Summertime

If only there were a magical place we could send all our worries to from where they would never come back to haunt us, to take away our peace or to toy with our very existence! But such a place does not exist. What does exist is our resilience and humanity, hopefully. The latter being the factor that determines if we move forward not only as a civilization but as a species. This year has been a test for all and now that we are more than half way through and into the gorgeous days of summer , I can’t help but wonder if we have been able to look past the inconvenience that it has brought the ‘me and mine’ to feel for the ‘us’ that the me and mine are part of. The eternal optimist in me would like to think positively:)

Growing up, summer looked a little different from what it does today. School would be off for just about a month and there would always be a lot of ‘holiday homework’ that had to be done. Somehow, we could only get to that when the holiday was almost about to be over and what a scramble that would be! Visits from cousins , ice creams and the gorgeous mangoes were the staple of every summer. Some years we would take a trip to the mountains in the northern part of the country and those 2 weeks would have their own charm. There was something else that was special about summer vacation- story books and all the extra time that could be spent with them. And if sometimes the book happened to be new, I would spend a good number of days just smelling the pages, carefully turning those lest the smell went away. The crisp pages and that almost heady aroma had their own mesmerizing effect on me and it felt as if I could spend days cocooned in the comfort that books always wrap us in. For brief moments of time, they would take me beyond the sweltering summer days into an imaginary or real world that would engage the mind with the fleeting ‘what ifs’ .

I recently read somewhere that summertime is together time and I loved it. It so is together time since the kids are home and while it can sometimes feel crazy, it is also an amazing time to explore and add pages to the pocketbook of our memories This year however, this phase of summer where kids are home, started long back in early spring under dire circumstances and will likely continue well into the next summer months. Gorgeous days are passing us by and while many here in the US have flouted rules and crowded the beaches and pool sides we have stayed home, as have many, venturing out only in the neighborhood.

The simple joys of summer are indeed escaping us this year and it is particularly difficult for the little ones. Sand castles and picnics on the beach, play dates with friends, the animals at the zoo and at the farm, road trips, barbecue parties are all missing (as are hassle free trips to the grocery store but let’s not go there!) Near where we live, every summer there is a wonderful week long street food festival along with music by local bands and it’s an amazing time for all to come together as a community. Those were canceled, as were celebrations around July 4th. Everything is on hold and while this is a temporary pause, the future, at times, seems uncertain at this point.

While going through some of our summer pics from previous years amidst all that is not happening, I found peace and happiness in what has happened. What we have been able to do together as a family and in the memories that we have made. This year may have been different but I am hopeful that when the next summer comes, we would all have healed a little, and become a little wiser and a little more compassionate. The neighborhood parks would no longer have the yellow tapes around them anymore and going to the beach would be okay. As would kids running around in the sprinklers and playing tag. Families would be all together on their picnic mats and whatever they were bickering about would be forgotten as the sparkling fireworks would light up the warm summer night.

Flip flops and sunglasses have not been used that much, neither have hugs. An air of caution looms large and that dampens the spirit of summer. But flowers bloom and rainbows appear. We sing and have dance parties. We continue with the new patterns that have been woven to make the most of this quarantined life. But adventures await and we cannot lose hope. Stay well, you all.

Thanks for stopping by.

Friendly Friday: Essential Tools and Tips

What a fun post from Sandy for the Friday photo challenge! I am always on the lookout for suggestions on anything and everything…what an amazing opportunity it provides to learn from one another on things that range from everyday cooking to traveling somewhere far. And there is often a better or easier or more efficient way of doing things that we stumble upon through such exchanges:)

Storing Fresh Coriander!

