Leftover Queen


All of you hail the Leftover Queen a.k.a me. I claim the title, the crown and the throne. I claim all of it.

I wrote about my nonstop cooking on the Diwali weekend. If you have not read it yet, you can read it here.

Since I go overboard when I cook, I ended up with a lot of leftovers. Generally, Sean eats leftovers for weeks and he is very happy to do so. As we pack away the food in the fridge on the day I cook, I can see his mind planning his meals for the week ahead. He threatens us not to finish the dal or the paneer because he plans to eat them for another meal. The threat is not serious, only semi serious. But this time, I must have poisoned him somehow because his stomach did not feel great for a couple of days after Diwali and he did not want to exacerbate the situation by eating spicy dal makhni and creamy malai kofta. So I, who is not fond of dal makhni or malai kofta too much, had to eat the leftovers. The children, in general, rarely eat left over Indian food. They are high maintenance but thankfully I am done maintaining them. They maintain themselves quite well when it comes to meals.

After 3 days of eating leftovers to empty the fridge, I had a plan. A beautiful, bold, exquisite, earth shattering, tradition breaking plan. I thought outside the box.

This is what I did. I took out the container of malai kofta from the fridge. I follow Sanjeev Kapoor’s fool proof recipe of malai kofta. It is easy and delicious. You can look at the recipe here.

I poured the malai koftas with the gravy in my food processor and made a puree of the whole thing. Then I added 2 and a 1/2 cups of whole wheat to the puree and hit the dough button of the food processor. The liquid in the puree was not enough for a sticky dough so I added 1/3 cup of plain yogurt to the mix. I took the dough out of the food processor and kneaded by hand for about 5 to 7 minutes. When the dough formed a smooth ball, I covered it with damp cloth and went for my walk.

After the walk, I kneaded for another 3 to 4 minutes and made little balls to roll out.

The next part was easy. I rolled the dough out into rotis and cooked them on the skillet with oil spray.

The malai kofta parathas were ready.

I told myself I just transformed a leftover into a healthy meal. Whole wheat, paneer, potatoes, ok fine, a little cream in the gravy made it a tad unhealthy but it tasted good. Everything tastes good with cream and butter, sigh! As I finished cooking the last paratha, my family casually gathered around, “Whatcha making?”

Ryan was stressed about a math test so he walked around to calm his nerves and ate at least 3 parathas in the process if not more, Sahana and Sean ate a few with left over dal makhni. I ate 3 of them. They were soft and oh-so-flavorful. I decided right then that I will claim the title of Leftover Queen in my blog post. And I just did!

Office space


As we stood side by side preparing our quick lunch in the kitchen on a work-from-home day, I casually mentioned to Sean that I will be needing the office space that night from 6:45 till 8:00 pm as I was co producing a virtual class for the library.

“Oh no!! I have a virtual cocktail meet with big donors where I am presenting and answering questions!” he exclaimed. And looked at me with I-am-so-sorry eyes.

We really don’t have an office space in our house. There is a little office room which we transferred into nursery when we moved in as I was pregnant with Ryan. After spending all his infancy, babyhood, boyhood years in that little room Ryan finally took over Sahana’s room after she went to college. Sahana beautifully rearranged Ryan’s former (tiny) room and settled in it when she came back home due to the pandemic. It has a cozy dorm room feeling to it, complete with color changing lights.

Over the years, all our ‘office’ work and school work were done on the kitchen table. We did not feel the need for an office since I work for the library system and Sean travels all around the world for his job. The little time we had after our respective jobs was spent on carting children to soccer, basketball, music, swim practices and meets. Once the pandemic hit and we pivoted to online work we realized we were in trouble and we also realized as a family that Sean is a very loud office mate.

During pandemic, I took many trainings while we waited for the library system to resume service, facilitated book club and had to meet with co workers virtually. I often found myself glaring at Sean, who also met with his colleagues virtually and rather loudly. As he gained steam and got excited about whatever they were discussing, the decibel level increased. I often glared at him and huffed off with my computer on mute to the bedroom and shut the door. More than once I was either asked by colleagues if I was on my bed and if planned on falling asleep 😃 ! After both our meetings, Sean asked, “Was I too loud? I am sorry!” The next time our meetings conflicted, he would start off with normal voice and then predictably grew louder and louder as his meeting progressed.

As months went by, Sean started bringing his office into our home. It started innocently enough! A big ring light came for his zoom meetings, then huge banners of his organization were delivered to set up as back drop. The last straw was all the photos that he had on the walls of his office came home with him one day along with the bowls he used at work and silverware. He then took a very handy desk from our main floor which held all my electronics, laptop and devices, and took it downstairs to the basement and set up a nice office space with the ring light for zoom meetings. My stuff were relegated to a small white table.

