Having an Indian mom


I found my daughter laughing hysterically before she left for work one morning. I looked up from my computer to find out the cause of this mirth. “Oh mom, I am sending you something on Messenger. Check it out! This encapsulates how I prefaced my less than A grades to you.” Mind you, she was sitting right across from me.

She sent me this tweet.

“This!! This is my entire childhood. This is how I justified to you my B grades. You just sat there staring at me as I explained although I got a B, most of my class got worse grades than I did. Only one or two people got a better grade than me.” she said laughing. When she used to tell me that although she got a B, her friend who is as smart as her also got a B. My response to that was, “Am I your friend’s mom? No. So I will let her mom deal with how she is doing in school. I am your mom. I will only look at your grades. So tell me, what went wrong?” And the excuses poured in. 🙂

I continue to hold my kids at high standards. The way I was raised is ingrained in me. Good grades, ranking in class is expected, anything less is failure. As a student, good grades were important to me of course, yet thinking back, I believe I worked hard so as not to disappoint my mother. My grades gave her bragging rights to friends and extended family. As I raised my daughter through her elementary, middle and high school in a very competitive county, I realized the flaw in my way of thinking. I started wondering if my children are getting the grades so I can brag or are they taking responsibility for their academics? Are they truly enjoying learning? I remembered memorizing my lessons more out of fear and obligation than real interest in knowing.

At my ripe old age, I have realized students need to love learning. Only through love and positive experience can one truly learn. My class teacher in high school, one day, during our Bengali class told us to promise her that when we had our children, we will not push them for grades. If society berated us that our children were not performing well in the standard that society holds, we should lock ourselves in a room and throw away the key. Nurture their love of learning instead, she said.

I thought I was doing a much better job of raising my second child with an enlightened view of what learning should be all about. I tried to drill in him the lesson that he is working for himself, not for me. I asked him if he was enjoying his lessons, did he learn from his mistakes? What can he do better next time. At work, I feel superior to all those moms who come with their teens in tow and try to do their school work for them. I think in my head, “let your child be”, “let him or her learn”. And then I pat myself on my back for being that ‘level headed’ mom who has seen the light, who has found the perfect balance of expecting good results but instilling in the child a joy of learning.

All my lofty ideals of good, sensible parenting regarding my child’s education went out of the window this morning. I walked in to Ryan’s room when he was about to start the day’s session of Summer Chemistry. Yes, he is that weird teen who chose to take Chemistry over the summer to ‘get ahead’. He was checking his grades for the first exam. It is a B. Before I could utter a word, he started, “Mom, my friend ______, who is smart like me got a C+. And I know you are not his mom and you do not care about his grades. But I am just saying that this was the first test in the course and she gave some questions which we did not know….!”

The ‘Indian mom’ in me did not, much to my chagrin, relinquish her hold. I could not say, “It is ok. That grade is fine.” Instead, I said, “You are taking one class! B is not an acceptable grade. I want you to study harder. You need to get an A!”

Am I allowed to use emoji in a blog post? I am not sure but I am going to use an emoji anyway.

This one! 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Love for animals.


Sniffles and congestion had become part of him. There was hardly a time that we found baba free of sniffles. It was infuriating not only for him but also for those who lived with him. He did not feel sick, just sniffly, always. Finally, he saw a physician who diagnosed that he was allergic – to the loves of his life, dogs and cats.

After hearing that, I suggested perhaps he should stop petting the 8 or 9 stray dogs that follow him and jump on him lovingly as soon as he gets out of our apartment complex. My suggestion was ignored and I did not persevere. I knew it was a lost cause.

