This morning as I was talking to the girls staying in our house in Kolkata, Gouri and Breshpati, I heard a story that I had not heard before. Today is the day baba died 2 months ago and today was a good day to laugh out loud at his wicked sense of humor as well as his robust appetite and love for food, especially fish and meat.
I have written before that Khushi was the apple of his eye and both ma and baba were truly invested in helping her grow up with all opportunities that they were able to provide. Ma took care of her studies, I take care of funding her education and baba took care of investing financially for her future. One day when baba, Khushi and Breshpati went to the bank to either manage her account or put money in her account, the banker helping them asked baba, “Sir, do you own a restaurant? If you do, where is it?”
Baba was, understandably, taken aback at this random question. The banker clarified his query as he saw baba’s surprised face. He said that several fish sellers come to that bank to deposit big checks written to them by baba and so he wondered if baba owned a restaurant which needed all that fish. Baba laughed, turned to Khushi and said, “Didi, show this kaku (uncle) where our restaurant is.” He then patted his own big tummy and Khushi’s little tummy. He said, “Here! This is our restaurant.”
Breshpati came home and told ma this story. Ma commented, “Did you also tell the man that I live with a mad man? Mad for food!”
As I heard the story, I could visualize baba responding to the question without batting an eyelid. I laughed so hard till I had tears in my eyes.
The trick is to keep expectations at a minimum from your husband and children. And maintain the bar low. I was smart, I did just that. I had the kids make their own lunches for school as soon as they started third grade. I kept a loose eye on what they packed. Since I bought the groceries for our house I knew the extent of junk food that was available to them. They got money once a week to buy food from cafeteria but Sahana disliked the cafeteria food so she ended up packing her own lunch all 5 days. The deal was, I would pack their lunches on the last day of school each year. That one day, when mom packed their lunch was a day of jubilation. They were excited, happy and most importantly, grateful.
Similarly, both of them started doing their own laundry since they were 11 years old. Once in a while, when they were very busy I did their laundry for them, for which, I got many words of gratitude.
I like to cook so I primarily cooked for the family yet I made sure my husband simply did not expect me to cook ALL THE TIME. Till date, he remembers to thank me for the meals I cook. During pandemic, I became more of a purist – using natural oil for moisturizer and hair care, squeezing oranges for fresh orange juice, making rotis and recently making homemade paneer from scratch. Sean was extremely grateful and told his family in video calls that his wife was making homemade paneer, his favorite. I got kudos from my in-laws for taking such good care of their son/brother.
I was feeling pretty special about my domesticity till last night when I met 2 other friends who happened to be Bengali. As many of you may be aware, when Bengalis meet two topics take precedence over others – food and politics. We were discussing food. I told them I have recently started making paneer at home and I use lemon to curdle the milk. Both of them nonchalantly mentioned they have always made paneer at home and they never buy it. Store bought paneer is never good and did I try vinegar to curdle milk instead of lemon juice? I was slightly crushed.
The question here is, did I mention to my family that homemade paneer is the norm and not the exception in Indian homes out there? Nope, nope, nope. Why would I? I want to see the glimmer of gratitude in Sean’s eyes at the cooking prowess of his queen wife who makes things from scratch just for him for the love that she carries in her heart for her husband.
I had to start work from 10 am. So I walked into the kitchen at 8:30, perused my pantry, discovered 2 cans of garbanzo beans and decided to make a quick, nutritious and tasty chana masala with them. I had found not one but 2 opened packets of MDH chana masala powder at the back of my Indian spice rack and decided to use at least one up. They should not have been left open. Who did that? (It was me, of course). I chopped onions, grated ginger, discovered there was no fresh garlic in the house to make fresh garlic paste so used powdered garlic (the purist in my cringed), lovingly washed and chopped tomatoes. I got all the ingredients ready, brought out my brand new kadhai and poured just a table spoon of oil to cook. This was going to be the inauguration of my new kadhai which I bought just 2 days ago. Once oil was hot, I put the chopped onions to cook along with a tsp of salt. This is a trick I learned to brown the onions evenly. Once onions were ready, I threw in fresh ginger paste and not fresh garlic paste followed by chopped tomato. After 5 or 6 minutes, once oil separated from the mixture, I added 2 heaping tablespoons of MDH chana masala powder gave it a good stir and let them cook for a few minutes. Once the masala looked nice and mixed, I added the drained and washed garbanzo beans, mixed them well with the spices and poured in hot water. It was meant to simmer for a while for all the flavors to mix in. That was all. Except this awful morning, this simple recipe backfired. I noticed, to my utter horror, little black flecks floated on top as soon as I poured water over the chana (garbanzo beans). Hoping they were cumin seeds, I picked up one on my finger and put it in my mouth. And crunched on it. They were NOT cumin seeds. I gagged and washed my mouth. The packet of chana masala was open for I do not know how many years and was infested with tiny black bugs, which were now floating on my lovingly made chana masala in my brand new kadhai. What an inauspicious inauguration of my much coveted cooking utensil!
