How can I write what was good this week when both my parents contacted Covid in Kolkata? My ma was put on a ventilator yesterday and then gave up the fight and my baba is still fighting it in the same hospital. Yet, there were ‘goods’ this week and I did not even have to think hard to find them.
We were fortunate to get 2 beds for my parents in the same hospital in a city which is being ravaged by this deadly virus and people can not get hospital beds or oxygen cylinders.
My friends, their husbands, some cousins, and a care giver from Tribeca Care, an elderly care service, are doing all they can to help since I am far away and are surrounding me with love and support. They made phone calls, found 2 beds in a hospital, organized ambulance care, talked to hospital administrators and got my parents admitted so they could get proper care.
Friends poured their love and good wishes on us from all over the world. Since I am a big believer in collective good will, I know a lot of good energy was released out in the universe which touched my parents.
I can not deny the mind numbing, troubled breathing kind of anxiety that I experience but quiet walks with Sean, nutritious meals prepared by Sahana and silent prayers by Ryan made me feel less alone.
Sean’s family messages us regularly to let us know they love us and are thinking of us.
My supervisor at work encouraged me to not think about that part of my life right now, but to simply focus on what was at hand. My coworkers showed their support in messages and emails.
I have not held back my tears and cried often this week. It is a cleansing experience. I wish I did not have reason to cry but I do. And the fact that I have allowed myself to cleanse through tears is good.
In times of trouble one finds out one is surrounded by a loving community, I think that is the ‘goods’ this week. In fact, that is the best.
Having grown up in the concrete jungle of Kolkata, I yearned to see the lush green in the countryside of Bengal, but we did not have open space to grow a garden in the city. So we bought one or two potted plants and tried to keep those alive. So when we moved to the suburbs in America, I did not know what to do or how to nurture a garden. I was growing two little human beings then as my partner traveled and that took all my energy. Over the years though, I did grow some flowers, some herbs and lately some succulents.
I decided to get my flower bed ready this year for some planting after Mother’s day. The flower bed got no love from me all these months so when I went out there with my gardening tools and looked at the whole bed, I was somewhat overwhelmed. Will I ever get this jungle weeded in time? I decided to set a small goal of one patch at the beginning. So I set to my task of minutely digging out the weeds that had taken over that particular section. The whole flower bed still daunted me so I mindfully kept the thought of wholeness away as I worked on the small patch that I had chosen for the day. As I dug out the unwanted plants from their roots, their was a strange cathartic feeling and a sense of lightness. I was focused on each little green, mindful of every single weed in my chosen patch. Once I completely finished working on the patch, I stood up satisfied. I looked at the whole then. Although there was a lot left to be done, my worked-on section at the beginning of the bed looked beautiful and clean. The whole was not as daunting any more. I vowed to parcel up the whole into composites and focus on each composite each day. While not completely finished, most of my flower bed is weeded and I may be able to plant on Mother’s day.
My life as a whole is scary right now. As soon as my mind veers to the whole, I bring it back to the immediate step, the first step that needs my attention. Dealing with little parcels of the whole is more achievable. I am going to deal with what is right in front of me first and then move to the next small patch in life.
My flower bed has become a metaphor of my life at present.
As the growl of machinery continued in the background, cutting down our once magnificent tree in the front yard, I reflected upon how some animate and inanimate objects are disappearing from my life as I march on in this journey.
Sage left us last year after showering his unconditional love on us for 10 years.
Yesterday, we donated our trusted chariot of 16 years, our Toyota Sienna to an organization. I said goodbye to Midnight (yes, we name our vehicles. You don’t?) before going to work, when I came back she was gone. It was just a car yet I felt a twinge because of all the memories associated with it. We bought Midnight 10 days before Ryan was born. We brought Ryan home in brand new Midnight. We took countless trips in it – Boston, Tennessee, Shenandoah, beach, Florida, Pennsylvania, Niagara falls……
Sage was only allowed to travel in Midnight to contain his fur in one car, so innumerable memories of Sage, memories of driving with my parents when they visited us, little Sahana and baby Ryan strapped safely in their booster seat and infant seat. The evolution of music that played on the car radio as requests changed while the kids got older – Veggie tales, Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, a brief period of country music, other pop songs.
Once the car got old, Sahana got her license and took control of Midnight. It served her well taking her to high school, jobs.
