Help thy neighbor


We were standing at the check out line when I saw Sean’s subtle body movement in front of me and I knew he is getting ready to help someone. I wrote in one of my blogs that Sean is a giver. His love pours over not only his family but all around him – including perfect strangers. Ahead of us in the check out line was a very elderly woman with a full cart of groceries. Among the groceries were two big bags of bird feed. As the woman slowly put her items up on the counter for the clerk to check out, I could see Sean eyeing the bags of bird feed and I detected the familiar twitch in his body. That is when I knew he is going to leap – to help. And I opened my mouth to stop him. Yes, I tried to stop my husband from helping a frail, elderly woman from lifting heavy bags of bird feed on the check out counter. You read that right. Why? Because we are living through a pandemic. I do not know how people would react if you randomly touch their stuff at this time. But before I could pull at his sleeve, he lifted the bags on to the counter for her. I shook my head. The woman and the check out clerk thanked him and the woman asked if he could accompany her to unload her car at her house – in jest.

I heaved a sigh of relief that no one got upset at Sean touching someone’s grocery. It took a long time for the woman to finish since her hands shook as she slowly wrote her check to pay. The employee helping her was kind and wonderful. Although there was a long line forming behind us, nobody showed impatience. My husband struck again. He zipped around the woman, went to the end of the check out counter and hauled the 2 heavy bags of bird feed onto the woman’s cart. I was wildly gesticulating at this point to stop touching other people’s stuff. The woman thanked him profusely and he offered to take the cart to her car and put the bags in it. She said she could do it and appreciated his offer and help.

When he came back to me I said I truly appreciate how he helps everyone but can he not touch other people’s stuff randomly please since we are in a pandemic? He smiled and said he supposedly had asked the woman’s permission before touching her groceries. I had missed that conversation.

I have known Sean for 26 years now and I have seen him going out of his way to help strangers who cross his path. The help in small scale could be getting luggage down from overhead locker for someone, entertaining babies so harried parents could get some reprieve on a long plane ride, giving up his seat to others in need including coveted aisle seat in airplanes (who does that?) carrying groceries, and in bigger scale – staying with a young mother with an infant in Colombo airport when militants tried to bomb the airport, lying on the ground with the baby between them as bullets passed over them and then accompanying her home safely, holding up a half upturned car (along with a few others) with the driver in it till rescue came. There are zillion instances, big and small, of how Sean helps. And I am in awe of how much he gives. Truly. However, it has fallen upon me to somewhat keep him under control during pandemic. His first instinct is to pick up a fallen glove on the road and shout after the person who he thinks has dropped the glove. I am the one who swoops down to stop him from touching the glove, or litter, which he picks up regularly to throw in a trash can. “DON’T touch!!! Pandemic!” I have been shouting regularly these days.

This is an ode to my husband. A truly good man. And although there are times when he drives me up the wall, I consider myself blessed to spend my life with him. I am a better person because of him. The world is a better place because he is in it. And today is his birthday.

My big declaration on Valentine’s day!


We were married for no more than 3 months. I was totally fresh off the boat in a completely new country trying to deal with all the newness compounded with culture shock as well as living with a brand new husband when my newly wed groom declared he needs to travel internationally for work. Although I was 26 years old, I had never lived alone in my entire life. Forget living alone, I did not even have a separate room in all of those 26 years. When I heard I was going to be alone in an apartment in the middle of a bustling American city where I knew no one, did not know how to drive, did not know the streets very well except a few, I had a panic attack. Anyway, he left. I survived. That became the central theme of our relationship. Sean would travel every month for at least one week, more often two. I got used to his travels so much so that all I wanted to know from him were the dates of his departure and arrival along with his flight details. The names of the places he went to seemed made up anyway – Ouagadougou, Bangui, Jonglei, Agadez, Huehuetenango! During all these comings and goings, we built a life, had 2 children and a dog. And I got high blood pressure from worrying about him. He traveled to Afghanistan during Taliban era, to Sri Lanka when the rebels tried to blow up the airport where he was waiting at the time to catch a flight home, to Indonesia and adjoining countries after Tsunami, to Liberia while Ebola was rampant, to Bhuj, India AND Haiti when the horrible earthquakes claimed thousands of lives. In Haiti, he was in the middle of his shower when the aftershock of earthquake happened, and he had to rush outside with a towel around his waist.

