Her boys and her one little girl.


Sahana has been cleaning little faces, feeding little humans, making their beds, sanding cribs, washing laundry this past month and a half. Apart from all the chores I mentioned she is also offering her services as a human jungle gym to 4 or 5 toddlers; her boys as she calls them.

At the beginning of the year, she decided to spend her summer volunteering for an orphanage in India. She was, of course, thinking of college applications. But she was also thinking of seeing a bit more of the world, outside the insular bubble that she lives in. And she wanted to know her grandparents a bit more – from a different perspective, not as an indulgent granddaughter visiting for a couple of weeks.

So she packed her bags, filled her suitcase with text books with the illusion that she will be studying in her spare time, boarded the plane and went to live with her grandparents. The first few Skype conversations were casual:

“How did it go?”

“Fine. I sanded cribs today. My arms are sore.” (Do imagine the casual teaanagerish monotone as you read the line).

“I sanded more cribs. The kids are cute.”

Gradually as the days went by, the Skype conversations became more animated.

“Mom, the kids are SO CUTE! I held hands of two kids and crossed the road to take them to school. I was sitting there being a jungle gym while 4 little boys climbed all over me!”

The monotone disappeared, replaced by squeaky enthusiasm.

“I truly appreciate washing machines now, I spent the morning doing laundry! But Mom, the kids are so cute. I kiss their fat cheeks every day!”

I got to hear of her four boys who she took care of, played with, fed them, taught them and hugged them. I heard about how naughty one was, how quiet the other and smart yet another. One day the naughty one bit the other little dude and Sahana had to discipline him. He cried then, and had to be consoled. She was first called Aunty and then she got ‘demoted’ (or promoted, perhaps) to didi (big sister) as slowly she became a playmate from a care giver. One kissed her on her cheeks and her forehead. Another said he loved her. She talked about a baby girl, abandoned at birth, who, when picked up, curled her little body around the care giver and gratefully sucked any shoulder she got. Sahana held her as much as she could, knowing full well, she may never see her again. She got reassurance from the sisters and caregivers, almost all the children got adopted.

Sahana and another volunteer from Spain discussed the relative good condition of the orphanage compared to what they had expected. The facility was clean, the children were well fed, regularly checked by doctors and even loved by the care givers.

Now there is just one week left for her to say goodbye to her boys and the baby girl. She realizes she will never forget them while they will most certainly not remember her. She said, “I did not realize before I came what a life changing experience really means. I thought I would just go and hang out with some kids. But after coming here, spending time with my boys, taking care of them every day, I know my life has changed in some ways. I will most likely not feel about this as intensely as I do now come January. I will get busy again with school work, SATs, college applications. However, I know for sure during my most busy time, I can reflect back on this month and a half to take me away from MY life at that particular moment and give me a perspective of the fact that I am part of a bigger world.”

I believe this is what I wanted her to get out of this endeavor. A perspective that she is part of a bigger world. The life she leads now is simply preparatory to launch her into a bigger system where she will learn, work, live, contribute, accept and hopefully, find fulfillment.

Difference


I was often asked in the early years of my marriage to a man of different ethnicity, how do I deal with the cultural difference. I scratched my head and pondered. Was there much of a difference? Sean and I were different culturally but the core values were (and still are) very similar. We both firmly believe in honesty, integrity, transparency, we are both stubborn, control freaks, we both love being parents. We have similar views on world peace, gun control, liberalism so on and so forth.

There were some cultural differences though. And the differences came to mind as I slit two green chilies and threw them in the egg curry I was making for supper a little while ago. When we were newly married, he called me a hot chick and I took extreme umbrage at the endearment. I lashed out at him for not respecting me as a woman. He was flabbergasted at my reaction to his effort at being romantic and quickly mollified me by saying, ‘Must be a cultural difference, I meant you are attractive!’ After asking around and being laughed at by our mutual friends I accepted the fact that he was genuinely trying to be cool and romantic.

He called my purse ‘pocket book’, I never figured out why.

“Why do you call this a pocket book? It is neither a book nor is it a pocket!” I exclaimed.

“Well that is what it is called. Not purse. Purses are small!” He countered.

Then we would get into a major argument over it till we decided to let it go by terming it as a cultural difference.

He laughed hard when I swatted at him and said, “Don’t give me that cock and bull story!”

“What is cock and bull?” He laughed.

“What!!!! Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means! You are a native English speaker! Hello!! Do I need to teach you English now? I laughed back at him.

“We call that bull shit!”

“Well, I am classier than that, I guess!” I came right back.

One time we fought over the meaning of ‘karma’ all morning. We both got dressed in a huff and ran over to Enoch Pratt library to look at dictionaries and encyclopedias. This happened at a historic time, pre Google. Can you believe time existed, life existed before smart phones and Google? There you go, I went ahead and dated myself.

And we joked constantly over British English and American English. It took me a while to drop the ‘u’,s in favor, color. But eventually I did. I conformed. I gave in. Although I am still an anglophile at heart.

After 20 years of knowing him we don’t think of cultural difference any more. Now the difference of opinion is in our choices of football teams and baseball teams. So why did I think of the cultural difference as I evilly threw in the green chilies? Because Sean, despite his fondness for Indian food, can not tolerate the smell and spice of green chilies. And I can not ever become American enough to forego my love for it. I put green chilies in dal, vegetable, paneer either as a garnish or I make a puree of it by processing it in the food processor. I assure you, I go easy on the number of chilies I put, but if Sean happens to chew on one, he yelps and hiccups. I feel slightly guilty and decide not to add them next time. But when I see the golden daal simmering beautifully in the pot, the Bangali in me reaches for a lovely, lush green chili (errr…maybe more). It looks so beautiful and familiar, it smells so fragrant and yes, familiar. How can I resist it? Similar with achaar (Indian pickle). I have indoctrinated my two children into loving achaar – lime pickle. Their meal is not complete without it. While Sean can not stand the smell of it.

“You are not a true Indian!” I say to him. “I have failed to Indianize you!!”

“Uff, I don’t know how you can stand that stuff!” He replies.

And then, when he discovers a green chili in his daal, he says to the kids, “Your mom is trying to trick me again. She is trying to kill me! Help!”

You will think of me as very mean, but I will go ahead and confess that I laugh hysterically (although soundlessly) after he bites into a green chili by mistake. What? It has some vitamin or other. It is good for him. As they say in India, you don’t really grow up unless you learn to eat green chillies. I am just helping my husband grow – culturally.

🙂