When I saw the neatly set up office space, I rubbed my hands in glee, immediately planning to usurp it whenever I had classes to teach or facilitate. My classes are generally in the evening so I figured they will not coincide with Sean’s meetings since those are primarily during day time. Win, win! Or so I thought. The first day I decided to stake my claim on his hard work, he had a cocktail meeting. Who has cocktail meeting during virtual work? What is the point of that? Sean does not even drink!

Sahana happened to be in the kitchen when we were having the conversation of our meeting conflict. She decided to be helpful and made a comment. Big mistake! I jumped on her right away.

“Can I use your room then?” I turned to her with bright eyes. She had a lovely set up for her online classes.

Although she was taken aback, she agreed and I found her room nicely cleaned, all ready for me once I got back from work. The class worked out beautifully. I did make Sean feel bad about the conflict, admittedly unfairly and he relinquished the office to me for my next class while he took phone calls from all over the world upstairs, next to the children’s bedrooms where they were trying to attend virtual classes. And he was, as usual, loud.

This morning was beautiful and Sean was talking to his colleagues over phone on our back deck. I saw that he finally met his match. A blue jay flew close by, settled on a branch near him and proceeded to tell Sean, in no uncertain terms, that s/he can beat him hands down in volume any day. Its on! Sean became louder by the minute and the blue jay kept pace. As I heard the competition between bird and human, I smiled. Situation is less than perfect in so many homes. We need to find whatever humor there is, we need to laugh, we need to give, we need to share, sometimes office space even. We need humor to get by.

Show grace, let us all show grace.

Living through Covid 19


Our isolation is not over yet. I write this blog while we are in our 10th week of isolation. As I went to bed, woke up to a world that lost more people than the day before, perused the news about more information about the pandemic, logged in to work, ate lunch, went for walk, dinner, books and then bed again, life fell into a new monotonous rhythm yet the mind experienced myriad of emotions.

When our work closed, I remember, the first week was full of uncertainty, yes, but also some excitement. Due to school, work and travel, our little family did not have much of a chance to be together for the last few years. The oldest was away in college and then Spain, the youngest was boarding in school. Sean traveled at least 40% of the year. We thought we will be off work for a couple of weeks, we will practice physical distancing from the world, flatten the curve and life will be back to semi normal. In retrospect that idea seems so naive.

Sahana and I love to cook so, right away, we occupied the kitchen and cooked different types of food. We even thought of a cooking competition while we were in isolation and we were confident us girls would beat the boys hands down. When all this is over, I will look back on that time with a smile. We shared so much as she cooked and I cleaned the dishes. Our innermost thoughts, hopes, fears, desires – all came out in the familiar comfort of the kitchen, doing a task we both loved to do. Ryan, Sean and I started watching one episode of a tv show, Rome, everyday while snuggling together in bed after the day was done. Sean and I took long walks exploring the neighborhood, often accompanied by Sahana, when we talked about her future, our years together going forward. We brought all our board games out and played raucous rounds of Risk, Ludo, Apples to Apples. We smack talked, strategized, teased and laughed. We even bought badminton rackets and I showed the family who is the boss in badminton. Soon Ryan’s athletic prowess deemed my brilliance but that is not the point here. Gradually, though, the enthusiasm and excitement of the isolation starting fading away. Board games were forgotten, badminton rackets were rarely picked up, hours went by in companionable silence. Fifteen year old Ryan retreated to his room attending school and stayed there after school was over. Sahana still went for walks with us, baked a lot, watched shows on her phone and she talked. I got more involved with trying to figure out how to work remotely and Sean conducted all his work from home. He probably was most seamless in transitioning to remote working.

There were days, though, when sleep would elude me as I lay tossing and turning in bed in grips of anxiety. My parents were far away and I have no ways of getting to India if they need me. There were unexpected tears at this new normal. And with that came guilt. Are these tears justified compared to what so many others are going through? I have a home, my family is with me, I have a paycheck coming, my husband is getting paid so why these tears? Why such profound sadness?

Like thousands others, I figured I would document the ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ of this pandemic so future students, while writing papers on this historic pandemic, have plenty of primary sources right at their finger tips 🙂 .

So what was bad for me?

Fear. Fear of not being able to go to Kolkata if something happened to my parents. I had to mindfully remove that thought from my head before I could go to sleep each night. Every morning when I woke up, I checked my phone to see their activity on social media. Most days, I called. Fear was the worst.

Despair at the news.

Irrational anger at the universe for Sage’s death at this time. Now that I was home all the time, his memory haunted me more. I had a physical yearning to pet him, to have him back. Why did he decide to die all of a sudden? That was very bad planning on his part. I felt cheated. Circumstances will not allow me to have another pet right now. But I did not want another pet. I just wanted Sage. I told you. It is irrational.

Uncertainty about the future of my rising senior in college. Will she be able to finish her school year in person? What will happen to the lease of the apartment she signed if she has to take her fall classes online? Will I feel comfortable at work? I work with public. How bad will it all be in fall? Will I feel comfortable giving my friends a hug ever again? Will Sahana get a job? What will happen to college funds?