The children got used to dad’s travels, they were sad when he left and ecstatic when he returned. It was all that they knew. Sean’s travels fell into the natural rhythm of our lives together. I ran around taking the children to their practices, swim meets, after school activities and when I could not be in two places at once, I asked for help from friends. It took a village.

Sean was grounded literally since the beginning of the pandemic. He has not traveled since February 2020 and does not have any plans to travel in the near future till things settle down and/or we get vaccinated. This state of static is new for both of us and I wondered how it would be to have him home 24/7. After a phase of initial adjustments we got used to his constant presence, his loud, booming telephone calls, his obsession with exercising and walking. And his constant giving. The man is a giver. During normal times, when he was not traveling, he made sure he did double doses of helping in raising the children and doing more than his share of housework. When he was with us, he was completely with us. Even before leaving for his trips, he tried his best to make sure my life would be as comfortable as possible while he was away. There have been times when he landed at the airport after a 17 hour plane ride, dropped his bags at home and drove to a swim meet or went to drop a kid somewhere because I was some place else with the other one, or he came home after a long trip and cleaned up the house because I could not (or did not) get to it. This past year he proved yet again what a great house husband he is, constantly picking up after me, keeping my car full, driveway clean as well as doing regular grocery store runs along with swim practice drives for our son. I told him with 80% sincerity that I would have even written a book about him and named it The Perfect Husband if only he could make gourmet dinners. Giving, doing, is his love language and he pours his love over us. His love spills over from his immediate family to those around him, his community, his work family and his global family.

As I wrote before, having Sean home at a stretch has been a new experience for me in our 24 years of marriage and as I was contemplating how it has been to be in such close proximity with my traveling partner, I realized it has been like being draped over with love, care and comfort. During this sad, awful time of anxiety and frustration, he has been my source of optimism. His faith and hope have often lifted me from depths of despair. So my big declaration on this Valentine’s day is that I LIKE my partner very much on top of loving him. That is it. That is my big declaration on this day of love.

Cooking with Sahana


…is fun and …..well, interesting. My 21 year old is an enthusiastic, creative and very good cook. She requests cook books for her birthday, she takes cooking lessons once in a while, she reads and tries to explain the chemical reactions that happen while ingredients mingle (I pretend I am listening, I really don’t), she checks out various recipes and then uses the salient features of several of those to make a dish. And they turn out wonderful. She wakes up excited to cook. To say that I am lucky is an understatement. I love to try different kinds of food and she obliges. Happily! Enthusiastically!

I cooked for Diwali, she helped. She wanted to cook for Thanksgiving and I volunteered to help and cook a few dishes. Our Thanksgiving is spent with our extended family where my contribution is generally a pecan pie. My sisters in law and brothers in law do the real cooking. Since we could not gather this year, we decided to cook full Thanksgiving meal just for the four of us. Sahana planned to cook turkey breast, garlic mashed potato, stuffing, brussel sprouts, homemade rolls and quiche of spinach and sundried tomatoes for the resident vegetarian. I was going to make squash casserole with walnuts and Gruyere cheese, cranberry sauce, peas, apple pie, pecan pie and a fruit pie crumble with whatever fruit was there at home. I am sad to report I slightly burned the top of the crumble.

Anyway, the point of this post is to write about my experience of cooking with Sahana. As I prepared to assemble the apple pie, and Sahana got the turkey breast out to brine, she asked, “What should we name the turkey breast?”