As I write this, my beautiful tree is being cut down branch by branch. The tree is dead. It has been dead for a couple of years now, mushroom growing on its powerful trunk. The bare branches brought no new leaves for the last two springs. I knew it’s removal was inevitable but I did not want to consider it. The silhouette of its bare branches against the backdrop of blue sky was still beautiful even though there were no new buds adorning them with the hope of spring, Finally workers from our county came this morning and said the tree is rotting and they need to take it down. I nodded. As I see it go down, I remember the summer afternoons over the years when I sat out on the bench in the front yard as my two little children played underneath the tree with a puppy. Sean hung a swing from it and for a few years, Sahana and Ryan regularly swung on it, taking turns to push each other. Ryan started a lemonade stand underneath its shade and employed Sahana to work the stand. There were many falls where dead leaves from the tree were raked, piled, jumped upon and then disposed.
Today when I come back from work, the tree will be reduced to a stump. I don’t know what memories of the tree my family will have of it, but there is a sadness in my heart for those long gone days associated with the tree. But such is the cycle of life. We move on. Not everything or everyone we love move on with us. They leave memories though to sustain us in our journey. For those memories, I am grateful.
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
One side effect of growing old is getting lost in memories. Certain smells, words, actions evoke memories of yester years and I get lost in them. As the sweet smell of cooked rice wafted towards me this morning while I chopped vegetables, I remembered this middle aged woman who came to our house every 20 days or so to sell rice when I was growing up. I was quite young when she first started coming. I recall she came into our bedroom and sat in the corner on the cool mozaic floor, wiping the sweat off her face with the pallu of her sari. Whoever was around brought her some water, unasked. She talked to ma while she drank her water and let the cool breeze from the fan dry her sweat soaked body. She talked to ma about her family, her husband who could not work due to some injury, her sons who were going to school. Then she spread out our preferred quality of rice on the floor and measured cupfuls into a big container that we gave her. I forget the exact kilograms of rice that we bought from her each month but it was a significant amount since rice is staple in a middle class Bengali family, especially at a time when white rice was not touted as evil and full of empty calories. We loved our rice and we loved our chaalwali mashi, Angoor. That was her name – Angoor, which means grapes in English. 🙂
I listened to her stories under the guise of finishing homework as she sat with her glass of water, cooling herself in front of our big standing fan on an extremely hot summer afternoon before she carried her bag of rice to her next customer. I remember hearing about her sons growing up over the years, getting married and then, best of all, telling their mother to not work anymore. They were able, they told her. They can take care of her from then on. The day she told us about her sons, the young men she raised, imploring her to take rest, the smile on her face shone like a diamond. All her efforts in raising her sons had found fruition.
For many years she woke up before dawn, went to wholesaler to pick up bags of rice, took a local train to come to Kolkata from her remote village with other women from her area to sell rice in Gariahat market. Every evening she got on the local train to go back home after a grueling day in the city, cooked for her family and took care of her boys. She said her husband stayed home and helped as much as he could. She was one of the lucky ones.
The smell of rice this morning brought memories of chalwaali mashi to the forefront. Ma always bought her a new sari for Durga pujo. And every year, she touched the sari with a lovely smile, looked up to my mother and said, “Khub sundar hoyeche boudi.” (It is very pretty, sister-in-law.)
I have not thought about her for many years. I don’t even know if she is alive. I asked ma about her recently. She does not know any news about Angoor mashi either. She only said, “Manush ta boro bhalo chilo.” (The woman was so very nice.)
Men and women come in our lives, sometimes for a substantial period of time. And then they disappear too. They simply leave behind some vignettes of memories. As we get older, we look back at those and bring them back into existence. We think about them. We wish them well, wherever they are.
I wanted to catch a sunrise from the balcony of our ocean front hotel room. I did not set any alarms to wake up at the time of sunrise, thinking my body will wake up in anticipation. It did, except it woke up just 10 minutes late. I saw Sahana sitting on the balcony, soft light of the morning sun gently illuminating her beautiful face. She turned her bright, happy smile towards me “I watched the sun rise!” This is what I got to see.
The sun had risen just above the horizon and the golden ball was reflected over the water. I missed sunrise by just 10 minutes. I consoled myself thinking it was the first morning of our last-minute beach vacation. We still had 5 more mornings to catch a sunrise.
