Sitting on the sideline.


The loss in my life has changed me. How could it not? Even in April of 2021, I was a woman leading a normal life – parenting, working, spending time with my partner, talking to my parents, counting days to see them. India was blowing up but ma and baba never stepped out of the house. They were staying safe, right? Wrong! Despite all their precautions, despite one vaccine, Covid killed both of them. All at once, life threw me a curveball and I was left devastated. Death is an absolute truth and I have reached an age where death of parents was imminent but the cruelty of the universe in causing the death of both my parents left me shaken to the core. As I rebuild myself and learn to live again with the gaping void in my life, I am discovering new lessons about grief, about the whole process of mourning. I was somewhat aware of the different stages of grief journey and I was mindful when I passed through them. I am going towards acceptance as I write this. The journey, however, is not at all linear. I take a step forward one day only to take 2 steps back the next. But I am on the path and that is good.

As I see life go on around me, I often feel I am sitting on the sidelines alone with my grief. The world is moving on in its orbit and I am sitting at the periphery watching it go by. I am unable to join in just yet. I get up tentatively and sit back down again. The zest for life is absent and the grieving process is so lonely. No one can possibly understand except perhaps if I had a sibling.

I tell myself I am one of many since the beginning of time to experience such trauma and like many others I will come out of it. Not unscathed and yes, changed but I will get up from the sidelines and join in. But right now, nothing and no one has stopped for my grief except myself. And such is life.

The “goods” in the week of June 21st


Every morning my day starts by sitting in front of the photos of my parents. And then walking out to see the flowers that I planted in their memory. The photos were taken during our “happy” times, on our back deck during one of their visits to USA. With each passing year, they got frail but we captured happiness and youth and energy and froze it in a frame. Looking at those photos each day is one of my “goods” as I savor those joyful memories before I start my day.

On a mundane but important note, we are successfully maintaining our daily schedule with 2 cars. Each week we sit down and do some permutation and combination of who needs to be where at which time and figure out how we can work out the car situation. We have 3 working adults and one teen who is taking Summer Biology and swimming 6 days a week. On top of going to work we need to figure out his drop off and pick up. And so we have a family meeting every Sunday evening. We laugh.

I finished a graphic novel and am now reading The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. That takes place in my blog of “goods” because my friends had betrayed me for a long time. Since the beginning of this horrendous ordeal I have not been able to focus on a single page of a book. I have written plenty, read none.

Last evening was special when our first born treated us to a lovely dinner with her first ‘real’ paycheck. I get emotional easy these days but as she pulled the check close to her to pay, I choked up. Her grandparents would have been so proud. I also had a pang since I shared all the milestones of my 2 children with their grand parents and this I can not.

Sean and I drove out to water front to have a morning together on Sunday.

Soon we will be going back full time to the branch. I am ready and it will be good for me. It helps if I move all the time. And work is a place where I feel my life is unchanged.

Ryan successfully finished his first week of Summer Biology and is urging a few of his friends not to quit summer classes even though the teachers are teaching an academic year long course within six weeks and the load of work is intense. He got accepted to be a Peer Educator for younger students in his school and I think he is very well suited for this job.

I have started listening to music again. It was bitter sweet since I listened to all the songs that baba loved and sang along. I was cooking as I listened to Hemanta’s golden voice. I cried with every song as I remembered baba’s voice yet it brought some respite.

I get happy speaking to Gouri, Breshpati, Khushi and mashi who are holding the fort for me back in Kolkata. I don’t really want to talk to many people right now. I do love talking to those women. I feel the essence and love of my home through them.

It is a joy to see Khushi’s smiling face peering through the camera.

This morning I got the news the man I entrusted to get ma’s death certificate has been able to collect it. It is strange that it is a part of “goods”. It is though since acquiring it was quite a process.

Obstinate ma plant is blooming a vibrant red.

Sometimes I struggle to write this post as often nothing seems good but when I end up writing it, the list of ‘goods’ surprise me. I hope your list of ‘goods’ is also long. Have a great week, all.

Reemergence


This fight against Covid was closest I have come to being in a war. There were no loud guns or tanks around me. There were, however, death, mayhem, suffering, desperation, helplessness. My entire being was engaged in figuring out how to avert crisis, how to procure help in a war like situation in Kolkata, how to communicate, how to arrange, how to keep my ma and baba breathing. I stopped eating and sleeping for many days. I was functioning and sharp when it came to making decisions about their health care but everything else around me fell by the wayside. My partner took over the running of my family in this part of the world while all my ammunitions were engaged to save my parents in the other side of the earth.

