“You don’t age!”


He commented as I put paper in the printer so he could get his print job. I have written about this customer in my previous blogs. He calls me ‘my lady’ but not in a creepy way. He calls me lady in a way that makes me feel almost regal. I feel I should raise my hand and give him a regal wave. I just smile instead while in my head I am waving – regally. You can read about him in this blog .

I just gave a foolish ‘Haha’ and thanked him. Yet as I walked away from the printer, I chuckled. I said in my head, “No sir! You are not getting off that easy. You are the one who asked me a few months ago if I was pregnant. And when I said I was just fat, you were so embarrassed and did not know where to look. You are just trying to get back into my good graces by calling me ageless. I am not falling for that. Moreover, you just saw me yesterday and the day before and the day before that. It is not like you saw me after a long time and realized that I don’t age. But you are still one of my favorites!”

I said all that in my head, of course. He is a regular at the library. I look for him if I don’t see him for a few days and hope he is ok. There are other regulars that have truly become part of my life. Some I talk to everyday while some I don’t. But if I don’t see them for a while I think about them. One gentleman tries very hard to convince me that I should buy stocks in India because the country is doing well and I will make a lot of money. I try equally hard to convince him that I don’t have the head for investments. He is undeterred. One gentleman prefaces his research questions by saying, “You know I am very curious….”. Another man said it meant a lot to him when I greeted him with a hello. He is somewhat passive aggressive to the library workers and I am a little wary of him but I greet everyone with a smile, he was no exception. It was good to hear that it meant something to him that day. We never know what battle each of us are fighting. One woman comes and shows me the salwar kameez that she wears from time to time – a gift from her Indian friends. She is very interested in India and tries to engage me in conversations about the country any chance she gets. Another gentleman finds faults with everything we do and I greet him with an energetic hello every time I see him. He gets a little flustered at my enthusiasm and grunts a hello back at me. I will take it. He needs help with computers sometimes and is actually quite appreciative when I help him. If I can get a smile out of him, I feel like my day is made.

I just wrote about some of the regulars. There are so many small interactions with customers at the library that make me feel connected. These are our wins as library workers. At the end of the day, these interactions are mostly rewarding. There are days when I am frustrated with the red tapes and delayed responses and unnecessary paper work, but interactions with my community – smiles, laughter, talk about books, research questions, book clubs balance out the frustrations. When I take stock of my work life, I realize I still love what I do.

Going back to ‘You don’t age’ – no sir, my favorite customer (and I don’t even know your name), flattery will get you nowhere! 🙂

Nature playing Holi


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

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

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

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

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

You vote!!

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.

Lost in my own city


I went for my usual walk this morning but Dhakuria lake was closed for Holi so I took a detour, got lost somewhat in my own city, asked for direction, was told by the caring man that my destination was too far and ‘sister, take an auto, you can not walk that far’. I thanked him and turned around as I was walking in the wrong direction. The man continued to give me directions and to warn me of the distance. I smiled at him but did not tell him that taking an auto was not an option as I carried no money. So I walked and it felt good. I walked through my very familiar and now somewhat unknown city. Some of the old, now decrepit, houses in my path have been there for years. They were part of my landscape all my life. They evoked so many memories. The new buildings were remote and unknown and if you ask me, they don’t belong to the Kolkata I know – my Kolkata.

‘My’ Kolkata is getting smaller with every visit. Old, familiar houses are being demolished and new apartments are being built. The city is sprawling out in every direction. But those houses along Southern Avenue or the unchanged make shift stores on the sides of Rashbehari Avenue, or the hawkers calling out ‘didi ki lagbe’ (sister what do you want), assure me that ‘my Kolkata’ still exists in some small way.

And I remembered walking the same streets with baba when he walked miles and miles to stay in shape. He talked to, petted and fed every stray dog that crossed his path on these walks. They knew him and crowded around him for the biscuits that he carried in his pocket. As I walked today in the early morning hours, I felt him by my side – youthful, happy, fast and chatty. It was a good morning.