Here is the thing though. If the morning starts with bugs in your food, the day can only get better from here, right? Gosh, it was so disgusting!
I have written before I did not learn to cook while growing up. I studied, read, played and then worked. I would come home to food cooked for me. Similarly, I did not go to the market to buy fish, meat or vegetables. On a side note, as I write this, it sounds so privileged but trust me, many of my compatriots grew up the same way in middle class Kolkata.
Due to my inexperience in shopping for food, I do not recognize half the fish that was bought, cleaned and cooked in our house. And I also do not recognize the zillion greens or shaak that baba brought home. Baba is a leafy green connoisseur. He can distinguish between palang shak (spinach), pui shak (no idea what that is called in English), shorshe shak (mustard greens) methi shak (again, no idea what this is in English), mulo shak (radish greens, if that is a thing), and many, many others. He diligently bought leafy greens, had our cook prepare them for the family and insisted we all eat it. I hated every one of them of course, turned up my nose and complained. Now, in my middle age, I crave each of them – slightly sauted with garlic, nigella seeds, dried red chilli, some mustard….
Anyway, yesterday I dragged my son and my husband to an Indian grocery store to buy Hilsa fish – one of the few that I know well. I also bought a huge bag of greens which I presumed to be spinach. This morning, as I opened up the bag of greens and inspected the giant leaves and sturdy stalk, doubts crept in my mind. Is this truly spinach?
Sean was in the kitchen getting in my way. In reality, he was making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I asked him if he knew what those greens were. I made him smell the leaves:
“Is this spinach? This is spinach, right?” I wanted reassurance.
He shrugged, “I have never seen leaves so big.”
Now you have to know, our acquaintance of spinach is truly limited to boxes of baby spinach from the supermarket. Hesitantly, I chopped the leaves and started prep work for my ‘chocchori’ – a bengali version of veg medley.
“Listen, sue the store if I die by consuming these strange leaves. Make yourself some money. Profit from my death.” I gave him sage advice.
“Well, I can’t!” He replied.
“Why not?” I asked, puzzled. In this country you sue the heck out at the drop of a hat.
“You don’t know if they were selling these leaves to eat! For all you know, these may be meant for cleaning the toilet!”
I had just mixed the leaves in a pan with the other vegetables that I had painstakingly chopped and turned the stove on.
“I am convinced there is a ghost in our house!” Sahana proclaimed as one of our musical Christmas knick knacks on the coffee table started playing Christmas music without any assistance on our part.
We were having dinner. We all stopped chewing and looked at each other. How, on earth did that happen? After a few moments of silence, Sahana also said, “Well, I do believe there are ghosts and one lives in this house. I have felt a presence. And she likes me the least. She has smacked pies out of my hand!”
Ryan, who keeps a baseball bat with him (or a kitchen knife sometimes, much to my chagrin) when he is alone, silently looked at her for a few seconds. He said he too is a believer, his voice filled with awe and a little fear.
Then he looked up at the air on top of my head and pleaded with the ghost, “Well, you are welcome to stay. Just don’t cause us any harm.”
I said I also don’t NOT believe in ghost. There is a possibility that spirits linger but I advised the ghost to remember that only weak seek revenge, strong forgive and smart ignore so either be a strong ghost or a smart ghost but please don’t be a weak ghost and seek revenge on us.
That statement elicited a chorus of “MOM, DO NOT SAY SUCH THINGS TO THE GHOST!!! She might be provoked to harm us. What are you doing?” This outburst was followed by Ryan looking at the air on top my head again and saying, “Please forgive her. She does not know what she says. Hey Sahana, do you know if our parents killed anyone in this house when we were little?”
