Smiles


We celebrated Sahana’s birthday recently. After quite a while, the four of us went out for a nice dinner. I wore my mother’s saree, Sahana wore one of her kurtis and Sean wore baba’s punjabi. I felt we carried their essence with us that way and they were present as we celebrated the birthday of their precious Sahana. Ryan was entrusted to take photographs that day since he has the best camera app. He took some candid shots of me when I was smiling, or laughing even. When I looked at those photos, the joy I felt in those moments were palpable. There was a point in my life this past year when I did not believe I will feel that emotion fully. But I did. And that surprised me. Just as Mary Oliver said in her poem, Heavy, the joy on my face startled me – in a good way.

Next day at work, I took my friend aside and said, “I need to tell you something. I felt joyful yesterday.” There was a sense of wonder in my voice and I think she heard it. She said, “I am so happy to hear that.”

I have poured out my grief in my blogs. I will now leave this memory of joy too, here. If I can dissociate myself from everyday living, I can look at the tapestry of my life – woven with love, loss, friendship, laughter and joy.

Khushi’s 9th birthday


“The month of May is just awful!” Khushi, whose birthday is on May 27th, told Sahana during our recent visit to Kolkata.

“It is your birthday in May. Why is it awful?” Sahana asked.

“Didiya mamma and dadai died in May.” Khushi replied. Those are my parents, her adopted grandparents. Sahana told her despite those terrible losses May is wonderful because the world got Khushi in the month of May.

Little Khushi is 9 years old today. Every time I see her I marvel at her maturity and poise at this young age. Even at this tender age she sees her mother’s struggle to give her a chance at a better life and most importantly, she recognizes it. She knows that they live in extreme poverty and she is resigned to the fact that she has to go without. She goes to a school where her peers come from middle class background. She is a popular child, kind and well liked by others so she gets a lot of invitations to her friends’ houses to play. When she goes to their houses she sees how the other half lives. She can never invite them to her house because she lives in a tiny room where the bed takes up the entire space. There is no space to even move around. Her mother cooks somehow in a tiny space in the same room. Water leaks when it rains. They have to put a bucket underneath and stay up at night if the storm is too bad. She knows all this. So she never asks for anything. I sent her some gifts through Amazon. I have asked Gouri to buy her a cake. Every year my parents celebrated her birthday at our house with cake, pizza and gifts. Last year was a year of loss but this year I want to acknowledge that the world is a better place because little Khushi is in it. But she does not know any of it yet. I called her mother to keep all this a secret. I asked Breshpati if they are celebrating Khushi’s birthday with their family. Breshpati said, ‘Na didi.’ Money is short and Khushi knows it. She told her mom she does not need anything but if it is not too much would her mother make her pizza? She LOVES pizza. That will be the celebration – home made pizza. They do not have an oven. The pizza will be made on stove top.

On this day, I hope you will join me in blessing this little girl and wishing her a wealth of happiness in her life. And success – whatever is her measure of it. I am so very happy to have her in my life.

Birthday well spent


The sun is shining brightly on my indoor plants as I look up and steal glances at them while I type out this blog. I breathe easier today. I survived an emotionally wrought day yesterday – baba’s birthday. As I reflect upon it, I have a sense of relief that it is over and also that it was well spent. Baba, for as long as I remember, was an empathetic listener to the elderly. I remember, in family get togethers he spent more time with the elderly than with his compatriots. He sat with them in our extended family reunions and listened to their stories. He always said there is much to be learned from those who came before us. They need to be heard. When he and ma started their NGO, they would often help impoverished homes for elderly. While they donated much needed items and fed the seniors, baba listened to the stories of their lives.

Yesterday, at work, I got called to help a customer download an audiobook on her device. As I walked to the floor towards the customer, I saw that she was very elderly, wheel chair bound. Her hands shook as she tried to press buttons on her device. With her permission, I touched her tablet (although we are not really allowed to touch devices of customers) and did what needed to be done to get her the audiobook. She was so relieved and at the same time apologetic that she was taking up so much of my time. I assured her, repeatedly, that it is indeed my joy to be able to help her. I love nothing better than connecting book lovers to reading materials and I am honestly doing what I love to do. She smiled. After we successfully downloaded her book, she was thrilled and excited to listen to it once she got home. Her eyes are not what they used to be so although she’d rather read, she cannot these days so she has resorted to listening to audiobooks. She told me a little about her sons and grandchildren before we said goodbye. She was afraid she was going to forget the steps to download books in the future. I reassured her that help was truly a phone call away if that does happen. As I turned to leave, she said to me, “Honey, I thank you for your patience. You have been so helpful and kind.” As I walked back to my office, I thought what a perfect way to celebrate baba’s birthday. He would have loved to hear this story.

