The gift she gave me.


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?

whatmamathinks

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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Off to visit the Mayans….with a sore finger!


A wistful looking back to traveling days as we wait out the pandemic.

whatmamathinks

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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Frankly in Love


A book review I wrote for work.

CHAPTER CHATS

The book cover is yellow with the title, Frankly in Love, and the author's name, David Yoon, set on a diagonal, in a stylized, gradated green font with a visual illusion of falling into the cover.

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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Panta bhat and Sage


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.

Pain


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


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.

Love won


Once upon a time a baby girl decided she wanted to see the world earlier than what her mama’s doctor had predicted. She got her way. She came early. She looked up at her mama and won her heart right away. Her mama kissed her nose and promised to love her all her life.

The little girl ruled over all in India – her enamored grandparents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends. Then one day, she had to leave all that was familiar and moved to a new country. She knew no one. Her mama was sick. Her daddy was busy. She had no friends. Then she saw ladybugs in their new house. She asked her mama if the lady bugs from back home missed her and had they come to visit? When her mama slept, she spent long time sitting with the ladybugs and remembering her home.

Time, however, is a great healer. The little girl went to school, made friends, slowly adapted. Her new country became home.

She did many great things. She played, studied, sang, wrote. Her mama continued to love her, tried to answer her questions, often got frustrated, was often unsure how to nurture her defiant spirit and channel her energy in the right direction but the love that flowed from the mama to the girl through that first kiss, remained a constant.

Childhood was sweet, teenage was tumultuous and finally at 19, the mama looks at her little girl in wonder. She is a woman. She is a person with a thinking, analytical mind, she has a certain depth that the mama can not comprehend. She is fiery in her demand for equal rights. She is a woman the mama wanted her to be when she held her in her arms.

There were times of doubt, there were shades that was disappointing in this whole process of growing up but all those moments of doubt, all those shades of disappointment were overshadowed by all the love that was showered upon the little girl. Love won. She accumulated so much love in her 19 years that she has enough to pass around.

Happy 19th birthday to my child. May love see you through all your life. May you always pass it on.

Parenting my adult child.


As the doctor handed me my new born, along with the myriad of feelings, I felt a strange mix of helplessness and responsibility. This tiny human that lay peacefully in my arms, trying to focus on my face was my responsibility. I was responsible for nurturing her, raising her, loving her. Parenting was a trial and error. I did plenty wrong and I did plenty right. I followed my instincts and tried to learn from my mistakes. As my daughter grew from an infant to a toddler to a little girl to a teenager, my parenting changed. Just when I got comfortable in parenting a stage, she grew, she changed.

Slipping through my fingers all the time…

And I had to change the way I interacted with her, I had to learn again how to be a parent to her at that certain phase. I had to read her, understand her and react accordingly. The cycle of trial and error started anew at every phase of her transience.

“Here honey, hold my hand and stand up. You can do it. Look at you, big girl.”

“Please don’t snatch the toy from your friend.”

“Please wait your turn.”

“Finish your vegetables ”

“Wake up. You have to get ready for school.”

“I am so sorry 6th grade was difficult.”

“I am so proud of you for trying.”

“You can do this.”

“You will NOT talk that way to me.”

“Put your phone down NOW.”

“Be home by 11 pm.”

“Congratulation, my love. You did it.”

“Your room needs to be cleaned before I come home.”

“Let’s read next to each other.”

 

But despite the various changes, she was still a child, and I was the adult.

All of a sudden, as my daughter returned from her first year of college, I realized, I was the parent of an adult. A very young adult, but an adult nonetheless, who has somewhat outgrown the confines of our house. And perhaps, outgrown the confines of my parenting of last year. Even during her senior year, I was the nagging parent urging her to complete her assignments, finish her college essays, demanding she return home at a certain time, instructed her to take care of her room and tidy it the way I liked.

The woman who came back had changed somewhat and I had the sudden realization that I have to relearn how to parent her yet again. The gears need to be shifted, the expectations realigned. How much do I parent her, how little? I will always be honest in my opinion of her choices but in what way do I present it?

Like a new parent, I ponder over my new role. I will make mistakes, I will figure it out along with her. A journey starts and I am excited to see how I nurture this young human who is slowly emerging to take her rightful place in the world. But one thing is certain, I am here for her. Her constant,  her roost.

A blog about a tree


On the eve of Mother’s day, I took some time off – for myself. I took a cup of coffee and walked out to the back deck. I did not have my phone. I did not have a book. I just sat in the chair and looked out at the majestic oak tree in our back yard, my friend for the last fourteen years. A constant.

The blue sky was awash with sunshine, dotted with wispy clouds. The green around me had the sheen of youth. It is that young, lustrous green, not yet the deep green of mid summer. The stillness around me was peaceful, sometimes broken by a strange birdsong.

We fell in love with that tree when we came to see the house many moons ago. It was fuller then. We had to trim some of its limbs due to decay and storm. And although it looks somewhat lopsided, it is still awe inspiring. The tree, over the years, has been many things to me – an object to admire, a yardstick for changing season, a home to quarreling squirrels, magnificent birds and a witness to our daily life. It has also been a symbol of hope after a long, cold bare winter. It has embodied resurgence of life after death.

The tree has witnessed a significant part of my children’s childhood. Before Ryan was born, Sahana played under it, looking for ladybugs, getting used to the open space after moving in from New Delhi while I sat on the deck and watched her. She raised her head from time to time to make sure mama was there. It watched laughter and quarrels of the two of them as they grew. It has seen Ryan take his baby steps as he ran after his sister. It has seen the exuberance of puppy Sage being chased by his human siblings. It has withstood Sahana and Ryan’s crude attempts to build a tree house with their friends. It has seen them wrestle. It has provided them leaves every fall to rake and jump in leaf piles. They have climbed it, they have cried under it, Sahana has read books in its shade and wrote some of her poems, we have played Holi beneath it. It has seen Ryan throw baseball farther and farther as he grew. It has seen Sahana kick a soccer ball when she played soccer. In a way, the tree has been a constant in their childhood and in their coming of age. Somewhat like me, their mother. A witness.

On this day, it felt just right to look up from book/phone to sit there and think and to commune with the tree – another nurturer.

Infallible falls


Ryan hero worships his father. He always has since he was a baby. Seeing dad’s face brought about a goofy grin when he learned to recognize faces. As he got older, he became Sean’s shadow. Sean would work around the yard with a tiny human following him every step of the way. When Ryan started playing sports, Sean helped him by throwing the ball or shooting hoops or correcting his strokes. They would compete against each other in the pool or shooting baskets or scoring goals and inevitably Sean won. That was the norm.

Well the norm broke a few days ago in the swimming pool. At the ripe old age of 12, Ryan beat his dad in a 100 yard IM in the pool. That night at the dinner table, Sean mentioned to me with quiet pride that Ryan actually beat him in swimming. I looked at my son excitedly, “Wow! You finally beat dad! That is fantastic!

Ryan said, with an small smile, “I did. But it did not feel good. It just didn’t feel right, you know?”

“Why? I think that is fantastic! You should be proud!”

“No! He raced after a hard work out. He did a 400 IM, then a 200 IM and then he raced. So he was tired. And he killed me in the breast stroke.”

He was giving excuses for his father, I realized. In his heart of heart, he does not want his hero, his father to be defeated, that too, by him. In his eyes, dad is still infallible. He is not ready to accept glory over his father.

I looked at Sean who sat there smiling quietly at his son. Perhaps he was wondering when does the harsh truth dawn on your child? The truth about one’s parents not being infallible.