Just last week or one before that, a fellow blogger and I exchanged a few lines on the dilemma of storing fresh coriander. My husband and I love this incredible herb and it is a must buy on our now bi weekly grocery trips. But how to store it in a manner that will keep the leaves as fresh as possible for as long as possible has always been a bit of a challenge. We have tried putting the stems in water, keeping them covered with a plastic bag (like Ziploc), wrapping them gently in paper towel. Three to four days is the max that they have retained their freshness. It always made me a little mad that this should not be that difficult a task. Ultimately, we started making a paste or ‘chutney‘ of the leaves (after keeping aside some fresh ones)…that way they wouldn’t go to waste and while we could not use fresh coriander, we could always have the next best thing in the recipes that called for this herb. However…!!!!!! We stumbled upon this way of storing them (and most of you, if not all, probably already know this and are laughing at my naivete now!) After untying the bunch, we lay out the leaves for a bit to let the water dry out and then separated them in two equal portions- one portion had leaves/stems which looked less fresh while the other bunch had the freshest ones. In a plastic box, we put a small piece of paper towel at the bottom and then arranged one portion as loosely as possible (as opposed to a clump) and covered that with another small piece of paper towel. Closed the lid and did the same with the other portion. Marked the boxes 1 &2! It has been a week and our first bunch, with the less fresh leaves, looks like we got them yesterday!

Mayonnaise is Good!

A chicken ‘baking- changing’ tip came from a friend many years ago and I have, since then, never baked chicken without adding that ingredient …mayonnaise! Did you know that a little bit of mayonnaise when marinating the chicken makes them super moist and soft? It does not interfere with the other flavors that you may intend for your chicken. If you have not tried it, I suggest you do!

A pinch of black salt!

Who loves watermelon juice? I do, I do and I do!! The men in my house…not so much. The good man does not mind a watermelon margarita and the little boy prefers staying away from the fruit and the simple juice. Most of us add a dash of lime or lemon to the juice and sweeten it with some sugar is needed but have you ever tried adding a pinch of black salt? Don’t be repulsed by its almost pungent smell. A pinch of it does wonders to drinks like watermelon juice and sometimes even a simple lemonade…but just a pinch. You may have to throw out a couple of glasses of juice to figure out your preferred ‘pinch’ but once you figure that out, you might just be surprised!

A little list!

The last tip, again most of you already probably do this, that comes in very handy when traveling involves the suitcase and its contents. Before I proceed, I should say that I am a very ‘make -a-list-for -everything-that-you-do’ kind of a person and a lot of people find that odd and funny (though I am not sure why this would evoke either of these reactions!). Anyways, so I always have a list for everything. And when I pack suitcases, I always write down the things, in a piece of paper, that are going on inside of each and keep it in the outer pocket of the particular suitcases. This is extremely handy when we travel to India as there are usually 4-6 suitcases and carry-on luggage involved and after having traveled for a close to 20 hours, memory tends to skip important things ! And even when you know which suitcases you need to open first to take out what, trust me this little piece of paper can give your mind that much needed rest.

While trying to take a picture of a suitcase, I casually put my hand in the front pocket to see if I could find the piece of paper that might have traveled with us on our last trip to India…and see what I found!

Thanks for stopping by! Be safe.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Nostalgia

The Nostalgia that I write about , that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection”. (Michel Chabon, The New Yorker)

One of the reasons I started this blog was to seek a way to reflect on the past, to be able to connect to it and channel that in the present. If you have followed even some of my posts, you must have noticed that most of what I try to write, including A thousand memories come rushing by, my very first post, has nostalgia tugging at the heartstrings. Nostalgia is a good thing, they say and I believe. Many still look at this amazingly powerful yet subtle emotion as a hindrance since it apparently prohibits one from moving ahead by dwelling on the past, but I vehemently disagree. Thankfully there is research to back me up!

The other day, I was talking to my good man about The Friendly Friday Photo Challenge and how I was looking forward to participating in it. Upon finding out the theme, he said “Are you sure you will not go overboard?” You see, Nostalgia is my thing and I am almost proud of it.

My parents and a one year old me. This is a photograph that reminds me of a time that I ‘visually’ remember very little of, but somehow know a lot about from all the stories I have heard. So, while my memory is unable to recollect images from this period in my life, it can narrate stories to my children from when I was a baby. And I am always reminded of the fact that irrespective of time and place, children continue to be delighted by similar things.

