Planted a flower

My mother died of Covid on Mother’s Day. I saw her on a video call at the hospital and wished her happy Mother’s day in the morning. She wished me happy Mother’s day back. Then as they put the oxygen mask back on her, she said she was going to spend some time in her sister’s house and then go home. With that, she closed her eyes to rest. I take comfort in the thought that she died thinking she was in her sister’s house, comfortable. She had no visible discomfort. She fell asleep, lost consciousness and never woke up. For a fiery lady that she was in life, this was a very quiet, peaceful exit. She went gently into the night.

Sahana gave me a geranium plant for Mother’s day. The day after my mother died I did not know what to do with myself. Instead of pacing aimlessly in my living room, I thought I would plant my gift in memory of my ma. Planting the flower given by my daughter and in memory of my mother gave me tranquility. I don’t know what happens after death but I refuse to believe she is gone from me. I believe, at long last, thousands of miles between us is not a barrier any more. Her physical form could not traverse the distance to be with us whenever she wanted but now her spirit does not care about those miles. It gives me peace to think she is within me, surrounding me. A part of her, her gene, is always in me. But that is for the scientists to explain. I am trying to feel her essence, her benevolence, her love around me, enveloping Sahana, Ryan and Sean.

I go out often and sit by the baby flower plant. Within its green leaves, hopeful buds and one single bloom, I find my mother’s energy radiating into my universe.


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.

Please figure this out for me.

On every Mother’s Day, I get a gift of seeds. When Sahana started this tradition, I was immensely touched by the thought behind it. I am a nurturer, nourishing my saplings so they become big, strong trees. Ryan has kept the tradition alive. This year I received pretty flower seeds, chilli pepper seeds ( since I hail from the land of hot peppers) and a tomato plant.

After careful nurturing and waiting and observing for the better part of summer, the pepper plant has beautiful peppers, the flowers are gorgeous and the tomato plant has plump, green tomatoes. We are all very, very excited because we are not a family of green thumbs. We end up killing our green children. This one time we did not and understandably we all smile widely as we walk by our flowers and our produce.

My resident entrepreneur, however, is at his mercenary best.
“Mom, I have decided to give you a family discount. For you, and only you each tomato is going to cost 75 c and each pepper is going to cost a nickel. For others, tomatoes are a dollar and peppers are 20 c.”

“Wait! What?? How did the produce become yours, might I ask?”

“Well, I weeded and I watered them. So I labored and so the tomatoes and peppers are mine. But I will sell them to you at a discounted price!”

“But they were my gifts! You gave them to me! And I paid you for weeding! You were my employee! You can not claim ownership!!!”

A hot debate ensued. He did not understand my logic. He was illogical to begin with. Finally, I became the mom voice and said, “Forget about it. The tomatoes are mine, the peppers are mine. You, my friend, are mine! So deal with it!”

He has not given up yet. The issue of tomatoes and peppers come up often. Nothing has been harvested. I am expecting a blood bath when I actually pick the vegetable. Stay tuned for the epic war.

Never a dull moment.

A woman and a mother too.

My mother at an event giving her first public speech ever.
My mother at an event giving her first public speech ever.

That is my mother’s picture that you see up there. My mother, who just the other day said to me, ‘Nijer jonye to anekdin bachlam. Ebar ektu anyer jonye bachi!’

(I have lived for myself for a very long time, now I want to live for others)!

My mother was the extroverted extension of me while I was growing up. I was a quiet shadow behind my gregarious, fun loving mother. As I look back, I realize we were just that – an extension of each other. I did not know where she ended and I began, till I started branching out to become my own person. Since I was so intricately woven into her being while growing up, I did not consider her as a woman in her own right. She was my mother and that was the whole of her. The perception was selfish and yet that perception arose from a blind love too. Only when I became a woman and looked at my mother from the perspective of a fellow woman did I see the complete portrait of her. Not just the unidimensional one of a mother but also the little girl, the young woman, the young bride, the rebel, the survivor, the fighter, the whole entity of who she was and who she has become. Her journey, if you will, as a woman.

