Music


I am listening to Rabindrasangeet (songs written by Rabindranath Tagore), as I sautè chopped onions, add fresh ginger and garlic paste, spices, chopped tomatoes to the dal simmering on the stove top. Along with the aroma of my very familiar food, memories are wafting towards me of days gone by. Each song that comes up in my Spotify Playlist evokes different memories. Memories of people, memories of moments, memories of a slice of life that I have lived, memories of sunshine and happiness, memories of heartbreak too. Music does that to one’s soul. I did not listen to music after my parents’ death. We listened and loved similar songs and I have innumerable memories of singing along to those in our shared moments together. Listening to those songs alone was simply too painful. I have slowly allowed music to seep into my life again. I realize with astonishment how life truly goes on. How I am living and laughing too at times. Sleeping at night however is a different matter altogether though.

Ma, for the life of her, could not carry a tune. Did that stop her from singing out loud along with songs that played on our radio? No, it did not. I am not a connoisseur either but I can recognize correct notes. I, of course, never said a word about ma’s singing abilities but I did laugh inwardly. I was mean to her singing prowess – in my head.

Baba, on the other hand, was quite a crooner. He would close his eyes when his favorite song came on the radio and croon along with a lot of emotion and actually sung quite well. But more than his singing, I enjoyed hearing about his memories associated with songs that he loved in his youth. He would talk about them sometimes. I tried to picture him as a young man, hanging out with his friends from his engineering college, going on trips, Durga pujas of his youth, a snatched memory of his mother or father.

My mother and father have become memories now. As the songs pour into my soul, I remember our shared moments. Music, today, was bitter sweet.

The “goods” in the week of July 19th.


The whole point of this exercise is to be mindful of little things which enrich my life. It is to be aware of the small picture and not simply live through the moment which was good. The point is to acknowledge them. I thought of skipping this blog of “goods” this week. It has been a long week of routine. This week has been one of remembering and being sad of my loss. But I still had some “goods” and I want to write those down.

I have been hitting my step goal every day. I go for my walks and then during my breaks at work I go around the grounds of our library and end up at the library garden before going in.

I went to the farmer’s market with my friends and bought bread, coconut cupcakes and absolutely delicious strawberry balsamic vinegar.

On Wednesday I was supposed to drive to pick up Ryan from his school after practice, but my angel of a daughter finished her work early and offered to go in my stead. I could go home and relax instead.

My garden looks vibrant with colors. My osteospermum, in other words, African daisy plants lay fallow for many weeks. All of a sudden they are full of buds and flowers.

Ryan finished fifth week of summer biology and talks a lot about what he is learning. He seems excited. One more week to go.

Ryan’s swim practice will end next week. The anticipation of not having to drive him for a few weeks is one of my “goods” for sure.

I find myself laughing with my coworkers more these days. Sometimes I surprise myself that I can laugh again. But that is good. That is moving forward. My parents would have wanted that.

Ryan scored well in his Advanced Placement test of World History. Funnily that was surprising to both of us as he said he did not test well in that subject. He also did not know when the result was coming out. My friend, whose daughter took an AP test told me she got her result. I checked and there it was. I worry about that boy about his organization skills.

I love sitting down with Sahana at the end of our days and exchange customer stories from our respective work places.

Ryan had a swim meet in Virginia this weekend. Sean and I dropped him off at the facility and drove to nearby Leesburg. We walked around the historic downtown and ended up having lunch in a cute restaurant called Shoe’s Cup and Cork. I had a good day.

On Sunday, while Ryan swam, Sean and I walked by Potomac river. I paused by the river for a while and thought about ma and baba.

This week I had a long conversation with my cousin in India. Both our mothers died on the same day within 10 hours of each other’s death. Interestingly enough, these two sisters-in-law were close friends as well and we both remember their giggly youth. We laughed about how they planned their exit together to giggle some more like yester years and eat junk food like they used to. Then we both cried. My memories of our shared childhood is a comfortable place to land when my grief becomes too intense. I told her that.

Ryan got best times in 6 of his 7 events. His happiness at his achievement after putting in hard work is definitely in my list of “goods”. Ma and baba were embarrassingly proud of both of their grandkids. I bet they are bragging about them to whoever will listen as I write this.

There were still moments of sadness during days (and a sleepless night) but there were no I-can’t-breathe anxiety this week.

May your list of “goods” be long. Hope you have a great week.

