Filling in with life.


No description available.

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.

No description available.

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.

Sage’s path


This is Sage’s path. No, our county did not name it Sage’s path, we did. Our backyard abuts some sports fields and right next to the fields were acres and acres of cornfields for as long as we lived here. About 3 years ago, the owner of those cornfields sold his land to developers. One fine day, we saw and heard big machinery mowing down the green. Like magic, big and small houses appeared, they were sold and bought, within a year young families moved in. Lucky for us, though, the developers kept a swath of land undeveloped and wild as a buffer between the new community and the fields.

As Sage grew older, we shortened the route of his regular walk to the fields so he had enough stamina and also could walk leash free. Every morning, I hung his leash around my shoulder, opened our gate and walked towards the field. Sage, quivering with excitement bounded ahead, but always looked back to make sure I was within his sight. A lot was accomplished during those walks. Bunnies were sniffed out, mom was protected from attacking deer, exciting new smells were discovered, explored and sometimes licked. If mom did not stop him in time, there was some rolling in deer poop. Then there was scolding and shaking of head by mom, followed by a bath when we came home. As Sage explored the wilderness, I freed my mind, breathed in the fresh air and tried to absorb the soothing energy. Even on his last day, I took him to his fields to say a final goodbye. He could not walk far so he took a few steps, looked around. I believe he sighed.

The shadow of the 3 of us on Sage’s path.

Sage left us on January 31st and we began our quarantine on March 13th. During this time of physical isolation, Sean, Sahana and I walked in the fields and the undeveloped area that the developers spared almost every single day. Without a big yellow dog to chase and scold them, the deer, foxes and bunny rabbits watched us walk by. I could almost see a bounding big dog running ahead of us, looking back, saying, “You coming?” We talked about him. We walked through those fields every single evening, reminiscing about Sage but in a good way. That path, for his humans, has become Sage’s path.

Ryan laces up his sneakers saying, “I will go for a run to Sage’s path.” When we ask each other where we wanted to walk that evening we suggest, “Should we just go to Sage’ path?”

I realize grief is non linear. I think of him everyday. I really do. This quarantine gave me so much time to pause and grieve. It gave me the opportunity to get angry at the injustice of losing him and also gave me moments when I smiled at his memories. Each of us grieved in our own unique ways. Ryan’s perspective on this loss was noteworthy and I thought I should write it down.

“I know, mom, you are so sad about his death. I was, of course, sad but I learnt a lesson from losing him. Sage’s death has taught me something new. Losing something invaluable like Sage has taught me I need to value what I have. I am fifteen. Before losing Sage, I took things for granted. My family, my friends, the materials I have. His death taught me not to take things for granted. Nothing lasts. I need to value what I have. I text back my friends more regularly which I did not do before, I try to spend more time talking to my family, I appreciate all that I have. Sage’s death taught me all this.”

Although Sage decided to simply find a permanent place in our hearts, his path remains. His path leads me to peace. It leads Sean to contemplation. It leads almost adult Sahana to a bonding time with her family and perhaps, reflection. His path leads Ryan to a life lesson.

Rest in happiness, beautiful boy.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 4, Playa Del Carmen


The fourth day was unplanned. We had run ragged since we arrived in Mexico, so we decided to take a day of rest. Fortified with painkillers and antibiotics, I peeked out at the sunshiny day outside from our hotel room and greeted it with a wide smile. The sun did the same.

Sean got roped into listening to a vacation share sales pitch. I grudgingly agreed to it since the deal was they would give us heavily reduced tickets to the eco theme park Xcaret if we gave the sales team our time. We sat through the sales pitch in a beautiful resort while the children played on the beach. We refused to shell out $20,000 to buy two weeks of vacation and came back with four tickets to the eco theme park.

Mexican food is delicious but after four days of tacos (the children disliked the authentic tacos there since the meat was chopped and not ground and the taco sauce was different than what they are used to in the US), pibil, guacamole, nachos we were ready for a change of palate. We craved some soul food – Italian! We lunched in an Italian restaurant on fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen where the food was delicious and the price was exorbitant. Sea food fettucine for me, gnocchi for Sahana and Sean, salmon and shrimp pizza for Ryan, which he did not like.

After lunch we strolled back leisurely to our hotel, nodding to the local shop owners, smiling at fellow tourists. We came back, changed in our swim suits and found our beach by 3:45 pm. While the man and his cubs frolicked in the water, I donned my hat, shades, sarong and went on a long walk along the beach. Beach attracts me for the blue ocean, the faraway horizon where the ocean raises to kiss the cloud filled blue sky, the spectacular sunsets, the salty tang of air, the gritty feel of the sand beneath my feet, the intricate carvings on an abandoned sea shell. It also brings me close to the stillness, the carefree joy, the familial bonding that my fellow humans bring to the beach. Very rarely do I see wo/men bent over their electronic devices. They either rest, play, sunbathe, walk, bond, laugh by the water or in it. This coming together of nature and mankind makes me happy. I am both the observer and the absorber of nature and man.

