31 March 2021

Oh! what life journeys we have knit…

While going thru all the stuff that mom had refused to throw away ever, I suddenly ran into a bunch of knitting needles. That immediately flashed me back to a few decades back.

My mom, like most moms in the neighborhood, used to knit sweaters for us. Especially, during the winter time. I remember she even carrying the needles and those balls of wool in her school bag – so that she could get ahead during the “free periods”.

I can remember three different sweaters she had made for me over the years: there was a yellow and black one… there was a red and black one (you will find a reference to this in a post from five years back) and then there was a “bottle green” colored one with light pink design. I think that one was a sleeveless one.

I remember I had learnt also how to knit – “soja bona” and “ulto bona” !!! I can’t remember the details now but I think it was which needle went over which one (between left and right) – or was it how you wrapped the string of wool when the needles crossed? In any case, my level of patience those days never went beyond a couple of centimeters of a sweater. But it was awesome fun to take the needle out and pull one end of the wool to see the whole thing unravel!!!

The one part I never figured out is the complex issue of putting together the neck – which had to be a circular structure. Those needles you see that are pointed on both sides were used for that. And I think there were three (or maybe four?) that had to be used simultaneously.

I went thru all her belongings to see if I could find any of my old sweaters. I did not. But what I did find is the last sweater she had ever knitted – the one in the picture, for my dad. And that goes back about thirty years!!

I picked up the needles in the picture to take to the USA as memories of my mom.

31 March 2021

A moment of deep solitude

From the crematorium, my brother and I walked to the river (Ganges) where their ashes were consecrated.

As the waters of the river – as the final witness of my parents returning to nature – gently flowed by, an old Bengali song kept playing in a never ending loop in my head…

মুছে যাওয়া দিনগুলি আমায় যে পিছু ডাকে
স্মৃতি যেন আমার এ হৃদয়ে বেদনার
রঙে রঙে ছবি আঁকে

Roughly translated… (improvements welcome)

Those faded days of the past,
They longingly beckon me back
As the memories paint in deep hues
The intense aches of the heart.

31 March 2021

Ashes to ashes… dust to dust…

As a final act before leaving Kalyani, visited the crematorium where my parents’ physical remains were reduced to ashes. Unfortunately, I was not there – thanks to the pandemic – for that last journey of their mortal remains. My younger brother carried the mantle for me.

My mother’s mortal remains went the traditional way – on a wooden pyre and my dad’s remains went the modern way – in an electric furnace..

It was really tough not to be overwhelmed by emotions amidst a deep sense of no looking back…

31 March 2021

Life. Magnified.

The exact year escapes me – but it was around 3rd to 5th grade. My dad, who used to buy me books (outside of school curriculum) for me to study during my vacations had once gotten me a book on elementary science. In that, I had found a picture of a magnifying glass and read that it could magnify stuff. Of course, me being a young kid had my own imagination running wild. I was thinking I might even discover some stars with a magnifying glass. Did I mention that the previous book he had bought me was about astronomy?

Anyways, I had mentioned about it and a few days later, he got me a magnifying glass. I was thrilled to bits. I agree I did not discover any stars… but I could kill ants!! And killing ants trumps finding new stars any day. First my dad taught me how a convex lens works. And then he demonstrated it to me by using the magnifying glass to catch fire to a bit of a paper.

Totally equipped with the scientific knowledge – I immediately put it to practical use – like a good 10 year old engineer – kill those pesky ants. My doting sister thought I was a hero for it. The ants? No so much!!

I found that magnifying glass while rifling thru all the old stuff. Had to clean it up good with water and soap. And then take a Sherlock Holmes selfie – sans the pipe of course!

Ah! those memories!! What would I not give to live in a make believe world of those days just for a day…

31 March 2021

When their breath became air…

… time stopped right then and there.

The wall calendar is hanging there on the wall projecting a somewhat anachronistic picture of time.

Around mid December every year, my task list reminds me to make new calendars for India. I usually spend a few hours picking some pictures from that year – mostly of my daughters and a few of Sharmila and myself and then put a hanging calendar together. I get five copies printed professionally and during my year end trip to India, give them to my parents, in laws, brother, sister and brother in law.

