Every morning after I wake up I sit in my reading chair and take a few moments to look at the smiling pictures of both my parents on our coffee table. When they were alive I reached for my phone as soon as my eyes opened. There would be a message from ma in whatsapp. Most of the days the message asked “ki korchish?” (What are you doing?) The woman never really got the time difference right 😀. I would obviously be sleeping during her waking hours. My response would be “ei uthlam.” (just woke up). Most days I would call later to have a longer conversation but some days, that was our only exchange. But we connected everyday. I snooped on baba’s activity on Facebook and when I saw he was active and posting something funny every hour, I would breathe easy – he was well.
These days my whatsapp messenger remains silent. So I commune for a few minutes everyday with them in the morning. At a certain time, the sun hits their smiling faces just right and both of them light up in front of my eyes. I watch the transformation happen. In a strange way, it makes me happy. I took a picture of sunlit ma today. Sometimes this feeling is all I need to carry in my heart to get me through the day.
How are you? This is such a loaded question, isn’t it? How easily I answered this question before May 10th of 2021. Despite all anxiety, despite occasional sadness, sickness, anger, despair, I was well. I was doing fine. People I love the most, people who were my center, were alive. Covid 19 took that away. I have climbed up a steep hill of hopelessness and grief but when someone asks me “How are you?” I stumble. Do they really want to know? Do I really know?
A dear friend from Kolkata asked me today, “Tui kemon achish?” I gave her the rote response, “Bhalo achi.” (I am well). And that is the truth. I am well. I am just not as well as I used to be. How can I?
Mary Oliver’s poem Heavy has taught me to carry my grief well, reposition it, balance it, bear it. Yet there are times, so many times, the resilient muscle that I am trying to grow goes limp. I have to start strengthening it all over again. A friend who lost her dad to Covid told me about ‘resilient muscle’. We are both trying to make it stronger. But a certain memory, a certain slice of my past life, certain song, certain smell is enough to break down resiliency. I have accepted that though. I know this is my new state of being and I will try to remake this new me and despite all, I will be well. I am well.
But this is such a beautiful question one person can ask another. How are you? Tell me. I really want to know. I want to sit by you and hear how you truly are. I don’t want to give you advice, or sympathy or pity. I just want to be with you and listen, truly listen to how you are. Tell me. I care. I am here for you.
For almost all my married life I have waited for those words. At the beginning of our marriage, in late nineties, Sean called once from whichever country he was traveling to, if he could, to let me know he had arrived. After that phone call, I did not hear from him till he came home. We moved to India soon after and he traveled to Taliban controlled Afghanistan. He made calls home via satellite phones sometimes to let me know he was safe. Now I think back and wonder how I managed my anxiety then. He was at Colombo airport trying to fly out to Delhi because baby Sahana was very sick and I asked him to come home. He was at the airport when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group or LTTE tried to blow up the airport. He and a young Srilankan woman with a small baby escaped the airport together and hid while bullets flew. Next morning I woke up to my landline ringing. “Have you landed in Delhi?” I asked. He hadn’t. He was having breakfast in Colombo at the home of the woman whom he took back to her family in the middle of the night. Her family was very grateful. The woman was flying out to Rome with her baby to join her husband but the rebel group destroyed Colombo airport. Sean was stuck in Srilanka. I met her when I went to Srilanka with Sean. She said “Your husband stayed with me and my baby the whole time. I don’t know what I would have done without his help.” When 9/11 happened Sean was in Bangladesh.
With cell phones, it became easier to communicate when he traveled. He texted “Arrived safely in _____”. And with that message safely tucked in my mind, I went about taking care of home and children. Now we have whatsapp. “I have arrived safely in…” message has transferred to our group chat in whatsapp so the two children can see that he is safe. Sean tries his best to just drop in a line whenever he can but sometimes he can’t connect to the network or whatever and that line takes time to appear. I still go about my life but I wait for that line all day.