She fought for her right in the patriarchal family that she was born to right from the start. Fiercely competitive, she fought for her place with her brothers and boy cousins and strangely enough, she got it too. Stories of her spunk and competitiveness have been told and retold by her peers and elders with indulgent laughter. I have heard so many stories beginning with, ‘Tor ma….bapre, koto golp.’ (Your mother….oh dear, so many stories..)!

As a young woman in early seventies when women’s beauty was measured by the length and width of their hair, she went to a salon and cut it all into a fashionable page boy cut. Her society, family and friends were aghast. When covering a woman’s arms was the norm, she went and fashioned sleeveless blouses. There was talk. Married at 19 and a mother at 20, she did not have a chance to finish her graduation, so she went back and finished it when her child was 6 years old. I remember the celebration. When leaving your child and going out to work was frowned upon, she went and got a job. Almost everyday she came home with a book for me, so I was happy as a clam, waiting for her and a book at the end of the day. When women thought husband and hearth were the purpose of their lives, she declared loudly she did not like cooking and cleaning. Life has to be more than just that for a woman. She devoted her time to reading and on her child instead – reading Bangla literature to me, telling me stories that I still remember, reading poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Roy, relentlessly helping with whatever I needed help with. She fought with everyone and provided the best education that she could for her only child going beyond the family’s means. And she told me again and again that I was no less than a boy no matter what society wanted me to believe.

In her personal life, she always tried to break the glass ceiling by pushing a little more. She will perhaps be the first to admit that she made mistakes along the way. But she did not let that stop her from following her heart or taking chances while always choosing the best for me. Now that I look back, she truly lived for me, and then for a while, through me. When I went to college, the dynamics changed and she became an extension of me.

The woman who wanted to do things differently could not contain herself in her retired life. When I set her free, she soared. Yes, I set her free from my dependance, need and my responsibility. She and some like minded friends opened an organization to help the unfortunate men, women and children. I was uncertain about this venture but as she grew I looked at her with utter amazement and then pride. The picture above is from one of the events that her organization organized in Hridoypur Pronobananda Kanya ashram – a school for orphans. When I skyped with her later she said, ‘I was so nervous talking in front of all those people. I have never done it before.’

My father said, with a proud gleam in his eyes, ‘Your mother was very good!’

Life is a journey, I hear. Some rough terrains, some smooth sailing, some uphill battles, some downhill glides. Towards the end of our journey some of us get bogged down by the stress of it all, some of us choose to sit and rest and look back satisfied at the path they traversed, while some get a second wind, take flight and soar high. They finally get to spread their wings after all the responsibilities are done. The shackles that they sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly tie to their feet fall free with a resounding, joyful clang. My mother got the second wind. She is flying.

I look up to her flying high and unmindfully hug the shackles that tether me to the ground now. The shackles that I love more than my life. I smile upon them as I turn my face skyward. I say to myself, ‘One day I will learn to fly. One day my time too will come. One day I will grow up just like my mother!’

Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.

My day in 2013.

Trust me, I feel lucky to be alive every day, but then there are days when I take a deep breath, look at the brilliant blue sky and the bright sunshine, I see the fresh green of the leaves and feel the gentle breeze on my face and say in my head, “Man, I am happy to be alive!” Mother’s Day was one such. After gloomy, rainy Friday and Saturday, when I kept my spirits up by constantly chanting, “Self, remember, all this rain is good for the plants. NOW REPEAT’ Sunday dawned bright and gorgeous. Nature smiled and hopefully so did most mothers and mother figures as they woke up to hand made cards, hugs and wishes of Happy Mother’s Day.

I was requested previous night and then threatened that I should stay in my room till at least 7.00 am. I tried to remind the children it was a Sunday and there was absolutely no need for anybody to get up that early. But 7:00 am it was, they had it planned and they were not flexible.

