Shylockism…


I laid my head on my husband’s shoulder and said, ‘We have given birth to the reincarnation of Shylock!’ My insensitive husband guffawed at that, I snapped my head up, glared at him and showed him the white of my eye!

We were seated at my parents’ house in the summer of 2013 in Kolkata enjoying a few stolen moments while the rest of the family played up on the terrace.

This story is about my 8-year-old son, whose love of money has assumed legendary proportions amongst family and friends. Ryan has been often spotted sitting in a corner with his money jar, counting pennies and dimes. He saves everything he gets for birthdays and Christmases and puts it in his college fund (his money jar). He claims he is saving every penny from a young age to help us pay for his college since he has heard us talk about education in America being expensive.

Ryan’s Shylockism started innocently enough. On the second day of our vacation in Kolkata, his grandfather (dadai) asked him if he wanted to accompany him to the fish market. Ryan agreed. Upon return, I received an excited boy glowing from sweat and happiness and a chuckling grandfather.

‘Your son is something else. That boy will go far!’ His grandfather was still laughing.

I learnt, in due course, that Ryan offered to carry dadai’s tholi (jute bag carrying fresh fish) home. Dadai was touched by his young grandson’s offer to help and let him carry the bag. When they reached home, Ryan innocently asked if dadai thought he deserved to be paid for his services.

‘Paid? Why?’ Dadai played along.

‘Well, first I carried bloody fish and fish head which is extremely gross and second, didn’t you save some money by not getting on the rickshaw because I carried your bag? Don’t you think I deserve the rickshaw fare?’ He asked.

‘I hope you didn’t pay him!!!’ I exclaimed.

My father said with a chuckle, ‘How could I not? I was defeated by logic!’

A pattern thus developed. Ryan refused to go on fun outings, if there was a possibility of accompanying dadai on errands. Dadai let him keep the change from rickshaw fares and bus fares – which Ryan termed as his payment for ‘companionship’. This story spread far and wide. All of a sudden, there was an amusing competition among the adoring aunts, uncles, grandmothers (my aunts) and grandfathers (my uncles) to pay Ryan money for kisses and hugs. I have pictures of Ryan holding bills while a grandmother kisses his cheeks.

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I laughed along for a while and then tried to stop relatives from playing this game. But as it happens whenever I go back home, my children hide behind the indulgent family members and smile at me cheekily as I get chastised for being too strict.

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Ryan often counted his ever increasing pile of notes with a gleam in his eyes and proudly told his sister how much he had. I shuddered at his mercenary tendencies. I talked to him in private about not accepting money from family, he shrugged and said, ‘But they want to give it to me!’

The night before we left for home, Ryan carried some of his money when we went out for our last stroll in Kolkata. He disclosed he needed to find a toy store as he planned to buy a toy for 3 month old baby Khushi, who was living in my parent’s house at that time. Khushi is the baby girl of the young woman who cooked delightful meals for us during our stay in Kolkata. A toy shop was found, a toy for Khushi was bought, Ryan’s own money was spent to buy it. That made me smile.

As we headed home, Ryan ran into Bancharaam – the famous sweet shop in Gariahat. During our two week stay, Ryan dashed into every sweet shop or cake shop that we came across to longingly stare at the varied sweetmeats displayed in the show cases. We hardly bought any, yet he went in to see them and salivate over them. As he went into the sweet shop, he saw a little girl, about the same age as Ryan, tugging at my shirt for some money. He came out and whispered to me, he wanted to buy her some sweets. The girl chose the sweets she wanted and Ryan bought them for her. My smile widened.

On the morning of our departure, Ryan kept insisting that his parents hand him over all his money at once. He had given his money to us for safe keeping. He was getting in the way, so I gave him his money back and told him sternly to stay out of our way so we could finish packing.

In a little while, his grandmother came into our room, holding a bunch of bills with a baffled expression. Ryan had taken all the money and given it all to his grandmother to spend as she chose fit, after he was gone.

Sean and I exchanged glances. I gave his apple cheeks a kiss as I laughed and wiped away a tear at the same time.

Everything was alright with the world again.

