Sunday, March 5, 2017

Didi

           




March 5th is a day which is very close to my heart. If my sister was alive, it would be her 47th birthday today.If only I could call her and wish her and ask her what she has planned for the day and tell her what is going on with me and chit chat and laugh and talk as only sisters can, but I know that is not possible. When we lost her in a train accident in 1995, the first thing my youngest sister told me when I reached Delhi was , "Papa ke pass chali gayi, papa akele the na, isliye apne paas bula liye" ( She has gone to be with Papa, because he was alone, he called her) So, I am hoping she is with him and they are celebrating together and she is dazzling everyone up there with her warm, charismatic, vibrant, dynamic and beautiful personality.
When people told me that time would heal the pain, I believed that,but now,I know, it doesn’t. I miss her more with each passing day, and nothing anyone can say can soothe the pain, dull the memories or heal the chasm in my heart. I think about her often but the grief attacks with a vengeance on her birth and death anniversaries which are intertwined with the birthdays of my boys. Armaan's birthday is march 6th, just the day after hers. Arjun's birthday is August 19 and August 20th is the day she passed away.
After I had kids of my own, I truly understood the depth and magnitude of my mom's loss. It broke my heart when my mom sent me a letter all those years back informing me that she has contributed towards a monetary prize and a shield in didi's name to our school to be awarded to a deserving student. I was heartrendingly reminded of the time when didi and I were in school, in our teens, we were the first ones to be there as our bus got to school early and we were looking at the shelves where all the trophies were displayed. There was a picture of a girl who had passed away and her parents had a trophy in her name, I remember my sister saying "Mona, look, this girl's name is Sumona, isn't it sad, she died and her parents have a prize in her name."
Didi was very strong and my mom depended on her the most as she was enterprising, responsible and proactive. She did a lot of work around the house, whether it was standing with the workers and getting a water tank installed on our terrace, talking to the car mechanic, planning trips, getting someone to fix our leaking roof...... she did what needed to be done. She was so friendly and outgoing, she could talk with everyone- the vegetable vendors, little kids, aunties, older folks. She was an amazing older sister to all three of us, protective, inspiring, generous, caring and loving, she always had our back. She was financially independent and worked and thrived as a senior consultant in a reputed firm. Interestingly, only she got the didi status, my younger two sisters just call me Mona, to this day they have never called me didi. :)
Sometimes,I see her in my dreams and I love the happy ones where she hugs me but I have woken up with my heart thudding with fear and sweating when I have had nightmares about her being very sick in a hospital separated from us. Sometimes, her memory is triggered by watching someone who looks like her from the back and has the same kind of hair and it catches me unawares and the pain of her loss instantly flares and I think about her, her beautiful hair, her gorgeous smile. I miss her beautiful voice heard around our school every afternoon when she recited the prayer before dismissal. She is in my subconscious, most of my computer and various account passwords are some combinations of her name and birth date and I type those in everyday.
I regret the fights we had and wish I could tell her I was sorry for all the usual sibling bickering. I am grateful that she got to meet my husband and they formed an instant liking.I seek some solace from the fact that she died knowing that Ajay and I would be there for our mom and sisters, for whom she deeply cared. I can't fill her shoes, I was happy being the second child, I can never be the oldest like she was but I am trying.
Sometimes, when the whole house is sleeping and I am alone downstairs I think of her, and I can feel her energy and I hope that she is watching over us and is proud of me and the woman I have become, the changes in me she never got to see.Years back,in school one day, I was openly sobbing, missing my dad after he passed away, and she came over and scolded me and told me to stop crying like a fool and to be strong. So, I do, to this day, I draw strength from her in my moments of weakness.
I could fill pages writing about her but will stop now.I look forward to the day when we will meet again and hug again in a blissful, peaceful, serene and splendorful heavenly abode.

