Our lives are part of a greater whole and that story perhaps is best told in moments, small and grand. Those are felt through the force field of love that surrounds us, a love that shows up at the doorstep as soul food on a cold winter’s day, as fruitcake that appears almost magically because you could not bake it this year yet your heart had been craving for it. They are best lived in moments that almost make it impossible to breathe sometimes but also in moments that give us strength and courage. When fervent prayers pass through quivering lips and tears flow unchecked, quiet prayers from all around reach us and cradle our hurting hearts.
Between the earth and the sky, we live our lives adding such moments that celebrate the joy and pain, love and friendship, moments that let us feel we are perhaps enough the way we are. The hope is that as life rushes by, too quickly perhaps, we are all able to gather as many moments as possible that speak of love, because at the end of the day, it is just love that prevails. And that love is all encompassing and defies definition.
From our hearts to yours, with hope, prayers and dreams, we wish you and your loved ones a year that brings you more laughter than sighs, more togetherness and new aspirations.
We recently finished the basement of our home, a process that we had started in September of 2021. What once used to be a cold and dark place- wires jutting out from here and there, strange pink insulation padding peeking out from corners along with a wonderful display of cobwebs- has now been transformed into a warm and inviting place, that is part play area and part music area. The kids have found a slice of heaven it would appear, the good man enjoys his guitar and we all groove to music that plays over a new speaker. In addition to having a functional space that we all get to enjoy as a family, chances of us stepping on tiny pieces of toys, while walking around in the main living spaces of the house and shrieking out in pain, are also a lot less now.
But while I enjoy a good book on the couch in our new basement, all cozy under a bright yellow blanket, I know that across the ocean, basements are being used as bunkers, as shelters, as make shift care centers, as temporary nursing homes. Videos and images of atrocities and also unfaltering courage, in the face of all the senselessness, have caused for a sudden silence in our house after the kids fall asleep. They sleep in peace on their beds with their favorite stuffies, as their lullaby plays on and the twinkling star lights on the ceiling of the room create a space that comforts them, keeps them safe. My babies are safe.
But at this exact moment in time, thousands of kids, like mine, are traumatized, to put it mildly. They are homeless, they are refugees, they are separated from their parent/s, many will lose a parent or both, and many will also pay for this senseless act with their precious lives. What was once their warm site of endless recollections, their comfort, their source of happiness has all but vanished or is in the process of vanishing. We all watch in horror and disbelief. We express solidarity, we donate and march in town squares, where possible people are opening up their homes and hearts to provide for a safe space for those fleeing and seeking shelter, while politicians and law makers and others with important job titles scramble to find ways to stop a madman in his path. History sighs. What the world is witnessing today- this unforgivable act- She has always had such pages. Always. The sun that rises each morning is hopeful, and yet it, sadly, continues to set on an unjust, unequal and vicious world.
While I tuck my kids safely under their blankets and kiss them every night, a mother somewhere watches over her sick kid and prays for more time with them; while someone raises a glass to congratulate a newly married couple, another buries their loved one. Painful and precious moments have coexisted in this strange world since time immemorial. A wishful thought maybe, but since man has reached the moon and beyond, has tamed grave illnesses and attained heights of glory through music and art, wouldn’t he have also figured out a way to prevent humanity from ever reaching a juncture- something similar to the one we are at now- where history would repeat itself? But as we all know, truth is stranger than fiction and so, some men continue on in their path of destruction, led by greed and all that seek to strip them of their humanity. The world descends into chaos. Yet, when sanity takes a backseat and there is not much to hold on to, when tears no longer fall as every drop has been shed, it is man again, a different kind, who rises to inspire and to believe and to show what courage can look like, what humanity should look like. The cycle continues. This omnipresent dance of cruelty and beauty, of cowardice and courage is oppressive and still strangely uplifting, don’t you think? The display of gallantry shows the power of togetherness, the power of humility and of honor and while it comes at a cost that is too much to bear, it paves the way for future generations to learn from, to write more hopeful chapters in the story of our shared world.
I no longer write here or anywhere. There seems to be a lack of purpose or even interest. I do go through words and pictures some of my favorite people here share. And that is enough for now. Autumn has been in full swing in the United States and I have clicked away to my heart’s content. The mind and the heart seem to be in sync during autumn.
Ever so quietly now, the days are becoming shorter. No longer a minute erased here and there. Before long, it will be Joyce’s gloomy evenings- bitter, cold and dark. But till that time comes, we are celebrating autumn. We are filling up our senses and paying attention to the easily missable details that make life just that much more fulfilling. We are continuing to find ‘magnificence in the mundane’.
We hold on to the little things, that which are known and comforting. We also rush to check things off of our daily to-do list. But, once in a while we are allowed a moment here and a moment there, a bit of a stillness to take in what the heart already knows. The colors have popped and are here, however, only for a short while. The amber, and scarlet and the golden yellow are competing with each other, like every year. I wonder if they know that there’s no need for that, for the competition.