The messenger ladybug.


Host of memories came crashing down by an inconsequential ladybug. As I turned on the ignition of my car, harried and stressed and late for work, a lady bug landed on the windshield with a light plop. And it brought back memories of a curly haired little five year old girl squatting on the driveway, brows furrowed in fierce concentration, counting the dots on a ladybug.

My daughter was born in India and was raised by not only her parents, but by a village. Her universe consisted of parents, grandparents, a plethora of uncles and aunts, little friends who grew up with her, adopted grandparents (our landlords), adopted uncles and aunts (our friends in the Indian city where we lived), domestic help, who was an integral part of the family. Her life was enriched by the love and nurturing of all – family by blood and family by association and friendship. For the first five years of her life, it was a party every day. Playdates, frolic in the parks with little friends, visits to Kolkata whenever opportunity arose, travels to exotic places with mom and dad. And peacocks and lady bugs. We had three resident peacocks in the neighborhood, who sometimes came to visit us in our balcony. When Sahana, Sean and I went for our walks in the neighborhood, Sean made horrible peacock noises, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of his wife and amusement of his toddler. He expected to get a response back from the peacocks, but his peacock call wasn’t authentic enough and he never heard back from them. The aunties and uncles who walked around our neighborhood always chuckled at the white man’s perseverance.

And there were lady bugs galore. Ladybugs or ladybirds, was a huge topic of debate between me, the native of a former British colony and my husband, an American, the pollutant of Queen’s English. The ladybugs/birds featured a lot in the children’s play. They counted them, counted the dots on them, let them crawl on their hands and laughed at the sensation. Despite the usual sicknesses, Sahana had a fulfilling and happy time. She thrived in the love.

Then we moved. We came to a new country, a new state, a new home and to loneliness. Before we built a new circle of family and friends around us, that is exactly what we came to – loneliness. From the constant buzz of family, we moved to the thrum of crickets outside our suburban home. During this time, one day, I saw little Sahana crouching down and looking at a solitary lady bug in the driveway of our new house.

‘What are you doing, baby?’ I asked as I lowered my heavily pregnant body next to my little girl.

‘Mama, look!!! A ladybug!!! Mama, do you think this lady bug has come all the way from our neighborhood in India to see how I am doing? Do you think it missed me? Now that it has seen me, will it fly back to Anushree and Rohan and tell them about me!’

As I write this today, eight years later, my eyes tear up at the intensity of her homesickness she must have felt then. That was the magical age of unending possibilities and ‘anything can happen’s! I kept the magic alive and said,

‘That is exactly what the ladybug will do, honey! It will take your news back to your friends!’

She turned her attention back to the ladybug and said,

‘Ok, go tell Anu and Rohan, I miss them. And tell the other ladybugs, I miss them too!’

With that she walked away with a stick in her hand to explore other treasures.

She doesn’t look for ladybugs anymore. She deals with the complicated world of high school, she reads “To kill a Mocking bird” and writes papers on “Female infanticide in developing nations”. She is slowly becoming a thoughtful, mature woman. Dreams have changed, magic is dealt with skepticism. But since I am the treasurer of HER childhood memories, I chronicle this faithfully, in my heart and in this post. I do this for her, and perhaps, more for me. Who knows one day, when she turns back, she will look for this little nugget of gold. A forgotten moment, yet etched forever in her mother’s memory.

Almost home…


The preparation of going home to Kolkata starts almost ten months prior to the actual date. It starts with pinning my husband down to look at his calendar and give me some dates to work with. Then comes the intolerable stress and anxiety about finding the best price for tickets, looking at layovers, working out swim meet conflicts, assuring the competitive son that going to India is more important than swimming in the Divisionals. Finally, when the tickets are bought, thinking about and looking for gifts to bring back home. And while doing all this, pausing suddenly to savor the sweetness of a childhood memory, smiling at some inconsequential snippet of home that is precious to only me, being mindful of the soothing, calming, reassuring feeling that I will go home soon and I will bask in everything that is so familiar, yet somewhat different with the passage of time.

