Spring is around the corner, here in North America. Though we had some ice rain a couple of nights back, yet I choose to believe that spring is almost here. A tree here and a tree there will tell one that. Set against the bright blue sky, it is difficult to miss the tiny pink buds trying to peek out a bit. The occasional chirping of birds and kids running around in the neighborhood are all indications of that time of the year that is probably the most awaited one. At least weather wise. This is the time when something wondrous begins to happen and one cannot help but feel what can closely be defined as, perhaps, happiness. Far from the bustle of the human world, it would appear, the buds get ready to captivate us, the way they do every single year. And we await that beauty,with as much excitement as if we were about to witness all the glory unfold for the first time.
I skip a bit as I try to keep up with my kid’s newfound freedom. Freedom from being indoors, freedom from the weight of heavy jackets and mittens and the occasional snow boot, freedom from hearing all the many no-s and maybe-s that have sadly become more common in our daily conversations. The joy is undeniable. Mother and son both hum a tune, and make plans for summer that promises, almost, to bring more sunshine. Masked people and the unmasked sun…we will take that for now.
I have always kept ‘politics’ out of this space… there is enough of that anyways all around. But today I make an exception. An exception because after four years of, to put it mildly, a dismal state of affairs, filled with rhetoric that has been one of hatred and divisiveness only, my adopted home country has a leader who is the antithesis of his predecessor. But it’s not just that, since any decent human being is the antithesis of he- who shall- not -be- named. It is much more than that. The election here in the US pitted neighbors against each other with a fervor that is perhaps rare and in spite of all the venom spewing, enough people did the right thing. And that mattered. But, since this is not a political post, I will refrain from the details of the post-election period leading up to the official inauguration of the new president… the world has witnessed all of that with shock I assume. Instead, I choose to focus on the amazing things that have happened. This administration is probably one of a kind. And it’s not just because the country got it’s first female VP ever, but because this administration has, as its leaders and representatives, people who are as diverse as those who call this place home. It’s a recognition and almost a celebration of the diversity that makes this country unique. A new dawn is hopefully upon us when a period of healing and hoping can begin. The beginning of coming together of enough people so that the rhetoric of hatred does not get a platform to be heard. There is trepidation but there is also happiness. And at the same time, there will always be a lot of theories, mostly conspiracies, but we shall choose to not respond with malice.
But perhaps these are lofty words, who knows. Still, the wish is for this moment to bring hope to those of us who need it and to also restore faith in those of us who were probably beginning to question the basic tenets of humanity, morality and just basic decency. And maybe also in just our own selves and in the power of doing the right thing. There will always be darkness but there also will be light to pierce through that dark. We have to be willing to do what is needed, time and again, always. It’s a moment of coming together, a moment that has been long overdue. This does not mean that all will magically heal, far from that. But the journey can begin, in small tangible steps. In the empowering words of Amanda Gorman (if you have not listened to her yet, do so when you get a chance) who is the youngest person ever chosen to write a poem for the presidential inauguration and the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate:
Fall is on its way out here in Jersey and the bare branches against the evening sky of violet and pink and grey often remind me of Joyce’s Araby. The street lights, children’s voices echoing through the streets and a chilly evening air complete my reminiscence of North Richmond Street.
The other day, while going through some of my keepsake boxes I came across bits and pieces of memories and as I went through each of those (and there were quite a lot), I realized how every single one of those had a story of its own, the very reason we have such boxes! As specifics other than the obvious ones kept getting tossed around in my mind, I figured out I was storing not just the one memory attached to one thing, but a host of others as well that had crept their way into each, with time. And I was reminded again that the most beautiful, the most precious things in life can never be things. Those are always people and the moments that we create with them, those are frowns and tears, smiles and giggles, celebrations and losses.
