’21 Mar India
- New York City – the Intersection of two generations Mar 24, 2021
For somebody obsessed with creating intersection points, the city of New York could not have been a more appropriate point to create a generational intersection. I landed today in the city of more street intersections than I can think of drawn by two forces…
Here to settle out on the property in the city where the next generation (Natasha) is going to settle down for the foreseeable future…
Also here to catch a flight to India to confront a new reality there … that the prior generation (dad and mom) has been unsettled for ever…
In the hustle and bustle of this city, standing at a street intersection anywhere… that is the lesson of life you as thee middle generation learn…
People come… and people go…
The old order changeth yielding place to new…
- I am pretty sure that the math does not work out Mar 25, 2021
Simple geometry would suggest that the middle position should not be there. In fact, the more mathematically oriented will point out that the middle point of a square with six feet sides is only 1/sqrt(2) of six feet or about 70% of the required distance…
I am not sure why they put this there. This is in the elevator to the United Club in Newark airport. I was going to ask the lady at the counter but between my mask, her mask, two layers of plexiglass and six feet of separation, I thought the better of it!!
The math nerd in me still protests!
- Another first time experience in a flight Mar 25, 2021
- The toughest journey of them all… Mar 25, 2021
I am back at an airport to go to India with my suitcase, backpack and a picture being taken on a timer with the phone propped up against whatever it is that airports have to prop up a phone with. This is when I usually tell you how this is a secret from my parents or that I have a few goals to keep.
This one is different though. There is nobody to keep my secrets from. I do not even know how to set goals for myself this time. For all the best laid plans I had, life upstaged the cards such that I could not even accompany them on their individual last journey. If not thru the eyes of my brother and sister who lived close to them, I would have always wondered what that journey looked like for my parents…
I have always believed that my parents had lives that we should celebrate. Coming from a level of financial situation I cannot possibly fathom, they pulled themselves to a successful life and in that pulling, gave me and my two siblings enough momentum that we hurled ourselves to what my parents would undoubtedly judge “greater success”. That is what they lived for. That is what they died for.
I can quibble over the details of their choices, but I cannot begrudge even a bit what they have achieved thru their three children.
So, again, let us raise a toast to them.
And then, as I put my glass of wine down at thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic, I am confronted with the inevitable “Now what?” question. How am I going to escape the fact that I am going to walk into the same house and find nobody there? For all the irritation that I used to have the moment I entered the house every time – for what I thought at that time as excessive fawning from them, there is going to be none this time to worry about.
How am I going to face my own siblings who gave – thru their sweat and tears – accompaniment thru the intense suffering that my parents went thru when all I could do was see them on a WhatsApp video call? For all those intense internal burning downstairs in the basement by myself after seeing my parents on video, what must have it really felt like to see in real life with your own eyes?
But any emotion expressed has to only flow towards the celebration of their lives. The pangs of something being taken away ought to be outweighed by the realization of the gift that was presented to begin with.
So, I am going to put only 3 simple goals this time..
You may remember how my parents often told me that as the eldest sibling, I was like the engine of a train. Wherever I went, my siblings would follow. In accordance, in this trip, my goal is to stay strong and in every step and word, exude the marvel at what our parents achieved thru us. The countenance of mine has to be of celebratory in nature. The mood has to be that of counting the blessings of what we had and not what we lost. From the moment I walk into the empty house with my siblings in tow to the time when I wave them goodbye to come back to America … I have to be the reason why they see hope and the positive in everything the three of us have had.
The crying can wait. (I am still human; I just need to control it)
I am not sure what is the right way to say Thank You to my siblings for all the hard work they did in the last few years of my parents. And none of this was easy. I have to believe this has created a lot of tensions in their own families and frankly a level of frustration that life dealt them a tough set of cards. For me – I was pushed by my family to go abroad and secure the financial stability of the whole family – but that also meant, I did not have to deal with the day to day grind. Now that it is all over, how do I express my gratitude? I am not sure how, but my goal number 2 is to put in the first installment by creating a couple of memorable days for my siblings – whichever way they want.
