A moment with Durga


This year I went to Boston to celebrate Durga puja with my cousin sister. Boston Durga bari’s Durga Puja is a beautiful four day affair that brings back memories of Durga puja of home. The ambiance, the joy, the rustle of new clothes, the trendy blouses, the designer kurta pajamas, the elegant sarees, the intricate jewelry, the smoke of dhunuchi and the crowd – all of these evoked the quintessential pujo feelings. If it wasn’t so cold as soon as one stepped outside the mandap (the tent in the parking lot of Braj Mandir Temple) in Holbrook, MA, one could totally feel like one was in a ghoroya puja of Kolkata.

I have my own unique relationship with the goddess. I don’t feel the need to participate in pushpanjali, or boron or any kind of ritual. My relationship with Durga is not one of a devotee and a deity. It is much more personal. To me, she is an embodiment of my memories of special four days every year. She is a feeling in my heart that is precious and invaluable. It is hard to explain. She is also a symbol of everything that I consider good. She is the divinity that, I hope, resides within me and within others. Every year, her celebration, reminds me to nurture this divinity within me and slay my inner demons so I am kinder, more considerate, less judgmental. Durga is also shakti – power. Those who wrote the Vedas knew the inherent power that women possess so they made a woman the symbol of power. Durga is all powerful yet when she comes to us she comes as the daughter of the house coming to her ‘baaper bari’ (her parents’ house). She is our beloved girl as well as the epitome of ‘mighty girl’. We do not worship her because we fear her. We worship her and love her because she is our very own, our dearest girl who assures us, inspires us, loves us and also blesses us. At least, this is how I relate to her.

During the four days of Durga puja, I sat far away from the idol while devotees stood in line to see a glimpse of Durga’s face. I admired the fashion, the jewelry, the little children instead of focusing on the mantras and the aarti. When everyone had left late at night and my sister was busy arranging the kitchen for next day’s massive preparation of food, I walked over to the front of the tent where the idol of Durga was placed decked with weapons in her ten arms and adorned with jewelry. The repentant ashura sat at her feet looking up, seeking forgiveness. And Durga had forgiven him. Her eyes, in this particular idol, radiated kindness, assurance. I bowed my head in front of the idol made of clay. But in reality, I bowed my head in gratitude for all the memories that her advent to the world has gifted me. She is my ‘shorot kal er neel akash’ (the blue sky of autumn), she is my ‘kashphul’ (according to Google, wild sugarcane that grows in Bengal during autumn), she is my smell of new clothes, my puja vacation from school, she is my mother’s laughter and my father’s relaxation, she is my memories of first crush and beating heart, she is my intolerable crowd, my pandal hopping, my Kolkata lights. She is the blisters on my feet due to new shoes, the rustle of my new clothes. She is my delicious street food and outing with friends. She is my counting pocket money to see how far that will take us. She is the crowded traffic on the streets, the red ribbon on the hair of the little girl who lives on the streets with her homeless family. She is the ‘bonedi barir pujo’. She is house full of relatives. Mostly, she is my feeling of joy and love and family.

She is all these memories that I keep in my heart all year and take out to savor during these four days every year. I will never get them back but I am so blessed that I have them forever.

Smiles


We celebrated Sahana’s birthday recently. After quite a while, the four of us went out for a nice dinner. I wore my mother’s saree, Sahana wore one of her kurtis and Sean wore baba’s punjabi. I felt we carried their essence with us that way and they were present as we celebrated the birthday of their precious Sahana. Ryan was entrusted to take photographs that day since he has the best camera app. He took some candid shots of me when I was smiling, or laughing even. When I looked at those photos, the joy I felt in those moments were palpable. There was a point in my life this past year when I did not believe I will feel that emotion fully. But I did. And that surprised me. Just as Mary Oliver said in her poem, Heavy, the joy on my face startled me – in a good way.

Next day at work, I took my friend aside and said, “I need to tell you something. I felt joyful yesterday.” There was a sense of wonder in my voice and I think she heard it. She said, “I am so happy to hear that.”

I have poured out my grief in my blogs. I will now leave this memory of joy too, here. If I can dissociate myself from everyday living, I can look at the tapestry of my life – woven with love, loss, friendship, laughter and joy.

Sunshiny today


Every morning after I wake up I sit in my reading chair and take a few moments to look at the smiling pictures of both my parents on our coffee table. When they were alive I reached for my phone as soon as my eyes opened. There would be a message from ma in whatsapp. Most of the days the message asked “ki korchish?” (What are you doing?) The woman never really got the time difference right 😀. I would obviously be sleeping during her waking hours. My response would be “ei uthlam.” (just woke up). Most days I would call later to have a longer conversation but some days, that was our only exchange. But we connected everyday. I snooped on baba’s activity on Facebook and when I saw he was active and posting something funny every hour, I would breathe easy – he was well.

