100 Day Saree Respect

I was made aware of this celebration of sarees on a social networking site. Women posted saree clad pictures on Facebook and told a little story or memory associated with that particular saree. I believe the notion was to highlight the elegance of this beautiful ethnic wear and boost this industry. One particular friend of mine wrote beautiful memories with each and every saree she wore. Not only did she look beautiful, but her stories made a fascinating read and her sarees, to me, became much more meaningful. Stories and memories inter-weaved within the threads – what a fabulous concept.

My sarees are well-loved but not much worn. They stay well guarded in a closet in my basement as I live my life in jeans, trousers, sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I harangue my husband to take me out on dates so I can drape one of my lovely sarees. Swim meets and baseball games get in the way. So when I open the closet that house my sarees, I stroke them longingly and make plans……one of these days I will wear this one or that. And then the weather turns frigid. However, the hope remains – next spring, next summer, next fall. In the mean time, I acquire more sarees. They come bearing love – love of my mother and father, my sisters and brothers (cousins), my aunts and uncles from home.

Two of my sarees have a story or memory with my mother that I want to share. I had heard the name of a saree store called Byloom in Kolkata. I had seen photos of sarees bought from Byloom. Their texture, design, color combination seemed different, unique, more to my taste. Two days before I was scheduled to return to United States, my mother and I decided to pay a visit to this saree store and see with our own eyes what the hype was all about. The plan was to simply pay a visit, look at their wares and then turn around and come back home. My suitcases were full, and my purse was light. I had a little bit of Indian money left in cash and I decided to take just that with me. I took out my credit cards along with my debit card and left them at home. If I did not have plastic, I would not be tempted to overspend. Wait, why was I thinking of spending? My suitcase was full, right?

My mother and I are both geographically challenged so after asking at least 3 people for directions we arrived at the store. The last direction was asked right in front of the store, so when the gentleman who pointed to the store right across the street and gave us a strange look we felt slightly embarrassed. We walked in and promptly got lost again. This time we lost ourselves in colors, patterns and texture. The salesladies were amazing at their job, the colors were splendid and rich, the textiles smelled of home and comfort. I, not a fashionista or lover of clothes by any means, was hooked. My mother, an impulsive shopper and an ardent admirer of fashion and clothes, was miserable. I had instructed her not to bring money. We were just going to look, remember?

We had never done better math in our lives!! I bought a saree for my mother. That was it, I had money (cash) for that – parting gift to my mother before I left India. And then the salesladies did their magic, “Didi, look at this color on you!” They draped a pink saree on me. Three of them came over to ooh and aah over it. My mom joined in. Then they found a blue one, a little more expensive. They double ooh aahed over it. My ma joined in again. The oohs and aahs went up exponentially with the value of the sarees – just an observation. I was calculating fast in my head. I had two days left before my flight departed, no one would make blouses for those sarees. I had to buy ready made blouses for them. Groan! More calculations. Finally, when I had hardened my heart against amazing sales pitches, when I had closed my eyes against the splendor of colors, when I had shut my ears to my mother’s berating at making her leave her money at home, I headed to the cashier with my grumbling mother in tow. I told the cashier I bought some stuff but I had X amount of rupees. I was not savvy enough to calculate the sales tax in my head so I may not be able to buy all that was being packed for me. He smiled politely and said they accepted credit cards. “Ummm…I am not carrying my credit card!” I mumbled. My mother, I think, growled.

As the cashier tallied up my purchases, I realized I held my breath. Fortunately, I had enough money to pay for it all with about 15 rupees to spare. Feeling buoyant and happy we sailed out of the store swinging our bags. And we laughed joyfully. The memory is not about having enough money to buy those sarees though. The memory is about getting lost with my mother, hearing sales pitches with her, being admired by her, being scolded too and finally laughing giddily over our joint naughtiness. I am not sure I have rightfully penned the day, the story or the feeling. My mother and I were more than simply a mom and child that day. That day we were co conspirators, we were math whizzes (somewhat), we were rule breakers (rules created by us), we were quick planners, we were fast shoppers, we were fellow gigglers, we were happy bag swingers. We were perhaps more friends that day than parent and child. We were also hiding some tears behind our laughter at the upcoming goodbye. It was our last show down before the curtain of years fell till we were together again.

