My happy place


I woke up the next morning, sat up on my bed and saw the ocean peeking in through my bedroom window. After almost three weeks, I still remember the overwhelming feeling of contentment that I experienced at that moment. I often feel extremely blessed in what I have in my life. That was one such moment. There would be many moments during the course of our stay on that island where I felt an inexplicable gratitude towards the universe for allowing me to witness such beauty. I felt most spiritual, most connected with the universe in my solitary moments while I sat alone on a rocky beach with no human in sight. Just me, the vast body of water in front of me and scraggly yet majestic rocks that rose above the low tide.

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We quickly settled into a routine on the island. I generally went for long, solitary walks traversing the entire length of the island after a leisurely cup of coffee in front of the water. On those walks, I saw the island creatures – colorful garter snakes, deer, wild turkeys, a ferret like creature who lived near our house. Those walks were also times when I introspected about this life that I was leading, where I was at present in this journey and where I was headed. I spent time with myself, which is a rare thing to do in my daily life. I am a mother who juggles too many balls to ensure the ones dependent on me have a smooth life. I don’t have much or any time for myself. This island break gave me a week to spend with me, the person, not me the mother, wife, worker.

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If asked what was most memorable time in that island I will say it was the thirty minutes that I spent by myself sitting on a secluded rocky beach with the vast expanse of sky over me and inky blue water crashing against the rocks. Little sail boats gliding gently by, the regular swish of water against rocks, perhaps the shrill cry of a gull once in a while and the excitement of an extended cormorant family complete with babies, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grand moms, granddads cavorting on their rock. Many thoughts crossed my mind, solitary thoughts, personal thoughts, peaceful thoughts, reassuring thoughts that beauty like what I was witnessing abounds our planet, despite man made divisiveness and destruction and the fact I was lucky enough to witness just a tiny part of it.

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The second most memorable time I spent on that island was with my girl. We walked over to the secluded rocky beach of the island and then hopped on the scraggly rocks to see where it would take us. Our path was difficult hence the adventure was thrilling. We strategized, mapped out, warned each other of wobbly ones and slippery ones, squealed when the cold water lapped up to our toes and scrambled higher. We hugged the coast and made our way around the island boosted by our strength and ability to haul ourselves up. I apologized to home owners whose private beaches we trespassed, they cheered us on, while Sahana apologized to each and every spider in our path since we were breaking some spider webs. We made it to the tipping cove, scurried through tall grass fearing ticks and eventually took the boring path home. But we were conquerors of the unknown and we bragged about our conquest till nobody cared any more.

Ryan disowned his own family and hung out with his ten other cousins, eating, roaming, diving down the dock at the wake of the ferry and working at the only tiny pizza store of the island for candy as payment. The boys judiciously watched the clock between playing baseball, tennis and hide and go seek. As soon as it was the time for the ferry they left everything they were doing to go to their jobs of unloading supplies for the store from the ferry. The vacation, for an eleven year old was idyllic and most importantly, free – something that children in cities and suburbs have forgotten.

Remember the kayaks, Sasha and Hexel? Well, they were put to good use as my husband took them out with his brother, his son or his daughter to explore the nearby islands. Sometimes they were gone for three hours or more.

This is what we all needed. Time. Time to connect with each other and also time to disconnect and seek solitude. I believe we were immensely successful. We left the island almost two months ago, yet today, on this dreary, rainy, gloomy day, the island’s memories are a beacon to me. I can go back in my mind to this happy place and I am not gloomy anymore.

 

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Jaguar mom?


I am not a tiger mom like Amy Chua but I can certainly be classified as a jaguar mom. I thought of using hyena mom or jackal mom but jaguar sounds better. I hold my children to high expectations and I push them to do the best they can. I know what they are capable of and I don’t accept anything less. There is a margin for mistakes, I know everyone makes them and they are not a bad thing at all as long as we learn from them. I let them know that I expect A’s in their work, tolerate B’s but question C’s. If the C is due to a concept they did not understand, I can work with them till they ‘get’ it, but if the C is result of sloppy, careless work, there are lost privileges. So, yes, I am a jaguar mother.

I have made Sahana redo her projects several times if she did not do her best work. She learned quickly to do her best the first time. Ryan has recently started working on projects that I pay more attention to. Recently, I made him redo a science project he was working on. First the work was untidy, second time the spellings were not reviewed. It was late at night and we both were at the kitchen table. He finally finished it, I was satisfied and we went to bed.

