Goods in 2021


The beginning of 2021 was so full of hope. When I racked my brain for what was good in 2021 for me personally, that is what comes to mind first. Hope. We were so hopeful, naively hopeful. I remember saying to friends “After we get the vaccine, let’s plan on going to Kolkata together. “

Well that hope was shattered. I lost my parents and 3 other relatives to Covid in 2021. So try as I might, I can not find the goods this past year. There were goods – kindness was showered upon us, Sean and I took a couple of fantastic trips, Sahana graduated magna cum laude from college, Ryan kept his GPA up, improved his time in swimming, Sahana got jobs and planned for future, Ryan moved to dorms and had good school life, Sean continued his efforts to make a difference in people’s lives all over the world, donors in his organization donated money to help in Covid relief, my work friends held me up when I was afraid of drowning, books, as usual, became my anchor.

But all these goods could not balance the loss in my life. I am afraid to hope but I want to remain hopeful that the goods in 2022 will outweigh the bads. My best wishes to all of you out there who drop by my blog site. Stay blessed and healthy.

Will wear the mask in a minute..


Our library has a mask mandate and as a library worker, one of my jobs is to remind customers to either pull up their masks over their noses from their chin or actually wear a mask if they plan to peruse our collection, use our computers or use our study space. I am a non confrontational person and a hard core introvert on top of that. So every time I see someone without mask, I groan inwardly, take a deep breath before I begin my diffident journey to ask that person to mask up. I have come a long way in these 10 years to politely assert myself in such situations but I still dread it.

Anyway, this morning as I was shelving in the poetry section, a lady came up to me and said in a soft whisper, “There is a man sitting out there with no mask on.” I assured her I will talk to him right away. After taking some deep breaths and groaning inwardly, I walked over to the gentleman.

“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to put your mask on since there is a mask mandate in the library.”

“Oh, sure mam, sure! I am just drinking my coffee.” He pointed to his disposable coffee cup and then also showed me his mask.

I thanked him and told him to put his mask on as soon as possible. And walked away. I continued shelving in other sections and then walked back to where he was working to clean up shelves. He looked at me with the corner of his eye and lifted his cup to his mouth. He was still mask less after 15 minutes. And I had a sneaky feeling that his coffee cup was empty. He was simply using that as a prop to continue to remain mask less. I chuckled at his ingenuity. I had to walk up and tell him to mask up now and if he needed to sip he could pull his mask down to sip and put it back on again. He was not as pleasant as he was during our first interaction but he did put his mask back on.

As I made my way back to the kiosk, I noticed a young man who did not have his mask on. I breathed, groaned and talked to him about doing the right thing (Could you please put your mask on, sir?). He did right away. I walked away. The next time I went near him, he had taken it off and put it on the table by his laptop. I just stood there next to him for a few seconds, staring at him. He looked at me, slowly retrieved his mask and put it on his nose.

Near the kiosk, I saw a very elderly woman walking towards me in hesitant shuffle, without mask. “What did I do wrong this morning to deserve this?” I asked the universe as I approached the woman and said my refrain – pull your mask up for crying out loud! (I worded my request differently, of course). She slowly pulled a mask from her pocket and put it on without acknowledging me or my polite request at all.

Then my shift ended and I walked away from the desk. I entered my cubicle and shook my head at humanity.

Ignorance, insensitivity or microaggression?


At the call center of our library, the conversation went like this:

Customer: You have a sweet accent. Where are you from?

Me: Thanks. I am from India.

Customer: Which part, North or South?

Me: I am from the east, Calcutta.

Customer: Ah, you mean Kolkata. It is called Kolkata, right?

Me (a little excited): Yes, Kolkata. Have you ever been?

Customer: No. Now, do you still throw your dead bodies in the water?

Since I have been in this country, I have been asked if I went to school on an elephant or if tigers roamed in our streets, but this was new.

Me: That is not the norm, sir. The dead bodies are either cremated or buried depending on the beliefs of the dead person. However, India is a huge complex country. There may be bodies that are put in the water but those cases are exceptions.

At this point, the conversation shifted to pre independent India and for some strange reason, my father. The next question was:

Customer: So did your father know Gandhi?

Me: My father was a little child when India got its independence.

He asked where my father was. I told him he died of Covid this year.