Shopping


After many, many months I went shopping today. Alone, at least physically. Yet I felt the presence of this one excited woman by my side who loved to shop and often threatened to disown me due to my hatred for shopping. During her visits to America, going to the mall or Walmart or Kohl’s or Target was her favorite outing. And much to baba’s chagrin, she bought the whole of Walmart to take back to Kolkata as gifts for people. Her gift giving was legendary. She bought for her extended family, the helpers in her house, their children, the woman who did her facial – literally her whole universe got gifts from her when she returned from any trip. The weight of their luggage drove baba crazy! To keep their luggage under control, she often left some of her clothes behind. She said, “Dite bhalo laage.” (I love to give).

We did not have money in my childhood. We could only afford to buy new clothes during Durga puja or Bengali new year. I still remember the joy in ma as she flitted from one shop to the other in Gariahat market with an unwilling me in tow bargaining for the best price with shopkeepers when we had money to buy new clothes. Somehow she managed to have enough money to buy books though, year round. As I got older and as shopping malls sprouted in Kolkata, she did go to them. But it was evident air conditioned stores with neatly piled ware were out of her comfort zone, where salesmen and women referred to her as “madam” with cool professional demeanor. She missed the “na boudi, ki bolchen? Eto kom e ki kore debo?” ( no sister-in-law, how can I lower the price that much) of bustling and hot Gariahat market.

Busy Walmart or Target gave her immense joy as opposed to Ann Taylor or Banana Republic. Yet as I walked around the mall today peeking into those stores, I remembered her. She would have loved it.

I have planted flowers in their memory as well as for my own peace. I planted a red geranium the day after she died and I call it my “obstinate ma plant”. I love it very much and keep a close eye on it. But gardening was not her thing. She liked to look at flowers, sure, but she loved material things more. She liked to buy things, not just for herself but for others, mainly for others. My house is full of knick knacks that she got for us from places she went. My closet is full of kurtis and sarees she bought for me. I remembered her as I walked the mall. I had vowed that I would draw the line at going shopping to please her soul because I detest it, I crossed that line. And as I thought of it, I smiled under my mask. That obstinate woman is still getting her way, even after death.

The “goods” in the week of June 21st


Every morning my day starts by sitting in front of the photos of my parents. And then walking out to see the flowers that I planted in their memory. The photos were taken during our “happy” times, on our back deck during one of their visits to USA. With each passing year, they got frail but we captured happiness and youth and energy and froze it in a frame. Looking at those photos each day is one of my “goods” as I savor those joyful memories before I start my day.

On a mundane but important note, we are successfully maintaining our daily schedule with 2 cars. Each week we sit down and do some permutation and combination of who needs to be where at which time and figure out how we can work out the car situation. We have 3 working adults and one teen who is taking Summer Biology and swimming 6 days a week. On top of going to work we need to figure out his drop off and pick up. And so we have a family meeting every Sunday evening. We laugh.

I finished a graphic novel and am now reading The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. That takes place in my blog of “goods” because my friends had betrayed me for a long time. Since the beginning of this horrendous ordeal I have not been able to focus on a single page of a book. I have written plenty, read none.

Last evening was special when our first born treated us to a lovely dinner with her first ‘real’ paycheck. I get emotional easy these days but as she pulled the check close to her to pay, I choked up. Her grandparents would have been so proud. I also had a pang since I shared all the milestones of my 2 children with their grand parents and this I can not.

Sean and I drove out to water front to have a morning together on Sunday.

Soon we will be going back full time to the branch. I am ready and it will be good for me. It helps if I move all the time. And work is a place where I feel my life is unchanged.

Ryan successfully finished his first week of Summer Biology and is urging a few of his friends not to quit summer classes even though the teachers are teaching an academic year long course within six weeks and the load of work is intense. He got accepted to be a Peer Educator for younger students in his school and I think he is very well suited for this job.

I have started listening to music again. It was bitter sweet since I listened to all the songs that baba loved and sang along. I was cooking as I listened to Hemanta’s golden voice. I cried with every song as I remembered baba’s voice yet it brought some respite.

I get happy speaking to Gouri, Breshpati, Khushi and mashi who are holding the fort for me back in Kolkata. I don’t really want to talk to many people right now. I do love talking to those women. I feel the essence and love of my home through them.

It is a joy to see Khushi’s smiling face peering through the camera.

This morning I got the news the man I entrusted to get ma’s death certificate has been able to collect it. It is strange that it is a part of “goods”. It is though since acquiring it was quite a process.

Obstinate ma plant is blooming a vibrant red.

Sometimes I struggle to write this post as often nothing seems good but when I end up writing it, the list of ‘goods’ surprise me. I hope your list of ‘goods’ is also long. Have a great week, all.

He has no one..


This post will be one of the hardest to write, but write I must or else I will explode in pain.

