Summer afternoons


I did not ever think, as I was growing up in hot and humid Kolkata, that I would look forward to summer. Due to strange twist of fate, life brought me to a land where many of us get through winter with the hope of sunny days in the horizon. In Kolkata, we looked forward to the winters because out of 12 months, 11 were hot and humid with some respite brought on by monsoons. Perhaps this is old age, perhaps this is because I am physically far away from the discomfort but I was reminiscing about my summer afternoons as a child. I hear from Khushi’s mom that it is more and more difficult to make Khushi take a nap during the hottest part of the day. Her mother, after working hard in the morning, lies down for a well deserved siesta but for a little girl, that is sheer waste of time. I know. I was that little girl once.

The norm was to take a nap in the afternoons when the sun was at its hottest. Only stray dogs roamed the streets, looking for shade along with an erstwhile beggar or vagabond. Peddlers still walked the streets with their ware, offering to refill our mattresses, selling fruits or pushing an ice cream cart. I lay down next to my mother against my will, fidgeted, got scolded, tried to lie still after and then invariably and stealthily tiptoed out of the dark and cool room to read a book. Those afternoons belonged to Noddy or The Secret Seven or Thakurma r Jhuli. The colorful pages of Amar Chitra Kathas took me back in the world of myths so I could watch Krishna kill the snake Kaliya or Ganesh defy his father, Shiva, to protect his mother’s privacy. Those afternoons were for time travels. Those were the times when a little girl living in the congested city of Kolkata went to country side of England and adventured with George, her dog Timothy, and her cousins, or in New England where Jo vowed never to marry and Beth played the piano as Marmee went out to help the community and share their Christmas dinner. Those summer afternoons were magical till mother woke up and chastised for not taking an afternoon nap. After siesta, it was teatime for grown ups, and dreaded glass of milk for me.

I hear Khushi tiptoes out from her mother’s side, after her mother falls asleep to find my father, her dadai (grandfather), and complain to him about the gross injustice of having to sleep in the afternoon when she is not sleepy at all. And my father totally agrees that grown ups are no fun whatsoever. With his approval she quietly loses herself in the imaginary world in her head. She sings and converses, she sometimes dances and smiles. She knows when her mother wakes up and scolds her for not napping, she will have an ally in her dadai, her adopted grandfather.

I smile as I hear this. History repeats itself.

Food and us


Long, long time ago when I was very little and was just learning to read English, my mother bought a picture book for me. It was mainly pictures of two blonde children, their white dad, their white mom and their yellow dog. The few sentences in that book talked about their usual day. For example, they woke up at 7:00 am, ate breakfast, played with their dog, went for a picnic – mundane things like that. The most surprising element in the book for me was that the mother started making dinner at 4:00 pm and the family ate dinner at 5:00 pm. I remember reading that line again and again in amazement and wonder. I always wondered what the family ate and it confused me to no end that dinner was prepared in one hour. Since I was a wee lass, I have seen and observed a very different rhythm of life, not only in our household but in the society in which I was nurtured. The rhythm of our very middle class Bengali life was completely food centric.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, the morning started with intense smoke. The household help put fire to the earthen stove called unoon. It required coal and cow dung patties. Experts could get it going with minimum smoke but if one was not an expert or the coal was not completely dry, the smoke permeated the whole neighborhood. Water for morning tea was boiled on the burning stove, followed by breakfast. Generally the menu for breakfast was decided the night before. Tea was accompanied by biscuit (cookies), while real breakfast was cooked. After breakfast, the household help came to my grandfather asking what the menu for lunch and dinner would be. My grandfather held the purse for family expenditure so the menu for lunch and dinner was a joint decision by my mother and him. Sometimes they disagreed and then there would be problems.