.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Conversations at my home



Few days back I brought up the topic of having a fourth baby and this is how it went: 
Me: I love babies, I want to have a fourth one.
Ajay:  I already have four,you are like my fourth child, I am good
Mansi: That would be kind of embarrassing mom, don't
Arjun: If we have to stay with three let us give Armaan up for adoption and get a new baby
Me: No Arjun don't be mean, I do not want another baby
Arjun: I know you want a puppy, let us trade Armaan for a cute little puppy. 
Armaan in tears, mental note to myself , I am never bringing this up again!

Me to my husband : mothers day aa raha hai, aap mere liye kya khareed rahen hain? (Mother's day is approaching, what are you buying for me?)
Ajay : tumhare liye? Kyon? tum meri mummy ho kya? ( For you? Why? Are you my mom?)

Me to husband " I am stressed out, can you do something nice for me "
He asked "What do you want ?"
Me:"Take me furniture shopping, I want to buy some cane furniture, there will be discounts today too"
He : "No, I cannot do that"
Me :"Why not?"
He "Because then, I will get stressed out"

We subscribed to some Hindi channels after a long time, am loving the bollywood songs, movies, (my 2 boys got all teary eyed after watching some emotional scene in one of the soaps on zee and they like Indian master chef) What got to me was that even after all these years we still have a ponds white beauty range of products with a facewash that makes you fairer ( is that even possible?) and of course in America you have a whole range of tanning sprays etc as nobody wants to look too pale.
Mansi said to me " Mom, why is it that all the Bollywood heroines are so fair when majority of the Indian women are not that pale. Even the mannequins in the shops in India do not look like Indians."

Arjun asked me "Mom do you know what idk means" and feeling happy that for once I did have an answer I said "I don't know" and we both burst out laughing.

Yesterday Mansi said that when she grows up she wants to marry someone like her dad and I kidded with her that she can do a lot better than him. Armaan suddenly piped in and said "Mom I will be happy if I find someone even 80 percent like you " Awwww how cute is he. Also, once there was this abbreviation on some show MAM for most annoying mom and Armaan said that for me it would mean Most awesome mom.  I also remember few years back I told him that when he grows up his wife will not like it if he is writing poems for mom and he told me without batting an eyelid that he will send me cards in secret from her , lol

Mansi told me this morning that Norway and Sweden are countries where people are the happiest and that is because they are the least religious countries of Europe, religion is not shoved in your face there and most people regard religion with benign indifference. Every morning when I drop her to school she showers me with some pearls of wisdom, at home she is too busy to talk to me, she is such an avid reader, now she wants me to read Darwin's theory of evolution which I do not believe in but she does.

I love Arjun. He is wise beyond his years. I just yelled at him about him not cleaning up a mess he made and then remembered he is leaving for Kentucky for five days tomorrow. So immediately After yelling I gave him a big squishy hug and kiss and told him I was sorry I yelled. He is so calm and so wise, he told me " Mom, listen to me, dont appologise after you yell, it negates the whole purpose." # I love this boy

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Tribute to my Mom



               I grew up as second of four sisters. In India, in those times, having a son was a mark of heart bursting pride and people were always feeling sympathetic towards us. A typical conversation would start with, “how many brothers and sisters do you have?”, “We are four sisters,”I would reply and the aunty would go “Awwwww no brothers? Your poor mom.”  Yes, that’s how audacious and appalling some aunties could be! However, my mom never considered herself as poor mom, she never bemoaned that this was a misfortune or a shortcoming.  Infact, she told us that she would have been  happy with just two kids and it never mattered to her one bit that she did not have a son, my dad was the one who wanted a boy!

    Sometimes, I envy my mom because she got to marry my dad who I think with his sharply chiselled features, over six feet height and lively demeanor was the most handsome man on this planet. They were total opposites, my mom calm and introverted, my dad social and very dynamic, get a few drinks in him and he would be the life of the party, you would only hear his booming voice recounting tales of his army days and everybody would be listening to him. Unfortunately, my dad passed away when he was only 51  and as much as we missed his loving presence we knew that if in his place our mom had passed away he would not have been as strong, he would be completely shattered and he would not have been able to care for us by himself like my mom did.