These days my whatsapp messenger remains silent. So I commune for a few minutes everyday with them in the morning. At a certain time, the sun hits their smiling faces just right and both of them light up in front of my eyes. I watch the transformation happen. In a strange way, it makes me happy. I took a picture of sunlit ma today. Sometimes this feeling is all I need to carry in my heart to get me through the day.

Possibilities


Perhaps cliché and oft repeated but this act of blooming and the hope it provides to tired souls never gets old.

This peony plant was given to me by a friend last year after my parents died. She said the flowers will bloom each year to bring me comfort. Last year it had only one bloom and then it folded itself up to go to sleep for the winter. After a long season of rest and nourishment, peony spread itself in all of its glory.

A joy


Yesterday, while out on an errand, I watched a little girl going ahead of her family. She could not have been more than 7 or 8. Her head was down and it seemed she was focused on the sidewalk below her feet. Her family walked leisurely behind her. But she was not walking though. She was skipping. She wore a white dress with rainbow colors at the bottom of it. Her shoes were white too. Her hair seemed wild, unruly and as happy as her motion was – bouncy. With each skip her hair bounced. And it all made a perfect picture of joy.

I watched her skip for as long as I could till I could see her no more. And on the first day of a new year, I thought of the joy she exuded – being with her family, somewhat ahead of them on a spring like December day, the last day of the year in fact, skipping instead of walking.

Khushi’s Christmas gifts and happy haunting.


Khushi requested that I bring her a school bag when I go to Kolkata. Instead of waiting for that long, we ordered a school bag, a set of pencils with a cool (I think) looking pencil box and a water bottle for her from Amazon India. The packet has arrived at our apartment in Kolkata. However, I told Gouri and Breshpati (Khushi’s mom) to hide the gifts till Christmas and give them to her as a Christmas present.

Gouri planned further ahead. She asked Breshpati to keep the gifts next to her when she falls asleep on Christmas eve so she wakes up on Christmas day to a surprise. Supposedly, baba, Khushi’s adoptive grandfather, bought several gifts for her every Christmas and asked her mother to hide them and put them by her side on the night of Christmas eve. Gouri wants to continue that tradition that dadai started.

I listened to Gouri’s excited voice and felt so intensely sad about all of it. Not the gift giving, of course, but the fact baba is not here to give her the Christmas joy. Gouri plans to have someone write a note saying the gift is from didiya and dadai. I wondered if that will scare the little girl – receiving gifts from dead grandparents.

As I cried after the phone conversation, Sahana explained to me that the idea was brilliant and Khushi will not be scared. She will understand that this giving of gift is simply a show of love. Despite death and tragedy, love flows uninterrupted and that is the beauty of living. She said, if Khushi thinks didiya and dadai are haunting her, it is a kind of happy haunting. She won’t mind. 😀

A place where I want to be…


This is not necessarily a glamorous photograph that I would share with the world for likes and compliments. This was taken just a few days ago by Ryan to test out the picture taking ability of his new iPhone, a phone that he purchased with entirely his own money. This was taken in a moment of happiness when I was with my family in a fall afternoon.

He took photos of me as we sat on opposite sides of each other in our favorite Indian restaurant. He put different filters on the photos, laughed at most of them as I looked ridiculous. But he shared this one with me. Unfiltered.

The “me” in this photo is almost the “me” before my parents died. This “me” is the one who almost always had an inner joy. Even on the darkest day, this “me” could talk myself out of despair. The current me is “walking a narrow path through the loss………taking sips of sorrow…..” as Julia Alvarez says in her beautiful novel Afterlife. One day, I want to be back where, once upon a time, the previous “me” used to be. I have embarked on the journey, the path is narrow and I am trying (and failing sometimes) to not fall off the edge. One day I plan to arrive.

A poem was found in the stacks.


As a library worker for last ten years, I have come across strange things in either the shelves or in our book drop boxes. A coworker kept a tally of strange things that got returned with books and DVDs. Gross things like dental floss, used tissues, important things like checks, naturalization certificate, sentimental things like handwritten cards, letters – all used as book marks. One of the strangest things that I recall was a single men’s sandal that came in through our book drop.

While shelving, we collect empty water bottles or soda cans that folks leave behind in the stacks. A few days ago, while shelving in the finance section, I found a page torn off a notebook with a poem written on it. From the handwriting and content I assume it was written by a young child. I picked it up to recycle it. Then I kept it. I wondered if the person/child who wrote the poem would come back for it.