“Why should we name the turkey breast? We are going to consume it.” I replied.

She went ahead and named it Harvey anyway. She lovingly massaged Harvey with herb butter, gagging once in a while at touching raw meat. Harvey was then carefully placed in the fridge, uncovered.

“Shouldn’t you cover that?” I enquired, not wanting to see buttered turkey staring at me everytime I opened the fridge. No, she read that the turkey can not be covered. I did not dare contradict the chef who had been reading one recipe after another to cook this turkey.

After that, everytime she opened the fridge she asked Harvey how he was doing in there. It was slightly creepy hearing her talk to a dead bird like that. Morbid even! And comical! Everything she does in the kitchen is done with a lot of love and tenderness. So I was not overly surprised when I heard her crooning to something in the oven.

“You look so pretty, my darling.”

I asked who she was talking to.

“The quiche. It is looking so pretty.”

It did. I write this as she shooed me out of the kitchen because I was in the way. I half assembled my squash casserole. I will finish it once the very happy, very enthusiastic cook has done her cooking for today. To save her some trouble, I suggested that we buy Pepperidge farm stuffing and store made rolls. She looked at me as if I uttered blasphemy.

“Store bought?? No!”

She bought Italian bread, diced it, spiced it, baked it and made amazing homemade croutons for stuffing. Ryan and I stole quite a few of those already. Here is a photo of homemade rolls.

Home made rolls.

If you are brussel sprouts hater out there, I strongly recommend you try out this roasted brussel sprouts Sahana made with honey lime glaze with pistachios. It was perfection. I was slightly disappointed that this dish got no verbal love from its creator. It got gushing admiration from its consumer, though (me).

I enjoy cooking, sure. It relaxes me. But I certainly do not put so much love to the task. Cooking with Sahana and watching her work with love, joy and tenderness makes me smile.

This Thanksgiving is different. It is isolating and sad for many reasons. Cooking with Sahana will be a cherished memory though. 2020 Thanksgiving gave me that and I am thankful.

Going home…


I was talking to the lovely receptionist at my doctor’s office this morning, sharing frustrations of having loved ones far away. She is from Trinidad. Like many of us, she can not go home to see her parents. Borders are closed. We commiserated over our situations and the situations of millions around the world. Stuck. Since then I have checked Emirates website at least 3 times. The intensity of my desire to go home multiplies everyday.

Compounded with all the other worries associated with this pandemic, the feeling of being stuck and not being able to reach my ma and baba plunges me in depths of despair, robbing sleep at night. This, unfortunately, is not exclusively an immigrant problem. I was sharing my concerns with a friend at work. She lives a few streets away from her parents however she said she has not seen them as she is afraid to see her elderly parents for the fear of bringing infection to them. Another friend lost her dad during the height of pandemic and was afraid to give her mother a hug or hug other family members and friends who came to celebrate her father’s life. My husband has not been able to see his mom living in an assisted living facility in a different state. The gates to their loved ones are also closed. Although us, immigrants, have longer distances to travel to reach our family, we all share the same agony of not being able to reach/see those close to our heart.

Sometimes I fantasize my reunion with my parents. First of all, how would I feel when the plane’s wheels touch City of Joy after this horrible disease has a vaccine? How my first sighting of those beloved faces will feel like? We are not a hugging family. When we first see each other we give a perfunctory hug but we all feel that is not natural. We smile though. We smile so wide that it feels like our mouths can not stretch any more. And ma invariably puts her hand on my arm, perhaps to feel that yes, I am really there in front of her in flesh. She strokes my arm gently and in that touch I feel all her love pouring into my being. My father has a beaming smile as if his whole soul is lit up. Finally! Their child has arrived. Then we follow baba outside the relative calm interior of Dumdum airport into complete chaos, smell of dust and blast of humidity of Kolkata. We wait with our luggage talking to ma while baba texts the driver of the rented car to come pick us up. On the long drive home, we are presented with bottles of water and almost always a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar. My favorite. I don’t eat it then, but just getting it from ma and baba fills me up with the feeling of being small again. It is hard to explain.

