I will not put sugar in your yogurt drink.


We went to the city for a walk on a gorgeous fall day. It was one of those days when I give thanks to be alive and experience the cerulean sky, sweet sunlight, my loved ones near me. After walking around for a while the inevitable question arose, where do we have lunch? The consensus was a tiny Lebanese restaurant which once turned Sean and me away in the past because they were hosting a private party. They could not seat us and were profusely apologetic. Fortunately this time we were welcomed and guided to our seats outside.

The owner was a pleasant looking man with very gentle manners. He handed us our menus. Sahana and I ordered the yogurt drink ayran and our food. When the drinks came out, I took a sip and was instantly transported back home! It tasted exactly like lassi or ghol (buttermilk drink) and just how I like it, salty not sweet. The next time the gentleman came out to check on us, I mentioned how much I loved the drink. I told him I was from India and this tasted just like home. My comment seemed to make him very energized and happy.

“Oh, I am so glad you like that drink. I get nervous when people order that because they don’t anticipate the taste. When I bring it out, they drink it and then they ask me to add sugar. I say no, I am not going to add sugar. That is not how this drink should be drunk!”

This business owner refuses to sweeten the drink from his country for people here because that is not how the drink is drunk!! I related to this on so many levels. I know and accept that one should eat (drink) according to his/her tastes but I can not help but judge when Sean puts peanut butter and jelly on a daal paratha. He sees my face acknowledges the judgement, eats it anyway, and laughs.

Sean’s first encounter with a server in a restaurant in Kolkata was similar to this gentleman’s outrage. He ordered rice and roti and the server told him roti was not available. I presume there may have been some words lost in translation as well during that particular exchange of dialogue. Anyway, when food was served, Sean noticed that his companion got a roti with his order. Sean looked at it with bewilderment and asked the server, “You told me roti was not available!” The server said with a nod of his head that the dish Sean ordered was meant to be eaten with rice. Food dictatorship!

Some things just go together and you simply don’t mess around. If you do, you hurt food connoisseurs like me, like the owner of the Lebanese restaurant, like the belligerent server at the restaurant in Kolkata in 1994. You just don’t do that. You incur our wrath and disdain, if you do!

🙂

Going home…


I was talking to the lovely receptionist at my doctor’s office this morning, sharing frustrations of having loved ones far away. She is from Trinidad. Like many of us, she can not go home to see her parents. Borders are closed. We commiserated over our situations and the situations of millions around the world. Stuck. Since then I have checked Emirates website at least 3 times. The intensity of my desire to go home multiplies everyday.

Compounded with all the other worries associated with this pandemic, the feeling of being stuck and not being able to reach my ma and baba plunges me in depths of despair, robbing sleep at night. This, unfortunately, is not exclusively an immigrant problem. I was sharing my concerns with a friend at work. She lives a few streets away from her parents however she said she has not seen them as she is afraid to see her elderly parents for the fear of bringing infection to them. Another friend lost her dad during the height of pandemic and was afraid to give her mother a hug or hug other family members and friends who came to celebrate her father’s life. My husband has not been able to see his mom living in an assisted living facility in a different state. The gates to their loved ones are also closed. Although us, immigrants, have longer distances to travel to reach our family, we all share the same agony of not being able to reach/see those close to our heart.

Sometimes I fantasize my reunion with my parents. First of all, how would I feel when the plane’s wheels touch City of Joy after this horrible disease has a vaccine? How my first sighting of those beloved faces will feel like? We are not a hugging family. When we first see each other we give a perfunctory hug but we all feel that is not natural. We smile though. We smile so wide that it feels like our mouths can not stretch any more. And ma invariably puts her hand on my arm, perhaps to feel that yes, I am really there in front of her in flesh. She strokes my arm gently and in that touch I feel all her love pouring into my being. My father has a beaming smile as if his whole soul is lit up. Finally! Their child has arrived. Then we follow baba outside the relative calm interior of Dumdum airport into complete chaos, smell of dust and blast of humidity of Kolkata. We wait with our luggage talking to ma while baba texts the driver of the rented car to come pick us up. On the long drive home, we are presented with bottles of water and almost always a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar. My favorite. I don’t eat it then, but just getting it from ma and baba fills me up with the feeling of being small again. It is hard to explain.

I am sending positive vibes to the universe. End this pandemic. End this for so many reasons but also for me, in this little corner of my world. I want to go back home. I want to go to bed in my Kolkata home, wake up completely jetlagged in the middle of the night and then sit by the window in the living room, facing east to see the morning sun rise over the coconut trees behind our 5th floor apartment.