“And then… there was one…”
Right now, between Sharmila and I, we have only one parent left (her mom). While my mother in law and I cannot possibly think of anything any more different, I do realize that that is the thinnest of strings that we are hanging on in terms of the “previous generation”. She has had one vaccination already and I have had two. My goal is to see if I can sit down with her and have some quality time. If I can only pull her out of the kitchen trying to make more food for me, I might just be able to…
Normally, I love seeing my old friends, teachers, parents of my friends and so on … anytime I go to India. They have all influenced me in ways small and large to be who I am today. I owe that – if not for anything else – just to say Thank you. This time, though, I will have to constrain myself to spending all my time with my siblings and mother in law (and a couple of relatives that were close to my mom and dad). I do promise to make up in the next trip though…
A final thought… I am struggling with “What does India mean after this trip?” question. Sure, I have my siblings – but they have their own lives. Parents were why I fox trotted to India every quarter. They had all the time for me. Now, why do I have to come to India to visit my siblings? There are so many other places we could meet. Will trips to India eventually lose all the significance to me? Will a big part of my own identity be lost for ever?
I wonder if I could switch places with my parents. Sort of. Could I possibly become to my two nephews and one niece what my parents were for me? And by that I mean, can I create a relationship with the three of them that would be so strong that I will still get on to flights to India with the suitcase, backpack, selfie and all that? Maybe, instead of a train engine to my siblings, I can be the same for my nephews and niece?
Fourth goal this trip, you think?
- Flying over Karakum Lake Mar 26, 2021
We are over Turkmenistan right now and approaching the “Golden Age Lake”. One of the more ambitious efforts in Central Asia, this was to create a very long lake. If you can see the vertical walls on the picture below – that is the Karashor depression. It is a very long (100 miles?) depression with a height of nearly 80 feet below sea level!!
It was a very controversial project and considered mostly to have failed in reaching its objectives.
- Why are great things so bad for you? Mar 27, 2021
Strolling around Delhi airport, walked into “Dilli Streats”. Loved the pun! Was immediately hit by the rich aroma of some of the most flavorful food from India!
From punjabi tikka chicken to delhi paranthas to South Indian masala dosas to what have you. I was salivating at all those delectable plates and started listing what all I wanted to order. Also started counting how many miles I have to run to get rid of those calories.
I came up to 125 miles in the first week after I return.
A small cup of Starbucks cappuccino, it is then!!
- The long and short of it Mar 27, 2021
- That would put the 33rd airlines in the book. Vistara. Mar 27, 2021
- Got fooled !! Mar 27, 2021
Heading into a flight going to Kolkata, it was fair for me to assume there would be at least a couple of folks wearing the Bengali “Kurta” in the flight. The question in my mind was – Will at least some of them be “batik” print?
Sure enough, I spotted a guy soon in a very nice light blue colored kurta. Looked around a little more. Found another guy. Same color. Must be brothers, I reasoned.
But then soon, way too many people showed up with the exact same kurta around the gate. Could it be a big occasion or something?
Eventually, I walked up to the gate and asked the lady if she knew what was going on. I don’t think too many people have laughed at me like that.
Turns out, in this airline, if you are in the middle seat, you have to wear a PPE gown given free by the airlines. So, that was what it was all about.
Btw, the lady also gave a face mask AND a face shield. Apparently, everybody has to wear both!!!
- For my Bengali lady friends back in the USA… Mar 27, 2021
- The difficulty of describing a void Mar 27, 2021
It is well nigh impossible to properly describe a vacuum or a void. Presence can be seen, touched, smelt… absence, however can only be felt.
And that is how the void hit me immediately as I stepped into my parent’s house. The first glance would be to my mom who would have opened the door and then immediately, I would look to the bed on the right where my dad would have been invariably laying down…
The bed is neatly set up in its usual place.
