An accidental sunrise


The most important part of my morning ritual is sitting quietly in front of the photos of my parents with my cup of coffee and staring at their smiling faces. The world around me is quiet, fast asleep. The only sound that I hear is of the heating unit pumping blessed heat in our house on cold, winter mornings. I do this every day, without fail.

Today, as I got up to put my coffee cup away after my morning ritual with my parents, I happened to glance out of the window. I caught the sun rise, accidentally. Everyday, I wake up early and look inward instead of outside. And while I introspect and look back at memories or wipe away tears or question ‘why’ again and again, the sun rises with resplendent glory. I guess, this is nature’s way of balancing sadness with beauty. I will, perhaps, incorporate looking outwards in my morning ritual. After all, life is about balance.

Solitude


I shared this pond with no one this morning. The resident ducks and Canada geese were nowhere to be seen. The sun was not strong enough for the little turtles to climb up on logs and sun themselves. I stood by the edge of the pond to look for them. They were perhaps snoozing in their nests.

It felt strange and beautiful all at once to find myself alone in this tiny bit of universe. The cerulean sky was sparkling with golden rays of the sun. That color, I have realized, makes me immensely happy. The trees and bushes stood quietly, their reflection in the water somehow doubling their silent presence.

No matter how much I sparkle outside, I struggle most days to get off the couch and put my game face on. However, on days when I feel the gentle sun caressing my face and the splendid blue of the sky penetrating my soul, I feel I will be okay. I get up to face another day. I love, I am loved. I will live today and remain hopeful for tomorrow.

Continuity


As we moved the curtains from the window of our hotel room, we saw the ocean raging. There were red ‘no swimming’ signs fluttering in the breeze as far as we could see.

“Wow, Poseidon is angry today!” I thought. The fury was awe inspiring and also humbling.

Sean and I went to the Outer Banks, North Carolina for our 26th anniversary to spend a few days by the ocean. There was a storm brewing not too far from the coast so the rip currents were deadly. Since swimming in the water was dangerous, we decided to walk on the beach, feeling the wind on our faces and the misty spray of the ocean. There is nothing peaceful in the crash of the high waves yet I felt peaceful. I think the continuity and the assurance that each wave will be followed by another was reassuring. In the shifting landscape of my life, where uncertainty about my very existence and those of my loved ones leaves me unsettled, the constant rhythm of crashing waves salvaged my bruised soul. Instead of the ocean, Sean and I decided to immerse ourselves in the golden rays of sunsets instead.

There were many moments in this trip that will stay with me for a long time. Here are some of those.

On September 8th, the day of our anniversary, we decided to drive to Duck, NC to see the town and find a place to eat. After a dinner of Mediterranean cuisine, we walked along the boardwalk to see the quaint seaside stores and restaurants.

We still had a little time before the sun to set so we decided to drive to the next town, Corolla. As we drove down the narrow road, listening to music and talking, we lost track of time – sunset was imminent but there was no place to pull over to watch the glory. Just as I was giving up hope, we found the entrance to the Historic Corolla Park, complete with a lighthouse. We pulled in, parked and ran to the water bank as the sun was close to touching the horizon, spreading molten gold rays all over us. We were awash in its glory, wonder and love. We looked at each other in that moment. What a perfect anniversary gift was that sunset.

A couple of days later, the breeze had died down and the ocean had quietened. We decided to spend the morning at the beach, me reading and soaking in the gentle sun and Sean feeling the ocean. As a wave crashed on him and he turned around, ready to be crashed upon, there was an expression of uninhibited joy and exhilaration on his face that touched my heart. I will always remember that expression – expectant, joyful.

We wanted to see sunset from the dunes. Jockey’s Ridge State park, we read, was home to the tallest living sand dune system in the Atlantic ocean. It was close to our hotel so we decided to catch the sunset there. After parking, we started hiking up a dune. Neither of us knew what was beyond the sand hill. As we crested the dune, the world of sand open up – a huge expanse of sand was in front of us flanked by the ocean far away. And the sun was setting, coloring the yellow sand in golden pinkish hue. We were golden too. The moment when we climbed up the hill and looked what was ahead of us was so poignant and beautiful that I will remember it for a long time.

Everytime I am near the ocean the continuity of the waves gives me a sense of grounding. Despite the upheavals in our lives, one wave will follow the other. This absolute truth is comforting and peaceful.