On her birthday, this memory stands out. Happy birthday, Ma! Here is to many more years of rule breaking, bag swinging, saree conspiring, and of course mindless laughing after being naughty. We Bengalis do not say “I love you’ because it does not need to be said, I know. This Bengali has learned to say it anyway. Moreover, she loves to say it.

I love you, Ma!

Here are the sarees, which have this precious memory!




For the love of….money!

Those of you who follow my blog will know that Ryan is a believer. He is a true believer of God and a devoted worshipper of….money. He, since a tender age of 2 or 3, has been strangely attracted to money in any form – paper bills, coins, currency of any country. The word ‘money’ has always brought on that expression of awe and reverence. He is very religious too, no, not the ascetic kind. He is very mindful of the quality of his life on earth and he worries about his existence after he passes on from this material world. He has learnt to merge his two loves – love of God and love of money by sharing his wealth and helping the impoverished.

In a recent discussion with his uncle, he expounded his theory of this happy merge of his two passions.

‘When I become a trillionaire, I will choose someone who does not have any money and make that person a billionaire. However, I will take away his money if he takes drugs or alcohol. He can not do that!’

He does not want money to serve vices. Good thought, I thought and we had a laugh over it.

He has different schemes always for earning. In India, he earned money first by carrying his grandfather’s grocery bags. He refused a rickshaw and politely asked if he could have the rickshaw fare instead if he carried the bags of vegetables and bloody fish. His grandfather agreed. Then he charged his indulgent grandfather for his companionship if there were no bags to be carried. Lastly he charged his innumerable aunties and grandmothers for hugs and kisses. He made a sweet sum at the end of his stay. He gave all of it away to his grandmother before leaving India.

In summer he weeded my flower bed for 5 dollars and opened a lemonade stand. Since he does not mess around when it comes to money, he wrote out a contract engaging Sahana as his junior partner and employee with a 75-25 % contract. And he calculated the exact amount that he owed her, and paid up.

Recently he has cooked up another scheme with friends. They are making book marks and selling them. I came home from work and was told triumphantly:

‘Mom!! Sahana bought 6 bucks worth of book marks!!’

I turned to my daughter, who is currently flushed with baby sitting money and also the money she gets from mowing our lawn, and exclaimed quietly at her generosity.

‘Why did you buy so many bookmarks? 6 bucks? That is a lot of bookmarks!’

‘It’s all good mom! This is all part of my plan. When we grow up and I am a poor struggling writer and he is a successful business man, I will remind him of this day and how I contributed to his start up business. The guy is a softie, he will help me out with my finances. I have got it all worked out!’

Well, then….:)

Gruff love

I don’t know about you but my two kids quarrel a lot. A whole lot. Sometimes, especially, on a cold winter day, when they have been cooped up in close proximity, they fight about the smirk on one’s face and one breathing too heavily.

“Stop breathing so noisily, it is disturbing me!”

No prizes for guessing if the heavy breathing stops or continues ten fold heavier.

Being an only child, this behavior concerns me. I try different methods to diffuse situations.

I use threats – “If I hear one more sound from either of you then….”

I have discovered, in these last fourteen years of being a mommy, open-ended threats are more ominous than definitive ones. The scary possibilities are endless.

I use cajoling – “Come on guys, you are making it very unpleasant for yourself and me!”

I use didactic approach – “Only the brave can offer the other cheek, don’t you know. Be the brave one. The strong, silent type!”

Sometimes these work, sometimes both the children are sent to their rooms because none of the above tactics worked. Sometimes, I remove myself from the situation and give myself a time out. I refuse to play the referee and when they come to complain, I say, “Both will be punished, if I hear one more word! SORT IT OUT!”

It is important to set the scene written above, to understand this story better, so I took the pains of writing down some facts of the bickering universe I live in.

Sahana was down with a fever for a week. And Ryan’s world collapsed around him. The first day of fever was spent trying to nudge her into action. When that didn’t get any response, the rest of the day was spent in quiet observation as Sahana lay on the couch with tired eyes. The second morning of her fever, he expressed his concern to me, while she was still in bed:

“Do you think Sahana will be OK, mom?” Simple words but loaded with unexpressed fear of loss.

When she woke up and came to the breakfast table, he was finishing up.

“How are you feeling Sahana?” he asked in a voice which seemed to convey ‘I am asking you, but I really don’t care that much’!

“I am ok. My head hurts!” She said.

After a pause, came a gruff offer, “Do you want me to make some breakfast for you?”

Sahana was in the kitchen getting her own food, she said, “That’s ok, bud. I can get mine.”

