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.

Digital graveyard


By Sahana

When you live half a world away from the people you love, you adapt. You learn, even if it’s not your forte, all the social media and video-calling and trouble-shooting when you can’t see the other person’s screen. It was simpler in 2007 when we’d go to an Indian grocery store and buy a pre-paid card and dial all of the numbers and hear the familiar cadence (that still rings in my ears once in a while): “Welcome to Reliance. Please enter the number you wish to call, starting with country code.” 

But Skype broke onto the scene, so soon clunky desktops and attachable webcams were the norm, and then Facebook and Instagram and Whatsapp made immediate communication possible and we reveled in it. We called at any hour and we would talk for a bit only to call back later on with some new piece of information. 

My grandparents were both pros online. Comments and posts were frequent and status changes were a daily occurrence. My grandfather tagged me and forty other people in almost everything he posted, even if it was in Bangla and he knew I wouldn’t be able to read it. My grandmother commented on almost everything I posted anywhere, even if no one else did. There were Photoshop collages on our birthdays and pictures and videos of new flowers in the garden and of food and of them dressed up and going to work in the community or going to weddings or picture of cute dogs. They left a mark on my internet spaces that I keep going back to and looking at, a once thriving and vibrant internet city, with flooding comments and posts and signals of life that meant things were good and normal and okay, a regular good morning and good night to start and end the days. It’s a monument now. A testament to the community they built. The friends they had and the family they started. I’ve been looking at old posts and messages a lot lately, until it makes me too sad.The posts aren’t sad, but the fact that there is a date past which neither of them were active at all, that’s the part that’s hard to look past. 

Sometimes, despite all the techy-ness that both Didiya and Dadai exhibited regularly, there were some glitches (as there always are). Bios were hard and confusing and not really important. For example, Dadai’s says “At school”, which is honestly kind of amusing. But Didiya’s bio on Whatsapp, I hadn’t looked at for a while. And I don’t know why or when she made this her bio, or if it was a message to someone specific that was typed mistakenly in the wrong place. I don’t know if it was intentional (somehow I kind of doubt it). But still, it felt a little meant for us, for right now, when I looked at her bio on Whatsapp tonight and it read “Love you my sweet heart”. 

The last message on Whatsapp I sent her was on April 15th, though we talked over Whatsapp after that too, ducking my head into the frame every time I saw my mom on the phone with her. The last time I talked to Dadai was the day before he died and he was so talkative that he got in trouble with his nurse for using too much oxygen. We talked about how I was going to be graduating soon and he asked me to send him a link to the ceremony and I said I would. I have a screenshot from that conversation, and in that moment, I don’t know why I took it, but now it’s the last picture I have with the two of us in it. 

And as I go through their posts, and my own, and pictures in my mom’s albums, I think that we should have had more pictures and more videos and more conversations over the phone. More video calls and voice memos and games of ludo in their living room, eating aloo bhaja on the floor as I lose yet another game to my little brother, who had the unfair advantage of Didiya whispering the right moves to him and Dadai laughing at the ensuing argument. But most I think we should have just had more time. It was too quick, too sudden, too abrupt. And the shrines they built themselves online just feel like loss.

Double As and one A+


There was a celebratory air in my home in Kolkata today. As I chatted with ma and baba this morning, right after “tora kemon achish?” (how are you all), I was informed Khushi’s report card is out and she has done very well in school. I saw baba’s face on the camera grinning from ear to ear, while I heard ma’s proud voice in the background, “She got double A in all subjects, A+ in just one.” By baba’s side, with a lovely gap toothed smile stood 7 year old Khushi, looking at me through the computer. My usual Thursday morning suddenly became festive.

She is a 7 year old little girl. Her successful report card for one semester may not seem worth celebrating to some. However, when one knows the relentlessness of her mother to ensure that Khushi receives quality education despite all the obstacles that is thrown in their path, one can not help but doff one’s hat in respect. Khushi’s mother, Breshpati, barely knows Bengali alphabets. She can not read. Once she had Khushi seven years ago, she made a resolution that her child will have every opportunity to education and resources that she lacked. She was employed as a maid early on in childhood so her two brothers could attend school. Her daughter, she vowed, would have a different life. Hearing the hope in her voice as she held her new born in her arms, I enlisted myself as a soldier beside her to help achieve her dreams for her daughter. The real work was done by her mother. Breshpati worked in people’s houses as a domestic help for livelihood yet ensured that her day afforded enough time for her to take Khushi to her tutor’s house for lessons or to her dance class or to her drawing class. Khushi’s birth in a financially strapped family was not going to take away opportunities from her – that was her mother’s promise.

Schooling during Covid has been especially challenging. Schools went online. It took Breshpati and my parents quite an effort to understand the technology. Little Khushi figured out how to attend classes before her grown ups did though. She attended school from our living room, neatly attired in her school uniform and did her homework with the help of her tutor, a lovely young woman who also comes from an impoverished family, and with the help of my mother.

Attending school

Every morning she sits next to baba as he reads the Bengali newspaper and tries to sound out the difficult words along with him. He helps her with the words if she stumbles. Ma makes sure her penmanship is good and her grammar is perfect. When we video chat with them, they proudly summon her to greet us in English. She asks us, “How are you?” And my parents marvel at her lovely English pronunciation. She recites for us sometimes and dances too. She loves performing and is a natural in front of canera. The adopted grandparents look on with unabashed pride.

When I heard about her good result, I asked my parents to buy her a gift to celebrate her success. Her mother chimed in, “No didi, don’t give her anything. Let us see how she does in her final exams.” We compromised on a chocolate bar while promising a bigger celebration after her final report card, which I believe will be equally good.

I am not sure what is in store for this little girl. Education is not the top priority in the neighborhood she lives in. Girls marry young and become young mothers. Her mother, however, talks of endless possibilities for her daughter. She tells her child she can become anything in life, just get an education. She lays out the only path available to Khushi that will be her ticket out of poverty. My parents and my family here are cheerleaders and supporters.

That little girl is surrounded by love and support. That may just be enough to see her through. She and her mother fill me up with hope.

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 🙂 !