Wait, I am gonna cry….

The conversation was just general. Before the library opened, my coworkers and I were doing our regular work that we do every day to get the library ready for public. Between pulling online requests for materials we often chat, catch up, listen to music as we do our treasure hunt of books, cds, dvds. Two of my friends asked me about our plans for Sahana’s birthday and I began to tell them. Out of nowhere, I had an overwhelming surge of grief that overpowered me within seconds. Do you know the feeling when your nose starts itching and you realize a sneeze is coming? It was the same feeling except the stinging was in the eyes and sudden grief was suffocating. Instead of a sneeze, tears started rolling. If it was not so sad, it would be funny really.

“I am sorry, I am going to cry.” I said and I did exactly that. I started crying. And while I cried I walked towards the restroom for napkins and water. Once the tears eased up, I wiped my eyes, obliterating the carefully applied kajol in my eyes, splashed water on my face and joined my two friends. And they welcomed me back without making me feel even a tiny bit awkward. As if it is completely natural for someone to burst into tears between general conversation.

The point of this blog post is to acknowledge that I have some people in my life who simply take these outbursts in their stride and continue loving me. While I grieve my loss, they allow me the time to do so while standing by with their quiet love. I guess that is what friendship is all about. They don’t tell me not to cry, they don’t tell me to be strong. I am grateful that they allow me to be vulnerable but I don’t break because they hold me up with their love.

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.

In another land, on another day I met a girl…

Although, I didn’t spend my childhood with you, we grew up together when ‘growing up’ really mattered. I crossed the threshold from childhood to youth, holding your hand. I met you for the first time in the campus of Jadavpur University – fresh from an all girl’s school, wide-eyed, innocent, naive and sheltered, and with clearly demarcated views of right and wrong.

Our friendship strengthened as our horizon broadened. We learnt to think together, we expanded, we filled our heads with new thoughts, we discussed endless possibilities, we fell in love with the Romantic poets, we cut classes to sell tickets for the drama club, we dragged our feet while leaving the infamous J.U lobby to attend classes we didn’t particularly like. We walked the nooks and crannies of the J.U campus talking, sharing, learning, feeling, drinking life in and growing.

On the eve of your birthday, I was exploring our friendship of 23 years. We were physically together for 5, maybe 6 of those. But the friendship that I share with you transcended time and distance. We stayed in each other’s lives from far away, holding each other up in times of need, sharing our happiness in times of joy. We found our partners around the same time, we became mothers within a year of each other. Our talks changed from Rape of the Lock, Paradise Lost, philology class and tutorials to nap times, diaper rashes, teenage angst, husbands and sometimes ‘Lets go back and walk the campus! I am tired of these responsibilities of motherhood!’

But today, I want to revisit some of my favorite memories with you. Come on this journey with me. Let’s walk!

I met you on the first day of college in Fresher’s welcome. I naturally gravitated towards you because you had the most approachable face in the crowd of new faces. My first thought was ‘I have never seen more beautiful eyes than these’ as you turned to smile at me, a nervous one! We were both terrified.

Since then our friendship deepened. I had so much to share with you, so much to learn from you and about you. And learn, we did. Through endless walks, through trips to the British Council library, through your insistence that I treat you to Luchi, alurdom from Milanda’s canteen, through poetry and prose, through other friends and just by being inseparable.

I remember telling you the first day, in a somewhat 18 year oldish melodramatic way ‘Don’t desert me!’ I wanted you by my side to garner strength to face those frightening seniors. You didn’t leave my side.

I remember our trips to the Kolkata book fair. I remember the torrential downpour, your shoe strap breaking and us trodding in Kolkata mud.

Do you remember the walks to 8B busstand? Our destination always came before all the talk was talked. How could we part then? We had to walk all the way back to Gariahat to get you on another bus. After we reached Gariahat, there was nowhere else to go but home. I had to say goodbye to you and turned towards home, hoping the next day would come soon so we could finish our never-ending discussion of life, college, friends, future, tutorials, examinations, marks, love, crushes…..

