My fight with television.


Do you remember those times when you wrote hand written letters and waited in eager anticipation to receive a reply in your actual mail box? I date myself when I write this that I am one of those people who checked my mailbox in the mid nineties everyday with the thrill of ‘maybe today there will be an aerogram’. These days checking the mailbox mostly involves a slight irritation at how many pieces of junk mail are going to the recyclable. It was not so about 24 years ago. We wrote letters home. We received letters from home. When I first came to United States in the mid nineties, at least twice every week, I gathered my new life in a new country and poured it on several pages of paper, documenting new sights and new experiences. I sealed the envelope, attached stamps and mailed them to my parents with a wistful sigh. In return, I received a white and blue aerogram bringing with it news from my home across the sea. It told me my cat had new kittens, the Krishnachura tree just outside our bedroom is full of new blooms, the little girl next door got into college, a cousin got engaged. It asked me when I was coming home. It told me I was loved, I was missed.

Along with the letters, there was a monthly phone call. I regularly went to Indian grocery store to buy calling cards to call home. I had to dial in what seemed like a thousand digits, the mechanical voice gave directions to next steps, after which I heard the home phone ring….all the way in Kolkata. Ma or Baba picked up the phone, their voice tinged with excitement and anticipation: “HELLO?”

Then came emails, followed by Facebook, followed by Skype calls, followed by Whatsapp video calls. I can call every day if I want. I don’t, due to the time difference, my work schedule and……Ma’s tv serial timing. Many moons ago, when I was naive about the importance of the television serials, I would call sometime in the morning (my time) thinking I will catch them sipping evening tea in the living room, ideal time for exchange of news and let’s face it……some satisfying, old fashioned, harmless gossip. I would call and the TV would be roaring in the background. Ma would answer yet her eyes would be shifty, glancing up towards the TV, responding with a very polite yet clear, “not now, get lost, we are just at the good part of the show” tone. I would say, “Why don’t you turn the TV down?” She would do it, but still the conversation would be half-hearted or she would say, “Here’s your baba, talk to your baba.” and hand over the phone.

After many such thwarted attempts at conversation, I realized what exactly was happening. Loknath Baba (tv serial), Rani Rashmoni (yet another tv serial) were going through important transformations in their lives (not really, these shows are masterful about dragging on and on) and ma was missing those milestones if I called at wrong time. I wizened up. Now I check my time and call right before the tv serials start or after all the shows have ended. If I call then, the tone is so different. It is a “tell me all about your life” tone. It is “I now have all the time in the world” tone.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. Instead of me, if Sahana calls her, she pays more attention to her grand daughter. Most days, Sahana’s call gets precedence over ongoing tv drama. She gets the “I am so glad to talk to you” tone. In Ma’s own words, “the interest is sweeter than the principal” (ashol er cheye shud misti). I am kind of evil. I make Sahana call and then I jump in to talk before the interest wanes and television takes over. 🙂

“Take care of your husband.”


My extended family, neighbors and some friends did not quite see what Sean saw in me. Many wondered, and not in their heads mind you, “What did this handsome man see in her?” when we started dating. Don’t get me wrong. I thought I was adorable. I was a late bloomer, yes, but when I finally bloomed, I was cute. However, I did not measure up to Bengali standard of beauty so although my extended family loved me dearly, they were surprised that Sean was taken by this tall, dark and very slender girl. One person, however, wondered whether Sean was good enough for ME! And that was my momma. She was independent, smart, sassy and a trend setter. When the norm among Bengali housewives of her time was to cook and clean for her families, she loudly declared she did not enjoy cooking and cleaning and would rather read a book. When the other women extolled the virtues of long, black tresses as a sign of beauty, she went and got a page cut. She was one of the first among her female cousins to wear sleeveless blouses and then later salwar kameez and even jeans and top when wearing anything other than saree was frowned upon. While other middle class Bengali moms told their daughters to learn to cook so they could satisfy their husbands and in-laws, my mom pooh poohed the idea saying my future husband should be learning to cook as well to satisfy me. And as far as I can remember, her skin care and beauty regime was more for her own satisfaction than to impress anyone. She taught me men and women should share equal responsibility when they run a household. She insisted that I always claim my half of the sky because that is my right.

