Sunshiny today


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

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

Connecting with strangers.


Poet unknown to me

This came up in my Facebook memory feed today. A friend, who is an ardent Kolkata lover like me had shared this a while back. My world in Kolkata was whole then. Kolkata was home. It still is, in a way, but not in the same way it used to be. The city knows my every ‘first’, so it will always be my love but it is also smeared with sadness and tainted, somewhat, with my anger.

Anyway, I digress. What I wanted to write was this. I took some of ma’s sarees in a tiny tailoring shop near Maddox Square. There was hardly enough space for 6 people to stand comfortably within the store. My cousin, Sahana and I along with the wonderful woman who was taking our measurements, had taken up most of the room in the store. It was hot in there, a standing fan was whirring tiredly, circulating hot air within the store. The pleasing smell of new garments permeated the space reminding me of Durga puja when this smell of new garments surrounded us along with unmitigated joy. For the rest of the year, we could not afford to buy anything new. I digress, again. As we were giving measurements and my cousin was explaining the design to the tailor, a woman walked in with fabric that she wanted to be made into blouses. We Bengalis don’t say hi/hello to each other, I noticed. Is there a Bengali equivalent of greeting other than nomoshkar? And nomoshkar sounds too strange to begin a conversation with a stranger. It seems like we just jump in. And we did – this woman and I. I don’t remember who initiated the conversation or how it started but by the end of it I knew so much about her. Then our work was done, we bade each other farewell. We, most likely, will never meet again but a connection was made, life stories were exchanged.

During my previous trips, I have made similar connections with complete strangers in Ananda Publications book store in Gariahat. That was easy though. Bibliophiles simply start talking about books and suggest books to each other. “Have you read…..?” “NO, did you like it? Maybe I should buy it.” Kind of like dog owners here, one does not need any introduction to exclaim about dogs on walks with their pets.

Strangers become friends in that city in the East, for sure. At least friends for a few moments, an hour, a few hours. Some friendships continue perhaps, and some don’t. But the connection that was made kind of lingers in the heart and perhaps one remembers that I met someone, a stranger, who lend me an ear, and who shared snippets of their lives.

Lost in my own city


I went for my usual walk this morning but Dhakuria lake was closed for Holi so I took a detour, got lost somewhat in my own city, asked for direction, was told by the caring man that my destination was too far and ‘sister, take an auto, you can not walk that far’. I thanked him and turned around as I was walking in the wrong direction. The man continued to give me directions and to warn me of the distance. I smiled at him but did not tell him that taking an auto was not an option as I carried no money. So I walked and it felt good. I walked through my very familiar and now somewhat unknown city. Some of the old, now decrepit, houses in my path have been there for years. They were part of my landscape all my life. They evoked so many memories. The new buildings were remote and unknown and if you ask me, they don’t belong to the Kolkata I know – my Kolkata.

‘My’ Kolkata is getting smaller with every visit. Old, familiar houses are being demolished and new apartments are being built. The city is sprawling out in every direction. But those houses along Southern Avenue or the unchanged make shift stores on the sides of Rashbehari Avenue, or the hawkers calling out ‘didi ki lagbe’ (sister what do you want), assure me that ‘my Kolkata’ still exists in some small way.

And I remembered walking the same streets with baba when he walked miles and miles to stay in shape. He talked to, petted and fed every stray dog that crossed his path on these walks. They knew him and crowded around him for the biscuits that he carried in his pocket. As I walked today in the early morning hours, I felt him by my side – youthful, happy, fast and chatty. It was a good morning.

Birthday well spent


The sun is shining brightly on my indoor plants as I look up and steal glances at them while I type out this blog. I breathe easier today. I survived an emotionally wrought day yesterday – baba’s birthday. As I reflect upon it, I have a sense of relief that it is over and also that it was well spent. Baba, for as long as I remember, was an empathetic listener to the elderly. I remember, in family get togethers he spent more time with the elderly than with his compatriots. He sat with them in our extended family reunions and listened to their stories. He always said there is much to be learned from those who came before us. They need to be heard. When he and ma started their NGO, they would often help impoverished homes for elderly. While they donated much needed items and fed the seniors, baba listened to the stories of their lives.

Yesterday, at work, I got called to help a customer download an audiobook on her device. As I walked to the floor towards the customer, I saw that she was very elderly, wheel chair bound. Her hands shook as she tried to press buttons on her device. With her permission, I touched her tablet (although we are not really allowed to touch devices of customers) and did what needed to be done to get her the audiobook. She was so relieved and at the same time apologetic that she was taking up so much of my time. I assured her, repeatedly, that it is indeed my joy to be able to help her. I love nothing better than connecting book lovers to reading materials and I am honestly doing what I love to do. She smiled. After we successfully downloaded her book, she was thrilled and excited to listen to it once she got home. Her eyes are not what they used to be so although she’d rather read, she cannot these days so she has resorted to listening to audiobooks. She told me a little about her sons and grandchildren before we said goodbye. She was afraid she was going to forget the steps to download books in the future. I reassured her that help was truly a phone call away if that does happen. As I turned to leave, she said to me, “Honey, I thank you for your patience. You have been so helpful and kind.” As I walked back to my office, I thought what a perfect way to celebrate baba’s birthday. He would have loved to hear this story.