Since I was very little, this love for animals was ingrained in me by my father. Or perhaps, I inherited his love and understanding for creatures big and small. We did not have a pet in our house while growing up but I was not deprived of puppy or kitty love. Thanks to my father, I had at least 4 or 5 dogs just outside our house, ready to be petted, fed and loved. Thanks to his silent support, I was allowed to not only save, but keep my first kitten, Pushi. She came meowing loudly, floating in waterlogged alley of our neighborhood during monsoon. I jumped in knee high water, grabbed the tiny kitten and brought her to our little verandah. Ma wanted me to give it milk and leave it in a shoe box outside. I, generally a compliant child, rebelled against this cruel decision and my faithful ally in the good fight was my father. We brought the kitten inside, loved her to bits and she returned the favor by not only bringing us dead mice but also gifting us with kittens every birthing season. And we kept them all. Pushi treated us as her personal babysitters, which we were, left her babies with us to do her rounds around her domain and intimidate the neighborhood dogs and cats. She was the indisputable queen of the neighborhood and no one could raise their head in her presence. She kept the stray dogs away from the neighborhood with her vicious hiss. She was indeed a force to be reckoned with. Believe me when I say this, I have seen her in action. At one point in my life, baba and I had seventeen cats coming to eat in our house. Baba made an arrangement with the local fish seller to sell the leftover of fish parts to us to feed our army of cats.

This is a father’s day post to celebrate and appreciate my father which morphed into a blog about his love for animals and this love that he has passed down to me as well as his grandson. There is an aura about both him and Ryan, a certain stillness around animals that exudes calmness. Animals know instinctively that they have found someone who cares. I write this as a tribute to my father because whenever I think of him, I see his faithful posse of four legged creatures following him with their tongue lolling and tail wagging.

On a day that is designated to tell one’s father what they mean to you, I choose to thank mine for giving me the gift of love for animals. Loving animals has taught me kindness and compassion and the love I have received in return has been invaluable. 

Lastly, I have a feeling when I wish him Happy Father’s day, the response will be “Hmmm. thank you! Same to you!” Why, you ask? Because he is not used to being wished happy father’s day or happy birthday for that matter. He gets all flustered and does not know how to respond, eliciting a “Arre, thank you bolo! “(say thank you) from my mother!

🙂 

 

“About” then and “about” now.


This is what I wrote “About” the blog when I tentatively ventured into blogging about 9 years ago. Ryan was about 5 and Sahana almost 11. This blog started as a parenting journal.

Hello, hello!

I am primarily a mommy. Staying at home, holding the fort. I am the cook, cleaner, chauffeur, educator, therapist, confidante, tutor….you get the picture. I like to read – a lot. But lately, haven’t had much time. The blogs here will mainly be about what mommy thinks. Many of you moms probably can relate. Some of the blogs may be about the books I have read, or some funny observations. It is not going to be profound or very thought provoking…sorry. These days, I feel like I am incapable of deep thoughts. My mind is constantly jumping to the next chore that I have to do before the day is done. But it sure is fun to have this space to come and pen down some thoughts whenever I have time.

And how has my “About” changed?

I am still primarily a mommy. Instructor and Research specialist at our county library. I cook sometimes, rarely clean, part time chauffeur only till Sahana comes home from college, not an educator, part time therapist, part time confidante and not a tutor. Do you get the picture? I still like to read .. a lot. However, lately I have not had time. Note, I replace ‘but’ with ‘however’ because a dear friend told me she was replacing the ‘buts’ from her life. I choose to do the same. Although, I still read a lot, I have not really written any blog about books (psst..that is hard work).The new blogs will still be about what mommy thinks because I thought real hard about who I am and I do believe I am first and foremost a mom. I also love the mommy aspect of myself the most. I don’t think moms with young children can relate to my blogs anymore because the busiest part of my mommy life is behind me. There is a possibility, though, that moms of older, almost grown up children may still nod their heads with what I write? Although as kids got older, I wrote about them less and less to give them their privacy. Their childhood, or at least a part of it, however, is documented in these blogs for them to peruse when they are older. I am still incapable of deep, thought provoking blogs because I have come to the realization that I lack the ability to pen down complex thoughts. Well, let’s be honest. I don’t think my mind can analyze complex thoughts. The blog are still simplistic and I like them that way. My mind still jumps from one thing to the next and constant worry about my parents living in the other part of the world is omnipresent in my conscience. Covid 19 has given me some time and opportunity to think what I would like to do as I carry on with my life. I realized I still enjoy writing. I find this a way to reach out to people. It still is fun to come to this space and continue to write down my thoughts. I even paid and upgraded my blog site, yet I do not know what purpose that will serve. I do not get much traffic to my blog. I figured, I will be motivated to write more if I made a financial commitment. If I write, I will stay away from all the unpleasantness that seems to have taken over our world.