I keep reflecting on the past. Not to pine over what is not there but to draw from memories that remind me of my roots and also of the treasures that I have, unknowingly gathered, growing up. While a tingling of sadness is undoubtedly associated with nostalgia, it also refreshes our memories about the times spent with dear friends, or that one special trip, or some favorite food, songs that we danced to or could not stop humming, family vacations, childhood home, summers spent with cousins under the shade of the big mango tree, or that ‘tube well’ that fascinated the neighborhood kids.

This is a photograph taken back in 1987. My cousins (on my mother’s side) and I are sitting on the steps of a small room on the roof of my grandfather’s home. This is surprisingly the only photograph that we have till date of all the 9 of us together. Many photos have been taken since but for some reason or the other, one or two of us have always been missing. This was also my grandmother’s favorite photograph and she never failed to mention that we were her navratn (an allusion to Mughal Emperor Akbar’s nine extra ordinary talented group of people in his court)

Nostalgia teaches us to be to be kind and brave, no matter what. And it grounds us in humility and puts the faith back when hope seems to be drifting away in this crazy life. For people who have chosen to live in places far far away from where they grew up and where the way of life has little resemblance to the one left behind decades ago, nostalgia is almost a resource to help power through. Don’t you think?

These are paper clippings that my parents have ‘framed’! Back in 2006 I was honored to be part of the group of 23 teachers who were selected to be in the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET) and apart from being an incredible opportunity, little did I know that it was going to change the course of my life! I had an amazing best two years in Japan, fell in love with the place, the food and made some friends for life. My husband and I reconnected in Japan and here I am, raising two kids with him. This photograph, (which embarrasses me a lot!!) reminds me of a turning point in my adult life and an incredibly important one at that:)
This is our alma mater, a place we embraced with our hearts and minds, made friends who are like family and went through some very tough times that forged a stronger bond. The time spent in this city, that recently witnessed a horrific incident and eventually set in motion movements across continents, gave us moments that we will never cease learning from.

As we keep on adding to our pocketbook of memories where the past and the present keep merging, today’s photographs and road trips, family movie nights and celebrations, books read and meals cooked will all be there for us to look back on in the days ahead. And this topsy turvy world, that the indomitable spirit of powerful souls refuses to give up on, will heal one day and we will all look back on the role we played in healing this…let’s make sure that our future generations have something to look back on, where they know that we were not just silent observers.

One fine winter morning, we found ourselves waiting in a hospital, filling out paperwork and getting ready to be parents for the first time. Little did we know what the next 16 hours would bring that would ultimately lead to an emergency C section and end with a crying baby boy in my arms. I had realized when I was pregnant, like all moms do, that it was possible to fall in love with someone I had not even met. And when I did meet that person, I felt for the first time what it was to love someone more than anything or anybody in the whole wide world, a love that cannot be put into words, a love that transcends all other types. And a few years later, I had that feeling again when a little baby girl joined the family.

Life keeps giving us moments that turn into memories. Scattered across the memory are these vignettes and we treasure them, some knowingly and many unknowingly. Nostalgia lets us revisit these when we want to and at times, even creeps up on its own and leads us to them. Whichever way it happens, I hope, we keep cherishing the moments of past and present.

Thanks for stopping by. Be safe.

Cacophonous Thoughts

These thoughts have been gathering in my mind for the past month or so and trying to put those in a cohesive manner was a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. They have ranged from the rights and wrongs of raising kids in my house to the precarious state of affairs worldwide. Hence the title of this piece!

The saying goes : ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. With a shared value of wisdom and experiences grandparents, aunts and uncles, the neighbors all join in, in their own way and try to make sense of the art and science of raising a child. Clueless parents are only happy with the help, I am assuming. Or may be this was a thing of the past.

Raising kids in a culture that is quite different from the one my husband and I grew up in is a challenge to say the least. Well, it is always a challenge for any parent to raise a kid and is probably more so in today’s world where, at times, humanity seems to be up for discussion. To that when you add stark cultural disparities, you can find questioning yourself more, with added layers of complexity.

