A work blog but also tells a story of my venture to high school Back to School nights. They are an experience in themselves.
By Piyali C.
I heaved a sigh of relief as I parked my car. I think you will agree, finding parking in a high school parking lot on a Back to School Night is a sheer stroke of luck. I did a mental check as I walked towards the high school carrying my bag of library goodies. Did I have all that I needed? Howard County Library System’s tablecloth? Check. HCLS pens to give out as gifts? Check. Brochures with library information? Check. Little giveaways with the library logo? Check. I was ready. With a deep breath and a bright smile, I entered the high school. I was going to represent HCLS in one of our local high school’s Back to School Nights, to inform the community about how we supplement students’ academic pursuits by providing free databases for research. It’s a fond memory and one I hope to experience…
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This blog is not really about kissing during Corona. It is about going to the beach during the time of Corona and comparing it to how beach vacations used to be just a year ago. It seemed like kissing your beloved with mask on.
Our family hunkered down and diligently maintained social distancing since March 13th. We believe this pandemic is real. We believe wearing masks is necessary. We believe staying at home is needed to flatten the curve. We did all that for over 3 months, going out only to get provisions every 10 to 12 days. Our state started opening up cautiously and so did Delaware. All 4 of us thought a quick get away would be beneficial to our collective psyche. So we booked a hotel for the July 4th weekend.
Although the other members of my family looked forward to the beach, I was apprehensive. We took the right measures. The hotel provided no room service, much to our relief. We went armed with sanitizing sprays and wipes. Before we settled in to our room, we sprayed and wiped every surface, door knobs, light switches. We washed hands constantly and often sanitized them. We never ate in any restaurant, instead we brought as much food as we could from home and only used drive through or take out a few times.
I never relaxed though. Fully masked, I glared at people who did not have masks on at the beach or those folks who tried to settle close to where we had our umbrella. I felt safe only when we came back to our hotel room. It was a sad, stressful vacation for me. There were all kinds of people at the beach and the board walk. Families like us, masked up: enjoying their time away from home cautiously. Perhaps, they too came out for a change of scene. And then there were many who wore masks only when there was a police cadet around to remind them mask wearing is required at the beach and on the board walk. Many had their masks hanging on their chin. They made me upset and anxious. I wanted to go back to the safety of our hotel.
Who would have thought I would be afraid to be at the beach even a year ago?
So much has changed in a span of 4 or 5 months. What all remain unchanged? The crashing waves, the ocean, the moon at night, glowing in all its splendor, transforming the ocean front into a magical universe, the boardwalk brightened in its cheerful light, the ice cream stall, the boardwalk fries, the joy in my son’s face after spending 6 hours in the water, reading with my daughter on the beach, peanut butter sandwiches and chips – our regular beach lunch yet the magic of ‘going to the beach’ was certainly missing.
My beloved was right there in front of me, yet I saw everything with Covid lens on. It felt like a masked kiss.
This is just a short blog about books and is written mainly for the bibliophiles out there. Tell me if you relate to what I am about to write.
That I love books and have loved them forever is no secret to those who know me. Growing up, I could be found either in one corner of the house, or on bed, completely engrossed in a book. So engrossed that when friends and family came to visit, I was reprimanded for not being social. After being chastised, I would come out to socialize but my mind would be lost in whichever world my book explored at that point. Did that happen to you? That you could not wait for people to leave so you could get back to reading?
I always, always worry about running out of books to read when we go on vacation. I pack ‘just one more book’ in my book bag, in case I read them all. I can not possibly read 5 hefty books on a 3 day vacation but I throw in a 6th book. Just in case.
I do not enjoy reading books on my tablet but on top of physical books, I borrow another 4 books on my tablet. Just in case.
The only time I do not carry physical books with me or carry just 2 is when I travel to India (I borrow books on my tablet though). There are 2 reasons for that. One, of course, is the weight that we are allowed to carry on the flight. Second, I get my fill of Bengali books when I get home. I make my annual pilgrimage to Ananda Publishers in Gariahat market to buy books of my favorite Bengali authors.
