My big declaration on Valentine’s day!


We were married for no more than 3 months. I was totally fresh off the boat in a completely new country trying to deal with all the newness compounded with culture shock as well as living with a brand new husband when my newly wed groom declared he needs to travel internationally for work. Although I was 26 years old, I had never lived alone in my entire life. Forget living alone, I did not even have a separate room in all of those 26 years. When I heard I was going to be alone in an apartment in the middle of a bustling American city where I knew no one, did not know how to drive, did not know the streets very well except a few, I had a panic attack. Anyway, he left. I survived. That became the central theme of our relationship. Sean would travel every month for at least one week, more often two. I got used to his travels so much so that all I wanted to know from him were the dates of his departure and arrival along with his flight details. The names of the places he went to seemed made up anyway – Ouagadougou, Bangui, Jonglei, Agadez, Huehuetenango! During all these comings and goings, we built a life, had 2 children and a dog. And I got high blood pressure from worrying about him. He traveled to Afghanistan during Taliban era, to Sri Lanka when the rebels tried to blow up the airport where he was waiting at the time to catch a flight home, to Indonesia and adjoining countries after Tsunami, to Liberia while Ebola was rampant, to Bhuj, India AND Haiti when the horrible earthquakes claimed thousands of lives. In Haiti, he was in the middle of his shower when the aftershock of earthquake happened, and he had to rush outside with a towel around his waist.

The children got used to dad’s travels, they were sad when he left and ecstatic when he returned. It was all that they knew. Sean’s travels fell into the natural rhythm of our lives together. I ran around taking the children to their practices, swim meets, after school activities and when I could not be in two places at once, I asked for help from friends. It took a village.

Sean was grounded literally since the beginning of the pandemic. He has not traveled since February 2020 and does not have any plans to travel in the near future till things settle down and/or we get vaccinated. This state of static is new for both of us and I wondered how it would be to have him home 24/7. After a phase of initial adjustments we got used to his constant presence, his loud, booming telephone calls, his obsession with exercising and walking. And his constant giving. The man is a giver. During normal times, when he was not traveling, he made sure he did double doses of helping in raising the children and doing more than his share of housework. When he was with us, he was completely with us. Even before leaving for his trips, he tried his best to make sure my life would be as comfortable as possible while he was away. There have been times when he landed at the airport after a 17 hour plane ride, dropped his bags at home and drove to a swim meet or went to drop a kid somewhere because I was some place else with the other one, or he came home after a long trip and cleaned up the house because I could not (or did not) get to it. This past year he proved yet again what a great house husband he is, constantly picking up after me, keeping my car full, driveway clean as well as doing regular grocery store runs along with swim practice drives for our son. I told him with 80% sincerity that I would have even written a book about him and named it The Perfect Husband if only he could make gourmet dinners. Giving, doing, is his love language and he pours his love over us. His love spills over from his immediate family to those around him, his community, his work family and his global family.

As I wrote before, having Sean home at a stretch has been a new experience for me in our 24 years of marriage and as I was contemplating how it has been to be in such close proximity with my traveling partner, I realized it has been like being draped over with love, care and comfort. During this sad, awful time of anxiety and frustration, he has been my source of optimism. His faith and hope have often lifted me from depths of despair. So my big declaration on this Valentine’s day is that I LIKE my partner very much on top of loving him. That is it. That is my big declaration on this day of love.

Believe, Hon!


Are you aware of the stereotype that media reinforces that men forget anniversaries and women get upset with them? Sean breaks that stereotype. I ask him “How long have we known each other now?” He knows the exact date, the exact number of years. I argue of course. “No no, it was this day of that month!” And he provides proofs and facts. I believe him then.

It has been 18 years of living together, raising a family, growing up in love. Life has been full of challenges, time for each other being the main one. The travels, the jobs, the juggling tire us both and romance often takes a backseat.

A few weeks ago, I put on a lovely saree, threw on some make up and went to the kitchen to show him my bedecked and semi bejeweled self, where he was flipping pan cakes for breakfast. “How do I look?” I asked. He quickly glanced up and looked back down at the browning pancakes.

“You look lovely. I like the necklace that you put on. Adds something more to the whole ensemble.” He said.

Sahana gave me the necklace on Mother’s Day and I have been wearing that since May. EVERYDAY! He never noticed!