The next day, Sahana and I conspired. I told Sahana to give him a friendly advice that this mom is mean. She says from experience when she advises him to do his work neatly and well the first time. Mommy will make him redo the work till she is satisfied. The following evening that is what she did. As I checked Ryan’s homework, she called him aside and said, “Ry, mom is really mean when it comes to school work. You will have to do and redo your work if you don’t do it well the first time. Trust me, I have had to do it several times.

Later she told me his response to that. He said, “Sahana, mom is not really mean. She is just trying to make us better and make sure we do our best!”

Ohhhhhh!!!!

A few days later, an ecstatic boy came back home. He got full marks on the project. And his project has been chosen to be showcased in Evening of Excellence in school.

“MOM!!! Thank you for making me redo the project several times!! I got the best grade and my teacher kept my work to show it on Evening of Excellence!”

“How does it feel now, buddy?” I asked him.

“Top of the world!” he said.

“Remember this feeling, darling! If you give your best shot, most of the times you will experience this feeling of being at the top. If you don’t despite your best efforts, you will always have the consolation that you tried your best and that is the best you can do!” I said to him.

Do I truly care if they get A’s every time? I was raised with such expectations and to some extent I do. But what I care about most is the effort. Making that effort to be the best that can be. I am ready to be the jaguar mom, cheeta mom, feral cat mom so they learn that lesson early in life. Tiger mom, I leave to Amy Chua.

Lastly, when I asked my husband if he thought I was a jaguar mom, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I don’t care if you are a jaguar mom, tiger mom, leopard mom. As long as you are not a cougar mom!”

Yes, never a dull moment!

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The First day on the island


I have said before that the way to Ryan’s heart is through his stomach. He woke up on Saturday morning at the hotel, completely ravenous. Sahana and I were still in bed and not ready for breakfast so he niggled and whined that he be allowed to go have the free breakfast that the hotel offered by himself. We said yes, he left and we forgot about him while we watched a little tv, packed up to check out and got ready ourselves for breakfast. After quite a while later, we heard frantic knock on our door. We opened it to see a red faced and evidently relieved Ryan standing outside with a silly grin on his face.

“Finally I found you guys. I was lost!!” He exclaimed.

In his excitement to get food he did not check our room number when he went for breakfast. After a satisfying breakfast of pancakes and eggs, when he tried to make his way back to our room, he realized he did not know the number. So he knocked on a few doors on the side where our room was. He confronted some angry French Canadian boarders. Finally after the third failed attempt at finding his family, he went to the reception desk and admitted he was lost. The ladies were supposedly very nice, they commiserated with him and despite the privacy policy, gave him his parents’ room number because he was little and cute. He declared he was never letting us out of his sight for the rest of the vacation (he did not keep his promise since we only saw him when he needed food and a place to sleep on the island).

We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel to head towards Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. Since I am extremely intelligent and planned, I suggested to my partner that we drive to the ferry and figure out first how we transport our junk to the island before we shop for groceries for seven days. That plan seemed acceptable to all so that is what we did. While I guarded the car, Sean went to make the necessary inquiries. It turned out we were unduly worried. The wonderful and efficient staff of the ferry sent all our junk on the freight and other regulars to islands showed us how we can buy groceries, put them in crates provided by the freight workers and leave them with the staff. They did all the heavy lifting while we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our way to the island with only our handbags full of tank tops and shorts. After bidding goodbye to Sasha, Hexel (our kayaks, remember?), our unnamed bikes, tennis rackets and some other inconsequential bags, we went to the local Whole Foods to get groceries. Grocery shopping, for me, is never fun and this wasn’t either but it got done with two children running to get things that they wanted and Sean and I either acquiescing or saying sternly, “Put that back right away!” We drove the grocery laden minivan back to the dock, procured a cart, sent the groceries on their way with a prayer that the eggs don’t crack and ventured into the difficult task of finding a parking. The most convenient parking, right next to the dock was full. Sean got off the car to ask the attendant how quick the turnover was. Should we wait or should we seek a different parking garage. He was gone for a while. When I was starting to get slightly frustrated I saw him coming back with a huge grin and a thumbs up sign.

“We got parking here!”

“How? It still says full!”

It turns out the parking ticket machine was not working and Sean tinkered with the parking attendant and helped her fix it. She let us in. Hallelujah!