Gone are those Bhagvad Gitas and poetry books he used to sleep with.
Gone is that picture book I had made for him from our trip to his birthplace that he held close to him.
Gone is that curious looking hammer that used to be around to used as paper weight.
It is all just gone.
A chapter has been closed.
The bed is now prepped up, neat and clean, to start its next chapter. Whatever that might be.
- Poring over the pictures of our parents Mar 27, 2021
Brought over two thousand pictures of mom and dad for my siblings on my laptop. The collection I have goes back to black and white pictures from the 60s that I had taken to the US in multiple batches and scanned them.
We spent quite a few hours going thru a small portion of them. It was great fun remembering specific events or conversations around certain pictures. In fact, there were some debates on the dates and locations of a few of them.
(My laptop is behind those pillows)
- Seen from the bed’s point of view… Mar 27, 2021
After realizing dad’s absence in his bed, I walked in straight to mom’s room to be greeted with this sight. This is the one bed none of us had reckoned with getting empty earlier than the other one. As I stared at the bed, it was like the whole life of the bed flashed in front of my eyes.
This bed – or cot as some would refer to it as – started its journey way back in 1964 in a small town called Kalna where my grandfather (mom’s dad) had chosen it to be a wedding gift for my dad – his soon to be son-in-law.
In 1964, this was what was my parents “bridal bed”. (“ফুলসয্যা”)
Over the next few years, it went thru a chronology of becoming the first bed I crouched up to my parents to, then my sister joined me and by the time my brother came around, this became the kids’ bed.
In fact from the late sixties till 1983 when I turned sixteen and left home, this is the bed that the three of us shared. We have fond memories of sitting up late at night in the bed and watching out in the dark waiting for the night watchman to walk by our street blowing his shrill whistle in dead of the night.
This is where we used to sit and study at times and fight with each other at other times. This is where each one of us learnt how to do somersaults (“ডিগবাজি” – the simple head rollover version).
Way too many nights our parents would yell at us from the other room to go to sleep as we would whisper and giggle too late into the night.
Then I got married. And this became our bridal bed.
A few years later, this became my brother’s bridal bed.
Then in 2012, the bed was moved to its fifth home – this house in Kalyani – and my parents reclaimed it.
In fact, back in 2017, when dad got bedridden – in this very bed – after his first stroke, all the grandchildren had descended upon him and sat around him as one big happy family. I still vividly remember him beaming with all this grandchildren around him in this bed.
Then three months back, my mom died laying in this bed.
And two months later, my dad followed suit – again, in this bed.
This piece of wood has witnessed what great cycles of life – birth – growing up – marriage – kids flying the nest – death and what have you…
One of the gut wrenching duties of surviving children after their parents’ deaths is to have to get rid of stuff. You know, this broken chair here, that rusted hammer there, that utensil that has clearly seen better days – those somehow defined what life was for them – what they considered their dear “belongings” and suddenly they find their value reduced to mere economical terms.
However, last evening, the three of us decided that this bed has done enough for us to deserve a longer lease of life with us. So, we are going to move this to my sister’s house.
Not that she needs one more bed. But it is the emotional and sentimental value.
Maybe some kid in our progeny will get yelled at by his/her mom or dad for not putting their digital device down.
Maybe some kid will do his/her online classes half asleep under the sheets in this bed.
- Sometimes, the smallest things hit you the hardest… Mar 27, 2021
Their eyeglasses, watch, everything… is in their place… but you realize that nobody is there to wear them…
It was hard to hold back those instinctive “Ma, aar ek cup cha hobey?” (Can I have another cup of tea?).
Not that I ever needed more tea to drink. I just did not have anything better to do. So, one more cup of tea it was. And mom would keep one whole kettle of tea ready. In two minutes, tea would arrive – and there would be an opportunity to chat with her for five more minutes before she ran away to the kitchen to make more food.
It is those small moments, those small things that are the loudest reminders….