Driving to the airport, standing at the check in line, getting on the flight – I don’t quite mind. There is the hustle bustle of fellow travelers. The energy of others, at the beginning of the journey, energizes me. I see fellow South Asians and play guessing games with the family – which city do you think they are going to? I note with awe, the immaculately dressed and impeccably made up women getting ready to board a long flight. How do they look so good and will they look this good at the end of 24 hour travel, I wonder. Some actually do!

As I find my seat on the plane and buckle my seatbelt, I look around and grin foolishly at whoever catches my eye. My joy is contagious, I get smiles and nods back generally. And every time the flight starts moving for take off, I invariably say, ‘Here we go! Goodbye_______ (my hometown)! We will see you soon!’ The children haven’t chastised me about it yet! They smile indulgently at my enthusiasm.

As I feel the plane starting to descend, I grip Sean’s arm and smile, despite the terrible ear popping, ‘Half the journey is over, dude” The lay over is spent walking around whichever airport we are transiting from, looking at duty-free goodies and eyeing the chocolates. Then it is time to get back on the next plane again. This time, the flight is full of Bangla speaking fellow passengers, saree or salwar kameez donned, brown-skinned, small boned, familiar! I eavesdrop shamelessly, butt into conversations unwanted but soon get accepted. The common topic of discussion, generally is ‘Kotodin por deshe jacchen?'(How long has it been since you went home) ! Desh….motherland…a word that fills me with a warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging.

I bear the 24 plus hours of travel in relatively good humor. I smile and nod ecstatically at the grumpy immigration officials at Kolkata airport. I seem to want to impress upon them that the entry stamp that they so nonchalantly pressed upon my passport is so meaningful to me. They are the gatekeepers who just opened the door to the enchanted land where my past is waiting for me.

I turn into a very disagreeable person at the baggage claim, I confess. Every second there seems intolerable. My husband feels my irritation, he massages my back, smiles kindly, tries to distract with conversation, yet I remain irritated. Each time this interminable wait to retrieve our luggage becomes unbearable. So close, yet not quite there. I politely harass the young airport officials, ‘Bhai eto deri hocche?’ (Brother, what’s taking so long?). Invariably, the carousel gets stuck and I mutter under my breath.

I do all this because just behind the wall stand two humans who I simply can not wait to see. They have been counting months and then days, like me, till our plane touches the ground. I know they have come early to avoid getting stuck in Kolkata traffic and I know that as every passenger goes out of the terminal, their eyes brighten with hope. And then dim again. It’s not me, yet. Not us. They are the treasurers of my childhood and youth, they keep my memories tucked away in their treasure chest and guard them with love and longing. They are the ones who smile wistful smiles at my ‘remember when’s. They are the only two people who ever so eagerly await my arrival and shed tears at my departure.

Finally, when our luggage is gathered we push our cart to the exit past the custom official, my eyes scan for those two beloved faces as the children run ahead. This reunion happens every twelve months and I am parched for their presence. When I see them, or they see us, my father’s face is a combination of relief, joy, excitement, happiness. His face seems just about ready to burst with all these emotions. My mother is more expressive, she smiles from ear to ear, squeals our names, comes forward to envelope the grand children in a bear hug, and then hugs me fiercely with unspilt tears of happiness glistening in her eyes. My father gives me an awkward side hug (hugging doesn’t come naturally to him), he hugs his grandkids and shakes hand with his son-in-law.

He, then, gets busy warding off unsolicited help from airport porters, calls the driver of the rented car that will take us home. My daughter, who is fluent in Bengali, claims Didiya (grandma) and narrates all that happened on the flight. Little Ryan is generally shy, unable to speak the language, stands quietly with a shy, tired smile. Didiya notices and takes his hand. His little hand willingly disappears in her grasp. He nods and smiles mostly while his sister talks nineteen to the dozen. In the car, as we head home, Ryan slowly reaches out and touches Dadai’s (grandfather) shoulder giving him a little nudge. Dadai nudges him back with a conspiratorial smile while I blink away some unexpected tears at this silent communing.

Finally, my two worlds meet.