After parking the car, we got out to finally explore the city of Portland, grab some lunch and get donuts from the famous The Holy Donut. Portland is a lovely town, albeit stinky, at least near the waterfront with fish stink. If one walks away from the waterfront, however, it is a quaint seaside town with artsy boutiques and innovative restaurants. We lunched on shwarma, falafel and hummus in Olive Cafe and went to get dessert. As we were walking around we got phone calls from family that they were arriving at the dock with their families and luggage and since we were pros at figuring out how to transport luggage to Cliff island, we jogged back to give them a hand.

After hugs and confusion and bathroom breaks and innumerable ‘where is this child or that’ (there were 6 children in total ranging from 17 to 3 while four more waited for us at the island), we got on the ferry and our relaxing (maybe) break truly started.

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This is a view from the ferry on our way to the island.

It took about 40 minutes with two stops and we were finally there. We were finally away from the mainland, away from schedule, away from political news, away from internet. We were unwired, we were on island time. Sasha, Hexel, unnamed bikes, bags and bags of groceries were all unloaded on the dock. They needed to be carted to the house we rented which was only 4 houses down the dock. It sounded simple but we did not account for the acres of woods and yards between those four houses. While Sean, the kids and other relatives divided up the bags, tennis rackets, bikes, I took it upon myself to push the big crate of groceries up the hill to our house. The only car (a taxi service driven by a very elderly gentleman) stopped by me to ask if I was alright. He may have been concerned by my straining neck muscles and red face. I did it though only to realize I had stolen two banana boxes of groceries that belonged to somebody else. Those boxes hid underneath our scores of grocery bags. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, offered to take the banana boxes full of groceries back to the dock so they could be reunited with their rightful owner. I mumbled a thank you because I was stunned and exhilarated by the scene that greeted me in the living room of our rented house.

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This was going to be our view for the next seven days? Did I just arrive in heaven?

Seeing my husband standing next to me enjoying the view and not tackling the two kayaks outside got me into a panic mode.

“Why are you here? Why are you not bringing the kayaks from the dock?” I exclaimed.

“Your children are bringing them!” He gave a complacent smile.

“What?!?!?”

Sure enough, two little figures turned the corner in two kayaks paddling furiously to get them to our private little beach in front of the house. Oh, the joys of having older children!

the first evening was a blur between hugging and kissing family, unpacking and rearranging clothes, eating delicious sausage lasagne prepared by my youngest sister-in-law, laughing at the antics of the children, eleven in total, and then finally retiring to the bedroom and falling into deep slumber. I will post the picture of what I woke up to in the next installment. Stay tuned. 😀

 

 

 

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Before stepping off the mainland.


I forgot to pack my notebook as I packed some grubby clothes hurriedly in a newly purchased tote bag to take to Cliff Island off the coast of Maine for seven days. My extremely outdoorsy husband had purchased two kayaks because the kids ‘needed’ it you see and was planning on bringing them. The children declared they absolutely needed their bikes to ride around the three and a half mile long island with their cousins. There was a tennis court on that tiny island, so how could we not bring tennis rackets and balls? There is also a baseball field, we could not simply leave behind baseball glove and bat, could we? I sighed as I looked at the accumulating junk and dictated folks to take bare minimum in clothes so we could each carry a bag pack and keep both hands free so we COULD CARRY JUNK! The island does not have a grocery store for provisions so we needed to plan and buy seven days worth of groceries, and then figure out a way to carry them!! I forgot to pack my notebook though, in the hustle bustle of planning. I planned to write down my stream of consciousness as I sat in front of the ocean. In the absence of tangible medium, I wrote and painted in my mind’s canvas. Before life gets steadily busy, I hope to put down those thoughts on these blogs.

Like many others on this planet with children, our lives are hectic and rigidly scheduled. As August came closer, all four of us counted down days to break free from work travels, deadlines, swim meets, baseball practices to reclaim our time together, doing what we love to do – reading, walking, talking, listening to music, swimming, playing. We planned a retreat from real life with Sean’s siblings and their families in a tiny little island off the coast of Portland. We rented a house for a week starting Saturday, right on the water. However, my family headed north early, on a Thursday morning at 5 am to jump start the vacation. The plan was to meet our one day old niece in Boston and then drive up north, find a place to stay for two nights, Thursday and Friday, and then get on the ferry from Portland to head to the island on Saturday.

