The “goods” in the week of August 16th.


This week had some unexpected “goods”.

It is always hard to come back from a vacation and go to work. Going back on Monday after a week long travel with Sean produced some groans from me. Sahana surprised me at work by dropping in with my favorite drink. That made the day so much better.

An elderly woman came in looking for books on immigrant experience. Naturally, we got talking. I mentioned I was an immigrant myself and am also very interested in reading about the experiences of other immigrants. After selecting a few of the books I suggested, she started heading towards the stairs. Then she came back to me and said, “I wanted to tell you, I am very happy that you are here.”

On that note, I just finished an anthology of essays called A Map is Only One Story. Twenty writers wrote short essays on “immigration, family and the meaning of home.” I could relate to some of the experiences written in the book.

I had some pleasurable interactions with customers, both in person and via email. They were helpful in reminding me why I love my job. I am afraid my love for the job is somewhat waning. I needed these interactions as a reminder to focus my attention on my customers.

I had an unpleasant conversation with an anti-masker at work. The man was trying to get a raise out of me by continuing with a pointless, circutitious argument about whether mask is mandated in county buildings (it is in our county) and if it is, am I going to throw him out as he was not wearing one. If I were not going to throw him out, the mandate meant nothing. We continued in this vein for quite a while as he became more and more belligerent. The “good” is how unaffected I remained at his aggressive behavior and ended the conversation with my final line. As I turned away from him, I said in my head, “Dude, I just went through hell in my life. Whatever you are doing right now – the belligerence, the aggressiveness is NOTHING to me. Absolutely nothing. You don’t scare me.” The level of trauma I recently experienced has made me intolerant of posturing fools complaining about first world problems like his right to not wear a mask in a building where mask is mandated.

On the 3 month anniversary (anniversary is a happy word though, I should think of another word to mark the death days) of baba’s death, Sahana picked me up from work and handed me a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar. On the 3rd of every month, for as long as I can remember, baba bought me a bar of that particular chocolate when I lived at home. Even when I was 26 years old. After I left, he would buy me that chocolate bar every time I headed to the airport – either to go to Delhi or USA. He got paid on the 3rd of every month before retirement. Sahana remembered.

We watched the movie Respect in a movie theater on Friday. It is a biopic of Aretha Franklin. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Ryan cooked lobster claws and they were amazing.

I spoke to my mashi, who is closest to a mother figure in my life and I spoke to my cousin sister. They are my connections to home now.

I made a blueberry peach pie on Sunday to fortify us for the week.

Hope your list of “goods” is long. Have a great week.

My companion, grief.


I carry a card in my hand bag which was sent to me by a liaison of a book club that I manage at work. Her card says, “The work of grief is formidable. I pray as you journey with it grief will go from being something in front of you so big you can’t see around it, to something that walks beside you and only occasionally trips you up, to something that eventually walks behind you. I am not convinced time makes grief all better but it does make it different…albeit slowly.”

I found her words to be so true. That is exactly how grief is accompanying me. The phase where it was all consuming and omnipresent in my life is almost ending but it is certainly walking by my side, staying close and tripping me up more than occasionally. All of a sudden, amidst long stretches of normal hours, especially at work, I am gripped by breathtaking sadness that leaves me hollow. Today I saw a regular customer for the first time after a year and a half. He does not come regularly to the library post pandemic and I am there for short hours as well. Anyway, once we saw each other we asked how we were doing. And then he asked how my family in India was, how were my parents? He had been following the devastation caused by Covid in India and he thought of my family. I had to tell him both my parents succumbed to Covid. His face registered shock at this news and discomfort. I quickly changed the subject so as not to prolong the dreadful conversation and to give him relief. He offered his condolences, we exchanged pleasantries, I helped him with a technical question and then we parted ways. I held my own during that uncomfortable conversation. But in the staff lounge, I broke down crying while talking to a friend. I warned her “Uh oh, I am going to cry” before the dam broke. And she said, “Cry. Let it all out.” I don’t recall if we were even talking about ma and baba’s death.

