Are congratulations in order?


The stairs at our library are killers sometimes. Some days I go up without breaking a sweat and other days, I have to almost bend double to catch my breath as if I just finished a marathon. The woman who came up the stairs was breathing heavy when she asked me where the printer number 3 was. The printer downstairs was not working so she sent a print job to printer upstairs and came up the stairs huffing and puffing to get her print job. We got talking about different things – mainly about the killer staircase. She got her print job and went downstairs. I went back to whatever I was doing on the computer. It was a quiet day and I think I was working on discussion questions for our next book for book club. It is Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, if you are wondering. It is a fantastic, thoughtful beautiful work of art and I highly, highly recommend it. But I digress. Anyway, the sweet lady came up the stairs again and went straight to the printer. I smiled and made a few seconds of small talk. She was very chatty and talked the whole time while she waited for her print job to come out. As the printer started making encouraging sounds of getting her print job out, she looked at me, especially my bulging, menopausal stomach and asked, “Hmmm…do I see a baby bump? Are congratulations in order?”

I was shocked first and then mortified. No, not for my expanding girth (I have stopped caring a while ago), but for her. I knew my answer was going to embarrass her. She just called me fat and I am going to point that out to her by saying, “No, I am not pregnant. I am just fat.” Oh, she was going to be in such an uncomfortable situation in just a moment, I thought in my head. I shook my head, smiled beneath my mask and said very softly, “No, I am not pregnant.” If she was embarrassed, the lady did not show it. She said, “You are not? Oh, look at my belly, cannot get rid of it. Six children will do that to you.” I said, “Tell me about it.” And then let it go. I did not even have the excuse of having six children. I just sport a belly without being pregnant. That is all.

After she left, I chuckled about the whole exchange. Should I be flattered that she thought I was young enough to be pregnant? Or should I be enraged that she called me fat? I felt neither of those emotions. I just laughed about it all and thought it would make good content for my blog.

“Where’s my lady?”


He comes from a different country like me. He has an accent when he speaks English that is heavier than mine. We play cat and mouse with masks at the library. He comes to work on the computer every day at the library and we greet each other with a big smile under our masks.

“Good morning!” The greeting is accompanied by a respectful nod each day.

He pulls his mask down once he sits. I go near him and gesture to pull it up over his nose. I smile, or my eyes smile when I do it. He immediately pulls it up. But he tries every day, knowing that I will tell him to pull up his mask. It has almost become a game. The only other interaction we have is when he comes to the kiosk to ask for printer paper. I fill up the printer and he says thank you.

One morning, I did not see him at his usual chair at the library. Later, after my shift, I went upstairs to shelve a cart. He was there using the stapler near the kiosk. He waved and I waved back.

“How are you?” We asked each other simultaneously.

He said, “I came to the library and you were not there. I wondered where is my lady?”

I said I was there in the morning but my shift at that particular service point had ended when he came.

We bade each other farewell. But “where’s my lady” lingered in my head. We, library workers, create unique bonds with the library users. On days when I feel I need to quit my job, I focus on these relationships that I created with the library users. However, I wondered if his usage of “my lady” would be considered not politically correct. Personally, I thought it was sweet. But I decided to relate the story to my very astute 22 year old daughter, who also works at our library system. I just told her the story without asking if she found “where’s my lady” offensive. She said, “Oh mom! That is so sweet.”

It was sweet. Simple human interactions like these are such joyful aspects of the job I do.

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.

Back to work


I joined back to work on June 1st after an absence of almost a month. I was oddly nervous. I am an embodiment of grief right now. Not just grief, I have this shroud of misfortune all over me. I was scared how my friends will feel when they encounter such heavy sadness. How uncomfortable they will be in my presence? What do you say to someone so unfortunate who lost both her parents 9 days apart? What would I say to such a person? Sean suggested I simply say an honest ‘thank you’ when people give their condolences. I parked my car at the parking lot and slowly walked towards the building, still nervous to see my coworkers. I had left the building one day with my world intact. Within a month, I was returning as a broken woman with part of my universe destroyed. The overwhelming response from my colleagues, however, when they saw me at the branch was “I am so glad to have you back.”

I also got a few hugs (we are all fully vaccinated). Some friends did not bring up my loss at all. They sat with me, talked to me and by their presence they let me know they were holding me up. Some asked if I was OK. I was honest in my response. I am not ok but I will get there.

