“A tree fell on my childhood…literally!”


There is a beautiful, majestic tree in my backyard. I love the tree so much that I have even written a sentimental blog about it.

You can read the blog here.

As a very irresponsible parent, I allowed my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son to build a ‘tree house’ along with 5 other similarly aged neighborhood children on the branches of that tree. Why is that irresponsible you ask? Because there was no adult supervision there. None! I shudder to think all the accidents that could have happened in the process. But it didn’t and they are alive to tell the story. So there’s that.

The tree house was simply some planks that were lying around in my neighbor’s yard. The children dragged those planks to our back yard, gathered huge nails and hammers. They hammered those heavy planks on to the branches of the tree and created a platform kind of a structure. As I write about it, I envision broken thumbs, pierced skin, flattened skulls – but none of those happened. As they hammered way above the ground, I calmly washed dishes, cooked dinner not worried about their safety at all. My neighbor finished her chores in her house unafraid as well. What were we thinking? Looking back, I think it was summer, the children were little and we wanted them out of the house. And it makes me embarrassed to think I was so calm while they were embarking upon such dangerous activities.

The ‘tree house’ was finished. The unabashed pride on those little faces at their accomplishment was priceless. They announced to the world that they had built their tree house all by themselves without any help from grown ups. Many afternoons were spent up on that tree house. Many picnics were had, many games were played, many imaginary friends were invited. Sahana was obsessed with spy games where she was the main spy with an assistant. The little brother, at that age, was honored to be an assistant and took his role very seriously. I have this precious photo of them as they played on their tree house.

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And yes, pictured above is their tree house. To them it was the best tree house that ever existed in the universe and who are we to dispute that?

As they got older, like many things in their childhood, the tree house was slowly forgotten. Sean looked up at the decaying planks and often talked about taking them down but never got to it. Recently, after a major storm, one of the limbs of our beautiful tree cracked and after hanging on an unused wire for a while it finally hit the ground one afternoon along with some rotted planks of the tree house (or tree platform). Sahana and I were having tea on the back deck when it happened.

“Mom, our tree house is falling down.” She exclaimed. “Did you see that? A tree fell on my childhood……literally!”

Since I am the archivist of her childhood, I will put this memory too in the treasure box. She can open it and peruse at her leisure. No tree shall fall on her childhood under my watch! 🙂

The heart picks up…


I woke up to gentle nudges from my mother.

‘Uthe por. Khela shuru hobe, dekhbi na? (Wake up, the game is going to start. Won’t you watch it?)

I used to wake up, rub my eyes and turn my attention to the already blaring TV set. A football match between two countries was set to begin in a World Cup tournament. It was perhaps 2 or 3 in the morning, and most likely I had school the next day. Yet, she woke me up. Yet, she let me watch. When my father chided about school and health, she said, ‘There will always be school, but Football World Cup comes around every four years!’ I have seen very few football enthusiasts like my mother and thankfully, she has passed on her zeal for the game to me. I learnt the rules of offside, the different positions of footballers and other nuances of the game from her. Football, for me, is so much more than just a game. It is the companionship of my mother and sometimes father, sipping cups of tea in the middle of week night and watching athletes fight it out over the possession of a ball on the field. It is the resounding GOAAAAAAAAL erupting in the neighborhood at the dark hours of night when a foreign team scored (India never had a team to field in the global arena and still does not). It is the collective joy of our favored team’s win. It is the combined sadness of an entire community when our favorite team lost. Football was my first means to connect with the world without quite being aware of it. It certainly was a means to bond with my football crazy city of Kolkata.

I grew up in those dark days of no internet and no cable. Our entertainments were limited to newspapers, magazines, and the limited shows that Doordarshan provided on television. But those were enough to fire up our fervor for football. After watching an early morning football game we would go to school and analyze each shot, each miss, each corner, each penalty. We would defend our favorite soccer player and berate the opponents. We read up the sports pages and spouted statistics to impress. During lunch and recess, we would take a temporary break from playing basketball and kick around a soccer ball pretending to be Zico or Zidane. We would talk of nothing else. What else was there to talk about when the World cup was being fought over in the global arena? We lived in football haze. And how we loved that. We would get home, finish our evening chores, get to bed and set the alarm for the next game. My mother, I remember, watched the game and cooked the next day’s meal before dawn so she could rest the following day. This became our routine for the entire month. We lived during the night and drooped during the day. We were football owls.

The road side dadas (local neighborhood boys) hung the flags of their respective teams by the roadside and set up shrines to their football teams complete with garlanded photographs of the footballers. Our paara (neighborhood) donned the yellow and green of Brazil. Our next paara sported blue and white of Argentina. There were trash talks galore:

‘Ja, ja neche neche goal debo toder!’ (Get lost, we will dance into your goals!)

‘Dekhe nebo, dekhe nebo toder!’ (We shall see!)