- In an allegory to my future with this town…. Mar 27, 2021
- An interesting bug in Apple Watch Mar 27, 2021
First, apologies for the blurriness. Apparently, I cannot hold by hand steady when I find a bug in Apple software. In any case, I was watching the sunset from my parents’ place when I wanted to check the temperature and looked at my Apple watch. And this is what I saw…
Note that the temperatures it showed was around 75. First of all, that was not correct. The next screen has the right temperature – 91. But more importantly, see how the temperatures start rising after 9 at night. Went to the next screen to see what was happening.
Of course, the bug is with the sun! It apparently had decided to start rising at 9 PM with full glory.
[BTW, I tested out the phone and watch for time zones and all that – everything seemed to be fine. Also, the same thing happened the next day]
- The school kid is ready to report to class!! Mar 27, 2021
Eight years back, while rummaging thru mom’s kitchen, I had found my lunch box from kindergarten class! (one and only lunch box I ever had). This time, while going thru all my parents stuff, found my school box from kindergarten too! Again, the only school box I ever had!
Two revelations… my parents, coming from the financial background they came from, apparently threw NOTHING out!!
Second, man, the sum total of my knowledge could be held in a fairly small, aluminum box!! That is disconcerting.
I think I am going to take these to the USA as a memory of how my parents kickstarted my education process. That is where the school journey of a once-shy kindergartener began…
- Throwback to the mid-70s Mar 28, 2021
Woke up after a couple of hours of sleep at 2:30 AM due to jet lag. Could not go back to sleep anymore. Simply came out and sat in the balcony.
At 4:15 AM came down to the gate and saw my sister picking flowers from trees (as part of her morning religious rituals). She offers those flowers to various pictures of Hindu Gods she has in her house, a picture of her late in-laws and now, our own late parents.
That reminded me how she and I used to do the same thing – pick flowers (sheuli flowers to be precise) very early in the morning and do the morning prayers. Not sure I was ever a big fan of the prayers. But always loved getting up early in the morning before most of the world did and picking flowers from the tree. Distinctly remember the coolness of early mornings – sometimes with light breeze.
I waited till she finished and then went for a walk with her…
- Not sure whether it was a walk or a feeding frenzy… Mar 28, 2021
Two things can easily grab full attention from anybody in the Roy family in India – kids and dogs. You probably remember pictures from the past of my brother or sister with street dogs. Well, what I was not aware of when I accompanied my sister in her morning walk is that there will be first a full ten minutes of feeding all the street dogs in the neighborhood. Some of them have become so lazy with the routine that they refused to even get up – my sister walked up to them and gave them some snacks.
By the way, when I say morning walk – for my sister it was a run. She jogged steadily for an hour and fifteen minutes straight. Which she does everyday. She just did up and down trips on that half kilometer street. I walked up and down (could not keep up with her). Since my brother has gone back to running again, now we are at full tilt count of three for three among our siblings when it comes to running.
I do think that the dogs are running out of the habit of running for food, thanks to my sister!!
- Sometimes, that is how a void looks like Mar 28, 2021
I was there like clockwork by 7am sitting the balcony.
The two other chairs however have become “extra” this time. There are no cups of tea and no thin arrowroot biscuits either.
And yet I can see down below, the vegetable guy is ferrying his fresh vegetables on his van from street to street, a few sleepy kids are on their bikes going for private tuition, some elderly folks walking slowly, the occasional auto plying by and in sudden bursts of unexplained energy, a few dogs growling at each other…
Just like every other morning.
And that is exactly what makes the void very personal. It is a walk nobody else can walk for you…
- A sister’s love… Mar 28, 2021
In my mom’s memory, my sister made exactly the same food my mom used to make for me every single time – which used to be basically all the stuff I might or might not have ever mentioned to her that I liked eating at some point of my life. The potato fritters, fried eggplant, lentil dal, “dhokar torkari”, omlette curry … She even got the exact sweets and “misti doi” that my mom would get.