I heard the alarm ring at Sahana’s room at 6:30 am and groaned. I was awake and a captive in my bed. I heard the little brother being woken up. I heard the clash and clang in the kitchen. I flinched at the thought of the mess being made, even though I promised not to sweat the small things at least for a day. I tossed and turned and watched the minute hand drag. Finally, the door creaked open. The boy poked his head to see if I was asleep. He tiptoed over to say a quiet good morning and then seeing my eyes open climbed on to bed to snuggle.

I was invited to the kitchen table and saw this


Sahana and Ryan stood next to it with brilliant smiles. I have to say my eyes glanced over at the kitchen, smile didn’t waver though. Seeing no imminent disaster, I inwardly sighed a sigh of relief. Cards were opened and read, kisses were exchanged, hugs were given. When I discovered my gift, the first realization dawned. The gifts were four packets of seeds. Two of them basil, which I love, one parsley and one sunflower. They explained the symbolism to me.

“We see you as the gardener, Mom, helping us grow. Nurturing us with your love. So we thought seeds would be a good gift. Also, it is spring, we should start planting!”

I smiled at the thoughtfulness of the gift. The morning was getting better and better. Breakfast was eaten. From my previous experiences of mother’s day breakfasts, I was ready for some crunchy egg shells in my fried eggs. I was also ready to take it in my stride and keep the expression unchanged and chew on bravely. The egg shells were absent. I, then, realized I have an almost fourteen year old in my house who is slowly becoming a competent chef. That was the second realization. Both of my children were growing up. The hand made cards are not mere scribbles but actual thoughts. The hand made gift didn’t quite carry the mark of an amateur any more.

But then things didn’t go as planned. The teenager who has to get up at the crack of dawn every day to catch the bus was irritable due to lack of sleep. Arguments began, and they were sent to their rooms. I went to the kitchen to clean up, only to discover that the dishwasher had been unloaded and the kitchen already cleaned up. The stony heart melted a bit and I went back to find them. Sahana was back in bed, fast asleep. Ryan was lying on the couch with a book. I called MY mother to tell her how much I love her and how much I miss her in my day to day life.

While Sahana slept most of the morning, Ryan and I took a long, leisurely walk with Sage. We held hands and tried solving all kinds of problems so the world would become a more wonderful place than it already is. We talked, also, about fantastic things like eating healthy and exercising. Ryan’s reason for doing so is somewhat different than mine. He wants a prospective wife to check him out at some point. I said eating healthy should be about keeping your health good. To that, he dismissively said, “Oh yeah! That too!”

We planted the seeds and tangled with Sage in the yard while Sahana slept on. I tried to figure out her logic of making me breakfast at 7:00 am and then sleeping the entire day. But who said teenagers were logical? She finally woke up around lunch time. I ended up making their favorite lunch, I ended up taking Sahana to the library to work on her project, I ended up taking Ryan to his baseball game, and then finally, I ended up making dinner for all.

In every way, the day was business as usual, except the morning celebration. But then again, it wasn’t. The unexpected hugs by both the kids made it different, the beautiful note that my husband sent me from a far away land made it different, the runner duo who we met on our walk wishing me ‘happy mother’s day’ as they ran by us made it different, the gorgeous sky, bright sunshine, birds chirping on the trees made it different. As I high fived Ryan on his brilliant catch and double play in his baseball game, he nodded shyly and said, “That was for you mom. Happy Mother’s Day!” That made it very different. I came home with a heart full of happy songs.