The heavier jackets are out and hats are a must. Mornings are busier as the school bus does not wait and routines have changed a lot. Yet, we pause when we can and breathe. Breathe the air that promises to be fresh and teases to be free of this virus that seems relentless. I sometimes wonder if we admire more the stillness of our lives or its mad chorus. Sometimes, we are at peace with our inner selves, and that perhaps, happens oh so rarely that we don’t even realize that we did hold such a moment inside of us, however briefly. But when it does, we do not feel the need to rush and this overwhelming need to be perfect or get everything done gets watered down. Even if for a minute, we do forget, the spinning world around us and revel in the calm within.
Do you wonder that you need to be constantly visible for others to think about you or remember you? Does it in some weird twisted way add more value to your worth? Is it even possible- to measure someone’s worth? Can we not just quietly escape and see who comes along with a hello. I always find those hellos so much more gratifying than the ones splashed across the social media. They are quiet and seek no impetus. I don’t know. Days come and go in mostly unspectacular manners, some perhaps more kind than others. Such rare days know how to unfold while others are just in a race with themselves. And yet in the middle of this madness and stillness lie our entirety. That’s the elegance of our lives.
During languorous autumn evenings, I often find myself seeking out the strength of what I perceive as the mundane, as the usual. And that brings me peace. I hope the mundane brings you peace too. Because in everything we do, places we go to, the present moments lead us gently back to moments in time, the details and the nuances of those revealing themselves slowly and telling us that that what is now, is good. It can be better, it will be better, but it may also be the other way. So, seek the now and celebrate that which is.
As I frantically try to match the back-to-school shopping list to the items that keep arriving at my doorstep in brown boxes, I try to pause to appreciate the warm days that are slipping by, slowly but steadily.
Summer was supposed to be different and I can’t say that it was not, compared to last year. Could it have been better? Yes. Should it have been better? YES. But, I am taking what comes my way and am letting myself choose gratefulness and gentleness.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”Victor Frankl
Summer was good. Unexpected moments of peace and happiness filled it up along with the usual dose of crazy. There were trunk picnics and beach time, strolls in the park and just lazying around with family. There was a lot of music and a whole lot of boxes to unpack in our new home. There were lots of new books and play dates too.
We are learning to make this new home ours. We are finding our happy spots and we are finding corners that keep our secrets. We are learning. The little boy’s best friend moved across seas to a different country and he had his first heartbreak. He learned to miss his friend. The baby girl is discovering the joys of riding a tricycle and eating a whole lot of ice cream. I don’t know what the husband man is up to but I am learning, slowly, to be okay with being around people. Sounds strange, doesn’t it.
As the new school year is a few days away, my heart wants to rejoice. Rejoice as my son and his friends will be going to school for the first time, a big step indeed. Rejoice at them being together, learning and being goofy and playing and doing all that six year olds are supposed to be doing. Their face masks will be hiding their big smiles but I am confident the eyes will be shining as brightly as possible.
But I am rejoicing cautiously.
I am relying on the kindness of neighbors and fellow parents when it comes to the mask. I am relying on the fact that they will be doing what is needed to keep all the children, mine and theirs, safe.
And so, as the last week of this year’s summer vacation starts, I am looking at more ice creams in the backyard and extra cuddle time in the mornings. I am looking at family movies and silly finger paintings.I am looking at the brother who just knows what the baby sister wants and I am thinking about the little sister who gives the best hugs. I am looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary.
It has been a while. I see I have around 9 drafts, all of which I had started with passion and a lot of ideas. And then somewhere in the humdrum of daily life, the ideas fizzled and I ran out of enough energy to revitalize those. A whole lot of nothingness and moments of significance, moments that put the whole act of living in perspective, filled up the space and time in between.
The pandemic has turned everything upside down and in all impossible directions and people probably have had enough of it. I for one, am tired. But when a few months ago, my home country of India got ravaged not only because of the virus but also because of an inept and corrupt administration, for the first time in the last 18 months I felt helpless. This is, however, neither the time nor the place to explain that feeling, but to see loss like I had never seen before, was surely overwhelming. A classmate from high school, who was pregnant with twins, succumbed to the virus leaving behind two extremely premature babies who will have to grow up without their mother. Their mother went to the land of no return without fulfilling her long cherished dream of becoming a mother. A friend lost her parents within a span of 4 days and a cousin bid adieu to her mother over the phone from across the seas. My very best friend is still recovering from the after effects after 4 months and a long hospital stay. These are just a handful of incidents that are by no means isolated or unique. Life is such, I must have read somewhere and perhaps have known, but had never experienced such hopelessness before and that took a toll on me. While there was so much to be thankful for and there still is, it did become a bit difficult this time to hold on to that good. As I read today in an article on EMS personnel in New York, ‘you cannot dip your paintbrush in the wonderful and cover up the tragic’.
But as life goes on, so must we. It is such a storyteller, won’t you agree? And to find the extraordinary in the ordinary rhythms of life is what we strive for, perhaps.