The poem was about having fun in Neverland. Although we may age in years, we should nurture our inner child and never let the innocence die. There is the threat of Captain Hook, sure, but we should remember it is Neverland – full of fun.

Every time I went upstairs for my shift, I checked to see if the page was still there at the kiosk. I took a photo of it for memories. Not for the artistic value of the poem but for the fact a child (most likely) wrote this and left it in the stacks, in finance section no less. A work of art in a section devoted to money seemed lovely.

Today, the poem was gone. I doubt the poet came back for it. Most likely one of my coworkers cleaned up the area and recycled the page. But for the days it stayed at the kiosk, it gave me joy. Simple thing, simple pleasure.

Masked kids


I used to be quite knowledgeable about popular characters in children’s literature when my kids were little. I had a book worm who liked to spend her waking hours at the library. While checking out books for her, I got to know popular books that children read. The second one, however, was not much of a reader except for Garfield and Asterix. I still kept up with picture books and read to him to instill interest. He was more interested in tumbling around and lining up his toy cars.

While working at children’s desk, I acquired knowledge of children’s literature through my young customers, my amazing and knowledgeable colleagues and of course Google. Still many characters and titles of books that the children enquired about were unfamiliar to me. Often, I had trouble even understanding them. The reasons I could not understand them were sometimes adorable pronunciations of very young customers due to missing front teeth or their discomfort at talking to an adult. Many of them had trouble looking at me while saying the title of the book they wanted. I often asked, “Could you say the title one more time for me, honey?” And while they did, I surreptitiously typed the words I could decipher in Google to get the full title, which I then typed in our catalog search to see if we owned the book.

The pandemic hit. We closed the library for many months and I did not keep up with the popular characters of children’s literature. For example, I did not know till yesterday that the Berenstain Bears now had a baby sister!!Now that we are open and our young customers are skipping in to the library, I face a unique challenge. Masks on them make them even more indecipherable for me. Just the other day, a little girl came up to me asking for several titles. A children’s instructor perhaps would have known exactly what she was looking for. First of all, her mask combined with her cute way of talking made it difficult for me to understand her and on top of that, the titles were all unfamiliar. The poor kid must have thought who was this ignorant grown up and why was she at a children’s desk. She was very patient with me as we worked together to find most of the books she was looking for.

Pandemic brought with it unique challenges. I am adding masked kids as one of them. 🤣🤣

Having said that, my heart truly sings to see the enthusiasm for books in children of all ages who come in dancing and skipping into the library and get instantly lost in the stacks to take home stories. Their joy gives me hope.

Summary of the first decade.


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As Sage greeted him with the usual doggy exuberance, Ryan bent down to give his nuzzling head a cuddle, he looked up from his dog, his eyes smiling:

‘Mom, I have the best life anyone could ever have!’

‘I am so happy you feel that way. Why do you say that, my love?’

‘Because I have a mother who loves me and focuses on my studies so that I learn. I have a father who loves me and helps me to be the best I can in sports. I have a sister who makes me strong by teaching me how to fight for myself. And I have a dog who teaches me to take care of him so when I have children I will know how to take care of them.’

The evening had been a dismal one for me, for various reasons.

Ryan, however, knew nothing of my turmoil and inner conflicts. And he will never know how his words magically transferred my sadness to one of hope and yes, joy. Words are powerful. They destroy but they can also restore faith – in life, in good, in innocence and in the unfettered joy of living.

Ryan tends to live his life in slow motion. He gets involved with everything that is going on around him and forgets his focus. He gets so wrapped up in the world in his head that I sometimes can not reach out to him. This frustrates me sometimes as chores need to get done, places need to be reached on time. When I cease for a moment to really look at the person that he is growing up to be, I see that he just carries with him a joy, and he chose that moment, unknowingly,  to sprinkle his joy dust on me.

I see him say an encouraging word to his discouraged teammate. I see him saying an exuberant hello to a diffident little boy who did not want to come to swim practice and I witness the boy’s face light up with a smile at being greeted by a teammate. The little boy’s grateful mother tells me how relieved she was at Ryan’s loud, cheery hello as she walked in with her unhappy boy. I hear from his teacher that he is a ‘nice boy’, a ‘really, really good child’. And I know he is sprinkling joy dust as he goes along his path in life. He makes me happy and lightens up my soul along with his big sister.

May the splendor of his soul never dim, my wish for this gorgeous boy who turns ten today. Happy birthday, son. May you continue to love, continue to hope and continue to feel!