A Way of Life

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.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Monday Motivation

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.

Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe. Stay kind.

Monday Motivation

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.

tinybudhdhaofficial.com

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.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

A Tale of A Table

‘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?

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

‘Tom’ Fish or Some Other Fish..Who Knows!

I am a Bengali, genetically engineered to like fish. Many of you may not know this but fish is not merely another food item in a Bengali household…it is symbolic of the Bengali culture, an almost compelling, if somewhat misleading, part of their identity. It is an intrinsic part of our festivals and celebrations and a traditional Bengali Hindu wedding is incomplete without a plump and decorated fish, that typically signifies prosperity and good luck (more on this can be found here).

I digress.

As I was saying…I love to eat fish. Most Bengalis that I have met till now, and trust me that is a big number, love fish while outliers are also to be found (I have some in my family). Growing up fish was an everyday food item and while the Rui/Katla (belonging to the Carp family) were/are the most common for daily consumption, the variety that a good Bengali fish market offers is impressive, to say the least. And those also find their way into a Bengali household easily. The younger generation today has a tricky relationship with fish, I am beginning to think. While they love to eat it, they have neither the time to go to the fish market to buy fresh fish nor the time to cook. The necessary skill is also lacking. The passionate love affair is probably losing a bit of the steam.

In this land far away from the fresh Rui, Koi, Topshey, Pabda (the list can go on), we have to settle for the frozen few that make the trip to this other side of the world. So we alter our taste buds and develop a liking for the salmons, cods and tilapias (that is so different from its namesake found in India). And we also apply our recipes that involve mustard and chili paste, cumin and turmeric, ginger and tomato to these and try to get a taste of home. It’s a ‘far fetched’ taste. So we mostly stick to the grilled and baked versions. But we are often tempted to take out our mothers’ recipe note copy to find a recipe that could be altered to fit the fish in the freezer or try to make a recipe from memory, those that have stayed with us even after a good ten- fifteen years.

One such recipe is what I wanted to share with you today. I somehow remember many tiny details about the day I first had this, which was a good nineteen years ago, at my aunt’s place on the occasion of Bhaiphonta (a Bengali festival that celebrates the bond and love between brothers and sisters). I was twenty years old at that time and was just discovering my love for the saree. It was a special day, a day that we always celebrated with cousins and aunts on my Ma’s side and that day too, many moons ago we spent the day exactly like that, eating and being silly and making memories. Someone had gifted me a beautiful sea green saree that was hand painted and had Jamini Roy ( a celebrated Indian painter) prints all over. Of course I was wearing that.

My Ma’s elder sister had made something she called ‘Tom Fish” (a short for Tomato Fish which probably meant fish in tomato gravy). It was simple and yet so delicious that I still fondly remember it and cook it from time to time. Her sister-in-law had shared the recipe with her, having learnt it from a neighbor. And I share that with you today. Isn’t it somewhat fascinating how food from around the world, even the ones that are cooked by our mothers and aunts and grandmothers, that do not find place in the recipe books and websites, find a way to reach our kitchens…we have to be willing to look.

‘Tom Fish’ (As my aunt calls it. I wonder what other names this simple recipe may have garnered for itself !)

I usually use tilapia fillets for this…any white fish pieces would do probably.

I cut the fillets (about 4 in total) in about 2-3 inches (you can make cubes or rectangular pieces…doesn’t really matter). Pat them with some salt and turmeric and a gentle drizzle of mustard oil (or vegetable oil) and let rest for about 10-15 mins. Back home, most recipes call for the fish pieces to be sort of deep fried in oil and I do so here as well when in the mood. But I also shallow fry them and have even put them in the oven for baking while I have gotten started with the gravy. The latter also saves the apartment from smelling of fish…a big thing to think about when you are renting!

Heat a wok or a pan with a round-ish bottom and pour in about a teaspoon of mustard oil or vegetable oil. Once heated, temper the oil with some black mustard seeds (quarter teaspoon), one dried red chili and give it a quick stir. Add a handful of curry leaves… I am a huge fan of these and I always add about 8-10 at least. You can always take them out before serving…these are not eaten usually. Add some grated or very finely chopped ginger and once the kitchen is filled with the aroma of the curry leaves and that ginger, add about 2 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes (from the jar or use fresh ones, whichever you have handy!) Give the whole thing a good but gentle stir and once the tomato is cooked, add turmeric, salt and a bit of sugar. Cook for a few more minutes, adding little water to prevent the gravy from becoming too thick. Once the desired consistency is achieved, which should be neither too runny nor too thick, I add the baked /fried fish pieces to that and let it simmer for a couple of more minutes till the gravy seeps into the fish. If you want some more heat, slice a couple of green chilies (I do this) and add to the gravy, when it is simmering, towards the end. Steaming hot rice is what we gobble this up with.