The evening was dedicated to the beautiful beach city of Playa Del Carmen. Locals lamented the loss of its beauty and simplicity with the booming tourism and development of this area. As Cancun got overcrowded resorts started buying up property and developing Playa. Gone are Playa Del Carmen’s sleepy days. The city now dons a new apparel every night and glitters for the people who come to visit. We dined at a 100 percent natural Mexican restaurant, which the grown ups loved and the children did not care for.

After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.
After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.

Then we walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue as Sahana and Ryan licked their double scoops of ice cream from a glittery Haagen Daaz. There were men on stilts, overpriced artifacts, trinkets, masks, designer stores with that homogenous smell of designer perfumes. There were ferrets, snakes and baby Chow chows to be petted and taken pictures with, if you paid. Local artists painted on the roadsides and sold their paintings. Musicians serenaded diners in open air restaurants. We ended up at Punta Playa (the port of Playa) where we sat with local families and watched street performers performing skits in Spanish. Sean drew me closer and flicked his head up at the sky. I looked up following his gaze to see the splendidly shining moon finally emerging from behind some dark clouds, over the ocean. Sean found my hand and held on. We stood there for a while, my back against my husband as the moon played hide and seek with us and slowly, ever so slowly, disappeared again. How perfect was that moment!

image

We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Xcaret tomorrow – snorkeling, floating down secret river, flamingos, dolphins…

“Follow thee more nearly..”


In my life, oftentimes, the most memorable memories are made in most mundane or most stressful moments. I sometimes wonder if it is Nature’s way of teaching me our worries are just tiny specks in a much bigger, more meaningful picture. They pale in relevance to the beauty and love surrounding me and my life. I hype up my worries and fret over little things.

It was an unhappy Saturday morning when all 4 of us woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I was unwell, the children were jet lagged from our trip back from India, Sean was overwhelmed with the amount of work that he needed to finish. The children irritated each other by their mere presence. I was busy filling out our family calendar with fall activities. My misery and sense of doom increased exponentially as the calendar became beautifully colorful. Finally I couldn’t stand the bickering and pettiness and ordered them out.

“Go out and run around the house. Stay out till you are invited in.”

In a few minutes, Ryan came running in.

“You guys must come out. Come out and see!!”

This is what we saw.

IMG_0589

IMG_0590

IMG_0594

It was a moment of deja vu. Last fall, while I was filling up my google calendar with fall activities, my unhappy gloom was lifted by the brilliant spectrum of sunlight reflected in a wispy thin, silk spider web by the side of our house. This year, it was a monarch butterfly on the sunflowers, which are my prized possessions since my children gave me the seeds on Mother’s Day. Their bloom was my special gift. The four of us stood in harmony, immersed in the brilliance of the blue sky, yellow sunflower and the monarch butterfly drinking in the nectar from the flower.

How symbolic is this? I wondered if this peace and calm that I felt are what humans yearn for when they turn towards God and pray? The earth, the universal giver, gives sustenance and nurtures beauty in the form of the sunflower. The sunflower receives the bountiful love, stands up tall and beautiful and when it is ready, becomes the giver. The butterfly descends on its breast to drink in nourishment and love, takes a part of its love in the form of pollen and gives it back to the earth, thus spreading the beauty and love. It receives and gives back. Hence the life-giving cycle of giving and receiving continues. Resurrection of life, love, beauty.

Isn’t this the absolute truth that we strive to understand through religion, through the stories of Second coming, resurrection of Christ, reincarnation of Krishna, the return of beauty and goodness?

Unconditional giving, grateful receiving and then spreading the wealth of love, beauty and peace. We can choose to ‘follow thee (this) more nearly’….or not. The choice is ours.

I have been duped…


Forgive me, for I have misled you. I have given you false information from the beginning and I am truly sorry. Well, please believe me when I say that I haven’t willfully told untruths, I have been duped.