What did you hoard up on when the pandemic started? I hoarded up on books. I work at a library. When we found out that the library will be closing for 2 weeks (ha, that sounds so funny, right now), I made 2 trips to my car with bag full of books. And then I worried what if I run out of reading material in 2 weeks? Well, that 2 weeks stretched to 3 months and I did not run out of books, thanks to ebooks borrowed on Libby and Netgalley. I have become semi comfortable reading on my tablet although I still don’t love it.
Once our library opened for staff and Contactless Pick up, I found such pleasure in shelving books and like an addict, checked out piles to read. Is this an addiction? If it is, I have no desire to break out of it.
During school and university days, I gave myself a treat between studying and snuck in a few chapters of a book to free my mind from information. If you ask my mother, however, she will tell you I gave myself more treats than study hours. (So don’t go asking her). The idea that a book will be my reward after certain hours of studying was so inviting. Today, I smiled back at that memory. I needed to do research on an unpleasant subject. My dad, all of a sudden, developed a health crisis. I am far away and unable to be with him. Before I settled down to research and scare myself with all that internet will throw at me, I decided to eat a sandwich and read a few chapters of my current book before I fired up my laptop. Real life waited as I turned the pages. Sometimes I don’t like being an adult at all. I don’t want to deal with all that I have to. I hang a carrot stick, in my case, a book, in front of me to keep going. Do you ever feel that way?
With that promise of escape, real world which has pandemic in it right now, and a faraway, unwell dad on top of it, becomes bearable.
As I had time during this quarantine, I looked back at the blogs that I have written in the past when I was more prolific. While reading this blog, I went back to my 7th grade self when I first met her. I did not know her for long but isn’t it interesting that some people come in one’s life for a short while and take up a place in one’s heart for a lifetime?
I was in seventh grade when I met her for the first time. The doorbell rang, I raced to open the door and there she was, looking back at me with a toothless grin. Not a single tooth to be seen in that wide smile she gave me. She was hungry and was wondering if I could give her any food to eat. The request for food was made in an empty stomach, but the smile that accompanied the request was one of pure joy. The smile reached her eyes.
She was an old woman, probably early to mid seventies, short, very thin, and as I said earlier, toothless. She had an old saree draped around her thin frame. The saree must have been white at some point but had turned gray with wash and use. I had watched Satyajit Ray’s movie ‘Panther Panchali’ recently and there was Indir Thakrun…
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A wistful looking back to traveling days as we wait out the pandemic.
My eyes opened at 3:48 am and my brain registered the acute pain – the reason for my sudden wakefulness. We were about to leave the house to catch our flight to Yucatan, Mexico in a couple of hours and my right ring finger was throbbing with intense pain. Intense enough to wake me up from deep, exhausted-from-packing-and-organizing slumber. I knew I was in trouble. After weeks of planning where to go for spring break, what made sense financially, whether the children will be happy with our choice, we had decided upon the ancient Mayans. The Yucatan peninsula – the land of the Mayans, soft yellow sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and waving palm trees. The ruin-addict in me wanted my fill of ruins and my water loving family wanted beach fun.
My knowledge of Mayan civilization is sketchy at the best and garnered primarily from travel books and internet…
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A book review I wrote for work.
Review by Piyali C.
FrankLiis a seniorin high school, growing up in Southern California. Heis a first generation Korean American,trying to find his identity in this world. Is he considered Korean,eventhough hedoes not speak the languageand has never visited that country? Is he fully American and does the world consider him so? He has grown up accompanying his immigrant parents to theirmonthlygatherings with other Korean families and hanging out with otherfirst-generationKoreanchildren,who, like Frank, are struggling to find where they belong. Theycallthemselves Limbo. Some of theKorean children have embraced the country where they were born, while others retain the culture and language of the country from which their parents emigrated.There is a big divide even between thefirst-generation Korean Americans. Frank is very aware of his parents’ blatant racism and knows he is doomed if he dates any girl outside his ethnicity. As luck would have it, he falls in love with…
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As I looked back before shutting the door, heading out to work, I got a glimpse of Sage sitting on cool kitchen floor, panting. The temperature is about to hit 90 degree Fahrenheit today and although I finally turned on the air, the poor, fluffy puppy is hot. I had this desire to feed Sage panta bhat. I know I should not but long time ago, when we, inhabitants of Kolkata panted like Sage in the dense, humid heat of Kolkata, panta bhat was like manna from heaven. You have probably googled panta bhat by now, but just in case you have not, I will tell you what it is. The real complicated recipe is this.