There were tears. Of course there were tears and plenty of them. And there was laughter too, remembering his idiosyncrasies and his wicked sense of humor. I went to the garden in the library where my coworkers donated 2 paver stones in my parents’ names. I stood there by him, remembering his lifetime of love for me, Sean and his grandchildren. After I came home, Sean wanted to go pay his respects to the paver stones too. So we went again. I did not have flowers so I picked up a leaf from the garden (did not pluck it) and put it on the stone that has his name on it. Sean touched the stone, said a prayer. We then went for a walk around the lake as the sun went down and the colors of sunset reflected on the calm waters of the lake. We ended up at our favorite Indian restaurant and talked about grief, closure and love over dal, paneer and garlic naan. Baba would have scoffed at the choice of food (vegetarian) but he would have loved the celebration.

Clenched


Loss is relatively new to me. It has not been a year yet. I hear from friends that we relearn to live around our losses eventually. I am learning. I have written a grief journal which I doubt I will ever be able to revisit. However, it helped immensely as an outlet to pour out my grief at the time as I was hurting so badly that I did not think it was worth living for a short while. I now know that life is worthy because life is fragile and short and beautiful (for the most part). I now know, thanks to books and conversations, that love, joy, friendships, grief AND loss is tapestry of my life. Recently, I read a book called The Guncle by Steven Rowley where he writes “Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move, dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.” As days go by the circle gets greater, for sure. I smile at memories more and still tear up a bit that we will make no more. But when special days come up my whole body clenches in anticipation of tremendous pain.

Ma’s birthday on November 1st, 2021, was painful. Worse than the actual day were the days leading up to it as grief orbited very close to my heart, constricting it so much that I had trouble breathing. Baba’s birthday is coming up on March 2nd. I have been losing sleep over how much pain that will bring. I smile, though, at the memory of us wishing him happy birthday via video message and he responding with an uncomfortable laughter and a confused “hmm… same to you.” He was not used to being wished ‘happy birthday’ in English. His birthdays, in his days. were celebrated with payesh (rice pudding), blessings of his elders, sumptuous lunch and dinner. When I was little, I saved money to buy him a wallet and decorated a card. I don’t remember singing happy birthday to him growing up. The singing and wishing came much later and he never got used to it. He liked it though, which was clear from his beaming smile as his little grandchildren (and even when they grew up) sang to him. He just never learned the proper response. I don’t know how I would be on his upcoming birthday as he has ceased to exist (physically). Yes, I am all clenched up inside anticipating a surge of unbearable pain but maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe, I will make sure the memories I have with him are blessings. Maybe I will wake up that day and sing him a happy birthday anyway and I will remember his confusion……and maybe, I will smile.

It is a happy day!


Ma is not going to grow a year older today. And there is no point in wishing her happy birthday any more since she has crossed the realm when ‘be happy on your birthday’ is meaningless. In the years past, we wrote or made a video the night before so she got our “happy birthday” message first thing in the morning. The message brought on a big smile and a ‘thank you’ in a smile-soaked voice. I do not know where her soul went after her heart stopped beating. I grew up with the Hindu belief that our souls enter a different body and lead a new life after it leaves the old one. And this process continues till one attains moksha or nirvana. This thought is comforting. If that is true, then I hope her next life is much happier than the one she left. Also, the thought that energy is indestructible and ma’s energy surrounds me is also very comforting. But the point is I am not wishing her happy birthday. Instead I am claiming her birthday to celebrate the woman she was, the mother she was.

For the rest of my life I will not be wishing Ma a happy birthday but it will always be a happy day. So today, when tears threaten to blur my vision I have to tell myself it is a happy day. A happy, happy day.