By the way, the next lunch was what my mother used to make for my brother. Apparently, his favorite food is “khichuri” (the nearest English word might be Polenta … something like what the Spanish have in their Paella). Of course, with all the assortment of fried foods around it!!
- A very different kind of trip to Durgapur! Mar 28, 2021
This time, the trip to Durgapur has a decidedly desultory undertone to it. First, we are limiting our visits to only my uncle (mom’s brother) who our parents were closest to on either side of the family and of course, my mother in law.
I am going to ask all my friends in Durgapur to let me off the hook this time – while I have had both my vaccinations, my brother has had none. I would like to keep exposure on either side as avoidable as we can. Some of you have elderly parents at home. On the good side, vaccinations are available to everybody over 45 in India from day after. I am sure that the next time I come, we can meet freely like good old times.
Also, this time, there is no hurry to go back to Kalyani. It is not like my parents are waiting there. So, we tried out a couple of alternate routes to get to Durgapur.
One additional goal is to spend some relaxed time with my brother. He has done all the running around between hospitals, doctors, banks, cremation grounds and all that for the last few years. I just want to spend some lazy hours with him…
First goal fulfilled! That is the picture of my cancer-beating uncle, aunt, his daughter in law and two of three grandkids.
- Relaxing with my brother… Mar 28, 2021
Having checked in on my uncle and mother in law, we came back to the hotel and relaxed over some cocktails. And recollected our parents’ attitude towards alcohol.
Especially that hilarious incident of “ye”!!
- Intersection point when I was least expecting it Mar 28, 2021
“Are you Rajib Roy?”, she asked.
“That is what rumor in the street is”, I said as I looked at the lady standing in front of me trying my best to put a name to the face.
A few minutes prior, my brother and I had settled down in a rather empty bar of the ITC Fortune Pushpanjali hotel in Durgapur. After settling down with two glasses of gin, my brother excused himself to go to the restroom. I was intently watching a spectacular Virat Kohli catch on the TV in the last of the T-20 matches India was playing against England. I had vaguely realized thru the corner of the eye that the lady at the only other occupied table had gotten up and was walking towards me. I assumed she was headed out for some reasons.
What I did not realize is that she had actually recognized me and had gotten up to talk to me.
I am glad she recognized me because I failed to recollect her name.
Realizing that, she helpfully offered “I am Dipita”.
“Lahiri?”, I asked.
Then the old memories came flooding by. It was New Year’s eve. As everybody was out on the streets trying to welcome 2017 in, I was sitting in the restaurant of a hotel – which happened to be a couple of blocks away from where I was where all this was happening – writing down posts from the day in my blogsite.
Suranjan-da had introduced me to Subhra Lahiri who happened to be nearby. That was the first time I met him. Noticing his family standing outside, I had come out and introduced myself to them too. That is how I got to know his wife Dipita and his daughter Ishita. That was the first and last time I had seen them. You might have read about it here.
“I have to admit that I am impressed with your memory. You managed to spot me at the other corner after having met me only once. I could not do that.” I told her.
She did point out that a shaved head and shorts in Durgapur were fairly strong hints!!
By this time, my brother had come back. I told him the whole story and also that Sharmila and Dipita were classmates in middle and high school!
Unfortunately, Shubhra is no more. But Dipita and I had a great time catching up on our lives and especially the progress Ishita is making in her career.
Hopefully, next time we will have more time to chat!
- Have you ever heard the story of a kidnapping victim? Mar 29, 2021
“Sir, you probably realized this – I am a very shy guy. I cannot talk to people much. I can’t believe you spent one and a half hours listening to me.”
“Vivek, I am going to take that as a compliment of the highest sort”, I replied.
Frankly, I had not realized that it was one and a half hours already. And it was barely 4:30 am in the morning!!
I had gone to sleep at around 10 pm in the ITC hotel in Durgapur. The jet lag was writ large over me when I woke up at 2:30 and could not go back to sleep. Instead of disturbing my brother who was fast asleep, I simply grabbed my laptop, iPad, phone and headed downstairs to the lobby. The idea was to try and catch up on some posting of blogs.