I will say one thing before I end this blog though. There has been a significant change in my life since I started this blog. I was almost friendless 9 years ago since I was a relatively new transplant in a new country and on top of that I am an introvert. In the span of these 9 years, I have found friends who have become my adopted family in my adopted land. You know who you are. Thank you!

“Take care of your husband.”


My extended family, neighbors and some friends did not quite see what Sean saw in me. Many wondered, and not in their heads mind you, “What did this handsome man see in her?” when we started dating. Don’t get me wrong. I thought I was adorable. I was a late bloomer, yes, but when I finally bloomed, I was cute. However, I did not measure up to Bengali standard of beauty so although my extended family loved me dearly, they were surprised that Sean was taken by this tall, dark and very slender girl. One person, however, wondered whether Sean was good enough for ME! And that was my momma. She was independent, smart, sassy and a trend setter. When the norm among Bengali housewives of her time was to cook and clean for her families, she loudly declared she did not enjoy cooking and cleaning and would rather read a book. When the other women extolled the virtues of long, black tresses as a sign of beauty, she went and got a page cut. She was one of the first among her female cousins to wear sleeveless blouses and then later salwar kameez and even jeans and top when wearing anything other than saree was frowned upon. While other middle class Bengali moms told their daughters to learn to cook so they could satisfy their husbands and in-laws, my mom pooh poohed the idea saying my future husband should be learning to cook as well to satisfy me. And as far as I can remember, her skin care and beauty regime was more for her own satisfaction than to impress anyone. She taught me men and women should share equal responsibility when they run a household. She insisted that I always claim my half of the sky because that is my right.

Anyway, the point of the story is how this fashionista and trendsetter has changed since Sean came into our lives. It so happens that often when I talk to my parents, Sean is doing the dishes. He comes to the phone, holds up his sudsy hands and complains loudly, “Ma, look your daughter is making me wash the dishes again.” And she mock scolds me for making the poor ‘chele’ (boy) work so hard. I loudly protest that I cooked so he is cleaning. Neither acknowledges my protest. Over the years, Sean has continued to complain to her and she has continued to take his side. 🙂

I must have looked especially unkempt during one of our video conferences a few weeks ago. She gently chastised me for not making an effort to look more ‘put together’. Especially now that Sean is home. Shouldn’t I make myself more appealing?

I, of course, protested loudly. Talked about feminism. Did she realize we are in quarantine? I only dress for myself. I fought the good fight.

She said, “Be quiet. Take care of yourself. Sean is home.” Then she laughed. She knows how to push my buttons. Is it payback for my teenage years?

This morning we were talking about how we both are working from home. I was complaining how loud my office mate was and how I have to retreat to the bedroom from our shared office space to listen to zoom meetings. I also mentioned Sean is so busy that he missed lunch yesterday.

This is what she said to me, “What? He needs to eat to get energy. Why can’t you make sure that he is eating lunch? You can make something for him.”

“But I am working too, Ma.”

“No, still. You need to make sure he eats.”

Seriously? As I am about to start my tirade, she laughs again.

Thousands of miles away, not in the best of health, she still puts a smile on my face as I start my day and her’s ends.

