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.

“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.

One year….part 2


I went to sleep on the night of May 18th of 2021 with a lighter heart. After more than 2 weeks of struggle, baba seemed to have turned the corner. His numbers looked good, he finished his meal and even had a little appetite. Although he had oxygen mask on, he wanted to say a lot to Sahana when she came on the video screen to talk to him. He died the next day, May 19th, 2021. Like my mother, his death was peaceful. He slowly fell asleep and in his sleep he stopped breathing. Everytime I think that they are dead, even after a year, I get a jolt. How is it possible?

Baba liked to get things done. If there was a problem, he had to solve it. He would not rest till he solved it. He loved to talk about astronomy, watch martial art movies and when his eyes were good, read trashy paperbacks. He was no connoisseur of good literature. He loved Bollywood music and loved to watch ‘keora nritya’ during Durga puja’s bhashan. And he loved animals. He was the protector of all the strays in our neighborhood. If any of them got hurt, he arranged their transportation to vet hospitals, made sure all of them got fed. We were wary of our clothes if we got dressed up to go somewhere and baba was with us. His animals crowded around us and jumped on us too to show affection. Ma, of course, screamed at him – “joto adikhyeta!” Ryan loved it.

There is so much to write about him, about my memories of him. But today my heart is heavy and I will keep the words within me for now. When the words come spontaneously, I will write a bigger blog then. Today, on his one year death anniversary, this disjointed blog will have to do.

All these months, I have coped with my grief by giving them a release in my blogs. It really helped. But words did not flow when I started writing this blog. I wondered why. I think the desperate fight to keep him alive, the brief hope followed by brutal, merciless, unbearable pain is something my brain does not want to revisit. If I think back on those days, I start going back down a deep, dark chasm and my brain is perhaps protecting me from revisiting that dark place. Baba was mostly a happy person who liked to live life at large. My homage to him would be smiles, positive thoughts, hope and food – always food.

One year… Part 1.


Our last wishes to each other was “Happy mother’s day” over a video call on May 9th, 2021. She wished me in an enthusiastic voice from her hospital bed. She had a high virus count of Covid infection. Although her tone was light and cheery, I could see she was tired. I asked her how she was feeling, she said she felt fine, just a little tired. I told her to get some rest and we will talk soon. She took my advice to heart, turned on one side and closed her eyes very comfortably. And she went to rest forever.

On one year death anniversary of my mother, I continue to ask why. Why did it end this way? Why me? Why us? And the universe whispers back, why not you?

I wish I had faith. I don’t. I don’t know if she is watching over me. In a way, I don’t want her to. She is free now from all that bound her to this earth including me. I will live my life remembering her love but I want her to be free. I hear energy is indestructible. So I hope her energy is within everything that is beautiful. I think of her every day. Every single day at different times. I cry sometimes, but I mainly smile at her memories. We have had difficult times together, we faced a lot of challenges, there were many disagreements, raised voices. But my brain has sifted through all our negative moments and only preserved laughter. When I close my eyes, I see her smiling face, and for that, I am grateful.

We look forward to inconvenience…


There was a new sidewalk being built on my way to work. That meant sign holders holding up STOP and SLOW signs when I was trying to get to work on time. The first time I discovered this, I was annoyed. I had not taken road work into account and there was a chance of me being late. I am that person who likes to arrive places at least 10 minutes early. On one such day, after waiting for the sign holder to change sign from STOP to SLOW, I inched my car forward to cross the area of road work cautiously. As I approached the sign holder, my grim face cracked a smile. The holder of the sign was a young man who enthusiastictically waved at each car that passed by. His face was animated, hopeful even that a fellow human would connect with him and wave back in reply. His happiness, for that is exactly what it looked like, was infectious and I found myself waving back cheerfully. The next day he was there and the following day as well with same infectious exuberance. I looked forward to the road block and his wave. One day Sahana was driving me to work. As the road work area got closer, I got ready for my daily moment of connection. And Sahana said, “I wonder if my friend is going to be here.”

It turns out, she was equally enamored by this young man’s enthusiasm to spread happiness by waving enthusiastically as he allowed cars to pass by. We both then exclaimed how we loved this little moment and how this simple gesture of a smile and a wave brightens our day. We both agreed we look forward to this inconvenience in our commute and isn’t that strange?

The side walk is complete now and our friend is not there anymore to hold up his sign. I don’t account for the small delay in my commute any more but I do miss the bright smile of my young friend as he waved to me from the other side of the road. I hope he is working on another project, spreading joy to another group of people. I also hope people are smiling back at him, making connections, seeing. I hope they are allowing him to be the bright spot in their days.