A few men came in to our house to take baba’s body to the crematorium. Since he was still mildly covid positive, the Kolkata Municipality, which takes charge of such situations, took his body for last rites. I was on video as they prepared him and started taking him down. I heard one man say to the other, “So sad, he has nobody around.”

That hit me like a brick. He has so many people who love him. Not only his daughter but extended family, friends in social media. His friends constantly reached out to me, organized help, was ready to do anything for him. His nieces and nephews, which include my friends, were coordinating oxygen refills, organizing cash when needed. In his home, he was cared for by Gouri and Mashi who have cared for him for many years. Even at the hospital he called out for Gouri. Gouri was standing right by him when they took him. He has people. Nobody could be there with him at the end but he did not have much consciousness to acknowledge the absence according to his caregiver. He became drowsy and went away gently like ma.

Those words of the municipality workers hurt. They haunt me still when I think about it. This Covid has caused so much devastation. I think being alone at the time of one’s last breath and helpless daughter/s or son/s (many, many like me all over the world) looking on via video are some of the most heart-rending consequences of this disease.

Baba Ganesh or Baba Ganoush?


Fresh off the boat story. I got introduced to different cuisines after my move to America. My first meal, once I landed in Boston, was spaghetti and meatballs made by my fiancé ‘s mother. It was different from what I was used to and delicious. The next day we went out for dinner with Sean’s family to an upscale restaurant. I looked at the menu and found nothing remotely familiar except the word ‘chicken’. I knew chicken, so I ordered lemon chicken. I took a bite and hated it immediately. For an Indian, chicken was not meant to be eaten bland with only tart lemon as the overpowering flavor. Chicken should be cooked in a myriad of spices, after lovingly sautéing onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes…

My brother in law looked at my face after one bite of the chicken, laughed and asked if I liked my food. I contemplated if I should be polite or honest. I decided to be honest.

Anyway, after our marriage Sean introduced me to middle eastern food and a love story began between me and hummus, kebabs, koftas, tzatziki, tahini, baba ganoush. For the longest time though, I was confused as to why the delicious eggplant concoction was named after one of our most beloved Hindu gods, Baba Ganesh. Due to a touch of dyslexia, I read the menu wrong, Baba Ganesh instead of baba ganoush. And I heard it as Baba Ganesh when someone said out loud, baba ganoush.

One day, in complete innocence, I voiced my confusion to Sean, “Isn’t it strange that people named a food after a Hindu god? Why do you think they did it?”

“What do you mean? Which food?” He asked.

“Baba Ganesh! The eggplant dish that I love!” I confidently replied.

“Do you mean baba GANOUSH? Completely different from Ganesh.” Sean laughed.

It was a moment of euphoria and realization. Wait a minute…..two completely different words!!!

Yesterday, I made baba ganoush at home as pictured above. It looked lovely, I garnished it with love and as I was arranging the parsley, I remembered my confusion about the name of this dish long time ago. The memory made me smile.

I will not put sugar in your yogurt drink.


We went to the city for a walk on a gorgeous fall day. It was one of those days when I give thanks to be alive and experience the cerulean sky, sweet sunlight, my loved ones near me. After walking around for a while the inevitable question arose, where do we have lunch? The consensus was a tiny Lebanese restaurant which once turned Sean and me away in the past because they were hosting a private party. They could not seat us and were profusely apologetic. Fortunately this time we were welcomed and guided to our seats outside.

The owner was a pleasant looking man with very gentle manners. He handed us our menus. Sahana and I ordered the yogurt drink ayran and our food. When the drinks came out, I took a sip and was instantly transported back home! It tasted exactly like lassi or ghol (buttermilk drink) and just how I like it, salty not sweet. The next time the gentleman came out to check on us, I mentioned how much I loved the drink. I told him I was from India and this tasted just like home. My comment seemed to make him very energized and happy.

“Oh, I am so glad you like that drink. I get nervous when people order that because they don’t anticipate the taste. When I bring it out, they drink it and then they ask me to add sugar. I say no, I am not going to add sugar. That is not how this drink should be drunk!”

This business owner refuses to sweeten the drink from his country for people here because that is not how the drink is drunk!! I related to this on so many levels. I know and accept that one should eat (drink) according to his/her tastes but I can not help but judge when Sean puts peanut butter and jelly on a daal paratha. He sees my face acknowledges the judgement, eats it anyway, and laughs.

Sean’s first encounter with a server in a restaurant in Kolkata was similar to this gentleman’s outrage. He ordered rice and roti and the server told him roti was not available. I presume there may have been some words lost in translation as well during that particular exchange of dialogue. Anyway, when food was served, Sean noticed that his companion got a roti with his order. Sean looked at it with bewilderment and asked the server, “You told me roti was not available!” The server said with a nod of his head that the dish Sean ordered was meant to be eaten with rice. Food dictatorship!