It all started when the yellow fuzzball came to our house. It was veni, vidi, vici – we were silly putty in his little paws, floppy ears, cute pink tongue and round chocolate drop eyes. He saw the male in the house and very wisely showed him the belly in submission. Now, I understand, it was all a ploy – to sneak into our hearts and make his permanent abode there.

image

image
I took him to Ryan’s preschool for Ryan’s show and tell. The 20 week old puppy lay quietly on his back so 16 little 4 year olds could rumble over him. He didn’t bat an eyelid but savored the love. He was the star student in his puppy kindergarten class. The trainer insisted I should think of using him as a therapy dog. He is an honorary lap dog, he crouches down low so the little dogs and puppies can have an access to his face. He literally whimpers as we walk by the lion-hearted, neighborhood alpha dog Chihuahua’s house. I almost crumble at the behavior of my 94 pound dog and the ultra pacifist, anti-war me urges him to ‘stand up tall since he can eat that little dog for breakfast!’ He doesn’t kill the stink bugs, just sniffs them and turns away. His dad is very curious about what he would do if he ever caught a bunny or a chipmunk.

‘He won’t know what to do with them. He will probably end up licking them and loving them!’ says the man.

I used to nod my head as my heart swelled up in pride for our pacifist, gentle, loving pup. But now, I am not so sure.

Sage has worked hard at building up his image of gentle giant. I puff up in pride as I grant the requests of children and adults

‘May I pet your dog?’

‘Oh sure. He is very friendly!’

It took him a few years to figure out that he really can’t do much damage to the teasing chipmunks and the taunting bunny rabbits in our yard, so he shows them a sagely non chalance. He exudes a ‘I have achieved Nirvana, and you can’t reach my inner peace’ kind of a vibe when the annoying animals come close to his fence. He pricks his ears and watches the blue jays and cardinal couples carefully as they land on and take off from his fence post. I don’t quite know what he thinks of those species who fly around in air. Only the fox who peeks in our yard from time to time is simply intolerable, still. He paces the floor when he smells the fox scent, tells us with his eyes to open the back door and once we comply, he flies out to yell obscenities at the fox and drive him away from the periphery of our yard. But the beautiful fox points out the futility of Sage’s manic behavior as he calmly sits and grooms himself, just partly hidden from the human and canine sight while Sage foams at the mouth.

image
I believed in the gentleness of my boy and I expounded it in blogs, updates and conversations. But I have been disillusioned and it is time to tell the truth.

On a beautiful summer evening, my shadow and I ditched the kids in the house and decided to spend some quiet time on the back deck. Just Sage and I, and the cerulean sky above us, the emerald foliage around us, the few fireflies, the occasional chipmunk, some birds and the general stillness. I sat looking out at the big tree in my backyard, looking up to see the sky turn pink with the rays of the setting sun, Sage rested his head on the ledge as he kept his eyes on the flitting birds. There was a small white butterfly/ moth like creature hovering around Sage’s snout for a while. It was flitting around him, doing its dance. Sage was so still, I wondered if he even felt it. I was contemplating getting my camera so if the butterfly/moth ever sat on Sage’s fur, I would take a picture of my gentle dog who wouldn’t hurt a (butter) fly. Suddenly…SNAP and the CRUNCH MUNCH!!! He calmly snapped at the poor thing, took it in his mouth and crunched munched it up. Very calmly, in a very Sage like way, but very expertly like a professional killer.

‘Sage, you monster!!! You just ate a poor, little, pretty butterfly!!’

He looked at me with his gorgeous chocolate eyes ‘Lady, do you mind keeping your voice down? I am contemplating nature here!’ And turned away! Not a trace of remorse! Nada!!

Now I can never say ‘Oh Sage won’t hurt a fly!’ Because he FREAKING ate one. Not a fly, perhaps, but a butterfly!!! Or a moth!! Or whatever that winged creature was.

Way back when…


I firmly believe it is always a good idea to start at the beginning. For instance, the day I caught a glimpse of the back of a tall, well-built man at the book corner of an upscale store in a five star hotel in Kolkata, where I worked at the time. The man must have felt the brush of the pallu of my saree on his arm, or the soft gentle swish of air as I passed by him to the cash register, he turned back and smiled at me. Months of customer service training made me immediately flex my facial muscles into a responding grin. But then I smiled a real smile. Maybe I smiled because his smile was so genuine and warm, maybe because he had kind eyes or just maybe because I was twenty-four and a very handsome man just smiled at me.

I finished my job at the register and went back to my department in the mezzanine floor and promptly forgot about the man downstairs. In about ten minutes, he came up. He needed a gift for a wedding he had to attend, it was a Sunday and all the stores in the city were closed. I gave him some suggestions, of course, but surprisingly, the conversation gradually shifted from gift ideas to us – my Master’s program, university, job, likes, preferences, his work, education et all. I do not remember what all we talked about, but I do remember we talked for about two and a half hours. My poor manager sent a coworker up to my floor to make sure I was coping fine with a foreigner. I also remember, after talking for close to an hour, he asked me if I was married. When I said no, he extended his arm, gripped my hand in a firm handshake and gave me his name. I tease him to this day that if I WAS married, would he have not told me his name? He says he wanted to make sure the coast was clear for him to pursue farther. Fair enough!