What did we talk about? Do you remember? I am just left with the heady feeling of having someone by my side who understood me completely. I don’t remember our conversation.

I fell sick, you came to my house almost everyday sharing class notes and yelling at me to eat fruit and get my strength back. You needed me back at college.

I fell in love during our Master’s and missed classes to be with my boyfriend. You yelled at me again and held me firmly to terra firma by supplying me with class notes while all I wanted to do was live in the rosy world of love and passion. I passed my Masters – thanks to you.

I know I can’t enumerate the special memories that I have made with you since there are way too many. The trip to Mukutmanipur, the Copper Sheen lipstick, the hot summer afternoons spent in the cool of your living room, the numerous trips to BCL, the walks along James Long Sarani, your love for Manna De’s songs, your love for Buddhadeb Guha’s books, your Amaltash, Sangaskriti, the songs we sang sitting at the lobby – “abhi na jao chodke ke dil abhi bhara nahi”, discovering and drowning in the voice of Suman Chatterjee…. Even as I pen these down, several others crowd around in my mind’s eye. How can I put them all down in words? Those are our shared memories. They are and always will have a special place in my heart. College years are special for most. My five years in Jadavpur University were special for many reasons. I spread my winds and learnt to fly there. The line between right and wrong weren’t so clear anymore, I learned to think and I learnt to feel. I found new ideas, discovered new poetry, learnt to love literature. I also found you – my friend for life. My golden years spent at Jadavpur university turned so special because you were so intrinsically part of them.

Our physical presence in each other’s lives ended there. But not our friendship. Never our friendship. Girl friends, special ones like you, are a blessing in my life. You are my soul sister, my confidante, my partner in crime, my endless giggles, my shoulder to cry on, my guidance counselor, my picker upper when I need to be picked up. I share my joy and sorrows with you. You are the person who goes to Tirupati and prays to God to end my unhappiness. And when you are unhappy, I send a prayer to the universe for your happiness. You are my unconditional love – a source of love and friendship that is permanent in this transient world of ours where values, morals, relationships are constantly shifting.

The mindless crimes happening today make me heart-sick from time to time. But friends like you, good souls like you keep the faith alive. Happy birthday, bondhu. Have the happiest time ever. Please know, I am celebrating this special day with you, despite the distance. I will celebrate the birth of my best friend, whose presence and goodness of heart add to the beauty of this world of ours and gives me warmth and energy to keep going in the bleakest of days.

This is the kind of friend you are to me, Reshmi….

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
― William Shakespeare

Thank you!

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Thankful for….

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I became aware of this festival of giving thanks after I came to the United Sates of America. In India, we didn’t say thanks, our looks and smiles said it all. Even today, when I thank my parents for a kind act, they get embarrassed and somewhat offended, ‘You don’t thank your own, thanking is too formal!’ I respect that and say how much I love the particular dress/book/babysitting, I don’t utter the word thanks. I show my gratitude instead, with a beaming smile or an extra hug. I have, however, grown to love saying thanks. That, I think, is the beauty of belonging to two countries. I can constantly pick and choose all that I like from both the cultures and discard the ones that don’t make much sense to me.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because it transcends the boundaries of structured religions and all Americans and residents of America come together this day to show their gratitude and break bread with friends and family. There is,indeed, something uniquely beautiful in offering thanks. Is there any other holiday that is just dedicated to giving thanks? Being grateful for all the bounty that we have received? There are no gifts to be bought, nothing to wrap and put under the tree, no tree to trim and decorate.

I started a project of writing down one fact each day for this entire month, for which I am thankful. Good friends, understandably, groaned at my sudden spurt of gratefulness, and I predictably, ignored their good-natured ribbing and marched right ahead with my sparkling positivism. I seriously believe it is important to count our blessings. Not only does that keep those dark, gloomy thoughts at bay which loom large on the horizon when the sun doesn’t shine upon me, but also makes me much more sensitive and compassionate towards others who don’t have much – both in materialistic and non materialistic sense.