Customer: So did you take his body to Varanasi? Don’t you go to heaven if you are cremated in Varanasi?

At this point, I asked if there was anything else I could help him with since I had other calls coming in. I had helped him already with research questions before the topic of my ‘sweet accent’ came up which was followed by deluge of questions about India.

Later, I thought about the conversation and his questions. There was no intention to hurt me or malice behind those queries. He was an older man who wanted to exhibit his book read knowledge about India. Yet the questions reeked of microaggression. So what was it? Ignorance, insensitivity or microaggression?

My big, fat Bengali family continues to party…


About a week ago I told Sahana I want to get back to writing blogs again. Blogs that not necessarily document my grief journey, but something different, something happy perhaps. She gave me some suggestions and left me with ideas to mull over. My dear aunt was in the hospital though, fighting Covid in India. I got updates everyday and tried to focus on the positives that I heard – the thrust of oxygen that she was receiving was reduced, her O2 saturation was maintaining at 96/97 with oxygen support. She was weak but her vitals were strong. I talked to my cousin every morning and said to her what people said to me six months ago “Hold on to the positives. She will fight it off. After all, she has had both her vaccinations. She has protection.”

She was put on ventilator on November 13th (my time) and died within 4 hours. Her presence is so large and so joyful in my entire childhood that whenever I think of her I can see her bright, wide smile and hear her hahaha laughter. She was great friends with ma. They had similar jovial, vivacious personality. And she had the kindest face. When Sean met her for the first time when he came to meet my family, he said, “If I entered a room filled with strangers, I would go to her first. Her face exudes kindness.”

There are many, many happy memories of this woman who lived her life with joy (for the most part) and left the world without long term sickness or pain. I am spending sleepless nights again and waking with the memories of all those who we have lost this year – 5 so far in my family alone. It gives me comfort, in a weird way, to think that my big, fat Bengali family is continuing to party hard somewhere. Yes, a raucous, loud, full of laughter party. My aunt has joined them now. My mother loved her. I hope she is happy and safe to be up there (or who knows where) with them.

I miss writing blogs about silly things – about my kids or my everyday observations or memories of India. I hope to find topics other than loss and sorrow – soon. I hope and pray to the universe to stop this procession of death in my family. We have lost enough. The world has lost enough.

Searching for


It is not a secret that I am searching for peace. It is not a secret that I am searching for the essence of my parents around me. People tell me they will always be alive in your memory and I will feel their presence but I don’t though. I try to feel their presence, I close my eyes and think of them, I think of my memories – both happy and sad and I come up empty. I sometimes feel a sense of calm but that feeling is so transient. I shudder to think that one day their memory may dim. I do not want that to happen. I still can not believe my 2 closest people suddenly stopped existing – at the same time.

Yet in a morbid way, I think this is for the best. If I think unselfishly, their gentle death was a boon in disguise. Both got a very bad case of the virus. Their brain got affected and their lungs. Even if they survived the virus, what would have been their quality of life? And if one survived and the other did not, how would they have coped? It is better that they went gently. It is better that they went together. If they had to go, that is.

I think of all these good thoughts yet I keep searching.

Stigma


I feel compelled to write this blog to showcase what not to do when a family is in trouble and someone is dying of Covid.

My parents lived in an apartment building which has its own association and its president, secretary, treasurer as well as other office holders. Baba held some official position for a while and then retired from it. However, since he was a mechanical engineer, if any repair needed to be done, the technician always wanted to consult with him. For the most part, he was a respected member of the association.

That all changed when both he and my mother contacted Covid 19. While my parents were in the hospital and were fighting for their lives, the secretary of the building called up Gouri and Mashi, the two household helps and yelled at them that they will die of Covid. He prohibited them from leaving the apartment. When they fearfully relayed the conversation to me, I suggested they isolate themselves and get everything delivered, which they were doing anyway. The secretary’s concern was valid as both the women were exposed to the virus. Gouri went to the terrace to water the plants, I asked her to stop going to the terrace. The plants were watered by the guards.

Ma died after 5 days in the hospital. Baba came home after spending 12 days there. But he needed oxygen cylinders and bipap machine. I contacted someone who works in Kolkata police to preempt any trouble before baba came home. I had heard horror stories of recovering Covid patients being barred from entering their own homes due to fear of contamination. She suggested we bring baba home in a car instead of an ambulance for a show of normalcy. That is what we did.