It has been good to be back doing what I love doing. There have been times at work when I felt normal, I felt like I am doing well, I am on the path to healing (which I believe I am) and then there have been moments when a wave of grief has plummeted me to the bottom of the ocean and stomped on me viciously. I have talked myself through it. Read the book jacket, ask a customer who looks lost if s/he/they need any help, breathe.

Today a friend at work asked how I was doing, how I was holding up. It seemed he really wanted to know so I told him. I have hours of normalcy, acceptance and then moments of intense despair. He understood. He said if anything gets too much, jot him a line, he will take over. That was big. The knowledge that someone will take over if I can not hold it together now.

I work with simply the best people.

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.

Book Evangelist


In this blog I will write about my two annoying habits. I am living the age old adage, ‘old habits die hard’ but I am making an effort to change – at least one of them. I will start with the one I am unwilling to change.

The first habit (or perk) is my obsession for checking out books from the library. For my work, I subscribe to different publication houses and I also do a fair amount of handling books – shelving, pulling for requests, scanning. Yes, you guessed it, I work at a library. As I shelve a cart, at least 3 or 4 books from that cart end up coming home with me. Do I have time to read all of them? Nope! But the possibility of perhaps having the time to read them is wonderful. Then after 3 weeks when I cannot fit any more books on my book shelf designated to library books or my bedside table, or the coffee table in the living room, I put some unread books in my work bag, go to work and sadly check them in. I have analyzed this habit and I have decided it is an addiction. An addiction for which I will seek no help. I will live in that wondrous possibility of being able to read all those books that I bring home – one day.

The second annoying habit is showing my disappointment on my face when someone does not share the same enthusiasm for a book that took my breath away. I do quite a bit of reader’s advisory for work and also outside of work. I give completely unsolicited book recommendations to folks who have not even asked for suggestions. If I have read one of THOSE books (you know what I am talking about, the books that you cannot stop thinking about), I make Facebook posts about them. Talking about books and sharing book suggestions is my way of connecting with fellow humans. If you don’t read, I am sorry, are you even worth connecting with? Just joking!!

When I was young and naïve, this is how my reader’s advisory played out. I would swoop down on an unsuspecting victim, start talking about the amazing book that I just finished, gush, gush, gush. I would talk up the book so much, the victim would often times read the book just to shut me up. The next time we met, I would ignore the victim’s shifty eyes, not question why s/he was not making eye contact with me but delve right in, “So what did you think?” I would also have a wide smile and expectant eyes. Most folks would simply say it was good (many would have loved it as much as I did) but of course some did not love the book at all. And they would say to me. “It was okay. I did not love it!” Before I became conscious of my annoying habit, I know I showed my feelings on my face. The judgement on my face was evident. You did not love the book I adored? That is it! I am judging you.

I spoke sternly to myself about this as part of my personal growth. Not everyone likes the genres I enjoy, not everyone relates to the story/facts the same way I do, not everyone interprets/perceives the events in the book like I do. And that is completely fine. I loved the book. That should be enough. I do not need to be a book evangelist.

So I want to apologize to all those folks who have been subjected to my judgement because you did not share the same enthusiasm as I did about a certain book. I still love you. We are still friends.

Here are a few (very few) titles that took my breath away. I am not evangelizing mind you, I am simply giving suggestions, and yes, unsolicitated.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Once Upon a River by Dianne Setterfield

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

I will stop here…… for today.

Fear of running out.


This is just a short blog about books and is written mainly for the bibliophiles out there. Tell me if you relate to what I am about to write.

That I love books and have loved them forever is no secret to those who know me. Growing up, I could be found either in one corner of the house, or on bed, completely engrossed in a book. So engrossed that when friends and family came to visit, I was reprimanded for not being social. After being chastised, I would come out to socialize but my mind would be lost in whichever world my book explored at that point. Did that happen to you? That you could not wait for people to leave so you could get back to reading?

I always, always worry about running out of books to read when we go on vacation. I pack ‘just one more book’ in my book bag, in case I read them all. I can not possibly read 5 hefty books on a 3 day vacation but I throw in a 6th book. Just in case.

I do not enjoy reading books on my tablet but on top of physical books, I borrow another 4 books on my tablet. Just in case.

The only time I do not carry physical books with me or carry just 2 is when I travel to India (I borrow books on my tablet though). There are 2 reasons for that. One, of course, is the weight that we are allowed to carry on the flight. Second, I get my fill of Bengali books when I get home. I make my annual pilgrimage to Ananda Publishers in Gariahat market to buy books of my favorite Bengali authors.

