A year of heroes.


There is a weariness in my soul which, sometimes, stops me from feeling hopeful. The learned people say the next few months will be darker. It will get worse before it gets better. That is hope I guess, those words, ‘it will get better’. The sentence that I desperately search in tweets and interviews of medical professionals is this – it will get better.

So I would like to urge you, my dear readers, hold on to your sanity. Cling on to that hope – it will get better.

It is hard to find a bright spot in this tumultuous year of loss and tears. However, if you think about it, 2020 did give us our heroes – the medical professionals, the scientists, the grocery store workers, the front line workers, our educators, the parents who continued to work while providing childcare and conducting home school, those living alone, battling loneliness. We persevered in our own unique ways. The heroes existed. 2020 shed a bright light on their heroism. And this year, we gave the most. We lost so much, materially, spiritually, emotionally, yet we gave to those who are more vulnerable than us. The charitable organizations received more donation this year than last year, both nationally and internationally. It is hard to be grateful for much in 2020, but I am grateful for this spirit of giving. I am grateful to witness resilience and empathy. Tragedy brought us close despite political rhetoric trying to tear us apart.

I sincerely wish you all a hopeful 2021. May our fellow humans all over the world, irrespective of the wealth of their nations, have equal access to vaccine so we ALL can heal together. That is a naive wish you may say. But aren’t we at the cusp of a new beginning? Isn’t this the time we feel everything is possible? Besides, I am a firm believer in positive energy. I send that energy to you and to the universe on this first day of 2021.

This photo, taken on Cliff Island, Maine seems very apt.

Christmas mischief


One day, right after Thanksgiving, I caught my husband smiling a Grinchy smile.

‘Why are you smiling like that?’

He said he had an idea. A wonderful idea. Just like the Grinch, he had “a wonderful, awful idea”. He told me his plan and I gave him a hearty clap on his back for being so deliciously evil. He came up with the plan and I executed it flawlessly. It was a perfect team work.

I bought gifts early this year, right after Thanksgiving because what else am I going to do during a pandemic? As the gifts started arriving to my doorstep, I scooped them up, wrapped them right away, and wrote Sean’s name on each one of them. That was the plan. Sean thought of the idea of addressing each gift in his name so the kids would wonder when their gifts were coming. As the pile of gifts under our Christmas tree grew, Ryan and Sahana grew increasingly perplexed. Why was not a single gift for them?

They did not say anything for a while hoping their gifts will arrive eventually. To make it believable I wrote Ryan’s name in one big package and couple had Sahana’s name on them. They gave each other gifts so Ryan’s gift totaled to 3 and Sahana’s 4. Sean’s name was on 17 gifts. A week before Christmas Ryan started mumbling, questioning if more gifts were coming still. I said I was done.

“What?? NO! Are you kidding me? You can not be done. Sahana and I hardly got any presents. Its all for dad!”

“Yes, I see that! You know, I bought impulsively this year. I did not keep count on how many I was buying for who and I got carried away with Dad’s presents.” I replied with an embarrassed smile. That threw him off guard – for the moment.

Sahana was confused like her brother but she is older now and did not verbalize her thoughts but silently supported her brother’s tirades.

Over the course of the week, discussions during dinner were dominated by different thoughts on the inequality of the number of gifts, questioning my love for certain family members, quantifying Sean’s good deeds to have deserved so many gifts. Sean simply smiled while I said things like, “my love for you is not measured by materialistic gifts, my darling.” I do not believe that placated my son. To be fair to Sahana, she smiled and laughed mostly and said, yeah, yeah’ as Ryan carried on about how few gifts the ‘children’ got. I continued to look shame faced.

“Sorry guys! It does seem a little unfair. I guess I just got carried away!” That continued to be my refrain.

On the night before Christmas eve, when all hope of arrival of more gifts were extinguished, Ryan forlornly looked at his 3 gifts and said,

“I guess I am considered the scum of the family. Only 3 gifts while dad has 18. Even Sahana has 4 and mom has 7! What kind of family is this where parents get more gifts than kids?”

I said his gift was expensive and he will be happy. He was quick to show his gratitude.

“Mom, I thank you for that. But why did dad get so many gifts? How good was he this year?”

Sean and I laughed till we had tears in our eyes in the privacy of our bedroom. Ryan is absolutely hilarious without even trying. And his laments about lack of gifts were in good humor. I laughed helplessly at his funny quips and he laughed loudly too with his broken, teenage voice. It was truly entertaining last 10 days or so before Christmas. Laments and funny quips got more desperate and hence funnier as the big day approached.

Christmas morning dawned. We decided to take photos with our gifts in front of us. Here are the initial photos as I handed out the gifts.

Sahana looks happy with her meager gifts.

Right before we were about to open the presents, I pretended to look at the number disparity and shook my head.