I am sending positive vibes to the universe. End this pandemic. End this for so many reasons but also for me, in this little corner of my world. I want to go back home. I want to go to bed in my Kolkata home, wake up completely jetlagged in the middle of the night and then sit by the window in the living room, facing east to see the morning sun rise over the coconut trees behind our 5th floor apartment.

I want to hear the first caws of crows as they convene for their morning meetings, the first whistle of local train bringing workers to the city from villages, the sound of running water as the slum across from us wakes up to a new day, the soft tinkling of glass bangles as the neighborhood women come to the municipality tap to wash dishes, wash themselves, collect water. I want to sit next to my mom and dad, drinking a cup of tea with Parle G biscuit and looking out the french window where the world is obscured by my father’s plants.

I want to feel their presence. I want be in their presence. I want to be asked that question so filled with love, which no one else ever asks me, “Aaj ki khabi?” (What do you want to eat today?)

As I write these memories down, I see the scenes in my mind’s eye. I almost smell the smells of home, almost feel the love, almost touch the other slice of my life. The slice that I leave behind when I cross the ocean each time. Almost, but not quite…

Universe, hear my prayer.

Whatcha got?


Once upon a time a little boy needed help with homework. He ran to his mom and dad asking questions about math or English or social science. Mom or dad helped him figure out his math problem or his English grammar or told him what they remembered about that particular social science question. Invariably and without fail, the little boy turned to his almost six years older sister and asked, “Sahana, is that correct?”

We laughed. Why do you ask us if you need your sister to validate our answers? I believe he asked us out of habit but his full confidence was in his sister. If sister confirmed that the parents were correct, he would accept our answers.

As the boy and girl grew older, there were conflicts. Both of them grew up with their own views on life, society, media and politics. Both of them are independent thinkers (read stubborn). While they agree on basic values like equal rights, social justice, kindness, empathy, honesty, their means to get there sometimes differ. There are arguments, often heated.

I had the opportunity to watch their interactions during this pandemic in close quarters. While bickering still happens and it still drives me insane, I do get a preview of how they will relate to each other as adults. The girl turned 21 and the boy turned 15. They continue to debate policies and political beliefs with the zeal of their convictions. Debates can be still heated and tempers still flare, yet I often hear, “Ok, I see your point. But….”. Lately, I have witnessed more of sharing and laughing though. Often the laughter is directed at their aging parents, but mostly in a good natured and fun way.

I hear, “Ry, I am making pasta for myself, do you want some?”

Or “Sahana, I made popcorn. I left half a bag for you.”

I hear, “Sahana, I can’t find my phone.” And then, the phone is invariably found by sister accompanied by elaborate eye roll and an indulgent, “You dummy!”

It warms my heart to see they often speak the same language – pop culture language.

I hear, “Hey Ryan, did you watch (insert tik tok star name)?” or “Sahana, you gotta see this.”

A few days ago, I overheard a loud broken teen boy voice shouting from his room to his sister.

“Hey Sahana, I have English homework. You gotta help me.”

“I gotta, huh?” She laughs.

Then he saunters over to her room, slouches on her bed:

“Awright, I have to draw a picture between Victorian society and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Whatcha got?

Sahana, despite being in the middle of her homework, smiles and turns around to help.

They are figuring it out. After years of refereeing conflicts between these two, this mama watches from the side line. A warm feeling of love envelopes her as her two favorite humans in the whole wide world come together in their own unique ways.

And a love story..