What did you hoard up on when the pandemic started? I hoarded up on books. I work at a library. When we found out that the library will be closing for 2 weeks (ha, that sounds so funny, right now), I made 2 trips to my car with bag full of books. And then I worried what if I run out of reading material in 2 weeks? Well, that 2 weeks stretched to 3 months and I did not run out of books, thanks to ebooks borrowed on Libby and Netgalley. I have become semi comfortable reading on my tablet although I still don’t love it.

Once our library opened for staff and Contactless Pick up, I found such pleasure in shelving books and like an addict, checked out piles to read. Is this an addiction? If it is, I have no desire to break out of it.

During school and university days, I gave myself a treat between studying and snuck in a few chapters of a book to free my mind from information. If you ask my mother, however, she will tell you I gave myself more treats than study hours. (So don’t go asking her). The idea that a book will be my reward after certain hours of studying was so inviting. Today, I smiled back at that memory. I needed to do research on an unpleasant subject. My dad, all of a sudden, developed a health crisis. I am far away and unable to be with him. Before I settled down to research and scare myself with all that internet will throw at me, I decided to eat a sandwich and read a few chapters of my current book before I fired up my laptop. Real life waited as I turned the pages. Sometimes I don’t like being an adult at all. I don’t want to deal with all that I have to. I hang a carrot stick, in my case, a book, in front of me to keep going. Do you ever feel that way?

With that promise of escape, real world which has pandemic in it right now, and a faraway, unwell dad on top of it, becomes bearable.

“Oh no! That was a library book!”


When I was little, if our feet ever touched a book (or paper, or a musical instrument) we apologized to goddess Saraswati by touching our hand to our heads – a gesture of pranam. Goddess Saraswati was the keeper of education and all forms arts, and the paraphernalia of objects associated with arts were sacrosanct, especially books. We were taught to take care of books so as not to anger the goddess and get bad grades in school. I was very religious and always loved Saraswati with all my heart. Therefore, I was extra cautious about my actions when it came to taking care of reading or writing material. Who wants the wrath of the goddess of learning upon themselves? That could result in bad grades and that meant the wrath of my mother! Before exams, I always prayed hard to her to score brownie points. I would stand in front of her idol, eyes closed, hands folded in front of me – a picture of utter devotion. I took very good care of all my books and papers, partly out of fear but mostly out of love for this beautiful, serene, white saree clad goddess. My mother, who was not remotely religious, continued with the story of goddess and books to nurture my good habit. Whatever works, right?

By the time Saraswati ceased to be real for me, an innate respect for books and good maintenance of them had been well cultivated within me. To this day, I have a soft corner for this particular goddess of learning who is constantly overshadowed by her sister Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. And in a strange way, I feel I chose her in my life by finding a job at the library. Let’s face it, I am never getting rich working there.  And I say rich in a materialistic sense, of course. Lakshmi figured out my partiality to her sister and turned her face away.

I have tried my best to cultivate a healthy respect for books in my two children. Books are important and maintaining them well is necessary. I borrowed library books for them since they were very little. We came home, counted the books each had and placed them on a shelf where only library books could stay. Pages were not to be dog eared, they could not be upended, drinks and food had to be carefully consumed near library books and they had to be returned on time. The rules were clear. If they lost a book, they were responsible for paying for it. Needless to say, not one book has been lost so far.

When Ryan was around 4 years old, a dear friend came to visit us. Ryan instantly took a liking to him and stuck to him like glue. After playing baseball, after bonking our friend on the head with an accidental wild throw, after running around in the yard, after talking incessantly, Ryan brought him a book to read aloud. I forget what book it was, but I remember it had a dragon in it who was causing all sorts of trouble. As each page was read, Ryan got more and more involved in the story –  eyes wide, mouth open. After several misdeeds, the dragon lastly breathed fire and made a hole in the page. The story ended. And Ryan cried out:

Oh no! He made a whole in the page??? BUT THAT WAS A LIBRARY BOOK!!!!!!

