As we reopen..


How are you feeling as we take tentative steps towards reopening? I feel, not nervous, but all of a sudden, overwhelmed. We have been in isolation since March 13th, 2020. I write this blog today on June 24th at 9:12 am. I just read some work related documents that I need to remember to do my job effectively. I will go back in a couple of days for a few hours. Truth be told, I am really looking forward to going back. On the other hand, I am apprehensive if my brain, which processed the ramifications of the pandemic for all these months and dealt with the roller coaster of emotions that I was feeling, will be able to handle the myriad of work related and real life related information that now it needs to not only process but remember. I read my emails requiring me to remember information on various aspects of my job and I quickly gloss over. I have started compartmentalizing on what I need to know NOW. I have created folders and sub folders to save the emails, after glancing through them, and plan to go back to refer in a ‘need to know’ basis. I am being kind to myself and hope you are too. How are you dealing with the influx of information that is, all of a sudden, pouring in?

On the home front too, information has started rushing in. My daughter’s college finally gave us their decision that they will open classes for fall semester according to plan. We were in a limbo as to whether she should get ready to furnish the apartment that she leased near campus or consider staying at home if classes went online. Now she is scrambling to find out who has a spare bed, table, chair, dresser and all that a poor student needs to get by for a year. As we make lists for all that she will need, my mama heart worries a bit about her catching the virus far away from home. I hear myself repeatedly talking about hand hygiene and social distancing. She is a responsible person and I know she will try her best. But still….

My son decided to take an intensive Chemistry class over the summer but that conflicted with his swim training. Thanks to the coaches, his schedule got adjusted, which meant ensuring he gets to his practice at 6 am in the morning. I am grateful to have a partner who is still staying at home and silently doing all he can to ease our transition back into life outside the realm of our home. He chooses to get up at the wake of dawn to take Ryan to his morning swim practice so I don’t have to.

All these changes are positive. All these show cautious yet forward progression towards life as we knew it before Covid 19 ravaged the world. My sedentary and anxious brain needs a little transition time, I guess, to function at its full capacity. We are all in the same situation, we all have to take the time we need to get back to being as effective/functional/productive as we were before the pestilence knocked us out of our orbit. We need to be mindful of each other’s unique position in this transition and show as much kindness as we expect to be shown.

Love of books


I am not a scholar by any means but I do feel an inexplicable love towards books. I love holding books, I love smelling them, the rustle of pages makes me happy, I love talking about them, I love people who read! I do not know when this love affair started and why it started. I only know that my mother is responsible for it. It is a blessing and a curse. Books bring joy to me, they give me freedom to travel without moving an inch, they help me know the unknown through written words. Books help me dream of a better world, books unveil the layers in human psyche and books teach me empathy. Books are a blessing. The curse? My life relegates itself to an insignificant corner while I devour books. The other day at work, as I was helping an elderly customer we started chatting about the kinds of books we liked to read. After exchanging our mutual interests and cooing over authors we both enjoyed, she said to me in a conspiratorial whisper:

“You know my mother would be very displeased with me, but after I have finished my morning chores, I go up to my room, lay down on my bed and I read. My mother would not have liked to see me lie in my bedroom in the middle of the day with a book. But I tell myself, I have worked all my life, now I have earned these luxurious afternoons with just my books.”

I agreed with her wholeheartedly, and I told her so. My mother, on the other hand, showed me by example that afternoons are for reading books unless you are taking a nap. And what better way to nap than falling asleep while reading, snoozing off while a book rests on your chest?

Kolkata Book fair, since, I was a little girl was like carnival time for me and many of my book loving friends. As a child, I went with my mother, her hand held mine tightly as she ran with me from one stall to another buying books for herself and me with what little money she had. When I grew up and went to college, the annual book fair was a sacred pilgrimage for many of us. We waited for classes to end so we could get on a minibus and head towards Maidan, where the book fair was held every year. They have changed the venue, I hear. A few of us in our naiveté even pledged to come back every year to the Book fair for annual rendezvous no matter which part of the world we lived in. I smile when I think of that promise. How young we were, how innocent.

Sean asked me out on our first date with these words, and I quote verbatim, “So, when are you going to the book fair with me?” Dude was clever. He knew it would be hard for me turn down a trip to the book fair. “What! With you?? No, you are a foreigner, I can’t be seen with a foreigner. I am a good Indian woman, I don’t go out with little known white man! I like your attention and I like you but I don’t want to be alone with you. That is scary!! Wait, book fair you say? Gulp! Public place, what can you do? If you get nasty I will just call for help and have the mob beat you up.” While all those erratic thoughts fired in my head, I said, “Yes, I will go to the book fair with you!” Kolkata book fair saw our first date and the blossoming of our romance 🙂 !

Within a week of us moving to Baltimore after marriage, Sean woke up one morning and said he was going to take me to a special place. I will be very happy there. He would not tell me where.

“Do I need to get dressed up for it?” I asked bubbling with excitement at the uncertainty.
“No, just comb your hair and brush your teeth!”