That red color comes from the tomato, and hence the name!

An amazing tool that helps us reconnect with our roots, with forgotten tales, with people who have gradually disappeared from our focus, food is powerful as is our association with it. Culture speaks through food. It evokes memories and transports us in time while helping us bring a sliver of that culture to our future generation.

We cook food from around the world in our home and we also keep rediscovering food from our childhood. Through that my husband and I occasionally stumble upon anecdotes that revive our memories from growing up in India and it is leaves us with a bittersweet taste. Sometimes it also happens that we cannot put those memories into words, but we know that there is a ‘something’ that connects the dots. We visit places in our minds that we have not been in a while now and rediscover moments that have shaped not only us but the city that we still fondly love, from its iconic buildings to the narrow alleys, each with its own story to share and hear.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe.

Red

Growing up my favorite color used to be nothing. I always got very confused when friends asked about it as I actually liked all the colors with the exception of brown. And the fact that I did not have a favorite color was confusing for my friends in turn! I figured that I needed to choose a color and stick with that to lessen the eyebrow raising ‘what do you mean you don’t have a favorite color’…I chose black. What was yours?

Red came in much later. Rather, it found me recently and I can tell that it is here to stay. I was reading about this enigmatic color that symbolizes romance and passion while also being symbolic of rage and malice and it made for some interesting read for sure. I feel I am slowly falling in love with this color. I have been looking around for red things to photograph and while I do not have the perfect red photos yet, I have some that are helping me see the beauty and power of the color.

Side of a similar building as the previous one
Cherry Blossom- Some work was done in Lightroom

Cherries

I don’t know which red I like more, the one of cherries or that of the strawberries

Or that of the tomato

The quintessential red lipstick

Summer is here

Around the neighborhood

At the local store

Fake Flowers

The Red Car

Afternoon delight

Peek A Boo

Sets the mood for holidays for sure

Street Corner

A red leaf

A couple of summers ago

The flaming red

The Little Red Barn

A little boy

Somehow, these fell perfectly on the snow

A strange year

Fiery or sublime, red is beautiful. But it is so when it invokes power and passion; it is vicious when it is painted with anger and hatred. Let’s choose the red wisely.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay 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.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Working Together

I tried finding photos that would be apt for Amanda’s prompt at the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge but my  archive could not help me out. I realized, apparently I am not the kind of person who takes pictures of people… in groups. And I am trying hard to think why!

I had given up when a random scrolling through the phone gave me an idea that , I am hoping, would convey the message of this week’s thought of community, of working together.

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This is the scene that greets us every morning, noon, evening and night…when we look out of the windows or are on the balcony or go out for a stroll. The cars are all there , at all times.  People do not go out. A couple of spots here and there can be found without an occupant, perhaps running an errand that is mostly only grocery shopping now. This way, the community is working together following the orders of the governor and playing its part in trying to ‘flatten the curve’ that seems to be in no mood to do so.  It baffles me to see protests around the country here demanding a reopening of America. With posters like  Give Me Freedom Or Give Me Death, My Body My Choice and similar ‘I-could-use-many words-here-that-would-need-to-be-censored’ ideas, a handful of people are running the risk of undoing all the hardship, the sacrifices that the doctors, nurses and health care workers, along with frontline workers have been enduring  for the past few months. And I can’t stop thinking about this line “ you can’t cure stupid”. But being an eternally optimistic person, I believe in the power of good and I am hoping that  the community will stay together and we will see this storm through.

 

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It was Earth Day last week and the little guy painted this. As we were talking about the blue water and the green land, about ecosystems, about climate, about how we all are responsible for keeping our ‘HOME’ safe, he said, just like any 5 year old would, ‘you mean how here in our home we take care of each other?’ It is a simple idea for a 5 year old where his innocence has not been destroyed yet and he believes if we all did our part we could easily take care of our ‘HOME’! I wanted to add this photo here to hold on to that hope, to that belief  that people are good and maybe their generation will know better and work together more to keep our planet safe and beautiful.