Summer afternoons


I did not ever think, as I was growing up in hot and humid Kolkata, that I would look forward to summer. Due to strange twist of fate, life brought me to a land where many of us get through winter with the hope of sunny days in the horizon. In Kolkata, we looked forward to the winters because out of 12 months, 11 were hot and humid with some respite brought on by monsoons. Perhaps this is old age, perhaps this is because I am physically far away from the discomfort but I was reminiscing about my summer afternoons as a child. I hear from Khushi’s mom that it is more and more difficult to make Khushi take a nap during the hottest part of the day. Her mother, after working hard in the morning, lies down for a well deserved siesta but for a little girl, that is sheer waste of time. I know. I was that little girl once.

The norm was to take a nap in the afternoons when the sun was at its hottest. Only stray dogs roamed the streets, looking for shade along with an erstwhile beggar or vagabond. Peddlers still walked the streets with their ware, offering to refill our mattresses, selling fruits or pushing an ice cream cart. I lay down next to my mother against my will, fidgeted, got scolded, tried to lie still after and then invariably and stealthily tiptoed out of the dark and cool room to read a book. Those afternoons belonged to Noddy or The Secret Seven or Thakurma r Jhuli. The colorful pages of Amar Chitra Kathas took me back in the world of myths so I could watch Krishna kill the snake Kaliya or Ganesh defy his father, Shiva, to protect his mother’s privacy. Those afternoons were for time travels. Those were the times when a little girl living in the congested city of Kolkata went to country side of England and adventured with George, her dog Timothy, and her cousins, or in New England where Jo vowed never to marry and Beth played the piano as Marmee went out to help the community and share their Christmas dinner. Those summer afternoons were magical till mother woke up and chastised for not taking an afternoon nap. After siesta, it was teatime for grown ups, and dreaded glass of milk for me.

I hear Khushi tiptoes out from her mother’s side, after her mother falls asleep to find my father, her dadai (grandfather), and complain to him about the gross injustice of having to sleep in the afternoon when she is not sleepy at all. And my father totally agrees that grown ups are no fun whatsoever. With his approval she quietly loses herself in the imaginary world in her head. She sings and converses, she sometimes dances and smiles. She knows when her mother wakes up and scolds her for not napping, she will have an ally in her dadai, her adopted grandfather.

I smile as I hear this. History repeats itself.

Living through Covid 19


Our isolation is not over yet. I write this blog while we are in our 10th week of isolation. As I went to bed, woke up to a world that lost more people than the day before, perused the news about more information about the pandemic, logged in to work, ate lunch, went for walk, dinner, books and then bed again, life fell into a new monotonous rhythm yet the mind experienced myriad of emotions.

When our work closed, I remember, the first week was full of uncertainty, yes, but also some excitement. Due to school, work and travel, our little family did not have much of a chance to be together for the last few years. The oldest was away in college and then Spain, the youngest was boarding in school. Sean traveled at least 40% of the year. We thought we will be off work for a couple of weeks, we will practice physical distancing from the world, flatten the curve and life will be back to semi normal. In retrospect that idea seems so naive.

Sahana and I love to cook so, right away, we occupied the kitchen and cooked different types of food. We even thought of a cooking competition while we were in isolation and we were confident us girls would beat the boys hands down. When all this is over, I will look back on that time with a smile. We shared so much as she cooked and I cleaned the dishes. Our innermost thoughts, hopes, fears, desires – all came out in the familiar comfort of the kitchen, doing a task we both loved to do. Ryan, Sean and I started watching one episode of a tv show, Rome, everyday while snuggling together in bed after the day was done. Sean and I took long walks exploring the neighborhood, often accompanied by Sahana, when we talked about her future, our years together going forward. We brought all our board games out and played raucous rounds of Risk, Ludo, Apples to Apples. We smack talked, strategized, teased and laughed. We even bought badminton rackets and I showed the family who is the boss in badminton. Soon Ryan’s athletic prowess deemed my brilliance but that is not the point here. Gradually, though, the enthusiasm and excitement of the isolation starting fading away. Board games were forgotten, badminton rackets were rarely picked up, hours went by in companionable silence. Fifteen year old Ryan retreated to his room attending school and stayed there after school was over. Sahana still went for walks with us, baked a lot, watched shows on her phone and she talked. I got more involved with trying to figure out how to work remotely and Sean conducted all his work from home. He probably was most seamless in transitioning to remote working.