When I was older, we first had kerosene stove and then gas stove with two burners. Ah, the luxury!! Two burners were so appreciated and the hassle of not having to get the earthen stove going every morning was the best feeling ever by those responsible for cooking family meals. This is how the day went in our house and it is safe to generalize in this case and assume that this is how the day went in most houses when I was growing up. My mother, at that point, decided the menu for lunch and dinner, the household help went to the market to pick up ingredients for the meal. She came home and started the process of chopping vegetables, gutting fish or cleaning meat, preparing spices. When I was young, we did not use ready made spices. Cumin paste was made from scratch, turmeric paste obtained from turmeric tube, gorom moshla was made by crushing cardamom, clove, cinnamon sticks in a mortar and pestle. I still remember the sound and smell of fresh spices being prepared and the noise of sheel nora in our kitchen. Lunch menu was definitely different from dinner menu. In between, there had to be elaborate breakfast – luchi torkari, and evening snack – porota alu r torkari or Bengali chowmein or alu r chop (fritters of different kinds). We had tea (milk for young ones) and biscuit when we woke up, around 9 there would be a hearty breakfast, lunch around 1 or 2, tea again around 4, evening snack around 6 and dinner around 10:30 or 11 pm. This was typically how much we ate during a day off. So one can imagine, the household help’s day was spent in the kitchen. With the advent of gadgets and ready made spices, life became much easier but for many families the number of meals in a day remained the same.

For me, someone used to seeing life revolve around preparing food, it was incredible that the mama in the family started preparing food at 4 pm and the family sat down to dinner at 5 pm.

Being a mama in the family now who loves to cook but hardly has time anymore, I now smile at my amazement at the book. Most days we scrounge around, make do with what is lying in the fridge, boil some pasta and slap some pesto on it, make peanut butter and jelly sandwich and make dinner in less than half an hour. Those days I think that mama in the book must have made some elaborate meal – it took her a whole hour!

Parenting my adult child.


As the doctor handed me my new born, along with the myriad of feelings, I felt a strange mix of helplessness and responsibility. This tiny human that lay peacefully in my arms, trying to focus on my face was my responsibility. I was responsible for nurturing her, raising her, loving her. Parenting was a trial and error. I did plenty wrong and I did plenty right. I followed my instincts and tried to learn from my mistakes. As my daughter grew from an infant to a toddler to a little girl to a teenager, my parenting changed. Just when I got comfortable in parenting a stage, she grew, she changed.

Slipping through my fingers all the time…

And I had to change the way I interacted with her, I had to learn again how to be a parent to her at that certain phase. I had to read her, understand her and react accordingly. The cycle of trial and error started anew at every phase of her transience.

“Here honey, hold my hand and stand up. You can do it. Look at you, big girl.”

“Please don’t snatch the toy from your friend.”

“Please wait your turn.”

“Finish your vegetables ”

“Wake up. You have to get ready for school.”

“I am so sorry 6th grade was difficult.”

“I am so proud of you for trying.”

“You can do this.”

“You will NOT talk that way to me.”

“Put your phone down NOW.”

“Be home by 11 pm.”

“Congratulation, my love. You did it.”

“Your room needs to be cleaned before I come home.”

“Let’s read next to each other.”

 

But despite the various changes, she was still a child, and I was the adult.

All of a sudden, as my daughter returned from her first year of college, I realized, I was the parent of an adult. A very young adult, but an adult nonetheless, who has somewhat outgrown the confines of our house. And perhaps, outgrown the confines of my parenting of last year. Even during her senior year, I was the nagging parent urging her to complete her assignments, finish her college essays, demanding she return home at a certain time, instructed her to take care of her room and tidy it the way I liked.

The woman who came back had changed somewhat and I had the sudden realization that I have to relearn how to parent her yet again. The gears need to be shifted, the expectations realigned. How much do I parent her, how little? I will always be honest in my opinion of her choices but in what way do I present it?

Like a new parent, I ponder over my new role. I will make mistakes, I will figure it out along with her. A journey starts and I am excited to see how I nurture this young human who is slowly emerging to take her rightful place in the world. But one thing is certain, I am here for her. Her constant,  her roost.

Brobdingnagian vegetables


I distinctly remember my first visit to a supermarket in United States. It was mid nineties. I had just come from Kolkata where the concept of super market was non existent. We had our fish stalls and vegetable stalls in a big market space but groceries came from the neighborhood grocery store – mudi r dokan. You went to the store and called out your list to the grocer.