What was still good?

I really like my family on top of loving them.

I will remember this pandemic via the smell of fresh ginger garlic paste. Why? Because Sahana started a sourdough starter. And each day, instead of throwing away the excess starter before feeding the ‘mother’, she mixed some milk, chili flakes, fresh ginger/ garlic paste, some chopped scallion and made a delicious pancake. We ate the ‘waste product’ topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, home grown basil leaves, fresh mozzarella. You should have seen and tasted the deliciousness! That smell will always remain as a memory of comfort during pandemic.

Food that Sahana cooked, delicious and various. As an Indian mother, my proud moment arrived when my daughter made perfect samosas filled with potatoes and peas. My job here was done.

Ryan’s excited face as he explained one of his esoteric thoughts on aliens, historical facts and his interpretation of it, de extinction of extinct species. His constant playful bantering with his dad when it came to number of push ups and sit ups. Flexing of muscles and more working outs. His face, when flushed with the excitement of a new idea, made me smile inwardly. He was always a thoughtful child and while he tried his best to maintain aloofness as a 15 year old, the thoughts that came in his head needed to come out. His family members, at dinner time, were the best recipients.

Seeing Sean at work, listening to his meetings all over the world trying to mitigate hunger, poverty. And sometimes glaring at him for speaking so loudly that I had to leave the space to listen to my zoom meeting. Then laughing with the kids about it.

Sitting outside and looking at bunny rabbits play with each other.

Birds. So many birds. They were perhaps always there, I did not notice them with such focus. Waking up to their chirping and ending the day with their twits.

While riding this roller coaster of emotions, I learn to be patient, a trait I lack. And I learn to stay hopeful despite moments of despair. This will end. We will emerge. World will heal. Amen.

In the meantime…..deep breaths.

And a love story..


My parents hardly ever agree on anything. They are two very different people with vastly different outlook on issues in life. However, they vociferously agree that within 2 hours of Sahana’s birth they saw her lift her head up. I have tried, over the course of eighteen years, to reason with them, “Newborns can not raise their heads. You must have been mistaken somehow in your excitement of seeing your first grandchild!” At that point, one of them seek approbation from the other:
“Tulechilo. Dekhechi. Bolo? Matha tulechilo na?”
(Yes, she lifted her head. We saw. Tell her did she not lift her head?)
The partner supports this observation. When it comes to the super ability of their grandchildren, they stand united. No amount of arguing, teasing, laughing can move the solid conviction that their grandchildren are extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful……

Eighteen years ago, when I was working hard to bring my first child to earth, I had my husband in the room holding my hand, coaching me to breathe in New Delhi, India. And my parents were pacing nervously near the delivery room, their ears perking up at any sound, any swish of the door. Finally when Sahana was born, she was cleaned and swaddled and I was taken care of, I saw my mother flash me a victory sign and my father crying tears of joy as they wheeled me away from the delivery room to private room. And since that day a love story began. Story of little Sahana and didiya, dadai.

Baby Sahana spent a lot of time in the arms of her grandmother, while grandfather sat nearby spending hours adoring her various facial expressions or simply lying next to her as she slept on their bed. When she got a little older, didiya told her stories, plenty of stories. Stories of Mahabharat, Ramayan, Krishna, Thakurma r jhuli. Dadai introduced her to animals, plenty of animals. When we visited Kolkata, dadai held her little hand and took her out to meet the numerous stray dogs and stray cats in our neighborhood, that he took care of. They taught her to be kind to creatures, big and small. They bought her toys, books, anything she wanted and spoiled her rotten but they never interfered when I felt the need to discipline her when she misbehaved. For that, I am grateful.  After our move to United States, the physical distance multiplied but the bond between this little girl and her grandparents remained as strong as ever. The yearning increased and when the yearly rendezvous happened between the two, the love was palpable. Ten year old Sahana  welcomed them at the airport with tight hugs, brought them home and said to didiya, “Golpo bolo.” (tell me a story).

Teenage Sahana confided in her grandmother her teenage angst. Story teller didiya became her confidante and dadai became someone to debate with. Dadai would say something outrageous and know-it-all grand daughter would try her best to prove him wrong. Dadai, often egged her on to get a raise out of her.

When Sahana was fifteen, she went to Kolkata alone for six weeks and stayed with her grand parents. The three of them talked, visited family, ate delicious food, went to the mall and movies and when all the talk was done, they just sat with each other, hooked electronically to their respective devices. For her grandparents, her presence was enough. For her, being with them in the same room in companionable silence was gratifying.

She is off to college now and sometimes she feels the urge to leave everything and go back to Kolkata, to didiya and dadai. She skypes with them sometimes, planning the best time to visit before she launches into her life as a young adult.