There were days, though, when sleep would elude me as I lay tossing and turning in bed in grips of anxiety. My parents were far away and I have no ways of getting to India if they need me. There were unexpected tears at this new normal. And with that came guilt. Are these tears justified compared to what so many others are going through? I have a home, my family is with me, I have a paycheck coming, my husband is getting paid so why these tears? Why such profound sadness?

Like thousands others, I figured I would document the ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ of this pandemic so future students, while writing papers on this historic pandemic, have plenty of primary sources right at their finger tips 🙂 .

So what was bad for me?

Fear. Fear of not being able to go to Kolkata if something happened to my parents. I had to mindfully remove that thought from my head before I could go to sleep each night. Every morning when I woke up, I checked my phone to see their activity on social media. Most days, I called. Fear was the worst.

Despair at the news.

Irrational anger at the universe for Sage’s death at this time. Now that I was home all the time, his memory haunted me more. I had a physical yearning to pet him, to have him back. Why did he decide to die all of a sudden? That was very bad planning on his part. I felt cheated. Circumstances will not allow me to have another pet right now. But I did not want another pet. I just wanted Sage. I told you. It is irrational.

Uncertainty about the future of my rising senior in college. Will she be able to finish her school year in person? What will happen to the lease of the apartment she signed if she has to take her fall classes online? Will I feel comfortable at work? I work with public. How bad will it all be in fall? Will I feel comfortable giving my friends a hug ever again? Will Sahana get a job? What will happen to college funds?

What was still good?

I really like my family on top of loving them.

I will remember this pandemic via the smell of fresh ginger garlic paste. Why? Because Sahana started a sourdough starter. And each day, instead of throwing away the excess starter before feeding the ‘mother’, she mixed some milk, chili flakes, fresh ginger/ garlic paste, some chopped scallion and made a delicious pancake. We ate the ‘waste product’ topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, home grown basil leaves, fresh mozzarella. You should have seen and tasted the deliciousness! That smell will always remain as a memory of comfort during pandemic.

Food that Sahana cooked, delicious and various. As an Indian mother, my proud moment arrived when my daughter made perfect samosas filled with potatoes and peas. My job here was done.

Ryan’s excited face as he explained one of his esoteric thoughts on aliens, historical facts and his interpretation of it, de extinction of extinct species. His constant playful bantering with his dad when it came to number of push ups and sit ups. Flexing of muscles and more working outs. His face, when flushed with the excitement of a new idea, made me smile inwardly. He was always a thoughtful child and while he tried his best to maintain aloofness as a 15 year old, the thoughts that came in his head needed to come out. His family members, at dinner time, were the best recipients.

Seeing Sean at work, listening to his meetings all over the world trying to mitigate hunger, poverty. And sometimes glaring at him for speaking so loudly that I had to leave the space to listen to my zoom meeting. Then laughing with the kids about it.

Sitting outside and looking at bunny rabbits play with each other.

Birds. So many birds. They were perhaps always there, I did not notice them with such focus. Waking up to their chirping and ending the day with their twits.

While riding this roller coaster of emotions, I learn to be patient, a trait I lack. And I learn to stay hopeful despite moments of despair. This will end. We will emerge. World will heal. Amen.

In the meantime…..deep breaths.

