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.

Treetop Castles – a poem by Sahana


I will share in this blog a poem written by my 21 year old daughter. We turned to our own unique ways to deal with this tumultuous period in our lives and Sahana turned back to writing. She shared a couple of poems with me as they capture moments of her childhood and I am the preserver of memories. I hope you like the poem:

Tree Top Castles

The fact of the matter was: the time was simpler.

And the sun faded everything into an even, sepia tone,

Not from film cameras, but a small, portable Nikon,

One I had begged for until it appeared, cherry red, on my birthday.

And the rest of that summer when we got to work,

I memorialized it in the best way I knew.

I took to bossing around the neighborhood kids like a pro,

Construction hat firmly in place where my mother pressed it on my forehead,

Foreman of the foremost building in the entire region,

Or at least in within the perimeter of the territory we had claimed as our own,

Biking around cul de sacs, no hands on handlebars, pedaling hard.

To the spot we chose for our lemonade stand.

We had put on a pasta dinner for our parents, raised money to fund the lemonade stand,

From the forty bucks they put in the hat, we gave half to charity, our good deed of the summer,

And spent the other twenty setting up a lemonade stand made of dreams.

Built of our own two hands and measured glasses, we got lucky

Cop cars rolling up and paying triple per cup,

One radioing his buddies and there were constant cups to pour.

We took the funds and bought nails and wood,

Deconstructing a moldy picnic table hadn’t been enough,

Not enough to touch the architectural wonder I had designed,

Three tiers, bedrooms almost, and a multilevel garage,

Designs drawn out with a careful hand between summer math packets and book reports,

Sketched in journals of elementary angst between pages of nascent poetry.

When the castle came together, months of the neighborhood kids clambering up trees,

Holding hammers and saws in unsafe ways,

Five year olds trying to keep up, dragging planks of wood from pile to pile,

We had constructed a fortress, and our last three dollars bought a cheap “KEEP OUT” sign,

Walking over with the whole crew to the hardware store that had come to know us.

We sat in the shade of the castle and poured out a jug of lemonade.

The memories hit me eleven years later when I saw the last plank fall out of place,

Rotted and unused, no girls spying on older baseball players or hide and seekers,

No pirate ships and scallywags roaming its decks in years.

I watched our treetop castle disintegrate in front of me, wisps of ash close at hand,

Thinking about how our neighborhood gang fell apart after eighth grade,

High school pressure too much to hold.

How we had been so close for so long,

Built something so beautiful,

And walked away without looking back.

Parenting my adult child.


As the doctor handed me my new born, along with the myriad of feelings, I felt a strange mix of helplessness and responsibility. This tiny human that lay peacefully in my arms, trying to focus on my face was my responsibility. I was responsible for nurturing her, raising her, loving her. Parenting was a trial and error. I did plenty wrong and I did plenty right. I followed my instincts and tried to learn from my mistakes. As my daughter grew from an infant to a toddler to a little girl to a teenager, my parenting changed. Just when I got comfortable in parenting a stage, she grew, she changed.

Slipping through my fingers all the time…

And I had to change the way I interacted with her, I had to learn again how to be a parent to her at that certain phase. I had to read her, understand her and react accordingly. The cycle of trial and error started anew at every phase of her transience.

“Here honey, hold my hand and stand up. You can do it. Look at you, big girl.”

“Please don’t snatch the toy from your friend.”

“Please wait your turn.”

“Finish your vegetables ”

“Wake up. You have to get ready for school.”

“I am so sorry 6th grade was difficult.”

“I am so proud of you for trying.”

“You can do this.”

“You will NOT talk that way to me.”

“Put your phone down NOW.”

“Be home by 11 pm.”

“Congratulation, my love. You did it.”

“Your room needs to be cleaned before I come home.”

“Let’s read next to each other.”

 

But despite the various changes, she was still a child, and I was the adult.

All of a sudden, as my daughter returned from her first year of college, I realized, I was the parent of an adult. A very young adult, but an adult nonetheless, who has somewhat outgrown the confines of our house. And perhaps, outgrown the confines of my parenting of last year. Even during her senior year, I was the nagging parent urging her to complete her assignments, finish her college essays, demanding she return home at a certain time, instructed her to take care of her room and tidy it the way I liked.

The woman who came back had changed somewhat and I had the sudden realization that I have to relearn how to parent her yet again. The gears need to be shifted, the expectations realigned. How much do I parent her, how little? I will always be honest in my opinion of her choices but in what way do I present it?