Before he left, he handed me his card and asked me to call him sometime. The cards that I got at that job generally ended up in the trash can. His, I kept. After a couple of weeks, while searching for change in my purse, I came up with his card. I remembered the feeling of happiness and excitement in me when he was talking, the ready smile and the twinkling green eyes. I made a decision, very unnatural for me. I decided to give him a call. I am naturally shy, not prone to taking chances or making the first move. But I wanted to see him again.

I could almost hear the pounding of my heart as I dialed the number and heard the phone ring on the other end. And then his deep voice boomed into my ears. I managed a squeaky hello and a stuttering ‘I am Piyali!’

The response to that was, “Which Piyali?”

Oh, the embarrassment!!! I felt a flush of warmth creeping upon my face as shame swept over me. He didn’t remember me! I wanted to hang up immediately, instead I calmly mentioned I was Piyali from the ______! My voice didn’t waver but I was close to tears at the humiliation of being so forgettable. He recovered quickly. He even managed enthusiasm in his voice, which he now claims, was genuine. And then dropped the second bomb.

“Do you want me to take you out for dinner sometime?”

Do I want him to???? No I did not. Girls in parochial Kolkata in mid nineties did not go out to dinner with unknown men. All I wanted was to see him again, maybe at the store, in a safe environment, among a lot of people!!! My degradation, at that point, was complete. I politely said, “No thank you. I just called to say hello. You have a good day!”

I was bitterly disappointed but also strangely relieved that I could close that chapter and move on. His interest in me that night meant nothing. The next day, he was back at the store. And the next, and the day after that. He kept coming back. I was thrilled to bits, reveling in all the attention and the cherishing the novelty of knowing a man from a different country.

Then one day he asked me, “So, when are you going to the Book fair with me?” Not “Will you go to the book fair with me” but “When….” I was caught off guard. I couldn’t go out with him. My virtue as a middle class, rule following Bengali woman was at stake if I was seen with a man, a white man at that! Yet, in my heart, I desperately wanted to. I broke the unwritten rules yet again, I gave in. Our first date was the Kolkata Book fair, standing in line to get ticket, walking leisurely to the book stalls, stopping to see the local artists paint pictures, pointing out the ones we liked the best, laughing at our dust laden shoes, talking of our idea of a perfect life partner, telling him I never wish to get married, wishing his wife good luck when he said he wanted six children.

Our courtship was beautiful. Our rendezvous were covert, romantic and thrilling. For the demure, rule follower me, dating was a wild adventure in itself, dating a foreigner was beyond belief. He waited for me in front of the RamKrishna Mission in Golpark, outside my Mass Communication classes, he came by the hotel at night to pick me up and drop me home in his car. We walked along the Lake and the Maidan, we sat by the musical fountains and I talked to him about Rabindra Nath Tagore, sung him a few of my favorite songs. We ate ice cream at Scoops by the river Ganga and watched the sun go down by the Howrah bridge. We soaked in the sight of the pinkish hue of the Victoria memorial as the last rays of Kolkata sun illuminated the splendid marble architecture. Kolkata is a city where I was born, I have many pleasant memories of it. But the streets of Kolkata, that I roamed with the special man by my side will always have a special place in my heart. It was on those streets that we explored each other fully and discovered each other’s thoughts, views, core values. We found commonality and we found differences. We learnt, we grew and we fell in love.

Almost seventeen years and two children later, we are here today. Silver highlights in my black hair, and there is stylish grey around his temples. The love notes that we used to write to each other every day have been replaced by grocery lists, sticky notes saying ‘there is food in the oven’, quick texts saying when the kids need to be picked up and from where. I mourn the loss of the wild rush of the romance of the first few years. What happened to those days of listening to love songs, day dreaming, walking the streets of Kolkata and later Baltimore, endlessly, completely lost in each other, sighing over poetry of Pablo Neruda, candle lit dinners and serenades? G.B Shaw is spot on when he says:

When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part. ~G.B. Shaw, Getting Married, 1908.

We did not remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously. Who does, after seventeen years? The most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions have given way to steady rhythm of gentle companionship and a deeper bond of trust, love and understanding. We have both learnt to recognize and appreciate the different manifestations of love that is not limited to love notes, love songs, moon sightings and passionate sighs, but goes way beyond that to make one feel truly cherished.