All good-natured, all in good humor. But these built up the ambiance and that whole month of the tournament was nothing like ordinary times. Most of my friends, family, acquaintances were caught up in football fever. Our schedules, lives, homework, jobs rotated around the schedules of our favorite teams. In public buses and trains complete strangers either bonded over Bebeto’s crib dance or exchanged heated words over Maradona’s controversial goal. There was either hate or love in my world, there was very little indifference. You were either a friend or a foe. There was nothing in between. There must have been folks who did not care for our frenzy. For us, they simply faded into oblivion – for that month. And after the Final game was played and the after the Champion team lifted the trophy, we walked around for a few days in a daze, lost, dejected and unsure of what to say when football talk died down. Commuters looked forlornly out of the windows in silence and snapped at fellow commuters, we picked up the basketball again in school, we lovingly looked at our scrapbooks full of pictures and statistics of the World Cup tournament till we put them away and forgot about them, our mothers became the dragon ladies, stickler for rules and disciplines. And life, for a while, lost its color. Till the next craze – local football, Wimbledon, cricket whatever. And the fan frenzy returned with a vengeance.

I am a middle aged woman now as Soccer world cup 2014 gets underway, living in a country where soccer is not a religion. I am a chauffeur, chef, educator, counselor, disciplinarian, hugs giver – or in one word, a mother. I don’t have enough time to indulge in football frenzy anymore. Yet, I can’t seem to help it. I have the schedule posted on my refrigerator wall, I have the games highlighted, I have time set aside. And thanks to Facebook, I get to watch the game with my fellow enthusiasts who are scattered all over the world. We discuss the game, we berate teams, we trash talk, we laugh together and we plan which games to watch together virtually. It is not the same as watching it with my mother in the middle of night and with the entire neighborhood, but it works quite well.

I surprise my new friends with my soccer zeal. Do you even know anything about the footballers in the Brazil team that you are cheering for, they ask! I do not know a thing! I do not have any statistics or any information on the players of Brazil memorized anymore, but does that really matter? The support for my team is not dependent on any of that. I say Brazil will win simply because I believe. Yes, they were the world champions five times, yes they play amazingly beautiful football but most importantly the faith comes straight from the heart. The heart does not care for numbers or reason. It just remembers the passion of the past, the moments that I have lived during past Football World Cups and it simply picks up from there.

And non soccer enthusiasts? I love you deeply, I really do but you simply do NOT exist for me till July 13th 2014. I hope you don’t mind. It is not personal. 🙂

The messenger ladybug.


Host of memories came crashing down by an inconsequential ladybug. As I turned on the ignition of my car, harried and stressed and late for work, a lady bug landed on the windshield with a light plop. And it brought back memories of a curly haired little five year old girl squatting on the driveway, brows furrowed in fierce concentration, counting the dots on a ladybug.

My daughter was born in India and was raised by not only her parents, but by a village. Her universe consisted of parents, grandparents, a plethora of uncles and aunts, little friends who grew up with her, adopted grandparents (our landlords), adopted uncles and aunts (our friends in the Indian city where we lived), domestic help, who was an integral part of the family. Her life was enriched by the love and nurturing of all – family by blood and family by association and friendship. For the first five years of her life, it was a party every day. Playdates, frolic in the parks with little friends, visits to Kolkata whenever opportunity arose, travels to exotic places with mom and dad. And peacocks and lady bugs. We had three resident peacocks in the neighborhood, who sometimes came to visit us in our balcony. When Sahana, Sean and I went for our walks in the neighborhood, Sean made horrible peacock noises, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of his wife and amusement of his toddler. He expected to get a response back from the peacocks, but his peacock call wasn’t authentic enough and he never heard back from them. The aunties and uncles who walked around our neighborhood always chuckled at the white man’s perseverance.

And there were lady bugs galore. Ladybugs or ladybirds, was a huge topic of debate between me, the native of a former British colony and my husband, an American, the pollutant of Queen’s English. The ladybugs/birds featured a lot in the children’s play. They counted them, counted the dots on them, let them crawl on their hands and laughed at the sensation. Despite the usual sicknesses, Sahana had a fulfilling and happy time. She thrived in the love.

Then we moved. We came to a new country, a new state, a new home and to loneliness. Before we built a new circle of family and friends around us, that is exactly what we came to – loneliness. From the constant buzz of family, we moved to the thrum of crickets outside our suburban home. During this time, one day, I saw little Sahana crouching down and looking at a solitary lady bug in the driveway of our new house.

‘What are you doing, baby?’ I asked as I lowered my heavily pregnant body next to my little girl.

‘Mama, look!!! A ladybug!!! Mama, do you think this lady bug has come all the way from our neighborhood in India to see how I am doing? Do you think it missed me? Now that it has seen me, will it fly back to Anushree and Rohan and tell them about me!’

As I write this today, eight years later, my eyes tear up at the intensity of her homesickness she must have felt then. That was the magical age of unending possibilities and ‘anything can happen’s! I kept the magic alive and said,

‘That is exactly what the ladybug will do, honey! It will take your news back to your friends!’

She turned her attention back to the ladybug and said,

‘Ok, go tell Anu and Rohan, I miss them. And tell the other ladybugs, I miss them too!’

With that she walked away with a stick in her hand to explore other treasures.