There were tears. Of course there were tears and plenty of them. And there was laughter too, remembering his idiosyncrasies and his wicked sense of humor. I went to the garden in the library where my coworkers donated 2 paver stones in my parents’ names. I stood there by him, remembering his lifetime of love for me, Sean and his grandchildren. After I came home, Sean wanted to go pay his respects to the paver stones too. So we went again. I did not have flowers so I picked up a leaf from the garden (did not pluck it) and put it on the stone that has his name on it. Sean touched the stone, said a prayer. We then went for a walk around the lake as the sun went down and the colors of sunset reflected on the calm waters of the lake. We ended up at our favorite Indian restaurant and talked about grief, closure and love over dal, paneer and garlic naan. Baba would have scoffed at the choice of food (vegetarian) but he would have loved the celebration.

Don’t do it..


I spoke sternly to my hand as it slowly reached for the bottled mango Lassi on the refrigerated shelf in the new Indian grocery store that I went to explore.

“Don’t do it. Don’t you do it. Think of the added sugar. Think of your ever expanding mid section!”

My head reprimanded my hand. But guiltily, almost unwillingly, and in slow motion, my hand did grab the plastic bottle of Lassi and put it in the shopping cart. My face almost had a sad expression as I looked at what my hand had done. Right next to them were Indian sweets, among which were silvery Kaku katlis which I adore. I touched a box and moved my hand away. Next to them were Motichur laddus. As a little boy, Ryan used to love those. We called him our little Ganesh for his love of laddus were similar to the elephant headed God whose supposed love for those laddus is legendary. Ryan, however, has betrayed me and grown conscious of his sweet intake. However, I use him as an excuse in my mind when I pick up a box of laddus. “Ryan likes them” I say to myself. Ryan declines to eat a single one and so I eat them all. Can not waste them!

I exerted extreme self restraint and did not pick up either the Kaju katlis or the laddus. I felt Sean’s silent criticism of my choice of picking up sweet mango Lassi as we walked the aisles filled with ingredients, spices, snacks, soaps, oils, body lotions from my home. I picked up some green chillis, some turmeric and masoor dal. Looked for samosas and failed to find them. The new grocery store lost some points right there. Why won’t they have fresh samosas when I wanted them? Anyway, as we walked towards the check out counter, I slowly reached into the shopping cart, picked up the lone bottle of Lassi and put it back on the shelf.

“You don’t want it?” My surprised husband asked.

“Let’s get out quickly before I change my mind.” I walked faster, putting distance between myself and the shelf that held the goodies.

As we got in the car, Sean said it is fun to see me in an Indian store. I am, supposedly, like a kid in a candy store. The analogy is apt, but it is more like an immigrant in a store full of things whose sight, smell and taste bring back very fond memories of home. It is a wistfulness of what we left behind. It is also a joy to hold a tiny part of familiarity in our hands.

Little things


Once the all encompassing sorrow recedes after a major loss, the wave of grief leaves behind little memories, which, like little pebbles, scratch open the scabs of the wound for some slow seepage of intense pain.

Little things like the absence of a daily wsapp message to ma “ki korcho?” (What are you doing?) And her unchanging response “TV dekhchi.” (Watching tv).

Little things like the urge to tell them about moments I loved or moments that made me sad.

Little things like something I read or a piece of music that all three of us listened to when I was young.

Little things about Sahana or Ryan. Things that only they would care about other than us.

Little things like opening up Facebook and checking if baba was active. If he was active, I knew he was well. The day after he contacted Covid, he went active on Facebook for a while. I turned to Sean and said, “He must be feeling better, he is posting on Facebook.”

Little things like checking when wsapp was last seen by ma.

Little things like teasing ma about timing my phone calls according to Rani Rashmoni’s show times on television.

Little things like planning our Kolkata trip.

Little things like connecting to the hotel wifi wherever we traveled and letting them know we have arrived wherever we were supposed to arrive. “Pouche gechi.” (We have arrived). And their response, “khub enjoy korish. Chobi tulish dekhbo.” (Enjoy a lot. Take a lot of pictures for us to see).

I realized these little things even more on our recent trip where the two anxious people thousands of miles away who waited for that message of arrival are waiting no more. My cousin sister, however, said, “I will be waiting. Write to me when you arrive.” So I wrote to her.

Little things like the constant realization that neither of them are physically there any more – living their life, showering me and mine with love.

Little things (not a little thing, this keeps me up at night) like I could not say goodbye when they left.