An acquaintance texted me about a question and asked how my dad was doing. Last we spoke ma had died and baba was still fighting. I had to write to her my dad too had died. She wrote back a message of condolence which, I am sure, was hard to write. I feel now I need to protect those who are asking me these innocent questions from discomfort and shock.

Sahana walked by ma’s photo and gently caressed it as she went by. A sob racked my body at this quiet gesture.

Thoughts like “who will buy fish now when I go home. I don’t recognize any fish and neither does Gouri” popped up in my head while going about my regular chores. My parents are dead and I am thinking of who will buy fish for me?? What an inconsequential and selfish thought but no matter, I got tripped up.

Grief is certainly walking next to me ever ready to pounce. It will again come to the forefront and obliterate everything else when I have to land in an empty Kolkata eventually. Just the thought of going makes me break out into hives. Isn’t it so ironical that a trip which was something I looked forward to every year, counted months and then counted days has become such a source of heartbreak and anxiety? City of joy is now bereft of any joy for me. Ma and baba were my joy. I think often whether I told them that and I remembered I used to say at the end of almost every phone call since the pandemic started “Issh, kobe je tomader dekhte paabo!” (I can not wait to see you). Destiny/fate whatever you call it, perhaps chuckled when I said those words. It shook its head and said, “Never. You will never see them in this life time.”

The “goods” in the week of May 30th.


I was humming as I weeded. I was surprised when I realized I was humming. That is good, right? The fact that I am singing a song again while doing something?

I went back to work on June 1st. That was mostly good. On occasion I felt I did not want to do this, all I wanted was to go back home, sit on my reading chair and stare into space. However, I refocused on the job at hand and got it done.

My cousin has come to stay with us to help me live through this time. One day I came back from work to find a bowl full of peeled oranges and peeled lichees waiting for me. She went out with Sahana but left prepared food for me to eat. This gesture of caring made me cry and reminded me of ma, baba – but not in a sad way. It reminded me to be grateful for the love and care I continue to receive from my loved ones. I hope I am able to pay the kindness forward.

I was dreading my birthday this year. June 3rd was very, very hard. Yet my friends and family showered me with love. Sean came to pick me up from work with flowers. Instead of coming home right away, we sat on a bench and cried for ma and baba. I came home to a delicious meal of luchi, alur dom, fish fry, payesh, cookie cake and ice cream. Sahana cooked the entire meal under the tutelage of my cousin sister, her mashun. There were gifts of framed photographs of ma, baba in happier times, lovely dresses. And love, laughter, hugs.

My flowers continue to radiate beauty and joy.

I got so many hugs from my family at work.

A friend invited me over for tea. I surprised myself when I realized I enjoyed the evening.

Writing still helps me process and cope. It makes me cognizant of the forward progress in my journey of loss and the path to rebuild around this loss.

Many nights Sahana, Ryan, sister and I play a raucous round of ludo before bed.

On Saturday we went to a beach nearby. I looked for ma, baba in the gentle waves.

I have talked aloud to ma, baba sometimes. Mostly joked with them. I asked them what is the point of being dead if they can not part the traffic for me so I can zoom ahead of other cars.

My circle of love still surrounds me and I try to find ma, baba in each sunset, in the white clouds and the blooming flowers.

A dear friend sent me hug on wsapp on a day I was miserable. I needed that hug and I told her I was having a bad day. She said she was thinking of me and it must have been telepathy.

I desperately need something to look forward to. Searching.

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.

The witching hour


Last night I found myself ugly crying because Efrèn’s mom got deported. Efrèn is in middle school, his twin siblings are in kindergarten. His apà works constantly to make ends meet. His amà holds the family together with her love, her food and her superwoman abilities of multi tasking. But neither amà nor apà had papers to be here in United States, so ICE raided the place she went for a job interview and deported her to Tijuana, Mexico. I cried thinking of all those children whose parents went to work and never came home. No matter which side of the immigration debate you are on, this separation of families is inhuman and needs to stop immediately.