Anyway, the point of the story is how this fashionista and trendsetter has changed since Sean came into our lives. It so happens that often when I talk to my parents, Sean is doing the dishes. He comes to the phone, holds up his sudsy hands and complains loudly, “Ma, look your daughter is making me wash the dishes again.” And she mock scolds me for making the poor ‘chele’ (boy) work so hard. I loudly protest that I cooked so he is cleaning. Neither acknowledges my protest. Over the years, Sean has continued to complain to her and she has continued to take his side. 🙂

I must have looked especially unkempt during one of our video conferences a few weeks ago. She gently chastised me for not making an effort to look more ‘put together’. Especially now that Sean is home. Shouldn’t I make myself more appealing?

I, of course, protested loudly. Talked about feminism. Did she realize we are in quarantine? I only dress for myself. I fought the good fight.

She said, “Be quiet. Take care of yourself. Sean is home.” Then she laughed. She knows how to push my buttons. Is it payback for my teenage years?

This morning we were talking about how we both are working from home. I was complaining how loud my office mate was and how I have to retreat to the bedroom from our shared office space to listen to zoom meetings. I also mentioned Sean is so busy that he missed lunch yesterday.

This is what she said to me, “What? He needs to eat to get energy. Why can’t you make sure that he is eating lunch? You can make something for him.”

“But I am working too, Ma.”

“No, still. You need to make sure he eats.”

Seriously? As I am about to start my tirade, she laughs again.

Thousands of miles away, not in the best of health, she still puts a smile on my face as I start my day and her’s ends.

Not Olympic material


Have you all seen the Proctor & Gamble advertisements where they thank the moms of famous athletes for their dedication, perseverance and sheer grit as they help their babies and toddlers become world-class athletes? I watch every single video with tears threatening to fall. My children are swimmers so I relate (rather want to relate) to that mom who wakes up at the crack of dawn, gently wakes her tiny little daughter, gets on a bus and takes her to swim practice. She sits there with love filled eyes and patient smile as her baby daughter learns to crawl in water (I either chat with other mothers or read a book or go to the gym when my children practice). Then she watches with pride and joy as her daughter, much older now, wins medals and makes her proud. In these advertisements, mothers of skaters and hockey players teach them how to skate, take them to innumerable practices, up on slopes, take care of their hurts, wipe their tears and eventually the proud moment comes – medal at Olympics. I love those ads. I feel part of a clan of mothers who dedicate their lives to the success of their children. Although I would LIKE to be one of them, in reality, I am not!

Sean wakes up at the crack of dawn to take Sahana to a 5:30 am swim practice. He, then, drives her to school, comes home, gets ready for work and then goes to work. While he does all that in the morning, I sip coffee in my comfy bathrobe, browse Facebook, look at the news and finally, lazily get ready for the day. Sean is an Olympic material dad. I am not. I have made it clear that when Sean travels, there will be no 5:30 am practices simply because I will not wake up at an ungodly hour to take anybody anywhere. But this past Sunday was different. I felt the children were not getting enough practice during the week due to my work schedule and Sean’s travel, so I had been readying myself and the children for at least four days that we will be going to 7:00 am practice on Sunday.

‘You guys make sure you sleep in on Saturday because I am taking you to practice on Sunday morning! Bright and early!’ I said on day one.

On day two, I said, ‘You know you are going to practice on Sunday morning, right? I don’t want to hear any grumblings!’

They WEREN’T grumbling. Although, I did hear a mumbled ‘That stinks’ from one of them.

I repeated something similar on day three as well – a dire declaration of ‘get your act together on Sunday morning cos we are going to practice’.

On Saturday evening, I made them get their swim bags ready by the front door. I warned them they better wake up as soon as I call them because WE ARE GOING TO THE MORNING PRACTICE ON SUNDAY MORNING!!

They casually said, ‘Yes, fine.’

