My mother..


Recently a friend commented that he has renewed respect for his mother after singlehandedly cooking and taking care of his sick family members. He wondered how his mother did all this alone every single day. I don’t remember my mother in that role at all. She stayed far away from the kitchen. She declared loudly that she does not like to cook and only cooks when there is an absolute need. In 70’s Kolkata, that declaration was completely antithetical to the image of an ideal woman and a mother. Did she care though? Nope.

Instead of being a bringer of food, she nourished me with books. She ensured I was fed of course, but she also always made sure I had plenty of books to read. I used to get sick every month with some kind of fever as a child. Although I felt unwell, I did not mind the fever too much because every time I got sick, Ma bought new books to perk me up. They were not classics or anything deep, thought provoking or educational. They were Amar Chitra Kathas or comics of my favorite super heroes but I still remember the joy I felt in my fever ravaged mind as I saw the packet of books in her hands.

My favorite memory of Ma is us sharing the same pillow reading our respective books in summer afternoons during summer vacation.

Once school’s session ended and we got a few days off till next grade, she insisted I read a story book during the time assigned for homework just to stay in the habit of sitting down to work. I loved that ‘work.’ Interestingly, I got a job where reading is actually part of my work.

I remember her reading poems of Rabindranath Tagore to me starting with Shishu and then moving on to Sanchoyita. She guided me into the treasure trove of Bengali literature as she was a voracious consumer of all those treasures.

I remember her teaching me kindness.

I remember regurgitating all my school stories as a little girl while I ate my after school snack and she listening patiently.

My favorite thing about her is her laugh. She has this rumbling, all encompassing laughter which starts in her face and travels through her whole body and being.

She is very gullible. She believes easily and then laughs if she realizes she fell for some trick or pranks by her grand kids.

My Ma is not the one who worked all day to make me food or clean the house or arrange my table. She did work all the time to be my cheerleader, my fellow bibliophile, my confidante, my teacher, sometimes my counselor and also a strict disciplinarian.

She is fighting Covid in a hospital in Kolkata along with my father. I am very far away and can not be with either of them.

If you are reading this blog, do send some healing wishes to the universe for these people that you do not know but who could benefit from good, positive energy.

Happy mother’s day.

The witching hour


Last night I found myself ugly crying because Efrèn’s mom got deported. Efrèn is in middle school, his twin siblings are in kindergarten. His apà works constantly to make ends meet. His amà holds the family together with her love, her food and her superwoman abilities of multi tasking. But neither amà nor apà had papers to be here in United States, so ICE raided the place she went for a job interview and deported her to Tijuana, Mexico. I cried thinking of all those children whose parents went to work and never came home. No matter which side of the immigration debate you are on, this separation of families is inhuman and needs to stop immediately.

I was reading a young adult fiction Efrèn Divided by Ernesto Cisneros late into the night. Despite my intense feelings about the book, this blog is not a review of the book or a debate about our immigration policies. This blog is about being one with the book I am reading in the middle of the night when everybody is fast asleep, the night is eerily quiet, all the lights are out except for my bedside lamp. At that time, I feel truly transported into the life of the characters I read about. At that time, I feel the strength of written words most strongly in my heart as it transforms me into a fly on a wall observing and living vicariously someone else’s life. There is a satisfying release in that feeling.

I tried reading Efrèn Divided during evening after work. But there were distractions of my family – talking, fixing dinner, cleaning kitchen, Ryan thumping around the house gathering towel, swim suit, provisions for his swim meet next day. Efrèn’s life had only part of my attention. I was completely invested in his life and the fate of his family once my life was suspended for the night.

I knew it was getting late but I also knew next morning will bring my life to the forefront and the various lives I live through the characters of books that I read will be pushed to the back. So I turned the pages till the last page was read, till I found out what happened to Efrèn’s mom, till I climbed out of Efrèn’s life and sighed at our parting.

Tomorrow night I will climb into another world with Megha Majumdar and go on a journey within the pages of her debut novel A Burning. Night after night, my journey will continue as long as I live.

‘I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.’ Anne Tyler

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.