I happened to address the ghost as “it” which was not acceptable to my children. “Don’t dehumanize her, mom. You will make her angry!” Sahana exclaimed.
“But this ghost is not human. It is former human!” I justified.
“You called her it again”. Stop doing that. She will get offended!”
“So what pronoun should I use? And how do you know it is a she?”
“Ugh, don’t use it!! Use they/them. Keep it non binary. That is the best option. But DO NOT dehumanize the ghost by calling them ‘it’. They may seek revenge.”
“Well, then they will be a weak ghost.” I shrugged.
“MOM!!! Don’t provoke them! What are you doing?”
The deed was done, though. I had provoked them. The Christmas music thing kept on playing at interval throughout the night as I gnashed my teeth at the ghost.
Next morning my husband said, “Jeez, that thing was playing at night. Let’s turn that off!” I did not find a turn off button on it, so I handed it over for him to try.
Sahana and Ryan are convinced it is our non binary ghost playing a prank. Another Christmas prank.
The music continues to play intermittently. Our non binary resident ghost continues with a prank of their own. Time to take the batteries out of that infernal Christmas toy! And if the music still continues, we will call an exorcist. Ghost, you have been warned…..
One day, right after Thanksgiving, I caught my husband smiling a Grinchy smile.
‘Why are you smiling like that?’
He said he had an idea. A wonderful idea. Just like the Grinch, he had “a wonderful, awful idea”. He told me his plan and I gave him a hearty clap on his back for being so deliciously evil. He came up with the plan and I executed it flawlessly. It was a perfect team work.
I bought gifts early this year, right after Thanksgiving because what else am I going to do during a pandemic? As the gifts started arriving to my doorstep, I scooped them up, wrapped them right away, and wrote Sean’s name on each one of them. That was the plan. Sean thought of the idea of addressing each gift in his name so the kids would wonder when their gifts were coming. As the pile of gifts under our Christmas tree grew, Ryan and Sahana grew increasingly perplexed. Why was not a single gift for them?
They did not say anything for a while hoping their gifts will arrive eventually. To make it believable I wrote Ryan’s name in one big package and couple had Sahana’s name on them. They gave each other gifts so Ryan’s gift totaled to 3 and Sahana’s 4. Sean’s name was on 17 gifts. A week before Christmas Ryan started mumbling, questioning if more gifts were coming still. I said I was done.
“What?? NO! Are you kidding me? You can not be done. Sahana and I hardly got any presents. Its all for dad!”
“Yes, I see that! You know, I bought impulsively this year. I did not keep count on how many I was buying for who and I got carried away with Dad’s presents.” I replied with an embarrassed smile. That threw him off guard – for the moment.
Sahana was confused like her brother but she is older now and did not verbalize her thoughts but silently supported her brother’s tirades.
Over the course of the week, discussions during dinner were dominated by different thoughts on the inequality of the number of gifts, questioning my love for certain family members, quantifying Sean’s good deeds to have deserved so many gifts. Sean simply smiled while I said things like, “my love for you is not measured by materialistic gifts, my darling.” I do not believe that placated my son. To be fair to Sahana, she smiled and laughed mostly and said, yeah, yeah’ as Ryan carried on about how few gifts the ‘children’ got. I continued to look shame faced.
“Sorry guys! It does seem a little unfair. I guess I just got carried away!” That continued to be my refrain.
On the night before Christmas eve, when all hope of arrival of more gifts were extinguished, Ryan forlornly looked at his 3 gifts and said,
“I guess I am considered the scum of the family. Only 3 gifts while dad has 18. Even Sahana has 4 and mom has 7! What kind of family is this where parents get more gifts than kids?”
I said his gift was expensive and he will be happy. He was quick to show his gratitude.
“Mom, I thank you for that. But why did dad get so many gifts? How good was he this year?”
Sean and I laughed till we had tears in our eyes in the privacy of our bedroom. Ryan is absolutely hilarious without even trying. And his laments about lack of gifts were in good humor. I laughed helplessly at his funny quips and he laughed loudly too with his broken, teenage voice. It was truly entertaining last 10 days or so before Christmas. Laments and funny quips got more desperate and hence funnier as the big day approached.
Christmas morning dawned. We decided to take photos with our gifts in front of us. Here are the initial photos as I handed out the gifts.
Right before we were about to open the presents, I pretended to look at the number disparity and shook my head.