Little girls don’t stay little for long. They grow up, they change. The bond of story telling, animal loving, hand feeding, cuddling remains  strong though. No matter what she does, her grand parents think the world of her still. In their eyes, she is extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful…… She is that special one who lifted her head within few hours of being born – an insurmountable feat. No one can convince them otherwise. Nobody tries 🙂 !

The First day on the island


I have said before that the way to Ryan’s heart is through his stomach. He woke up on Saturday morning at the hotel, completely ravenous. Sahana and I were still in bed and not ready for breakfast so he niggled and whined that he be allowed to go have the free breakfast that the hotel offered by himself. We said yes, he left and we forgot about him while we watched a little tv, packed up to check out and got ready ourselves for breakfast. After quite a while later, we heard frantic knock on our door. We opened it to see a red faced and evidently relieved Ryan standing outside with a silly grin on his face.

“Finally I found you guys. I was lost!!” He exclaimed.

In his excitement to get food he did not check our room number when he went for breakfast. After a satisfying breakfast of pancakes and eggs, when he tried to make his way back to our room, he realized he did not know the number. So he knocked on a few doors on the side where our room was. He confronted some angry French Canadian boarders. Finally after the third failed attempt at finding his family, he went to the reception desk and admitted he was lost. The ladies were supposedly very nice, they commiserated with him and despite the privacy policy, gave him his parents’ room number because he was little and cute. He declared he was never letting us out of his sight for the rest of the vacation (he did not keep his promise since we only saw him when he needed food and a place to sleep on the island).

We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel to head towards Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. Since I am extremely intelligent and planned, I suggested to my partner that we drive to the ferry and figure out first how we transport our junk to the island before we shop for groceries for seven days. That plan seemed acceptable to all so that is what we did. While I guarded the car, Sean went to make the necessary inquiries. It turned out we were unduly worried. The wonderful and efficient staff of the ferry sent all our junk on the freight and other regulars to islands showed us how we can buy groceries, put them in crates provided by the freight workers and leave them with the staff. They did all the heavy lifting while we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our way to the island with only our handbags full of tank tops and shorts. After bidding goodbye to Sasha, Hexel (our kayaks, remember?), our unnamed bikes, tennis rackets and some other inconsequential bags, we went to the local Whole Foods to get groceries. Grocery shopping, for me, is never fun and this wasn’t either but it got done with two children running to get things that they wanted and Sean and I either acquiescing or saying sternly, “Put that back right away!” We drove the grocery laden minivan back to the dock, procured a cart, sent the groceries on their way with a prayer that the eggs don’t crack and ventured into the difficult task of finding a parking. The most convenient parking, right next to the dock was full. Sean got off the car to ask the attendant how quick the turnover was. Should we wait or should we seek a different parking garage. He was gone for a while. When I was starting to get slightly frustrated I saw him coming back with a huge grin and a thumbs up sign.

“We got parking here!”

“How? It still says full!”

It turns out the parking ticket machine was not working and Sean tinkered with the parking attendant and helped her fix it. She let us in. Hallelujah!

After parking the car, we got out to finally explore the city of Portland, grab some lunch and get donuts from the famous The Holy Donut. Portland is a lovely town, albeit stinky, at least near the waterfront with fish stink. If one walks away from the waterfront, however, it is a quaint seaside town with artsy boutiques and innovative restaurants. We lunched on shwarma, falafel and hummus in Olive Cafe and went to get dessert. As we were walking around we got phone calls from family that they were arriving at the dock with their families and luggage and since we were pros at figuring out how to transport luggage to Cliff island, we jogged back to give them a hand.

After hugs and confusion and bathroom breaks and innumerable ‘where is this child or that’ (there were 6 children in total ranging from 17 to 3 while four more waited for us at the island), we got on the ferry and our relaxing (maybe) break truly started.

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This is a view from the ferry on our way to the island.

It took about 40 minutes with two stops and we were finally there. We were finally away from the mainland, away from schedule, away from political news, away from internet. We were unwired, we were on island time. Sasha, Hexel, unnamed bikes, bags and bags of groceries were all unloaded on the dock. They needed to be carted to the house we rented which was only 4 houses down the dock. It sounded simple but we did not account for the acres of woods and yards between those four houses. While Sean, the kids and other relatives divided up the bags, tennis rackets, bikes, I took it upon myself to push the big crate of groceries up the hill to our house. The only car (a taxi service driven by a very elderly gentleman) stopped by me to ask if I was alright. He may have been concerned by my straining neck muscles and red face. I did it though only to realize I had stolen two banana boxes of groceries that belonged to somebody else. Those boxes hid underneath our scores of grocery bags. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, offered to take the banana boxes full of groceries back to the dock so they could be reunited with their rightful owner. I mumbled a thank you because I was stunned and exhilarated by the scene that greeted me in the living room of our rented house.

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This was going to be our view for the next seven days? Did I just arrive in heaven?

Seeing my husband standing next to me enjoying the view and not tackling the two kayaks outside got me into a panic mode.