Sunshiny today


Every morning after I wake up I sit in my reading chair and take a few moments to look at the smiling pictures of both my parents on our coffee table. When they were alive I reached for my phone as soon as my eyes opened. There would be a message from ma in whatsapp. Most of the days the message asked “ki korchish?” (What are you doing?) The woman never really got the time difference right 😀. I would obviously be sleeping during her waking hours. My response would be “ei uthlam.” (just woke up). Most days I would call later to have a longer conversation but some days, that was our only exchange. But we connected everyday. I snooped on baba’s activity on Facebook and when I saw he was active and posting something funny every hour, I would breathe easy – he was well.

These days my whatsapp messenger remains silent. So I commune for a few minutes everyday with them in the morning. At a certain time, the sun hits their smiling faces just right and both of them light up in front of my eyes. I watch the transformation happen. In a strange way, it makes me happy. I took a picture of sunlit ma today. Sometimes this feeling is all I need to carry in my heart to get me through the day.

A song


I could not fall asleep last night. My anxiety caused me to hyperventilate as I tried taking deep breaths. This morning I sat on my couch and saw the sunlight hit just the right way on our beloved indoor plant. The green of the leaves sparked joy.

I laced up my sneakers, plugged in the earbuds, turned on my Playlist to Rabindrasangeet and went out to walk in the woods. The cerulean sky, the cold on my face, the green grass despite the patches of frozen water on it, and the bare branches standing tall with the promise of life within it gave me peace. There were many birds out today, all puffed up against the cold, hopping on the fields, looking for grub. They took flight when I walked near them but did not go too far. I think I saw the bushy tail of the neighborhood fox in Sage’s path but I may be wrong. It was just a glimpse. I emptied my mind of all the anxiety to soak in the treasure in front of me. And it worked. My breathing calmed, my mind found temporary peace. I store these scenes in my mind to draw upon them when I have anxiety attacks as bed time approaches.

As I made my way home, baba’s favorite song came on my Playlist – Jokhon porbe na mor pa er chinho ei baate….

তখন কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
সকল খেলায়…
সকল খেলায় করবে খেলা এই আমি, আহা
কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
নতুন নামে ডাকবে মোরে বাঁধবে
বাঁধবে নতুন বাহু-ডোরে
আসব যাব চিরদিনের সেই আমি

A rough translation of this stanza is this:

Who says I am not present on that dawn. My being will be present in the universe. You will call me in different names but being is forever.

I have asked a lot of why’s and where’s since the dreadful month of May in 2020. It has been 8 months looking for peace, for meaning. I realized I find most peace (at least temporarily) if I believe the energy of my parents are now mingled with each and every aspect of beauty in nature that unfolds in front of me if I care to ‘see’. Baba sang this song a lot. I heard but did not listen. I listened today.

After 8 months


Sunrise

January 19th marked 8 months since my father died. January 10th was 8 months since my mother died. This journey of coming to terms with what life means now, without the presence of those who gave me life, has been an uphill battle.

Life, at least now, holds no joy.

I pretend. A lot. I pretend to act normal.

I am very mindful to keep my grief guarded so the person I am interacting with does not feel uncomfortable.

I dread going to bed.

I stay up as long as I can so when my head hits the pillow my mind does not race. I am truly terrified of nights and the solitude it brings when all hurtful feelings takeover.

I search a lot for answers and only find peace when I see beauty in nature.

It gives me solace to think that my parents’ energy is, perhaps, part of this beauty now. Or maybe their soul has been reborn in another body. Who knows?

On January 19th, as I sat quietly in the morning thinking about ma, baba and all the ‘why’s’, I saw this sunrise. And I thought “How fitting! Baba would have loved to see this. Maybe he is part of this beauty now. Maybe they both are part of this splendor.”

Street food


Papdi chat

If you have read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, recall how the story starts. Ashima reaches for the tin of Planter’s peanuts to mix with her puffed rice. She is attempting to recreate the popular street food available at every corner, every lane in the streets of Kolkata – jhaal muri. She adds the peanuts, some mustard oil, green chili to her puffed rice but it is not the same as what she remembers. Something is missing. The book stole my heart just by that vignette at the beginning – Ashima trying to recreate a comfort food in a land where she is new, everything is unknown. That is every immigrant at some point in their lives, isn’t it?

Papdi chat, as pictured above, is my absolute favorite street food that I make often at home. Either I have forgotten what the real thing tastes like or I have managed to create perfection or my palate has been compromised to think what I create is the epitome of papdi chat. No matter what the reason, I don’t feel like anything is missing from my concoction of papdi chat. Often I don’t have all the ingredients so I improvise. Today’s version included the following:

Papdis (wheat crisps, available in the snack aisle of Indian stores) – this forms the base. Top these with…

Half a cup of canned chick peas (garbanzo beans)

Half a boiled potato chopped into little cubes

2 tbsp of finely chopped raw onion (optional)

1 green chili finely diced – optional. If you like spicy, make it 2

2 tbsp of chopped cilantro leaves

1 cup of beaten yogurt poured over the mixture

2 tbsp of Chunky Chat masala

Half a cup or more, if you prefer, of tamarind date chutney

All this is topped with Haldiram’s Alu Bhujia (again available in Indian grocery stores)

I sometimes make it fancy by sprinkling pomegranate seeds on top.