The pandemic played havoc with our plans of going to India in May and Sahana’s move to college for her senior year. As each plan fell through, we shed a few tears and then hoped that that this year will pass, life will resume, perhaps in a reimagined way. We will see our loved ones in different parts of the world. Our children will go back to in person learning in a safe, virus free environment. Since Sean and I had both taken leave for a week to move Sahana in to her apartment in college (that plan fell through), we decided to take the time to replenish our reserves of patience, hope, resilience. We splurged and booked an ocean front room with a kitchenette. If I felt too anxious to go among people, I could simply sit on the balcony and count waves. Our previous beach vacation at the beginning of July was anxiety provoking for me. I wrote about it in “Kissing in the time of Corona”.
The day I missed my sunrise, we walked by the bay to catch the sun set. We were not disappointed. Nature, perhaps, knew that our soul needed some resuscitation and it suffused us with its glory.
The second day I missed the sunrise by 15 minutes. Why did I not set an alarm you ask? That is a good question. I guess I trusted my innate clock yet again.
My eyes opened on the third day when it was pitch dark in the room. I glanced at the clock to see the time. It was 6:05 am. The sun was supposed to rise at 6:10 am. I sat right up and rushed to the balcony. I open the door with care so as not to wake the rest of the family. Dense fog over the ocean dashed my hopes of seeing a radiant sunrise. Crestfallen, I went back to bed and slept till 8 am. I woke up to a sun kissed day and glistening sand. Fog robbed me of my sunrise but then the sun burnt away the fog to gift the ocean worshipers a gorgeous beach day.
Finally I viewed the glory on our penultimate day at the beach. Again, my biological clock woke me up. I looked at the time, whispered to Sahana if she wanted to view sunrise. She grunted something inaudible. The boys had no desire to chase sunrise, so I did not bother calling them. I tiptoed out to the balcony with my phone and witnessed the ball of fire making its journey to my part of the world. I found my religion in its splendor.
Myphone camera, of course, does not do any justice to the ephemeral beauty of sun rising over the ocean but the memory of that resplendent dawn is captured in my heart. This is simply a fragment of what I saw.
Life was at bay while I looked at the expanse of the ocean for 6 days, while my family kayaked in the still waters of the bay and I pulled my chair in the water soaking in the stillness and serenity in my soul. Life was at bay when we delighted in the sightings of wild ponies and walked the marshy lands to see unknown (to me) birds and snowy egrets, while we stopped at unexplored ice cream shops to taste homemade ice creams, while we ordered crab imperial and legs of snow crabs. The question “Do you have your mask on?” every time we left our hotel and seeing masked people on the road reminded us we were living through a pandemic. Those 6 days, from the safety of my balcony and sometimes from empty stretches of the beach, I simply sat and stared at the ocean. The hypnotizing crashing of waves, the endlessness of the ocean, the sand between my toes, the laughter of children playing on the beach, the comfort of a book in my hand and the closeness of my husband and children made me completely happy. The feeling of happiness was a conscious realization really. I said to Sean, somewhat bewildered, “I feel happy.” In these 5 or 6 months, I had forgotten how it felt to be completely happy.
We were masked for most part of our vacation. We cooked our meals and got take outs for some dinners. We never played miniature golf, which is our constant (apart from sun and sand) when we go to the beach. Yet, we found peace. Most importantly, perhaps, we filled up our reserves of hope that this phase of our lives too shall pass. We will reunite with humankind instead of going the other way, fearing contamination from my fellow human.
In the meantime, I will look back to this memory for sustenance on a dark and gloomy day.
I know it is a lot to ask for a stranger to show kindness towards yet another complete stranger and I would have hesitated to ask if life was not at stake. So this blog is going to be about a fundraiser for my cousin, Doyel Choudhury, who is fighting for her life. I call her cousin, yet when we were growing up in our Kolkata, the line between cousin and sibling was blurry. Since she could talk she was a wild child. I was 6 years older than her and determined to teach her good manners. When 3 year old Doyel did something naughty, 9 year old me would gently chastise her, “You have done that. That was wrong. Say sorry.” Little Doyel would raise her lovely little face up to me and say, “Na sorry bolbo na.” (I won’t say sorry). Her spirit was indomitable. She used this spirit in every aspect of life – her singing, her dance, zumba, her relationships.
That spirit came in handy when she decided to take on cancer. All the indication she received that the big C has taken hold of her body was a little shortness of breath. She had difficulty breathing when she walked. The prognosis, after trips to cardiologist, internist and finally oncologist was metastatic ovarian cancer. The indomitable spirit that kept us in awe her entire life of 43 years took on the fight.
She was definitely not going to go gently into the night. 12 hours of complicated surgery later, 4 or 5 times of more operations to fight infections later she was declared in remission. However, here is the catch though. They discovered the condition is genetic and in order to prevent a relapse she needed to take a medicine for 30 months. Each month’s medication cost 240,000 Indian rupees ($3180). This is beyond her means.