Don’t do it..


I spoke sternly to my hand as it slowly reached for the bottled mango Lassi on the refrigerated shelf in the new Indian grocery store that I went to explore.

“Don’t do it. Don’t you do it. Think of the added sugar. Think of your ever expanding mid section!”

My head reprimanded my hand. But guiltily, almost unwillingly, and in slow motion, my hand did grab the plastic bottle of Lassi and put it in the shopping cart. My face almost had a sad expression as I looked at what my hand had done. Right next to them were Indian sweets, among which were silvery Kaku katlis which I adore. I touched a box and moved my hand away. Next to them were Motichur laddus. As a little boy, Ryan used to love those. We called him our little Ganesh for his love of laddus were similar to the elephant headed God whose supposed love for those laddus is legendary. Ryan, however, has betrayed me and grown conscious of his sweet intake. However, I use him as an excuse in my mind when I pick up a box of laddus. “Ryan likes them” I say to myself. Ryan declines to eat a single one and so I eat them all. Can not waste them!

I exerted extreme self restraint and did not pick up either the Kaju katlis or the laddus. I felt Sean’s silent criticism of my choice of picking up sweet mango Lassi as we walked the aisles filled with ingredients, spices, snacks, soaps, oils, body lotions from my home. I picked up some green chillis, some turmeric and masoor dal. Looked for samosas and failed to find them. The new grocery store lost some points right there. Why won’t they have fresh samosas when I wanted them? Anyway, as we walked towards the check out counter, I slowly reached into the shopping cart, picked up the lone bottle of Lassi and put it back on the shelf.

“You don’t want it?” My surprised husband asked.

“Let’s get out quickly before I change my mind.” I walked faster, putting distance between myself and the shelf that held the goodies.

As we got in the car, Sean said it is fun to see me in an Indian store. I am, supposedly, like a kid in a candy store. The analogy is apt, but it is more like an immigrant in a store full of things whose sight, smell and taste bring back very fond memories of home. It is a wistfulness of what we left behind. It is also a joy to hold a tiny part of familiarity in our hands.

Yes, that is my mom.


“That is your mom!! What? How?” – this question has been posed to my white passing biracial son since he was in preschool. I sometimes wonder how it made him feel. By kindergarten, he was so used to this question that as soon as I showed up to volunteer at kindergarten luncheon, he would preempt the question from his peers by announcing “That is my mom. Yes, she is brown. She is from India.”

Once I was waiting in the hallway of a high school to pick up Ryan after a middle school concert. He came out with a few other kids. One girl, upon seeing Ryan greet me and come towards me, exclaimed, “Ryan, IS THAT YOUR MOM?????” And then, with the insensitivity of a 13 year old, she followed up that exclamation with, “No way! But you are white!”

Ryan and I will continue to baffle this easily confused world but I hope one day, the world will integrate colors enough to exclaim less when it sees us together.

Last night, as Sahana, Sean and I tackled the New York Times spelling bee, we got talking about how perception of parents follow us in our lives. Sahana said, “Tell me about it. My friends have told me all my life your mom is so pretty. OMG! Who wants to hear that all the time? Leave my mom alone!” She laughed. I have heard her say that before and we have laughed together about it.

Here is the thing that amuses me – different standards of beauty in the two countries that I belong to. In India nobody would give me a second look. I am old now but even when I was young nobody looked twice. My experience was very different in USA, at least in the part where I live.

I read a few books about biracial individuals who try to find where they belong. Good Talk by Mira Jacobs is a great book to read on this issue.

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.”

A joy


Yesterday, while out on an errand, I watched a little girl going ahead of her family. She could not have been more than 7 or 8. Her head was down and it seemed she was focused on the sidewalk below her feet. Her family walked leisurely behind her. But she was not walking though. She was skipping. She wore a white dress with rainbow colors at the bottom of it. Her shoes were white too. Her hair seemed wild, unruly and as happy as her motion was – bouncy. With each skip her hair bounced. And it all made a perfect picture of joy.