“I went a little crazy with dad’s gifts and it looks bad for the photos. Here, why don’t we reallocate them and you two help him open presents.”
“No, no! Let all your friends know what you did this Christmas. Make sure you post them on Facebook. Why will we open dad’s gifts? Let him open his. We will wait. I have only 3 anyway.” Ryan said in his fog horn voice.
“Nah! Let’s redo this.” Amid protests from both brother and sister, I redistributed the packages. And then accompanied by unadulterated laughter, we told them about our naughtiness.
I had written Sean’s name in all caps for Ryan’s gifts. Printed his name for those meant for Sahana and wrote Sean’s name in cursive for the ones that were actually his. After reallocating the packages, the story changed, Ryan’s smile returned, Sahana’s weak smile brightened, Sean and I laughed till we cried!
Since he had no idea we had played a trick on them, Ryan wrapped an empty box for Sean with this note in it:
He looked peevish when Sean opened the package with this note, “Jeez, I feel kinda mean now!”
At the end, it was indeed a holly, jolly Christmas. There was laughter, there were exclamations, there were squeals of joy and thank you’s. There was acknowledgement that ‘we got them’. They never guessed what we were up to and ultimately it ended up being a fun prank. What we got out of it? Days of endless mirth at their bafflement, the fact that our son is very materialistic, our daughter has matured enough to not harangue us with questions about her gifts.
It was, after all, a joyful Christmas. And if you charge us with bad parenting, we plead guilty. But the laughter and evil planning behind their backs were oh so worth it. 😀
As we stood side by side preparing our quick lunch in the kitchen on a work-from-home day, I casually mentioned to Sean that I will be needing the office space that night from 6:45 till 8:00 pm as I was co producing a virtual class for the library.
“Oh no!! I have a virtual cocktail meet with big donors where I am presenting and answering questions!” he exclaimed. And looked at me with I-am-so-sorry eyes.
We really don’t have an office space in our house. There is a little office room which we transferred into nursery when we moved in as I was pregnant with Ryan. After spending all his infancy, babyhood, boyhood years in that little room Ryan finally took over Sahana’s room after she went to college. Sahana beautifully rearranged Ryan’s former (tiny) room and settled in it when she came back home due to the pandemic. It has a cozy dorm room feeling to it, complete with color changing lights.
Over the years, all our ‘office’ work and school work were done on the kitchen table. We did not feel the need for an office since I work for the library system and Sean travels all around the world for his job. The little time we had after our respective jobs was spent on carting children to soccer, basketball, music, swim practices and meets. Once the pandemic hit and we pivoted to online work we realized we were in trouble and we also realized as a family that Sean is a very loud office mate.
During pandemic, I took many trainings while we waited for the library system to resume service, facilitated book club and had to meet with co workers virtually. I often found myself glaring at Sean, who also met with his colleagues virtually and rather loudly. As he gained steam and got excited about whatever they were discussing, the decibel level increased. I often glared at him and huffed off with my computer on mute to the bedroom and shut the door. More than once I was either asked by colleagues if I was on my bed and if planned on falling asleep 😃 ! After both our meetings, Sean asked, “Was I too loud? I am sorry!” The next time our meetings conflicted, he would start off with normal voice and then predictably grew louder and louder as his meeting progressed.
As months went by, Sean started bringing his office into our home. It started innocently enough! A big ring light came for his zoom meetings, then huge banners of his organization were delivered to set up as back drop. The last straw was all the photos that he had on the walls of his office came home with him one day along with the bowls he used at work and silverware. He then took a very handy desk from our main floor which held all my electronics, laptop and devices, and took it downstairs to the basement and set up a nice office space with the ring light for zoom meetings. My stuff were relegated to a small white table.
When I saw the neatly set up office space, I rubbed my hands in glee, immediately planning to usurp it whenever I had classes to teach or facilitate. My classes are generally in the evening so I figured they will not coincide with Sean’s meetings since those are primarily during day time. Win, win! Or so I thought. The first day I decided to stake my claim on his hard work, he had a cocktail meeting. Who has cocktail meeting during virtual work? What is the point of that? Sean does not even drink!
Sahana happened to be in the kitchen when we were having the conversation of our meeting conflict. She decided to be helpful and made a comment. Big mistake! I jumped on her right away.
“Can I use your room then?” I turned to her with bright eyes. She had a lovely set up for her online classes.
