Kemon achish? How are you?

How are you? This is such a loaded question, isn’t it? How easily I answered this question before May 10th of 2021. Despite all anxiety, despite occasional sadness, sickness, anger, despair, I was well. I was doing fine. People I love the most, people who were my center, were alive. Covid 19 took that away. I have climbed up a steep hill of hopelessness and grief but when someone asks me “How are you?” I stumble. Do they really want to know? Do I really know?

A dear friend from Kolkata asked me today, “Tui kemon achish?” I gave her the rote response, “Bhalo achi.” (I am well). And that is the truth. I am well. I am just not as well as I used to be. How can I?

Mary Oliver’s poem Heavy has taught me to carry my grief well, reposition it, balance it, bear it. Yet there are times, so many times, the resilient muscle that I am trying to grow goes limp. I have to start strengthening it all over again. A friend who lost her dad to Covid told me about ‘resilient muscle’. We are both trying to make it stronger. But a certain memory, a certain slice of my past life, certain song, certain smell is enough to break down resiliency. I have accepted that though. I know this is my new state of being and I will try to remake this new me and despite all, I will be well. I am well.

But this is such a beautiful question one person can ask another. How are you? Tell me. I really want to know. I want to sit by you and hear how you truly are. I don’t want to give you advice, or sympathy or pity. I just want to be with you and listen, truly listen to how you are. Tell me. I care. I am here for you.

“About” then and “about” now.

This is what I wrote “About” the blog when I tentatively ventured into blogging about 9 years ago. Ryan was about 5 and Sahana almost 11. This blog started as a parenting journal.

Hello, hello!

I am primarily a mommy. Staying at home, holding the fort. I am the cook, cleaner, chauffeur, educator, therapist, confidante, tutor….you get the picture. I like to read – a lot. But lately, haven’t had much time. The blogs here will mainly be about what mommy thinks. Many of you moms probably can relate. Some of the blogs may be about the books I have read, or some funny observations. It is not going to be profound or very thought provoking…sorry. These days, I feel like I am incapable of deep thoughts. My mind is constantly jumping to the next chore that I have to do before the day is done. But it sure is fun to have this space to come and pen down some thoughts whenever I have time.

And how has my “About” changed?

I am still primarily a mommy. Instructor and Research specialist at our county library. I cook sometimes, rarely clean, part time chauffeur only till Sahana comes home from college, not an educator, part time therapist, part time confidante and not a tutor. Do you get the picture? I still like to read .. a lot. However, lately I have not had time. Note, I replace ‘but’ with ‘however’ because a dear friend told me she was replacing the ‘buts’ from her life. I choose to do the same. Although, I still read a lot, I have not really written any blog about books (psst..that is hard work).The new blogs will still be about what mommy thinks because I thought real hard about who I am and I do believe I am first and foremost a mom. I also love the mommy aspect of myself the most. I don’t think moms with young children can relate to my blogs anymore because the busiest part of my mommy life is behind me. There is a possibility, though, that moms of older, almost grown up children may still nod their heads with what I write? Although as kids got older, I wrote about them less and less to give them their privacy. Their childhood, or at least a part of it, however, is documented in these blogs for them to peruse when they are older. I am still incapable of deep, thought provoking blogs because I have come to the realization that I lack the ability to pen down complex thoughts. Well, let’s be honest. I don’t think my mind can analyze complex thoughts. The blog are still simplistic and I like them that way. My mind still jumps from one thing to the next and constant worry about my parents living in the other part of the world is omnipresent in my conscience. Covid 19 has given me some time and opportunity to think what I would like to do as I carry on with my life. I realized I still enjoy writing. I find this a way to reach out to people. It still is fun to come to this space and continue to write down my thoughts. I even paid and upgraded my blog site, yet I do not know what purpose that will serve. I do not get much traffic to my blog. I figured, I will be motivated to write more if I made a financial commitment. If I write, I will stay away from all the unpleasantness that seems to have taken over our world.

I will say one thing before I end this blog though. There has been a significant change in my life since I started this blog. I was almost friendless 9 years ago since I was a relatively new transplant in a new country and on top of that I am an introvert. In the span of these 9 years, I have found friends who have become my adopted family in my adopted land. You know who you are. Thank you!