“I have been wearing the necklace for the last 4 months for crying out loud! You never noticed???? You never look at me anymore? Is this what happens if one is married for 18 years???” I joke. I make it sound light-hearted, yet I am hurting a little bit.

He is, for a second stunned, at a loss, and then he comes back with an answer that he knows will get him out of the hole that he dug for himself.

I notice YOU! After 18 years I don’t need to notice any necklace or earring. I simply look at you, the natural you. I have always said you need no jewelry to be beautiful. I love the way you are naturally.

I grumble and groan. I tell him he is back tracking and covering up his mistake. He says “That’s my story and I am sticking to it, baby!” And laughs.

And I believe him. A huge part of me does. I believe him because it reminds me of the poem he loves, believes and recites. A poem by Pedro Salinas which he read to me when we courted, first in Spanish and then the translation, as I sang songs of Rabindranath Tagore for him.

To live I don’t want
islands, palaces, towers.
What steeper joy
Than living in pronouns!
Take off your clothing,
features, pictures;
I don’t want you like that,
masked as another,
always a daughter of something.
I want you pure, free,
irreducible: you.

Life together is not what it used to be 18 years ago. Our togetherness is spent talking about high school assignments, picking up dropping off children, text messages to each other. Yet, amidst all that, Salinas’s words remain, Rabindranath’s love songs remain. Pablo Neruda’s poem has the associations of that exquisite feeling that he wrote those words to give voice to our love.

September 8

Today, this day was a brimming cup,
today, this day was the immense wave,
today, it was all the earth.

Today the stormy sea
lifted us in a kiss
so high that we trembled
in a lightning flash
and, tied, we went down
to sink without untwining.

Today our bodies became vast,
they grew to the edge of the world
and rolled melting
into a single drop
of wax or meteor.

Between you and me a new door opened
and someone, still faceless,
was waiting for us there.

Pablo Neruda

All it takes is a moment of pause, a moment of looking back, a reiteration of some forgotten lines and I am once again the young woman in love. The heart drips with the oozy feeling of contentment. I smile and he smiles back.

I love it now!


Two American men took their newly wed brides to a baseball game for the first time. The brides belonged to two different countries, one came from India and the other from Peru. The game was a hotly contested one between two rivals. Both the American men were fans of a team from Boston. The women went to experience the all-American game of baseball, and perhaps to get an inkling of why this game appeals to so many in their newly adopted country. They failed to understand though. But not due to the lack of efforts of their very attentive spouses. The husbands bought yummy ball-park food, put their arms around their respective wives and whispered sweet nothings in their ears when they were not screaming at their team’s success, explained the rules and the reasons whenever they got the chance, yet the women found it hard to keep their focus on the game. They looked everywhere, sighed, stretched, looked at their watches and asked how long the game will last. The Indian one, a big fan of cricket, found this game terribly slow, which surprised her husband. Once the game was over and the ball-park spewed out thousands and thousands of excited fans onto the streets of the city, the Peruvian woman said to her husband in her endearing accent:

‘You like this game? But this is SO BORING!’

She spoke loudly enough to attract some looks. Her husband grinned, looked around and said, ‘Shhhhh…..!’

The Indian woman promised never to see another baseball game ever again. What a waste of time, she said. She could have read books in that time, she scoffed at her husband. And then her sly husband did something to make sure that she would start taking interest in the game. After 6 weeks of giving birth to their first child, when she was desperate to lose the baby weight, her husband urged her to join a women’s softball team. As I said, she was desperate to get rid of the extra pounds so she agreed. Being somewhat athletic, she caught on quickly and played in a local team. She had fun. But still she did not watch baseball. Once was enough.

Then she gave birth to a boy who lived, dreamed, breathed baseball. She made an effort then, to learn the game. She started watching it with the husband and the son. She learnt what tagging meant, she caught on to infield fly rule, she learnt about curve balls, sliders, knuckle ball, stealing home, double play, grand slam.

Now she loves it! She is almost as big a fan of the local team as her son. Almost, not quite. She discusses baseball with friends, neighbors, coworkers. She wears the jersey of her favorite player when she goes to watch a game and wonders how did she ever think the game was boring. Each wind up of her team’s pitcher is full of anticipation, each strike by the favored pitcher promising, each ball disappointing.