Pilgrimage, no less…


A happy coincidence occurred in my life recently. My friend’s daughter set me a questionnaire for her summer holiday project. One of the questions was ‘Name five people who have influenced you and why!’ I didn’t have to think much when I wrote the name of my class teacher. One of those five people, who has been most influential in my life is my class teacher of 5 years, Miss______. Guiding and inspiring a class full of hormone imbalanced teenagers must not have been easy, but Miss (that is what we called our teachers in India) did it with an ease which amazes me now.

A few days after writing the answers to the questionnaire set by my friend’s daughter, I found my teacher back in my life after 23 years, thanks to Facebook and efforts of a very dear girlhood friend, who kept on searching for her. Her efforts paid off, Ms _____ was found. We were told in her excited status update, to send in friend requests. After my initial doubt of is she the real one, I sent in a request and got accepted as her friend right away. From student to friend. Life has come to a full circle. I have grown up! I instantly wrote to her as I excitedly told my family,

‘I can’t believe it, I found my teacher on Facebook. I am messaging her right now! This is surreal!’ Yes, I am one of those people who overuses the term surreal.

Her influence in my life has been twofold. The first one being that of what educators dream of – instill the love of learning. She ignited in me the love for languages. She taught us Bengali for five straight years, and in those five years she held open the door of Bengali literature for me. I peered in and saw the treasure. And then there was that point of no return. She let my imagination soar, she waved the magic wand and opened my blind eyes so I could immerse myself in the prose and poetry of Bengali literary stalwarts. She taught me to think on my own, she gently let go of my hands, stood back and watched as I took hesitant steps towards appreciating literature. Appreciation of literature transcends language barrier. Love of Bengali literature paved way for love of English literature and translations of literature in other languages. She taught me to express my ideas coherently while writing. Well expressed ideas got kudos, a satisfied smile and a nod of the head. Badly written assignments got this rebuke,

‘Eki mudir dokan er bhasha? ‘ (This type of language belongs to grocery stores)! Why grocery stores? Don’t ask. 🙂 !

Some of the phrases she used for us have become legends in themselves. I will not even try to translate them in English (they were delivered in Bengali, of course) except one. As she asked us Bengali grammar and each of us gave wrong answers and kept standing, she said to us, ‘Bokader jodi kono building thake, tumi tar chile kothay thakbe’ (if there is ever a tall building for fools, you will be given the penthouse suite!) Since 20 of us stood in the class somewhat shame faced at our failure to provide the right answer, this statement caused considerable mirth. But we dared not bring any smile to our lips, so as not to be disciplined further. All the laughter was reserved for after the ringing of the bell. As we filed out into the corridor to go back to our classroom, laughter erupted like a dormant volcano. We imagined 20 skyscrapers of fools built next to each other and all of us looking out of our penthouse suites. It was a collective shame which turned out quite humorous at the end of that period.

Educators have one of the most difficult jobs, I think. They have the responsibility of inciting in their students this love of learning which is (or should be) the primary goal of education. And they have to do this within the strict parameters of set curriculum, standardized testings and the numerous other set of rules that different boards of education dictate for them. Miss had to stay within those parameters, she had to finish the curriculum, despite all the rules, she inculcated in us the love for the language that she taught.

She never had to raise her voice to bring the class under control. Her personality was such that before she entered the class, we sat up straighter, looked attentively towards the front of the class and made ourselves ready to listen and learn. We tried hard for her. I remember, our class got the trophy for being the best class in whole school. I have a proud picture of her holding a trophy with all of us around her, a thin, bespectacled me all the way at the back, peering at the camera. She encouraged us to participate in dramas, public speaking, debates, music. We went out and won inter school competitions in those. She was the wind beneath our sail. She pushed us so we could soar and reach our potentials. I am unsure of how the child psychologists would rate her method of disciplining us, but I, her student, would attribute her disciplining to that what Rabindranath Tagore talks about when he says,

“Shashon kora tarei shaaje
Shohag kore je go”

(The discipline that is infused with love is the best form of discipline)

It certainly worked for us. We felt her love and carried the love with us as we moved on and grew up.