I found a pendant that I had bought for my Ma back in 2008 from Japan. I saw a diaper ( a fresh one of course!) that was from the first box of diapers we had bought for our son. Among other things, I found ticket stubs of a movie we went to for our 5th anniversary , a lunch receipt from the restaurant we had our meal on the day we moved into our current apartment, a bracelet gifted to me when I was 14 years old by my then best friend. Old albums brought back memories of last day of school, of my then 89 year old grandmother who had made the journey from her home to ours to attend my wedding, of a neighbor who had made time to surprise and see me off at the airport when I was leaving for Japan. My first crush, my first fight with my best friend, the one and only day I was reprimanded by a teacher in high school, the time I heard about one of closest friend’s decision to end her marriage, the first time I spoke with and advocated for a victim of domestic abuse and countless such moments are carefully stored in pockets of my mind and heart. And, it suddenly dawned on me that I am a mosaic of all the people I have loved and held dear and of all those who have loved and cared for me. We all are.
In all that we do, that love shines through in its own way. Sometimes it comes to us through the smell that fills our kitchens, the very smell that used to fill the kitchens of our childhood at our parents’ place and sometimes it informs our parenting style. From simple things like the habit of always mixing a salty snack with something sweet ( I get this from my father) to the reason some songs sound more magical, it influences our reactions to situations and moments, it lets us make choices and it works with our own understanding of the matters of the heart and the world to help us move forward in life. The innate characteristics that define the ‘I‘, are not only our people and our experiences, old traditions and the ones we start on our own, the life we have left behind and the one that we currently lead, they also are a million other bits and pieces from all across the universe. These come floating by through the changing seasons, through revolutions that bring about change, through portraits of places far and wide, through the words that are carefully chosen for biographies that find place in our nightstands, through our daily strifes as well as stories of success. We are the custodians of all these and so much more.
My hometown of Calcutta (now Kolkata) recently celebrated its biggest festival, the Durga Pujo (more on this here), one which transcends the religious aspect of it to embrace diversity and camaraderie that can probably only be found in this City of Joy. It is unique and unparalleled and I say this not because I am biased, but because it is a fact, a way of life as known, lived and shared by her people. But as strange and painful that this year has been, it has limited the scope of being with our loved ones and, the festivities have a different look this year. However, from what I hear from friends and family, the festive spirit has not been dampened. People found ways to be with each other during this time of the year, celebrate Durga and Her victories in unique ways over Zoom calls and live-stream sessions,which may have made great philosophers re think about the relationship between art and reality, considering how mixed up the ideal and virtual have been this year.
Way of life here in Jersey is a far cry from the festivities there. The enthusiastic and enterprising bunch that Bengalis are, we have brought our own version of those celebrations wherever we have moved to, and adapting to a new life has not meant that we have parted ways with tradition that is intricately woven into our personal and societal tapestries. Being the product of a global culture, man and his beliefs keep evolving and he pursues one that probably suits his needs the best. So, as opposed to a five day celebration, Durga Pujo here in North America is a weekend affair as school auditorium, the typical venue for the grand celebration, is available for rent only on weekend, obviously. This year, we adapted further…we had to. Google Meets and Zoom calls came to our rescue and we too, celebrated virtually. Many of us decked up and made traditional and scrumptious food fit for the kings, at home. And since Fall is in full bloom, we also were blessed with glimpses of an autumn mosaic.
Way of life as once known has greatly changed and we have all adapted to that, to the best of our abilities, some wittingly and some bearing a bit of a grudge. Online school, while far from being ideal, is the way of life for us as is distancing ourselves from friends and family, physically. It is stressful and tiring and stealing moments from the abstract realities of life, has become a norm.
Amidst a hundred memories and a thousand more to come, people all around are trying to make the best of what they have, may be soaking them in some extra love and wrapping them up with a big warm hug. Fatigue sets in but we refuse to be harnessed by the drudgery of routine…such is the beauty of human resilience. We are cautiously hopeful and our wrinkled hearts keep summoning courage, courage to face all that is unknown. That is the way of life now, has always been and perhaps will always be. As we all celebrate our culture, our milestones in ways that are set in stone or in ways that have evolved, I hope we don’t forget that we are all part of a bigger social and human construct, one that makes our beating hearts unique.Our little stories become part of the woven tapestry called life in which we all have a role to play in that. These help us carry on, these moments, these celebrations, these stories, especially in times like the one that we are living today. Times that are in desperate need of a resurgence of empathy and respect. Let us not forget that happiness is not proprietary, but shared. And that should always be the way of life.