An Immigrant and Carl


I was fresh off the boat those days when I landed a job in a downtown hotel as a Select Guest coordinator. New marriage, new job, new country – life, then, was a little overwhelming, very exciting and full of hope. I was trying to understand this new country – its culture, tradition and most importantly, the accent. There were many ‘aha’ moments and then there were ‘oh my goodness, is that true?’ moments. At work I was somewhat of a novelty. In the mid nineties, I was the only Indian in that company so the questions I got ranged from ‘did you go to school on an elephant?’ to ‘are you an Indian princess?’ to ‘are you so quiet because if you talked loudly the tigers will come and get you in your country?’ (yes, I have been asked this question in complete seriousness. And yes, I used to be very quiet once upon a time, mainly because I did not understand what people were saying, the accent, you see!)

They were days when I looked down upon unfamiliar American sports and considered baseball as a poor cousin of the king of sports, cricket and considered American football bestial. Sean tried a few times to expound the virtues of baseball (faster than cricket) and of his team Red Sox but I argued relentlessly to prove him wrong. He made fun of cricket and I made fun of baseball.

As a Guest Coordinator, I had to attend meetings every morning with the Assistant General Manager of the hotel along with the heads of reservation, front desk, hospitality etc. One time, the hotel was hosting a big event where love and pride of Maryland, the star baseball player of the state was going to feature. So at the meeting, I said, “So when Carl Ripken arrives….”. I was cut off quite rudely as the room erupted in laughter. There were loud guffaws all around me. I looked at them puzzled. What caused this eye watering mirth? The Assistant GM said, “What did you say? Carl Ripken? Hahahahaha. Guys, we have to take her to a ball game. We need to educate her in baseball! It is our responsibility!” More hahahahahas followed. I was still puzzled. “What is so FUNNY?” The head of Reservations was a very nice woman who finally wiped her tears and said, “His name is CAL Ripken and he is a legend in these parts!”

See, growing up in a country which was under British rule for many, many years, I knew the language relatively well and I was certainly familiar with names like Tom, Dick, Harry, John, Johnathan, Carl, Bill, William, even Julian (Enid Blyton, Famous Five, in case you are wondering). I was not aware someone could be named Cal. I thought my American mates said Cal but they just pronounced Carl in a different way than I did. And yes, I perhaps never encountered Ripken’s name in written words. There are many excuses I can provide but the bottom line is, I never lived down that story during the time that I worked at that hotel. I was often the target of a friendly banter about ‘Carl’ Ripken.

Cal Ripken is coming to my library for a book talk. I have a baseball crazy almost 11-year-old, who has read Cal’s books and would dearly love to see this legend and perhaps shake his hand, if he is allowed. The tickets to that event sold out in four minutes and I could not get him a seat. His face fell when I told him that. Now our only hope is to try to buy a book and see if he can get a picture with Cal. In between calling the library to secure a spot and trying online, I remembered this story from the past when I did not even know the name of this man at one point. And here I am, getting excited that he will use a room close to my office as his green room before he talks about his book, and I may get a glimpse of him. I have indeed come a long way!

I don’t think about it often, after living in this country for so long, but I realized yesterday what a daunting task it is for immigrants to any country to learn whatever they can about the cultural, social and political history of the land they have emigrated to. The venture is exciting, enlightening and yes, overwhelming.

Just another day at the library.


I was sitting up at the kiosk, looking at the book presentation that I have to do next week when a man came up to me holding his library card up.

Man: I want to sign up please.

Since he already had a library card, I knew he was not talking of signing up for one of those. I was confused.

Me: Sign up for what, sir?

Man (impatiently): Sign up for a computer!!

I smiled and said, ‘Oh, you don’t need your library card to use our computers. Just choose one and start working!’

He stared at me for full five seconds and then said, ‘Your computers don’t work, do they?’

I was, naturally, taken aback by this presumption.

‘They work fine sir. Just choose anyone.’

It was morning hours and the library was relatively empty. Just a handful of customers were using the computers.

He walked over to one, and as he pulled the chair to sit down, he said in a loud voice, ‘You are shitting me! Your computers don’t work!’

I turned towards him again and assured him in a most pleasant voice that they do work and he should try to use one.

He pushed the chair back in loudly, walked towards the elevator and told me loudly, ‘I am going to __________ County library, where the computers actually work!!!!’

All I could do was stare at his receding back dumbfounded.

I felt a surge of anger at the unfairness which was promptly replaced by hilarity as I shared the story with my coworkers.

Later, I thought from his perspective. Experience must have taught him nothing is free in life. If you are offered free service, it must not be just that good.

I wish he had given our free service a chance 🙂 ! But…..oh well!