I was reading a young adult fiction Efrèn Divided by Ernesto Cisneros late into the night. Despite my intense feelings about the book, this blog is not a review of the book or a debate about our immigration policies. This blog is about being one with the book I am reading in the middle of the night when everybody is fast asleep, the night is eerily quiet, all the lights are out except for my bedside lamp. At that time, I feel truly transported into the life of the characters I read about. At that time, I feel the strength of written words most strongly in my heart as it transforms me into a fly on a wall observing and living vicariously someone else’s life. There is a satisfying release in that feeling.

I tried reading Efrèn Divided during evening after work. But there were distractions of my family – talking, fixing dinner, cleaning kitchen, Ryan thumping around the house gathering towel, swim suit, provisions for his swim meet next day. Efrèn’s life had only part of my attention. I was completely invested in his life and the fate of his family once my life was suspended for the night.

I knew it was getting late but I also knew next morning will bring my life to the forefront and the various lives I live through the characters of books that I read will be pushed to the back. So I turned the pages till the last page was read, till I found out what happened to Efrèn’s mom, till I climbed out of Efrèn’s life and sighed at our parting.

Tomorrow night I will climb into another world with Megha Majumdar and go on a journey within the pages of her debut novel A Burning. Night after night, my journey will continue as long as I live.

‘I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.’ Anne Tyler

Kolkata journey – Began.


“Mom, you are in a weirdly good mood! Turn it down to a 5.” Informed my sassy daughter gleefully as we chomped down a Dunkin Donut breakfast at the airport before our plane took off for Dubai. After two weeks of intense schedule, unnecessary worries of health, presentations at work and other issues, we were ready to take off – headed to roost. And yes, I was uncharacteristically chirpy.

After a thirteen hour-long flight to Dubai, five hours layover there and then a four hour plane ride to Kolkata, I was ready to hate the universe. But then, almost magically, the lights of Kolkata appeared beneath us. My hatred melted away leaving an inexplicable joy in its place. The relief of arriving at our destination was compounded by the relief of coming home. Ryan, who was sitting by the window, nudged me to show the lights of the city below us and seeing my ecstatic and expectant face, said in a very characteristic Ryan way, “Your time to shine Mom! Your time to shine! We are coming to your city!” I did have a tiny little pang in a remote corner in my heart – my city, not theirs, never theirs. My city indeed!

I have already written a blog about going home (Almost home) so I do not want to repeat myself, however, I did wonder if there are many cities out there in the world where those who belong feel such deeply personal ownership towards it. My happiness was shared by many of the passengers on board. A ripple of joy and excitement passed through the plane where murmurs like:

“Eshe gechi!” (we have arrived)
“Oi dekh Kolkata!” (See, there is Kolkata)

was overheard over the drone of the plane’s wheels engaging.

Since I am a Bangali, I shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversation of the young couple sitting across the aisle from me (they were speaking loudly). The young woman’s joy was written all over her face and I automatically felt a kinship with my fellow Kolkata lover. She hugged her little son in glee and said, “Babu, eshe gechi, Babu eshe gechi!” (Babu, we have arrived).
The woman’s husband quipped up, “Haa, joto kichu pocha, bhanga, nongra shei shohor e eshe gechi.” (Yes, where everything is nasty, broken and polluted, we have come to that city).

As one can imagine, a big argument ensued. The husband tried to say he was simply jesting but the wife’s Kolkata loving sensibilities were severely wounded,

After a relatively hassle free customs and immigration check we arrived at our designated carousel. I have written before that I find this last stretch absolutely unbearable but a miracle happened. The carousel never broke down like it has done in the past and both our suitcases danced their way to us only after about seven to ten minutes of waiting.

And then came the most coveted moment. The moment that makes two years of planning, worrying, anticipating all worth it. My smiling mother, my beaming father and this time my happy husband as well since he had arrived in India prior to us for work.

The hugs were awkward as usual. We still do not hug comfortably yet the happiness was palpable like you could almost touch it. My America born, very-used-to-hugging children threw themselves at their grandparents and were filled with kisses.

We emerged into the smoggy, dusty outside. I breathed in deeply and smiled. The commotion and complete chaos told me I had come back home. I smiled wide. And promised myself to imprint every moment of my waking time in my memory which then will sustain me till I can come back next time. I promised to feel deeply and meaningfully. I did.