But at home his oxygen saturation level dropped significantly and he needed constant supply of oxygen. The secretary of the building association tried to prevent the oxygen delivery men from delivering oxygen to our apartment in 5th floor. Gouri screamed at the guards and they let the delivery men pass.

The hospital brother could not find a heartbeat in Baba on the day he died. My cousins desperately tried to find a doctor to check him. When a doctor was found to write the death certificate, the security guards refused to let the doctor go up without the permission of the secretary. Again, Gouri screamed at them and took the doctor to our apartment. By this time Gouri and mashi were in isolation for more than 17 days.

After baba’s death, I asked a friend to arrange for a Covid test for the two women. A technician came home, collected sample and the result came to be negative. My friend sent me and Gouri the negative report. The secretary was told about this negative result. He said he does not believe the test was done properly and he would not let Gouri and Mashi out of the apartment till June 7th. Ma and baba started showing symptoms on May 2nd. So June 7th would be more than a month that the two women will be in isolation despite a negative covid test. The secretary is causing such trouble for our bereaved family because he is afraid and also because he can terrorize two women who can not stand up to him. When the municipality workers came to take baba’s body for cremation, he did not allow them to use the elevator. Instead they had to carry his body down 5 flight of stairs. If he is afraid of the virus, (and he should be) this was a dumb move because the elevator could have been easily sanitized, instead baba’s body traversed the 5 flights of the common area. If the virus was spreading after 17 days of his sickness, it would spread in the common area instead of being contained in the elevator which could be fumigated and sanitized.

All the bedding, pillows, baba’s clothes have been thrown away. Our whole apartment was sanitized by the Kolkata Municipality at quite a steep price paid by me. I am happy to do it for the good health of all. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. However, the inhumanity of the secretary and the security guards of that apartment building has appalled me. While dealing with the death of both of my parents, I had to address the bullying of a few frightened individuals of two very frightened and sad women.

This unkind behavior is scum in the sea of kindness that I have experienced in our ordeal but I wrote about it to appeal to all to please be guided by science and practice empathy for people who are suffering from Covid. Please do not propagate the stigma. You never know who will breathe in this virus next.

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.

My flower bed


Having grown up in the concrete jungle of Kolkata, I yearned to see the lush green in the countryside of Bengal, but we did not have open space to grow a garden in the city. So we bought one or two potted plants and tried to keep those alive. So when we moved to the suburbs in America, I did not know what to do or how to nurture a garden. I was growing two little human beings then as my partner traveled and that took all my energy. Over the years though, I did grow some flowers, some herbs and lately some succulents.

I decided to get my flower bed ready this year for some planting after Mother’s day. The flower bed got no love from me all these months so when I went out there with my gardening tools and looked at the whole bed, I was somewhat overwhelmed. Will I ever get this jungle weeded in time? I decided to set a small goal of one patch at the beginning. So I set to my task of minutely digging out the weeds that had taken over that particular section. The whole flower bed still daunted me so I mindfully kept the thought of wholeness away as I worked on the small patch that I had chosen for the day. As I dug out the unwanted plants from their roots, their was a strange cathartic feeling and a sense of lightness. I was focused on each little green, mindful of every single weed in my chosen patch. Once I completely finished working on the patch, I stood up satisfied. I looked at the whole then. Although there was a lot left to be done, my worked-on section at the beginning of the bed looked beautiful and clean. The whole was not as daunting any more. I vowed to parcel up the whole into composites and focus on each composite each day. While not completely finished, most of my flower bed is weeded and I may be able to plant on Mother’s day.

My life as a whole is scary right now. As soon as my mind veers to the whole, I bring it back to the immediate step, the first step that needs my attention. Dealing with little parcels of the whole is more achievable. I am going to deal with what is right in front of me first and then move to the next small patch in life.

My flower bed has become a metaphor of my life at present.

