Shopping


After many, many months I went shopping today. Alone, at least physically. Yet I felt the presence of this one excited woman by my side who loved to shop and often threatened to disown me due to my hatred for shopping. During her visits to America, going to the mall or Walmart or Kohl’s or Target was her favorite outing. And much to baba’s chagrin, she bought the whole of Walmart to take back to Kolkata as gifts for people. Her gift giving was legendary. She bought for her extended family, the helpers in her house, their children, the woman who did her facial – literally her whole universe got gifts from her when she returned from any trip. The weight of their luggage drove baba crazy! To keep their luggage under control, she often left some of her clothes behind. She said, “Dite bhalo laage.” (I love to give).

We did not have money in my childhood. We could only afford to buy new clothes during Durga puja or Bengali new year. I still remember the joy in ma as she flitted from one shop to the other in Gariahat market with an unwilling me in tow bargaining for the best price with shopkeepers when we had money to buy new clothes. Somehow she managed to have enough money to buy books though, year round. As I got older and as shopping malls sprouted in Kolkata, she did go to them. But it was evident air conditioned stores with neatly piled ware were out of her comfort zone, where salesmen and women referred to her as “madam” with cool professional demeanor. She missed the “na boudi, ki bolchen? Eto kom e ki kore debo?” ( no sister-in-law, how can I lower the price that much) of bustling and hot Gariahat market.

Busy Walmart or Target gave her immense joy as opposed to Ann Taylor or Banana Republic. Yet as I walked around the mall today peeking into those stores, I remembered her. She would have loved it.

I have planted flowers in their memory as well as for my own peace. I planted a red geranium the day after she died and I call it my “obstinate ma plant”. I love it very much and keep a close eye on it. But gardening was not her thing. She liked to look at flowers, sure, but she loved material things more. She liked to buy things, not just for herself but for others, mainly for others. My house is full of knick knacks that she got for us from places she went. My closet is full of kurtis and sarees she bought for me. I remembered her as I walked the mall. I had vowed that I would draw the line at going shopping to please her soul because I detest it, I crossed that line. And as I thought of it, I smiled under my mask. That obstinate woman is still getting her way, even after death.

The obstinate ma plant.


Ma died on what was Mother’s day in my part of the world, May 9th. It was morning of May 10th in India. I had wished her “Happy Mother’s Day, Ma” for the last time that morning and she also wished me back happy Mother’s day from her hospital bed. Then she closed her eyes saying she was staying at her sister’s place for a while and she will go home in a few days. Those were our last words to each other. She fell asleep thinking she was at her sister’s house and never woke up.

Next day I planted a small geranium plant in my freshly weeded flower bed in her memory. I think back now on my mental state on that day and all I remember is a numbness and a desire to cultivate life. I planted that little sapling which had vibrant red flowers – a gift from Sahana on Mother’s day. After ma’s death and while we fought for baba’s life, I often sat next to the little plant and felt ma’s energy within me. In the next few days, I asked Sahana to buy whichever plants she wanted and bring them home. She bought some beautiful perennials and annuals and I planted them indiscriminately, almost feverishly. Gardening became a physical need in those days. Baba was still alive and the doctors were giving me hope. So while I planted my garden, I held on to positive thoughts – I will have one parent. I will have someone to go home to. But nine days later, he packed up and followed her as well while I was left with my flowers.

While my other flowers bloomed, the ma flower (I had come to call the geranium ma plant or didiya plant) shed all its flowers and became bare. The leaves are still alive and green but it does not have a single bloom. I ask it sometimes what it’s plan is. Why won’t it give us flowers any more?¬† Sahana says “Didiya is just being obstinate or she got a hair cut.” We both laugh.

Ma was never into nature. She liked a pretty flower or green grass just fine but her joys were books and shopping. When they visited us in USA, baba sat outside looking at lush green and blue sky. He had a stillness about him that attracted bunnies and birds. Sage sat with him and kept him company. Ma on the other hand puttered around the house, cooked Indian food, played with the kids and gossiped with me. She loved when I bought salmon and when I took her to Target, Kohl’s or the mall. She went down to the basement and read my Bengali books, a collection which she helped me build up. She read those books several times while she stayed with us for months. She revisited her old friends, her favorite authors again and again.

It almost seems like¬† ma is sending me a message through her non blooming alter ego, ma plant. She is telling me “Enough with all this gardening, get back to books, hit the stores, buy something nice.” Okay, obstinate woman, I will get back to books. I have not been able to read anything since I seem to gloss over life and words right now, but I will try to get back to reading. I draw a line when it comes to shopping though. I can not do it. I will not do it. I will just look at the glossy leaves of the obstinate ma plant instead of vibrant red flowers but I will still not hit the stores!