Despite all that, I failed. After their death, I was numb with pain and my brain, which had worked over time during this horrific ordeal, was tired and non functional. I had trouble making simplest of decisions for a while. I still have trouble focusing and I simply look at the books on my bookshelf but never pick one up. But Sean took good care of everything around here so I could focus on what was important at the time. Of late, I have slowly started engaging with the world again. It truly seemed like I was drowning. And just recently, I feel I am slowly emerging from a quagmire of sorrow and despair.

However, today at work I realized my brain has not completely shed all of the cob web from my recent bereavement. I am generally good at problem solving and figuring out solutions. Today, though, I got a phone call from a customer whose account was somewhat messed up and needed some detective work. While analyzing the problem, I thought I should be able to straighten it out yet my brain completely shut down while trying to find a solution. I called our customer service supervisor to solve the issue, which she did in a minute. Much to my surprise, I did not call myself an idiot. I acknowledged, instead, that I need time to be where I was before my “normal” was rudely disrupted and I will give myself that time. I am determined to nurse myself back to health. Self love is an important step in rebuilding and re-emergence. I will never be the same but I will learn to live with the void. It will take time and I will give myself that time.

The “goods” in the week of June 14th.


Since I started working I have had less time to write. I did not jot down the “goods” this week as they happened. So writing from memory which, unfortunately, is not a reliable source anymore.

I continue to enjoy Bengali delicacies, thanks to my cousin. It has been great therapy working in the kitchen with her. She has cared for me with all her heart during my time of bereavement. We organized my closet, went for walks, cooked, cleaned, talked, remembered.

I am slowly figuring out how to maintain my affairs in Kolkata till I can get back. I am still waiting for death certificates of my parents.

I get immense joy talking to Gouri, Breshpati and Khushi every week. They loved and cared for ma, baba and when I talk to them I still get the essence of my parents.

I asked Khushi, who is in grade 1, to watch less television and read more. She read The Ugly Duckling to me and I was amazed at how well she was reading. In 2019, when I last saw her, she was just sounding out words. It is simply wonderful to watch children grow. She also did some pretty artwork and her mother vouched for her – she has cut down on screen time.

I dyed a strand of my hair fluorescent green. Sean calls it the wicked witch of the West color and I love it.

Work continues to be a place of comfort and respite from pain.

I got to eat lunch with my dearest friend at work. She lost her dad last year and we found solace in each other’s company. Sharing our grief helped.

My flowers are still radiant and my obstinate ma plant has bloomed a vibrant red again.

We celebrated Sean on Father’s day. A few years ago I had asked him what were some of his favorite things in life. He said, “Being a dad.” My children are very lucky. Sahana made breakfast and Ryan made oreo cheesecake.

I laughed at the memory of baba on this day. “Happy Father’s Day, Baba!” I wished him. He always got discombobulated at this greeting and often responded with “Hmm…same to you!” Ma yelled from the background, “Arre, thank you bolo!” (Say thank you.)

I start my mornings by staring at their gorgeous photos and trying to come to terms with reality.

Have a good week everyone.

Back to work


I joined back to work on June 1st after an absence of almost a month. I was oddly nervous. I am an embodiment of grief right now. Not just grief, I have this shroud of misfortune all over me. I was scared how my friends will feel when they encounter such heavy sadness. How uncomfortable they will be in my presence? What do you say to someone so unfortunate who lost both her parents 9 days apart? What would I say to such a person? Sean suggested I simply say an honest ‘thank you’ when people give their condolences. I parked my car at the parking lot and slowly walked towards the building, still nervous to see my coworkers. I had left the building one day with my world intact. Within a month, I was returning as a broken woman with part of my universe destroyed. The overwhelming response from my colleagues, however, when they saw me at the branch was “I am so glad to have you back.”

I also got a few hugs (we are all fully vaccinated). Some friends did not bring up my loss at all. They sat with me, talked to me and by their presence they let me know they were holding me up. Some asked if I was OK. I was honest in my response. I am not ok but I will get there.

It has been good to be back doing what I love doing. There have been times at work when I felt normal, I felt like I am doing well, I am on the path to healing (which I believe I am) and then there have been moments when a wave of grief has plummeted me to the bottom of the ocean and stomped on me viciously. I have talked myself through it. Read the book jacket, ask a customer who looks lost if s/he/they need any help, breathe.

Today a friend at work asked how I was doing, how I was holding up. It seemed he really wanted to know so I told him. I have hours of normalcy, acceptance and then moments of intense despair. He understood. He said if anything gets too much, jot him a line, he will take over. That was big. The knowledge that someone will take over if I can not hold it together now.

I work with simply the best people.

Feed the hungry


During a tearful conversation about my parents on a video call this morning, Breshpati (Khushi’s mother) reminded me what ma often said when death was a remote eventuality, not a harsh reality as it is today. She said to us “When I die don’t do any rituals, just feed some hungry people in my memory.” I had completely forgotten her wish as I live through this haze of pain. Breshpati’s words brought back the memory of what she wished for. Both ma and baba started an NGO to help the under privileged about 10 years back. They went to villages, orphanages, schools for poor children and under funded senior living facilities with clothes and food. They ran this initiative for years till Covid stopped them.