She went to a ball game recently with the husband and the son (the daughter refused to sit through it). And she thought back to her first baseball game at the ball park as a young bride, as she jumped up and high-fived the man next to her as a player hit a home run. She screamed with thirty thousand other spectators CHARGE, she clapped with them, she danced with her arms high and did the Mexican wave.

As she entered the ball park with thousands of other people wearing the same colored jersey as her, she felt a certain sense of belonging to the city which brought a smile to her face. She took off her sunhat and touched her chest as the national anthem was sung, and sang along.  She noticed a dad with two little girls watching the game with their grandfather. The littlest one, maybe 3 years old, took care of the granddaddy by offering him drinks and putting her little head on his shoulder. She saw on the big screen,  little babies whose parents held them in one hand and held a poster in the other, saying ‘Baby’s first ball game’. She noticed a son and probably daughter in law holding the hands of a very elderly lady as she navigated the steps to reach her seat with a wide smile on her face. She noticed the play of clouds up above and urged the husband to take a picture with his phone. She got teased for that, but the husband took the picture, anyway.

She smiled as she thought of her first game in the same ballpark all those years ago. She has adapted, adopted and grown indeed. She has come a long way.

The man from the faraway land came home.


I lied through my teeth for almost three months.

“I have double shift at work today. I have to leave by 9.00 am’ – was a common one. Every Saturday I would leave home after a faltering, mumbling lie. Walk with a fluttering heart towards Golpark bus stop, the heart rate increased as I neared Ram Krishna Mission. As I turned the corner I always broke out into a sweat of happy anticipation and guilt.

“Will he be there?” He always was. He stood in front of the Ram Krishna Mission, brighter than a sunshine, facing the corner where I would come from. As I turned the corner, his face split into a huge smile and I glittered like a diamond under its brightness.

After sneaking around for a few months, I decided my over active conscience can not bear the burden of this sneaky rendezvous, I needed to tell my parents that I was seeing someone. And the ‘someone’ belonged to a far away land.

So one summer afternoon as I lay next to my mother, I decided the moment was as good as any.

“I wanted to tell you for a while, I met someone I like.”

My mother’s head turned, excitement, apprehension in her eyes.

“Oh, really? Who is he?”

I knew the answer to “who is he” would be the hardest. He belonged to a different country, a country very far away.

I wanted them to meet him and nervously, they agreed. I was nervous, my parents were nervous and I believe Sean was nervous as well, although he does not admit it today.

The day finally dawned when he was supposed to come. Our house was cleaned thoroughly, the tiny living room was given a make over, the curtains were washed, cushion covers replaced, my seventeen cats were reprimanded and asked to be on their best behavior. My mother supervised the work and asked me if I thought the preparations will be up to Sean’s satisfaction. I reassured her he won’t really care. And then there was the question of what to offer him to eat. Although I had been seeing Sean for three months, we really had not shared a meal since our meetings were short and between meals. I had no idea what he ate or what he liked. I was not helpful, I just said, “Oh, don’t fret about it.”

Finally in the evening, Sean’s car entered our narrow alleyway. My mother was nervous and a little angry with me for putting her in this position where I thrust her into this realm of the ‘unknown’, out of her comfort zone. She did not know what to say to a man who was not from our country and did not speak her language! Why did I not find an Indian boy to fall in love with? Anyway, Sean entered our house holding two beautiful and expensive looking bouquets. He extended the bigger one to my mother and the smaller one to me. Neither ma nor I had ever received flowers from anyone, let alone a man. Flowers, rajanigandha sticks, were bought on our birthdays and put in a vase when we expected guests. We were baffled to receive flowers and worried right away if we had two vases handy to put them in. Sean seemed very comfortable. He shook hands with my dad and settled comfortably in the couch. Ma asked in halting English if he wanted any tea. Sean said, “Yes, sure. Thank you!”

At this point, my mother asked me to follow her. I went in towards the kitchen. She turned around to me with and said with gritted teeth, sweating a little,

“Ekta kotha o bujhte parchina!! Ki kore kotha bolbo?” (I can’t understand a word he says, how will I carry on a conversation?)

I said, with a concealed chuckle, “I will translate.”

After hot, milky tea and some halted conversation, mainly around me and how we met, a little about his work, they offered Sean some sweet yogurt – mishti doi, a specialty of Bengal. He accepted and ate it. Later I found out, he does not drink tea and he hates yogurt of any kind! The evening ended, Sean left and we started talking about him behind his back.