Some things just go together and you simply don’t mess around. If you do, you hurt food connoisseurs like me, like the owner of the Lebanese restaurant, like the belligerent server at the restaurant in Kolkata in 1994. You just don’t do that. You incur our wrath and disdain, if you do!

🙂

The rice seller auntie (chaalwali mashi)


One side effect of growing old is getting lost in memories. Certain smells, words, actions evoke memories of yester years and I get lost in them. As the sweet smell of cooked rice wafted towards me this morning while I chopped vegetables, I remembered this middle aged woman who came to our house every 20 days or so to sell rice when I was growing up. I was quite young when she first started coming. I recall she came into our bedroom and sat in the corner on the cool mozaic floor, wiping the sweat off her face with the pallu of her sari. Whoever was around brought her some water, unasked. She talked to ma while she drank her water and let the cool breeze from the fan dry her sweat soaked body. She talked to ma about her family, her husband who could not work due to some injury, her sons who were going to school. Then she spread out our preferred quality of rice on the floor and measured cupfuls into a big container that we gave her. I forget the exact kilograms of rice that we bought from her each month but it was a significant amount since rice is staple in a middle class Bengali family, especially at a time when white rice was not touted as evil and full of empty calories. We loved our rice and we loved our chaalwali mashi, Angoor. That was her name – Angoor, which means grapes in English. 🙂

I listened to her stories under the guise of finishing homework as she sat with her glass of water, cooling herself in front of our big standing fan on an extremely hot summer afternoon before she carried her bag of rice to her next customer. I remember hearing about her sons growing up over the years, getting married and then, best of all, telling their mother to not work anymore. They were able, they told her. They can take care of her from then on. The day she told us about her sons, the young men she raised, imploring her to take rest, the smile on her face shone like a diamond. All her efforts in raising her sons had found fruition.

For many years she woke up before dawn, went to wholesaler to pick up bags of rice, took a local train to come to Kolkata from her remote village with other women from her area to sell rice in Gariahat market. Every evening she got on the local train to go back home after a grueling day in the city, cooked for her family and took care of her boys. She said her husband stayed home and helped as much as he could. She was one of the lucky ones.

The smell of rice this morning brought memories of chalwaali mashi to the forefront. Ma always bought her a new sari for Durga pujo. And every year, she touched the sari with a lovely smile, looked up to my mother and said, “Khub sundar hoyeche boudi.” (It is very pretty, sister-in-law.)

I have not thought about her for many years. I don’t even know if she is alive. I asked ma about her recently. She does not know any news about Angoor mashi either. She only said, “Manush ta boro bhalo chilo.” (The woman was so very nice.)

Men and women come in our lives, sometimes for a substantial period of time. And then they disappear too. They simply leave behind some vignettes of memories. As we get older, we look back at those and bring them back into existence. We think about them. We wish them well, wherever they are.

Filling in with life.


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The beauties featured in the photograph are the cynosure of my eyes right now. After Sage’s death, a dear friend gifted me a blooming orchid. She said seeing a new life bloom may soothe me after the loss. She was absolutely right. As each bloom unfolded its potential and spread its beauty, I was mesmerized. I sat by it thinking of my years with Sage but not in a melancholy way. The quiet splendor of the orchid gave me peace.

Another friend is a nurturer of indoor plants and succulents. The pictures of her plants on Instagram inspired me to buy a succulent for myself. Although I enjoy flowers immensely, I am sad to admit, I kill plants. Understandably, I was nervous to buy the succulent fearing I may be incapable of keeping even a hardy plant alive. My friend encouraged me. “I believe in you” she said. I ventured out and bought 3 succulents. I kept them on the sunny ledge of the balcony where Sage used to sit and reign over his domain. I added 2 basil plants, a mint plant and 2 pepper plants to the mix. Now Sage’s ledge is completely covered by new life. I like to sit by them, savor their quiet beauty and think of him.

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This was his space. He ruled his world from here.

I managed to keep all the plants alive this year. They seem to be thriving. So I got ambitious and bought more succulents for inside my house. I work and read next to them now, glancing over often to marvel at how beautiful they are, how full of life. Sahana bought some baby ones for her room and now we have quite a collection of quiet yet vibrant life in and out of our house.

Sage left us with emptiness and quiet. The plants fill up that emptiness with their lives. They maintain the quiet. I don’t mind it. Their radiating beauty soothes my soul.