Like a new parent, I ponder over my new role. I will make mistakes, I will figure it out along with her. A journey starts and I am excited to see how I nurture this young human who is slowly emerging to take her rightful place in the world. But one thing is certain, I am here for her. Her constant,  her roost.

Quinceanera


As I held the soft, warm bundle that were you, my heart just filled with this overwhelming, melting, oozy feeling that I have never ever felt before. A feeling of intense love for your tiny being, a feeling of complete bewilderment that your perfect body grew in my own, a fierce desire to protect you from all the evil in the world – a combination of all these and many more. Oh, and relief too, when the neo natal doc pronounced you healthy. Even now, when we laugh together over a shared joke, I look at your crinkled eyes, your wide smile and all of a sudden, think back to the moment when I held you for the first time. I can still feel that moment of wonder when I realized I am a mother to this tiny being in my arms. I remember I turned to every single person in the delivery room as I held you gingerly, and thanked them profusely. I thanked them for giving me you, a little pink bundle of perfection.

You are fifteen today. Almost a woman. Yet sometimes, when I enter your room to wake you up for school or swimming practice, I see in your sleeping face the baby that your daddy and I brought home. I move your hair and plant a kiss on your cheeks. You smile a little, in your sleep. Perhaps, even in your state of blessed unconsciousness, you feel my love?

You were born on a Thursday, the day of Goddess Lakshmi according to the Hindu mythology – the goddess of wealth. As we brought you home from the hospital, the landlady of our apartment in Delhi, stopped me to see your face as she thrust in your tiny hands an envelope full of money. She said, ‘Lakshmi has come to you on a Thursday!’ Your dad and I laughed.

Your dad boasted while you were still nestled within my body that he is an expert in babies, coming from a family of six siblings. I, being an only child, often expressed doubts about my abilities to keep a baby alive. I admitted I was clueless and all the books I read provided only theory. Your dad said, ‘Don’t worry, I know everything about changing diapers, bathing new borns. I will teach you!’ I, having never even seen or held a new born, believed him.

Then came the time to bathe you, for the first time. I handed you over to him and sat nervously watching. His hands were shaking and you were slippery. It was clear he did not know what to do with you, despite his bravado 🙂 . I almost died a thousand deaths in those few minutes in the fear that he will drop you. After five minutes, I could not bear the agony any longer, I took you back, ‘I can do this. I will do this!’ He handed you back and I cleaned you – fearlessly. As I look back, I realize motherhood came to me naturally. Taking care of you became my second nature, I did it with ease. Your daddy was of course, a huge help.

Your daddy and I decided to be with each other for many reasons, we discovered we completed each other in many ways. You, my dear girl, brought even more joy in our lives, than we thought was even possible. I have so many happy memories of the two of us sitting around you and watching you for hours, laughing over your facial gesture, gently sliding our finger into your closely fisted little fingers, tickling your tiny little toes and marveling over your belly laughs. I still can hear it!

We suffered from the agonies that all first time parents suffer from. We analyzed every cry, we tiptoed to your room when you were sleeping to make sure you breathed. We debated and read everything we could lay our hands on whether to lay you on your back, on your tummy or on your side when you slept. We asked innumerable questions to veteran parents and got patronizing and indulgent smiles. We proudly held you out for people to admire (you were really a very cute baby) and I frowned inwardly when people wanted to hold you. I antagonized a few family members by asking them to sanitize their hands before holding you. I really didn’t care what they thought. Your safety from germs was my primary concern.

You grew like a sunflower nourished by all the love not only from your parents, but your grand parents, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends and teachers. People near and far loved you dearly and enriched your life with their happy presence. And you enriched theirs with your baby talk, toothless smiles, curly haired cuteness.

You made us parents for the first time. We learnt to be a parent by making mistakes with you. We learnt to create boundaries, we learnt when to give in, when to stand our grounds.

At fifteen, the worries remain for us. The reasons have changed. The overwhelming love that we feel for you for just being YOU remains, sometimes due to the conflicts that love is perhaps not as evident to you. But that first overwhelming intense love that we felt when we first held you follows you around faithfully. It will always follow you as long as we live. We do not sometimes, and may not see eye to eye always, but the love for you is permanent.

I want you to grow up and soar high with that knowledge. On your birthday, and for ever, do know please that you are intensely loved and lovingly cherished. I hope on your birthday, you will take a few moments to feel the love that surrounds you, make it a part of your essence and then when you go out to the world, spread the love on. We all know the world desperately needs it.

Happy birthday, my love, my dear, dear girl. Spread your wing, you will always have our love to fall back upon, if you so need, as your safety net.

Pilgrimage, no less…


A happy coincidence occurred in my life recently. My friend’s daughter sent 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.