These days, however, I know things are well when I get his Wordle results in the whatsapp group. Everyday, even when he is traveling, he diligently shares his successful Worldle completion. Followed by “I have arrived safely in….” Wordle results of my husband when he is in a faraway country gives me peace of mind. We, indeed, have come a long way.
I wasn’t laughing at 7:30 am this morning. After complaining to literally everyone whole week about how tired I was, I finally made it to the weekend. Friday night (after my sink got fixed) was glorious. I came back from work, made a quick dinner, grunted hello to Ryan (and he grunted a ‘what’s up back), settled down to watch Gilded Age on HBO. I woke up on Saturday morning with a to-do list. But first and foremost on the list was a refreshing long walk. I laced up my sneakers, did some stretches, debated whether I wanted to listen to music or just get lost in my thoughts (always a dangerous proposition) and then went downstairs to go out through the basement. I landed in water. Yes, my whole basement was flooded. My first thought, interestingly enough, was an irrational anger towards my partner, the poor guy. Things always happen when he travels. I just had the plumber fix the blockage in my kitchen sink the day before and now my basement is flooded!! Not just water but entire gunk from the blockage was on my basement floor. The rugs in front of the tv was sopping wet. At that point I did not know where the water came from, there was no leak in any of the pipes. I came upstairs, woke Sahana and Ryan up, took the heavy wet rugs outside to dry in the sun with their help. Sent a thank you to the universe for blessing us today with a scorcher – yup, you read that right. I am so thankful today was 100 degree F so my rugs, thousand towels and two mops that I used to mop water from my basement actually dried.
The same plumber who thought of his friend’s mother when he saw me, came back. He discovered there was a bigger blockage in the main pipe which he snaked out. I ran the kitchen sink and the disposal to make sure there was no water or goop rushing out in the basement. I also heard how much money the guy makes in this profession and all about his personal life. I will encourage Ryan to consider the plumbing profession if he wants to make it big in life in terms of money. He is a very friendly guy but I was outwardly friendly, silently seething because I had a ton of water to mop in the basement. He said he won’t charge me as if he is doing me a favor. I said he shouldn’t charge me because this was a recall. Anyway, I did not have to pay but I did have to listen to various stories of his life.
Sahana had work today but she brought me coffee from Dunkin Donuts before leaving for work. Ryan followed the plumber around with me and nodded his head seriously at all the technical talks of blockage and snaking. He took his role as the man of the house very seriously. Anyway, after the plumber left, my real work began. By the time the water and awful gunk from basement was cleaned up, I was done for. I wrote to my husband a long message about how everything was awful, how hard I had to work and so on and so forth. He responded with a sad emoji to my long, woeful story and promptly followed that with his Wordle completion score. He is definitely sleeping on the couch when he returns.
I kept checking my basement all day. Either I went down or sent Ryan down to check. It has remained dry. Nervously, I did a load of laundry but stood downstairs just in case the water started spouting from the pipes. The water remained where it is supposed to remain – inside the pipes. We ordered Afghani food after Sahana came back from work and the three of us laughed as we ate. Ryan is big into investment, now that he is earning money and his voice rose in excitement as he educated his mother on his research about index funds and S&P 500 charts. His mother is clueless about investments and should really take a class. At one point, when his voice started bellowing as he got very invested (see what I did there?) in his topic of investment, the stereotypical librarian in me shushed him (most public librarians don’t shush anymore, it is truly a stereotype 🙂 ). After dinner, Sahana and I went for a walk which was lovely.
It was a good end to a bad day. There was laughter and that is, sometimes, just enough.
