Bird bath


Familiar birds, while growing up in Kolkata, were crows, sparrows and magpies. As the winter turned to spring, we heard the sweet cooing of cuckoo birds but s/he hid from us. All we heard was the sweet call which became synonymous with the arrival of spring. Once in a while we spotted ghughu pakhi (dove), or Bulbul or Moyna. I do not know the English names for those. When we lived in Delhi, we had 3 resident peacocks, who, sometimes, sat on the railing of our balcony and cried out loudly, making us flinch. Peacock calls are horrible to human ears. There were parrots too. For a Kolkatan, sightings of parrots and peacocks flying around freely were wildly exciting!

In USA, I came to recognize a few other types of birds that were unfamiliar to me – cardinals, blue jays, pileated woodpeckers, robins….. I am not a birder, in the sense, I don’t know the names of the different types that I see in the woods behind my house. But they give me immense joy. During warmer months, I sit on the back deck and look at the frenetic activities of the cardinal couple who go about their daily lives in front of me, or the furious blue jay, whose motive in life is to pick fight with anyone in his/her sight – be it another bird or a squirrel.

After the loss in our lives, my friends and coworkers enveloped us in their love, kindness and generosity in forms of food, plants and gifts. One friend gifted us a bird bath. For a few months the bird bath languished in our basement till Sean asked me if I wanted it set up and where. I wanted it in my backyard. He set it up but we did not fill it with water. It became part of the landscape in our backyard. It snowed a few weeks ago, and the bird bath filled up with water once the snow on it melted. And that is when my heart lifted. I was doing dishes over the weekend, lost in my thought, when I happened to raise my head and look out the back window. There were two puffy robins sitting opposite to each other taking turns drinking from the bird bath. There were 5 other birds waiting for their turn, sitting on the fence. I exclaimed to Sean, “Come! Look!” He came, stood by me and watched the shenanigans of the puffed up little birds trying to take turns in their very own water bowl. Most of them were orderly and followed rules, one tried to peck the others to get ahead in line. There is always that guy/gal.

Once the birds discovered there was water to be had in our backyard, they came back. On these days, when joy and happy feelings are scarce, these birds drinking water from the bird bath made both of us smile. As I got ready for work on Monday, I reminded Sean to fill up the bird bath for our thirsty visitors.

“I filled up your bird bath.” Sean said, when I got back from work that day.

Simple delights!

Pears Soap


As my mother unwrapped a bar of Pears soap and slid it on the soap dish in our common bathroom, we knew winter in Kolkata was official. Those of you who have grown up or lived in India would attest to the fact that winter in India (at least most parts of India) is a season of relief and joy. After the stifling heat of the summer came refreshing monsoons. Then monsoon and constant rain became an irritation. The roads were a mess, waterlogging brought life to a standstill, commuters looked up at the sky with a frown as they tried avoiding the raindrops from their neighbor’s umbrella. Monsoons gave way to hemanta (fall). For us, Bangalis, that was the time to look up at the cerulean sky spotted with cottony clouds and dream of Durga Pujo. After the  pujos were over, there was a let down period of a few weeks till the blessed cold season descended upon us. And the advent of winter, for me, was the fragrance of Pears soap in the bathroom. I think that soap had a decent amount of glycerin in it to moisten the drying skin during winter time or so the company boasted in it’s advertisement. I believe this was a family tradition – this bringing out of the Pears soap. My grandmother heralded winter with Pears and so did my mother and aunts. Why stop a good thing?

I wanted to eat fish today. Not the fillets that you get in the supermarkets here. I wanted fish with its tail, head and eyes intact, just like we have it at home. So after cooking dal and a vegetable dish for family dinner, I braved the cold, jumped in my car and raced to the Indian grocery store to buy me some fish. As I put in dal, spices, paneer and other staples in my cart, I came across a nicely built pyramid of Pears soap. I picked one up and breathed in. It made me smile. The fragrance reminded me of myself as a little girl  demanding the lep (a comforter stuffed with cotton) to be brought out in October (the temperature did not dip down then, only the evenings held the promise of cooler days). Ma and baba teased me for being ‘Sheet kature” (not sure of the exact translation, perhaps cold wimp). It reminded me of Tuhina, the one and only body moisturizing solution that was bought in our house. Do any of you remember Tuhina? Is it even manufactured anymore? Winter in Kolkata meant family outings at the zoo, complete with boiled eggs, nolen gur er sandesh (sweets made with special molasses) and oranges. Winter in Kolkata meant school picnics in the grounds of Victoria Memorial. Winter in Kolkata meant badminton games, fruit cakes, brightly lit Park Street, Christmas. Winters in Kolkata meant Kul er achar. Winters in Kolkata meant Saraswati pujo and yellow sarees. Winters in Kolkata meant Kolkata Bookfair. Winters in Kolkata meant colorful shawls and vying for a spot in the sun. Winters in Kolkata also meant falling in love with the love of my life.

The whiff of Pears at the Indian Grocery store reminded me I loved winter once. I have not felt the soft caress of Kolkata winter for a very long time now. My thin Indian skin can not bear the intense cold that I experience here. I find no joy in bundling up, feeling my face freeze or slip and slide in ice. I still have not learnt to walk on ice or drive on snow. But I have learnt to love parts of winter here too. The silhouette of bare trees stretching up to the sky, waiting patiently to fill up with leaves, is beautiful. Snowfall is beautiful. My husband’s exuberance after a snowball fight with the kids always tugs at my heartstring. The snotty, red faces of my two children as they sip hot chocolate after a particularly cold day are a joy to watch. Sitting on my favorite couch on a winter afternoon while reading a book makes me feel completely content. The warmth that envelopes me as I open the front door and enter my little house reminds me I am lucky. Yes, I have learnt to love some parts of winter here too.

I bought a bar of Pears soap and I used it when I came home. It reminded me of my mother.  Now I am surrounded by fragrant memories of winters left behind. This winter afternoon, all of sudden, became beautiful!