The lobby was fairly dark and warm. I guess the lights and the air condition had been turned down. There was this one thin lanky guy at the counter who was poring over his phone. Not ever shy of chatting up strangers, I went ahead and talked to the young gentleman. Vivek Thakur, he said was his name.
But it was clear that he was not comfortable talking. I was equally determined to get to know him. And I am so glad that I prevailed.
By all accounts, Vivek is a rising young gentleman. But somebody who has faced a few challenges in life. Not the least of it was that he was once kidnapped by gangsters.
“You mean, you were actually abducted?”
“For money, I guess.”
“Are you comfortable talking about it?”
“Sure. You can google it up too”
Which I did. Here is a newspaper report from that day…
He took me through some scary details of how a car came and hit him on his bike gently enough to throw him out in a dark evening. And then how he was roughed up into a car where there were a few other miscreants. He was made unconscious with some chemicals.
Apparently, the cops on the highway smelt a rat with the vehicle and asked it to stop. When it did not, they gave a chase. After a few miles, in a construction zone, the driver lost control and the car tumbled over. The miscreants high tailed it and fortunately Vivek was rescued – badly shaken up.
As you can imagine – my jaw dropped as I heard the story.
If that was not enough, found out that his best friend – who was an amazing artist and musician (in fact, he took me thru some of his work) had committed suicide the previous year. Apparently that also came in the local newspaper.
He also talked about how when his dad moved the family to Durgapur, it was a very rough transition for him.
By this time, for a very shy guy, he was certainly talking his mind – although haltingly (almost like he was thinking and weighing in before saying anything). We talked a lot about his aspirations. He loves the service industry. Someday he want to open his own business – perhaps a hotel.
“Vivek, you have a fascinating story. Can I write about you in my blog?”
“You have a blog, sir?”
“Yes, www.rajibroy.com. You will see stories of many people like you that I meet on the road”.
“Let’s take a picture together. I will feature it in the post”.
After we took the picture, I asked him – “By the way, what is your birthday? I will make sure I call you on your birthday.”
“March 4th, sir!”
“That is my younger daughter’s birthday!!!”
And we left as he mentioned about how he could not believe that we had been talking for one and a half hours.
The following day, before checking out, I saw him for another few minutes…
“Sir, we have another coincidence!”
“Sir, my nickname at home is Nicky”
Apparently, he had been reading up my blog and figured out that it was Niki whose birthday I was referring to.
We had a great laugh.
Vivek “Nicky” Thakur, I have no doubt that you will be reading this blog too. I just wanted you to know that you are an amazing person. The mental strength you have shown in overcoming life’s obstacles so early in your life will only take you from success to success.
I will surely be around to cheer you up!
- If it was a morning walk with sister on Sunday in Kalyani… Mar 29, 2021
- The price of mis-estimation! Mar 29, 2021
- Remembering my father in law… Mar 29, 2021
- The unkindest cut of them all… Mar 29, 2021
Retrieved this picture from more than 50 years back at my mother-in-law’s house. That animated guy – who is doing that “namaste” thing? – that is my brother in law!! That girl on the extreme right looking at my brother in law? – Sharmila!! I did not believe my mother in law when she said that.
That hairstyle is a far cry from what I was expecting. Apparently, my mother in law had her head tonsured.
“Why?”, I asked? (could somewhat fathom the torture of shaving a young girl’s head off)
She gave me the answer.
For marital harmony, I am going to avoid writing that answer here.
I will only say (with apologies to Dickens) – “Ask no questions about shaved heads, and no lice shall be told”
- We take our lazing around seriously!! Mar 29, 2021
As I explained before, we were restricting ourselves to visiting only my uncle and mother in law. And there were no waiting parents in Kalyani for us. So, we took it easy and had an unique experience.