My parents hardly ever agree on anything. They are two very different people with vastly different outlook on issues in life. However, they vociferously agree that within 2 hours of Sahana’s birth they saw her lift her head up. I have tried, over the course of eighteen years, to reason with them, “Newborns can not raise their heads. You must have been mistaken somehow in your excitement of seeing your first grandchild!” At that point, one of them seek approbation from the other:
“Tulechilo. Dekhechi. Bolo? Matha tulechilo na?”
(Yes, she lifted her head. We saw. Tell her did she not lift her head?)
The partner supports this observation. When it comes to the super ability of their grandchildren, they stand united. No amount of arguing, teasing, laughing can move the solid conviction that their grandchildren are extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful……

Eighteen years ago, when I was working hard to bring my first child to earth, I had my husband in the room holding my hand, coaching me to breathe in New Delhi, India. And my parents were pacing nervously near the delivery room, their ears perking up at any sound, any swish of the door. Finally when Sahana was born, she was cleaned and swaddled and I was taken care of, I saw my mother flash me a victory sign and my father crying tears of joy as they wheeled me away from the delivery room to private room. And since that day a love story began. Story of little Sahana and didiya, dadai.

Baby Sahana spent a lot of time in the arms of her grandmother, while grandfather sat nearby spending hours adoring her various facial expressions or simply lying next to her as she slept on their bed. When she got a little older, didiya told her stories, plenty of stories. Stories of Mahabharat, Ramayan, Krishna, Thakurma r jhuli. Dadai introduced her to animals, plenty of animals. When we visited Kolkata, dadai held her little hand and took her out to meet the numerous stray dogs and stray cats in our neighborhood, that he took care of. They taught her to be kind to creatures, big and small. They bought her toys, books, anything she wanted and spoiled her rotten but they never interfered when I felt the need to discipline her when she misbehaved. For that, I am grateful.  After our move to United States, the physical distance multiplied but the bond between this little girl and her grandparents remained as strong as ever. The yearning increased and when the yearly rendezvous happened between the two, the love was palpable. Ten year old Sahana  welcomed them at the airport with tight hugs, brought them home and said to didiya, “Golpo bolo.” (tell me a story).

Teenage Sahana confided in her grandmother her teenage angst. Story teller didiya became her confidante and dadai became someone to debate with. Dadai would say something outrageous and know-it-all grand daughter would try her best to prove him wrong. Dadai, often egged her on to get a raise out of her.

When Sahana was fifteen, she went to Kolkata alone for six weeks and stayed with her grand parents. The three of them talked, visited family, ate delicious food, went to the mall and movies and when all the talk was done, they just sat with each other, hooked electronically to their respective devices. For her grandparents, her presence was enough. For her, being with them in the same room in companionable silence was gratifying.

She is off to college now and sometimes she feels the urge to leave everything and go back to Kolkata, to didiya and dadai. She skypes with them sometimes, planning the best time to visit before she launches into her life as a young adult.

Little girls don’t stay little for long. They grow up, they change. The bond of story telling, animal loving, hand feeding, cuddling remains  strong though. No matter what she does, her grand parents think the world of her still. In their eyes, she is extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful…… She is that special one who lifted her head within few hours of being born – an insurmountable feat. No one can convince them otherwise. Nobody tries 🙂 !

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!

I gave thanks..


I spent Thanksgiving Day alone this year. It was by choice. I wanted a little separation so I could fully look at what I have. Being entwined always does not allow me to fully ‘see’ and value my treasures. I also needed to unclench the muscles at the back of my shoulder and put my feet up while I wrote this.

My family drove up to Sean’s hometown to give thanks for the wonderful people who nurtured him, loved me and then the little ones who came to us later. And I stayed behind to spend Thanksgiving day alone. Sean made it happen!

Everytime I thought of Thanksgiving day this year, between chores, I filled up with a sense of happy anticipation. I felt a little smile creep up on my face at the prospect of being alone. I asked friends what they would do if they were given a day to spend however they wished. The responses were delightful. How would I want to spend it, I wondered. I thought about what I would do on the day. I thought a lot. And finally came to a decision. I would own the day, I would take off my watch which generally dictates my life – for a day. I woke up on Thanksgiving Day and left my watch on my bureau.