“Panch kilo chal. (5 kg rice)

Du kilo ata (2 Kg wheat)

Ek kilo chini (1 Kg sugar)

Panchsho muger dal. (500 gms Mug dal)

…..”

He weighed the appropriate amount of rice, dal, wheat, sugar that you needed. He handed you your Mysore sandal soap, your Boroline, salt, battery, ghee and whatever else that you shouted out. He then added everything up on a piece of paper in lightening speed as you admired his mathematical abilities, you paid and left with your groceries. Sometimes you hired a  moote (coolie) to carry your fish, meat, vegetables and your groceries if you wanted to buy things in bulk. The coolie carried your marketing  (as we called it those days and my father calls it this day) to a hand pulled rickshaw, arranged the provisions to your liking and you rode the rickshaw home. It goes without saying that you haggled with both the coolie and the rickshaw puller about the price they charged. It was all part of the ritual.

Coming from that experience to a huge supermarket was indeed a culture shock. I walked behind Sean in open mouthed wonder as I saw piles of different kinds of goods. The choices that consumers had here was incredible for a new comer like me. I still remember stopping in my strides in the produce section. I remember picking up a red onion and marveling at its size. It was triple the size of what we had in India. Potatoes were monstrously big too as well as bananas.

Did I just come to the land of Brobdingnags? I wondered.

Of course, I got used to them gradually but for a very long time supermarkets were a fun venture for me.

It was the same jaw dropping wonder when my parents came to visit us for the first time. They could not get over the size of the vegetables. I remember them taking back a potato and a red onion to show friends and family back home. Every supermarket trip I made, I was accompanied by baba who just took off and wandered the aisles, putting unknown things in my cart to try.

 

Today, while shopping for the week at our local supermarket, I had a big grin on my face. I was in the produce section when I heard Hindi behind me. A young woman, clad in salwar kameez, bespectacled and with two braids down her back, was walking around with her phone held up in front of her. She was Skyping with her parents as she slowly walked down the produce aisle, showing them purple cauliflower and orange cauliflower.

“Haa, papa, purple and orange cauliflower. Aur yeh dekho, red radish.”

I peeked at her screen and saw an elderly couple looking at the produce in a supermarket thousands and thousands of miles away as their daughter shared a glimpse of her world with them.

I realized I had a big grin on my face when a fellow shopper smiled at me to acknowledge my smile.

“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!!!!!!

The language of music


I was sent to an English medium school because my mother thought the language will give me a boost to move ahead in life. Both my parents were schooled in our vernacular – Bengali. They had enough English to get by but they were not, by any means, fluent. Since I was very little, I was exposed to Bengali music, Bengali stories, Hindi music, Bengali plays on the radio with a few English nursery rhymes thrown in. I have very fond memories of sitting around our transistor radio on a mat on our terrace under a star lit sky with both my parents, listening to a murder mystery in the mesmerizing voice of Gautam Chakraborty. It was summer, we had regular power cuts but in those days cool breeze from the Ganges cooled down the scorching city in the evenings. Those were pre television , pre sky scrapers, pre KFC, pre Barista days. Those were the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Bottom line, I had no exposure to English music, plays, literature. When I went to school, I learned English alphabets before I learned to read and write in Bengali. Being a lover of books, I picked up both languages quickly and devoured, I mean, read anything I could get my hands on. But when it came to music, I stuck to my loves – Bengali, Hindi. As I got older, peers introduced me to Western music. I tried to listen to a few and did not understand the lyrics – at all. Not at all. The instrumentals sounded like noise. I went back to what brought solace, music that I understood, music that soothed my soul.

The man I fell in love with happened to come from a English speaking country.  When we first started seeing each other as friends, we exchanged our music. He sang along with the tapes he played for me. I sang and translated Rabindra sangeet for him, sitting in front of the magic fountains in Victoria Memorial.