What grief taught me


Out of nowhere, a catastrophe struck. One Saturday, I took my Sage to the emergency vet’s office because he was slightly shivering. I was concerned but not worried. Maybe it was something he ate, maybe he just needed some medication to settle his stomach. He had not been eating his kibbles for a few weeks but ate everything else with relish – chicken, beef, treats, fallen cheese or tit bits while I cooked. So yes, I just wanted some medicine and go home. The vet came out to tell me that things did not look good. The news was devastating really. My beautiful boy had hemangiosarcoma and he did not have time. As she spoke, my brain did not quite process her words. The finality or the severity of what she said did not hit me till they took Sage in for some more conclusive tests. That is when I called Sean and asked him to come meet me at the emergency hospital.

Within a week we said goodbye to our companion for over 10 years. We wanted a week to love him and make sure the family was with him to say final goodbye. He did not seem to be in pain, just very tired. He went quickly and peacefully. It seemed he was ready. His decline in that short week was incredibley fast and heart breaking. On Friday morning, the day he was going to sleep forever, I took him to a park which he always loved since he was a puppy. He did not have any energy so we just sat on a bench and watched Canada geese in the water. He got up a few times to say hello to some humans walking by. He got a few pets and scratches behind his years. He also gave me the stink eye from time to time because he wanted to walk not sit. I sat there looking at him and allowed tears to stream down my face. His life from the day we got him passed by in my mind. So many memories, so much happiness, unconditional love. His love of snow, his frolic in leaves, his play bows and long hikes, his devotion and unconditional love for his humans. When we tried to go back to the car, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other, he was that weak. I knew right then it was time to let him go. We loved him too much to let him continue to lead a life that was no life at all.

The loss of Sage seemed unreal till the next week when I was all alone in the house. The grief of losing him taught me a thing or two about myself. I grieved and yet I was afraid for the world to know I grieved. I told a few friends how I was really feeling – I did not want to get up from bed, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I anticipated the clickety click of his claws hitting the hardwood floor but when there was silence I was crushed anew. I looked up at his collar and broke down crying. I opened the door to emptiness when I came home from work. I sat on my reading chair and the space beside it remained empty. The empty space just put a dagger through my heart. My hand was restless to pet his furry head because that was our routine. It gave me a glimpse of what depression can feel like. I sat down on a chair and simply could not or did not have the will power to get up from it. When I forced myself to go for walks I felt I could peek out of a chasm of sorrow but coming back to the house drove me right back into a vortex of despair. I felt physically weak, unmotivated and very, very alone.

Yet when friends asked me how I was or whether I wanted company I was afraid to tell them the truth. I said I was doing ok and I knew it was a matter of time and I would be better. I was afraid to burden them with my overwhelming sorrow. I was afraid of being judged, “Wow, she is going overboard grieving a dog.” In the grand scheme of things, Sage’s life did not matter to others as much with all the sadness and devastating things happening in the world. I was comparing my sadness to the vast sorrow that others feel. So I kept it hidden, I put on a brave face and I laughed and carried on, till I came home to an empty house.

I did (and continue to do) my well wishers a disservice. I am projecting my fears of being judged on my friends who truly would sit with me and let me cry. And not only my friends, I was afraid to tell my husband and my children about my grief. I did not want them to feel bad for me or feel responsible for cheering me up.

Then a friend forwarded me an article. The article talked about not trivializing my loss because there are bigger losses out there in the world. It is not a competition. Only through grieving would I find peace.

I will not get over the loss ever. I know I will heal, I will find peace and I feel I am on my way there. But this loss will always be part of me as will the 10 years of unconditional love that the universe gifted me in the form of Sage. What a gift I was given!