We started our long journey before the sun rose. Sean had secured two kayaks on top of our minivan and two bikes behind the car on bike racks. I had a niggling fear that one of those would go free, go flying and hit fellow motorists. That did not happen thankfully. We arrived in Mass General Hospital with all our JUNK intact but went round and round the busy city of Boston to find parking for our heavily loaded car. We held and kissed our baby niece, full of joy at the miracle of life and hit the road again after bidding the proud and tired parents goodbye. We wanted to visit some of the beaches of New Hampshire or maybe Maine, get a couple of days of sandy beach fun before we met others at the ferry and headed over to Cliff Island. First stop was Hampton beach. We tried to get a hotel for two nights but nothing was available. It was coming up on dinner time and the day was slowly losing its luster. We decided to move on, drive up and find accommodation somewhere farther up north. We were not worried. Next stop was Ogunquit, Maine. The beach was gorgeous, the town seemed inviting. Four of us started to feel hopeful about finding lodging and eventually some dinner, but ‘no vacancy’ signs greeted us as we passed cute hotels, motels and bed and breakfast. A resort right on the beach showed vacancy sign. We parked and jogged to the reception desk. The children, cooped up in the car for 10 hours, ran to the beach to touch the water.

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The resort offered one night’s accommodation for almost $400. Friday night was full. Crestfallen parents called the kids back to the car to continue the journey, but the lovely restaurants and the handmade ice cream stores were too tempting to pass by. We stopped for dinner at Hamburger Harry’s. The kids got busy ordering while the parents desperately searched for lodging on their smart phones. The children, with their bellies full of sumptuous burger, kept reassuring us they could sleep in the van if needed. I glared at them instead of appreciating their effort to be accommodating 🙂 ! I recognized their effort later, when I relaxed finally in a comfortable bed. After several attempts, we found accommodation for two nights in a hotel in South Portland, only to find out later that the Boston Marathon bombers stayed in the same hotel before their heinous deed (the knowledge would not have made any impact on our decision of staying there at that point anyway). We drove up to our hotel, after ice cream of course, and crashed.

We woke up Friday morning ready for a beach day. We wanted to have the total boardwalk experience with all the glitz since we knew we will be in isolation in an island far away from the madding crowd. We found Old Orchard beach that fit the bill, complete with an amusement park, boardwalk fries, tattooed skin and crashing waves. The kids ran towards the amusement park before they said hello to the ocean.

As Sean and I stood in line to buy a few tickets for a some rides, a man walked up and gave us two passes for unlimited rides, FOR FREE, just like that. He had to leave the beach and had no use for those passes, he gave them to us. Before we could collect our wits to thank him profusely for his generosity, he left! The children rode every single ride till Ryan threw up and decided enough was enough and sometimes too much. After a mediocre lunch in a taqueria, which had an interesting name with a frog in it, we finally headed to the beach. My thin Indian skin can not tolerate the coldness of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, so I slept on the sandy beach while my family rollicked in the waves. Completely satiated with our day of sand filled and sun filled activities, we headed to our hotel to get ready for our big preparation day on Saturday. The day we had to figure out a way to transfer our kayaks, Sasha and Hexel (yes, they are even named), our two bikes (no names), luggage, books, towels and seven days worth of provision across the ferry from Portland to Cliff Island. But before we did that, Ryan got lost. I will leave you here with a cliff hanger like mystery writers do, so you will wait with baited breath about the fate of my son, till I write the next installment. I am evil like that. 🙂

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The driving force


Recently I wrote a letter to my niece for her school project. She wanted letters from her friends and family as keepsakes. The instructions said I should write about something to inspire her, my observations on life, some inspiring quotes, how I perceive of her. I sat there in the front of the keyboard looking at the blinking cursor pondering what to tell her. I had just read some disturbing comments by a presidential candidate, spreading hatred and bigotry. I was angry, disillusioned and of course frustrated. It was not the perfect mindset to write an inspiring letter to a new teen to motivate her. Then, instead of focusing on what we read/hear from the important and influential persons on media, I brought back my focus on those who surround me and influence me personally. I viewed the world from my lens of perception and there I found a treasure trove of inspiring stories of humanity.