“He seems like a nice man. But the accent! Oh the accent! Can’t understand anything! How do you understand what he says?”

I said, “You get used to it. I can understand him fine!”

A trend started. He became a regular in our house. He had a very active social life, yet most evenings he came over to just hang out Indian style, sitting on our big bed with his legs folded under him, mainly laughing and listening, teasing my mother and perhaps observing the middle class Bengali culture through us.

I have been in several embarrassing situations and my parent’s unabashed pride in my achievements was certainly one of them. The pride was sweet, very endearing yet embarrassing. My trophies, cups and certificates were treasured in our Godrej almirah and Sean, once he became a bit more familiar, was subjected to each and every one of them, followed by a lecture on how smart I was and how well spoken and how many debates and public speaking competitions I had won. I was a catch and he better believe he is lucky to have received my attention – this message was delivered in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways by those two who did consider me their prized possession, no matter how little I mattered to the world. I tried to divert the conversation, but I was ignored mostly. Sean showed interest with a quick amused glance in my direction and a meaningful smile which conveyed, ‘Oh you will be teased about it later!’

As our relationship grew and became richer so did his association with my immediate and extended family. My grandmother became Sean’s fast friend. They were often found in a corner in a family gathering, didun talking nineteen to the dozen to Sean about her trips to Belur, about her arthritis pain and other metaphysical discourses. Sean nodded and contributed to the conversation in English. This continued after our marriage and till she passed away to the other side.

A relationship between two individuals does not stay limited to just them, does it? It  spreads its sweetness (or bitterness, as the case may be) to the people related to those individuals. Sean’s zest for life and his ability to spread love and cheer made him a favorite not only with me but with my family. We had our challenges in bringing our love to fruition but I believe our love and respect for not only each other but for those who we love helped us overcome those.

After eighteen years of togetherness I look back on the day when my two worlds met and how they interacted with each other. There was that fear of the unknown, there was curiosity, there was a little pride, there was a lot of stress and there was happiness too. It is with a smile that I  look back and reminisce on how it all started, how we found acceptance and love in not only each other’s hearts but also in the hearts of family who nurtured us.

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…

That time of the year.


Every year around this time, I wallow in self-pity. As the leaves start changing colors, the heat of the summer wanes, the blue of the sky simply dazzles my eye, the wispy clouds float aimlessly, I look up and my mind dissociates to travel back in time. Between cooking and cleaning and working and driving the children around my heart remembers the beat of the dhak from a long, long time ago. Durga puja – the biggest festival of the Bengalis is about to begin.

The myth goes somewhat like this:

Mahishashur, a demon, won over the heart of creator Brahma by his devotion and earned a boon that no man or deity can destroy him. He initially desired immortality but since immortality can only be achieved by a god, Brahma asked him to choose another wish. He chose to be  killed by a woman, thinking no woman can be powerful enough to destroy him. Brahma granted him this wish.

His victory complete, he wrecked havoc on the abode of the gods in heaven and defeated them in war. He acclaimed the throne of Indra while the defeated gods ran to the safe sanctuary of Lord Shiva to seek his help. Shiva and the other gods, with their collective energy, created a brilliant, formidable force in the shape of a young woman. She was Shakti (power) endowed with divine gifts. She was the evil slayer, who finally destroyed the evil force and prevailed the good.

In Bengal, however, Devi Durga is more than the destroyer of evil. She comes to us as the much beloved daughter coming home to her parent’s house after a year. The societal structure has been skilfully woven in to this myth and made this festival a very personal and endearing one for most Bengalis. Durga is not only the revered goddess, she is our very own, our dear girl, come back to us for a visit after a long absence. The women, after marriage, are expected to leave their parents’ home and make a new life with her husband’s family. In rural Bengal, it was not easy for daughters to visit their parents’ home often due to distance, transportation, responsibilities. It was indeed a time to celebrate when the daughters finally came to visit. The same concept was passed on to Devi Durga, thus blurring the divide between godliness and humanity. I absolutely love this merging of the abstract with the concrete. Pujo is not just about celebrating the home-coming of the goddess but also the home-coming of many, many other daughters who couldn’t come back to their ancestral homes any other time of the year.