You take leftover cooked rice.
You soak it overnight in water.
You pour mustard oil on it (optional).
You put salt in it.
You squeeze ‘gondhoraj lebu’ (or just plain lime/lemon juice)
You eat it.
Panta bhat is a popular breakfast in rural Bangladesh and certain parts of Eastern India. Fortified with this carb heavy breakfast, farmers start their day of heavy toil, women start their days of tending family and children go to village schools (or work in fields with their father).
But for us, middle class Bengalis beaten down by intense heat in the summer months of Kolkata, panta bhat was respite and comfort. The poor could not afford anything but rice, water, salt and maybe green chillies to give the food some spice. We ate this as a treat. Our panta bhat was not simple though. Along with the soaked rice, we had to have gondhoraj lebu (special lemon, the smell of which is heavenly), pickles, green chillies, slices of raw onions. At the beginning of the month, when we were somewhat flush with money from newly acquired paycheck we would have fried pieces of hilsa fish with it. At the end of the month, when the money dried up and we had to budget, vegetable fritters accompanied our panta bhat.
No one paid any attention to the empty calories and unnecessary carbs. No one felt bad about eating fried fish or fried fritters. Panta bhat, in those doggone hot days, was ‘praaner aram, atmar shanti” (peace of soul).
Panta bhat was accompanied by an afternoon nap. In my memory, this lunch of panta bhat is closely associated with a decadent, luxurious nap.
Gone are those days when people cared nothing about what they partook. Food soothed our souls. I want those days back. I want ignorance from all the research that says white rice is empty calories that my aging body does not need.
As I write this I am propped up on the couch with my right foot elevated and ice pack underneath my heel on Monday morning at 8:18 am. A pair of extremely sad eyes are fixed on me as Sage wills me to get up and fetch the leash for his morning walk. It is hard to endure his disappointment at my immobility but I am hardening my heart and trying to ignore his silent plea.
About 8 months ago, I started running on the treadmill. I had never run in my life, I started something new. I felt amazingly alive after a run. I increased my distance gradually, bragged about it to my family and basked in their adulation. Slowly, imperceptibly, I started to feel a pain in my heel, especially, when I woke up. I ignored it because it was just a niggling pain. At work, a couple of friends and I were running up and down the stairs for cardio exercise between our shifts, with inappropriate footwear. The pain in the morning increased enough for me to take notice. But as I got on the treadmill, it went away so I continued running. The pain got to a point where I felt it at every step, not terrible but enough for me to notice and wonder. While describing it to a friend at work, I said I must have hurt myself while running. She mentioned planter fasciitis. Even though I could hardly pronounce it, I jumped on the internet to get more information and bingo….every symptom matched mine.
I mentioned it to my doctor. She prescribed Aleve and no exercise for a month. Of course I did not listen. But I did give up running. I walked instead, wincing at every step.
The pain worsened. I went to a podiatrist. He put me on steroids that sky rocketed my blood pressure. I bought different kinds of orthotics, started using a night sling, became regular with stretches, ice packs, rolling tennis ball under my feet but one thing I did not stop doing was being a martyr.
My work involves a fair amount of being on my feet but at home, I persisted through pain. Taking the dog for walks, albeit shorter, running up and down doing laundry, usual household chores, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring. Every step is increasingly painful, and as I winced, I promised I will put my feet up after this chore. But after that chore, something else came up which needed my attention.
Now I have pain snaking up to my hip and although I try to maintain my smile, I feel very discouraged inside.
I have made a decision last night as my feet throbbed and I felt the familiar sense of hopelessness, I will stop being a martyr. It will be hard but I will stop my walks, stop making elaborate meals, stop worrying about neatness in the house and focus on eliminating the pain.
So here I am, propped up on my couch, venting in my blog because I hope one day when the pain is gone, I read this blog and remember to pay heed to the message that my body is trying to send. And also remember to stop being a martyr.
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.