Zion Diary, day 2


No rest for the weary. Yesterday we woke up before 4 am to catch a flight. Today we woke up before 6:00 am to stock up on hotel breakfast and catch the shuttle to Zion National Park to beat the crowd at The Narrows hike. We were only partially successful. The shuttle was mostly full with hikers but not overwhelmingly so. We got off at Sinawava Temple shuttle stop and started the 1 mile walk on the Riverside walk. The Narrows starts at the end of Riverside walk where one goes down a few steps to enter the Virgin River and hikes for 2.5 miles to The Wall Street or longer.

We did not rent water boots or hiking sticks from the rental store at visitor center. There was a long line. Smartly, most of our fellow hikers had. I was apprehensive about my ankles and my knees without proper footwork. I wore my Abeo walking sandals and Sean wore his Tevas. On our way to the Narrows we both kept a sharp eye on suitable logs to use as walking sticks and eagle eyed Sean spotted two perfect ones.

As I tentatively stepped into the cold water of Virgin River to start our hike, I again sensed that unfamiliar feeling of happiness. And as I continued on the hike and watched sunlight gradually wash over the canyon around us, I thought of my parents. I hope their energy is now part of the splendor of nature. I thanked them, yet again, for giving me life so I can witness the beauty around me.

There were hikers of all abilities, ages, ethnicities. There were children being herded by parents, a few babies being carried on backpacks, older couples like us, daughter holding her mom’s hand, young people. As we were returning back, hordes of people were starting their hikes at midday when the temperature was in mid nineties Fahrenheit.

I almost fell once and took the treacherous parts real slow. Sean always lent a hand when I was in trouble. He is a good hiker and has tremendous balance. He also urges us to take the path less traveled. If it had not been for him, I would not have challenged myself on some tricky parts of this hike. He said I could do it and I did it. This trip is to celebrate our 25 years of marriage. And his gentle encouragement to challenge myself in situations outside my comfort zone has made me bolder in life. I thought of that today as I saw him waiting for me patiently as I navigated tricky rocks hidden beneath fast moving water. I knew he was there and that was enough.

After 5 hours of hiking we took the shuttle back, returned to hotel and started our research for a restaurant to eat. This is our second day here but all the meals we have had so far have been really good and somewhat expensive. We had dinner last evening at Bits and Spur and today at Oscar’s Cafe. Both restaurants had surprisingly good vegetarian options and stellar service.

We will, hopefully, drive to Arizona tomorrow to see the North Rim of Grand Canyon. If I have the energy and motivation, I will continue to write.

Zion Diary, day 1.


“Is it time already?” I croaked as Sean gently touched my shoulder at 3:52 am. Our Lyft was scheduled to come at 4:30 to take us to airport for our 6:45 am flight. We were flying into Las Vegas and then driving to Springdale, Utah for a few days of hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon. My concerns were twofold – my aging knee and my gung ho husband who would want to attempt the most strenuous hikes and I would have to remind him he is not as young as he used to be, without hurting his ego.

I said goodbye to ma, baba, (their photos on my bureau), cleaned up, blew a kiss to Sahana’s closed door and left for the airport. After almost 5 hours of flying, during which I watched all episodes of The Chair (I highly recommend) and 2 episodes of Alrawaba School for Girls, we touched down.

We got our rental car and drove for 2 and a half hours to Springdale, checked in to our lovely hotel with gorgeous view of rock faces.

After charging our devices, we went out to get the lay of the land. We took a free shuttle to the Zion visitor center and a shuttle from there took us inside the canyon. We did a loop of the Emerald pool hike which was roughly 3 and a half miles in total. After many months, my heart felt a familiar sensation. I vaguely remembered it. It was happiness. It was gratitude that my parents gave me life so I could witness this wonder of nature. The magnificence of the rock faces, the silent strength of nature humbled me and set me free, at least for the time being. Pictures do not do the grandeur of the Zion canyon justice but we made a humble attempt to capture what we could for memory.