“Why are you here? Why are you not bringing the kayaks from the dock?” I exclaimed.

“Your children are bringing them!” He gave a complacent smile.

“What?!?!?”

Sure enough, two little figures turned the corner in two kayaks paddling furiously to get them to our private little beach in front of the house. Oh, the joys of having older children!

the first evening was a blur between hugging and kissing family, unpacking and rearranging clothes, eating delicious sausage lasagne prepared by my youngest sister-in-law, laughing at the antics of the children, eleven in total, and then finally retiring to the bedroom and falling into deep slumber. I will post the picture of what I woke up to in the next installment. Stay tuned. 😀

 

 

 

Before stepping off the mainland.


I forgot to pack my notebook as I packed some grubby clothes hurriedly in a newly purchased tote bag to take to Cliff Island off the coast of Maine for seven days. My extremely outdoorsy husband had purchased two kayaks because the kids ‘needed’ it you see and was planning on bringing them. The children declared they absolutely needed their bikes to ride around the three and a half mile long island with their cousins. There was a tennis court on that tiny island, so how could we not bring tennis rackets and balls? There is also a baseball field, we could not simply leave behind baseball glove and bat, could we? I sighed as I looked at the accumulating junk and dictated folks to take bare minimum in clothes so we could each carry a bag pack and keep both hands free so we COULD CARRY JUNK! The island does not have a grocery store for provisions so we needed to plan and buy seven days worth of groceries, and then figure out a way to carry them!! I forgot to pack my notebook though, in the hustle bustle of planning. I planned to write down my stream of consciousness as I sat in front of the ocean. In the absence of tangible medium, I wrote and painted in my mind’s canvas. Before life gets steadily busy, I hope to put down those thoughts on these blogs.

Like many others on this planet with children, our lives are hectic and rigidly scheduled. As August came closer, all four of us counted down days to break free from work travels, deadlines, swim meets, baseball practices to reclaim our time together, doing what we love to do – reading, walking, talking, listening to music, swimming, playing. We planned a retreat from real life with Sean’s siblings and their families in a tiny little island off the coast of Portland. We rented a house for a week starting Saturday, right on the water. However, my family headed north early, on a Thursday morning at 5 am to jump start the vacation. The plan was to meet our one day old niece in Boston and then drive up north, find a place to stay for two nights, Thursday and Friday, and then get on the ferry from Portland to head to the island on Saturday.

We started our long journey before the sun rose. Sean had secured two kayaks on top of our minivan and two bikes behind the car on bike racks. I had a niggling fear that one of those would go free, go flying and hit fellow motorists. That did not happen thankfully. We arrived in Mass General Hospital with all our JUNK intact but went round and round the busy city of Boston to find parking for our heavily loaded car. We held and kissed our baby niece, full of joy at the miracle of life and hit the road again after bidding the proud and tired parents goodbye. We wanted to visit some of the beaches of New Hampshire or maybe Maine, get a couple of days of sandy beach fun before we met others at the ferry and headed over to Cliff Island. First stop was Hampton beach. We tried to get a hotel for two nights but nothing was available. It was coming up on dinner time and the day was slowly losing its luster. We decided to move on, drive up and find accommodation somewhere farther up north. We were not worried. Next stop was Ogunquit, Maine. The beach was gorgeous, the town seemed inviting. Four of us started to feel hopeful about finding lodging and eventually some dinner, but ‘no vacancy’ signs greeted us as we passed cute hotels, motels and bed and breakfast. A resort right on the beach showed vacancy sign. We parked and jogged to the reception desk. The children, cooped up in the car for 10 hours, ran to the beach to touch the water.

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The resort offered one night’s accommodation for almost $400. Friday night was full. Crestfallen parents called the kids back to the car to continue the journey, but the lovely restaurants and the handmade ice cream stores were too tempting to pass by. We stopped for dinner at Hamburger Harry’s. The kids got busy ordering while the parents desperately searched for lodging on their smart phones. The children, with their bellies full of sumptuous burger, kept reassuring us they could sleep in the van if needed. I glared at them instead of appreciating their effort to be accommodating 🙂 ! I recognized their effort later, when I relaxed finally in a comfortable bed. After several attempts, we found accommodation for two nights in a hotel in South Portland, only to find out later that the Boston Marathon bombers stayed in the same hotel before their heinous deed (the knowledge would not have made any impact on our decision of staying there at that point anyway). We drove up to our hotel, after ice cream of course, and crashed.

We woke up Friday morning ready for a beach day. We wanted to have the total boardwalk experience with all the glitz since we knew we will be in isolation in an island far away from the madding crowd. We found Old Orchard beach that fit the bill, complete with an amusement park, boardwalk fries, tattooed skin and crashing waves. The kids ran towards the amusement park before they said hello to the ocean.