I have so many happy memories of play practices and performances under her leadership. After 23 years, she remembered. Her first lines in my inbox was “Kemon acho? Ekhono natok koro?” (How are you? Do you still act?)

Her one particular advice came back to me after I became a mother and my children started going to school. She had said to us, when we were in eighth grade, ‘Do me a favor. When you are parents and your children go to school, instill in them a love of learning. If family and neighbors worry about the grades they are getting, lock yourselves in a room and throw the key away. Do not participate in the race for good grades but teach them to think for themselves, make sure their curiosity and thirst for true knowledge is satiated.’

Whenever my children truly enjoy a book and excitedly tell me the new information that they learned in school, I see their glowing faces and think of the advice I heard at age 14. I admit I haven’t been able to step out of the race completely, I have partially given in to societal pressure. Yet, I try not to. I try to talk about what went wrong, what they could have done better and most importantly, what did they learn?

All this happened a couple of weeks prior to my short trip to India. And I knew right away that going home would remain incomplete if I didn’t visit Miss. As two of my friends and I rang her doorbell, we became 13-year-old for a few moments, slightly unsure, apprehensive. There she was smiling. Our beloved teacher, now our friend. Three of us went to meet her with our children. The young ones sat silently with a grin on their faces as their mothers dissolved in laughter, again and again. There were, of course, a lot of ‘remember when’s! There were 23 years of life to catch up, so many laughs to laugh, so many memories to remember! My two childhood friends, who went with me to meet Miss are now educators themselves. I sat there quietly listening to them discuss their profession with their teacher, who perhaps, had some influence in their choice of career. They certainly have a wonderful role model to draw inspiration from. As we headed home, my daughter looked at my glowing face. ‘Mom, you are so loved!!’ She said with wonder and admiration in her voice. As I drowned in a beautiful feeling of contentment, I realized I am. I am so blessed to have been loved so.

Now all my visits back home would include a visit with my teacher. It is a pilgrimage, no less. After all, we are ‘her girls’! Every single one of us in that class.

From Mahabharat to caste system to Lokkhon


I was ready to discuss some pertinent questions on social hierarchy and caste system in India as I gathered Ryan’s little body towards me and snuggled down to read the ageless Indian epic Mahabharata. Inevitably the question of caste system was asked as we read about Dronacharya’s refusal to accept Eklavya as a disciple due to his low status in society. Ryan was understandably miffed at such an injustice. The sense of fairness is very strong at this age, and this was extremely unfair. And since, I seem old enough to belong to the days of Mahabharat to him, I was asked if I have ever encountered caste discrimination. I was about to protest. I was about to tell him indignantly that I happened to be born in an enlightened corner of India where caste system was not encouraged. But I paused. Who was I kidding? Caste system existed and still exists.

I remember the separate doorways in many houses, backdoor of course, for the sweeper to come in. Sweepers belong to the lowest caste, the untouchables. The man who cleaned our bathroom and took our trash came in through the front door, for the lack of a backdoor. But I do remember the warning voice of our domestic help sounding out a warning ‘Lokkhon aasche, shobai shore jao!” (Lokkhon is coming, get out of the way)! The irony was, we got out of his way, quickly, like he was royalty. At the age of six or seven, I followed the rule and kept my distance when Lokkhon came to clean. When I was a preteen and felt righteously indignant about this whole complicated issue of caste system, I questioned this practice of staying away from Lokkhon. I accused my mother of treating Lokkhon thus, for his low caste. She explained to me she couldn’t care less about his caste. She was a firm believer of Chandidas’s immortal line ‘Shobar upore manush shotyo/ Tahar upore nai!’ (human race is above all, there is no other)! She was simply concerned about the germs Lokkhon may carry, given the nature of his work. She would have no qualms about mingling with him socially, once he was showered and clean. Can’t say I believed her, till one beautiful Holi morning.