I watched her skip for as long as I could till I could see her no more. And on the first day of a new year, I thought of the joy she exuded – being with her family, somewhat ahead of them on a spring like December day, the last day of the year in fact, skipping instead of walking.

Microaggressions


First off, I feel so naïve about this blog I wrote in 2014:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2014/06/27/racism/

Some aspects of it are true though. I still can not think of a single incident where I was discriminated against for being a brown woman. I guess I am just lucky. I also have closeness to white privilege being married to a white man. As race talks unfolded in recent years, especially after the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd in 2019, the protests against systemic racism over the summer of 2019 and conversations about racism in my own work place and family, I had time to analyze my personal experiences as a person of color in United States. I have experienced microaggression several times over the years, I simply did not have a name for it. The conversation where microaggression was directed at me left me with an uncomfortable feeling, a sadness and yes, a little angry. I could not pin point what it was. I was almost relieved when there was a name for it. I could say in my head, “Ah, so that is what it was! Microaggression!” A name to that kind of behavior somehow equipped me to deal with it better. Most of the microaggression that I experienced were not intended to hurt me, they generated from ignorance perhaps. And when you take out the intentionality from the words, it becomes a learning moment for the one who uttered them and teaching moment for the one who was at the receiving end of it. Of course, learning can only happen when both parties are willing to listen and speak up respectively. Once I discovered the term, I started speaking up when I encountered microaggression and people I am around on a daily basis, listened. I also self analyzed and learned what not to say to someone that might come off as microaggression. Personally, it was both a teaching moment as well as a learning moment. In my early days in this country, however, I have had aggressive comments directed at me with intentionality to make me feel bad about where I come from and the backwardness of my being because I come from a developing world. I think of those comments now. I wonder why those comments were made. Do people say them to feel superior at the cost of others or truly want to hurt others? I wonder how one feels when their words have hurt other human beings? Is it kind of a ‘high’ like sugar high? Does a ‘low’ come after?

In the blog written in 2014, I wrote I do not see color. I don’t think that is true. I have been extremely conscious of a person’s color in these days. And that has been a progression in my perception of another human being. As a newbie to this country, with only an overview of the history of slavery and white dominance in the Western world, I saw people’s color of course, but I did not comprehend the deep connotations of what experience the person had and/or continues to have due to his/her skin color. Now I am aware. Books on race, conversations, films, webinars – all have helped in raising my awareness about racial inequality.

I have read quite a few books, both fiction and non fiction, on race, inequality, microaggression over the last several months. As I said before, they all helped in my growth but one book that truly made me aware of other people’s experience because of their ‘otherness’ is Yes, I am Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy. I commend this short book to everyone who wants to know more about some experiences of the ‘other’ and examples of microaggression.

How are you coping?


Is it me or does it feel like this year keeps giving? I am sure we have had tough years before. We have dealt with it, many of us have moved on. I used coping mechanism to deal with my personal sadness. While going through a difficult time, I told myself time is the best healer. My feeling at this moment is intense, but with time the intensity will fade. I simply need to continue to live on through the time.

Compounded with global pandemic, other concerns are making life unpleasant. I can say with certain amount of confidence that many of you are in similar situation as me. How are you dealing with the time that we going through right now? What is helping?

I wrote two light hearted blogs back to back and realized, while writing them, that I was happy. They were silly ones about my 2 kids, however, reliving the memory of simple domestic story and writing them down was somewhat joyful.

Writing has been immensely therapeutic at this time. This blog was created in 2011. I was prolific and regular about writing something new. However, as the kids grew up, my materials for blog post dried up. I only had so many stories to tell. When the pandemic started and Sage died, I opened up this blog site again and started putting down my thoughts. It was a release. It helped.

What helps you cope?