Kolkata meets Troy


A very dear friend came to visit me from India and started talking about his roomba. He extolled the virtues of it. He said how easy it is to use and programme. He said how satisfied he was with the product. He, perhaps, saw the dog hair universe in every nook and cranny of my house and felt this dust and dog hair infested house could do with some cleaning help. The inhabitants are obviously laz….I mean, otherwise occupied to keep their house minimally clean. He said he was going to gift us a roomba. I protested vehemently, he did not bring it up anymore, we had spicy chicken wings, went to the mall, hung out drinking tea and then he left. After a week of his departure, an Amazon packet came for me bearing the gift of …..yes, you guessed it, a roomba. Whenever I get a new gadget, my first reaction is one of panic. What? I have to learn something new? Something modern? Something that requires reading directions and setting up? My brain’s first impulse is to simply shut down for a few minutes. Unwillingly, I read the directions, make sense of them, set things up and use them. I looked at my shiny, black roomba with same anxiety and brain shutdown. “I have to figure you out?”

But first things first, it required a name. After much deliberation we all decided on Troy. I don’t quite remember the reason behind it so don’t ask. The next step was to set it up, connect it to the wifi and turn it on. When all was done (after some hiccups) Troy started zooming around the house picking up Sage hair as the four of us, humans, watched him work with utter amazement on our faces. Sage watched him too, with wariness and distaste.

I became Troy fan. Why won’t I be a fan of something that runs around cleaning my house while I sit on the couch with my feet up and a book in my hand? A robot maid! When I read about Irona in the comics Richie Rich in my childhood, I never imagined I would own a semi Irona one day. But here it was, running around my house picking up dirt, dog hair, gently nudging the dog to move when he was in its way, gently nudging my feet when I am in its way. How enchanting!

Not too long ago, on a Sunday morning, I was calling my home in Kolkata while Troy did its magic around the house. On a whim, I turned the camera around on my phone and showed my parents and the women who keep the house for them my robotic helper. The astonishment rivaled mine when Troy first came home. Baba called both Breshpati and Gouri to see the marvel. He explained to them how I sat on the couch all day, without moving a muscle, and my house gets cleaned. I tried to intervene weakly saying, no, I still need to dust and mop, but that was brushed aside. The news spread that I sit on my lazy butt all day and my house gets magically clean. The cleaning ladies in Kolkata watched with their mouths open as Troy ran around cleaning. They spend hours sweeping, dusting, mopping to keep the Kolkata dirt out of the house and here was a circular machine doing just that without any human intervention. They asked me several questions. I answered trying to explain. But the explanations did not sink it. To them, this was simply unbelievable, magic even. I followed Troy with my phone camera while the two ladies watched it clean. Roomba met its adoring fans via internet. And the word of my laziness spread like wildfire.

Food and us


Long, long time ago when I was very little and was just learning to read English, my mother bought a picture book for me. It was mainly pictures of two blonde children, their white dad, their white mom and their yellow dog. The few sentences in that book talked about their usual day. For example, they woke up at 7:00 am, ate breakfast, played with their dog, went for a picnic – mundane things like that. The most surprising element in the book for me was that the mother started making dinner at 4:00 pm and the family ate dinner at 5:00 pm. I remember reading that line again and again in amazement and wonder. I always wondered what the family ate and it confused me to no end that dinner was prepared in one hour. Since I was a wee lass, I have seen and observed a very different rhythm of life, not only in our household but in the society in which I was nurtured. The rhythm of our very middle class Bengali life was completely food centric.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, the morning started with intense smoke. The household help put fire to the earthen stove called unoon. It required coal and cow dung patties. Experts could get it going with minimum smoke but if one was not an expert or the coal was not completely dry, the smoke permeated the whole neighborhood. Water for morning tea was boiled on the burning stove, followed by breakfast. Generally the menu for breakfast was decided the night before. Tea was accompanied by biscuit (cookies), while real breakfast was cooked. After breakfast, the household help came to my grandfather asking what the menu for lunch and dinner would be. My grandfather held the purse for family expenditure so the menu for lunch and dinner was a joint decision by my mother and him. Sometimes they disagreed and then there would be problems.