My first unknown Facebook friend.

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail while snuggling with Ryan and Sahana. Ryan said, after, “I am never watching another romance movie EVER!!!” and Sahana said, “Awwwww, that was so sweeeeet!!!!” But this blog is not about the movie that I LOVE and have watched more than 6 times. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chat reminded me of my fear and apprehensions of befriending the first unknown friend on Facebook.

“Join this thing called Facebook!! Now!!! There are many friends from our class there, I have reconnected with them, they are asking for you!” My girl friend from college wrote me an emphatic email. I still dragged my feet. What is this unknown cyber world that I have no idea of? AND I have a fear of technology! But memories of sweet youth and college compelled me to listen to her rantings. I tentatively opened an account and swore not to befriend anyone I didn’t know. I was there just to connect with people I have left behind as I moved on in life.

Another girlfriend from college opened a forum called Books and More. I got sucked in, of course – the magical word ‘book’ does that to me every time. But guess what? In that forum there were those feared creatures!!! Strangers!!! And they were talking to me, or trying to engage me in a conversation. Stranger danger! Red alert! And wait!! One of them was a pesky man!!! Or a boy, I could not be sure. He surely acted as a boy. He called my girl friend, the admin of the book group, Mashi (aunty) and when he discovered that I was her batch mate in college, he called me Mashi as well. Ah, a mere child, harmless, I thought. Then he sent me a friend request and I frowned at that.

Wait, no!! I don’t want to be friends with a stranger! They could rob me blind or send nasty propositions. Ummmm…well…yeah…my inflated self-worth was a bit at play. No, just kidding. I was simply wary of strangers in a virtual world. I still am! Anyway, back to my quandary! What does he want? Can he see that my profile picture has a man on it? I am very happily married, thank you very much! But he was funny and witty and childish. And he made me laugh just like college days! So with shaking hands and uncertain fingers I clicked on the ‘Accept Friend Request’ button. And asked him, “How old are you?” I had assumed him to be a teenager or a man in his early twenties, he turned out to be only a couple of years younger than me. Help!! A grown man! Oh, well, if he turns out to be a jerk, I can always send him into oblivion by the click of a button I thought. He became one of my dearest friends and continues to be so after 5 years. And he is one of the most well read, thoughtful, intelligent person I know.

The friendship would have met an untimely death right at the beginning had I not been Type A about checking and re checking my comments before I sent them. The first time I typed his name on the iPad, wrote a comment and was all set to hit ‘Enter’, I happened to notice that my Apple device did not have his Indian name in its dictionary so it conveniently changed his name to ‘Stinky’. I was about to address my first ‘unknown’ friend on my one and only social networking site as Stinky. The friendship would have had a sad demise, and an early one.

Through him, I met some others, men and women! One friend came to US for work and made the extra effort to come and just see me in my town although his work place was in a different State altogether. My family asked, “So, you know him only through Facebook?” I confidently said, “Yes.” He is now more of a family member than a friend. My whole family embraced him as one of our own.

I made friends over songs, poems, blogs and laughs. I made friends over world cup soccer and Game of Thrones. Some stayed on the periphery, some touched my heart and soul through their brilliance, kindness of heart and generosity. I rejoice at their victories and mourn their losses. They teach me new songs, new poetry, new thoughts. We debate over our beliefs, we laugh over jokes. We have shared stories, made our presence felt during difficult times. We have said those words to each other, ‘You matter.’ We have said, ‘This too shall pass.’ And we have said, ‘Fly, soar’. I have found many real friends in the virtual world. I met them in a reunion last year, some of them, for the first time. The meeting, however, was seamless. My husband, who tagged along, somewhat skeptical of virtual friendships, smiled wide as he met my friends. He laughed along, danced to Hindi songs, read my poet friend’s poetry with open-mouthed awe and came back with their love and friendship.

But I am still wary of strangers. Most friend requests don’t get accepted unless I have interacted and liked what the person had to say on threads of other friends. I do not indiscriminately make friends with unknown people and I would advise against it. Having said that, I value my ‘real’ friends who I found in’ virtual’ world. You know who you are.

Oh, and you can blame ‘You’ve got mail’ for the mush.


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!!!!!!!!!!!