Sage and I went for a long walk and talked of squirrels and dog pee along the way.
I wrote an actual email to a friend instead of quick messaging.
I Skyped with my parents and tried to solve an issue.
I folded a basket of laundry, not because I had to, but because that is what I wanted to do.
I actually sat on the couch and LISTENED to my favorite songs, focusing on the lyrics as the tune rained gently on my soul.
I played with Sage in the backyard. He thought mama had gone crazy.
I read on the couch under my brilliant red blanket.
I watched a movie.
I did a home facial and took care of myself.
I sat in the backyard with Sage for a while and luxuriated in the quietness surrounding me and my aloneness.
I drove over to an Indian take out to get both Chicken and Mutton biryani for lunch AND dinner.
I felt the love of a friend as I broke my fast with delicious soda bread that her husband had baked.
I wrote.
And I let my body and soul dictate me.
And I kept thoughts of next day FOR next day.

I gave thanks too for this gift of a day. The day became a gift only because I knew my family was happy and enjoying the company of loved ones. The day became a gift because I knew my aloneness was temporary and my family will be back soon bringing with it, all it’s chaos, confusion, need for me, and love. And because I had this gift of a day by myself, I would be better prepared to deal with that chaos, confusion and routine.

I thought about my husband and my two children with an overwhelming sense of love and sent up a prayer to the universe to keep them healthy and happy. I prayed for my parents and the work they are doing for the community. I thought about my sisters and brothers I found by marrying Sean and prayed for them and their family. I had the day to truly thank, wish and pray.

Sometimes one just needs to step away and love oneself. I did just that. As I try to keep up with the fast paced life we led, I put myself way below the totem pole. On Thanksgiving day, I realized I needed to love myself more. While saying thanks for others, I thanked the universe for myself too, for my life, my love, my opportunities and for who I am.

Visitors


I sat in the doctor’s office and flicked through the pages of the book that I brought along. The rising panic at being examined intimately and the annoyance of having to sit takes away the pleasure of uninterrupted reading. The door opened and a heavily pregnant woman of Indian origin walked in, followed by her saree clad mother. From the youthful look of her, the woman was perhaps pregnant with her first child and I simply assumed her mother had flown all the way from India to provide her with care, support, love and nourishment at this hour of her need. Mine did 9 years ago. The memories made me smile. Yet there was something in the body language in the elderly woman that made my heart yearn to touch her shoulder in reassurance. An uncertainly, a certain diffidence in her every action that proclaimed ‘I am so out of my comfort zone’! The daughter guided her mother every step of the way, telling her where to sit and wait while she filled out her paperwork, the mother held on to the daughter’s coat and water bottle so she could have her hands free. Once the paperwork was done, she made sure the daughter’s back did not hurt, touched it and said something to her in a language I did not understand. I was called then, and as I followed the nurse into the doctor’s office, I tried to catch their eyes to smile, but they were busy among themselves.

These days, as this country gets richer with the advent of different cultures from all parts of the world, many seniors are making the long trip to come here to visit family. The sight of elderly couples in traditional outfits walking a few steps behind their immigrant family, with a look of wonder and bewilderment is quite familiar, especially in the cities and other touristy places. Since my loved ones live far away, I often watch these visitors with pleasure mingled with envy, and more often than not, give a big smile if I happen to catch their eye. And more often than not, my smile is either acknowledged a tad late and returned with a surprised smile, or I just get a surprised stare – I don’t know you, why are you smiling at me? And more often than not, I notice the diffidence in their body language. A feeling of uncertainty about being in a foreign land with a very different language and culture manifests itself in their steps, expression. That, and also a sense of amazement at the novelty of the place, at how different it is from their homeland. And when I see the uncertainty, I want to reach out and give them a hug. I, of course, am not crazy enough to do it but I want to 🙂 !