I will celebrate Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day was a relatively new concept in India in the mid nineties. It was a borrowed concept from the West and we all sneered at this custom of designating this one day to mothers. “For us, 365 days are mother’s day. We don’t just designate one single day to celebrate motherhood!” we said. We were wrong. At least I was wrong. I didn’t celebrate mother’s day for all 365 days. I love my mother, but I didn’t celebrate her, I didn’t appreciate all she did for me, the things she went without to make sure I had everything I needed. Honestly, when I say she went without, she really did. Trust me, there is no drama involved in that line. She was, and still is, a constant comfortable presence in my life, my ultimate cheer leader, my picker upper when life dealt a blow, my confidante, and let’s face it, a nagging voice in my conscience till I did what needed to get done. I always felt words of love and thanks were redundant in a mother daughter relationship. It is understood that I love her. I shouldn’t have been presumptuous. Words may have been inadequate but I still should have tried. I have learnt to respect the power of words, since. So I write my feelings for her now.

The commercial aspect of Mother’s Day offends me. The day shouldn’t be about presents (although I don’t grudge any of you a day in a spa, or pandora bracelets or whatever you get), it shouldn’t be about the brightness of flowers or glitzy store bought cards! The day should be about telling your mom, “I see you. Yes you do drive me crazy sometimes (which mom doesn’t) but I love you more than you will ever know. Not because you gave birth to me but you tried your best to help me grow! You did what you thought was best for me. I didn’t always agree. But you were driven by love. And I love that.” There are exceptions to this mother image that I talk about, but then again, as the cliche goes “exception proves the rule”. The day should be about giving her that precious gift called Time. The day should be about picking up the phone and asking her how she is really doing. The day should be about noticing her as a separate identity, a woman as well as a mother.

I will indeed celebrate Mother’s Day. I will step out of this race against time for one day and find a comfortable seat on the grass. And I will pull out the memory book of my life and turn the pages backwards. I will revisit that moment when I first became a mother and held my first born to my chest. I looked down at her unfocused steel grey eyes and experienced some emotions that I cannot put to words. Was it love? Was it bewilderment? Was it fear? Was it apprehension? Was it pride? Was it tiredness? Was it all of these and more? It was a sense of an ending and a sense of a new beginning, all at the same time. It was the joy of holding a miracle. It was a fear of breaking her.

I will take a leisurely walk to see the first moment when I held Sahana in my arms, kissed her snub nose and whispered in her ear “I will see you soon” as the doctors whisked her away. I will remember the curly haired little baby girl who learnt to walk one summer in a rented summer house in Cape Cod while family sat around her, waiting to catch her if she fell. I will remember holding her soft hand as we waited for her preschool bus to take her to preschool. I will remember the moment when Ryan came screaming and kicking into this world and I heard the proud father saying to the new born, “You are so sweet, I could eat you!” as he cuddled the yawning baby. His toothless grins, the warmth of HIS soft hand in mine as we walked inside the grocery store. All those stressful moments when he was a rambunctious toddler and my fear that he was going to bump someone. His first day at preschool, his astonished expression as Sean blew on his face and dunked him in the pool at the tender age of 5 months.

I have a treasure of sweet memories that I want to write down for myself. I want nobody to present me a bouquet of cut flowers. I will, instead, pick up those memories of sweetness and kindness that my children have given me. They have offered their smile, their thoughts, their innocence, their childhood to me as flowers. I have accepted some, some I discarded because I have been preoccupied with schedules and timetables. I will pick up those discarded flowers too and tie myself a bouquet. Like when Sahana said she wants to grow up to be a parent just like me. Or today when Ryan assured me, although he gets very, very angry with me when I scold him, he never, ever hates me. Hate is not what he feels towards me, never. It is love, always love.

These are my presents that they have already given me. Along with the laugh lines. I have discovered my ability to love unconditionally because they were born. That is their gift to me. But I want more on this special day. I want them to give me a day when they refrain from sibling rivalry and meanness. I want them to take my hand and walk some distance with me, I want them to tell me about their thoughts, their emotions, their lives. I want this day to be schedule less and unstructured. I won’t ask them to be good and brave and nice and kind. I will not fret about grades. I will not talk about the frustrations that come with parenting. Heaven knows, I talk about that often. I won’t look at the bigger picture and worry about how they are growing up. I will simply live the day and feel very, very blessed to have two healthy children in my life, who drive me insane, cause tears of laughter, and make this mother’s world very colorful by just being here. I lose sight of this simple truth on most days. On Mother’s Day, I won’t.