I wrote about my blocked kitchen sink fiasco yesterday. Today I will write about how it got solved and who solved it. The plumbing company said they would send someone between 8 am and 11 am. I got up bright and early, showered, dressed and waited. As promised, a gentlemen pulled into our driveway around 9:30 am. I opened the door, welcomed him in and just to make conversation, I asked, “Is it hot out there yet?” He said he did not feel the heat like some other people did. I responded I am with him. I am from India and my body can tolerate heat better than the cold. To this, the man said, “Yeah, we dark folks have more melanin to protect us.” I turned around and looked at his white face bewildered but did not say anything. The dude was white!! Maybe not Irish or Scandinavian white but somewhat tanned white. After I explained to him the issue with the kitchen sink and after a lot of casual conversation, he went to his van to get his equipment. I turned to Sahana and asked, “Isn’t he white? Why is he saying we dark folks?” She shrugged. I wondered if he identified as a dark person. Is that even a thing?
Anyway, my wonderful daughter canceled her plans and stayed at home for the plumber so I could go to work which I did after listening to all that the gentleman was going to fix and worrying about how much it will cost me. He gave me an estimate, I informed Sahana, made sure she had enough in her account to pay and left for work.
At work I got a voice message from Sahana. She was trying hard to keep the laughter from her voice. The gentleman, in his late thirties if I had to assume, told Sahana that he loves Indian people. And I reminded him of his friend’s mother who had come from India and who treated him like her son. I am getting up there but this comparison with his friend’s mother seemed little bit of a stretch but I will take it. You know why? He fixed a few things without charge. He went to a hardware store to buy what we needed and he gave a bill that was much lower than what I expected. He also told Sahana that if we ever needed a plumber, we can request the company to send him and he will make sure we get the best service. Why? Because he likes Indian people and I remind him of his friend’s mother. 🤣
Sahana also said they had long conversations about race while he was working and he told her “We immigrants need to stick together.” The man was Italian American. The crux of the story is I jotted down his name, gave him a 5 star review. If (please god, no) we need a plumber, I am calling this ‘dark’ man who thinks of his friend’s mother when he sees me. I really needed this laugh today.
I have written before that my love language is feeding. Now that my family does not care for the food I cook, I cook for my coworkers. On Wednesday night after work, I chopped onions, pureed tomatoes, made ginger garlic paste and soaked vatana (dried green peas) to make ghugni, a popular street food of Bengal, for my coworkers.
On Thursday morning I woke up energized. I was ready to cook all morning before work. I had also picked up a beautiful eggplant from the farmer’s market. I planned to make baingan bharta as well. I had my morning coffee, rinsed the dried peas and transferred them to an instant pot to boil. I set the timer at 10 minutes. While the peas boiled, I peeled the roasted eggplant and then picked up the vacuum to clean. When I opened the instant pot lid, I discovered the peas were overboiled and completely useless for the dish I had planned to make. Fortunately, I had cans of garbanzo beans in the pantry and I substituted.
As I was doing the dishes and drying them, I knocked down a glass jar which broke in pieces scattering glass everywhere on my kitchen floor. That involved picking up glass, sweeping the floor and then mopping it too so that no stray glass could sneakily cut our feet.
Work day went as usual without any angry customers. My friends enjoyed the food. My coworker and I brainstormed for class ideas. The conversation went like this “And we could do….”. “YES!! And then we could do….!” It was quite funny.
I came home after 9 pm thinking, “alright the morning was bad but the rest of the day turned out fine.” And then Sahana exclaimed, “What is this?” She was pointing to the kitchen sink. It was filled with dirty water. The water would not drain. There was clearly some blockage. I spent the next half hour emptying dirty water from the sink and pouring it in a bucket to throw outside. Then I called the plumber. Sahana canceled her plans to stay home for the plumber so I could go to work on time. Ryan was not helpful at all. He went to bed because of his practice at an ungodly hour in the morning.
It is Friday morning, I am waiting for the plumber. And of course, Sean is traveling. Things happen when he travels. On top of all that, I did not hear from Sean the whole day!
But here is a picture of the ghugni and baingan bharta. I will have you know, I cracked a real coconut for the first time in my life after watching You Tube video on “how to crack a coconut” and used fresh coconut meat for this dish. I felt very “from the scratch”.
Writing a book review takes work and my blog writing is primarily a stream of consciousness with no care for grammatical accuracy. But I did write a book review for our library blogsite. If you are a bibliophile, take a look.