                My mom is a strong independent woman who worked as a teacher, drove a fiat confidently in the crazy Indian traffic, looked after her kids and did not take bullshit from anybody. She was and is liberal, unorthodox, honest, patient and hardworking. She raised four teenage girls by herself at a time when single moms were rare, there was no support group of similar moms or any kind of single moms club. She was earning the bacon, shopping for it and cooking it to feed us. I am always amazed at how good she is with money, saving it, investing it, growing it through smart choices so her daughters could have a good education and a good lifestyle. My mother is very straightforward, she will give you her honest opinion, political correctness be damned! She is also very proud and never takes financial help from anybody, not even her kids who would love to help. She likes to give but not to receive.

                Her childhood was pretty amazing. She grew up in the small picturesque town of Haveli Kharagpur in the state of Bihar in India. The town was named after its Rajput ruler from long ago who was called Kharag Singh. He had five daughters who killed themselves by jumping off a mountain into the waterfall and they did this to escape the abuse of the Muslim ruler who overpowered and overthrew their dad, Kharag Singh. The waterfall was called panchkumari (5 sisters) waterfall and it fell into a gorgeous lake which joined into  a river. My mom, along with her six siblings and many cousins spent their childhood climbing these mountains, taking a dip in the hot mineral water springs in the forest and admiring the beauty of nature, picking flowers and chasing goats . She did not go to school as there were no schools for girls (My son Arjun commented- "wow what a good life- no school")but my grandfather and other teachers taught her at home. She took the high school exam, went to college and got her B.ed. and M.ed. and became the  principal of the first girls school in her town called Panchkumari Vidyalaya for girls. I think it is so remarkable that she persevered with her studies as her being financially independent and having a job was so important for our well being later in her life.

               I will always be mad at God for being so unfair and testing her strength again by taking away my older sister Shweta at the age of 25. The death of her beautiful, strong, vibrant  and charismatic daughter broke her down and shook her to her core. She still picked up the pieces and is involved and present in the lives of the rest of her daughters and her beautiful grandchildren. Recently, I enjoyed listening to her singing lullabies to put my four month old nephew to sleep. My mom is a great singer and sometimes feels sad that she could not pursue classical music as a career.She is also a wonderful chef and her chilli chicken is to die for. She always pampers us with our favorite food and I get mad at my husband for liking food which is time-taking to make like bharva karela which she will make for him, she does have the patience to empty out the karela (bittergourd), boil it, make the stuffing, stuff it and then fry it- all for her precious son in law!

             We all love  her very much, she is our source of inspiration, of guidance, she is our hero.She used to say that our dad spoilt his daughters but I think she spoilt us more specially after he was gone so we never felt that we lacked anything.  I would like to end by  quoting the words of a song “yeh to sach hai ki bhagwan hain, hain magar phir bhi anjaan hain, dharti pe roop ma baap ka, us vidhaata ki pehchaan hai” (briefly translated the lyrics mean that god exists on earth in the form of our parents.)  
Happy Mother’s Day mom today and every day.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Where are the Whales?





                    On a recent trip to Boston we decided to go on a whale watching cruise. Over the years, we have made numerous trips to Boston as my sister lives there with her family and we have seen almost everything that needs to be seen and done almost everything that needs to be done.  Aquarium, Duck tours, Imax theatre, Prudential Center, Boston Commons, Harvard Square, Quincy Market, Cambridge , we have seen it all. However, the whale watching trip was one thing we had not done together as a family before and this time we agreed to go for it. I had some reservations, I am terribly scared of terribly deep water and all its creatures but my children reminded me that humpback whales do not eat humans. “Well, what if there is an adventurous eater out there who is sick of eating fish and wants to try something new like a human?”, I shuddered, but, I pulled myself together as I knew nobody would fall into the water!