Although she was taken aback, she agreed and I found her room nicely cleaned, all ready for me once I got back from work. The class worked out beautifully. I did make Sean feel bad about the conflict, admittedly unfairly and he relinquished the office to me for my next class while he took phone calls from all over the world upstairs, next to the children’s bedrooms where they were trying to attend virtual classes. And he was, as usual, loud.
This morning was beautiful and Sean was talking to his colleagues over phone on our back deck. I saw that he finally met his match. A blue jay flew close by, settled on a branch near him and proceeded to tell Sean, in no uncertain terms, that s/he can beat him hands down in volume any day. Its on! Sean became louder by the minute and the blue jay kept pace. As I heard the competition between bird and human, I smiled. Situation is less than perfect in so many homes. We need to find whatever humor there is, we need to laugh, we need to give, we need to share, sometimes office space even. We need humor to get by.
I forgot to pack my notebook as I packed some grubby clothes hurriedly in a newly purchased tote bag to take to Cliff Island off the coast of Maine for seven days. My extremely outdoorsy husband had purchased two kayaks because the kids ‘needed’ it you see and was planning on bringing them. The children declared they absolutely needed their bikes to ride around the three and a half mile long island with their cousins. There was a tennis court on that tiny island, so how could we not bring tennis rackets and balls? There is also a baseball field, we could not simply leave behind baseball glove and bat, could we? I sighed as I looked at the accumulating junk and dictated folks to take bare minimum in clothes so we could each carry a bag pack and keep both hands free so we COULD CARRY JUNK! The island does not have a grocery store for provisions so we needed to plan and buy seven days worth of groceries, and then figure out a way to carry them!! I forgot to pack my notebook though, in the hustle bustle of planning. I planned to write down my stream of consciousness as I sat in front of the ocean. In the absence of tangible medium, I wrote and painted in my mind’s canvas. Before life gets steadily busy, I hope to put down those thoughts on these blogs.
Like many others on this planet with children, our lives are hectic and rigidly scheduled. As August came closer, all four of us counted down days to break free from work travels, deadlines, swim meets, baseball practices to reclaim our time together, doing what we love to do – reading, walking, talking, listening to music, swimming, playing. We planned a retreat from real life with Sean’s siblings and their families in a tiny little island off the coast of Portland. We rented a house for a week starting Saturday, right on the water. However, my family headed north early, on a Thursday morning at 5 am to jump start the vacation. The plan was to meet our one day old niece in Boston and then drive up north, find a place to stay for two nights, Thursday and Friday, and then get on the ferry from Portland to head to the island on Saturday.
We started our long journey before the sun rose. Sean had secured two kayaks on top of our minivan and two bikes behind the car on bike racks. I had a niggling fear that one of those would go free, go flying and hit fellow motorists. That did not happen thankfully. We arrived in Mass General Hospital with all our JUNK intact but went round and round the busy city of Boston to find parking for our heavily loaded car. We held and kissed our baby niece, full of joy at the miracle of life and hit the road again after bidding the proud and tired parents goodbye. We wanted to visit some of the beaches of New Hampshire or maybe Maine, get a couple of days of sandy beach fun before we met others at the ferry and headed over to Cliff Island. First stop was Hampton beach. We tried to get a hotel for two nights but nothing was available. It was coming up on dinner time and the day was slowly losing its luster. We decided to move on, drive up and find accommodation somewhere farther up north. We were not worried. Next stop was Ogunquit, Maine. The beach was gorgeous, the town seemed inviting. Four of us started to feel hopeful about finding lodging and eventually some dinner, but ‘no vacancy’ signs greeted us as we passed cute hotels, motels and bed and breakfast. A resort right on the beach showed vacancy sign. We parked and jogged to the reception desk. The children, cooped up in the car for 10 hours, ran to the beach to touch the water.
The resort offered one night’s accommodation for almost $400. Friday night was full. Crestfallen parents called the kids back to the car to continue the journey, but the lovely restaurants and the handmade ice cream stores were too tempting to pass by. We stopped for dinner at Hamburger Harry’s. The kids got busy ordering while the parents desperately searched for lodging on their smart phones. The children, with their bellies full of sumptuous burger, kept reassuring us they could sleep in the van if needed. I glared at them instead of appreciating their effort to be accommodating 🙂 ! I recognized their effort later, when I relaxed finally in a comfortable bed. After several attempts, we found accommodation for two nights in a hotel in South Portland, only to find out later that the Boston Marathon bombers stayed in the same hotel before their heinous deed (the knowledge would not have made any impact on our decision of staying there at that point anyway). We drove up to our hotel, after ice cream of course, and crashed.