There is a word in Bangla – bikkhipto which roughly translates to restless. My mind is restless, angry. My heart is sad and I always question what bad karma led to this tragedy in my life. My ‘why’s and ‘what’s receded to the back corner of my mind as I hiked up and stopped often to imbue the beauty surrounding me within my soul. I got a reprieve.

If I am not too exhausted, I will continue my Zion diary in the coming days.

The ‘goods’ in the week of May 10th


It seems somewhat morbid to write about the ‘goods’ in the week that one’s mom has died but I like this exercise and I will try to think about the ‘goods’ despite my loss.

Ryan got his 2nd dose of vaccine.

My friends and cousins in India along with Tribeca Elderly Care service are extending their constant support to help my father get better.

There was a lot of anxiety about bringing him home and I worried if he will survive, but coming home  gave him peace. I am preparing myself for any outcome.

My friends, coworkers, Sean’s coworkers have poured their love and solidarity via food, cards, plants.

Plants and gardening are still giving me immense comfort so I continue to obsessively tend to my little flower bed.

Sahana did go up to Boston to celebrate her Senior week. The kid missed out on so much this year, her last year in college.

The weather has been wonderful so I could sit by the flowers and meditate. That has given me peace.

My coworkers have taken up my classes and urged me to simply focus on myself and my family. I am forever grateful.

Two of my dearest friends came to visit. Their visit brought me much joy. They allowed me to cry and I did.

A friend organized a small offering of peace at our local Kali temple. I am an agnostic but as ma got older she fell in love with Goddess Kali. I decided to offer a puja for her. We have not done it yet, but my friend took that organization off my hands. For that I am grateful.

Sean has been by my side brain storming questions to ask, driving Ryan wherever he needs to be and lending his constant support.

Ryan just compiles animal videos on Tik Tok for me to look at.

I needed oxygen for my dad desperately and appealed for it on social media. Some friends and a cousin who I call angels, arranged for it to see him through a few days if he survives.

A friend shared a beautiful thought – we are all in pain, whether we want to suffer is in our hands. And that is where acceptance comes in. I am not there yet, but my goal is to get there.

I often feel alone in my grief but I know I am surrounded by love.

Sage’s path


This is Sage’s path. No, our county did not name it Sage’s path, we did. Our backyard abuts some sports fields and right next to the fields were acres and acres of cornfields for as long as we lived here. About 3 years ago, the owner of those cornfields sold his land to developers. One fine day, we saw and heard big machinery mowing down the green. Like magic, big and small houses appeared, they were sold and bought, within a year young families moved in. Lucky for us, though, the developers kept a swath of land undeveloped and wild as a buffer between the new community and the fields.

As Sage grew older, we shortened the route of his regular walk to the fields so he had enough stamina and also could walk leash free. Every morning, I hung his leash around my shoulder, opened our gate and walked towards the field. Sage, quivering with excitement bounded ahead, but always looked back to make sure I was within his sight. A lot was accomplished during those walks. Bunnies were sniffed out, mom was protected from attacking deer, exciting new smells were discovered, explored and sometimes licked. If mom did not stop him in time, there was some rolling in deer poop. Then there was scolding and shaking of head by mom, followed by a bath when we came home. As Sage explored the wilderness, I freed my mind, breathed in the fresh air and tried to absorb the soothing energy. Even on his last day, I took him to his fields to say a final goodbye. He could not walk far so he took a few steps, looked around. I believe he sighed.

The shadow of the 3 of us on Sage’s path.

Sage left us on January 31st and we began our quarantine on March 13th. During this time of physical isolation, Sean, Sahana and I walked in the fields and the undeveloped area that the developers spared almost every single day. Without a big yellow dog to chase and scold them, the deer, foxes and bunny rabbits watched us walk by. I could almost see a bounding big dog running ahead of us, looking back, saying, “You coming?” We talked about him. We walked through those fields every single evening, reminiscing about Sage but in a good way. That path, for his humans, has become Sage’s path.