I want to hear the first caws of crows as they convene for their morning meetings, the first whistle of local train bringing workers to the city from villages, the sound of running water as the slum across from us wakes up to a new day, the soft tinkling of glass bangles as the neighborhood women come to the municipality tap to wash dishes, wash themselves, collect water. I want to sit next to my mom and dad, drinking a cup of tea with Parle G biscuit and looking out the french window where the world is obscured by my father’s plants.

I want to feel their presence. I want be in their presence. I want to be asked that question so filled with love, which no one else ever asks me, “Aaj ki khabi?” (What do you want to eat today?)

As I write these memories down, I see the scenes in my mind’s eye. I almost smell the smells of home, almost feel the love, almost touch the other slice of my life. The slice that I leave behind when I cross the ocean each time. Almost, but not quite…

Universe, hear my prayer.

My love for Kolkata…inexplicable.


I can never sell Kolkata to people who show interest in touring India.

“Errr.. there is the Victoria Memorial, and the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Maidan is a nice green expanse in the middle of the concrete jungle. And then there is the Ganga and Outram ghaat!” I stammer.

But we can’t boast of the Taj Mahal or the Khaju Raho temples, we don’t have the Lal Quilla or the Lake Palace, we don’t have the pristine Himalayas (unless you go to North Bengal) to lure tourists. Instead, we have bandhs (strikes) at the drop of a hat, we have traffic jams, we have terrible pollution and we have tall concrete buildings which, I feel, are suffocating the whole city. And we have terribly long summer. The pleasant winds bringing respite in the summer evenings, are halted by tall buildings that are choking the city slowly.

In my young and foolish days, I took up arms against those who dared to say a word against Kolkata. I was ready to break up with my boy friend who dared criticize my city. I got this passion from my fire-brand mother, who brain washed me from an early age “east or west, Kolkata is the best”. Yeah, she is very parochial. I inherited that mentality from her and kept the fire of nationalistic pride ignited in my heart. My friends too, were die-hard Kolkata fans and believed that only us, the Kolkata lovers, had the right to criticize our city but heaven have mercy on those outsiders, who dared utter a word against it.

Those days are gone. I am a wise, mature woman now who left Kolkata in the mid nineties and never went back to stay. I learned, in due course, that criticizing something/ someone doesn’t mean loving it less. It means we acknowledge a problem and that is a first step towards looking for a solution. That also means something/someone does not have to be blemish free for us to love, we can love something/someone warts and all.

I wonder sometimes why I love the city like the way I do. Does distance make it easier to love Kolkata? Why does the city invoke such a passionate need in me to protect it from outsider’s disdain? Objectively speaking, what exactly is going for the city of Kolkata? Am I really protecting the city or am I safe guarding the memories that the city and I have built together? I still get teary eyed when I listen to Kabir Suman’s

“Ei shohor jaane amar prothom shob kichu
Palate chai joto she aashe amar pichu pichu”

This city knows my every ‘first’
It comes after me, no matter how far I go from it.

It is not the brick, mortar cement of the city that I love, but the faces, the love, the blessings, the friendships, the heartbreak, the experiences that slowly and lovingly molded me, created ‘me’ and shaped me to the person I turned out to be. It is a very personal kind of love that I have for Kolkata.

Those of you who read my blogs know by now, I am a big believer of living in the moments. I have grown up and moved away but whenever I think back to my home city, the moments and memories of my past crowd around me. The sound of Indian classical music coming from the different houses in the neighborhood as the little girls sat down with their harmonium to practice music every evening, the smell of meat cooking only on Sundays in our middle class neighborhood, the communal ‘antakshari’ game on our respective balconies during daily power cuts, the collective sound of ‘Aaahhhh’ when the lights came back on. There are unpleasant memories too but those don’t surface in my mind much. I have lived through them, and left them behind. I came away with the beautiful ones.

I am going home in a few weeks (still over a month left but the time remaining seems shorter if I talk in weeks, hence….)! Friends ask me what are you going to do when you go back? Do? I will do absolutely nothing. I will lay in our king size family bed, next to my mother and talk. Or not. We will probably read or listen to our favorite songs. I am looking forward to those moments of easy silence next to the person who I still want when I am sad or don’t feel well. I will accompany my father to Gariahat market and hear him proudly say to the fishseller ‘Shob cheye bhalo mach ta dao dekhi. Meye esheche.’ (Give us the best fish, my daughter has come) ! I will cherish his ways of showing love – by buying the tastiest fish, the choicest mangoes, the tenderest meat and the satisfaction in his face when I exclaim how good everything is.