” There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path”: The Buddha.
Amanda invites us to reflect on quiet places and share a picture or two. If I had to choose between living in the heart of a big city where tall buildings could make you twist your neck if you tried to look all the way up and where people never stopped roaming the streets and the music never ceased or, in the suburbs, away from all the hullabaloo where people probably went to bed at 8 and there were farmlands around, I would always choose the latter. Noisy places and a super-fast life do not make to my list of top 50 favorite things! When we moved to New Jersey, it took my husband a great deal of convincing and a whole year to go visit the Big Apple!
Back when we lived in Minneapolis, one of our favorite spots to just escape to at the end of a tiring day, of course during the summer months, was this spot overlooking the mighty Mississippi. We sometimes packed sandwiches, chips and some juice and it made for a lovely picnic too. Life was stressful as grad students at that point in time and this was a place that helped shut out all the commotion in our minds about deadlines and tests and the somehow ever dwindling bank balance.
One of my favorite places that I keep revisiting in my mind is Duluth, Minnesota. A couple of hours from Minneapolis, it is a pristine place where Lake Superior reigns supreme. The blue of the lake and its vastness sort of puts one under spell and it is so easy to just shut out all the humdrum and lose oneself in its beauty. Pretty hikes, picturesque cottages, beautiful shoreline and very few people would give you all the quiet that you seek. You can hear silence and feel at one with the gorgeous nature that wraps you in a warm and peaceful hug.
Many years ago I had visited the Hiroshima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was like no place I had been to ever before. A hauntingly beautiful place that leaves one with emotions that are complex and sure to evoke thoughts that escape the banalities of our daily lives. The picture quality is not good at all here, but this is one of the few photos that survived my laptop -in- the -bathtub debacle.
During these days of COVID-19, when the world is hurting bad, quietness is easy to come by and often can be found in the strangest of places. A popular hiking trail, a park that usually is teeming with children during the spring and summer months are such places, where it has been eerily quiet these past few months. While a semblance of normalcy has returned now, at least where we live, the quickening steps at the sight of others passing by says a different story. Words are not exchanged and kids are yet to play freely with each other. With masks covering their innocent smiles, there is a strange sense of quiet that is not ideal and neither desirable, but at the moment, essential.
We often escape the sights and sounds of big cities for some peace and quiet and to listen. To listen to sounds that a gurgling brook makes or perhaps the chirping of birds that get canceled out by the blaring alarm of our mobile phones or car in our neighborhood; the sound of crickets chirping as the sun sets and the rustling of leaves as the squirrels gather food. Or just to listen to the sound of silence. Like when snow falls. Have you noticed that quietness?
Summer is almost gone and here in NJ, one can sense that Fall is not that far away. The brilliant blue sky and a cooler air greets you when you step outside while indoors late evenings and early mornings may want you to reach out for a light blanket and feel a little more cozy. Schools will be starting next week and while none of what is happening makes sense, I am hoping that brings back some sort of normalcy in the lives of the little ones.
The other day, I was talking to my son about the possibility of visiting family and may be spending a day or two with them, who have been indoors except for when venturing out for groceries, occasionally. He loves visiting them and hence obviously has been over the moon making plans, while also trying to not get excited in case we are unable to go as that has happened in the past. A couple of days ago while he was busy deciding what toys he should pack, he asked me if he could touch things in their house and more importantly, if he could hug them. I asked why such a question. He said he wanted to make sure if it was safe since the ‘bad germs’ were still there and he did not want anyone to fall sick. If hugging would make them sick then that would make him very sad and he would rather not hug at all. Kids, often wiser and kinder and more thoughtful that they are given credit for.
In our often trying-to-make-through-the-day-somehow life where the crazy and crazier compete with each other, continuing to be kind is probably something, that shines through. And if we think about it, being kind is not hard. It should come to us naturally…shouldn’t it? And yet, harsh words, it seems, are always looming around in the corner, ready to jump in at the slightest opportunity. Passing by a stranger who is struggling to pick up mail that has slipped and fallen on the road, shoveling the snow off my car while choosing to ignore the elderly person struggling with his, waiting on a chance to criticize someone and laugh at them because of the way they look- the list can go on-is downright unkind and shameful. What happened to kindness and empathy? How are these basic human characteristics eluding us? In a world that needs kind and understanding people more than ever before maybe, to make fun of or throw hurtful words at someone because they don’t ‘fit in’ cannot be a thing that gets normalized.