I learned to love certain artists and their songs in English although I still strained to understand the lyrics. My partner made it easier to follow by singing along. I tried to translate some of my favorite songs for him but a lot was lost in translation. Through the exchange of music we conveyed our culture, our feelings. Exchange of our music was also exchange of our hearts.

I listened and loved some songs that Sean sang for me – Peter, Paul and Mary, Kenny Rogers, Don Mclean, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, R.E.M, Simon and Garfunkel and several others. But I still did not listen to them on my own. After our marriage, I brought my music and he brought his to our lives. He jived to some Bollywood numbers and I slow danced to “You look wonderful tonight” with him.

Then we saw Sting in Varanasi one year in a small bed and breakfast. When my husband wondered that he looked like Sting, I said, Who’s Sting?” And thought, what an odd name. The rest is history.

If you have not read my blog on Who’s Sting, this may be a good time. 🙂

 

 

The Namesake


Recently we discussed Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake in our book club. For some of the participants, the characters were not quite real. They felt good that they read the book but the characters were not authentic enough. For those who are not familiar with the book, here is a brief synopsis. The story explores the lives of a young couple, recently married, who come to the United States in the 1960’s from Kolkata. The husband is a researcher in a university in New England and the young bride accompanies him to build a life together. The marriage was arranged by their parents so they get to know each other, and fall in love in a completely new country, far away from parents and relatives. They make this country their home, raise their two children here, develop friendships yet suffer from a sense of displacement. They cherish the opportunity that America gives them, yet they pine for the loved ones they left behind. The later part of the story follows the life of their oldest child – a boy, who they name Gogol after Nikolai Gogol. You have to read the book to find out the reason for this unusual name. As Gogol grows up, he has issues with his name so he changes it to Nikhil in college not realizing the sentimental reason behind this name. The book talks about Gogol’s self realization as first generation American and the dichotomy of balancing his roots and his birthplace.

Gogol’s life interested me somewhat since I have two biracial children and one of them is trying to figure out where she belongs. But I completely and utterly related to Ashima, the young bride who came to bitter cold New England right after her marriage. Her desperate attempt to understand a new country and her efforts to replicate the experiences of home, here. The book has a description of Ashima trying to make jhal muri (a very delectable roadside snack in Kolkata) with puffed rice and Planter’s nuts but something is missing. Something is always missing when I make the traditional Musur dal, bati chocchori, alu kopi – a very simple Bengali meal, in this country. Is it the oil? Is it the taste of the vegetable? I am still not sure. When I fry the spices in hot oil, the aroma reminds me of home but not quite, not quite. Something is missing.

The sense of displacement grows faint with each passing year as I deepen my roots in the soil of this country. I understand it more, I start to feel like, yes I belong. I nurture sustaining friendships that make me feel loved but what I find missing is the shared history. I long for those who will share the memory when “Abhi na jao chodke ke dil abhi bhara nahi” plays in Pandora. It is not simply a song. It encompasses a part of my life. It is the memory of my dad crooning it as he tied his shoe laces when he got ready for work. It is the memory of loudspeakers during Durga pujo. It is the memory of coming of age and stealing glances at the boy I liked. It is the memory of the lobby of our university. It is the memory of people I sang this song with, it is the emotions that evoked in all of us as we sang it together.

It is the immigrant experience, never belonging fully and belonging to more than one.

The rendezvous


I never get into arguments about Kolkata…anymore. I had to qualify that statement with the word ‘anymore’ because in my young and foolish days I asked my foreigner boyfriend to leave the city because he made an innocent (and true) comment about the dirt piling up in the corner of a street. I have wizened up since. I have finally realized that if I look from an outsider’s perspective, Kolkata does not appear very lovable. Kolkata needs to be discovered. It does not open itself up easily. One needs to have a deeper insight to dig within and discover the charm that hides underneath its veneer of dirt, dust and traffic. And this wooing the city takes time and effort.

I met a young American woman at the Dubai international airport as we waited to get on our connecting flight to Kolkata. Upon hearing Sahana and I converse in Bangla she asked if she could practice her Bangla with us. She was exuberant about the city. She, we found out, goes to the city often for her dissertation.