My parents – especially my mom – used to adore them. In the calendar, I usually marked all the birthdays and wedding anniversaries of family members. That way she would remember to call up the folks on the right dates. (In spite of that, how my dad was surprised every year that it was his birthday, I will never know).

My mom used to look forward to turning the pages on the first of every month. She would get to see new pictures of the grandkids or us. For the next few days though I would go thru some perplexing moments during my morning phone calls with her.

The conversation would go something like this:
Mom: “That picture of Nikita – where is she standing?”
Me: “Mom, I have no idea what pictures I put for this month. Can you at least describe the picture and I will see if I can remember.”
Mom: “Of course, of course”.

And then a few minutes later she would be like “What is that thing next to Jay Jay in that picture?”
And I would be again going… “Mom….”

She would assume I was standing next to her when she looked at the pictures on the wall.

The calendar – as you see now – is stuck in time. There has been nobody to flip the pages when December turned to January.

That was the month her breath became air.

And then so did my dad’s.

Time has stood still on that calendar, ever since.

31 March 2021

My daily link to mom

For many many years, this small little battered up piece of electronics was the life line between my mom and me. At least for 85 odd days before I would visit her again.

And when I say battered up, I mean battered up. Just look at the keys. Two of them are not even in their places.

And yet, at around 8AM EST every single day, this used to be the witness of the bond I had with my mom. Calls would be short at times. And calls would be long at time.

Sometimes she talked about her siblings. Sometimes she worried about the clouds (the clothes on the clothesline would not dry). Sometimes, this phone would witness ridiculously funny conversations…

Me: “Mom, I left my mobile at home. I am calling from my office phone. I will keep today short”
Mom: “Ok. Why are you talking so softly? Are you not feeling well?”
Me (indignantly): “Mom! I am in office. Nobody understands Bengali. It is impolite to talk loudly in a language others do no understand”
Mom (whispering): “Of course! Of course!!”
Me (now yelling): “Mom! Why are you whispering? Everybody around you understands Bengali!”

This was also the phone I had called up on December 18th, 2020 and some stranger on the other side let me know that my mom would not pick up the phone. Not that day. Not ever.

Soon, the SIM card validity will expire. And the phone will transform from what kept a son and mom together to a piece of plastics and circuitry in some trash can.

I wish I had brought that to the US as a memory.

Coming to think of it, I am going to ask my sister to pull it out of the Throw Away bin. Next time I am in India, I will take it back.

This is what my mom touched to touch my soul every morning….

31 March 2021

The shawl !

This shawl has been with my parents – like the bed that was gifted by my grandfather – for the entire period that they were together. My sister and I cannot agree on our memories here. She thinks this too was gifted by my grandfather (mom’s side). Something tells me this was actually a wedding gift from my grandmother from dad’s side.

In any case, this shawl had helped her withstand the 56 winters that they spent together. Upon my brother’s and my insistence, our sister agreed to take it and keep it as a memory of our parents.

31 March 2021

This is the one moment I had not prepared myself for

Somewhat surprisingly, the hardest moment was not when I walked into the empty home. Or remembered what it used to be when they were around. Or having to get rid of stuff that they held close to them…. and they were all hard as hard could be.

The toughest moments as the eldest son were when the other siblings would cry. It was very difficult to watch them hurting.

Part of my job was to help them thru the grieving – chiefly by reminding them of the great lives our parents had themselves and had created for us. And that the strength of our relationships among siblings is the enduring legacy of what our parents lived for.

My parents had put a lot of reliance on me (remember the “train engine”) to be always there for my siblings and ensure that they get all the help that they need. Against that instinctive protective DNA that got built into my psyche, watching them grieve was VERY hard.

Most of the difficulty was the sense of helplessness. It is not like I could rectify or reverse the situation.

The irony was not missed on me that for all the urging they had that I should help them from crying in life, they are the ones who caused it in the first place!!!

31 March 2021

The dawning of a new era

At 1:10 am, woke up with a violent start. I was dreaming of my parents. I could not sleep any more.

Came out to the balcony where we used to sit together and gaze outside.

It was cool and a breezy. The moon was bright.

Eventually, the darkness started melting away.

I realized that the last night I have slept in what my parents called “home” was coming to an end.

The advent of a new era in my life.

Old memories. New adventures. Old order changeth. Yielding place to new.

That is the cycle of life.