A birthday blog


I saw an elated face holding up a victory sign from a distance as I was rolled away to recovery room after giving birth to Sahana 22 years ago. That was my ma. Baba was standing next to her with a grin that took over his entire face. On Sahana’s birthday, I kept remembering those expressions on their faces. I do not recall witnessing pure joy like that ever in my life. I remember raising my hand in a weak wave as their faces disappeared around the corner. It is interesting how those little things stay permanently in one’s memory. That moment, when they heard the cry of new born Sahana, was the beginning of a love story. Sahana could do no wrong in their eyes. And as Sahana grew older didiya and dadai became her people. Since her childhood she confided in them secrets that she did not tell me. Didiya was her sounding board, her confidante, her go-to. Dadai was fellow adventurer.

I don’t know if Sahana’s grandparents are watching over her. It is a comforting thought so I like to think they are. However, the lifetime of all encompassing love that they showered upon her during their time with her is deeply weaved within the tapestry of her life. That tapestry will be an integral part of her whole.

This is a rambling birthday blog. What I really wanted to write was how Sahana has grown up to be a giver. Again, during times of joy or grief, certain moments, some actions stand out. I want to write down one such action that shines as a beacon of light in my heart during my darkest hours. Ma had just died. Baba was continuing his fight for life. I had not been able to mourn ma’s death because I was fighting to keep baba breathing. One morning, after zillion phone calls with Kolkata, I was sitting on my chair gazing at nothing in particular. My mind was blank, numb. Sahana was still doing her last few online classes. I saw her pass by me in the living room, then I vaguely remember hearing some noises in the kitchen. I was so lost in my thoughts, I don’t recall anything else till she came up to me and softly said, “I made some comfort food for you to eat. They are covered in the kitchen. Do eat please.” Then she kissed me on the top of my head and went back to her next online class. I did not realize the significance of this beautiful gesture till much later when I had time to think. But when I did think back on it, my heart simply exploded with love and gratitude at this act of pure kindness. She had made white rice, masoor dal, boiled egg and fried potatoes – soul food for Bengalis.

She has grown up to be a giver like her father. Her love language is doing something for her loved ones. And she does so much for me – picking up Ryan from school, shopping for the family, getting food, buying me drinks with her Starbucks discount….

I believe all the love she received growing up has taught her to pass it forward. The love has taught her to care, to feel, to empathize.

Happy 22nd birthday to my favorite girl. Hope you continue in your journey of showering love to the universe. Hope you find success – success that is defined by you.

The “goods” in the week of May 30th.


I was humming as I weeded. I was surprised when I realized I was humming. That is good, right? The fact that I am singing a song again while doing something?

I went back to work on June 1st. That was mostly good. On occasion I felt I did not want to do this, all I wanted was to go back home, sit on my reading chair and stare into space. However, I refocused on the job at hand and got it done.

My cousin has come to stay with us to help me live through this time. One day I came back from work to find a bowl full of peeled oranges and peeled lichees waiting for me. She went out with Sahana but left prepared food for me to eat. This gesture of caring made me cry and reminded me of ma, baba – but not in a sad way. It reminded me to be grateful for the love and care I continue to receive from my loved ones. I hope I am able to pay the kindness forward.

I was dreading my birthday this year. June 3rd was very, very hard. Yet my friends and family showered me with love. Sean came to pick me up from work with flowers. Instead of coming home right away, we sat on a bench and cried for ma and baba. I came home to a delicious meal of luchi, alur dom, fish fry, payesh, cookie cake and ice cream. Sahana cooked the entire meal under the tutelage of my cousin sister, her mashun. There were gifts of framed photographs of ma, baba in happier times, lovely dresses. And love, laughter, hugs.

My flowers continue to radiate beauty and joy.

I got so many hugs from my family at work.

A friend invited me over for tea. I surprised myself when I realized I enjoyed the evening.

Writing still helps me process and cope. It makes me cognizant of the forward progress in my journey of loss and the path to rebuild around this loss.

Many nights Sahana, Ryan, sister and I play a raucous round of ludo before bed.

On Saturday we went to a beach nearby. I looked for ma, baba in the gentle waves.

I have talked aloud to ma, baba sometimes. Mostly joked with them. I asked them what is the point of being dead if they can not part the traffic for me so I can zoom ahead of other cars.

My circle of love still surrounds me and I try to find ma, baba in each sunset, in the white clouds and the blooming flowers.