 

That is all that I have for the prompt…I know it is not what is expected but this was my take on it. Amanda had a very thoughtful idea and I did not want to miss out on my favorite photo challenge!

Thank you Amanda and Sandy for coming up with such wonderful ideas.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay home, Stay Safe.

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Something Good

Sandy has a wonderful prompt for us this week at Friendly Friday Photo Challenge . We could all definitely seek out moments of happiness, of gratitude,  of beauty, of humanity, of the good in the middle of these not only scary times but time where our collective consciousness will need to win over vested interests and bigotry that shamelessly continues its parade.

NJ has been one of the hardest hits areas in the US and as of yesterday the number of positive cases stands at a terrifying 92,000+. Grocery shopping is an ordeal and storing  that in a safe manner a bigger one. Our son keeps asking why he does not go to school anymore and why are the parks closed. He knows that we are in lockdown because of something terrible called Coronavirus, the gravity of terms he does not fully comprehend. But he understands and has been enormously patient but being a 5 year old, he does have his little moments from being cooped up in the apartment. The almost incessant rain and freeze warnings do not let us enjoy the ‘ spring’ outside. But we have been learning to be with and work around each other’s quirks and needs and we are definitely spending a lot more ‘together’ time (obviously!).

 

As I was thinking about what to post for this week, I thought about moments that have been pivotal this past month to our family and these are the ones that stood out. Our little girl is a confident ‘walker’ now and while that has made it easier for her to get into a lot more mischief and as a result increase my mini panic attacks, it is an absolute delight to watch her.

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Brother sister duo are also learning to be there with and to be there FOR each other much more and this moment caught my eye the other day where both were in their own little world, seemingly oblivious of everything else. Such moments are what has made sense of the tough times we all are part of. The little boy is growing up fast and takes his role of a big brother and a soon to be Kindergarten-er very seriously and that is hilarious to watch at times. In his conversations with his sister he often brings up how big he has gotten that he will be starting Kindergarten from September and going to school in the big kids’ yellow bus. He is excited for sure. And my heart beats fast thinking about how better the world would be and how safe would it be for kids to be going back to school in a few months. But I choose to keep aside that worry for a later time.

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Conversations about the pandemic and how it is impacting people all over the world and how those on the frontline are doing their very best to keep others safe, is a staple of households everywhere. And kids are smarter and kinder than we give them credit for. The little guy drew these as  a ‘ thank you note’. He also set up his grocery store where he took orders over the phone and then delivered produce to people in need. All a child’s play, but this gives me hope that the next generation maybe will be kinder and smarter and will know better.

 

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We love to cook in our home and that has definitely been a huge stress buster. On some Fridays, we dress up and as our son puts it- ‘pretend -go -out- to- eat’. Little moments of joy have made isolation less tiring. And we love music too. Every evening we make sure to sing and play the guitar and sometimes drums and whatever song we sing, “Life goes on’ by the Beatles remains constant!

 

 

My home country of India is in lockdown and has been so for quite a few weeks now. But it plans to lift the lockdown soon and without adequate testing and infrastructure in place, I shudder to think what might happen if ‘it’ spreads. Our parents and many family members are old, each with underlying conditions and I am scared to think anything beyond ‘what if this spreads’. My parents have been spending time at home more than usual and one of the things they have been doing is going through family albums and as we call each other everyday, I get to hear stories associated with special photos. And I absolutely love it. It has been a lot more this last week and my brother keeps sending me some of the old photos from the albums and this one is a favorite for so many reasons. I will not go into all the personal stories here. This is a picture of my mother with me and I am about 3 weeks old here. She is a first time mom in this picture and when I look at her looking  at me, I see the same love in her eyes today as she sees her grandkids over video calls. She is almost blind now and with whatever little is left, she takes in all that she can of their little faces and big smiles. She hurts inside, I know,  but she does not show it for a moment. She lives life thanking her God for all the blessings showered on her and her family and I know not how she does that. This is a picture that speaks to me of selfless love that a parent showers on her kids at all times, under all circumstances. Age and distance do not hold much power over a mother’s love.

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Spring has sprung ( I really hate this cliche but end up using it more than I am willing to acknowledge!) and while rain has tampered with these fragile blossoms, I was still able to take a few photos, though all with my cell phone.

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Thank you Sandy for your wonderful thought for this week. These have been some of the highlights of the past month and while personal, I am sure many around the world are reveling in such moments big  and small, writing their own stories while also discovering those which have already been written, may be a little forgotten.

 

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and celebrate the little moments.