We watched the town that we grew up in – Durgapur – from a swimming pool on the top of the terrace of a new hotel. The whole time we were there, there was not another soul nearby. We had the whole place and the pool to ourselves…
- Some time with my mother in law Mar 30, 2021
If I spend an hour with my mother in law at her place, about 55 minutes is spent on fighting over the same topic. She will want to feed more and more food. And I would say No to all of them. Years of trying to explain to her that I would rather that she spent the same time talking to me has gone nowhere….
In any case, I did get a chance to spend some time with her this time…
- Our new find in Durgapur Mar 30, 2021
My brother and I stayed in the ITC Fortune Park Pushpanjali hotel for the first time. It is a fairly new hotel at that. (About a couple of years). Had a first grade experience.
The staff was outstanding. Very welcoming, very friendly and a very sharp eye for the guests’ needs. The facilities and cleanliness was top notch.
Speaking of cleanliness, I would say they had one of the more exacting standards of cleanliness to avoid Covid. Even the elevator panels had plastic picks to press the buttons with. The staff – while very courteous – was not afraid of telling guests to keep their masks on in public areas. That was commendable. All food in the restaurant and bar could be ordered with QR codes and an online ordering app.
I am definitely going to stay here whenever I make it to Durgapur from now on.
One hilarious moment though… in the public bathrooms, alternate urinals were closed (to maintain social distancing). I do not think I have seen that anywhere. I get that.
Now, note the notice carefully. Why they are urging a man to maintain a safe distance from a woman in front of the urinal, I will never understand 🙂
- My brother… Mar 30, 2021
- The dawning of a new era Mar 31, 2021
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.
- This is the one moment I had not prepared myself for Mar 31, 2021
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!!!
- The shawl ! Mar 31, 2021
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.
- My daily link to mom Mar 31, 2021
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….
- When their breath became air… Mar 31, 2021
… 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.
- Two faces were conspicuous by their absence… Mar 31, 2021
- Life. Magnified. Mar 31, 2021
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…
- Ashes to ashes… dust to dust… Mar 31, 2021
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…
- A moment of deep solitude Mar 31, 2021
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.
- Oh! what life journeys we have knit… Mar 31, 2021
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.
- You think we had some fun? Apr 1, 2021
All of us have now checked into a hotel in Kolkata to spend some time together as a big family. Against the backdrop of solemnness in Kalyani, here our mood has a lot more levity. We are remembering some of the most fun moments with our parents. And some of them were outright hilarious.
As we were going thru my blog where I had documented some of those funny incidents, I almost felt a great justification for writing down the small moments in the History of my Future.
Sitting by the open pool at the hotel, some of us were laughing hard enough that we could have rolled off into the pool.
It was a lasting sense of satisfaction and joy to see my family in India this happy. I think I am going to keep coming back to India!!
- Views into the City of Joy Apr 1, 2021
- The Kolkata Roys dipping in the pool Apr 2, 2021
- Throwback to the times when my parents grew up Apr 2, 2021
In a rare trip outside hotel/home, went to Free School Street in Kolkata to pick up some vinyl (LP) records. This street used to have at least a hundred record shops. There are only three surviving.
I went to only one this time. Picked up about a dozen. All are Bengali records that has at least one song that was a favorite of either parent or I had heard them singing.
The one exception – Mukesh and Lata in Albert hall – has a story behind it. Back in June 1984, three of us had pooled all our pocket money to buy this record for the fourth one on her birthday!!! (the four of us were fairly tight friends those days)
- Again, why are great tasting things so bad for you? Apr 3, 2021
Even for a very un-Bengali Bengali, not eating sweets takes the level of blasphemy against everything Bengali to a whole new level. At home in US it is easy. In India, I had to come up with all sorts of tricks – the common one being “Sugar aachhey” (meaning I have diabetes). The identity of Bengalis is so intimately intertwined with eating sweets (and trust me on this one, they are nothing short of heavenly) that sometimes even after forwarding an argument that is designed to shut down all debate “daktarer maana” (meaning the doctor has proscribed it), I have had a few hosts saying “Kichhu hobey na. Ekta osudh kheye nebey”. (meaning – don’t you worry, take a pill after the sweets).