Some of you who read my blogs do not know me at all. And you have no reason to trust me. However, I am appealing to your kindness today because my beautiful, 43 year old, mother of my lovely niece, daughter of my ailing aunt, cousin (sister) is fighting to prevent cancer. I can not be with her or do anything for her. The least I can do is share her crowdfunding initiative so we can raise enough money for her medication. I share this now because the campaign will match 15% of every contribution made today and tomorrow. The link to contribute is below. Thank you for considering.
I found my daughter laughing hysterically before she left for work one morning. I looked up from my computer to find out the cause of this mirth. “Oh mom, I am sending you something on Messenger. Check it out! This encapsulates how I prefaced my less than A grades to you.” Mind you, she was sitting right across from me.
She sent me this tweet.
“This!! This is my entire childhood. This is how I justified to you my B grades. You just sat there staring at me as I explained although I got a B, most of my class got worse grades than I did. Only one or two people got a better grade than me.” she said laughing. When she used to tell me that although she got a B, her friend who is as smart as her also got a B. My response to that was, “Am I your friend’s mom? No. So I will let her mom deal with how she is doing in school. I am your mom. I will only look at your grades. So tell me, what went wrong?” And the excuses poured in. 🙂
I continue to hold my kids at high standards. The way I was raised is ingrained in me. Good grades, ranking in class is expected, anything less is failure. As a student, good grades were important to me of course, yet thinking back, I believe I worked hard so as not to disappoint my mother. My grades gave her bragging rights to friends and extended family. As I raised my daughter through her elementary, middle and high school in a very competitive county, I realized the flaw in my way of thinking. I started wondering if my children are getting the grades so I can brag or are they taking responsibility for their academics? Are they truly enjoying learning? I remembered memorizing my lessons more out of fear and obligation than real interest in knowing.
At my ripe old age, I have realized students need to love learning. Only through love and positive experience can one truly learn. My class teacher in high school, one day, during our Bengali class told us to promise her that when we had our children, we will not push them for grades. If society berated us that our children were not performing well in the standard that society holds, we should lock ourselves in a room and throw away the key. Nurture their love of learning instead, she said.
I thought I was doing a much better job of raising my second child with an enlightened view of what learning should be all about. I tried to drill in him the lesson that he is working for himself, not for me. I asked him if he was enjoying his lessons, did he learn from his mistakes? What can he do better next time. At work, I feel superior to all those moms who come with their teens in tow and try to do their school work for them. I think in my head, “let your child be”, “let him or her learn”. And then I pat myself on my back for being that ‘level headed’ mom who has seen the light, who has found the perfect balance of expecting good results but instilling in the child a joy of learning.
All my lofty ideals of good, sensible parenting regarding my child’s education went out of the window this morning. I walked in to Ryan’s room when he was about to start the day’s session of Summer Chemistry. Yes, he is that weird teen who chose to take Chemistry over the summer to ‘get ahead’. He was checking his grades for the first exam. It is a B. Before I could utter a word, he started, “Mom, my friend ______, who is smart like me got a C+. And I know you are not his mom and you do not care about his grades. But I am just saying that this was the first test in the course and she gave some questions which we did not know….!”
The ‘Indian mom’ in me did not, much to my chagrin, relinquish her hold. I could not say, “It is ok. That grade is fine.” Instead, I said, “You are taking one class! B is not an acceptable grade. I want you to study harder. You need to get an A!”
Am I allowed to use emoji in a blog post? I am not sure but I am going to use an emoji anyway.
I used to attack people once upon a time. You seem shocked. Don’t be. Nobody got hurt. I will get to it but if you read my blogs, you know I like to ramble before I get to the point.
We lived in New Delhi, India for 6 happy years right after our marriage. Let me tell you, New Delhi apart from other things, was my food nirvana. Sagar Restaurant in Defense Colony for South Indian food, Pindi for North Indian food, Kareem’s in Old Delhi for Mughlai khana, paratha gali for parathas…… I could go on and on. Not only were there fantastic restaurants that kept me in constant food coma, I made friends who fed me authentic North Indian food and on top of that, I had a lovely woman staying with us who cooked all the Bengali food that my heart desired. Life could not have been better.
Then we got the news from Sean’s organization: “Pack up your life, folks. You are moving back.” We moved back to the US.
