A song

I could not fall asleep last night. My anxiety caused me to hyperventilate as I tried taking deep breaths. This morning I sat on my couch and saw the sunlight hit just the right way on our beloved indoor plant. The green of the leaves sparked joy.

I laced up my sneakers, plugged in the earbuds, turned on my Playlist to Rabindrasangeet and went out to walk in the woods. The cerulean sky, the cold on my face, the green grass despite the patches of frozen water on it, and the bare branches standing tall with the promise of life within it gave me peace. There were many birds out today, all puffed up against the cold, hopping on the fields, looking for grub. They took flight when I walked near them but did not go too far. I think I saw the bushy tail of the neighborhood fox in Sage’s path but I may be wrong. It was just a glimpse. I emptied my mind of all the anxiety to soak in the treasure in front of me. And it worked. My breathing calmed, my mind found temporary peace. I store these scenes in my mind to draw upon them when I have anxiety attacks as bed time approaches.

As I made my way home, baba’s favorite song came on my Playlist – Jokhon porbe na mor pa er chinho ei baate….

তখন কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
সকল খেলায়…
সকল খেলায় করবে খেলা এই আমি, আহা
কে বলে গো সেই প্রভাতে নেই আমি
নতুন নামে ডাকবে মোরে বাঁধবে
বাঁধবে নতুন বাহু-ডোরে
আসব যাব চিরদিনের সেই আমি

A rough translation of this stanza is this:

Who says I am not present on that dawn. My being will be present in the universe. You will call me in different names but being is forever.

I have asked a lot of why’s and where’s since the dreadful month of May in 2020. It has been 8 months looking for peace, for meaning. I realized I find most peace (at least temporarily) if I believe the energy of my parents are now mingled with each and every aspect of beauty in nature that unfolds in front of me if I care to ‘see’. Baba sang this song a lot. I heard but did not listen. I listened today.


A friend suggested I meditate  to calm my mind during this distressing time. Since ma left, I have been sitting outside by the flowers every day in the afternoon when Kolkata falls asleep. And I have thought of ma. That has been my meditation. Some thoughts brought tears and some brought laughter.

As I sit outside, nature unfurls it’s palm to show me the treasure that I missed when life was normal. I watch the frenetic activities of the romantic cardinal couple who flit from one bush to the next whispering, rather loudly, sweet nothings to each other. The baby bunny who lives under the bush pokes out and then tries to hop away when it sees me. But my still form instills some confidence in it, so it stays out and twitches it’s nose in the air. Today, a little white butterfly flew close to me and I wondered if all these life forms are bringing ma’s energy to her daughter thousands of miles away? The sun-kissed, lime green leaves of trees have kept me company during these sessions, the cerulean blue of the sky sent a message to be patient. The beautiful flowers that friends have sent in their kindness constantly remind me that my mother would want me to appreciate the beauty of life.

I have meditated with my mother’s thoughts. I have not emptied my mind and focused on a chant, or a point on the wall. Before the frantic fight for baba’s recovery starts the next day, these quiet afternoons have been my solace.

I have not had time to meditate after my father’s passing. I believe my system is in a state of shock and the practicalities that face me now are keeping calm thoughts at bay. I know I need to focus on both their memories to feel some peace. The hurt, however, is too recent, too raw. I am counting on the age old adage, time will heal.

What’s good in my town?

My friend and fellow blogger whose blog site I encourage you to check out at http://theycallmetater.com writes about What’s Good in Tater Town. While I read his posts diligently and like what he writes, I love his posts about What’s Good in Tater Town the most. As I sat outside today and looked at the most beautiful blue sky, the hopeful green of early spring, fat bunnies in my back yard and the familiar ping of ball hitting a baseball bat in the baseball fields behind my house, I realized THIS was good in MY town. Yet my inside was clenched over anxiety about rising Covid cases in India, when can I go home, health and well being of my parents, my distance from them and thousand other thoughts. The constant anxiety is probably taking away years from my life. And then I thought about my friend’s post about what ‘his’ good is in his town. He enlists having dinner with his son and daughter as something good that happened, reading out in the deck is something good that happened, getting a free coffee from Dunkin is something good that happened. These are indeed good things that happened. He notices these, acknowledges these and writes them down. I too have these moments but I am so busy worrying that I gloss over them. And lose them in the process.