I am not sure if this is true for every immigrant. The thing that I miss most about home is the familiarity. I miss the shared history. I love my adopted land but I am not familiar with the tv shows of the seventies, or the baseball players of yester years. When my contemporaries exclaim about how much they loved a certain show growing up and turn to me and say, ‘Remember?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t!’ I remember Humlog and Fauji and Sunil Gavaskar and East Bengal Mohanbagan rivalry.

I will immerse myself in all that familiarity, all the love for two weeks and come back with enough memories to sustain me in the coming year. The greetings of the neighborhood boys, the smiling faces of my aunts and uncles, the welcome from my friends are my personal treasures. They are the city’s love for me which I can’t show an outsiders. They belong to me and to those who can still feel the love.

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My day in 2013.


Trust me, I feel lucky to be alive every day, but then there are days when I take a deep breath, look at the brilliant blue sky and the bright sunshine, I see the fresh green of the leaves and feel the gentle breeze on my face and say in my head, “Man, I am happy to be alive!” Mother’s Day was one such. After gloomy, rainy Friday and Saturday, when I kept my spirits up by constantly chanting, “Self, remember, all this rain is good for the plants. NOW REPEAT’ Sunday dawned bright and gorgeous. Nature smiled and hopefully so did most mothers and mother figures as they woke up to hand made cards, hugs and wishes of Happy Mother’s Day.

I was requested previous night and then threatened that I should stay in my room till at least 7.00 am. I tried to remind the children it was a Sunday and there was absolutely no need for anybody to get up that early. But 7:00 am it was, they had it planned and they were not flexible.

I heard the alarm ring at Sahana’s room at 6:30 am and groaned. I was awake and a captive in my bed. I heard the little brother being woken up. I heard the clash and clang in the kitchen. I flinched at the thought of the mess being made, even though I promised not to sweat the small things at least for a day. I tossed and turned and watched the minute hand drag. Finally, the door creaked open. The boy poked his head to see if I was asleep. He tiptoed over to say a quiet good morning and then seeing my eyes open climbed on to bed to snuggle.

I was invited to the kitchen table and saw this

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Sahana and Ryan stood next to it with brilliant smiles. I have to say my eyes glanced over at the kitchen, smile didn’t waver though. Seeing no imminent disaster, I inwardly sighed a sigh of relief. Cards were opened and read, kisses were exchanged, hugs were given. When I discovered my gift, the first realization dawned. The gifts were four packets of seeds. Two of them basil, which I love, one parsley and one sunflower. They explained the symbolism to me.

“We see you as the gardener, Mom, helping us grow. Nurturing us with your love. So we thought seeds would be a good gift. Also, it is spring, we should start planting!”

I smiled at the thoughtfulness of the gift. The morning was getting better and better. Breakfast was eaten. From my previous experiences of mother’s day breakfasts, I was ready for some crunchy egg shells in my fried eggs. I was also ready to take it in my stride and keep the expression unchanged and chew on bravely. The egg shells were absent. I, then, realized I have an almost fourteen year old in my house who is slowly becoming a competent chef. That was the second realization. Both of my children were growing up. The hand made cards are not mere scribbles but actual thoughts. The hand made gift didn’t quite carry the mark of an amateur any more.

But then things didn’t go as planned. The teenager who has to get up at the crack of dawn every day to catch the bus was irritable due to lack of sleep. Arguments began, and they were sent to their rooms. I went to the kitchen to clean up, only to discover that the dishwasher had been unloaded and the kitchen already cleaned up. The stony heart melted a bit and I went back to find them. Sahana was back in bed, fast asleep. Ryan was lying on the couch with a book. I called MY mother to tell her how much I love her and how much I miss her in my day to day life.

While Sahana slept most of the morning, Ryan and I took a long, leisurely walk with Sage. We held hands and tried solving all kinds of problems so the world would become a more wonderful place than it already is. We talked, also, about fantastic things like eating healthy and exercising. Ryan’s reason for doing so is somewhat different than mine. He wants a prospective wife to check him out at some point. I said eating healthy should be about keeping your health good. To that, he dismissively said, “Oh yeah! That too!”

We planted the seeds and tangled with Sage in the yard while Sahana slept on. I tried to figure out her logic of making me breakfast at 7:00 am and then sleeping the entire day. But who said teenagers were logical? She finally woke up around lunch time. I ended up making their favorite lunch, I ended up taking Sahana to the library to work on her project, I ended up taking Ryan to his baseball game, and then finally, I ended up making dinner for all.