I mouthed “let him do it” to her and she said, “Ok, Ryan. It would be great if you make my breakfast. Can you make me a Nutella sandwich on toast please!”

He jumped up and made breakfast for his sister. And made the same, the third morning of her sickness as well. I believe he felt he was contributing to her healing.

I heard this next part from Sahana.

The day she felt better she said,”Do you know what your son said to me?”

Supposedly, the evening Sahana had a very high temperature and couldn’t get out of her bed to come to the dinner table, Ryan went to her bedside and offered her a nickel if she would get up from bed and come to the table.

“Sahana”, he said, “I will give you a nickel if you come eat with us at the table!” If any of you readers know Ryan at all, you will realize that offer of nickel was his ultimate show of love and concern for his sister. Ryan doesn’t part with his money easily.

Her fever was too high for her to respond. Once the medicine worked and she felt well enough to tell me the story, she did so with a smile on her face. A smile, because, parting with money to get her sister to resume normalcy is Ryan’s highest form of love.

The love flows underneath. Gruff love, but love nonetheless.

Sahana’s comment about her brother is this:

“Mama, I think Ryan is going to grow up to be that man – big, strong, scruffy looking, who sheds a copious amount of tears at the death of a kitten! He is actually a very nice boy! But I will deny it if you tell him I said this!”

Sahana is fine now and my bickering universe is back with a vengeance. As I write this blog, I hear two angry voices in the background saying:

“Yes you did!”

“No I did not!”





I do believe Anna Quindlan wrote what Sahana will one day say about her brother:

There is a little boy inside the man who is my brother… Oh, how I hated that little boy. And how I love him too.


I laid my head on my husband’s shoulder and said, ‘We have given birth to the reincarnation of Shylock!’ My insensitive husband guffawed at that, I snapped my head up, glared at him and showed him the white of my eye!

We were seated at my parents’ house in the summer of 2013 in Kolkata enjoying a few stolen moments while the rest of the family played up on the terrace.

This story is about my 8-year-old son, whose love of money has assumed legendary proportions amongst family and friends. Ryan has been often spotted sitting in a corner with his money jar, counting pennies and dimes. He saves everything he gets for birthdays and Christmases and puts it in his college fund (his money jar). He claims he is saving every penny from a young age to help us pay for his college since he has heard us talk about education in America being expensive.

Ryan’s Shylockism started innocently enough. On the second day of our vacation in Kolkata, his grandfather (dadai) asked him if he wanted to accompany him to the fish market. Ryan agreed. Upon return, I received an excited boy glowing from sweat and happiness and a chuckling grandfather.

‘Your son is something else. That boy will go far!’ His grandfather was still laughing.

I learnt, in due course, that Ryan offered to carry dadai’s tholi (jute bag carrying fresh fish) home. Dadai was touched by his young grandson’s offer to help and let him carry the bag. When they reached home, Ryan innocently asked if dadai thought he deserved to be paid for his services.

‘Paid? Why?’ Dadai played along.

‘Well, first I carried bloody fish and fish head which is extremely gross and second, didn’t you save some money by not getting on the rickshaw because I carried your bag? Don’t you think I deserve the rickshaw fare?’ He asked.

‘I hope you didn’t pay him!!!’ I exclaimed.

My father said with a chuckle, ‘How could I not? I was defeated by logic!’

A pattern thus developed. Ryan refused to go on fun outings, if there was a possibility of accompanying dadai on errands. Dadai let him keep the change from rickshaw fares and bus fares – which Ryan termed as his payment for ‘companionship’. This story spread far and wide. All of a sudden, there was an amusing competition among the adoring aunts, uncles, grandmothers (my aunts) and grandfathers (my uncles) to pay Ryan money for kisses and hugs. I have pictures of Ryan holding bills while a grandmother kisses his cheeks.

I laughed along for a while and then tried to stop relatives from playing this game. But as it happens whenever I go back home, my children hide behind the indulgent family members and smile at me cheekily as I get chastised for being too strict.


Ryan often counted his ever increasing pile of notes with a gleam in his eyes and proudly told his sister how much he had. I shuddered at his mercenary tendencies. I talked to him in private about not accepting money from family, he shrugged and said, ‘But they want to give it to me!’