Talk about burst of flavors in the mouth – crunchy, tangy, savory, sweet – perfection!

I say perfection and I am the only one who eats chat in our house. The non Indian and the part Indians do not care for it. I even go as far as to proclaim it as healthy – garbanzo beans, fat free yogurt, potatoes……healthy! At least that is my story and I am sticking to it.

One year ago


It is strange what the mind remembers on one of the worst days of one’s life. January 31st, 2020 was one of the worst days of my life. It was a beautiful, sunny Friday. It was the day when Sage was going to bid us adieu in the evening at 7:00 pm due to the aggressive cancer that, unbeknownst to us, had taken over his body. He was shivering slightly one day, not even too much. Still, I was perplexed and concerned so took him to the emergency vet. The vet sounded the death knoll – hemangiosarcoma. We loved him too much to let him go through very invasive surgery only to buy him 4 to 6 months, if that.

So after making sure he was not in any pain, we decided to have 7 more days with him to love him with all the love our hearts could give. Friday dawned. I woke with a sick feeling. I decided to spend the day with Sage doing what he loved doing best. After a steak breakfast, I helped his frail body get in the car and drove him to his favorite park. This is where my mind goes back to again and again. Just us, a sick but seemingly content pup with his devoted human – together for the last time in their favorite setting. We got out of the car and sat by the lake on a bench quietly. He sat next to me looking around, perhaps saying goodbye? Joggers, walkers, parents with young children walked by us, some nodding at the old dog, some not. Two women in athletic clothes came by. They were power walking. One of them bent down to pet Sage.

“What a beautiful dog! May I pet him?” she asked.

I said sure. And I don’t know why but I also added that this was his last day. I, perhaps, put her in an uncomfortable situation but till this day, a year after Sage’s death, I remember her kindness so vividly. I was crying at that point. Not violently but tears were streaming down my face. This particular woman, who I will most likely never see again and who will not know how much her kindness meant to me at that time, touched my hand to say how sorry she was. She said she had lost 2 of her dogs so she knows what I was going through.

I thanked her. She patted me again, quietly. Then she bent down and gave a lot of cuddles to Sage, telling him he was good and he was beautiful. With a last touch on my shoulder, she nodded and went on her way. Through a haze of pain that consumed me in the days, weeks and months to come, her quiet kindness seemed like a healing salve.

Many of you knew Sage, loved him even. He changed abode from this earth to our hearts and memories exactly one year ago. He was excellent at recall. We really worked hard at it and he always came when called. Except on this day, one year ago, we called but he never came back. He went gently into the night. Literally.

As some of my friends predicted, the intensity of hurt has diminished. I can now smile at his memory. The ten years we had with him showed us what unconditional love looks like, what total devotion truly means, what it means to be the center of someone’s universe, how valuable quiet companionship can be, how peaceful too. I sometimes think back and wonder if we gave him the best life that we could have. We could have done more, taken him for more hikes, played more with him, spent more time. And I stop myself! Sure, we could have done more but I am convinced he knew the absolute truth through every kiss on his long snout, every belly rub, every touch on his furry forehead. He was loved! Oh so loved. And he will always be our beautiful boy.

With Dad.

Ryan’s perfect chocolate chip cheese cake.


I am not going to give you the recipe for Ryan’s perfect chocolate chip cheese cake because he simply looked up a recipe on the internet and followed it word by word. This blog is about Ryan in the kitchen and what all I heard – his monologues, exclamations and yes, a few expletives coming from there as he created his ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cheesecake. I was working from home that day so I tried to ignore his monologues, exclamations, hisses et all, I only yelled when I heard expletives. Ryan responded each time with, “oh sorry!”. Since I was otherwise occupied, I requested Sahana to write down his exclamations, proclamations and questions as he tried to find his way in the kitchen.

He started assembling his work of art by spreading Pam onto the cake pan with a fork! When Sahana laughingly came to me saying, “MOM!!! HAHAHA! RYAN IS SPREADING PAM ON THE CAKE PAN WITH A FORK INSTEAD OF SPRAYING!” He grumbled, “Oh, ok then! Sorry for being sanitary, guess next time I’ll just use dirt.”