So I seek out the ones who look most vulnerable and in need of help at airports when I travel from India to the United States. I unashamedly eavesdrop – I am a Bengali after all, and when I feel there is enough confusion between an elderly couple at what the next step should be in this complicated process of immigration and security check, I take it upon myself to guide them through it. And trust me, the feeling of relief at having a guide who speaks their language is almost palpable.

Many visit to be with their loved ones for a few months and many, while doing so, try their best to be as helpful to their sons or daughters as they can. They sometimes come in an hour of need and try to alleviate the stress of child-birth or new job or any other crisis by being here and helping in any capacity. When I first came to this land of do-it-yourself from a land of abundant domestic help, my family back home just about cried at my condition. ‘The poor girl has to do everything by herself. She has no help!’ they lamented. At the beginning I wallowed in self-pity and lapped up the commiseration till it started getting old. Then I tried to convince them I am not doing anything out of the ordinary, majority in this country do everything without much help. The argument to that was, ‘they are used to it, you are not.’

My parents, when they come, take over certain chores to give me a break. My mother takes over the kitchen, and my father takes over the responsibility of the dog and the children. He often regrets the fact that he can not drive and hence, can not go to the grocery store and spare me that chore as well. Oh, and he switches the laundry, empties the dishwasher AND cleans their own bathroom. One incident stands out in my mind. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was mowing the lawn. My father came out with a bottle of water and waved at me. I was thirsty so I took a break and gulped down some water. He asked me if he could do part of the lawn while I rested. I refused to have him help me, I said, ‘Go inside, stay cool!’ He, however, sat out at the garden bench with my water bottle in his hand with a distressed expression on his face the entire time I mowed the lawn. Once I was done, he was equally impressed with my lawn mowing abilities and disturbed that I married a man who made me mow our lawn! He said a few times, he felt very helpless sitting there while I toiled in that heat. And when Sean came home from work, after an initial hello, he launched into how I mowed the entire lawn, how hot it was, how impressed he was at my strength and what not. Later, in the privacy of our bedroom Sean chuckled, ‘Your father certainly had an accusatory tone when he told me about your lawn mowing prowess! Did you feel there was a hidden message to me cloaked in your praise about ME making you mow the lawn?’
And I said, ‘Buddy, you better believe it. His princess married a pauper who MAKES her mow the lawn. His heart is breaking!’

😀

The man from the faraway land came home.


I lied through my teeth for almost three months.

“I have double shift at work today. I have to leave by 9.00 am’ – was a common one. Every Saturday I would leave home after a faltering, mumbling lie. Walk with a fluttering heart towards Golpark bus stop, the heart rate increased as I neared Ram Krishna Mission. As I turned the corner I always broke out into a sweat of happy anticipation and guilt.

“Will he be there?” He always was. He stood in front of the Ram Krishna Mission, brighter than a sunshine, facing the corner where I would come from. As I turned the corner, his face split into a huge smile and I glittered like a diamond under its brightness.

After sneaking around for a few months, I decided my over active conscience can not bear the burden of this sneaky rendezvous, I needed to tell my parents that I was seeing someone. And the ‘someone’ belonged to a far away land.

So one summer afternoon as I lay next to my mother, I decided the moment was as good as any.

“I wanted to tell you for a while, I met someone I like.”

My mother’s head turned, excitement, apprehension in her eyes.

“Oh, really? Who is he?”

I knew the answer to “who is he” would be the hardest. He belonged to a different country, a country very far away.

I wanted them to meet him and nervously, they agreed. I was nervous, my parents were nervous and I believe Sean was nervous as well, although he does not admit it today.