A dear friend sent me hug on wsapp on a day I was miserable. I needed that hug and I told her I was having a bad day. She said she was thinking of me and it must have been telepathy.

I desperately need something to look forward to. Searching.

An unhappy birthday


I was dreading my birthday this year. But it came anyway like any other day. I woke up at 4:00 am, filled my travel coffee mug and started the car at 4:30 am to take Ryan to his swim practice. Once Ryan went in to swim, I sat in my car watching the sun slowly lighten up the world. This was my first birthday without my parents and this is the first of however many birthdays I have left that I will spend without them. The irony is, I had planned to celebrate my big 50 with them last year.

Once I came home, I got a call from Breshpati and Khushi. They sang a lovely rendition of “happy birthday” to me. Breshpati said ma always sent a pujo in my name on my birthday so she is continuing the tradition and on her behalf, she sent a pujo for me to wish me well in life. Gouri called me to ask my permission to do a pujo for my parents in the house – if I had no objection. I was so touched by these gestures. These women, who are not related to me by blood, were more than my sisters who are acting solely out of love for my parents and me. I am sad to have lost my parents and feel totally unlucky and unhappy right now but I also acknowledge the blessings of love that have touched me from all corners of life. They will sustain me, I am sure, once this feeling of heaviness subsides.

Help thy neighbor


We were standing at the check out line when I saw Sean’s subtle body movement in front of me and I knew he is getting ready to help someone. I wrote in one of my blogs that Sean is a giver. His love pours over not only his family but all around him – including perfect strangers. Ahead of us in the check out line was a very elderly woman with a full cart of groceries. Among the groceries were two big bags of bird feed. As the woman slowly put her items up on the counter for the clerk to check out, I could see Sean eyeing the bags of bird feed and I detected the familiar twitch in his body. That is when I knew he is going to leap – to help. And I opened my mouth to stop him. Yes, I tried to stop my husband from helping a frail, elderly woman from lifting heavy bags of bird feed on the check out counter. You read that right. Why? Because we are living through a pandemic. I do not know how people would react if you randomly touch their stuff at this time. But before I could pull at his sleeve, he lifted the bags on to the counter for her. I shook my head. The woman and the check out clerk thanked him and the woman asked if he could accompany her to unload her car at her house – in jest.

I heaved a sigh of relief that no one got upset at Sean touching someone’s grocery. It took a long time for the woman to finish since her hands shook as she slowly wrote her check to pay. The employee helping her was kind and wonderful. Although there was a long line forming behind us, nobody showed impatience. My husband struck again. He zipped around the woman, went to the end of the check out counter and hauled the 2 heavy bags of bird feed onto the woman’s cart. I was wildly gesticulating at this point to stop touching other people’s stuff. The woman thanked him profusely and he offered to take the cart to her car and put the bags in it. She said she could do it and appreciated his offer and help.

When he came back to me I said I truly appreciate how he helps everyone but can he not touch other people’s stuff randomly please since we are in a pandemic? He smiled and said he supposedly had asked the woman’s permission before touching her groceries. I had missed that conversation.

I have known Sean for 26 years now and I have seen him going out of his way to help strangers who cross his path. The help in small scale could be getting luggage down from overhead locker for someone, entertaining babies so harried parents could get some reprieve on a long plane ride, giving up his seat to others in need including coveted aisle seat in airplanes (who does that?) carrying groceries, and in bigger scale – staying with a young mother with an infant in Colombo airport when militants tried to bomb the airport, lying on the ground with the baby between them as bullets passed over them and then accompanying her home safely, holding up a half upturned car (along with a few others) with the driver in it till rescue came. There are zillion instances, big and small, of how Sean helps. And I am in awe of how much he gives. Truly. However, it has fallen upon me to somewhat keep him under control during pandemic. His first instinct is to pick up a fallen glove on the road and shout after the person who he thinks has dropped the glove. I am the one who swoops down to stop him from touching the glove, or litter, which he picks up regularly to throw in a trash can. “DON’T touch!!! Pandemic!” I have been shouting regularly these days.

This is an ode to my husband. A truly good man. And although there are times when he drives me up the wall, I consider myself blessed to spend my life with him. I am a better person because of him. The world is a better place because he is in it. And today is his birthday.