Being a mom ain’t easy!

If that is not the understatement of the millennium, then I do not know what is! On top of that, it has been reiterated so many times that you have probably stopped reading at this point. Or you didn’t even click on it, thinking “There she goes with one of her original thoughts!” Wink, wink!

I am not talking about the bouts of unexplained crying, the dirty, messy diapers, the temper tantrums in the middle of a parking lot, the filching of candy bars that are within reach from the baby carriage as mommy paid for the grocery, and making mommy trudge all the way back to the store from the parking lot with a gooey, chocolaty baby to pay for the stolen Toblerone, the terrible two’s, three’s…sevens…twelves….! Not talking about explaining difficult phenomenons like God, death, angels, Santa Claus, tooth fairy, nail fairy. Yup, in our family, we TRIED to believe in nail fairy and extract money out of her when accidentally a nail fell off after the finger was caught in a door. Nail fairy didn’t pay a visit, though. Not talking about raising your eyebrows sky-high and pointing to your watch when your daughter talks on the phone for more than half an hour! None of that old stuff! Much has been said on that already.

I am talking about how I can’t be naughty when I want to be. Even when the kids aren’t around, I feel like a hypocrite if I do something that I tell them not to do. I can’t seem to turn off my over worked conscience! My mother had no such qualms. Her mantra to me was ‘Do as I say, don’t do what I do!’ Wish I had adopted that dictum instead of ‘Practice what you preach!’ Reading way too many parenting books will do that to you!

Please be under no false impression that I lead my life perfectly to set an example. Heck no! But I do stop myself from using words like ‘hate’, ‘stupid’, ‘shut up’ ‘dumb’ and others that are no-no in the house! I thank the telemarketer for calling “No, I am not interested in your scheme but thank you sooo much for calling!” instead of slamming the phone down because we are already late for some practice or other. I can’t curse if I want to (good thing I don’t want to curse often), ‘What an idiot’ being my limit! The other predicament is I can’t eat chocolates and other desserts in peace. My guilty conscience or mommy conscience stops me from pilfering and devouring a whole chocolate bar. If I manage to quieten my conscience and open the refrigerator with the intention of stealing, I encounter a bag of candies with this written on it: Mom, keep out! Quite unwillingly, I make a fair share of a chocolate bar. Couple of days ago, I felt extremely low energy. I had a lot of errands to run, grocery shopping being one of them. I decided to treat myself to a delectable chocolate mousse cake as a ‘pick me up’ for lunch. Decadent, I know. I came home feeling very naughty and indulgent. But then I couldn’t eat it. I simply couldn’t! I remembered two faces who absolutely loved dessert. I kept it in the corner of the kitchen eyeing it and ‘cursing’ myself for not buying more of those so I could have one.

Finally, I divided the cake to my two children for after school snack when they came home. Dessert is a very special treat in our house. The little faces lit up “Wowza! What got into mom today? How did we get so lucky? Dessert for snack? And we didn’t have to do a thing to earn it????”

As I said, being a mom ain’t easy, but then again, nobody said it would be! I teach them to behave well and they keep their eyes glued on me so I have to toe the line, most of the times. I guess we help each other ‘grow’!

Mamas around the world, lets raise a glass to the universal mommy hood. Here’s to TRYING our level best to raise some worthy citizens of the world and TRYING to be better humans ourselves, in the process.

There are, fortunately, books on parenting. Really helpful ones which tell us we are not doing this alone. There are others who are trying their very best. Here are some to look at:

Simplicity parenting : using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids

Minimalist parenting : enjoy modern family life more by doing less