As Sean and I stood in line to buy a few tickets for a some rides, a man walked up and gave us two passes for unlimited rides, FOR FREE, just like that. He had to leave the beach and had no use for those passes, he gave them to us. Before we could collect our wits to thank him profusely for his generosity, he left! The children rode every single ride till Ryan threw up and decided enough was enough and sometimes too much. After a mediocre lunch in a taqueria, which had an interesting name with a frog in it, we finally headed to the beach. My thin Indian skin can not tolerate the coldness of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, so I slept on the sandy beach while my family rollicked in the waves. Completely satiated with our day of sand filled and sun filled activities, we headed to our hotel to get ready for our big preparation day on Saturday. The day we had to figure out a way to transfer our kayaks, Sasha and Hexel (yes, they are even named), our two bikes (no names), luggage, books, towels and seven days worth of provision across the ferry from Portland to Cliff Island. But before we did that, Ryan got lost. I will leave you here with a cliff hanger like mystery writers do, so you will wait with baited breath about the fate of my son, till I write the next installment. I am evil like that. 🙂

Flying solo


This blog will be an exception. I will begin at the end this time. This blog will be about my experience of leaving Kolkata – alone. The family left Kolkata when the school vacations ended. I stayed on for one more week to experience the city on my own without the responsibility of two half grown humans.

As I lifted the backpack on my shoulders, turned around to wave goodbye to baba and entered the Kolkata airport with my single piece of luggage, I felt light. Sad, excited and light. Leaving Kolkata is always sad. Recently I read a book by Reyna Grande where she says that her umbilical cord is buried somewhere in her village in Mexico, so no matter where she lives she feels the pull towards the village where she was born. My umbilical cord was not buried anywhere in Kolkata except, perhaps, virtually since I have a similar pull towards the city. In Bengali we call this attraction ‘naari r taan’. Every time my plane takes off from the soil of Kolkata, I feel a tug at my heart. There is always a sense of uprootedness all over again, even after so many years. This time, however, I was also excited. I have traveled by myself only twice in all these years of my life. I have been accompanied by my parents first, husband next and for the last 15 years, by the children. I realized how tense I usually am when I travel with the kids. My whole energy is focused on their well being. When they were little, my plane rides were spent keeping them occupied and relatively happy – changed, nursed, rested. Now I look out whether they have their bags, their earache, their hunger, their moods, their quibbles. This time, however, I felt light, alone – in a relieved kind of way. I felt I would even enjoy the 24 hour long journey back home. That sense of excitement at an impossibly long flight seemed incredible since I strongly dislike plane rides like most people I know.

I have always loved to converse with strangers. I was at it right from Kolkata airport. First victim was a young man who made the mistake of sitting next to me. I found out about his job, his intentions of going to Dubai, where he lived in Kolkata, his university, his return and more. He too, seemed to be too happy to chat. Next was an elderly gentleman from Cape town, South Africa, who had come for business and was returning after traveling to Kharagpur and another place which I could not figure out due to his pronunciation but did not want to keep asking for the fear of annoying him. He said I must visit Cape Town, it is very beautiful.

There were many first time flyers traveling with their spouses for some pilgrimage. These men and women were confused, loud and excited. They provided me with such entertainment as I watched them interact excitedly with each other inquiring about passports, tickets, water bottles, food. Before the boarding announcement was made, I got up to use the restroom. As I opened the door of the ladies room, I was shocked to see a woman completely covered in a black burkha doing her business with her stall door wide open. She shrieked and so did I. Her husband was outside the main door of the ladies room. He came running and shooed me away. The lady was reigning in the entire 4 stalled bathroom by herself. Her husband was standing guard. I decided to flee the scene, walked a few extra paces and opened the door of the next bathroom very cautiously. It was clear.

On the flight, I always book myself an aisle seat so as not to bother my fellow passenger when I wish to get up to go to the bathroom or stretch my legs. Trust me, in a 14 hour long flight, you need to stretch them as far as you can. Soon enough, I was joined by two young men from a village in Murshidabad. Their final destination was Singapore. They were going via Dubai, then Dammam and finally Singapore.

“What are you going to do in Singapore?” I asked.

“We will work as electricians for 2 years.” They said.

They asked me where I lived. After hearing I work at a library in US, one of them asked how I managed to find a job in the US. The other asked if I could bring them over to the US by sponsoring them and then find them jobs too. I ruefully shook my head and said neither do I have that power, nor the influence. They were disheartened.

It was evident quickly that this was their first ever ride in an airplane as the man next to me fiddled with his seat belt trying to figure out it’s purpose. They clearly needed help. They experimented, I helped. They opened and closed the food tray, asked me if they could take the pillow and blanket with them when they landed, could they at least take the headphones. They reclined their seat and made themselves comfortable. I had to tell them to sit upright till the plane took off, showed them the seat belt sign and explained about it being lit and then off. Every few minutes their phones would ring, before we took off. I could not hear what the person on the other end asked but they must have been asked the same questions since the answers never varied:

“We are sitting in our seats, we got lemonades, there is AC in the plane, we are listening to music, we will be given food, we have a pillow and a blanket, we can watch tv if we want.”