In every way, the day was business as usual, except the morning celebration. But then again, it wasn’t. The unexpected hugs by both the kids made it different, the beautiful note that my husband sent me from a far away land made it different, the runner duo who we met on our walk wishing me ‘happy mother’s day’ as they ran by us made it different, the gorgeous sky, bright sunshine, birds chirping on the trees made it different. As I high fived Ryan on his brilliant catch and double play in his baseball game, he nodded shyly and said, “That was for you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!” That made it very different. I came home with a heart full of happy songs.

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!

Mom, please behave so daddy doesn’t divorce you!!!


Ryan’s first grade class seems to be a hotbed for romance lately! Wonder what it is? Spring? Anyway, we are getting loads of information at dinner table on crushes, love, couples and singles. And I plan to enlighten you on all those topics. So here goes.

Crushes are ‘when you are in love with somebody but that person doesn’t know about it.

Love is when both parties know that they love each other.

Mommy and daddy are a couple whereas Sahana and Ryan are still single, but when they grow up they will find someone and become couples.

And lately, we have been talking about divorces….a lot. One of Ryan’s friend’s parents got divorced recently, and the friend has to move out-of-state with one of the parents. This incident has hit my boy….. hard. He has started asking me, often, if his dad and I plan to divorce in the near future. If so, what will happen to him and Sahana!

I share a wonderful relationship with my spouse, we hardly have disagreements except when we are rooting for our football teams. At that point, all bets are off. Its war! But, other than that, I never disagree with him provided he always agrees with me:)! Fortunately, we seem to share a lot of similar ideas on different issues that are important to us and there is hardly a discord that doesn’t get solved with a little bit of ‘talking it out!’ Hence, I was baffled by Ryan’s insecurity. Interestingly enough, he always asks ME not to disagree with dad, so dad doesn’t leave us.

A couple of nights ago, I decided to take them for a treat at a frozen yogurt place. Sean was not too much in favor of the adventure since it was late and they had whined a bit. But I had promised them earlier, so I decided to take them anyway. Ryan was stressed the entire car ride. I could tell he wasn’t enjoying himself. Finally, he asked me, “Mom,
do you think Dad will divorce you now, that you took us out when he didn’t want you to?” If I wasn’t driving, I would have wrapped him in my arms and kissed his fears away.

So I did the next best thing, we talked about it. I told him sometimes grown ups don’t get along, they decide to go their separate ways, but they always love their children. That never goes away. And it is never the children’s fault that parents divorce. The grown ups sometimes feel they need to live separately to be happy. But his daddy and I get along just fine and we will not get divorced.

Just out of curiosity, I wanted to know why he always thought daddy will go away since sometimes moms make that decision too. He pondered upon it for a while and said “You are nice!” I knew he couldn’t express his feelings since Sean, for him, is definitely the preferred parent. Sahana summed it up for him. She said, “I think daddy travels a lot, we don’t get to see him much, but you are always with us, you do everything for us, so we can’t see you just leaving us and going away. But since daddy is away a lot, it is easier for us to think dad can leave!”

When we stopped at the yogurt place, Ryan got out of the car, still somber and thoughtful and said, “If you guys do get divorced, I will go with whoever will take me!” My heart just about broke. I got a glimpse into the mind of a child who may be in the middle of a divorce or a custody battle. What torment that young mind goes through – the insecurity, fear, guilt, incomprehension of the grown up world.

I try my best not to trivialize their fears or mortifications. Although they sometimes seem meaningless in our adult world, they are very real in their world! I try to address the fears and try to find an answer (operative word here being TRY)! We do the usual catching the nightmares in a box and emptying it outside, opening closet doors and checking under beds to make sure no errant monster is lurking. When all fails, we sing praises of the monsters and talk about how adorable they are. Who doesn’t love Elmo and Grover? So I dealt with this fear the usual way – talked, reassured! Unfortunately, the fear of monsters are slowly but steadily giving way to fears of more tangible things in life, like poverty, divorces, animal cruelty, abuse, and finally, the huge mystery of death. Ryan is slowly becoming cognizant of the fact that there is a lot of sadness juxtaposed with the happiness in this world. In life, there are a lot of uncertainties, lot of insecurities. He is looking around him and he is not seeing a bed of roses. This loss of innocence is inevitable, I know. I cannot save him from this, probably shouldn’t try to either. But what I can and will do is assure him that his dad and I will try our best to be anchors in his life, TRY our best to keep the real sadness at bay for him. We will do everything in our power to give him a rose garden, but still there will be those occasional thorns in his path. We will hold his hand and help him bypass those, on his way to the grown up world, till he himself is ready to let go of our fingers.