I went to bed relatively early, sacrificing my reading time so I was bright and chirpy on Sunday morning. I was thinking of the mother who gently woke up her child for practice in the Proctor & Gamble advertisements. I finally felt I was contributing to their greatness in the sports arena. I wistfully smiled at the vision when they will attribute their success to their hardworking mother, who despite all, took them to practice at the crack of dawn and cheered them on as they trained.

My eyes opened the next morning, I looked at the clock – it was 7:30 am. Practice had started half an hour earlier!

My dream to be the sacrificing mother dashed to pieces as I got out of bed chuckling. Sahana woke up shortly, in a fluster. She came out of her room asking,

‘What happened?’

I said, magnanimously, ‘I decided to let you guys sleep in!’ Hey, why not make this faux pas into a generous act by a magnanimous mother? She was happy enough.

The serious swimmer, Ryan, woke up. My ploy of being magnanimous did not work with him though. That one is a work horse, he was unhappy that he did not get to go to practice.

‘I WANTED to go to practice! Why didn’t you wake meeeee?’ He whined.

I hate it when my ploys of being indulgent mother don’t work.

That same morning as I Skyped with the Olympic material father of my children, he wailed from far away land:

‘WHY ARE YOU IN YOUR BATHROBE??? Why are the children not at practice???’

I chuckled, ‘I overslept!’

And since I worked the weekend and he himself was in a far away land he was smart enough not to complain about it! I have written before, that dude is smart. He knows what’s good for him!

Long story short – if you do not see my children on the swimming block of an Olympic arena, it is not because of dearth of talent ( psssst….the older one reads my blogs, I had to write that), it is because their mama is not really the Olympic material. She does not have it what it takes 🙂 !

I need some madness.


I hear Midterm madness. At least, that is what the High school teachers are calling these exams. I am getting urgent emails from teachers about study guides being posted on the particular teachers’ pages, I receive invitations to attend meetings about mid term madness. I sign up students to use the study rooms at the library where I work, I help students look up books, resources for the subjects they are studying, I politely ask students not to block the isles with their laptops and books, where they have set camp since all the study rooms at the library are booked. There is a constant stream of students at the library, hard at work. I hear snatches of conversation, ‘dude that is not the component, look…’. ‘No, we have to balance the equation here…’! I look around and see preparation for battle. Battling mid terms.

But my house, where a participant of mid term madness resides, is a picture of tranquility. It is like that beer commercial which urges you to “find your beach” amidst the madness of life. My daughter has found her beach! There is no anxiety, no studying, no rush. There is, however, sleeping in, lounging leisurely in pajamas, waiting for breakfast, playing with Sage, bickering with brother, reading Sherlock Holmes and after half the day is done, retiring to her room with the iPad. The iPad, I am told, is necessary for reviewing. The music plays. As I turn it off, I am told, music is necessary for math. I leave the room in a huff!

I had read an amusing anecdote by one of my favorite authors, Nabonita Debsen, where Dr. Debsen, talks about her elder daughter preparing for her school final examinations. The story was written from a harried mother’s point of view who is appalled by the nonchalance of her teenage daughter before her important exam. I seem to be living that story.

I have lost count of the number of times I have reminded my high schooler, ‘Sahanaaaaaa!!! Mid terms!!!’

‘Yeah, I know!’

‘And?’ I leave an open-ended question.

She turns her beautiful face towards me and says, ‘I got this.’

I believe in that style of parenting where I vow not to nag and let her take the fall….if there is one. So I clamp down my lips and don’t let the lecture spill out that is so ready to not merely spill, but burst forth. I walk away, bursting at the seams with unspent anger and fury and gnash my teeth.

This ‘not to nag’ doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to work at it. Like most women my age, I am becoming my mother, for the better or worse. I still remember my mother’s shrill voice, ‘Porte bosho! Dudin baade porikkha’ (Go study, your exam is around the corner)! I remember the sleepless nights, the red eyes, the last minute cramming, the discussion with friends, the shared excitement of “oh I am so scared!”

The morning of the first exam, I wake up early to see her off to school. Her face looks pale.

‘I am nervous.’ She says.

I gulp down all my anxiety, bitter words, ‘told you so’s.

‘You will be fine. Just try your best. That is all you can do!’ I send her off.