Ryan laces up his sneakers saying, “I will go for a run to Sage’s path.” When we ask each other where we wanted to walk that evening we suggest, “Should we just go to Sage’ path?”

I realize grief is non linear. I think of him everyday. I really do. This quarantine gave me so much time to pause and grieve. It gave me the opportunity to get angry at the injustice of losing him and also gave me moments when I smiled at his memories. Each of us grieved in our own unique ways. Ryan’s perspective on this loss was noteworthy and I thought I should write it down.

“I know, mom, you are so sad about his death. I was, of course, sad but I learnt a lesson from losing him. Sage’s death has taught me something new. Losing something invaluable like Sage has taught me I need to value what I have. I am fifteen. Before losing Sage, I took things for granted. My family, my friends, the materials I have. His death taught me not to take things for granted. Nothing lasts. I need to value what I have. I text back my friends more regularly which I did not do before, I try to spend more time talking to my family, I appreciate all that I have. Sage’s death taught me all this.”

Although Sage decided to simply find a permanent place in our hearts, his path remains. His path leads me to peace. It leads Sean to contemplation. It leads almost adult Sahana to a bonding time with her family and perhaps, reflection. His path leads Ryan to a life lesson.

Rest in happiness, beautiful boy.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 6, Tulum


We slept in on the sixth day. Our vacations are those that you NEED vacation from, but all of us seem to thrive in action, yes even Sahana, if she is not dragged out early.

After yet another chocolate croissant Starbucks breakfast we got in Escargot to drive 40 Km to Tulum. Both the children had enough of ruins at this point but not their ruin loving mother. Tulum was built between the 13th and the 15th century and was an important port for trade, especially obsidian. The ruins, perhaps, do not match in grandeur with the impressive ones at Chichen Itza or Uxmal but the setting of the ruins is indeed spectacular! It stands on a bluff facing the east and the ancient shrine of the Diving God greets the rising sun every day over the breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean sea.

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I am not sure what word would describe the blueness of the ocean. There was not just one blue though, there were different hues and shades of blue. No matter how talented an artist or a painter is, can they ever produce that perfect hue in their canvases or papers? Is that blue an example of what perfection is? Just so? Not a bit more and not a bit less? As I read my journal, I see I wrote down ‘pristine, turquoise, aqua marine – none of these seem to really bring forth the true hue of the color blue.’

The children decided to jump in the water while Sean and I continued to tour the entire site paying homage to the reigning deity of the area – the descending god. It is a figure with legs splayed upwards and head down diving from the sky to the ocean.

According to Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The Temple of the Descending God, located at Tulum, is an intricately designed structure which is illuminated brightly by the setting sun every April 6th – which is the birthday of The Descending God (so named because he is always depicted with his feet in the air)and is carefully aligned with the planet Venus. While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.

The camera, as some of you know, is almost surgically attached to my hip. As I walked the ruined walls at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the brilliant emerald sea beneath, I kept stopping to take pictures. And when I looked at them later, I discovered I had taken picture of the same scene again and again – a multitude of times, obsessively. My desire, perhaps, to capture the entire day, along with the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the magnificent ruins, the mass of humanity speaking various languages of the world, the sea, the moments, my family, my feelings of joy and fulfillment, in each shot.

After walking throughout the site, Sean stripped to his swimming trunks and entered the water. I did not bring any change of clothes. Nor did I have swim suit underneath. So, like a true Indian, I followed my husband in the water, fully clothed. And had the best time swaying with the waves.