We are better than that. Our kids are better than that. Should we not rise above pettiness and strive towards what is right? We all have our own battles that we are fighting or have fought and to undermine someone else’s struggles, by our actions or words, because it looks different is simply wrong. We struggle with issues that vary by degree and in nature but because yours looks different from mine, does not make it alright on my part to belittle it.
As we keep traveling through the light and dark, let’s help out a fellow traveler who may be going through a rough patch. If you know someone, reach out. It is helpful in more ways than we often realize. A simple ‘ I am here’ can make a huge difference in someone’s life who feels lost. I have, I admit, in the past, held back from reaching out sometimes since I thought it was not my place to do so or what if the other person felt like I was patronizing them? And I could not have been more wrong. Reaching out can only make someone feel good. Life will never be perfect and that’s probably alright. But that should not give us an excuse to be unkind to others and even to our own selves. I hope we all look out for each another, speak up for each other and just be there for each other. Our kids are watching.
Bazaar, a term that is being used more frequently in the western world, is of Persian origin. You knew that. And while the original term has been in use since forever in its place of origin and neighboring countries, the term has also meandered its way through the mountains and rivers and made itself at home in my home country of India. Since forever. In the eastern part of the country, in West Bengal, it is called ‘baajar‘ (where the almost refined sound of the z has been replaced with a more rugged j, in its attempt to put a Bengali stamp on it). Market is its counterpart.
For Bengalis, baajar is a crucial part of their existence. Let me put it this way- going to the market is what starts their day. At least it used to be so till online grocery shopping started catching up to meet the demands of the ever busy millennial. The older generation continues to keep the tradition alive even today on days their health and the weather permits.
Going back to the 1990s and early 2000s, the man of the house and in some cases the woman, would take a couple of ‘tholis’ ( rectangular shaped bag made of cloth or jute – for vegetables and fruits and a couple of nylon- for fish and meat) and make their way to the local baajar to get the daily supplies of fresh friuts and vegetables but most importantly of fish, the most important component of a Bengali’s daily diet. Meat also found a place, typically on Sundays. There is an enthusiasm and excitement that is quite something, specially if you consider that going to the baajar is a daily affair. And it especially centers around the fish! Refrigeration can meddle with the freshness and sweetness of the fish and hence most Bengalis go to the baajar every day or every other day. On Sundays the fish that is bought tends to be special as is the way it is cooked since fish is more than just food for the stomach, it is food for the Bengali soul too. And the baajar is a wonderful place to witness interactions that can rarely be matched elsewhere. The gleaming face at being able to get the exact fish the heart was hoping is a reflection of pure joy. Neighbors catch up with each other as their fish gets cleaned and cut and packed. Stray cats can be seen making rounds of the stalls in hopes of getting the fat and fins that are discarded. A fish market or macher baajar needs its own post and a whole set of pictures to help you understand the passion and frenzy and love that make it a venerated place for a Bengali. People are also seen flocking to the sections where fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers are sold but the frenzy is missing and that makes it less exciting!
This week’s Friendly Friday invites us to share pictures of markets and while I do not have any pictures of the market or baajar I grew up with, somewhere my father went every day till before the world and its workings got disrupted, I have some from our local grocery store that I had randomly taken last year I think. Like many other prompts, this week’s prompt also serves as an inspiration to take pictures of markets. Thanks Sandy!
Away from the madness of a Bengali baajar, here in my adopted country, the scene at our grocery store is different, to say the least (the concept of baajar back home is more like that of a farmers market here). While the big chain grocery stores have slowly started infiltrating the Indian market now, bajaars still remain vivacious and the seat of many a passionate conversation and hearty laughs. And it’s not just the fresh market that has so much life in it, you can visit any market in India (and trust me there are many to be found in every city that you may visit) which add to the charm and beauty of that place, that embrace the local culture and is sure to be a feast for your eyes (check this link) as well.