So I mindfully looked around me to honor the beautiful day. I looked at the new green and appreciated the life it promised. I had dinner with my family and I focused on what they said. Ryan had a weekend of fantastic swim meet, dropping time in all his events. That was good. Sahana got her first vaccine. That was amazing.

I think I will follow my friend’s example and write down what is good in my town. Who knows, perhaps I will inspire someone to look within their life to find the ‘goods’ like I was inspired?

Filling in with life.

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The beauties featured in the photograph are the cynosure of my eyes right now. After Sage’s death, a dear friend gifted me a blooming orchid. She said seeing a new life bloom may soothe me after the loss. She was absolutely right. As each bloom unfolded its potential and spread its beauty, I was mesmerized. I sat by it thinking of my years with Sage but not in a melancholy way. The quiet splendor of the orchid gave me peace.

Another friend is a nurturer of indoor plants and succulents. The pictures of her plants on Instagram inspired me to buy a succulent for myself. Although I enjoy flowers immensely, I am sad to admit, I kill plants. Understandably, I was nervous to buy the succulent fearing I may be incapable of keeping even a hardy plant alive. My friend encouraged me. “I believe in you” she said. I ventured out and bought 3 succulents. I kept them on the sunny ledge of the balcony where Sage used to sit and reign over his domain. I added 2 basil plants, a mint plant and 2 pepper plants to the mix. Now Sage’s ledge is completely covered by new life. I like to sit by them, savor their quiet beauty and think of him.

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This was his space. He ruled his world from here.

I managed to keep all the plants alive this year. They seem to be thriving. So I got ambitious and bought more succulents for inside my house. I work and read next to them now, glancing over often to marvel at how beautiful they are, how full of life. Sahana bought some baby ones for her room and now we have quite a collection of quiet yet vibrant life in and out of our house.

Sage left us with emptiness and quiet. The plants fill up that emptiness with their lives. They maintain the quiet. I don’t mind it. Their radiating beauty soothes my soul.

Lovely! Does it HAVE to be fair?

Will you all please join me in raising our fists in the air and shouting ‘Gender equality!!! Finally!!’ A fairness cream company has come up with a fairness cream for men and it promises results in just four weeks of usage. Say goodbye to the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ good looks! That is so yesterday! Today’s mantra is ‘fair and handsome!’ I should have been happy reading this. It deals with the double standard that Indian society has – women have to be fair to be considered a beauty, yet men? Well, they are men, right? The sex itself makes them a step above! Nothing else matters or should matter. Now, they have to be fair to be considered beauti…oops, handsome. That’s politically correct.

I have never quite understood the fairness fetish in India and the other Asian countries. I have seen and have been subjected to good-natured ridicule about skin color. It hurt in the teenage years when one really likes to be admired for their physical attributes. But as I became older and wiser, I became optimistic that as India opened up to the world more, it would realize that the average skin tone of Indians is actually an enviable attribute amongst many in the fair-skinned population. People would also realize that skin color is something in your genes. You can take care of it, keep it blemish free as much as you can, but it would be difficult to change your skin tone. I understood that the concept of ‘fair skinned beauty’ is deep-rooted and will take time to completely disappear. The cinema, the media, the music all play to the concept ‘fair skin equates beautiful’. Hindi songs warn women not to go out in the sun, not because one will get skin cancer but the skin will darken – ‘Dhoop mein nikla na karo roop ki raani, gora rang kaala na ho jaye!’ I was told, many times, not to drink tea. Tea will affect the liver, mal functioning of liver will darken my skin further, my prospects of marrying, already low, will dwindle. You get the logic? It may be appropriate to mention a personal experience here. I went for an interview for a sales job in a renowned air conditioning company, right out of college. The job I was interviewing for entitled selling air conditioners in the sweltering heat of Kolkata. The manager, after looking at me and my resume, asked if I was up for this kind of job since my skin would darken under the sun and I would have trouble attracting a mate with my darkened skin. I didn’t even realize how inappropriate the comment was at the time, I was brain washed since childhood that dark is bad, hence the comment seemed normal. I am still embarrassed that I didn’t protest such mindset then. There are exceptions, but they only prove the rule, unfortunately. However, the eternal optimist that I am, I hoped this perception would fade away as my ‘shining India’ shone brighter.