             We boarded a Catamaran (a big three deck ferry) and headed out from Boston harbor. It was ten in the morning , a beautiful, absolutely gorgeous day, the wind was blowing, making our hair rise up and dance, causing my husband to sing to me – kale nagin ke jaisi zulfein teri kali kali…. And I laughed, and we were happy, excited and looking forward to our adventure. Boston’s skyline looked very beautiful in the background and we were pointing out our favorite buildings to the kids. The whale watching area we were heading to is called the National Marine Sanctuary and it is a underwater plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts bay where whales flock to every summer to socialize and to eat their favorite food.

         We were inhaling the fresh, salty ocean breeze, looking up at the serene blue sky and then looking down at the sparkling blue sea, the kids were dancing around on the deck and we were enjoying ourselves. Soon, the kids spotted a little snack and drinks selling enclave and we ate some potato chips and drank some soda and everything was good. We saw some beautiful sights like the lighthouse, some big vessels and beautiful ships passing us by and some seagulls flying around.

         And then, the sea got really rocky. The day got rough, the Catamaran was swaying from side to side, the winds were strong, it was hard to keep your balance but there were no announcements made to tell people to stay in their seats. “Hmmm, why is it that on an airplane at the first sight of the smallest turbulence you are supposed to be on your seats with seatbelts on and your kids cannot even use the restroom but on a ship rocking so hard you are free to wander around and fall?” I thought. We decided to go and sit inside in the covered portion of the Catamaran and watch the sea from the windows.
       We had reached the area for whale watching and everybody had their cameras ready and were on the lookout, scanning each and every part of the vast sea around us inch by inch with the utmost focus and dedication.  Somebody screamed something on the second floor deck and everybody rushed to get there falling on top of each other but there was nothing in the sea.  It was a false alarm for whale viewing and you could hear the murmur of disappointment and people trudging back to their seats! Meanwhile the naturalist on board the ferry was droning on the mike “These Northern Hemisphere whales reach an average length of 50 feet, and weigh about 37 tons! The humpback got its name because of the way its back arches out of the water when getting ready to take a deep dive. "Megaptera" is its true scientific name, which means "large-winged," in reference to its long flippers.” And I am going, “shut up already, we have not seen a single whale and here you are rubbing salt on our wounds”. 

            Some people were getting seasick, Armaan (my 9 year old boy) started feeling very queasy, his stomach was hurting and he was crying, I just put his head in my lap and I was comforting him. I get really upset when any of my kids are in pain, I just do not see joy in anything around me. Arjun, my twelve year old, in an effort to motivate his brother said, “Armaan, you cannot handle this, can you imagine the plight of the people on the Mayflower, they were cramped and wet and sick and they weathered some storms.” I told Arjun to please be quiet and to please leave us alone.
           Now, more and more people and kids were getting sick and vomiting bags were being handed around. This big chested, tall, well-muscled Italian man across from me was not feeling well at all and going red in his face he was throwing up in his bag which his slim, petite, beautiful wife was dutifully taking from him , sealing it and walking over to the trash can to throw it and she did this a few times .I told my husband “people say love is all kinds of beautiful poetic things but I have now realized that true love is when you can collect vomit from your partner in a bag, seal it, throw it in the trash and not say a big yuck or make a bad face and complain about it”

               Long story short, the remainder of the trip still had the ferry rocking like a seasaw, I was getting impatient to get back to land and thankfully Armaan went off to sleep. They made an announcement that since there were no whale sightings we could get a set of free tickets which could be redeemed over the period of one year. Yeah right! I thought, half or more of the people are visitors from other cities and even other countries, I doubt they would come back again within a year!
              We were overjoyed to get back on land, Armaan woke up and was feeling better, Ajay (my husband) wanted to walk around downtown a little bit to stretch our legs but we all said a big no to his idea. It was almost two, we were starving and needed to eat. Arjun, my budding chef and foodie had seen a cooking show on Netflix which said that Maine lobster roll at a place called B and G Oysters was among the top ten sandwiches in the nation and so off we went looking for this place on Tremont Street. We did find it, but we had to go around in a few circles to find parking till one car left and we took its spot. In times like these, when you have to parallel park on a busy road in a small spot between a Ford truck and a minivan I really thank God for my husband who can do it as I sure cannot. God bless my husband , I am so so lucky to have him Amen , now lets go and eat.
              The food was at B and G was great, they heard our story and felt sorry for us and gave us a free appetizer, fried fish with Aaoli along with the fried oysters on a bed of delicious mustard sauce which we had ordered. Arjun ate his Maine lobster roll, was happy with it, I breathed a sigh of relief and all was well in the world. The best part, we were going back to my sister’s house to spend time with her cute four month old baby.