“I went a little crazy with dad’s gifts and it looks bad for the photos. Here, why don’t we reallocate them and you two help him open presents.”

“No, no! Let all your friends know what you did this Christmas. Make sure you post them on Facebook. Why will we open dad’s gifts? Let him open his. We will wait. I have only 3 anyway.” Ryan said in his fog horn voice.

“Nah! Let’s redo this.” Amid protests from both brother and sister, I redistributed the packages. And then accompanied by unadulterated laughter, we told them about our naughtiness.

I had written Sean’s name in all caps for Ryan’s gifts. Printed his name for those meant for Sahana and wrote Sean’s name in cursive for the ones that were actually his. After reallocating the packages, the story changed, Ryan’s smile returned, Sahana’s weak smile brightened, Sean and I laughed till we cried!

Since he had no idea we had played a trick on them, Ryan wrapped an empty box for Sean with this note in it:

He looked peevish when Sean opened the package with this note, “Jeez, I feel kinda mean now!”

At the end, it was indeed a holly, jolly Christmas. There was laughter, there were exclamations, there were squeals of joy and thank you’s. There was acknowledgement that ‘we got them’. They never guessed what we were up to and ultimately it ended up being a fun prank. What we got out of it? Days of endless mirth at their bafflement, the fact that our son is very materialistic, our daughter has matured enough to not harangue us with questions about her gifts.

It was, after all, a joyful Christmas. And if you charge us with bad parenting, we plead guilty. But the laughter and evil planning behind their backs were oh so worth it. 😀

Pandemic discussions


At the beginning of pandemic, we spent more time together than we do now. When work and schools closed, when Sahana returned home from her junior year abroad, we naively thought the crisis was going to be over soon. We played board games, cooked, listened to music and even danced together once in a while. Then the pandemic and isolation dragged on and we slowly retreated into our rooms, our books/emails/trainings/school work…… ourselves. Whenever possible though, we still try to eat a meal together or even if we were not eating we come out of our respective rooms to gather around. And we have conversations on several topics. Without sharing our private conversations, I thought it might be fun to document the topics that feature regularly as we break bread during pandemic or just sit together in our living room. This post will also be a reminder of 15 year old Ryan’s and 21 year old Sahana’s topics of interest at their respective ages. This is what we converse about (or the two siblings discuss, Sean and I mainly listen).

Stability of Y chromosomes…

Matrilineal DNA and height…

World history. A lot of world history. Here is a debate that Ryan wants to have with the world – the great wall of China is a reason for Western imperialism. Have a go at it. It is an ongoing debate in our household, no resolution has been reached.

Paradise lost. And Milton…

Politics, Donald Trump, democrats, republicans…

Race, equity, inclusiveness. A lot, I mean a real lot of conversations on this topic…

“In one of my anthro classes, we learnt….” some esoteric theory from Sahana about anthropology (I admit I tuned out sometimes).

More chromosome talk, DNA, heredity…

Astronomy….lot of discussions about astronomy, which includes getting energy from black hole, anti matter and other topics which escape me..

Food, recipe – a whole lot of food and recipe discussion…

Tik tok – l am made to watch cat and dog videos by both siblings on this forum. They make me laugh.

Pop culture, artists new and old…

Humanitarian assistance work – Sean loves to talk about this topic. I wonder why?

“When I traveled in Europe………” Sahana often begins her story of adventure or her lecture about a certain sight she saw or experience she had in Europe during her solo trip there last year. Ryan rolls his eyes…

Library classes…..and yes, customer experiences..

Climate change…

How long is human race going to last…

How is Ryan still single despite being so good looking (according to him) and our collective eye rolls.

There are other topics which I don’t recall now….

The senior in college who will graduate with double major in English and Anthropology has a LOT of facts/thoughts/knowledge to share. And she shares them freely, primarily to educate her brother but also her parents.

The sophomore in high school is VERY interested in world history, heredity, time travel, animals, politics, slapstick comedy, tik tok and conspiracy theories. He also has the compulsive desire to share his thoughts on those subjects and more. It almost bothers him physically if he can not verbalize his thoughts. He can not seem to hold his thoughts for he fears they will be gone from his head and how awful will that be? If we interrupt his monologs on Ghengis Khan or time travel or….any other topic of interest he says (almost vehemently) “Please…let me talk!”

I realize now that in life before pandemic, I got my kids in installments after they left their toddlerhood. There were school, work, extra curricular activities, sports, dinner, homework, sleep. We came together on weekends for occasional chats however most weekends were taken up with sports, music, homework and then getting ready for the following week. Most of our meaningful conversations happened during car rides from point A to point B. Thinking back on how busy our life was exhausts me. During the pandemic and enforced isolation when we were locked together without sports, activities, regular school, I got to peek into my children’s thoughts and interests. And I realized that while I was not looking their interests, depth of perception and comprehension, their ability to think critically, their debating prowess and ability to cite sources have all changed. They are adults…well, almost, and capable of holding stimulating conversations. This realization is bitter sweet (mostly sweet because they are interesting to listen to when I pay attention).