Then I read this recently: “While these ads (apart from boosting the sales of the products), have invited flak for promoting insecurity and discrimination among women, the latest to join the long list of fairness products is something that can be described as ludicrous at best. The product, that has sparked an online debate, is a fairness cream for women’s private parts!

The ad, that went on-air some time back, has been described by the online world as the “ultimate insult to women”. It shows a Katrina Kaif look-alike who has a glum expression on her face, as her husband is more interested in the newspaper than in her. But once she cleans herself up (with that product), she suddenly becomes the object of his affections. The Twitterati is buzzing with comments slamming these products. “This is the ultimate insult. Skin whitening for your vagina,” Rupa Subramanya tweeted. While @ThePunjew, wrote, “What a bummer, there’s no shade card yet to monitor fairness progress!”

The above excerpt is from an article in The Times of India ‘Outrage over fairness cream for private parts’. ‘A new TV ad for a personal hygiene cream, that promises ‘fairer’ private parts for women, has been slammed by netizens.’

Fairness cream is a disgrace, I think. It is demeaning and insulting, to say the least, to women and now men. Some of the famous film personalities have refused to endorse tobacco and alcohol advertisements, yet many movie icons continue to appear and endorse fairness creams. I agree fairness cream doesn’t inflict the same amount of damage in one’s body as tobacco and alcohol but how about the mind? How about society? How about dowry that the grooms ask for a dark-skinned bride? I have watched with amazement as a father joked about how he has set aside a huge sum of money for dowry for his dark-skinned daughter. He joked, ‘When the groom’s family mentions her darkness, I will hand them the first bundle of rupees, when they mention her nose, I will hand them the second bundle!’ All this in front of the girl, who sat there with a slight smile on her face. Isn’t this SOMEWHAT akin to selling the girl, her skin tone, her features?

I spoke to an amazingly beautiful model whose only regret in life was her dark skin. She wishes to be fairer in the next life. ‘What are you talking about? You are beautiful!’ I told her, amazed. ‘Nah, I am too dark!’ Her response. When a baby is born in a family, the question about his/her skin color is asked at the same time as whether s/he is healthy. If the baby happens to be dark-skinned, the comments generally are ‘The color is dark BUT the features will be good.’ I am waiting for the BUT to change to AND! When my babies were born, the hope amongst many of my friends and family were the children get my white husband’s skin tone! I still remember a question asked after Ryan’s birth, by a friend’s mother, ‘The baby is like Sean, I hope? Fair skinned?’

The pancake make up ladies lather on their faces to whiten them is very disheartening. Glowing skin of any hue is beautiful, unnatural white skin is not! I was subjected to such makeup during my Indian wedding, much to the dismay of my white husband. ‘What have they done to you?’ He exclaimed. ‘Color equality for the day, darling. Deal with it!’ I said.

I recently spotted a popular fairness cream in an Indian grocery store in the US. I was disappointed to see the fairness fetish has transcended geographical boundaries. The store owner told me the sale of the product is very high. To me, that was surprising. I started appreciating my skin color more after I came to this country where people pointed to my arms and said, ‘That is what WE want.’ Hence the tanning salons, hence the sun bathing. I thought Indians would feel proud of their naturally tanned skin color but many seem to want the fair skin of the Caucasians. Entry fairness creams. Hackneyed but true, the grass truly is greener on the other side.

