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.

30 March 2021

Our new find in Durgapur

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 🙂

30 March 2021

Some time with my mother in law

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…

29 March 2021

We take our lazing around seriously!!

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…