Finally, when nobody could ignore the pangs of hunger any longer, we made a unanimous decision to bid adieu to the sea, the sand and the ruins to head towards Akumal, north of Tulum, towards Playa Del Carmen. We were on a mission to find the restaurant La Buena Vida in Akumal, as suggested by some fellow travelers from Canada. The nachos there were to ‘die for’ they said. The setting of the restaurant, on a tiny cliff by the sea, was unparalleled, they said. We had no directions, no GPS and Sean refused to ask directions. By sheer instinct he got us there while I grumbled about typical male pride about directions. He parked the car and said, ‘Here you go, we found it!’ smugly as we walked in. There were palapas roofs on picnic tables by the water and we were directed to one of those.

La buena vida – the good life. The name is chosen from one of the cardinal principles of the ancient Mayans, live the present moment fully. Be in the moment. Nothing is more important than being in the moment, living it, doing it justice. The worries can wait.

I live by the important (for me) mantra ‘This too shall pass’. In moments of sorrow, this thought gives me solace and the courage to face my sorrow. In moments of joy, this reminds me that happiness too is transient and I must make the most of it. The memory of the happy times become that jewel that I wear around my being, which embellishes my soul. Hence the photos, hence the journal.

I remember sitting there with my little family looking at the vibrant blue water, the coral reefs afar, the gentle sway of the palm trees, the yellow sand beneath my feet, I thought ‘this moment too shall pass’. But I am so grateful to HAVE this moment, to be able to live it fully. I remember thinking this must be what true happiness feels like…la buena vida.

We drove back to Merida on the seventh day and headed back home on the eighth morning. I brought back happy times, laughter, thoughts, bonding and the realization how different traveling with the children is becoming. I remember hauling luggage and entertaining both of them during long flights to India. This time, however, Sahana navigated the airports, Ryan lugged around our heavy suitcase and a backpack. My offers to help carry luggage were refused with ‘we got this, Mom!’ I ended up carrying only my purse the entire trip. That was sweet, but somehow bittersweet.

This was the last post of the trip. Thank you so much for reading my journey and being a part of it. I appreciate you all greatly.

Khushi


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She didn’t have a daak nam (pet name or nick name) when we first saw her. She was simply a bundle of dimpled chin, kicking thighs, little hands and a cherubic face. As we entered our house in Kolkata, after a long 25 hour travel, we saw her intently focussed on the ceiling fan overhead, taxing her two month old brain to understand what makes the funny thing work. We walked towards her, she tried to focus her eyes on the faces of these strangers and uttered some adorable kitten sounds with a toothless smile. Sean asked me what was Bangla for happy.

‘Khushi.’ I said.

‘She should be named Khushi then because that is what she is. Khushi.’

Khushi is the new-born baby of our domestic help, Breshpati. As she lay there, kicking her impossibly little yet impeccably shaped tiny feet, Khushi didn’t know she was unwittingly the key player in a tragic drama that her birth has begun. Her birth in the ‘wrong’ gender, to be precise. Although she was born at the end of May in 2013 in a semi developed country called India, she was still unwanted because she didn’t have a penis. She was healthy and impossibly cute but she was still a girl. Her father’s family didn’t want her. After her birth in a hospital where the sanitary conditions left much to be desired and her mother had to stay up all night to keep little cockroaches off her new-born baby, Khushi’s father did not come to see her. He finally came after several days, and after innumerable phone calls. We met Khushi when she was almost 3 months. Till date, her paternal grandparents hadn’t come to see their grandchild. Breshpati was at our house, cooking for us. She meant to take her baby back to her in-law’s house after we left. She was nervous. She was nervous about the reception she and her daughter were going to get in a home, which was supposed to be her ‘forever home.’