For this post, here are some photos from a trip to Florida where we had stopped at a local fruit store and some from our grocery store that has wonderful seasonal display of flowers which brighten up the otherwise plain looking building. It is somewhere I never fail to make a stop before entering the store and hover around for a wee bit time. A far cry from the sights and sounds of an Indian baajar, our store sees a riot of colorful flowers in summer and come Fall there will be pumpkins of various shapes and sizes and then Christmas will see its trees and related decor.
It has been a while since I have done Monday Motivation…somewhat ironical if you think about it! The earlier format for this was I would post a picture that I would take for this post ( a sort of motivation to keep taking pictures) and share a quote that I would have recently read/come across. Then somewhere somehow, taking pictures for this post started feeling like a chore and I let it slide.
But here I am again. The hope is to share not a picture that I took for this post. Nor to share just a quote but a few related thoughts that cross my mind, and in the process hope to reach out to at least someone who may find comfort in this, who may want to share a word or two of their own, who may want to reach out to someone else they know. Lofty thoughts, you may argue and I will not disagree. But while on one hand, we are apparently living in a world where we are closer to each other more than ever before, we are also becoming isolated from our thoughts and feelings, often not acknowledging many in the first place and at times unsure of making it heard. Such are the demands of the time, probably. We hear each other and yet many a times, at the slightest chance, jump in with our wise words (read judgmental). We also sometimes hesitate to show our appreciation for someone who is deserving and also downright refuse to listen to at others. The list can be, tragically, unending.
How many times have you heard ‘Love is all you need’? I have heard it more than I am willing to admit. But what does it actually mean? What does love encompass? What does it mean to you and what does it mean to me? This above quote, that I came across on Instagram a few days ago from here, throws some more light on it. Love, when it embraces respect, support, trust, validation of feelings (whatever they maybe), acceptance, acknowledgment, space and boundaries, willingness to be present , can be wholesome and can be the one that lets us be. Love needs to understand, it needs to encourage, it needs to know to take a step back and just listen, it also needs to know to push when needed. Love needs to be all this and more. ‘I Love You‘ sounds hollow when our actions go the other way.
Love has various connotations and we all seek love in our own way, in people we build our lives with and around. Parents, siblings, partners, in-laws, children, friends, family, acquaintances all have our love, as we have theirs, but no two types of love are the same…don’t you think? Some have that absolute love and some are so lacking in the basics that it can’t really be called love. They are more like ‘Eh..you are here’!
Love seeks recognition and to have the power to speak the truth, it aspires to have the courage to be independent and to recognize the worth of self and it needs to be able to stand up to disrespect. While I am a firm believer in the power of being kind, I have come to learn that it can be construed as being meek and of not knowing to stand up to a wrongdoing. For me, the change came a bit late. But I sure will try as hard as possible to help my kids learn better sooner. To be kind should not be confused with being submissive.
Relationships of any type cannot survive without love , the one that is not an empty word, but one that shows the person that they are of value. And that can happen when we are willing to identify who we truly are and how we truly treat the people who walk with us. There are always ways to be better and when we seek to work on that, the world may start seeing less shallow people, less of trying to impress with gifts and more of speaking a word or two of appreciation.
Now, I am not an expert of any kind let me make that very clear! And so I cannot offer any concrete advice nor do I ever attempt to do so. I call it ‘approaching 40 syndrome’ or ‘the ramblings of an over thinking mind’! Whatever label it may have, these are not unique to anyone specific. These are universal things that we all are aware of , all have experienced in degrees less or more and things we all have our take on.
Bottom line is, love is not enough when it has none of the components that make it worth treasuring. We often have people who we cannot cut off completely for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. So we carry on. But we need to adapt to such relationships where our peace of mind is no longer for them to juggle around with. We should no longer give them permission to be offensive and get away with. We set our boundaries and we proceed from there. I have done so, I will admit. I have cut off people this way from my life, as in I have made myself distant. They no longer have as much of my time, my energy and my happiness to mess around with. While I continue to maintain a cordial relationship with them, over the years I have seen of how little value I actually have had in their lives and I finally decided it was enough. Was the decision easy? Not at all. But it was the right one. I still have feelings of guilt that surface occasionally- I guess the upbringing that ‘no -matter- what -you -shall- persevere’ may have a part to play- but changes needed to be made to keep up with the times.