Then we heard him yelling at the graham crackers to “just get IN there” as he tried to create his perfect graham cracker crust for his perfect cheesecake.

At one point, after asking for directions on how to work the food processor, he turned it on. I heard an unfamiliar noise coming from my beloved food processor in conjunction with Ryan’s yell, “NOTHING IS HAPPENING”. I jumped up from my chair and ran to rescue my machine from inexperienced and evil clutches of Ryan. He had turned on the food processor with no blade in it. 🤦🏽‍♀️

We educated him on how to insert a blade for the food processor to work. He inserted the necessary blade required to do the job, he turned on the machine and he….. JUMPED! “Man, that’s loud!” At this point, Sahana and I were laughing uncontrollably. I left him to his devices but Sahana reported that he FLINCHED every time he turned on the food processor.

After a few minutes of quiet humming, we heard, “WHERE’S THE HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM?”

“In the fridge.” Sahana, the fridge organizer replied..

He yelled back, “IT’S NOT WHERE IT ALWAYS IS!!

Sahana responded “It’s on the top shelf, you dummy!”


“oh.”

A few seconds later we heard:

“Jeez, who tightened this thing!!!” Followed by grunts and ah-oh’s.

All good things come to an end and so did our entertainment. The cheesecake went into the oven. It cooked beautifully and came out looking handsome.

The next step was to let it cool, wrap it with cling wrap and then refrigerate it. Ryan, however, had to leave for swim practice. So he gave clear instructions to his dad on the next steps and the last instruction was to “keep mom away from his perfect cheesecake.”

I had a bad baking day. My cookies came out looking ugly, I was dropping things, making a mess so I told the family I had bad energy that day. Ryan wanted none of that bad energy near his ‘perfect cheesecake.’

At the end of the day, delirious with happiness, Ryan clapped me on the shoulder which is his way of showing affection and said in his fog horn voice, “Mom, thank you!”

I thought he was thanking me for helping him in the kitchen, so I said, “You are welcome but what for?”

“For not spoiling my perfect cheesecake! For not going near it!”

Since yesterday, he has been strutting around cockily saying from time to time, “I really think I should take control of this kitchen from now on. Did you all see my perfect chocolate chip cheesecake?”

And here, friends, is perfection (according to our Ryan, of course). All I will say as I end the blog is this: the cheesecake tasted really good. 😃

“A tree fell on my childhood…literally!”


There is a beautiful, majestic tree in my backyard. I love the tree so much that I have even written a sentimental blog about it.

You can read the blog here.

As a very irresponsible parent, I allowed my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son to build a ‘tree house’ along with 5 other similarly aged neighborhood children on the branches of that tree. Why is that irresponsible you ask? Because there was no adult supervision there. None! I shudder to think all the accidents that could have happened in the process. But it didn’t and they are alive to tell the story. So there’s that.

The tree house was simply some planks that were lying around in my neighbor’s yard. The children dragged those planks to our back yard, gathered huge nails and hammers. They hammered those heavy planks on to the branches of the tree and created a platform kind of a structure. As I write about it, I envision broken thumbs, pierced skin, flattened skulls – but none of those happened. As they hammered way above the ground, I calmly washed dishes, cooked dinner not worried about their safety at all. My neighbor finished her chores in her house unafraid as well. What were we thinking? Looking back, I think it was summer, the children were little and we wanted them out of the house. And it makes me embarrassed to think I was so calm while they were embarking upon such dangerous activities.

The ‘tree house’ was finished. The unabashed pride on those little faces at their accomplishment was priceless. They announced to the world that they had built their tree house all by themselves without any help from grown ups. Many afternoons were spent up on that tree house. Many picnics were had, many games were played, many imaginary friends were invited. Sahana was obsessed with spy games where she was the main spy with an assistant. The little brother, at that age, was honored to be an assistant and took his role very seriously. I have this precious photo of them as they played on their tree house.

No description available.

And yes, pictured above is their tree house. To them it was the best tree house that ever existed in the universe and who are we to dispute that?

As they got older, like many things in their childhood, the tree house was slowly forgotten. Sean looked up at the decaying planks and often talked about taking them down but never got to it. Recently, after a major storm, one of the limbs of our beautiful tree cracked and after hanging on an unused wire for a while it finally hit the ground one afternoon along with some rotted planks of the tree house (or tree platform). Sahana and I were having tea on the back deck when it happened.

“Mom, our tree house is falling down.” She exclaimed. “Did you see that? A tree fell on my childhood……literally!”

Since I am the archivist of her childhood, I will put this memory too in the treasure box. She can open it and peruse at her leisure. No tree shall fall on her childhood under my watch! 🙂