I don’t know what can be more entertaining than babies – of any species. I can spend hours just staring at the face of a baby and Khushi provided me my baby fix. As I sat next to her, watching her dark liquid eyes, rosebud mouth, little tongue and every expression, I thought back upon the time I had given birth to Sahana. I felt on the top of the world. Was I any less than a queen, triumphant, with a living miracle in my arms? Phone calls, visits, cards, gifts, good wishes and love flooded our lives. While Sahana slept, her nursery filled up with toys which she didn’t need, and perhaps never played with. She didn’t want for love, attention or anything material. And here was another baby, lying by herself with just one rattle for toy, and the ceiling fan for her mobil. Her mother was busy cooking for another family, instead of spending every waking minute with her, like I did, to drink in the last drop of her infancy. She simply doesn’t have the luxury. And Khushi was still khushi. She learnt to entertain herself, she looked around, smiled at the light that came in through the French windows and touched her pretty face. She clung on to a piece of her bedding and tried to bring it to her mouth, she got a handful of her own hair and gave it a hard pull. Her face registered surprise but she didn’t cry out. As I stroked her soft skin, I got uncharacteristically angry. Angry at our society, the ignorance, the pretentiousness that India is shining. Angry and ashamed that girl children were still a liability, still a burden. WHY? HOW LONG?

I first met Breshpati when she was a skinny 10-year-old. Her older sister used to work in our house and she used to tag along with her to watch television. After a few years, I heard Breshpati was given in marriage at the tender age of 14. The bridegroom’s family saw her in the streets, liked what they saw and asked for her hand. They wanted less dowry. Her family manipulated her age, changed papers to reflect she was eighteen and married her off – one less mouth to feed.

Within a year of the marriage she fled from her marital home when her husband tried to choke her in his drunkenness. When her brothers and parents told her to go back and accept her fate, for God had meant her to be with her husband, she said she would rather give up her life.

My parents decided to employ her in their house as a domestic help and I made a condition that she has to go to school. The school part didn’t work out, despite private tutor, adult literacy centers. The television with its lure of mushy soaps kept books and alphabets far away. She worked for over 10 years, saved up a decent sum in the bank…and fell in love.

Against the wishes of her family, she married her suitor who didn’t earn much money, lived with his parents and was controlled by his mother. Later, I found out she had spent her last penny that she saved in the bank to provide a decent dowry to the man, who claimed to love her and wanted to marry her. I was disappointed at this, but heard good stories about how the young man treated her. ‘She deserves all the happiness. She will get it this time,’ I thought. Within a year, I heard Breshpati was pregnant.

I talked to Breshpati whenever I had a chance during my visit to Kolkata, to find out what plans she had for her future which, now, involved another precious life. I learnt, from our conversations, that change was happening in my country. Imperceptible, perhaps, but slowly and steadily. Mindsets of young women, at least among the urban poor, were changing. I do believe media is somewhat responsible for this positive change. Showcasing some strong role models in popular television was helping women mold their ideals and demand their rights. Breshpati, I found out, wasn’t going to request acceptance for her girl child from her in-laws, she was going to demand it. Her face glistened in excitement as she animatedly explained to me her plans for her daughter. She had made it clear to her husband that if she felt any kind of disregard towards her daughter because she was a girl, she was simply going to pack up and leave. She made it clear that she is more than capable of raising her daughter by herself and raising her well. She is determined to give her daughter the best opportunities at education that she can and her little girl should never feel she is any less than a boy. This was no different from what I wanted my girl to believe! She believes in equal opportunity for both boys and girls and woe be to the one who makes her daughter feel otherwise. As she talked more, she looked no less than a queen, who was ready for battle and who was also sure of her victory. As her daughter suckled at her breast, she reminisced the missed opportunities that she didn’t avail. Her mother took her to work at a young age so they had enough money to send her older and her younger brothers to school. She was determined not to let that happen to Khushi.

Breshpati’s face sparkled as she spoke. Khushi will be OK. Breshpati is indeed the queen and we all her soldiers. My family, my parents. We will make sure Breshpati gets all the ammunitions she needs to win the battles against the social stigma against her child’s gender, against illiteracy, poverty and injustice. I felt better as I planted a kiss on little Khushi’s head and said goodbye. In her mother’s sparkle, I saw India sparkling. We are not shining yet, but we have started to sparkle. That’s a start!

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