100 Day Saree Respect


I was made aware of this celebration of sarees on a social networking site. Women posted saree clad pictures on Facebook and told a little story or memory associated with that particular saree. I believe the notion was to highlight the elegance of this beautiful ethnic wear and boost this industry. One particular friend of mine wrote beautiful memories with each and every saree she wore. Not only did she look beautiful, but her stories made a fascinating read and her sarees, to me, became much more meaningful. Stories and memories inter-weaved within the threads – what a fabulous concept.

My sarees are well-loved but not much worn. They stay well guarded in a closet in my basement as I live my life in jeans, trousers, sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I harangue my husband to take me out on dates so I can drape one of my lovely sarees. Swim meets and baseball games get in the way. So when I open the closet that house my sarees, I stroke them longingly and make plans……one of these days I will wear this one or that. And then the weather turns frigid. However, the hope remains – next spring, next summer, next fall. In the mean time, I acquire more sarees. They come bearing love – love of my mother and father, my sisters and brothers (cousins), my aunts and uncles from home.

Two of my sarees have a story or memory with my mother that I want to share. I had heard the name of a saree store called Byloom in Kolkata. I had seen photos of sarees bought from Byloom. Their texture, design, color combination seemed different, unique, more to my taste. Two days before I was scheduled to return to United States, my mother and I decided to pay a visit to this saree store and see with our own eyes what the hype was all about. The plan was to simply pay a visit, look at their wares and then turn around and come back home. My suitcases were full, and my purse was light. I had a little bit of Indian money left in cash and I decided to take just that with me. I took out my credit cards along with my debit card and left them at home. If I did not have plastic, I would not be tempted to overspend. Wait, why was I thinking of spending? My suitcase was full, right?

My mother and I are both geographically challenged so after asking at least 3 people for directions we arrived at the store. The last direction was asked right in front of the store, so when the gentleman who pointed to the store right across the street and gave us a strange look we felt slightly embarrassed. We walked in and promptly got lost again. This time we lost ourselves in colors, patterns and texture. The salesladies were amazing at their job, the colors were splendid and rich, the textiles smelled of home and comfort. I, not a fashionista or lover of clothes by any means, was hooked. My mother, an impulsive shopper and an ardent admirer of fashion and clothes, was miserable. I had instructed her not to bring money. We were just going to look, remember?

We had never done better math in our lives!! I bought a saree for my mother. That was it, I had money (cash) for that – parting gift to my mother before I left India. And then the salesladies did their magic, “Didi, look at this color on you!” They draped a pink saree on me. Three of them came over to ooh and aah over it. My mom joined in. Then they found a blue one, a little more expensive. They double ooh aahed over it. My ma joined in again. The oohs and aahs went up exponentially with the value of the sarees – just an observation. I was calculating fast in my head. I had two days left before my flight departed, no one would make blouses for those sarees. I had to buy ready made blouses for them. Groan! More calculations. Finally, when I had hardened my heart against amazing sales pitches, when I had closed my eyes against the splendor of colors, when I had shut my ears to my mother’s berating at making her leave her money at home, I headed to the cashier with my grumbling mother in tow. I told the cashier I bought some stuff but I had X amount of rupees. I was not savvy enough to calculate the sales tax in my head so I may not be able to buy all that was being packed for me. He smiled politely and said they accepted credit cards. “Ummm…I am not carrying my credit card!” I mumbled. My mother, I think, growled.

As the cashier tallied up my purchases, I realized I held my breath. Fortunately, I had enough money to pay for it all with about 15 rupees to spare. Feeling buoyant and happy we sailed out of the store swinging our bags. And we laughed joyfully. The memory is not about having enough money to buy those sarees though. The memory is about getting lost with my mother, hearing sales pitches with her, being admired by her, being scolded too and finally laughing giddily over our joint naughtiness. I am not sure I have rightfully penned the day, the story or the feeling. My mother and I were more than simply a mom and child that day. That day we were co conspirators, we were math whizzes (somewhat), we were rule breakers (rules created by us), we were quick planners, we were fast shoppers, we were fellow gigglers, we were happy bag swingers. We were perhaps more friends that day than parent and child. We were also hiding some tears behind our laughter at the upcoming goodbye. It was our last show down before the curtain of years fell till we were together again.

On her birthday, this memory stands out. Happy birthday, Ma! Here is to many more years of rule breaking, bag swinging, saree conspiring, and of course mindless laughing after being naughty. We Bengalis do not say “I love you’ because it does not need to be said, I know. This Bengali has learned to say it anyway. Moreover, she loves to say it.

I love you, Ma!

Here are the sarees, which have this precious memory!

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