I haven’t been back to my home town Kolkata during Durga puja for over ten years now. This year I couldn’t even go to the local celebration because of work. When I looked at my schedule, I was crestfallen. I won’t get to see even a glimpse of the goddess this year? But now that the day is upon us, I am strangely not that sad anymore. I have those memories hidden in my heart in a beautiful gift wrapped package, waiting for me to open. So that is what I did. And this is what I found.

My first memory of Durga puja is the sky, always the sky. I remember looking up at the brilliant blue sky on a clear day as a little girl counting days till school closed for puja vacations. Our family had our own puja primarily done by my grandmother, who probably knew more mantras than the priest conducting the puja, but could only help in the capacity of an assistant due to her gender. A woman couldn’t be a priest. Durga puja of my childhood is one of unadulterated joy – we wore new clothes every day for four days of the puja, unending games with cousins, no lessons to prepare, we always seemed to stay under the radar of the grown ups since they were busy with their friends and family members. I remember us playing ‘detectives’. Some of us older cousins always assumed the role of the main detectives – Sherlock Holmes and others of his ilk while the younger cousins reveled in the roles of our side kicks – till they got a bit older and rebelled against this injustice. There were good foods galore, the taste of which I can still taste if I close my eyes, late nights, lot of laughter, camaraderie, just a bubble of happiness surrounding us. We knew the bubble was going to pop in four days and real life would be back with a vengeance. But those four days of puja was special and different and structure free.

The family puja finally stopped due to financial constraint when I was about nine. But Durga continued to come to Kolkata and Bengal every year, no matter. As I got older, the four days of Durga puja changed meaning for me. From teenage, I felt the absence of any sort of spiritualism in Durga puja in the opulence and grandeur that I saw all around me. Durga puja, however, remained as a symbol of happy times when life was vastly different from the structure and routine that kept us prisoners. It was a ritual, a joyous celebration. Durga, in my doubting, skeptic mind ceased to be a goddess, but she continued to be that young woman who came to her parents’ house with her four children to rest her weary bones. Durga puja was synonymous with sunshiny mornings, smiling mother, flutter causing dhaak beats, music blaring through microphones in the pandals nearby, the rustle of the new clothes, the limp due to blisters caused by new shoes.

And the crushes of Pujo romance!!! I remember taking umpteenth rounds within a marked perimeter with giggling girl friends so we could catch a glimpse of the young men who caused our hearts to beat a little faster. The stolen glances were all we had and they were enough. Pujo romances were not meant to last. They had the mystery and aura of those magical days. As I grew up, I simply stayed home during the colorful, bright and crowded evenings of those four days. But I still felt this veneer of good will and  joyous spirit enveloping me. I long for that feeling. There was a collective sense of joy, rejoicing and abandonment. We were in unison in this feeling of letting go of our real lives for four short days. There was still poverty and sorrow, the homeless people, living on the streets, and that didn’t escape me. But even the little girl, sleeping on the streets with her family donned a new ribbon in her wild and unkempt hair, and skipped around in the pujo pandals.

There were unpleasantness in the crowd – pickpockets, eve teasing, the nasty man rubbing against an unsuspecting girl – but the distance has made those memories fade away. I have gleaned only the good and saved only the treasures. At this time of the year, the blue sky with wispy clouds is the only continuity I have left. The sky still reminds me that it is time for that special daughter to come home to us. I look up and get lost. When I look down and around, my real life painfully reminds me, I am far, far away from home. I speak fondly of those days, but my family can not relate. They don’t share the same memories.

Friends and family back home complain of the traffic jam, the crowd, the unnecessary opulence, the competitions that pujo pandals have these days. Durga pujo has lost its spirituality. Where is Durga in all this glitter, they ask. And I agree. This grandeur of pandals, this show of wealth – designer clothes and new jewellery, is not what Durga pujo is all about! For me, Durga pujo is all about reconciliation, reunion with family and with one’s inner self, it is about the special search within us to draw inspiration from the goddess to slay our inner demons and emerge victorious. And as I have already mentioned, Durga pujo, for me, is about happiness in letting go of structure and routine, just for a few days.

One year, I will go back home and try to relive my memories. I sincerely hope I will find those feelings that I wrapped up in my heart before I left home. If I don’t, no matter, I will keep the ones I have safe,  and open them each year as Durga gets ready to make her descent to earth, bringing with her, her children, her lion, the repentant ashur at her feet and most importantly happiness and joy!