The night before we left for home, Ryan carried some of his money when we went out for our last stroll in Kolkata. He disclosed he needed to find a toy store as he planned to buy a toy for 3 month old baby Khushi, who was living in my parent’s house at that time. Khushi is the baby girl of the young woman who cooked delightful meals for us during our stay in Kolkata. A toy shop was found, a toy for Khushi was bought, Ryan’s own money was spent to buy it. That made me smile.

As we headed home, Ryan ran into Bancharaam – the famous sweet shop in Gariahat. During our two week stay, Ryan dashed into every sweet shop or cake shop that we came across to longingly stare at the varied sweetmeats displayed in the show cases. We hardly bought any, yet he went in to see them and salivate over them. As he went into the sweet shop, he saw a little girl, about the same age as Ryan, tugging at my shirt for some money. He came out and whispered to me, he wanted to buy her some sweets. The girl chose the sweets she wanted and Ryan bought them for her. My smile widened.

On the morning of our departure, Ryan kept insisting that his parents hand him over all his money at once. He had given his money to us for safe keeping. He was getting in the way, so I gave him his money back and told him sternly to stay out of our way so we could finish packing.

In a little while, his grandmother came into our room, holding a bunch of bills with a baffled expression. Ryan had taken all the money and given it all to his grandmother to spend as she chose fit, after he was gone.

Sean and I exchanged glances. I gave his apple cheeks a kiss as I laughed and wiped away a tear at the same time.

Everything was alright with the world again.

I will give you four pennies if you give me ten dollars.

I often ‘borrow’ money from my children. I am always out of change for lunch money or snack money. So I tell them ‘Just take it out of your money jar, I will pay you back!’ I keep a mental count on how much I owe them and pay them back with a little interest…..most of the times. Sahana has smartened up lately, she puts all her money in a bank account and keeps nothing at home. Young Ryan loves his money jar and he can be seen, often times, sitting in a corner, counting his pennies and nickels. I look at him and think ‘Shylock’ in my head!

Recently, I took three dollars from the above mentioned, precious money jar and asked Sean to pay him back. Since we vowed to take care of each other at our marriage, we fulfil our promise. I take care of his nourishment, his laundry, our children, he takes care of me in tricky situations, like when I have to repay my debt!

The following conversation is a result of my eavesdropping. And I am recording this because I want Ryan to read this write-up when he is doing his Major in Math at Harvard!

Before Ryan’s bedtime, Sean went to return the three dollars and decided to make it a teaching moment as well.

‘Ryan, how much is 10 minus 7?’

‘3! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, all the way to Japaneze!’

‘Right, big guy! So I am giving you $10 and taking $7!’

A moment of silence, then a cry of desperation,


‘But I am giving you $10 and taking $7! So you get back your $3! Remember you said 10 minus 7 is 3! So 7 plus 3 is 10! You had 7, now I am giving you 10 but taking away your 7! So you see, you have the $3 back that mommy took from you.’

At this point, I believe Sean proceeded to take his $7 back.


‘NO! NO! DON’T TAKE MY $7! I will give you four pennies if you give me that $10!’

More math. More teaching, a few moments of silence and then desperate pleading.

‘Take four pennies dad, for that $10! Not $7…..!’ Sniffles added at this point!

Sean said they will talk about it the next day and left it at that!

The next morning, when Ryan woke up for school, he rubbed his eyes, sat right up on the bed and said in a groggy, morning voice, ‘Can I have my $10 dollars, dad?’

We will talk about it tonight!’ I think Sean was scared to broach the subject…. understandably. He decided to break the ten at a store and give the boy 3 one dollar bills. He also thought of using poker chips or something of lesser value than $10 to teach this complex math fact!

Once, when Ryan was about four, I was trying to teach him subtraction. I made the mistake of saying, ‘Ry, if you have 5 candies and you give 3 candies to Sahana, how many candies will you have left?’ Without missing a beat, he said, ‘I don’t want to give ANY candies to Sahana!’ I debated which lesson to teach him at that moment! The lesson of sharing or subtraction! Decided to go with math, just had Sahana give her candies to Ryan. Things went smoothly from then on!

Tonight, before going to bed, I found Ryan standing quietly in front of Sean’s bedside table.

‘What are you doing here, buddy?’ I asked.

‘Trying to see where daddy put MY $10 dollars!’

Sean and I both looked at each other and then the letter proudly stuck on our refrigerator, saying, ‘Your child, Ryan Callahan has been invited to a first grade Math instructional seminar in school….’ It is an early form of Gifted and Talented program in Math!

Doing math?