Bottomline: India, please wake up and smell the coffee. The mindset regarding fairness, instead of improving, is taking a terrible, demeaning, sadly humorous turn. It is invading the privacy of women. Spend more money on gynecological check ups to prevent ovarian cancer, educate women on women’s health and check for breast cancer. Please do not worry about the COLOR of women’s privates. There are so many more things in the world to worry about. Do trust me on this one!

Get out of my hair!

I grew up with the usual insecurities that girls grow up with, my looks, height, skin tone, body mass etc, but not my hair! Oh no! I was born with a head of luxurious, full-bodied, bluish black, shiny hair. My mother decided to increase the volume and beauty of it by shaving off my head five times in my childhood. I had no say, of course, but had to suffer in silence in school when girls teased me about my shining, bald head! But I did have the utmost satisfaction of informing her, as I got older and wiser that shaving heads did nothing to grow one’s hair any thicker! Don’t fight me on that one, I am not going to hear it!

My mother was very proud of my hair. She would tell anyone who listened how people crowded around me in hair salons complimenting the thickness of it and how they wished they had hair like mine. I said in my mind, ‘You can have it! Take it all!’ I, the black-haired Rapunzel, was not happy with my headful of hair at all. I had to wash it, brush it, detangle it….and I have already mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I am inherently lazy!

I kept my hair long because even the thought of cutting it short was somewhat sacrilegious in my extended family, ‘What? You want to cut off that beautiful hair! People would die to get hair like you!’ So I kept it long in a careless topknot on my head!

I met my husband and quite predictably, he loved the hair despite my exaggerated eye rolls and long sighs. When my daughter was born, she liked to clamp her little fists around my long earrings and pull with all her might. I got rid of earrings. Then she targeted my long hair! Finally, I found a credible reason to get rid of it. Don’t want the baby to put my hair in her mouth now, do I? On a whim, I went and chopped it all off. I will never forget Sean’s face when he saw me that day! He recovered quickly and said I looked great, whatever I wanted to do with my hair was simply fantastic. I look gorgeous either way! What can I say, I got a good one!

I asked him to back me up when I faced my mother with the new do. As soon as my mother saw me, her face fell. She couldn’t talk for a few seconds. Good thing I was an adult, a married woman and a new mother, or else I would have been grounded till kingdom come. When she got her speech back she turned to her baby granddaughter and said, ‘Now you have two daddies!’ Interestingly enough, my mother sports a very stylish page-boy hairstyle. Sean, my knight in shining armor, came to my rescue as usual. He gave this classic line to my mom, ‘She loves your look so much, she wanted to look just like you!’ I gave him a gratified look which said, ‘I knew there was a reason why I married you!’

I visited Kolkata with my super short haircut, only to be reprimanded severely by my uncles, aunts, grandparents. In india, long hair is a sign of beauty and I did away with that! In fact, a well meaning neighbor while lamenting my decision came right out,’Why did you do this? That was your only sign of beauty!’ Sean and I laughed so hard and appreciated the lady’s forthrightness!

We were living in India then, and I couldn’t withstand the pressure any longer. I let my hair grow back. Life got busy, I didn’t have much time to take care of it, it was either pulled in a ponytail or tied it on top of my head while I raised kids and held the fort. Then I started noticing long strands of gray! And that was the last straw! I was not going to go around with long salt and pepper hair. Some women carry it off well, unfortunately, I am not one of them!

I turned forty and made a momentous decision. I will wear my hair short for the rest of my life! I did just that and this time my husband declared that he loved my short hairstyle. What else could he do, poor guy! That was all I needed. My mother, miraculously, came around and said I looked fine with short hair! Oh, the joy! I feel liberated and free from the long tresses which I had to carry around unwillingly for a major part of my life. Friends from India still try to exert pressure by saying long hair gave me a softer look, short hair makes me look ‘stern’! Or “You looked so much better with long hair, please grow it back!”I always threaten them that if they don’t back off, I will write a blog on my hair and make them read it. I have done good on my threat. So there….