Will wear the mask in a minute..


Our library has a mask mandate and as a library worker, one of my jobs is to remind customers to either pull up their masks over their noses from their chin or actually wear a mask if they plan to peruse our collection, use our computers or use our study space. I am a non confrontational person and a hard core introvert on top of that. So every time I see someone without mask, I groan inwardly, take a deep breath before I begin my diffident journey to ask that person to mask up. I have come a long way in these 10 years to politely assert myself in such situations but I still dread it.

Anyway, this morning as I was shelving in the poetry section, a lady came up to me and said in a soft whisper, “There is a man sitting out there with no mask on.” I assured her I will talk to him right away. After taking some deep breaths and groaning inwardly, I walked over to the gentleman.

“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to put your mask on since there is a mask mandate in the library.”

“Oh, sure mam, sure! I am just drinking my coffee.” He pointed to his disposable coffee cup and then also showed me his mask.

I thanked him and told him to put his mask on as soon as possible. And walked away. I continued shelving in other sections and then walked back to where he was working to clean up shelves. He looked at me with the corner of his eye and lifted his cup to his mouth. He was still mask less after 15 minutes. And I had a sneaky feeling that his coffee cup was empty. He was simply using that as a prop to continue to remain mask less. I chuckled at his ingenuity. I had to walk up and tell him to mask up now and if he needed to sip he could pull his mask down to sip and put it back on again. He was not as pleasant as he was during our first interaction but he did put his mask back on.

As I made my way back to the kiosk, I noticed a young man who did not have his mask on. I breathed, groaned and talked to him about doing the right thing (Could you please put your mask on, sir?). He did right away. I walked away. The next time I went near him, he had taken it off and put it on the table by his laptop. I just stood there next to him for a few seconds, staring at him. He looked at me, slowly retrieved his mask and put it on his nose.

Near the kiosk, I saw a very elderly woman walking towards me in hesitant shuffle, without mask. “What did I do wrong this morning to deserve this?” I asked the universe as I approached the woman and said my refrain – pull your mask up for crying out loud! (I worded my request differently, of course). She slowly pulled a mask from her pocket and put it on without acknowledging me or my polite request at all.

Then my shift ended and I walked away from the desk. I entered my cubicle and shook my head at humanity.

Torn


According to Covid19 healthdata.org, the projection of death and devastation in India is dire. It is heartbreaking, scary, nightmarish. A friend wrote on Facebook that the sirens of ambulance have become part of normal routine in life. The New Delhi bureau chief of New York times wrote south Delhi, where his residence is, has an eerie hush. The silence of the bustling capital of India is broken by sirens of ambulance. And birdsong. My father refuses to watch news anymore, focusing on cricket, movies and music instead to preserve his sanity. My mother is glued to television that is churning out grim projections of the mayhem to come. I can not focus on anything else in my life here in United States – not work, not books, not my family. Of course, life goes on and I have to continue to do my part to live through this but my heart is with the people of my country. Almost every day I get news of friends and acquaintances getting infected. Today a relative died of Covid. My parents have had their first vaccine and are waiting for the election to end so they can get their second shot. Fingers crossed. Temporary crematorium grounds are being created to burn the bodies that are piling up. The fires are constantly burning as bodies pile up.

We saw similar situation in United States just a few months ago. However, my adopted country is slowly recovering. Seeing friends and acquaintances getting their vaccines and gradually venturing out is heartening. For people who do not have family overseas, this is close to the end of a hellish nightmare. For us, Indian Americans, it is a conflicted emotion. We are relieved at our personal safety and that of our friends and family here, yet we are losing sleep over our birth country feeling utterly helpless.

Apart from donating money to organizations that are on the ground helping the sick in India, I am trying to keep despair at bay and sending positive energy that this deadly virus abates, people recover, the exhausted medical professionals get rest and pace of vaccination increases.

Having said that, hearing my friends and family getting infected is difficult. Folks tell me to stay positive and focus on the good. I can not freaking find the good right now!!