When the stewardess asked them to turn off their phones in English they looked at her blankly and then looked at me for help. From that time on I became their official translator. They refused food when the stewardess asked them if they wanted mutton, chicken or vegetarian. They shook their head in the negative.

I knew they were excited about the meals, I asked them:

“Khaben na?” (You don’t want to eat?)

They readily agreed and voiced their choice. Once they finished they asked me if we are given seconds. I said they could certainly ask. They decided not to.

After that, the stewardesses asked me questions, I translated them back and forth. Understandably, they were nervous about their next connection to Dammam. They asked if I could help them. I had a tight connection myself and had to run, but I explained to them the information board where they can look up their next flight. They got out their boarding passes and I showed them which flight number they should look for. Their eyes still remained unsure and yes, a little helpless.

As I pulled my luggage from the overhead locker, when the plane stopped at the gate in Dubai, one young man shook my hand and the other folded them in a namaste.

I walked off to clear security and find my next gate and marveled at the courage of my new found friends and thousands others like them who leave their comfort zone to explore the world for livelihood. They are breaking the glass ceiling in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

I knew they would be much more confident in their next flight to Dammam and finally when they reach their destination, they would have mastered the art of flying. Who knows how many ‘firsts’ await them in their lives, but I do hope all of them are enlightening. I set out for my own world but the two men remained in my memory – first their helplessness and then their determination and courage to achieve something better.

Good luck, gentlemen. I had to write about you, so I remember.

I gave thanks..


I spent Thanksgiving Day alone this year. It was by choice. I wanted a little separation so I could fully look at what I have. Being entwined always does not allow me to fully ‘see’ and value my treasures. I also needed to unclench the muscles at the back of my shoulder and put my feet up while I wrote this.

My family drove up to Sean’s hometown to give thanks for the wonderful people who nurtured him, loved me and then the little ones who came to us later. And I stayed behind to spend Thanksgiving day alone. Sean made it happen!

Everytime I thought of Thanksgiving day this year, between chores, I filled up with a sense of happy anticipation. I felt a little smile creep up on my face at the prospect of being alone. I asked friends what they would do if they were given a day to spend however they wished. The responses were delightful. How would I want to spend it, I wondered. I thought about what I would do on the day. I thought a lot. And finally came to a decision. I would own the day, I would take off my watch which generally dictates my life – for a day. I woke up on Thanksgiving Day and left my watch on my bureau.

Sage and I went for a long walk and talked of squirrels and dog pee along the way.
I wrote an actual email to a friend instead of quick messaging.
I Skyped with my parents and tried to solve an issue.
I folded a basket of laundry, not because I had to, but because that is what I wanted to do.
I actually sat on the couch and LISTENED to my favorite songs, focusing on the lyrics as the tune rained gently on my soul.
I played with Sage in the backyard. He thought mama had gone crazy.
I read on the couch under my brilliant red blanket.
I watched a movie.
I did a home facial and took care of myself.
I sat in the backyard with Sage for a while and luxuriated in the quietness surrounding me and my aloneness.
I drove over to an Indian take out to get both Chicken and Mutton biryani for lunch AND dinner.
I felt the love of a friend as I broke my fast with delicious soda bread that her husband had baked.
I wrote.
And I let my body and soul dictate me.
And I kept thoughts of next day FOR next day.

I gave thanks too for this gift of a day. The day became a gift only because I knew my family was happy and enjoying the company of loved ones. The day became a gift because I knew my aloneness was temporary and my family will be back soon bringing with it, all it’s chaos, confusion, need for me, and love. And because I had this gift of a day by myself, I would be better prepared to deal with that chaos, confusion and routine.

I thought about my husband and my two children with an overwhelming sense of love and sent up a prayer to the universe to keep them healthy and happy. I prayed for my parents and the work they are doing for the community. I thought about my sisters and brothers I found by marrying Sean and prayed for them and their family. I had the day to truly thank, wish and pray.

Sometimes one just needs to step away and love oneself. I did just that. As I try to keep up with the fast paced life we led, I put myself way below the totem pole. On Thanksgiving day, I realized I needed to love myself more. While saying thanks for others, I thanked the universe for myself too, for my life, my love, my opportunities and for who I am.

The man from the faraway land came home.


I lied through my teeth for almost three months.

“I have double shift at work today. I have to leave by 9.00 am’ – was a common one. Every Saturday I would leave home after a faltering, mumbling lie. Walk with a fluttering heart towards Golpark bus stop, the heart rate increased as I neared Ram Krishna Mission. As I turned the corner I always broke out into a sweat of happy anticipation and guilt.

“Will he be there?” He always was. He stood in front of the Ram Krishna Mission, brighter than a sunshine, facing the corner where I would come from. As I turned the corner, his face split into a huge smile and I glittered like a diamond under its brightness.