Today, in a bit of misguided adventure, I ventured into where I have not ventured in a long time. I decided to dig in to the sweets section in the lunch buffet arranged at the JW Marriott in Kolkata. And when I say “dig in”, I went all in. Rosogolla (there is no such thing as a Bengali plate without Rosogolla), Pantooa, Mihidana, Sitabhog, Gajorer Halwa. Name it and I had it. Admittedly, I put about one fourth the portion of what others were putting in their plates.
These things usually soak in sugar syrup and are often fried (some of them in clarified butter called ghee). Certainly not for the weak of the heart – at least not the ones insisting on keeping their heart valves and pipes clean. Or for those not wanting their sugar levels to scale nearby highrises.
But, I swear, they are the most delicious tasting stuff one can have in God’s green earth!!
Again, why are great tasting things so bad for you?
- Another day by the pool Apr 3, 2021
One effect about the pandemic is that we have decided not to increase our exposure outside of the immediate family. So, we have stayed in the hotel the whole time and neither taking visitors nor visiting anybody. Which means, the nephews and niece are spending most of their time either in the pool or eating all those great food lined up.
It was certainly very relaxing to just laze around in and out of the pool. It was a hot and humid day and the pool water felt perfect. Of course, it did not hurt that the service was top notch – including getting us tea and cookies (“cha-biscuit”) at regular intervals.
One of these days, I am going to figure out how to get all these salwar kameez wielding womenfolk in my family in India to change into swimming gear and get into the pool too.
- Hey! We got a send off!! Apr 4, 2021
Four days and four nights were enough for me to make a lot of new friends among the staff in the JW in Kolkata. From Simran at check-in to Parash, Kalam, Suman, Aayushi, Boni and manager Rahul in the restaurant to the two Tathagatas – one at the concierge and one in the lobby and the gentleman helping us at the pool (I forget the name), I got to know the life story and aspirations of a lot of new friends.
And guess what they did for us? As we were finishing up breakfast to start getting ready to checkout – a farewell cake showed up!!!
Over 500 stays in different hotels in different parts of the world in the last 25 years. This is a first for me!!
(BTW, do not worry about mask standards in the JW. It is very strict for staff and the guests were also more or less compliant. The staff took off the mask just for a couple of seconds for my brother to take the picture).
- Alas, all great things must come to an end… Apr 4, 2021
- The long journey – literally and metaphorically begins… Apr 4, 2021
Brother’s and sister’s families left this morning. And I came over to Kolkata airport to commence the 4 airport, 33 hour trip. For the first time, I am feeling lonely. As long as the siblings were around, it took the edge off missing our parents. I am sure they are feeling the same way.
There is an old Hindi song that I am constantly reminded of…
नI जाने क्यों होता है
ये जिन्दगी के साथ
अचानक ये मन
किसी के जाने के बाद
करे फिर उसकी याद
छोटी छोटी सी बात
नI जाने क्यों…
Na jane kyun hota hai
Yeh zindagi key sath
Achanak yeh mann
Kisike jane key bad
Kare phir uski yad
Chhoti chhoti si bat
Naa jane kyun…
Roughly translated (improvements welcome)
“Don’t know why
This keeps happening to me
After somebody has taken leave
My heart is suddenly flooded
By memories… of that person…
… of the snippets of dialogs we had
Don’t know why….”
- HOLY MACRO!! Apr 4, 2021
I got a Facebook friend request… from my mother in law!!!
Lest you forget, I wish to remind you this is the same lady who used to bleat “Niki, help me” when she was in US a few years back because the iPad used to go all “edik-odik” (topsy turvy) on her, apparently, every time she moved!!
Now I am afraid, she might get on to Instagram too!! (that would be a one social media she is on that I am not).
(In an ultimate self referential irony, she is going to read this whole post in Facebook!!!)
I am still rubbing my eyes…