If you can, please donate to an organization of your choice who is helping in Covid relief in our devastated country. Of course, do your research on the organization first. 🙏🏽

Help thy neighbor


We were standing at the check out line when I saw Sean’s subtle body movement in front of me and I knew he is getting ready to help someone. I wrote in one of my blogs that Sean is a giver. His love pours over not only his family but all around him – including perfect strangers. Ahead of us in the check out line was a very elderly woman with a full cart of groceries. Among the groceries were two big bags of bird feed. As the woman slowly put her items up on the counter for the clerk to check out, I could see Sean eyeing the bags of bird feed and I detected the familiar twitch in his body. That is when I knew he is going to leap – to help. And I opened my mouth to stop him. Yes, I tried to stop my husband from helping a frail, elderly woman from lifting heavy bags of bird feed on the check out counter. You read that right. Why? Because we are living through a pandemic. I do not know how people would react if you randomly touch their stuff at this time. But before I could pull at his sleeve, he lifted the bags on to the counter for her. I shook my head. The woman and the check out clerk thanked him and the woman asked if he could accompany her to unload her car at her house – in jest.

I heaved a sigh of relief that no one got upset at Sean touching someone’s grocery. It took a long time for the woman to finish since her hands shook as she slowly wrote her check to pay. The employee helping her was kind and wonderful. Although there was a long line forming behind us, nobody showed impatience. My husband struck again. He zipped around the woman, went to the end of the check out counter and hauled the 2 heavy bags of bird feed onto the woman’s cart. I was wildly gesticulating at this point to stop touching other people’s stuff. The woman thanked him profusely and he offered to take the cart to her car and put the bags in it. She said she could do it and appreciated his offer and help.

When he came back to me I said I truly appreciate how he helps everyone but can he not touch other people’s stuff randomly please since we are in a pandemic? He smiled and said he supposedly had asked the woman’s permission before touching her groceries. I had missed that conversation.

I have known Sean for 26 years now and I have seen him going out of his way to help strangers who cross his path. The help in small scale could be getting luggage down from overhead locker for someone, entertaining babies so harried parents could get some reprieve on a long plane ride, giving up his seat to others in need including coveted aisle seat in airplanes (who does that?) carrying groceries, and in bigger scale – staying with a young mother with an infant in Colombo airport when militants tried to bomb the airport, lying on the ground with the baby between them as bullets passed over them and then accompanying her home safely, holding up a half upturned car (along with a few others) with the driver in it till rescue came. There are zillion instances, big and small, of how Sean helps. And I am in awe of how much he gives. Truly. However, it has fallen upon me to somewhat keep him under control during pandemic. His first instinct is to pick up a fallen glove on the road and shout after the person who he thinks has dropped the glove. I am the one who swoops down to stop him from touching the glove, or litter, which he picks up regularly to throw in a trash can. “DON’T touch!!! Pandemic!” I have been shouting regularly these days.

This is an ode to my husband. A truly good man. And although there are times when he drives me up the wall, I consider myself blessed to spend my life with him. I am a better person because of him. The world is a better place because he is in it. And today is his birthday.

Cultural Usurpation


Before I start my rant, I just want to mention that these are solely my thoughts and I do not claim to be the spokesperson of people who belong to Hindu or Buddhist faith. I write this blog after a long and thoughtful exchange of ideas between my daughter, who is half Indian and half white, and my husband who is white and belongs to the Catholic faith. My daughter asked me how I felt about people in this country doing the Color Run or wearing bindi and henna as a trend instead of truly understanding the significance of it all.

I have lived in my adopted country for twenty years now. I have made my home here, found my livelihood, nurtured close relationships, been vocal about injustices, celebrated the country’s triumphs and mourned it’s losses. I have voted and participated in activism. I have made this country my own. I have become a citizen. And I have never left the country of my birth. It is indeed possible to love the people, culture, traditions of two countries and most immigrants do this always. I believe that I am one of those lucky ones who can pick and choose the traditions and rituals from both my birth country and my adopted country. I can discard from my life, the rituals and traditions that conflict with my values and adopt those which appeal to them.