We walked a couple of blocks from our apartment and came to a beautiful, historic building with arches and big windows. Enoch Pratt Free Public Library, I read with my head tilted way back. I walked in almost in a daze. The old smell and the expansive inner courtyard with natural lights flooding the inside from the skylights took my breath away. I wanted to move in there. Nobody checked my bag, nobody demanded money. All I had to do was mail myself a self addressed envelope for address check, bring it in the next time and got my library card, my gatepass to the land of unlimited books. The winter of USA was bitter for a woman from the land of warmth and sun. The library was my refuge. When I did not need to check out books, I simply roamed the huge building, stroking the antique banisters, smelling the scent of books, getting lost in the stacks. The library and I created memories. The library introduced me to American authors who I knew little of in India. I fell in love with some of them.

Then life happened. We moved. We created a family. We moved again back to the suburbs. I discovered the county library. From a very young age, I took my children to the library because I wanted them to grow up between books. And I secretly harbored a desire to work there – one day. As the children grew, I started questioning my reason for staying at home but I had lost the confidence. I had been out of the job market for 12 long years. I decided to start putting my foot in the threshold by volunteering. I accepted the role of library grandparent (in my thirties) and read books to children. Then I interfiled books and dvds. After volunteering for 3 years while Ryan was in pre-school and kindergarten, I gathered sufficient courage to look for openings. A friend messaged me that a position was available at the library I volunteered in and I applied. The interview went well, the interviewers laughed which I took to be a good sign. In the mean time, I was exploring the possibility of becoming involved in this wonderful initiative Project Literacy educating adult learners who are interested in getting their high school diploma. As I was driving back from one of the final meetings of Project Literacy, I got a call from the HR of the library.

“Thank you for interviewing. We would like to offer you the position….!”

Magical words, after 12 years of staying at home. Small dream for many, but it was MY dream and it came true. How can a job that requires me to read and read more not be a dream job? So when the cobwebs hang from the walls and the dinner, on occasion, is a hasty affair, I rationalize to the family – ‘Sorry, I was working!’ 🙂

I will most likely never be rich working at a library but strangely enough I feel richer every day as I finish the last page of a really good book, close it with a contented sigh and look at my untidy bedside table with books piled high. Life is good with books in it.

Getting ready.


I am floundering. I am a rudderless, drifting, bewildered ship in a raging, stormy, turbulent sea of teenage. The turbulence is not constant, mind you. There are many, many moments of blue sky, sunshine and gentle breeze. But then, all of a sudden, the storm comes unannounced and leaves me spent, exhausted and very sad.

Some nights, after a particularly exasperating argument over the usage of electronic device or some form of distorted truth that I was told, the sadness in my heart is almost palpable. I don’t recognize this stranger. Yet when I brush the hair off her sleeping face and plant a kiss on her forehead, I fall in love all over again. There is a phrase in Bengali,

Sneha nimnogami. (Love, like water, flows downwards).

Parents feel it. Sneho is indeed nimnogami.

As I watch her sleeping face, I see traces of the five-year old girl, who we uprooted from the land of her birth, India, and planted in the soil of USA.

We moved to this house when Sahana was 5 years old. We gave away all our earthly possessions except our clothes and my books and moved thousands of miles in exactly seven duffel bags. Sahana gave away all her toys to an AIDS hospice and came away with one stuffed toy and some books. When we found this house and camped in due to lack of furniture, little Sahana was left with a very sick mommy, one stuffed toy, some books, a new, unfamiliar house and her imagination. We moved in the summer of 2004 when the obnoxious cicadas were out in full force. Sahana was convinced there was a giant cicada with big, red eyes in the basement of this house. She was afraid to leave my side. I stayed in bed the first few months of my second pregnancy. The simple act of opening my eyes was too much of an effort. I remember Sahana prodding me every fifteen minute or so ‘Mama, are you done sleeping? Can you get up now?’ We were literally joined at the hips.

Slowly but surely the glue that stuck her to me started diluting. I could feel her loosening the grip. These days she is most comfortable in her space, buried in her books, her writing and lately, her device. Life is full of friends, frolic, fear, apprehension, silliness, laughter and yes, some unexplained tears too. Although I understand her need for space, it would be a lie if I say that this aloofness doesn’t bother me at all. It does. I once asked a friend, who was getting ready to send her daughter to college, ‘How does it feel to send your child out into the world?’ She told me, ‘When your time comes to send her on her way, you will be ready. They themselves make you ready for the separation. Don’t worry!’ Can’t say I believed her then. But I believe her now. My daughter is helping me get ready to let go of her hands. As I watch her slowly try out her wings, she writes this letter to me on my birthday:

Dear Maman,

…..so thanks for bearing with us as we learn how to stand on our own two feet. That’s parenting. Once we learn to stand on our own, you can let go of our hands. You can stop chauffeuring, cooking, cleaning and all sorts of housework, and just focus on you and Dad. That is, if either of you have the ability to sit down without napping. Or you still have a house left after both Ryan and my college tuitions! Yikes!
What I said about letting go, Mommy? Don’t. Hold my hand tighter than ever!’

….

Her last line beautifully captures the paradox of teenage. Give me space to grow, don’t crowd me in. I am ready to fly. Yet, hold on to me. Don’t let me fall. The world is exciting, intoxicating, yes. But it is a bit scary too. I need you still.

We are holding on….

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