Moving back to US meant searching for a house and fast since Sahana was going to start kindergarten in the fall of that year. After looking for what seemed like forever we settled for a house that we liked. But I had questions. Nope, not about house inspection or radon level. That was Sean’s department. My first question to the home seller was how far was the library. She said it was just 2 miles away and if I did not mind a long hike, I could walk there. I was sold. The second question, however, I knew she could not answer so I did not ask. Where was the closest Indian grocery store? You can take the girl out of India, you can not take the love of Indian food out of the girl.
We did find 4 Indian grocery stores within a 5 mile radius of our house. I bought the staples, made North Indian cuisine but my soul wanted comfort. It wanted authentic Bengali food. It wanted alu posto (potato curry with poppy seeds), shorshe r jhaal (gravy made with mustard seeds). In India, I never cooked those dishes, they were cooked for me. I had no idea how to crush poppy seeds without sheel nora, or make a smooth but not bitter paste of mustard seeds for the mustard based gravy. How do I describe sheel nora? Bengali version of heavy duty mortal and pestle? Here is image taken from Google:
Our moving in to this house is a story in itself which deserves another blog post. Suffice it to say, I was a few months pregnant when we started living in our current house. And my desire for alu posto and shorsher jhaal took the form of a craving of epic proportions. I still did not know how to crush poppy seeds. In those days I was not aware of the amazing kitchen gadgets that are out in the market. I did not have much experience in the kitchen to begin with. But I WANTED to know. I NEEDED to know. So this is where my ‘attack’ story starts.
The first attack happened in a local Sears. Sean, little Sahana and I were at Sears buying an appliance when I heard Bengali being spoken near me. I whipped my head around to see who was talking in my mother tongue. A few feet away from us was this couple who were deep in conversation about their purchase. They were speaking to each other in Bengali. Without a second thought, I left my husband and little daughter, walked right up to the couple and asked, quite unnecessarily, “Apnara Bangali?” (You all are Bengali?) Well, they were speaking in Bangla to each other, of course they were Bengali.
They barely had time to smile weakly and ask me if I was one too, when I launched into how I am new to the area, I need to crush poppy seeds and mustard seeds. Did they know a good way to do it?
I chuckle now, wondering what they thought of me then. You need to understand, though, I was pregnant, I had the cravings and I think I was longing to reach out to something familiar, something comforting in my new land and in my new state.
I believe they told me how to make a paste and also the tip about pulsing the mustard with some salt so the paste does not become bitter. It was many years ago so I don’t recall why, however, I do remember asking several unsuspecting Bengali immigrants what their trick was to make a smooth paste of ‘posto’ and ‘shorshe’. There were several other ‘attacks’ before I found myself on a strong footing when it came to ‘posto bata’ (ground poppy seeds).
I eventually bought a coffee grinder to grind my precious seeds and also a small magic bullet which I do not let anybody touch. While I mastered making smooth paste of posto, my fresh mustard paste always turns out bitter. I have tried using salt, I have tried using a green chilli. I am a failure in that department. So I use mustard powder instead. It is a poor substitute but it works in this foreign land. I have my fill of pure mustard sauce, lovingly pasted (not in a sheel nora anymore, too much work) in a mixer, when I go back to Kolkata.
I smile now when I think about those new, ‘fresh off the boat” days. I did live in US for about a year, right after our marriage, before Sean got transferred to a position in India. When we moved back after 6 years of living in New Delhi, I did not have culture shocks. The novelty was more about how to adjust to life in the suburbs, navigate the education system here and how to nurture and parent my child in a society, of which I knew very little about. And also how to crush poppy seeds and mustard, how to bring back a whiff of home.
Before I start my rant, I just want to mention that these are solely my thoughts and I do not claim to be the spokesperson of people who belong to Hindu or Buddhist faith. I write this blog after a long and thoughtful exchange of ideas between my daughter, who is half Indian and half white, and my husband who is white and belongs to the Catholic faith. My daughter asked me how I felt about people in this country doing the Color Run or wearing bindi and henna as a trend instead of truly understanding the significance of it all.
I have lived in my adopted country for twenty years now. I have made my home here, found my livelihood, nurtured close relationships, been vocal about injustices, celebrated the country’s triumphs and mourned it’s losses. I have voted and participated in activism. I have made this country my own. I have become a citizen. And I have never left the country of my birth. It is indeed possible to love the people, culture, traditions of two countries and most immigrants do this always. I believe that I am one of those lucky ones who can pick and choose the traditions and rituals from both my birth country and my adopted country. I can discard from my life, the rituals and traditions that conflict with my values and adopt those which appeal to them.