When asked where I am from, I proudly say I am originally from India. I love to showcase the culture that I grew up in, the clothes, the adornments and accessories that I bring from my part of the world. And when asked, I love to explain their significance, to the best of my knowledge. For example, the idea behind namaste or nomoshkar – I bow to the divinity in you. How respectful is that greeting? Namaste is a greeting which I think truly reveres humanity, or the divinity within humanity. It respects the innate goodness, that Hindus believe, resides in each one of us. But wearing t-shirts that say Namaste Bitch or Namastay in Bed may seem funny to those who do not revere or understand the gesture but it does hurt us, those who find the word meaningful and significant. I have reverted back to Namaste during Covid 19 and will stay with it after Covid leaves.

“May I ask you a question? What does that dot on your forehead signify?” I have lost count how many times I have been asked this question while wearing a bindi, and I love answering it. According to Hindu tradition, all people have a third inner eye. The physical eyes are for seeing the external world while the third focuses inward toward God. The bindi or the dot on the forehead also symbolizes the existence of concentrated energy. (according to https://www.hinduamerican.org/blog/the-purpose-of-the-bindi/).

If someone outside my faith, wants to understand the significance of a bindi, I am happy to explain or provide information. If they want to wear one, I am even happy to provide them with it. I do not think they are usurping my culture, they are embracing it just like I embraced the culture of giving thanks in this country. If wearing bindi becomes a trend without understanding, I am fine with that too. It does not harm anyone and you are not denigrating anything by wearing it as part of your fashion. I reiterate that this is simply my opinion and I am not speaking on behalf of the entire Hindu community. Others may feel differently and they are completely entitled to. I feel similarly about henna being a fashion trend. Take the beauty from a part of the world. Try to learn the significance. Spread the beauty. Beautify yourself. Why not?

Holi, for me, is more about ushering spring in than anything religious. Throwing colors on each other, for me, manifests spreading joy. The divide that skin color creates in my nation gets obliterated, at least for a day. If organizers of Color Run get inspired by the spirit of Holi and integrate that in creating an event to promote good feelings, more power to them I say.

The worst example, in my opinion, of cultural usurpation was Hitler taking away our swastika and using it as a symbol of pain. I participated in a discussion with an American woman about it on social media, of all places. The woman said the symbol has caused pain to so many people and if her name was Swastika, she would change the ‘horrid’ name. I know numerous Swastikas in my part of the world because this is what swastika means to people of my faith along with some other faiths and has meant this for 5000 years as opposed to few decades of hateful symbol:

In Sanskrit the word Swastika is a combination of the word Su (means good) and Asti (means to exist). The symbol of swastika stands for something auspicious and good for centuries.

A little on the history of swastika here.

The Nazi party and the white supremacists did the worst cultural usurpation of a symbol that is as old as mankind for the people of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain faith and made it into a symbol of hate for the Western world. How can we reclaim our symbol and erase all the negativity and pain associated with it? By starting a conversation? By willing to listen? By understanding that the pain that Nazi party caused to millions is absolutely horrific but also seeking understanding from the Western world the pain it caused us by seeing the symbol of such importance in Hindu (and other) religion reviled so? There are a pair of earrings that have been handed down by my mother’s family to the daughters. The heirloom is a diamond and ruby encrusted design of swastika. Every time I go back home, my mother urges me to take it back with me to America. “Wear it. It is so beautiful.” She is disappointed when I say I can not wear it anywhere outside India or in countries in the subcontinent. So those earrings languish in a dark locker in a bank. I do not have the desire to be judged as a brown Klans(wo)man by wearing them in my adopted country. And I would not wear it because I know how much pain is associated with the symbol. Ironically, though, when my ancestors designed the earring, they thought they were bestowing their blessings on their daughters who would follow them by protecting them with something pure and good. The blessing of my ancestors have become a symbol of hate in the world I live in.

There is a disconnect between people. It would be naive of me to not acknowledge that. The first step towards building a bridge is perhaps to listen and to acknowledge. The aforementioned woman kept using the word “horrid” even after being informed about swastika’s significance to a huge community of people. I tried to tell her I completely understand the pain this symbol causes to many but did she, in turn, understand that it hurts us to see what Nazis made it to be? She did not.