Some incidents don’t simply fall away from my swiss cheese brain and this memory is one such. On a bright, sunshiny spring morning in Kolkata, I was playing Holi (the festival of colors) with the neighborhood children. My father stayed indoors and away from lime light to avoid being dragged out to play. My mother was smiling on our balcony as she watched us spray one another with colored water. I believe, it was baba who spotted Lokkhon standing on the periphery of the festivity watching us, with a gentle smile on his lips. His family was far away, he must have been missing his loved ones on this day of colors. Baba called out, “Go get Lokkhon, make sure he doesn’t get away. Put as much color on him as you can!” We paused in our game and looked at him. There he was, in his yellowing banyan and short dhoti, standing a little afar, unsure of where exactly he belonged. One of baba’s friends, went to him, grabbed his hand and brought him in our midst. He took a handful of gulal and plastered it on Lokkhon’s face. Then he enveloped him in a bear hug. My mother came out and put gulal on him. Shobar upor e manush shottyo, tahar upore nai…indeed! At an young age, our parents can do no wrong, but I was at that age when when our parents are never right. That day, that moment, my head bowed in grudging respect, towards my family, for walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

Lokkhon has always been the most loved employee in our household. He missed work, sometimes weeks. I chuckled as I heard my mother yelling at him, “Next time I am going to dock your pay, I am serious this time!” Lokkhon’s response was, “Hehehehehe, boudi! Bukhar ho gaya! Sach mein!” (I had fever, believe me)! I knew there would always be a next time, and that next time will see a threat of docked payment too. I also knew the threat will never be carried out. One simply couldn’t get angry with Lokkhon, in real. His ever ready smile made sure one couldn’t stay angry.

As I got older, I recieved subtle hints. “Didi, my son needs winter clothes. He hardly has any sweaters.”

“How many days did you work this month?” I joined the game.

“Hehehehe, didi, I got sick.” That was mostly the response. Or “I had to go home, it was an emergency!”

I remembered to buy sweaters for his little boy on my way back from work. Why? Because he was loved, and he was gentle and he was such a constant in our lives.

In 1992, when I was in college, the infamous riots over Babri Masjid claimed many lives – Hindus and Muslims took up arms over religion. Lokkhon rushed back to his village in Bihar to take care of his family. When he returned I asked him how everything was. Was his little village affected by the riots? Were people killed? Many bad incidents have been reported and some heroic efforts were mentioned. But many heroes went unsung. The villagers in Lokkhon’s village were such heroes who remained anonymous. This is what he said to me:

“Didi, we have more Hindus in our village than Muslims. But we have lived together in peace for generations. They are our brothers, our friends. We were not going to let anyone harm one of our own. They have their religion and we have ours. But there is no conflict, didi. People came to harm them. They said to give our Muslim brothers up. We took up arms, didi. We said you have to go over our dead bodies to get to our village brothers. We turned them away. We stayed up at nights to guard each other. We took turns. Not one person in our village got hurt!”

Oh, did I mention Lokkhon never went to school? And is considered ‘uneducated’? And he belongs to the lowest of the low castes?

These days when I go back, I enquire after him. Ma says, “Don’t worry, he will come. He knows didi is coming from America!” Sure enough, he comes with the same smile, maybe more gray hair than before and a little bent. But the smile is the same that I remember so well.

“How long will you stay this time, didi? Is dada coming? When? Didi, my children need clothes and I need new lungi. See this one is so torn!”

“Let me see how many days you actually come to work while I am here!” I play on, for old time’s sake.

We both know, he is going to miss days and I am going to buy him lungi and clothes for his children. I still overhear people calling out to my children, “Lokkhon aasche, shore jao!” And my teenager retorting, “Why do I have to move? He is a human just like us!”

My childhood comes back and nudges me gently “Remember?”

Lokkhon

Shine on!


Most important conversations in my family occur during dinner. This one did too. While telling us the ‘highs and lows’ of his day, Ryan’s face fell and those sparkly eyes darkened.

“I had a very low time today. I felt bad about it for most part of the day”. He said.

We waited quietly for him to continue.

“Some friends called me dim and not smart like them because I don’t belong to the high level of math that they do. I only work on grade level!’

He must have seen my face because he quickly said to me, “Its OK mom! I feel better now. I have already forgiven them in my heart. I thought of Jesus on the cross when he looked up in heaven and said ‘Forgive them father for they know not what they have done!’ I followed his example and I forgave them!”