Death certificates


It still seems unreal as I write authorization letters to people to collect death certificates for both my parents. “I here by authorize _______ to collect death certificate of my deceased mother and father……”

Those have not been collected yet and that is giving me anxiety because I need those to prove to the world that my parents are dead. As if it is not enough that when I land in Kolkata airport, two eager faces will never, ever greet me again. As if it is not enough that no one will gently stroke my arm when she sees me for the first time after many months with a smile so huge that her face could not contain it. As if it is not enough that no one will go outside the chaos of an international airport in India to call the driver of the car to come and pick us up and when everyone is safely in the car, pass us bottled water and bars of Fruit and Nut Cadbury chocolate. As if it is not enough that I, a non tea drinker, will never, ever, sit in the living room with them sipping tea for companionship and talking about life. As if it is not enough that someone will never go to the fish market and tell the fish monger that his daughter is home and he needs to buy the freshest catch. As if it is not enough that all the messages, all the video calls, all the show of love and affection came to a sudden halt. As if it is not enough that I walk among the flowers in the morning trying to believe that their energy is now merged with the universe but still can not convince myself. As if it is not enough that I constantly ask “why” and never find an answer.

Some unfinished business..


The last in person image I have of my mother is when Ryan and I were getting in the car in August of 2019 to head to the airport. She was standing at the door, tears in her eyes, waving goodbye. We waved till we could not see each other anymore. I told her I will be back in May of 2020 to celebrate my 50th birthday with them. So it was just a matter of few months till we see each other again.

My last interaction with baba was an awkward hug at the Kolkata airport when I repeatedly told him to take care of his health. And to him too, I said, “See you in a few months.”

They wanted to plan a big party for my 50th and I said a hard no. Although in my mind I knew if they were determined to throw a party they will, my ‘no’ would have no value.

Covid attacked the world. We did not see each other for my 50th birthday but we lived in hope. 2021 brought so much promise. And then it took them away. There are a few unfinished business that were not taken care of though.

I requested that they buy me a couple of Kashmiri shawls for my birthday. Baba loved to buy clothes for me, their son-in-law and their grandkids. Ma did too but she felt my father’s tastes were superior to hers so she allowed him to make the selection. Baba went to Kashmir Emporium in Dakkhinapan to buy the shawls. I got to see them via video call. They are beautiful. They were hoping to give them to me for my birthday when I went home. The shawls are now sitting in the closet waiting for me. The ones who bought the gifts with so much love aren’t around to hand them to me. But their love persists.

Last Christmas I wanted a gift of a family portrait. Despite Ryan’s reluctance, we all got dressed up, went to a studio and got a professional to take photos of us. I ordered a couple of extra prints to take home with me when I went back. They are lying in an envelope in my closet. The ones who had requested the prints and who would have proudly hung them on their wall are not around anymore. I realized there is absolutely no one left who would treasure our visits or our photographs.

I was told to bring a bag of dark chocolates, cans of tunafish and a bottle of advil. Those were standing orders. Whatever I brought on top of those were surprises. Now there is no need for any of those things.

There are these unfinished transactions that we did not have time to finish. I will keep the extra photographs and eventually when I go back I will wrap the shawl like I wrapped their love around me. They do not need the photographs any more as they live in our memories and our hearts now. Sean and I both cried tonight talking about their sudden departure and then laughed too at memories of their constant bickering.

I believe that is how life will be from now on.

My mother..


Recently a friend commented that he has renewed respect for his mother after singlehandedly cooking and taking care of his sick family members. He wondered how his mother did all this alone every single day. I don’t remember my mother in that role at all. She stayed far away from the kitchen. She declared loudly that she does not like to cook and only cooks when there is an absolute need. In 70’s Kolkata, that declaration was completely antithetical to the image of an ideal woman and a mother. Did she care though? Nope.

Instead of being a bringer of food, she nourished me with books. She ensured I was fed of course, but she also always made sure I had plenty of books to read. I used to get sick every month with some kind of fever as a child. Although I felt unwell, I did not mind the fever too much because every time I got sick, Ma bought new books to perk me up. They were not classics or anything deep, thought provoking or educational. They were Amar Chitra Kathas or comics of my favorite super heroes but I still remember the joy I felt in my fever ravaged mind as I saw the packet of books in her hands.

My favorite memory of Ma is us sharing the same pillow reading our respective books in summer afternoons during summer vacation.

Once school’s session ended and we got a few days off till next grade, she insisted I read a story book during the time assigned for homework just to stay in the habit of sitting down to work. I loved that ‘work.’ Interestingly, I got a job where reading is actually part of my work.

I remember her reading poems of Rabindranath Tagore to me starting with Shishu and then moving on to Sanchoyita. She guided me into the treasure trove of Bengali literature as she was a voracious consumer of all those treasures.

I remember her teaching me kindness.

I remember regurgitating all my school stories as a little girl while I ate my after school snack and she listening patiently.

My favorite thing about her is her laugh. She has this rumbling, all encompassing laughter which starts in her face and travels through her whole body and being.

She is very gullible. She believes easily and then laughs if she realizes she fell for some trick or pranks by her grand kids.

My Ma is not the one who worked all day to make me food or clean the house or arrange my table. She did work all the time to be my cheerleader, my fellow bibliophile, my confidante, my teacher, sometimes my counselor and also a strict disciplinarian.

She is fighting Covid in a hospital in Kolkata along with my father. I am very far away and can not be with either of them.

If you are reading this blog, do send some healing wishes to the universe for these people that you do not know but who could benefit from good, positive energy.

Happy mother’s day.

Moving on and leaving behind.


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.