“My fiance is from Kolkata. He lives in US but he introduced me to the city and I fell in love. How can one not fall in love? It is full of these new discoveries that one can make almost everyday of their stay if one is looking. The people are wonderful, the food is to die for, the street dogs are adorable!” I had found a kindred soul. Her praise of Kolkata made me all shy, tongue tied and all warm and fuzzy. Praise of Kolkata does that to me, every time. 🙂

Since my love of the city is deeply personal.

I woke up before everyone on my first morning. Part jet lag, part excitement of being home, part anticipation and partly – desire to be alone with my thoughts and the first glimpse of Kolkata as it awakens into a new day. I tiptoed out so as not to bother the tired help, sleeping in the living room. I perched myself on the wide window sill of our back windows which opens up to a wide vista of the sky line of South Kolkata. A few tall buildings, coconut trees, the solemn white dome of the Ramakrishna Mission, the terraces of the neighborhood houses and the wide expanse of Kolkata sky. I sat still, savoring my first hello to Kolkata after two years, soaking in the slowly lightening sky, the sights, the sounds of the city – so familiar. My very own rendezvous. In the cooing of a lonely dove, the eccentric flight of numerous crows, the whistle and distant rumbling of the first local train, in the sound of water filling up a bucket, Kolkata embraced me deeply, meaningfully. The city opened up its palm to show a glimpse of my life that I spent here.

‘Nothing is lost. I have it all here within me. Safe’. First morning of Kolkata said to me.

I arrived truly, at that very moment.

Dada


I still remember the excitement of standing at the bus stop to get on a public bus to go to school by myself. I was in grade 9. After coaxing and cajoling for almost a year, some of us got the permission to use public transport to go to school. We had finally grown up enough to leave the school bus behind. I distinctly remember the beating heart and the clammy hands, clutching the fare. My first step into the world of grown ups, as a semi grown up! I later found out that my dad had followed me the entire way to school, in the same crowded bus on that first day to make sure I did not get lost. You can imagine my indignance at that! He tells the story to my children with much laughter as the children laugh with him.

Anyway, the point of the story is, as far as I can remember I have called the young, lanky bus drivers, auto drivers, taxi drivers as ‘dada’ (big brother). That was the norm. I asked them if they would take me:

‘Dada, jaaben?’ (Big brother, will you go?)

I haggled with them over price and fare.

‘Ki bolchen dada? Dosh taka r ek poishao beshi debo na!’ (What are you saying? Won’t give you a cent more than 10 rupees)

But lately, I realized they look at me strangely when I call them big brother. They see the crow’s feet near my eyes and the silver in my hair and wonder, ‘How old does she think she is, calling us dada?’

When I go back now, I catch myself and use the appropriate endearment ‘bhai’ (little brother) instead of the one I am used to ‘dada’.

How would they know that when I go back, I slip back into that young girl, the fresh faced young woman who felt she owned the streets once upon a time? How would they know that when I go back, I shed the identities that I have accumulated since I left the city – that of a mother, a wife, a lover. I am back to being me again – daughter of India. The daughter who boldly came home in the middle of the night from work without any worries of rape and assault. Perhaps I was lucky, but there was less fear among us. There were the neighborhood boys, dadas, who held vigil even that late at night.

Kolkata does that me. It reduces me to myself. It reduces me to the girl I was before I spread my wings and flew away. And I love being that ‘me’ for a while, luxuriating in the feeling of being just a loved daughter, niece, big sister but alas, granddaughter no more. I walk the much walked paths to bus stops, stores, phone booths, xerox shops which I walked numerous times as a little girl, a young student with a big pack pack, a college kid and then a woman in love. New stores have taken the place of some old ones yet the roads remain the same. Some of the dadas I used to know still keep vigil in the neighborhood. They have whites in their receding hair line, wrinkles in their faces but they are there. The sight reassures me. They keep my childhood intact. My memories remain safe. And as I hail a taxi these days, I remind myself to say:

‘Jaben bhai?’

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.