I work at a public library in a relatively diverse neighborhood so I get to see a microcosm of the world right here in my work place. I see the melting pot that America truly is, here in my library, where immigrants from different countries come together to an English Conversation class to communicate with English speakers better, people of all colors come to create resumes and apply for jobs to better their lives and their families, saree clad or hijab covered mothers bring their babies and children to attend story hours. I see not simply acceptance but respect for people of all color, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion in my library world. This is the real America, which is colorful, which is loving, which is respectful and which believes in solidarity. But this America does not get written up in newspapers, this America does not find a place in political rhetorics. I decided to tell her about the America that I see around me and not the one I hear about on television and news sites. Here are some personal experiences.

I was sitting at the kiosk on a very gray day in December, despairing over the impending snow storm that was threatening in the horizon when a raspy voice recited close to my ears :

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.

From the poem Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier.

I grew up hearing poetry and songs of Tagore my entire childhood, however, poetry does not get as much attention here as it did when I was a student. My delight at hearing someone reciting lines extempore to describe the gloom outside was perhaps palpable. The speaker was an older lady who pointed outside and said, “Isn’t that how it looks?” We got talking of course. We talked about her long teaching career, we talked about my initiation into poetry at an early age. We both lamented the dearth of poetry in people’s lives. She complimented my Indian jewelry and I complimented her ability to remember lines and use them aptly. She left with books but our conversation did not leave my memory.

An elderly gentleman came to me with a research question. During the course of our interaction, talk about his recently deceased wife came up. The research question took a backseat while he pulled out a gorgeous and happy picture of her and talked about the vivacity and life she projected on those around her. He could not believe she was no more. Their children give him devices and smart phones to stay in touch but he has no use for them. He likes to come to the library and talk to real people. I could tell he was lonely without his partner of many years and he wanted someone to listen to his memories of her. We found what he was looking for while he talked and I listened.

A very elderly man came one day wanting help in finding the cost of his house because did not have the technical expertise to look up on the computer. I don’t think I deserved all the gratitude he showed me after I helped him look up websites.

I helped a woman get information on hearing aids because she was losing her hearing. She asked my name. I gave her my name and said, “You don’t have to ask for me if you need help. Anybody here will be happy to help you.” She said, “No, I want to write in Customer feedback, how helpful you have been.” She did.

While doing my job, I seem to touch people’s lives as they touch mine. This is what life is all about. Interaction with fellow humans, exchange of ideas, accepting differences and being graceful in relationships with each other.

There are countless example of human connection and kindness in my personal life and my professional life. So I recounted those as I wrote to my niece. I gave her the world I see, I gave her MY reality and told her the driving force in this world, despite all that she sees and hears, is still love. Her job, along with her peers, will be to spread the love to every corner of the earth and I keep the faith that they will. In a few generations, the playing field will be level.

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Neighborhood grandfather


I consider reading as a means to freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Reading takes you places that you did not think existed, reading introduces you to new ideas and lets your ideas soar. Reading sets you free. I was concerned my youngest child did not take to books as my oldest did. After many pushes and shoves towards books I finally realized that I can not shape him into any mold, instead, my job will be to expose him to new ideas via means that appeal to him and let him spread his wings on his own terms – discussion, research, news on television, non fiction books.

If you read my blogs you probably know, my young Ryan is a deep thinker. Since he was little his thoughts were different – he probed deeper. His teacher, in a recent meeting, reconfirmed our perception of him as one who thinks outside the box. Ryan seems to be an exception to my rule that reading sets one free. He has set himself free by observing, evaluating, thinking and reading books that appeal to him.

At dinner, the other night, we were discussing dreams. He was asked, “What are your dreams, Ry?”

“I don’t have dreams, I have goals.”

“Well, what is the difference?”

“You can dream but they don’t seem that solid. But you set your goals and you work towards achieving them. I set goals.”

Coming from an eleven year old, that sounded somewhat precocious. We asked him what his goals are then.

“My goal is to become a neighborhood grandfather.” He solemnly replied.

“Errr…what?!?! A neighborhood grandfather?!?!” His father and I exchanged bemused glances.

“Yeah, you know. I am going to be that grandfather in the neighborhood who is always there for someone who needs help, advice.”

“But you are just a child. Why are you jumping to old age and grandfather? What are you going to do in between?” It was hard not to laugh.