Some nights I come back home from work to find him fast asleep or semi asleep. I open the refrigerator – my dinner is waiting to be heated up, the dishes are done and the kitchen is sparkly clean. I feel completely loved then – more than love letters, diamond rings or flowers could ever make me feel. I wake up in the morning after a night of snow to find the driveway already shoveled and my car cleaned so I can get out without worries. Most mornings, I feel him covering me up with my kicked away blanket and tucking me in so I can get a few more minutes of sleep as he gets up to do his exercise. In my semi awake state I hear him softly shutting my door and whispering to the children, “Don’t bother mommy. Let her sleep in!” Children, schedules, home works, activities, jobs take up most of our time these days. Mortgage, bills, college funds have replaced thoughts of Neruda, Dali, Simon and Garfunkel. Most days we don’t feel it, yet some days, while taking a hike among nature, when we have a moment to pause and take stock, we look at each other and find fulfillment. We are in it together, we built our life together, creating a family, nurturing our young ones and taking care of each other in sickness and health.

Despite all our responsibilities, I still find time to put my arm in the crook of his elbow when we go for a walk, he still makes me feel like a giggly girl when he flashes a smile and teases, we still banter like we used to which seem very amusing to the children, he still calls me out to show a splendor of nature – like the sunlight creating a rainbow in a spiderweb on the side of our house. I still don’t enjoy any experience to the fullest unless I have shared it with him. It was simply wonderful to be young and recklessly in love. I am so glad we have those memories. But I am indeed glad to grow and mature in this relationship with my spouse where a few stolen moments in the morning before the craziness starts see us through the entire day.

I love being married for all the right reasons. I love the man in my life for the man that he is. I love the feeling of being the only one for him. I also love being married for the reason Rita Rudner says here.

It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life. ~Rita Rudner

Indeed!

We walked a walk and talked the talk – a bit early maybe.


Sage (my dog), Ryan (my son) and I went for a walk today and did some serious exchanging of ideas. Sage didn’t share much. He was somewhat preoccupied with the various dog pee smells in each and every tree trunk or light post that we encountered. Ryan and I did most of the talking. Ryan may well be seven years old, he is very wise for his age.

The conversation started with how summer was going;  is Ryan excited about second grade; is mom excited about her new job and such like. Then we moved on to the question of how the first tree was created and whether the trees that we see around us are the descendants of that first tree. Then next topic we discussed was how Sage’s shadow resembled one particular type of wolf, and my young scientist gravely declared that Sage has descended from that particular wolf who has left his shadow with Sage as an inheritance.

We got into serious grounds next – drinking alcohol. Sean and I don’t drink alcohol. I tried it as a youngster, never liked the taste, never felt the need for it in my life. Sean made a conscious choice to stay away from alcohol because he too didn’t feel the need to introduce that poison in his body. In fact, I heard this story on my wedding day from his friends:

“Your husband is a piece of work. He went to a bar in Costa Rica with friends and ordered a glass of milk!!!”

Ryan and Sahana have decided not to drink alcohol as well when they are adults.

On our walk, Ryan asked me if making the choice (of not drinking) was difficult and more importantly is it going to be hard for him when he grows up. Teaching moments, or rather talking moments like these don’t come up often in our hectic schedule. So I put it to good use.

For me, the choice was relatively easy. In the mid eighties India when I was a teenager, drinking was still considered a taboo among the middle class, especially for girls. Most of my girl friends abstained from drinking and the boy friends didn’t expect us to drink anyway, so there was not much peer pressure, or the need to conform. Sean had more of a difficult time growing up in America where drinking alcohol had more acceptance as a social norm. But after the initial ‘Come on man, just one drink’ people respected his choice and left him alone. They also appreciated his voluntary service as their designated driver after parties.

Ryan and Sahana, I believe will have more of a difficult time standing their ground, if they choose to stay away from alcohol, than we had. I say this because in first grade play ground  discussions, little boys and girls have already questioned Ryan about his choice, “You are so funny! Why won’t you ever drink? I have sipped from my parents’ drink, I like it!” I told him he is going to hear more of it as he becomes a teenager. Teenage drinking is a huge problem world wide. And really, what is the harm in one drink? One glass of red wine is even beneficial for health, I often hear. The harm is, one drink often becomes two and then becomes three. His strength of character will be sorely tested when and if he refuses drinks in people will back off and respect his choice if he stands his ground.

I am a firm believer in ‘live and let live’. I have made my choice in my life. I respect other ADULTS’ choice of enjoying their alcoholic beverage as long as they don’t harm others under its influence and don’t get behind the wheels after downing a few. We have spent way too many moments of silence in different sporting activities, in memories of teenagers who lost their lives to drunk driving. I am not going to go into statistics, it is out there right in front of our eyes.