There’s no secret formula, a fool proof plan to raising kids and neither are there 20 easy steps. And I know that. All parents know that. So do you wonder, like I often do, why are there so many books which aim to guide parents navigate the challenges of raising ‘good’ kids. That ‘good’ encompasses a great many number of attributes that basically cover everything from academics to athletics, daily drama to discipline and character to common sense (that seems to be on the decline more than ever before). In the recent past, I ended up, what can be only described as ‘panic buying’ , a few of these and have around three more on my Amazon ‘Save for Later’ list. I started reading and when I realized I was doing things differently, I panicked a bit and now the books are on the shelf waiting for me to calm down a bit. While I will probably be returning to those books, I am unsure of how practical their guidelines are going to be, for the simple fact that culture plays a huge role in upbringing and these books omit this crucial part. But I am also curious to find out. Maybe I will find books written by and for parents like us who are trying to raise first generation kids in their adopted countries.

Dreams for our children are limitless and pure…possibilities are endless. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s where it all starts- that mythical pool of endless possibility. Or probably the idea of that in our heads, reinforced by society that dictates the terms of success and the lack of it, more and more with every passing day. Let me explain and I might be wrong, as I am not a professional but I will take the risk! When my kid was about four and a half years old (he is five now) there were curious moms asking about the clubs he was attending. My answer of none was not the one they were expecting and while most were polite enough to not probe further, I was stumped when asked by some, “but why”? Why was a four and a half year old not taking piano lessons or taekwondo or soccer or art classes or one of the many other ‘endless possibilities”? I really did not know how to explain except for that I thought it was too early. For some time after that, my husband and I would often find ourselves engaging in in -depth discussions, if we were doing a disservice to our kid, by not enrolling him in these activities, who could shine if only we had started early; whether he was going to be falling behind his other Pre-K classmates; whether he would be able to catch up. And then it struck us…he was not even five! When did this become a thing- that a four year old was required to be in a certain number of activities that ‘would be’ instrumental in his development in life? I still have a hard time with the idea of extra curricular activities for toddlers and little boys and girls who should be able to run around and day dream and use the power of their imagination to play and basically, be little boys and girls.

I realize that parents often have to make choices that are in the best interest of the kid. And more often than not, such choices make kids sad! Curfew may be set at a time that is different from those of the other kids, some may be allowed to go out to movies with friends while in some families sleepovers may be frowned upon. I remember, growing up, not being allowed to go to movies, go out with friends in the evening without adult supervision. Sleepovers were always a big no no. And I resented my parents sometimes for these restrictions. There was this feeling of being deprived and it felt like a huge deal at that time. I realize that there are going to be similar things as my kids start growing older and I too, will be disliked, by them. How to deal with that ‘rejection’ is something I guess I will figure out when the time comes. Till then I will gladly indulge in as many squishy hugs and runs at the sound of every “Maa” , and snuggle with them and have tickle fights till our sides are aching from all the silliness and laughter. Along the way mistakes are bound to happen as we are all flawed. And what is perfection anyways? If we can hold each other, hear each other, respect and grow with each other, love each other and be there with and for each other, the voices of doubt, of dissent and of displeasure will probably fade out.

It has been an interesting few months to say the least and I say interesting because the good, the bad and the ugly side of the species known as ‘human‘ has been in full display for the whole world to see, to learn and unlearn and re learn from. The pain of losing loved ones, of not being able to say goodbyes, of living in fear, of not knowing what will stop this lethal virus, of losing jobs, of waiting for hours in line for food -to say a few -has resonated with people across continents. And then the whole world witnessed George Flyod gasping for breath and with that sweeping movements started uniting people across nations, with movements that are powerful and inspiring beyond words. The other day, on Instagram I saw this emotionally charged video of a little African American girl raising her hands up in the air as she sees a white policewoman get down from the patrol car and walk towards her. I felt my eyes fill up. The video is a beautiful example of the fear these little kids have probably internalized and will always live with. It is also a wonderful example of how this policewoman, who also breaks down as she sees the little girl’s hands, has a conversation with her and tries to assure her that not all hope is lost in this world. I cannot even begin to imagine what conversations that little girl’s parents and countless parents like hers have had with their children and how are we humans if we let our skin colors define us.