Feeding the poor would, of course, be their wish. So Breshpati and Gouri talked among themselves about doing just that once Covid came under control. The two women decided that they will go to Bharat Shevashram and feed hungry children in memory of ma and baba. I, with the help from a friend, am arranging for a shanti pujo (a religious ceremony for the peace of their souls) in our local Kali temple thinking that would bring peace. But would it? And peace for who really? How could I forget what she wanted me to do after her death? I heard her words but must not have paid attention thinking we are far away from that scenario – death. Huh!

Coincidentally, my coworkers donated money to UNICEF and Care India to help fight Covid in ma and baba’s memory. I shed some tears at their thoughtfulness. One of Sean’s donors, pledged money to his organization for Covid help in India in their memory as well. I shed tears of gratitude. This is what would bring peace to them – feeding the hungry, helping the sick and maybe, just maybe a ritual Shanti puja in front of ma’s favorite – the fiery goddess Kali.

And after the pujo, I will donate to our local food bank.

The “goods” in week of May 3rd.


How can I write what was good this week when both my parents contacted Covid in Kolkata? My ma was put on a ventilator yesterday and then gave up the fight and my baba is still fighting it in the same hospital. Yet, there were ‘goods’ this week and I did not even have to think hard to find them.

We were fortunate to get 2 beds for my parents in the same hospital in a city which is being ravaged by this deadly virus and people can not get hospital beds or oxygen cylinders.

My friends, their husbands, some cousins, and a care giver from Tribeca Care, an elderly care service, are doing all they can to help since I am far away and are surrounding me with love and support. They made phone calls, found 2 beds in a hospital, organized ambulance care, talked to hospital administrators and got my parents admitted so they could get proper care.

Friends poured their love and good wishes on us from all over the world. Since I am a big believer in collective good will, I know a lot of good energy was released out in the universe which touched my parents.

I can not deny the mind numbing, troubled breathing kind of anxiety that I experience but quiet walks with Sean, nutritious meals prepared by Sahana and silent prayers by Ryan made me feel less alone.

Sean’s family messages us regularly to let us know they love us and are thinking of us.

My supervisor at work encouraged me to not think about that part of my life right now, but to simply focus on what was at hand. My coworkers showed their support in messages and emails.

I have not held back my tears and cried often this week. It is a cleansing experience. I wish I did not have reason to cry but I do. And the fact that I have allowed myself to cleanse through tears is good.

In times of trouble one finds out one is surrounded by a loving community, I think that is the ‘goods’ this week. In fact, that is the best.

The ‘goods’ this week, April 26th, 2021


As a library worker, I am thrilled! I am absolutely thrilled that my daughter got an outreach programming job at a renowned library system. She interviewed on Monday, and they called her on Tuesday to offer her the job. It was a virtual interview so I could hear some of her answers. As I heard her coherent, well thought out responses, my mommy heart filled up with pride yes, but also with wonder. She sounded so grown up, so mature and thoughtful. Since this position which she truly longed for  is part time, she also got a job in our neighborhood Starbucks. Her response to the question “why do you want to work at Starbucks?” made me smile. She told the manager that Starbucks has been her reset button since she was in high school. Before an exam or after, before something important or after, during her solo Europe trip, whenever she needed a reset she sought out a Starbucks. At this juncture in her life when she just graduated and is contemplating her place in the big world ahead of her, she opted for her reset and that is why she is looking for a job there. The manager hired her despite this honest confession. For a lover of library as well as coffee, these two jobs seem like a double win for Madammommy.

I destroyed a paneer dish and then resurrected it to be truly delicious by using my ingenuity. Pat on the back because I am all that.

I woke up at 4 am on Monday to take Ryan to his 5 am practice. It was the day before pink moon. However, a brilliant (white) moon followed us all the way to Ryan’s school and then it kept me company all the way home. I kept my eyes on the roads, of course but the company of that bright, white orb in the sky above the lonely deserted road when the whole world was asleep was a peaceful sight. But no, I will not do it every week. I am not a morning person, Sean is. I only took him one morning because Sean had to work late.

We had warm days!! Hallelujah. My old bones need the sun.

I am talking to my mom while dad listens in, almost everyday.

I answered a phone call at work which made my day. The woman on the phone wanted me and my coworkers to know that we kept her sane by providing books and DVDs during pandemic. She was so very kind.

I helped a distraught woman print out some documents at work. When she tentatively asked how much it would cost, I said the print job was free. Her face lit up. She had been paying $5 to $6 at UPS store for printing documents. Her husband lost his job and money is tight. Working at a public library is extremely gratifying.