The day finally dawned when he was supposed to come. Our house was cleaned thoroughly, the tiny living room was given a make over, the curtains were washed, cushion covers replaced, my seventeen cats were reprimanded and asked to be on their best behavior. My mother supervised the work and asked me if I thought the preparations will be up to Sean’s satisfaction. I reassured her he won’t really care. And then there was the question of what to offer him to eat. Although I had been seeing Sean for three months, we really had not shared a meal since our meetings were short and between meals. I had no idea what he ate or what he liked. I was not helpful, I just said, “Oh, don’t fret about it.”

Finally in the evening, Sean’s car entered our narrow alleyway. My mother was nervous and a little angry with me for putting her in this position where I thrust her into this realm of the ‘unknown’, out of her comfort zone. She did not know what to say to a man who was not from our country and did not speak her language! Why did I not find an Indian boy to fall in love with? Anyway, Sean entered our house holding two beautiful and expensive looking bouquets. He extended the bigger one to my mother and the smaller one to me. Neither ma nor I had ever received flowers from anyone, let alone a man. Flowers, rajanigandha sticks, were bought on our birthdays and put in a vase when we expected guests. We were baffled to receive flowers and worried right away if we had two vases handy to put them in. Sean seemed very comfortable. He shook hands with my dad and settled comfortably in the couch. Ma asked in halting English if he wanted any tea. Sean said, “Yes, sure. Thank you!”

At this point, my mother asked me to follow her. I went in towards the kitchen. She turned around to me with and said with gritted teeth, sweating a little,

“Ekta kotha o bujhte parchina!! Ki kore kotha bolbo?” (I can’t understand a word he says, how will I carry on a conversation?)

I said, with a concealed chuckle, “I will translate.”

After hot, milky tea and some halted conversation, mainly around me and how we met, a little about his work, they offered Sean some sweet yogurt – mishti doi, a specialty of Bengal. He accepted and ate it. Later I found out, he does not drink tea and he hates yogurt of any kind! The evening ended, Sean left and we started talking about him behind his back.

“He seems like a nice man. But the accent! Oh the accent! Can’t understand anything! How do you understand what he says?”

I said, “You get used to it. I can understand him fine!”

A trend started. He became a regular in our house. He had a very active social life, yet most evenings he came over to just hang out Indian style, sitting on our big bed with his legs folded under him, mainly laughing and listening, teasing my mother and perhaps observing the middle class Bengali culture through us.

I have been in several embarrassing situations and my parent’s unabashed pride in my achievements was certainly one of them. The pride was sweet, very endearing yet embarrassing. My trophies, cups and certificates were treasured in our Godrej almirah and Sean, once he became a bit more familiar, was subjected to each and every one of them, followed by a lecture on how smart I was and how well spoken and how many debates and public speaking competitions I had won. I was a catch and he better believe he is lucky to have received my attention – this message was delivered in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways by those two who did consider me their prized possession, no matter how little I mattered to the world. I tried to divert the conversation, but I was ignored mostly. Sean showed interest with a quick amused glance in my direction and a meaningful smile which conveyed, ‘Oh you will be teased about it later!’

As our relationship grew and became richer so did his association with my immediate and extended family. My grandmother became Sean’s fast friend. They were often found in a corner in a family gathering, didun talking nineteen to the dozen to Sean about her trips to Belur, about her arthritis pain and other metaphysical discourses. Sean nodded and contributed to the conversation in English. This continued after our marriage and till she passed away to the other side.

A relationship between two individuals does not stay limited to just them, does it? It  spreads its sweetness (or bitterness, as the case may be) to the people related to those individuals. Sean’s zest for life and his ability to spread love and cheer made him a favorite not only with me but with my family. We had our challenges in bringing our love to fruition but I believe our love and respect for not only each other but for those who we love helped us overcome those.

After eighteen years of togetherness I look back on the day when my two worlds met and how they interacted with each other. There was that fear of the unknown, there was curiosity, there was a little pride, there was a lot of stress and there was happiness too. It is with a smile that I  look back and reminisce on how it all started, how we found acceptance and love in not only each other’s hearts but also in the hearts of family who nurtured us.