flowers will bloom each year to bring me comfort. Last year it had only one bloom and then it folded itself up to go to sleep for the winter. After a long season of rest and nourishment, peony spread itself in all of its glory.