She doesn’t look for ladybugs anymore. She deals with the complicated world of high school, she reads “To kill a Mocking bird” and writes papers on “Female infanticide in developing nations”. She is slowly becoming a thoughtful, mature woman. Dreams have changed, magic is dealt with skepticism. But since I am the treasurer of HER childhood memories, I chronicle this faithfully, in my heart and in this post. I do this for her, and perhaps, more for me. Who knows one day, when she turns back, she will look for this little nugget of gold. A forgotten moment, yet etched forever in her mother’s memory.

My love for Kolkata…inexplicable.


I can never sell Kolkata to people who show interest in touring India.

“Errr.. there is the Victoria Memorial, and the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Maidan is a nice green expanse in the middle of the concrete jungle. And then there is the Ganga and Outram ghaat!” I stammer.

But we can’t boast of the Taj Mahal or the Khaju Raho temples, we don’t have the Lal Quilla or the Lake Palace, we don’t have the pristine Himalayas (unless you go to North Bengal) to lure tourists. Instead, we have bandhs (strikes) at the drop of a hat, we have traffic jams, we have terrible pollution and we have tall concrete buildings which, I feel, are suffocating the whole city. And we have terribly long summer. The pleasant winds bringing respite in the summer evenings, are halted by tall buildings that are choking the city slowly.

In my young and foolish days, I took up arms against those who dared to say a word against Kolkata. I was ready to break up with my boy friend who dared criticize my city. I got this passion from my fire-brand mother, who brain washed me from an early age “east or west, Kolkata is the best”. Yeah, she is very parochial. I inherited that mentality from her and kept the fire of nationalistic pride ignited in my heart. My friends too, were die-hard Kolkata fans and believed that only us, the Kolkata lovers, had the right to criticize our city but heaven have mercy on those outsiders, who dared utter a word against it.

Those days are gone. I am a wise, mature woman now who left Kolkata in the mid nineties and never went back to stay. I learned, in due course, that criticizing something/ someone doesn’t mean loving it less. It means we acknowledge a problem and that is a first step towards looking for a solution. That also means something/someone does not have to be blemish free for us to love, we can love something/someone warts and all.

I wonder sometimes why I love the city like the way I do. Does distance make it easier to love Kolkata? Why does the city invoke such a passionate need in me to protect it from outsider’s disdain? Objectively speaking, what exactly is going for the city of Kolkata? Am I really protecting the city or am I safe guarding the memories that the city and I have built together? I still get teary eyed when I listen to Kabir Suman’s

“Ei shohor jaane amar prothom shob kichu
Palate chai joto she aashe amar pichu pichu”

This city knows my every ‘first’
It comes after me, no matter how far I go from it.

It is not the brick, mortar cement of the city that I love, but the faces, the love, the blessings, the friendships, the heartbreak, the experiences that slowly and lovingly molded me, created ‘me’ and shaped me to the person I turned out to be. It is a very personal kind of love that I have for Kolkata.

Those of you who read my blogs know by now, I am a big believer of living in the moments. I have grown up and moved away but whenever I think back to my home city, the moments and memories of my past crowd around me. The sound of Indian classical music coming from the different houses in the neighborhood as the little girls sat down with their harmonium to practice music every evening, the smell of meat cooking only on Sundays in our middle class neighborhood, the communal ‘antakshari’ game on our respective balconies during daily power cuts, the collective sound of ‘Aaahhhh’ when the lights came back on. There are unpleasant memories too but those don’t surface in my mind much. I have lived through them, and left them behind. I came away with the beautiful ones.

I am going home in a few weeks (still over a month left but the time remaining seems shorter if I talk in weeks, hence….)! Friends ask me what are you going to do when you go back? Do? I will do absolutely nothing. I will lay in our king size family bed, next to my mother and talk. Or not. We will probably read or listen to our favorite songs. I am looking forward to those moments of easy silence next to the person who I still want when I am sad or don’t feel well. I will accompany my father to Gariahat market and hear him proudly say to the fishseller ‘Shob cheye bhalo mach ta dao dekhi. Meye esheche.’ (Give us the best fish, my daughter has come) ! I will cherish his ways of showing love – by buying the tastiest fish, the choicest mangoes, the tenderest meat and the satisfaction in his face when I exclaim how good everything is.

I am not sure if this is true for every immigrant. The thing that I miss most about home is the familiarity. I miss the shared history. I love my adopted land but I am not familiar with the tv shows of the seventies, or the baseball players of yester years. When my contemporaries exclaim about how much they loved a certain show growing up and turn to me and say, ‘Remember?’ I say, ‘No, I don’t!’ I remember Humlog and Fauji and Sunil Gavaskar and East Bengal Mohanbagan rivalry.

I will immerse myself in all that familiarity, all the love for two weeks and come back with enough memories to sustain me in the coming year. The greetings of the neighborhood boys, the smiling faces of my aunts and uncles, the welcome from my friends are my personal treasures. They are the city’s love for me which I can’t show an outsiders. They belong to me and to those who can still feel the love.

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