We woke up Friday morning ready for a beach day. We wanted to have the total boardwalk experience with all the glitz since we knew we will be in isolation in an island far away from the madding crowd. We found Old Orchard beach that fit the bill, complete with an amusement park, boardwalk fries, tattooed skin and crashing waves. The kids ran towards the amusement park before they said hello to the ocean.
As Sean and I stood in line to buy a few tickets for a some rides, a man walked up and gave us two passes for unlimited rides, FOR FREE, just like that. He had to leave the beach and had no use for those passes, he gave them to us. Before we could collect our wits to thank him profusely for his generosity, he left! The children rode every single ride till Ryan threw up and decided enough was enough and sometimes too much. After a mediocre lunch in a taqueria, which had an interesting name with a frog in it, we finally headed to the beach. My thin Indian skin can not tolerate the coldness of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, so I slept on the sandy beach while my family rollicked in the waves. Completely satiated with our day of sand filled and sun filled activities, we headed to our hotel to get ready for our big preparation day on Saturday. The day we had to figure out a way to transfer our kayaks, Sasha and Hexel (yes, they are even named), our two bikes (no names), luggage, books, towels and seven days worth of provision across the ferry from Portland to Cliff Island. But before we did that, Ryan got lost. I will leave you here with a cliff hanger like mystery writers do, so you will wait with baited breath about the fate of my son, till I write the next installment. I am evil like that. 🙂
No matter what you do, never ever call a 10 year old would-be athlete who is flexing his muscles in a skin tight, two sizes small Under Armor undershirt, looking extremely skinny – a string bean. You will get an uproar of protest and you will be subjected to almost half an hour of persuasive argument that his muscles are not string beans and you will be made to witness him flex his muscles in different (very funny) ways to prove his point. I am warning you, don’t do it.
I did not do it either. Of course, I know better. It is the big sister who did it. On a lovely fall Sunday, our resident would-be athlete was getting ready for his game of baseball. It was the first game, we did not have the team shirt yet, so he was going to go in a stylish black and grey, hand-me-down Under Armor undershirt. He wears that particular one for superstition as well as style. However, it is a couple of sizes small on him. I watched the entire process of trying to put that shirt on with different maneuvers. I tried to intervene when I became alarmed at the prospect of his limbs getting stuck in the tangle of the sleeves of the shirt but I was paid no heed. What do I know? I am just the mother. So I left the scene to pay attention to other chores that needed looking after. In the mean time, he got the shirt on (I really am not sure how) and went in front of the mirror to check his reflection. He must have immensely liked what he saw since he went to his sister’s room to brag. I was told he started doing some ninja moves in front of his sister to show off the muscles and “six packs” (two packs max) that were highlighted by the tightness of the shirt. Ryan is by no means skinny but he is on the slender side. However the shirt had constricted his muscles so tightly that he looked like a straight line. Sahana watched him spring around her room for a while with bemused expression and then said with an indulgent smile, “Dude, you look like a string bean!”
The dude was in the throes of vanity and hence the term string bean did not bode well with his ego.
“I am NOT a string BEAN! Mom, Sahana called me a string bean!”
This was said with chagrin. His self worth was bruised, ego affronted. He ran out of Sahana’s room to do his ninja maneuvers in front of me to repudiate Sahana’s comment.
“Do you see my muscles?” He asked hopefully.
The only words popped in my mind were….you guessed it…string beans. And laughter – bubbling, uncontrollable laughter threatened to frizz out of me at his antics and his skinny arms, flexed hard to show off. I controlled my twitching mouth and oohed and ahhed appropriately to salvage the vanquished pride. I said he was starting to look strong and if he ate right and continued to exercise he will grow big and strong and most importantly, healthy.
Sahana continued to call him string bean but he is used to her teasing so with my support, he dealt with it better by trying some ninja moves on her. Before the situation could escalate, I said, “Oh look at the time. You need to get going. Get your bag and water!”
Baseball saved the day. But Sahana and I had a good laugh behind his back about his skin tight shirt and his stringy bean ness. But don’t tell him that 😀 !
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.