When asked where I am from, I proudly say I am originally from India. I love to showcase the culture that I grew up in, the clothes, the adornments and accessories that I bring from my part of the world. And when asked, I love to explain their significance, to the best of my knowledge. For example, the idea behind namaste or nomoshkar – I bow to the divinity in you. How respectful is that greeting? Namaste is a greeting which I think truly reveres humanity, or the divinity within humanity. It respects the innate goodness, that Hindus believe, resides in each one of us. But wearing t-shirts that say Namaste Bitch or Namastay in Bed may seem funny to those who do not revere or understand the gesture but it does hurt us, those who find the word meaningful and significant. I have reverted back to Namaste during Covid 19 and will stay with it after Covid leaves.
“May I ask you a question? What does that dot on your forehead signify?” I have lost count how many times I have been asked this question while wearing a bindi, and I love answering it. According to Hindu tradition, all people have a third inner eye. The physical eyes are for seeing the external world while the third focuses inward toward God. The bindi or the dot on the forehead also symbolizes the existence of concentrated energy. (according to https://www.hinduamerican.org/blog/the-purpose-of-the-bindi/).
If someone outside my faith, wants to understand the significance of a bindi, I am happy to explain or provide information. If they want to wear one, I am even happy to provide them with it. I do not think they are usurping my culture, they are embracing it just like I embraced the culture of giving thanks in this country. If wearing bindi becomes a trend without understanding, I am fine with that too. It does not harm anyone and you are not denigrating anything by wearing it as part of your fashion. I reiterate that this is simply my opinion and I am not speaking on behalf of the entire Hindu community. Others may feel differently and they are completely entitled to. I feel similarly about henna being a fashion trend. Take the beauty from a part of the world. Try to learn the significance. Spread the beauty. Beautify yourself. Why not?
Holi, for me, is more about ushering spring in than anything religious. Throwing colors on each other, for me, manifests spreading joy. The divide that skin color creates in my nation gets obliterated, at least for a day. If organizers of Color Run get inspired by the spirit of Holi and integrate that in creating an event to promote good feelings, more power to them I say.
The worst example, in my opinion, of cultural usurpation was Hitler taking away our swastika and using it as a symbol of pain. I participated in a discussion with an American woman about it on social media, of all places. The woman said the symbol has caused pain to so many people and if her name was Swastika, she would change the ‘horrid’ name. I know numerous Swastikas in my part of the world because this is what swastika means to people of my faith along with some other faiths and has meant this for 5000 years as opposed to few decades of hateful symbol:
In Sanskrit the word Swastika is a combination of the word Su (means good) and Asti (means to exist). The symbol of swastika stands for something auspicious and good for centuries.
The Nazi party and the white supremacists did the worst cultural usurpation of a symbol that is as old as mankind for the people of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain faith and made it into a symbol of hate for the Western world. How can we reclaim our symbol and erase all the negativity and pain associated with it? By starting a conversation? By willing to listen? By understanding that the pain that Nazi party caused to millions is absolutely horrific but also seeking understanding from the Western world the pain it caused us by seeing the symbol of such importance in Hindu (and other) religion reviled so? There are a pair of earrings that have been handed down by my mother’s family to the daughters. The heirloom is a diamond and ruby encrusted design of swastika. Every time I go back home, my mother urges me to take it back with me to America. “Wear it. It is so beautiful.” She is disappointed when I say I can not wear it anywhere outside India or in countries in the subcontinent. So those earrings languish in a dark locker in a bank. I do not have the desire to be judged as a brown Klans(wo)man by wearing them in my adopted country. And I would not wear it because I know how much pain is associated with the symbol. Ironically, though, when my ancestors designed the earring, they thought they were bestowing their blessings on their daughters who would follow them by protecting them with something pure and good. The blessing of my ancestors have become a symbol of hate in the world I live in.
There is a disconnect between people. It would be naive of me to not acknowledge that. The first step towards building a bridge is perhaps to listen and to acknowledge. The aforementioned woman kept using the word “horrid” even after being informed about swastika’s significance to a huge community of people. I tried to tell her I completely understand the pain this symbol causes to many but did she, in turn, understand that it hurts us to see what Nazis made it to be? She did not.
That is it. Rant is over. I say let us learn about new cultures, read up on it, ask questions, embrace the philosophy behind it if it appeals to us. The process can only be enriching. It is a big world out there.