I digress.

Raising kids in a culturally different environment is a challenge for sure. The focus is often on the dichotomy of the right and wrong, when it comes to adaptation of cultural practices. There is an identity confusion of sorts and the dilemma of trying to fit into a culture that is not inherently theirs and at the same time, celebrating and internalizing the cultural aspects of the one they are part of. And before I proceed further, I should say that I am talking about people of South Asian descent who are raising first or second generation kids here in America, though I doubt the choice of adopted country would make it any different. So, Diwali, Eid, Christmas are all celebrated as are Halloween and Poila Boishakh (the Bengali New Year) and kids learn to play baseball and take ‘tabla’ classes. They are in acapella groups in their schools, belting out American classics while in the evening they take Bharatnaytam classes. These are wonderful examples of how we are all part of this big wide culture known as humanity and all of these individual bits, be it playing in a jazz band or taking tabla lessons, are celebrations of our uniqueness as well as similarities. But I also can’t help but wonder if this can be confusing for the child. I don’t know. And then comes the issue of race. Of skin color. Of being brown. As brown parents of brown children, I too need to have a discussion about race with my 5 year old soon and then with the younger one when she is a little older. I am terrified, if I am being honest. To raise kids who are not only mindful of different cultures and race, are aware of history that has been unkind (to put it as mildly as possible), to be able to know when to stand up and what to stand up for seems daunting and something I am scared of being not able to do correctly. I am scared to burst their bubble of ‘we are all friends’ and though we are different but we are the same…because clearly that seems to be just a bubble. But that bubble needs to be burst and that needs to happen sooner than later. I don’t want to tell my kids yet that they may be subject to occasional bursts of ‘not nice’ behavior and how should they react. We have been subjects of such behavior a few times with things like ‘you should go back to the country you came from’, ‘ you come and ruin our country’ and a few other choice sentences of hatred. We have had police called on us in the parking lot of a Target for an offense that was the person’s who had called the Police (who, thankfully, knew the right from wrong). And those have left us shaken and saddened. But we have also had wonderful people who we are friends with and who have welcomed us with open hearts. And that’s the world the little kids know but the fact that the reality also has elements of the ‘not nice’ is something they would have to be made aware of soon. I hope with all my heart that they are able to navigate the ups and downs of growing up, when the time comes.

Meanwhile, my plans of enrolling my son in swimming and soccer classes will have to be on hold for another year! He and his friends and the school going kids all over the world have been out of their little world for months now. While there are plans in progress of in-person instruction here from the new academic year starting in Fall, I am unsure of whether I will be sending him to Kindergarten. As are many others. To expect 5 year olds to wear masks and maintain social distancing, while navigating the big scary new school and trying to hold back tears at being away from home after a long time, is not realistic. So, while we have been ‘training’ and wearing face masks when we are out and trying to not touch our faces and practicing social distancing, I guess we also have to make plans for homeschooling for this year and I am absolutely unsure of how that might unfold.

Fields remain empty as of now and the usually busy walking trails are either empty or sparsely populated. Greetings have become mere nods and there is nowhere to go. My hometown of Kolkata has never seemed so far away as it has in the past few months. That home and hope glimmer like a distant mirage. The thought of being able to hug my parents seems like an illusion, as the unknown looms large in thoughts. Till the time we can hug each other again, I continue with my video calls and they soak up the joy the sight of their grand kids bring them. But the world is in the cusp of something bigger and brighter is what I am choosing to believe in, when humanity will not be up for discussion and we will be more informed; our actions will be less selfish and guided more by empathy; where choosing to wear a face mask will not be spun around as making a political statement; where common sense will be more common. Till then, stay safe you wonderful people.

As always, thanks for stopping by.