Petals within pages


“You know the plant is going to die, right?” Sahana said to me with slight panic in her voice, cutting off my effusive gushing over “obstinate ma plant”. In my slightly unbalanced (hopefully temporary) mind, the geranium that I planted the day after ma’s death has truly become her alter ego. Sahana seemed concerned I will plunge back into dooms of despair once the plant has lived its lifetime. I laughed at the panic in her voice.

I was narrating the story to a friend. She asked if I had considered pressing petals of those flowers within pages of a book? I thought that was a brilliant idea. The dilemma, however, was which book deserved the petals of obstinate ma plant? And how did one press petals to dry anyway? The second part was easy since Google has the answers. The difficult decision was which book would ma love to be remembered in? Was it a book by her “pran er thakur” Rabindranath? Manik Bondopadhyay? Mahashweta Debi? Poetry of Sukanto? All of them were her loves but I finally decided on Ashapurna Debi’s “Prothom Protusruti”. My fledgling feminism took flight at a young age when ma first passed on this book to me. Since then I must have read the book and it’s sequels over a dozen times. The story follows the life of a little girl in rural Bengal at the beginning of the 20th century when Bengal society was tightly shackled by social restrictions imposed by upper caste men. The book, while narrating the story of Satyabati, touches on all the restrictions placed on women to limit their freedom – the most important one among many was denying them education. The belief was if a woman touched paper or pen she would be a widow. When Satyabati’s cousin shudders at the fact that Satyabati has taught herself to write, the little girl finds a loophole in that theory right away. How can women touching pen or paper be paap (bad karma) when the goddess of learning, Debi Saraswati is a woman herself? Satyabati questioned each and every tradition that curbed women’s rights and flouted every rule that tried to hold her down. She managed to loosen the chains just a bit for the future generation of women.

Ma too fought patriarchy every step of the way. She refused any kind of limitations to such an extent that I, in my childhood, sometimes thought, “Oh just get along. Give in!” Looking back I realize she was loosening the chains so that her daughter and grand daughter can have space to spread their wings. She emulated Satyabati all her life, at the expense of her own peace and happiness sometimes. I know it is only fitting that petals from “obstinate ma plant” find their resting place in the pages of the book that tell her story.

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