I make book suggestions all the time, completely unsolicitated. I got a message on wsapp from a long lost friend who read Funny in Farsi by Firozeh Dumas upon my recommendation and absolutely loved it. I think she read my review on my blog site. A couple of hours after her message, I got another message from a colleague who read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart upon my suggestion and asked when could we talk about it.  She felt all the ‘feels’ as she read the book. She even said she will be open to reading anything I recommend. She does not know what she is wishing for. 🤣

Sahana got her second Covid vaccine shot on Sunday. I am so grateful.

I wrote and posted 8 days in a row which has never happened before.

Happy Monday, my friends. Stay healthy, stay alive.

PS: Ryan cleaned his closet last night. That totally classifies as one of my ‘goods’ for the week. 😀

What time is dinner?


Interracial, interfaith, transnational marriage like ours had and continues to have certain novelties, discoveries, realizations. Realizations about our differing norms, cultures, way of doing things, comfort zones. After a marriage of 24, almost 25 years, we feel like we dealt with most of them but there are times when the differences in our upbringing come to the forefront. One such realization came to me during the holiday season in 2020. It is the question that Sean asks, “What time are you planning dinner?”

I did not grow up with that question or truly planning a meal time during festivals or even during daily life. In Kolkata, when the family got together for any occasion, food was, of course, the epicenter of all festivities but the time when that food will be consumed was anybody’s guess. There were perfunctory questions about  what time is lunch or dinner but nobody knew. We ate when the food was ready. And even when the food was ready, the guests had to be coaxed to the dinner table if they were involved in a ‘jomati adda’ (rough translation would be engrossing gossip, although gossip is not really a proper translation for the Bengali word, adda). The concept of ‘adda’ is so quintessentially Bengali that there is no accurate translation of the word in any other foreign language or even any other Indian languages to the best of my knowledge. During a gathering, food was eaten in a certain hierarchical order that I have noticed – children were fed first followed by the men folk, lastly the women sat down to eat amidst much chatter, laughter and camaraderie.  As many know that in Bengal we eat with our hands. Sitting with others just laughing and chatting long after one’s food has been eaten with sticky fingers is one of my most fond memories. Time, during the days of celebration, was only of importance when one had to maintain the auspicious moments when a puja had to be performed. During the rest of the day, time was relegated to the back ground, it did not control us. We controlled our day. We were propelled during those special days by our needs – desire for togetherness, hunger, laughter, puja, rather than routine. Those days were refreshingly freeing, unbound from time.

My experience in USA has been different with my American family. During most of our celebrations – Thanksgiving, Christmas, there is a specific time for dinner. I observe in the torrential flurry of activities of my extended family, who prepare the big meals for our get togethers, how flustered they seem to get everything on the table by a certain time, all hot from the oven or stove top. Dinner will be served at 2 and that is the goal! I still can not get used to rigidity of time on a day of celebration. For me, the languorous stretch of time defines how a festival or gathering of family should be celebrated.

Sean asks me, always, what time is breakfast or dinner or lunch when I plan to celebrate bhai phota or a special breakfast or a special dinner at home. The question bothered me at the beginning. I felt the day was being segmented by tying meal times within a set time frame so I used to respond, “When it is ready!” That answer threw him off. I realized he planned his activities around the time I will give him for the meal I was preparing. So I adjusted. I give him a time and now I prepare food with one eye on the clock. It takes away the spontaneity of celebration, so when I go home celebrations take on more meaning when the chaos of meal times return.

Messy bed


A quick post before I start work. I am not a neat freak although I like a clean house. My only pet peeve is a messy bed. I can not stand it. I always make my bed. Since my kids were little, I made them make their beds. They cheated, of course. Often, they just pulled the top cover on their unmade bed to give an illusion to mom that they had made their beds. And when I found out, I yelled at them. I also took 2 dollars from them (or was it 5?) as payment for me to make their beds if they had not done it.

Fast forward Sahana’s college years. Her bed, in her dorm room, was mostly neatly made. Even now when she is home she makes her bed. Mr. Ryan is a different story. His bed is NEVER made. I grit my teeth as I go by his room. Clothes everywhere, unmade bed, teenage boy funk.

Everyday I resolve to scold him and I never do. His morning, thrice a week, starts at 4:15 am with swim practice, then he goes to school, after school he directly goes to water polo practice and finally comes home to finish homework and study for tests. I just want to mention here that this rigorous schedule is self inflicted. His parents have implored to cut down on activities. The little time he has, he watches mindless tiktok videos. He does not read other than required reading for school. 😭

Now that you have reference to the context, what do you think I should do? Keep urging him to make his bed so it is ingrained in him for future? Close his door if it bothers me?