“No, no! There are many goals in between that. Being a neighborhood grandfather is the ultimate goal. Before that I will go to Stanford, swim in the Stanford swim team. I will open my own business and create lots of jobs. I will help a lot of poor people so they can have a good life. I will marry someone nice and have kids. And then I will become a neighborhood grandfather.” The fork rested on his plate as he got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Or maybe I will become a professional baseball player or a Olympic swimmer. I will be famous, I will earn a lot of money and I can help even more people that way.”

Dreams and goals got entangled at this point, but we smiled at our child as he dreamed on and set goals for himself. As I see my two kids grow up, I glance upon the innocence and beauty of childhood. I feel myself a mere observer and perhaps a chronicler of these beautiful times of their lives. I write them down judiciously so I can offer these moments up to them when they are all grown up. When asked about aspirations, a child mentions a profession – teacher, engineer, scientist…..
My child’s aspiration is to be a neighborhood grandfather. Personally, I think that is a superb goal. We need neighborhood grandfathers to bring back the human connection which we seem to be losing fast in our digital age. Grow up to be a neighborhood grandfather, child. Bring people closer. Bring them out to the porch again. Re establish the connection.

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How was your day?


I am a part time library worker and full time mother of two. The days I don’t help customers get the books they absolutely want to read or the resource they absolutely need for their research, I do loads and loads of laundry, cook meals from scratch, organize music teacher, make doctor’s and dentist appointments, freeze in baseball games or practices, sweat in hot and humid indoor pools, arrange work schedules so I can listen to my child’s music concerts. The days I don’t work, my life is not interesting except for a few stolen moments in the afternoon, right before the children come home, when I crack open a book and get transported to another universe.

Yesterday was my day off. After all the commitments of Thursday we were finally home for the night. I had enlisted the help of my 16 year old daughter to make egg rolls for dinner. It is an assembly line production that she and I have perfected. She cracks the eggs, I heat the rotis. When the rotis are done I pour the eggs on them and cook till eggs settle. I flip the egg roti on a plate, she assembles onions, ketchup, lime juice, pepper and rolls it up. We chat as we work.

“How was your day, Mama?” She asked me, as she wiped tears from cutting onions.

“It was OK. Nothing to write home about!” I replied, waiting for the day to end.

“What did you do?” She persisted.

I really did not want to talk. Perhaps I was tired, perhaps I was wallowing in self-pity of how meaningless my day was. I started with, “Well, I did 3 loads of laundry, made appointments at the dentist’s office, then I spent some time talking to the insurance for the car, went to the library, errands….nothing interesting. I did nothing that I can talk about.”

She perhaps caught the slight catch in my throat. She said, “Well, we did not do any groundbreaking discoveries either. It was just a regular day and we did regular things.”

“Yes, but you learned something new. You got to hang out with friends.”

On retrospect, it sounded petulant – comparing my life with her’s.

She stayed silent for a moment and said, “You work hard mom. You work hard every day.”

We moved on then. I did not pay attention to her words or her sentiment that she understood my mood and acknowledged my need to be comforted at that moment. We had dinner, cleaned up, finished homework, set the alarm for next day and went to bed.

Today as I worked around the house, I thought back upon the snippet of conversation with my daughter last night. She wanted to know how my day was and despite the mundaneness of my domestic chores she gave me my due. How often do we overlook these simple gestures that carry so much meaning? Also my work of providing clean clothes, taking care of scheduling needs, assisting with homework, cleaning our living area and providing healthy nourishment actually contribute hugely to the health and happiness of all of us. They are all important little pieces that make up the big whole. It is so easy to forget the importance of the little pieces of the puzzle due to the monotony of the chore yet the satisfaction when they fit into the fabric of our daily life is priceless. And when a loved one says, “I see you. I see all you do for us” that is a lovely language of appreciation.

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An Immigrant and Carl


I was fresh off the boat those days when I landed a job in a downtown hotel as a Select Guest coordinator. New marriage, new job, new country – life, then, was a little overwhelming, very exciting and full of hope. I was trying to understand this new country – its culture, tradition and most importantly, the accent. There were many ‘aha’ moments and then there were ‘oh my goodness, is that true?’ moments. At work I was somewhat of a novelty. In the mid nineties, I was the only Indian in that company so the questions I got ranged from ‘did you go to school on an elephant?’ to ‘are you an Indian princess?’ to ‘are you so quiet because if you talked loudly the tigers will come and get you in your country?’ (yes, I have been asked this question in complete seriousness. And yes, I used to be very quiet once upon a time, mainly because I did not understand what people were saying, the accent, you see!)