Life is about making choices. My children will make a choice on this when they are at a legal drinking age (I hope). My job, as a parent, is to make sure they are aware of all the ill effects that alcohol has on human body and let them make an informed decision. All I can hope is my children stay away from it.  And if they don’t, then I hope they make good judgments of how much and when to stop. Most importantly, I hope they designate a driver!

Do our children suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder?


‘Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.’

Richard Louv talks about Nature Deficit disorder in his book “Last Child in the Woods. He writes about how the wired generation is slowly yet steadily severing the connection with nature as they remain glued to their smart phones and tv screens, resulting in rising obesity, attention deficiency disorder and depression.

Children stay indoors, hooked on to their smart phones, busy staying connected with the world, sharing their one liner responses and repartee. They are oblivious to the inconspicuous little violet flowers blooming amidst the green grass, or the bright yellow dandelion growing in their own backyard, or the red breasted cardinal trying to woo his plain brown mate, and the butterfly fluttering around the rhododendron bush. They don’t see these anymore as they are completely submerged in their virtual world. But the virtual world is just that, virtual! There is nothing new that I can say about the lessons of nature! It has all been said before! The great outdoors broaden our horizon, rejuvenates our souls, humbles us in its great expanse, reminds us we are mere specks in the grand scheme of things. Nature inspires us to create, we aspire to touch its beauty in canvas, in written words, through lenses. The changing season teaches us transience of time, the fleeting moments we have in this world and we should, indeed, seize the day. We really do not need to hike the Pacific Crest trail to be one with nature, we simply need to look up and look around.

I grew up in the congested city of Kolkata, far away from nature. Granted Kolkata was greener than what it is now, but it was still bereft of much natural beauty. Sure there were more trees, maybe some more green fields for children to play in; yes, a few more ponds that had not been devoured by man’s growing needs. Kolkata wasn’t sprawling out to the country side so when we took the train outside the perimeters of the city, we could still see the soothing green. So how did our generation, that grew up in big metropolises and far away from natural splendor escape some of the ill effects of Nature deficit disorder? I believe literature and human connection saved our generation – the generation of city dwellers. We still developed the sensitivity to appreciate the great outdoors because we read books and let our imaginations soar. We saw the ‘host of golden daffodils’ along with William Wordsworth and we too, with the poet, rejoiced at the memory, when ‘in vacant or in pensive mood.’ We went on journeys with poets and authors and learnt to look at nature through their eyes and through their words. Their words seeped into our hearts and made permanent tattoos of woods covered with snow and a lonely horseman pondering the miles to go before he sleeps, or the bright star that ‘not in lone splendor hung aloft the night’ (Keats)! We accompanied Apu and Durga of Pather Panchali (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) as they lost themselves in the magnificence of nature and discovered the joys of the unknown along with them. We, too, witnessed ‘Starry night’ along with Van Gogh. We named the nameless tree growing next to our window, “Amaltash” because we loved the name in Buddhadeb Guha’s books and imagined ourselves under its shade.

We heard stories of kings and princes and again our imaginations took flight. We fought along with them to bring peace, save the princess and slay the demons. But our children have routine, they have structure, they have practices. They have soccer and swimming, they have piano lessons and dance classes. Their evenings are structured to the very last minute till bedtime. So this summer, I decided to break free. My seven year old didn’t do any summer camps, my thirteen year old was left free to read and listen to music to her heart’s content.

They had time to lay on the grass and stare up at the sky.

And imbibe this serenity in their young minds!

Or soak in every bit of happiness that such a scene can evoke, right in their backyard.

We chased butterflies.

And saw one settle on a flower.

We caused ripples.

And we noticed the wild flowers and the bee.

Our children belong to this age of technology. They will be outcasts if they are not wired but then again, they will lose out so much more if they don’t cast off their wires often and open the door to the great outdoors. At the end of the summer, the children were ready to go back to school. They actually voiced their need for structure and routine in their lives. The seven year old, however,  knew a lot more about spider webs, butterflies and skimming rocks; the thirteen year old surprised me with quite a few songs that she wrote over the summer. And also this poem….

Beauty is nature
The pounding waves,
Scarring immortal rock
Leaves but a grain of sand.

Beauty is nature
Lulling me to sleep.
The darkness surrounding,
The whispering wind.

Beauty is nature
A leafy green tree
Wildlife vastly stretches
As man, a speck of dust, screams his significance.