We can all be a bit kinder, a bit more careful and truthful in how we manage our relationships- in not only how we carry ourselves in the lives of those who have made us a part of theirs but also how we let those we have let in, treat us. The choice is ours. At times, we need to figure out a way to exercise that.
‘Har ghar kuch kehta hai’ (loosely translated ‘Every home has a story to tell’) was the tag line of an ad of “Asian Paints”, a very popular paint company in India. It was one of those ads, growing up, that I liked as something about this line resonated with me even at that young age (talk about a good ad!).
And yes, every home does have its own story to tell. It’s the seat of love, hardship and patience; of surprises that take our breath away and of moments that stop time; of failure and success; of burnt toasts and scribbled walls; of broken pasts and healed presents. When we share our home with friends and family, when we laugh out loud and share meals it adds warmth.
Recently we put our twelve year old dining table away, as we had made a new purchase, and when we sat down to have our dinner for one last time at the old table, there was a strange sadness. I never knew that I could feel that way about a table. I also did not expect my five year old to get emotional and share his own favorite stories about that table.
I have been since thinking about all the moments that the table has been a part of. It is the table I had my first meal at in this country more than a decade back. It is the table my husband and I wrote our dissertations on as grad students. It is the table my best friend, who I have known since elementary school, and I shared a lovely home cooked meal when she came to Minneapolis all the way from Florida. The table has been the seat of many stimulating conversations among friends and has proudly showed off wine stains and coffee marks from moments that stretched from dusk till dawn. Here in New Jersey, it has shared with us the most important moments of our lives till now and we never realized how the table had secured a place in our hearts in an almost unassuming way.
Our closest friends have shared meals with us on this and so has our family. Our son was, for some reason, given his first bath in his baby tub, on this table surrounded by doting grandparents and a very nervous first time mom. My husband was having his breakfast at this table, wearing a cobalt blue shirt and black trousers, ready to leave for work, when I told him we were going to be parents for the first time. Bengali’s have something called the ‘Shaad’ (more here), their equivalence of a baby shower that consists of cooking for the mom-to-be all the food that her heart desires (shaad in Bengali means wish/desire) and I have had that twice, surrounded by family and friends as I devoured on the most delicious food cooked by my mother. This was the table. From a couple to a family of three and then four, this table has been part of our celebrations- birthdays, anniversaries, Durga Pujo, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas- this has been the center. Our son is starting kindergarten in a couple of weeks and his journey from barely legible letters to short sentences today also started at this table. I had never given any thought to the part this table has played in our the little big things of our lives till before the day we took it apart and stored it away. Much like when a house turns into a home, maybe some pieces of furniture, otherwise mundane and taken for granted, also become a part of who we become as we grow older. Don’t you think?
Someone was leaving town and giving away this table for free. My husband and his roommate had picked it up. And while initially we had not meant to keep it for this long, after a while the thought of getting a new one never crossed our mind. Till recently. The needs of the family have grown as have the kids and their crazy ideas that the old, somewhat now wobbly table may not be able to sustain. And so, while we are enjoying our new table a lot, the old table is missed . My son’s favorite story about the table is how his grandparents used to sit with us here and have their meals and how we all played board games and alphabet games. He also mentioned how he loved our homemade cakes and pizzas, stuff for which we would pour and mix and pat on the table before putting in the oven.
As the kitchen has come to become the heart of every home where friends and family huddle together and share a laugh or two, our dining table was the center of activities that we all happily participated in. It has been the center of arts and crafts, cookies and cakes, mojitos and margaritas, hellos and goodbyes- a humble table, that I never thought could make me so emotional.
We all have things that make our home a home, from a piece of furniture to keepsakes to greeting cards, that are a tad bit special because of the stories that we weave around them and with them. Our dear old table is a crucial component of our stories. What are some of yours?