There is nothing positive about this pandemic however if I have to see a silver lining in all this, I would say I got this opportunity to ‘see’ and ‘hear ‘ my children without distraction. I got the time. A lot of it.

Untrampled snow


Once upon a time….not really that long ago there was a big, yellow mutt who loved the snow. Since he was an itty bitty puppy he simply loved the white, fluffy stuff that accumulated on the ground on a cold winter’s day. He would run out to the fenced in area, dig his nose into the snow and come up with snow on his nose. When we laughed at his snow covered nose, he gave a ‘what are you laughing at?’ look and went right back in it. He play bowed and rolled, he romped with bundled up Ryan and Sahana. He took his time to finish his business and did not care at all that I was freezing and needed to get inside.

The snow in our yard was never left untrampled in all these 10 years. This year is different. The snow in our yard remains pristine. The snow digger is resting in my heart. In his last winter in 2019 he did not get any snow to play with. He bid adieu on January 31st, 2020 and although I don’t much think of what comes after death, I like to think Sage is playing in snow somewhere today.

We had our first snow storm without Sage and all through it I thought of him. I felt the raw pain of losing him all over again.

No man’s land in my reading journey


Do you know what I am talking about? It is that space when you are between books. You finished a book late at night. You perhaps cried a little at the turn of events, or laughed, or smirked at the predictable anticlimactic end of the story. No matter what your reaction was, you stayed up late to finish the book. You were invested. Now the book is done, you are sad or relieved depending on how much you loved the book but the possibilities ahead of you are endless. You lovingly look at your pile of books waiting to be cracked open on your bedside table, or you go to your bookshelves where you have library books on separate shelves and personal books on others. You peruse them lovingly, perhaps open a few to read the jackets. Which one or ones will it be? To add to the joy, it is your day off. The weather outside is frightful. There is a pandemic too. You really can not do anything, go anywhere. But you want to savor this excitement of making a choice. So instead of choosing a book right as you wake up, you cook an elaborate Indian meal for the family while listening to Hindi music of yester years. After cleaning the kitchen, you go back to the book shelf. Stroke some books lovingly. You are close to making a choice. Is it going to be Diane Setterfield, Isabel Wilkerson or Laila Lalami? No, not yet. You will extend this delicious feeling of happy possibilities and go clean the bathroom. It really needed cleaning. How about throwing in a load of laundry? It is only 2:25 in the afternoon. The rest of the afternoon and lazy winter evening stretch luxuriously ahead of you. It is a dark day so you will light up the house with Christmas lights. Plug in the lights of the Christmas tree. Now you will make your final decision. You will fold yourself up in your reading chair, and then you will lose yourself.

Sincerely trying – to find the silver lining.


All you see of her face are two beautiful eyes looking back at you. The rest of the face is covered up carefully with her dupatta. And all of her arms as well. She doesn’t wear new clothes, she doesn’t buy any jewelry or apply any make up like most twenty year olds do. She […]

Sincerely trying – to find the silver lining.

Where are you from-from?


I answer that question with joy. Too much joy perhaps because my face lights up (or at least I feel my face lights up) when I say I am from India. And when I see a glimmer of recognition or some encouraging words from the questioner, I expound more on my birth country. Sometimes the person asking that question encourages my exuberance and sometimes, s/he gets glassy eyed. I have matured enough to know the signs when to continue and when to stop. This question is not difficult for me. I am a brown woman who speaks English with an accent, who came to this country in her mid twenties, lived here for years and ultimately became a naturalized citizen. There is no doubt of the fact that I am originally from a different country.

But if this question is asked to any other brown skinned person who was born here, that is stereotyping and racial profiling. This is the premise of the book Don’t Ask Me Where I am From by Jennifer De Leon. Liliana Cruz is a 15 year old girl who lives in Boston with her parents and annoying twin brothers. Her mother is from El Salvador and her father is from Guatemala. And although Liliana is a citizen of United States, her parents are both undocumented. Liliana’s family is not rich but they are relatively happy. She is a gifted writer who goes to Boston public school where she has friends who look like her, understand her culture, share similar background. Her seemingly uneventful life, however, is rudely disrupted when her father vanishes one day. Liliana does not know where her father disappeared. All she sees is that her mother is anxious and is trying her best to remain under the radar of authorities and earn as much money as she can. During this turmoil in her life, Liliana finds out that she has qualified under the METCO program to go to a predominantly white school in a suburb of Boston. METCO stands for The Metropolitan Council for Educational opportunities. “METCO is a school integration program that enrolls Boston students in grades K-10 in participating suburban public schools to reduce racial isolation” – according to their website.