I used to be a planner…


I have spent considerable time in my life filling out forms to either leave a country or enter a country or stay in a country. My experience is perhaps not too different from many immigrants who decide to settle in a different country and also travel to different parts of the world. My first endeavor started when I took on the Herculean task of getting an Indian passport in my twenties. And do believe me when I tell you that it is no mean feat. It involves filling forms, producing many, many documents, standing in line, police verification….and the list goes on. Next was getting a fiancĂ©e visa to come to United States. Fortunately, my fiancĂ© pushed the papers on that one so I only had to sign some papers and send him some documents. Once I came here, we got married within 10 days and thus began my sojourn to change my status to become a Resident Alien in this country. After several form filling and back and forth to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, I got my green card or Resident Alien status. Although I am not an Englishman in New York, I sang along with Sting, “I’m an alien, a legal alien…” an Indian woman in Bawlmore!

After a year of getting my green card, Sean got transferred to India. We picked ourselves up and transplanted in New Delhi. I was beyond thrilled of course except when we had to come in to US twice a year. You see, if one has a green card in this country, they are required to live here for certain number of days and we were not fulfilling that requirement. The customs officers asked us many questions at the port of entry, nodded their heads, frowned, were nasty to me often and we were completely dependent on the clemency of the officer in question. I started having butterflies in my stomach as I stood in line to enter the country. After a harrowing experience each time, the officer stamped my passport and I breathed.

After 12 years of our marriage, I finally decided to seek citizenship of United States. Travel was difficult with Indian passport. Getting a citizenship involved form filling and trips to USCIS again. However, it was done. I got my US passport and right away I filed papers to obtain a PIO card to enter India without a visa. PIO card stands for People of Indian Origin. It was similar to a green card in US, no voting rights but the card ensured hassle free entry to my country of birth where my loved ones live. After a few years, Indian government decided to discontinue with PIO card and I had to convert my card to OCI one. OCI stands for Overseas Citizen of India which gives the card holders the same rights as PIO card holders. The whole point of writing all is this to show that I ensured that my entry to India was never delayed or hampered. I filled forms, I planned ahead. I was in control for the most part.

I used to worry about the 4 to 6 weeks that would take to renew my passport when the time came. I worried that if something happened to my parents in those 4 to 6 weeks I would not have any means to get to them. Now that worry seems so trivial. I worried about 4 – 6 weeks? I never thought a day would come when I would not be able to go to India for over a year. At the beginning of this nightmare, I was distraught and lived in agony. Then slowly I started realizing that the whole situation is not in my control. Pandemic taught me a valuable lesson to let go of things that I can not control. It was a hard lesson for someone like me, who likes to be in control but I did learn to let go.

I am a planner. I am planning to renew my passport and get my papers ready to go whenever I am able. But I am slowly learning to control my anxiety by chanting, “Let go of things beyond your control. Keep positive thoughts in your head. Let the negative go.”

There are nights when I still lie awake with disturbing thoughts. But then I count waves in my mind, breathe deeply and remind myself to let go. Easier said than done, but I try.

What’s good in my town?


My friend and fellow blogger whose blog site I encourage you to check out at http://theycallmetater.com writes about What’s Good in Tater Town. While I read his posts diligently and like what he writes, I love his posts about What’s Good in Tater Town the most. As I sat outside today and looked at the most beautiful blue sky, the hopeful green of early spring, fat bunnies in my back yard and the familiar ping of ball hitting a baseball bat in the baseball fields behind my house, I realized THIS was good in MY town. Yet my inside was clenched over anxiety about rising Covid cases in India, when can I go home, health and well being of my parents, my distance from them and thousand other thoughts. The constant anxiety is probably taking away years from my life. And then I thought about my friend’s post about what ‘his’ good is in his town. He enlists having dinner with his son and daughter as something good that happened, reading out in the deck is something good that happened, getting a free coffee from Dunkin is something good that happened. These are indeed good things that happened. He notices these, acknowledges these and writes them down. I too have these moments but I am so busy worrying that I gloss over them. And lose them in the process.

So I mindfully looked around me to honor the beautiful day. I looked at the new green and appreciated the life it promised. I had dinner with my family and I focused on what they said. Ryan had a weekend of fantastic swim meet, dropping time in all his events. That was good. Sahana got her first vaccine. That was amazing.

I think I will follow my friend’s example and write down what is good in my town. Who knows, perhaps I will inspire someone to look within their life to find the ‘goods’ like I was inspired?