I posted a blog that I truly enjoyed writing. It was about a book I read called The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart. If you want you can read it here. After 2 hours only 4 people had read the blog. I was understandably disheartened but only for a while. I went to check notifications on my Facebook page to see if anyone had read my recent blog – liked it, left a comment. I saw a notification from my youngest cousin back in India. She left a comment on one of my earlier blogs. Her comment simply dissipated the fog of despair that my writing is not good enough. No one reads it. She wrote that she reads my blogs because it is so relatable. The blog she read was about finding happiness in everyday life and it spoke to her. I felt oddly gratified. Yes, the statistics in my blog post is truly abysmal but at least one person, a dear one at that, found the blog relatable. She perhaps did not realize the boost she gave me, but I stopped looking at blog hits and started thinking of what to write next. Write something that someone out there can relate.
I found this blog sitting in my draft folder. I wrote it in April of 2021, a month before both my parents died. Life is so unpredictable, isn’t it? I had no inkling when I penned this draft that my life will change irreversibly within a month. I will change as a person. And this blog will change too. I poured my grief onto this blog site and that is how I coped with my loss. The blog became my grief journal. I was too afraid to seek the help of a therapist, writing became my therapy. Gone was my desire to look at stats for the blog. I did not care if anyone read what I wrote. I had this yearning to pour my feelings in words.
As I read the draft today, I realized people have reached out to me saying they related with what I wrote. Some felt my grief journal helped them carry their own grief and some wrote that my blogs prepared them for their inevitable loss that they know is coming.
Words are powerful. Words can hurt, sure, but if used right, they can heal. Cliché perhaps, but so true.
A few years ago I was the sole keeper of my two children. I kept them clothed, fed, alive. I also kept my husband fed for the most part. Since Sean is disinterested in food and only partakes nutrition to live and I live to eat, I took it upon myself to cook for the family. Also I decided to stay home to take care of our children. So cooking dinner fell upon me. The kids did not have a choice, they ate what I cooked. Now that they are older, they do not depend upon me any more. The daughter is a really good cook herself so she often makes her own food and sometimes ours as well. Ryan will eat my food only if he is tired from practice or the food is to his liking. He also makes his own food often. Sean eats what I make still but only if it is vegetarian affair without any vegetable in it. Yes, he is a strange vegetarian who is very limited in the types of vegetables that he eats.
I have finally learned to cook for myself. I have been freed of the responsibility of feeding anyone. So I cook the food of my choice without guilt. Sean does not love Bengali cuisine (he does not know what he is missing). Since I love him, I put his preferences over mine (there can be whole debate about this but my love language is feeding my loved ones) and learned to cook North Indian food – dal makhni, paneer bhurji etc, etc. When I cooked alu posto, Sean politely put it aside. He found kanch kolar kofta and dhoka r dalna too dry. So I gave up on those and cooked the dishes of his choice with great love. And I glowed when I saw my picky husband eating the food I cooked with relish. My children complained that I always catered to their father’s wishes when it comes to food.
Lately though, I have decided to focus on making what I love to eat. I scour the internet for recipes for macher matha diye dal, lau chingri, salmon er kalia…..
Today, on my day off, I cooked a shrimp dish just the way I like it. I put shrimp, thinly sliced onion, potatoes cut like French fries, turmeric, red chili powder, poppy seed paste, mango mustard (aam kashundi), salt and mustard oil in a pot. Added half cup of water and let the whole concoction cook in medium to low heat till potatoes were well cooked.
There were stray vegetables loitering around in the fridge – a small head of broccoli, carrots, red pepper. All those went into a skillet with some potatoes, sliced onions, turmeric, chilli powder and mustard oil. Chemistry and heat did their thing. The result was delicious.
Nobody ate any of it. But as I sat down to eat, the smell of mustard oil and the taste of poppy seeds took me back home – to my sunny City of Joy, to my summer afternoons, to my ma and baba.