Liliana is devastated to leave her old school and friends, but she chooses to go because she knows her papa would be proud of her and would have wanted her to sieze this opportunity. She soon realizes though, that although the initiative of this integration program was a noble one, the ground reality in her new school is completely different. There is another form of segregation where the METCO kids stick together and the rich kids have their own groups. The METCO students try to prove their worth by exceling in sports, academics, extracurricular activities yet they never become part of the main student body. They are different than the rest, inferior somehow because of their skin color, their style, their way of speaking. And then there is that invariable question that they are asked, “Where are you from?” When they answer that they are from Boston, the follow up question almost always is “No, but where are you from-from?” Liliana is of Hispanic origin but she was born in Jamaica Plains, MA, USA. That is where she is from-from! Many Americans like her, who are people of color, are asked this question and Jennifer De Leon makes a powerful point in this book through this story about insensitivity ingrained in that question, especially when posed to people of color. People are here, they are part of the community. Accept them, acknowledge them, respect them, dignify them.

Liliana’s father, we find out along with her, has been deported. Liliana’s world crashes around her as she discovers how vulnerable she is. Her parents could be taken from her anytime by authority and then what would happen to her? Despite the uncertainty and huge unrest in her life, Liliana grows strong, faces her challenges and searches for solution to end racial inequality instead of wallowing in self pity.

De Leon confronts some difficult issues head on. Liliana is a 15 year old girl who speaks in a lingo I am not familiar with and I do not particularly like. I found the narration of the story in Liliana’s voice somewhat detrimental to fully appreciating the story but I am not the target audience of this book. I wonder if young readers will relate to the narration. I recommend this book for the issues and the way Liliana grows in character.

‘Where are you from’ perhaps is a valid question if it comes from a place of honest curiosity to learn about a different country/culture. The follow up question, “No, but where are you from-from?” is the one to avoid.

Natural oil exacts a price.


Since my visit to Morocco at the end of last year, I have transformed my beauty care regimen. My bathroom cabinet now holds only natural oils. I have become a big proponent of argan oil, so much so that I wrote a blog on it. If you are interested, you can read it:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2020/09/27/morocco-argan-oil-and-bad-memories/

You can ignore the bad memory part. Bolstered by my success with argan oil, I delved into research and included rosehip oil as well. I use argan oil on my face after shower and rosehip oil before going to bed. It does not clog the pores and keeps the skin moist and soft. My pandemic hair has a mind of its own and is often wild and untamed. Massaging argan oil not only tames the hair, makes it soft but also relieves tension from my shoulders.

Anyway, all that I have written so far is good. You are wondering what price did natural oils exact then and when exactly is she going to stop rambling?

I was reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest fiction The Book of Longings where a character in ancient Egypt applies clove oil behind her ears as part of her beauty regime. A light bulb went on in my head. I too want to be surrounded by the smell of cloves all day long. Why not add clove oil to my collection of natural oils? I snatched up my phone and started researching clove oil and of course Amazon delivered. The instructions said to mix a few drops of clove oil with some carrier oil like coconut oil or almond oil. I figured I had argan oil as the carrier. I was set. So the following day, I got out of my shower, poured some argan oil in my hands, mixed a few drops of clove oil in it and applied it on my face.

Now, I am not one for swearing. I don’t utter expletives since my mother ingrained in me since childhood that swearing and using bad language was a no-no. But at that moment as concentrated clove oil burned my face, I may have uttered an expletive…..or two…or maybe, more.

My face was BURNING from the clove oil. I desperately reached for soap and washed my face with cold water to get rid of the oil. But the burning sensation subsided only after splashing ice cold water for a long time. I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror fearing burnt face. No, the skin on my face was normal color, extra soft perhaps and glowing. The fact is, I grew up using cloves. It was used in our food to make rice or other dishes aromatic. We chewed it as mouth freshener. I use it now crushed within my homemade garam masala. It was used to diminish toothache when I was growing up. I know the strong taste of clove. I know clove is spicy and has quite a strong kick to it. I should have known concentrated clove oil will be strong. I did not. I paid the price for my…..for the lack of better word, stupidity.

The next morning, I ran to a natural store, bought a big bottle of sweet almond oil. I then filled a small spray bottle with almond oil, mixed a few dropper full of clove oil to create a mix of natural oils that will not only moisturize my body but surround me with the smell of cloves. I have been using the mixture successfully since. However, I have not been brave enough to try the mixture on my face yet. I think I will stay true to my two other naturals – argan and rosehip. They never exacted such a harsh price ever! They are kind and gentle. But clove oil surrounds me with an aroma I love!