I was angry. I was angry at those children who made my son’s heart hurt. I was angry at their insensitivity. I didn’t want to acknowledge that they too are seven year olds, and they speak their minds. They haven’t perfected the art of diplomacy yet. My first reaction was anger! While my seven year old son’s first reaction was sadness and then the spirit of forgiveness. I was humbled instantly.

Ryan’s spirituality is intense, honest and simple. With the precious innocence that only little children possess he has gleaned the core truth from the unnecessary complexities of faith espoused by dogmatic religious fanatics. God, to him, is like a universal parent to all. A parent, who is omnipotent, omniscient. When he goes to steal a cookie, behind mommy’s back, he stops himself thinking, even if mommy doesn’t know about it, God is watching. God won’t give him a punishment but he will be disappointed. Like most children, he aims to please, and like most, he fears the disappointment of grown ups and God.

I feared about the intensity of his faith at one point. I have said before, true faith is a thing of beauty but there is a fine line between being faithful and being high handed about one’s belief. I want my children to grow up with a mind which doesn’t fester in narrow minded thoughts but one that lets in the fresh breeze of new ideas and beliefs. I want them to not simply accept, but question, argue and be inclusive of all that is right and all that need to be righted.

Ryan’s thoughts on the role of women and homosexuality is so poignant in its simplicity that it indeed makes one think ‘What is so complex about it?’ He believes God loves all and all his children are equal in his eyes. So why can’t women become priests in most religions and what is the problem with a human loving another, no matter what gender? Seriously! What indeed is the problem! If a child of seven years can look at the issue with such pristine clarity, why can’t the learned grown ups? Why do we analyze God’s love so? His simplicity in faith is something I aspire to achieve and the world would be a better place if more and more people just focus on their love for God instead of judging others’ love for Him.

It took me time to understand my boy. I remember reading a book to him when he was no more than five or six, where a pigeon takes it upon himself to drive a bus and gets in all sort of trouble. The last question of the book was, should the pigeon be allowed to drive. The obvious answer to that question was an emphatic ‘no’ for all the mayhem he caused. Ryan responded with a ‘yes’, he should be given a chance to drive. Everybody deserves a chance and maybe the pigeon will do better next time.

His thoughts were, and still are, unexpected. I listen to his responses, his explanations on life and its working and pause to ponder upon it. He has a depth in his thinking which belies his age. He has that unique combination of wisdom and innocence. He asks me if ‘other than me’ do we have any maid service since most of his friends have cleaning ladies to clean their house. And he asks his dad, a week prior to his eighth birthday,

Dad, am I who you expected me to be?’

The one word that comes to mind when I think of my son is joyful. He is so utterly and completely full of joy in his little life. He has the ability to find joy in the simplest of things, like a line of ants marching by, or a wild daffodil growing in our backyard, or the action figure that he takes to bed with him. It seems like he possesses an inner light that keeps his soul shining brightly. I often wish I could borrow some of his light to lighten my inner being on a particularly dark day. He does share his light with me so I can send positivism out to the universe I interact with. He is like a drop of golden glitter on the canvas of my life and the glitter keeps spreading and glowing, making my life sparkle with joy.

He came home on Valentine’s Day with a bunch of little cards from his little friends and one big anonymous card. It was a written by a child, that was obvious. It had a red heart inside. The message was short yet meaningful! A second grader had written to him:

Ryan, thanks for being there!

That is the kind of man, I hope he grows up to be, who will be there for another in his/her time of need.

I asked him on the eve of his birthday, “How does it feel to be growing up Ryan? How does it feel to be you? How has the ride been so far?”

With his usual cheer, he replied, “Great mom! The ride so far has been just great. I had to make a few pit stops once in a while but I filled myself with gas, and then I was ready to go. I was back on the ride again – all the way to heaven!”

Hope you have a long, joyful ride, son. Hope your ride to heaven is of course, very long, but never monotonous but filled with all the wonders, all the joy, some challenges, some sorrows but predominantly happiness and color and spirit that you carry in your heart and that you radiate to the world around you.

Happy birthday, child. Shine on!!

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