When I was older, we first had kerosene stove and then gas stove with two burners. Ah, the luxury!! Two burners were so appreciated and the hassle of not having to get the earthen stove going every morning was the best feeling ever by those responsible for cooking family meals. This is how the day went in our house and it is safe to generalize in this case and assume that this is how the day went in most houses when I was growing up. My mother, at that point, decided the menu for lunch and dinner, the household help went to the market to pick up ingredients for the meal. She came home and started the process of chopping vegetables, gutting fish or cleaning meat, preparing spices. When I was young, we did not use ready made spices. Cumin paste was made from scratch, turmeric paste obtained from turmeric tube, gorom moshla was made by crushing cardamom, clove, cinnamon sticks in a mortar and pestle. I still remember the sound and smell of fresh spices being prepared and the noise of sheel nora in our kitchen. Lunch menu was definitely different from dinner menu. In between, there had to be elaborate breakfast – luchi torkari, and evening snack – porota alu r torkari or Bengali chowmein or alu r chop (fritters of different kinds). We had tea (milk for young ones) and biscuit when we woke up, around 9 there would be a hearty breakfast, lunch around 1 or 2, tea again around 4, evening snack around 6 and dinner around 10:30 or 11 pm. This was typically how much we ate during a day off. So one can imagine, the household help’s day was spent in the kitchen. With the advent of gadgets and ready made spices, life became much easier but for many families the number of meals in a day remained the same.

For me, someone used to seeing life revolve around preparing food, it was incredible that the mama in the family started preparing food at 4 pm and the family sat down to dinner at 5 pm.

Being a mama in the family now who loves to cook but hardly has time anymore, I now smile at my amazement at the book. Most days we scrounge around, make do with what is lying in the fridge, boil some pasta and slap some pesto on it, make peanut butter and jelly sandwich and make dinner in less than half an hour. Those days I think that mama in the book must have made some elaborate meal – it took her a whole hour!

Aging


Aging does not bother me too much. In a weird way, it is liberating. The face is not as thin as it used to be, the jawline is getting blurry, there are pouches under my eyes, the hair has significant strands of white. Although, I must say when I take care to blow dry my hair, and the strands of white are not all fuzzy and crazy like, they totally look stylish.

Feet hurt a little at the end of the day and yes, the back hurts sometimes when I wake up. The knee creaks and the doctor tells me my bones are bad. Physically, it is a downhill journey but mentally it is freeing. I speak my mind more, I am less sensitive, I can laugh about myself and the horrible insecurity has magically disappeared. No, you will still not find me dancing wildly on the dance floor but that is primarily because I have 2 left feet and no sense of direction. I can cause serious injury to fellow dancers by grooving in the wrong direction. When someone calls me old, it is not an insult, just the state of my being in the present moment. I embrace all of it. Except one thing……

What is with the belly fat??? I hate that jiggle. And it is not about what people are going to think about my pear shaped body, it is completely about my efforts at getting rid of it and the utter failure.

All my life, I have been unable to put on weight; so with the cockiness of someone with fast metabolism I did not pay attention to the gradually accumulating belly fat till one day I could not button my pants. Talk about a rude awakening. Every time a pant feels tighter or the love handles spill over the waistband I promise myself, this is it – less carbs, no sugar, more exercise and I can get this to disappear. But I work at a library. It is a well known fact that librarians love to eat and feed fellow librarians. Customers love us and show their appreciation by bringing us home made goodies or store bought treats. Moreover, I am a Bengali. We Bengalis can not resist food. So all of the above work against my good resolutions.

So now that I have written down all the reasons for my burgeoning girth, I can hopefully work towards a resolution. There are a couple of reasons for that. A doctor check up is coming up. My doctor will not be amazed by my fantastic BMI this time and second being a Kolkata trip in a couple of months. Kolkata means home, Kolkata means parents, Kolkata means love, Kolkata means memories, Kolkata means amazing Bengali food and Bengali sweets, Kolkata means…. belly fat. Sigh. And my slowing metabolism. Deadly combination.