Going to the beach…


We drove down to the beach to expose my poor parents to some camping experience. We hyped up the trip, expounded on the ‘fun’ aspect of camping on the beach. The sun, the sand, the water, the blue sky, the roasting hot dogs on the fire, the camp fire songs and stories. My parents come from the congested city of Kolkata. In Kolkata, we don’t go camping – generally. In the pleasant winter, we go to the botanical gardens or the zoo for a picnic, at least we used to when I was little. So camping was going to be a completely new experience for my mom and dad. We conveniently forgot to mention the uncomfortable sleeping conditions, the bugs, the darkness, and the other negative stuff that non camping lovers highlight and true campers pooh pooh. I am somewhere in the middle. But this post is not about our camping experience. This post is about the stream of thoughts that I had on our way to the State park for our camping trip.

The back roads that led to the beach flashed some images of rural Bengal in my mind and how different the two settings are. What different emotions these two very different scenes evoke in me. Last year, Sean and I took a road trip to Shantiniketan, famous for the Viswa Bharati University that was founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore envisioned a different kind of education for the young, malleable, open minds that children have. The minds with endless possibilities that can achieve great things only if they were set free to think outside the box. He created open air class rooms where classes were held under chateem trees, the teachers taught in the open air, under the sky, amidst nature. I had seen the university a few times but I wanted to show my American husband what my favorite poet, visionary and educator, Rabindranath Tagore had envisioned and created.

Our car sped through the controlled chaos – unplanned, haphazard greenery, chaos even amidst the resplendent green, mud huts, small plots of land being ploughed by man and oxen, brown-skinned people, scantily dressed children looking on at the passing cars, collecting water, playing marbles. Little ponds in between, women drawing water for household chores, the earthy smell mixed with the smell of cow dung and manure. Thin cows and water buffaloes grazing, stray, mangy dogs, squawking chicken, songs of Rabindranath Tagore playing in my mind – the familiar, soothing feeling of a scene from home, a feeling of belonging. It will be presumptuous of me to assume that the people that we saw in those surroundings were happy. I realize that thought would be naive and idealistic. But the aura was one of simplicity. I will also say this, it was easy for us to feel that way sitting in our air-conditioned car, looking out at the hard-working men and women and enjoying this feeling of being relaxed and carefree.

20120819-231301.jpg

20120819-232005.jpg

The contrast to here is stark. The planned stretches of farmland, picturesque houses far in between with white picket fences, healthy looking lonely, dappled horse flicking its tail, fattened cow grazing. An Amish gentleman trotting steadily on his horse-drawn buggy in his traditional Amish clothes; tall, shiny silos raising their proud heads high up proclaiming the prosperity of their owner, automatic, giant pivot irrigation systems irrigating the farmland, a farmer on a tractor – occasionally spotted. Images of apple pies and fried chicken flood my mind’s eye and make me desperate to taste some. It is neat, orderly, slightly clinical but a sense of peace and quiet, a sense of calm.

As I said earlier, the two scenes in two very different countries evoke two very different feelings in me, both positive, both peaceful in different ways.

Since I was already in a mood for comparing, the beaches brought out different feelings as well. The beaches here mostly have clean yellow sand, relatively less polluted water, lots of skin, umbrellas, beach chairs, sun lotions, beach toys and sand castles. Bathrooms and concession stands to make one’s beach experience pleasurable. I love to just get up and go for a long walk by the ocean feeling the spray on my face, the sand under my feet and the sun on my shoulders. People generally bring surf boards, go surfing, swim, eat their food, put more sunblock on, read or sleep. When I go to a beach in this country, I mainly look out at the horizon and try to fathom the expanse of the sea, and expand with it in my mind. I notice the changing colors of water more, I notice the blushing red sky at sunset, I look up at the full moon up in the sky, I notice the sand dunes and the shadows they cast as the sun changes position, I am more in tune with nature.

In India, nature for me takes a back seat since there is so much entertainment and people watching on the beach. Girls in their full traditional outfit, salwar kameezes, giggling at the edge of the water, daring each other to go in. Men in their underwear, a little deeper, in the water, maybe up to their knees, urging their respective wives to come to him. The young couple gets some sweet moments of shared intimacy in the water as the waves crash them against each other. The newly wed bride holds on to her young husband and laughs a happy, content laugh. The elders in the family, if present, look on with a bemused, indulgent smile on their faces, happy that the man is taking care of his woman. All this touching will be frowned upon as soon as they leave the safety of the water. A married woman of mature age wears a salwar kameez instead of her regular wear – a saree and revels in the guilty pleasure. The pictures will be her only memories of this change once she goes back to her regular life. She will never wear anything but a saree there. The hawkers sell their ware, photographers try to take pictures of you and make you buy them. Food sellers cook food right by the beach making the air aromatic with the heavenly smells from their smoky woks. People buy cheap shell jewellery, eat road side food, it is a carnival every night by the beach. In the midst of all this, the sun rises with the same splendor and casts brilliant light on the sea, the sea changes different hues of blue and aquamarine, the sun sets with resplendence. I sometimes get a glimpse, often times don’t, since my eyes are glued to the mass of humanity.