They were days when I looked down upon unfamiliar American sports and considered baseball as a poor cousin of the king of sports, cricket and considered American football bestial. Sean tried a few times to expound the virtues of baseball (faster than cricket) and of his team Red Sox but I argued relentlessly to prove him wrong. He made fun of cricket and I made fun of baseball.

As a Guest Coordinator, I had to attend meetings every morning with the Assistant General Manager of the hotel along with the heads of reservation, front desk, hospitality etc. One time, the hotel was hosting a big event where love and pride of Maryland, the star baseball player of the state was going to feature. So at the meeting, I said, “So when Carl Ripken arrives….”. I was cut off quite rudely as the room erupted in laughter. There were loud guffaws all around me. I looked at them puzzled. What caused this eye watering mirth? The Assistant GM said, “What did you say? Carl Ripken? Hahahahaha. Guys, we have to take her to a ball game. We need to educate her in baseball! It is our responsibility!” More hahahahahas followed. I was still puzzled. “What is so FUNNY?” The head of Reservations was a very nice woman who finally wiped her tears and said, “His name is CAL Ripken and he is a legend in these parts!”

See, growing up in a country which was under British rule for many, many years, I knew the language relatively well and I was certainly familiar with names like Tom, Dick, Harry, John, Johnathan, Carl, Bill, William, even Julian (Enid Blyton, Famous Five, in case you are wondering). I was not aware someone could be named Cal. I thought my American mates said Cal but they just pronounced Carl in a different way than I did. And yes, I perhaps never encountered Ripken’s name in written words. There are many excuses I can provide but the bottom line is, I never lived down that story during the time that I worked at that hotel. I was often the target of a friendly banter about ‘Carl’ Ripken.

Cal Ripken is coming to my library for a book talk. I have a baseball crazy almost 11-year-old, who has read Cal’s books and would dearly love to see this legend and perhaps shake his hand, if he is allowed. The tickets to that event sold out in four minutes and I could not get him a seat. His face fell when I told him that. Now our only hope is to try to buy a book and see if he can get a picture with Cal. In between calling the library to secure a spot and trying online, I remembered this story from the past when I did not even know the name of this man at one point. And here I am, getting excited that he will use a room close to my office as his green room before he talks about his book, and I may get a glimpse of him. I have indeed come a long way!

I don’t think about it often, after living in this country for so long, but I realized yesterday what a daunting task it is for immigrants to any country to learn whatever they can about the cultural, social and political history of the land they have emigrated to. The venture is exciting, enlightening and yes, overwhelming.

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Just another day in paradise


It was a regular Tuesday evening – get your homework done, did you get a snack, alright get in your swimsuit, if we don’t rush out of the door now we will be LATE! RYAN!!! These are the sentences heard in my house every Tuesday evening in my shrill, high pitch, annoying voice. This particular Tuesday was no exception. I am not sure what came over me but before we headed out I told Ryan jokingly, ‘Go give your sister a kiss!’ Even as I said it, I jangled the car keys in my hand and took steps towards the door knowing the gagging sound that would follow this command. I expected an emphatic “NOOOOO!” What I got was, “Ok, I will!” I was surprised. This display of affection is VERY, VERY…..I mean, truly rare.
Sahana, from her room indulgently cried out, “No need! I don’t need a kiss!” But I saw her brother go in her room anyway! And then…….

A BLOOD CURDLING SCREAM, “MAMA, HE RUBBED DIRTY SOCKS ON MY FACE! I AM GOING TO KILL HIM!”

The brother ran out giggling with the sister in hot pursuit! “I am going to kill you!!! He rubbed his dirty sock on my face! Uggggh! Gross!”

The culprit was caught, thrown on the couch, sat upon and tickled. There was squealing and laughter as well as a valiant effort on my part to separate them. Clock was ticking. We were late. As I watched them wrestle, I had an out of body experience, watching the scene from up above – two of them laughing, wrestling, squealing and me laughing as well as I shouted above the din to stop and get going ‘this very minute’!

The moment did not last long. I hauled the boy out of the house, into the car and sped towards the pool. However the little moment of mirth made a difference to the Tuesday routine. These little moments are the ones worth cherishing. So these little moments find their place in my blogs.

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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!

 

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