After sneaking around for a few months, I decided my over active conscience can not bear the burden of this sneaky rendezvous, I needed to tell my parents that I was seeing someone. And the ‘someone’ belonged to a far away land.

So one summer afternoon as I lay next to my mother, I decided the moment was as good as any.

“I wanted to tell you for a while, I met someone I like.”

My mother’s head turned, excitement, apprehension in her eyes.

“Oh, really? Who is he?”

I knew the answer to “who is he” would be the hardest. He belonged to a different country, a country very far away.

I wanted them to meet him and nervously, they agreed. I was nervous, my parents were nervous and I believe Sean was nervous as well, although he does not admit it today.

The day finally dawned when he was supposed to come. Our house was cleaned thoroughly, the tiny living room was given a make over, the curtains were washed, cushion covers replaced, my seventeen cats were reprimanded and asked to be on their best behavior. My mother supervised the work and asked me if I thought the preparations will be up to Sean’s satisfaction. I reassured her he won’t really care. And then there was the question of what to offer him to eat. Although I had been seeing Sean for three months, we really had not shared a meal since our meetings were short and between meals. I had no idea what he ate or what he liked. I was not helpful, I just said, “Oh, don’t fret about it.”

Finally in the evening, Sean’s car entered our narrow alleyway. My mother was nervous and a little angry with me for putting her in this position where I thrust her into this realm of the ‘unknown’, out of her comfort zone. She did not know what to say to a man who was not from our country and did not speak her language! Why did I not find an Indian boy to fall in love with? Anyway, Sean entered our house holding two beautiful and expensive looking bouquets. He extended the bigger one to my mother and the smaller one to me. Neither ma nor I had ever received flowers from anyone, let alone a man. Flowers, rajanigandha sticks, were bought on our birthdays and put in a vase when we expected guests. We were baffled to receive flowers and worried right away if we had two vases handy to put them in. Sean seemed very comfortable. He shook hands with my dad and settled comfortably in the couch. Ma asked in halting English if he wanted any tea. Sean said, “Yes, sure. Thank you!”

At this point, my mother asked me to follow her. I went in towards the kitchen. She turned around to me with and said with gritted teeth, sweating a little,

“Ekta kotha o bujhte parchina!! Ki kore kotha bolbo?” (I can’t understand a word he says, how will I carry on a conversation?)

I said, with a concealed chuckle, “I will translate.”

After hot, milky tea and some halted conversation, mainly around me and how we met, a little about his work, they offered Sean some sweet yogurt – mishti doi, a specialty of Bengal. He accepted and ate it. Later I found out, he does not drink tea and he hates yogurt of any kind! The evening ended, Sean left and we started talking about him behind his back.

“He seems like a nice man. But the accent! Oh the accent! Can’t understand anything! How do you understand what he says?”

I said, “You get used to it. I can understand him fine!”

A trend started. He became a regular in our house. He had a very active social life, yet most evenings he came over to just hang out Indian style, sitting on our big bed with his legs folded under him, mainly laughing and listening, teasing my mother and perhaps observing the middle class Bengali culture through us.

I have been in several embarrassing situations and my parent’s unabashed pride in my achievements was certainly one of them. The pride was sweet, very endearing yet embarrassing. My trophies, cups and certificates were treasured in our Godrej almirah and Sean, once he became a bit more familiar, was subjected to each and every one of them, followed by a lecture on how smart I was and how well spoken and how many debates and public speaking competitions I had won. I was a catch and he better believe he is lucky to have received my attention – this message was delivered in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways by those two who did consider me their prized possession, no matter how little I mattered to the world. I tried to divert the conversation, but I was ignored mostly. Sean showed interest with a quick amused glance in my direction and a meaningful smile which conveyed, ‘Oh you will be teased about it later!’

As our relationship grew and became richer so did his association with my immediate and extended family. My grandmother became Sean’s fast friend. They were often found in a corner in a family gathering, didun talking nineteen to the dozen to Sean about her trips to Belur, about her arthritis pain and other metaphysical discourses. Sean nodded and contributed to the conversation in English. This continued after our marriage and till she passed away to the other side.

A relationship between two individuals does not stay limited to just them, does it? It  spreads its sweetness (or bitterness, as the case may be) to the people related to those individuals. Sean’s zest for life and his ability to spread love and cheer made him a favorite not only with me but with my family. We had our challenges in bringing our love to fruition but I believe our love and respect for not only each other but for those who we love helped us overcome those.

After eighteen years of togetherness I look back on the day when my two worlds met and how they interacted with each other. There was that fear of the unknown, there was curiosity, there was a little pride, there was a lot of stress and there was happiness too. It is with a smile that I  look back and reminisce on how it all started, how we found acceptance and love in not only each other’s hearts but also in the hearts of family who nurtured us.

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.