I am at a good place. I find my sense of balance by belonging to both these countries. I need my simplicity, and I need by orderliness, the beauty of nature refreshes my soul and my fellow humans make me feel a part of a huge plan. I need it all and lucky me, I get it all.

20120819-232219.jpg

20120819-232309.jpg

20120819-232344.jpg

20120819-232422.jpg

It took a moment….


 

I woke up sad. If my husband was reading this, he would say ‘Tell me something new!’ But the truth is I wake up grumpy and warn my family not to talk to me till I get that first sip of coffee, but I don’t wake up sad. Grumpy vs sad, there is a difference.

Today I woke up with a heavy heart because today was going to be my day of updating our google calendar, today would be the day to put all those hand written, hastily scribbled notes on the paper calendar, official. I had ignored them for a while hoping they would go away if I laughed with my husband, exchanged ideas with friends, played with Sage, read with Ryan and listened to music with Sahana. But they weren’t going anywhere, so today would be the day to grab the bull by the horns.

I opened up my laptop and my husband went out with the trimmer to trim the edges of the lawn. I looked at my schedule and despaired at the different color coded activities that made the google calendar a work of art. Ryan needed to be at football practice three times a week and his swim team practice was three times a week as well. Sahana had to be at her swim team practice four times a week, there would be an hour of dryland on top of that. I work two evenings a week. How??? This was mathematically impossible!!! The house was quiet, the children were still sleeping, the neighborhood hadn’t really woken up. I could hear the muted sound of Sean’s trimmer doing its job.

I felt an existential angst that I have never felt before. This was not living! This is not what I imagined life would be for me, hasty meals and quick peck on the cheeks as we exchanged car keys. We couldn’t have a meal together any day of the week. Meal times are sacred for us. We connect then, exchange stories, laugh with, and sometimes, at each other. And who could I blame but myself? I signed them up, I paid for the classes. I had over committed. Not willingly, but caved in. I couldn’t say a firm ‘No’ when Ryan requested to play football. We were becoming the family who ate meals at McDonald’s (we wouldn’t go that far, the McDonald’s part is more for effect:) )and ran to their next committment. While I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t realize the sound of the trimmer had stopped. I heard Sean call out my name,

‘Come quick and bring the camera!’

‘Not now, I am busy!’

‘Please, come now, bring the camera!’

Disgruntled, I got the camera and stormed out with an exasperated ‘What???’

Sean was standing in front of an exquisitely woven, thin, almost translucent work of art – a spider web. He stood in front of it in awe watching the newly risen sun reflecting its morning fresh light, creating brilliant hues of green and blue. The gentle breeze swung the spider web, ever so gently. There was not a sound to be heard, just Sean standing there with a look of utter admiration, his voice hushed to a whisper so as to not disturb the sanctity of the moment. A brilliant sun washed, blue sky, a few yellow butterflies flying around the rhododendron bush, bright red cardinals flying around in the nearby trees. The moment was picture perfect. Nature was mocking my sadness over trivialities of life. I handed Sean the camera, he took some shots of the web. We stood there together looking at this complex and beautiful creation. It will sound cliché, but how can I not say it, that such is life, complex, yet oh so beautiful. We looked for the creator. S/he was nowhere to be seen :)!

When I came back inside, the ‘steel girl’ was back! My confidence surged, I looked down at the colorful google calendar and gave it a ‘I got this’ smile! I was grateful for the moment of shared togetherness, when we both stopped for a moment to take a look outside at the beautiful world out there and hidden joys for us to discover. It shook me out of the ‘Oh, please feel bad for me, because I am over booked’ kind of whining! This crazy schedule is going to be over in a couple of months and life will take some form of normalcy. My worries over schedule seemed so trivial in the grand scheme of things. I counted the blessings I have in my life. I have a man in my life who loves me, I have two healthy children, who, despite being a work in progress, are really delightful, I have friends whose support I can count on in my hours of need, I just got a job that I wanted! Yes, poor you, indeed, madammommy!

The picture isn’t spectacular, the moment was. It reminded me of a few lines by William Blake that I read a life time ago:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
Eternity in an hour.