But being the impatient person that I am, how could I contain myself to mere one thought a day? How about all those other ones that are constantly bubbling within me as I try to arrange them in sequence and spread them evenly throughout this month of Thanksgiving? I abandoned the project and decided to put my thoughts in a blog post instead. Most days, I try to be grateful for the life I lead, some days………well, I am only human.

The month started with an occasion which was something to be greatly thankful for, my mother’s birthday. How can I even begin to thank two individuals, my mother and father, who gave it their all to love, cherish and nurture their only child, to the best of their ability.

Oh, my list of blessings is endless. It is impossible to enumerate them all, so I will just name a few.

I am thankful for the community where I live that not merely tolerates diversity but accepts it, respects it, promotes it and celebrates it.

My little, cozy house with heat on this cold, cold day, which seems to shrink every year as the children grow up and spread out, and yet, this lack of space brings us closer. Not much space to hide in our remote corners.

I love to be the cynosure of two big brown eyes, and the silent companionship he provides.

The job that I got after fourteen years of staying at home. The children were ready and so was I.

The two little humans that are responsible for my gray hair as well as the deepening laugh lines on my face. Oh alright, go ahead, call them wrinkles, if you must!

The wonderful educators and coaches that have touched the lives of my children, instilling in them the enthusiasm to learn and play. So very grateful to those special people.

My mother-in-law, who treated me as one of her own, since the day I landed at her doorstep with her son, apprehensive and nervous. I willingly left my country and culture to follow my heart. But really, I never truly left. I simply broadened my horizon.

My brothers and sisters in law, who became the siblings that I never had and showered me with love.

So, so thankful for the feeling that I am surrounded by love and good will from friends here and all over the world. Grateful for the friends in my life who held my hand through difficult times and didn’t let go. You know who you are.

And the moments, those little moments when I live a thousand lives.

The moment when my 13-year-old daughter puts her arms around my neck and says, “I am so happy I can talk to you about anything and the relationship we share. Many of my friends don’t feel like they can talk to their mothers!”

The moments when I get a glimpse of her beautiful heart full of compassion through the facade of teenage nonchalance.

When a warm, cuddly, tousled haired, freshly woken up seven-year old boy scrambles up on my lap to be held and snuggled as he rubs the sleepies off his eyes, before he gets ready for school.

The moment when he sheds tears at the prospect of baby birds dying and shows immense faith in my ability to save them and make his world right. It is an overwhelmingly beautiful moment and scary at the same time.

The sight of the dog, the boy and the girl gamboling on green grass.

When Ryan reminds Sahana as she pins him down in a wrestling match, that he is not her punching bag, but that she should get one for Christmas instead, or yells out his new-found wisdom from school, “Sahana, be a buddy, not a bully!” between giggles.

The moments when one of the computer generated noises (Sahana calls them songs) comes on and I am pulled to dance along with them in our tiny living room.

I give a silent thanks every time Sean’s plane does a successful landing in whatever part of the world he goes to.

The remaining tenacious green leaves hanging on to the trees for dear life as the fall wind blows through them, trying to shake them off.

The slices of the dazzling blue sky through the filigree of bright orange, red and yellow leaves of the fall.

The moment when I look outside my kitchen window and get rewarded with the most spectacular sunset, right in my backyard.

For living in an area where I get to see the amazing change of seasons which reminds me of the cycle of life – birth, life, death and resurrection.

And for the man in my life, who doesn’t miss a beat, looks me in the eye and answers my question, “what are you thankful for?” with

“You! I am thankful for you!”

If any of you cynics out there tell me he said that to shut me up once and for all, I am not listening. Tralalalalalala! 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!