Life lessons for my kids: Do not be depressed if half a day goes badly, rest of the day can still turn out good!
Things do not always go as planned, man proposes, god disposes.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

Patron Interactions At the Reference desk

I have been working as a part time Reference librarian at Richland library in South Carolina for more than ten years now. It is a beautiful 4 floor building with glass walls, open spaces and piano shaped balconies above the escalators linking each floor and I absolutely love working here. Over the years I have met so many people when they come to the reference desk asking for help or just stopping by with a comment or suggestion.
I am originally from India and brown and so many people come up to me and say "Do you speak English?" and in my mind I go "Of course I do, why would they hire me if I do not know English" but the inherent polite customer service values kick in and I smile sweetly and say "yes, how can I help you today?" And then, there is this curiosity about where I am from and one time a patron asked me "Are you Hindi?", "No, I am Hindu, Hindi is the language, Hindu is the religion, I cannot be a language, I am a person" I replied. "Are you India?" he persisted, "No, I am not India, I am from India, I am Indian" I said at my clarifying best.  He replied with a bewildered look on his face "what did you say, you are Hindian?" I give up, lets just forget who I am or where I am from for a minute and tell me what I can help you find at the library today!
 Since we are located at downtown Columbia, we have a large group of homeless people who visit the library regularly. God bless their hearts, the thing I admire most about them is regardless of their misfortune they have so much confidence in themselves that they hit on the librarians constantly and actually think they have a chance at winning the hearts of these beautiful women. Some days I enjoy the compliments I get and some days I do not have the patience to listen to all that. I am always complimented on my hair and earrings and smile.One person told me " you remind me of this beautiful Mexican actress in a movie I saw when I went to Mexico" and that day I was so happy to hear that I could look like an actress and my dormant desires of working with George Clooney in a romantic comedy were awakened and I was on cloud nine for a while thanks to this man but later my husband who is so skeptical said, "I do not think he could ever be in Mexico, he totally made that up." I can always count on my dear husband to bring me down to earth with a big thud.
A number of mentally ill people visit the library too and I feel sorry for them because mental illness is the worst disease you can have. Physical ailments can be managed but it is truly tragic when you lose control of your mind. I remember this patron who felt she could never leave her umbrella anywhere but with me as she thought I could keep it safe for her. A man walked by me one day and said "please do not ask me for autographs, I am really busy today" and I was like "huh ,okay, I won't Mr. celebrity." A woman addresses me as Ruth and when I asked who Ruth is she told me that Ruth was a character in the bible. This lady refuses to believe my name is Mona. Later, when I found out that Ruth in the bible is kind and nice and honest it made me feel better.
I am always terrified of the impatient, arrogant, loud mouthed divas when they visit, we had a lady who came in and wanted us to announce on the intercom that her boys needed to come to the parking lot and I told her that we do not provide this service for the patrons. She was so angry that she actually would have to go look for her children herself and find them herself!  As she was being very difficult a library security worker came to my aid and said he would find them. She just walked out clicking her high heels and told him to tell the children she is outside waiting in the parking lot!
I have had so many memorable patron interactions over the years, lots of stories, hard to fit into one blog. Most of the folks who visit the library are really nice, grateful , well mannered and soft spoken but then there are the few eccentric ones too! The incident I remember most fondly is when I helped this young guy and he fist bumped me to show his appreciation. An old couple were so grateful when I helped them locate a family member from our ancestry databases that they wanted to take me out to lunch with them and I declined. I am just doing my job, and I love it and I love my library.