That is it. Rant is over. I say let us learn about new cultures, read up on it, ask questions, embrace the philosophy behind it if it appeals to us. The process can only be enriching. It is a big world out there.

I love men.


‘You know, I love men!’ I said this to my husband as we took a leisurely stroll on the eve of our anniversary. If I had said this on the eve of our first anniversary, my husband may have raised his eyebrows. But we have been married for seventeen years and time has made Sean immune to my eccentricities. He takes them all in his stride and puts up with it all, with a chuckle.

‘That’s wonderful! I am glad you love one half of the humanity. Is there a specific reason?’ He wanted to know. He was humoring me, I know. But I never let an opportunity to talk, pass. Honest confession, I am chatty.

Having made the generic statement – I love men, let me qualify. My love for men is not unconditional. For instance, I don’t love those men who feel empowered by hurting women, children and animals. But then, I don’t love women who do those things either. I do not claim to understand men completely. I sometimes find them condescending, specially towards women who talk about sports. Sometimes their denseness frustrates me. I don’t understand why it is so hard to admit ‘yes, I am cold’ in sub-zero temperature and what is the point of arguing with the GPS in the car about directions. It is a machine (with a woman’s voice) giving directions, for crying out loud! And I certainly don’t love the man, who flipped me the bird, when I refused to take a left hand turn and throw my car in front of aggressive, oncoming traffic, the other day!!! That guy needs anger management classes and safe driving lessons. After those, I may consider including him in this love fest.

Anyway, as I sat in one of Ryan’s baseball practices, I watched men, protected behind my shades. The men I watched were dads of Ryan’s teammates. They were teachers, corporate high-flyer, lawyers or physicians in their real lives. But as their cars pulled into the parking lot of the ball park and they donned their baseball gloves to throw with their sons, they seem to be stripped of their adult careers, adult responsibilities and became 8/9 year olds themselves. When their sons ran to their coaches, the dads started throwing amongst each other, without stopping to introduce themselves and without missing any of the continuity. As I sat on the bleachers and eavesdropped, I heard stories of high school sports and glory days of their yesteryear. information about each other were exchanged as the ball flew between them. A sort of friendship slowly emerged while the ball was being thrown and caught. This seamless integration with each other, I notice, when Ryan or boys of his age go to any social setting. No words are necessary to become a part of a team and start throwing a ball. The men have the same formula for integration, I observed. This quality is so natural and so endearing. They parted with a hearty handshake, a hard clap on each other’s back and with a ‘see ya at the game’ – their sons’ game over the weekend. Ryan becomes part of a team every season. So does his dad – he becomes a part of a team of dads, men who enjoy coaching, throwing the ball, practicing, helping the little boys in their baseball skills and perhaps, reliving their own Little League days. I have heard horror stories of parents taking their passion for their children’s games too far, but I haven’t witnessed any nastiness….yet!

The moms are different. We introduce ourselves, ‘Hi, I am _____, I am _______’s mom.’ That is our identity, at least on the ball park. The moms, generally, don’t talk about their highschool sports or their own athletic prowess. They talk about schedules, and the different sports their children play, the amount of homework they get, whether they are in the gifted/talented program. Moms bring dinners at the ball park so there is one less thing to do when they get home. They keep an eye on the siblings who are just tag along. The mommies organize the volunteer snack schedule, who will be the team mom during the game. They keep the children from climbing the fence, throwing gloves at each other, they make sure the boys stay hydrated. They arrange for carpools so they can take their other children to their respective practices. They pull their husbands away from the game and remind them when Joey needs to be picked up or where Samantha needs to be dropped off. The husband turns to his mates and winks, ‘I don’t know any of the schedules, I just do what the boss tells me to!’ That evokes communal mirth among the men and empathic nods and smiles.

Girls grow up faster than boys and very rarely revisit their childhood. The moms are busy holding it together. Men do. They can become little boys from time to time, as THEIR little boys/girls play baseball, football, lacrosse. Then as they drive out of the sports arena, reality sets in, and the men become dads again. Childhood waits…till the next practice or game.