Spring is around the corner, here in North America. Though we had some ice rain a couple of nights back, yet I choose to believe that spring is almost here. A tree here and a tree there will tell one that. Set against the bright blue sky, it is difficult to miss the tiny pink buds trying to peek out a bit. The occasional chirping of birds and kids running around in the neighborhood are all indications of that time of the year that is probably the most awaited one. At least weather wise. This is the time when something wondrous begins to happen and one cannot help but feel what can closely be defined as, perhaps, happiness. Far from the bustle of the human world, it would appear, the buds get ready to captivate us, the way they do every single year. And we await that beauty,with as much excitement as if we were about to witness all the glory unfold for the first time.
I skip a bit as I try to keep up with my kid’s newfound freedom. Freedom from being indoors, freedom from the weight of heavy jackets and mittens and the occasional snow boot, freedom from hearing all the many no-s and maybe-s that have sadly become more common in our daily conversations. The joy is undeniable. Mother and son both hum a tune, and make plans for summer that promises, almost, to bring more sunshine. Masked people and the unmasked sun…we will take that for now.
I have always kept ‘politics’ out of this space… there is enough of that anyways all around. But today I make an exception. An exception because after four years of, to put it mildly, a dismal state of affairs, filled with rhetoric that has been one of hatred and divisiveness only, my adopted home country has a leader who is the antithesis of his predecessor. But it’s not just that, since any decent human being is the antithesis of he- who shall- not -be- named. It is much more than that. The election here in the US pitted neighbors against each other with a fervor that is perhaps rare and in spite of all the venom spewing, enough people did the right thing. And that mattered. But, since this is not a political post, I will refrain from the details of the post-election period leading up to the official inauguration of the new president… the world has witnessed all of that with shock I assume. Instead, I choose to focus on the amazing things that have happened. This administration is probably one of a kind. And it’s not just because the country got it’s first female VP ever, but because this administration has, as its leaders and representatives, people who are as diverse as those who call this place home. It’s a recognition and almost a celebration of the diversity that makes this country unique. A new dawn is hopefully upon us when a period of healing and hoping can begin. The beginning of coming together of enough people so that the rhetoric of hatred does not get a platform to be heard. There is trepidation but there is also happiness. And at the same time, there will always be a lot of theories, mostly conspiracies, but we shall choose to not respond with malice.
But perhaps these are lofty words, who knows. Still, the wish is for this moment to bring hope to those of us who need it and to also restore faith in those of us who were probably beginning to question the basic tenets of humanity, morality and just basic decency. And maybe also in just our own selves and in the power of doing the right thing. There will always be darkness but there also will be light to pierce through that dark. We have to be willing to do what is needed, time and again, always. It’s a moment of coming together, a moment that has been long overdue. This does not mean that all will magically heal, far from that. But the journey can begin, in small tangible steps. In the empowering words of Amanda Gorman (if you have not listened to her yet, do so when you get a chance) who is the youngest person ever chosen to write a poem for the presidential inauguration and the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate:
Fall is on its way out here in Jersey and the bare branches against the evening sky of violet and pink and grey often remind me of Joyce’s Araby. The street lights, children’s voices echoing through the streets and a chilly evening air complete my reminiscence of North Richmond Street.
The other day, while going through some of my keepsake boxes I came across bits and pieces of memories and as I went through each of those (and there were quite a lot), I realized how every single one of those had a story of its own, the very reason we have such boxes! As specifics other than the obvious ones kept getting tossed around in my mind, I figured out I was storing not just the one memory attached to one thing, but a host of others as well that had crept their way into each, with time. And I was reminded again that the most beautiful, the most precious things in life can never be things. Those are always people and the moments that we create with them, those are frowns and tears, smiles and giggles, celebrations and losses.
I found a pendant that I had bought for my Ma back in 2008 from Japan. I saw a diaper ( a fresh one of course!) that was from the first box of diapers we had bought for our son. Among other things, I found ticket stubs of a movie we went to for our 5th anniversary , a lunch receipt from the restaurant we had our meal on the day we moved into our current apartment, a bracelet gifted to me when I was 14 years old by my then best friend. Old albums brought back memories of last day of school, of my then 89 year old grandmother who had made the journey from her home to ours to attend my wedding, of a neighbor who had made time to surprise and see me off at the airport when I was leaving for Japan. My first crush, my first fight with my best friend, the one and only day I was reprimanded by a teacher in high school, the time I heard about one of closest friend’s decision to end her marriage, the first time I spoke with and advocated for a victim of domestic abuse and countless such moments are carefully stored in pockets of my mind and heart. And, it suddenly dawned on me that I am a mosaic of all the people I have loved and held dear and of all those who have loved and cared for me. We all are.
In all that we do, that love shines through in its own way. Sometimes it comes to us through the smell that fills our kitchens, the very smell that used to fill the kitchens of our childhood at our parents’ place and sometimes it informs our parenting style. From simple things like the habit of always mixing a salty snack with something sweet ( I get this from my father) to the reason some songs sound more magical, it influences our reactions to situations and moments, it lets us make choices and it works with our own understanding of the matters of the heart and the world to help us move forward in life. The innate characteristics that define the ‘I‘, are not only our people and our experiences, old traditions and the ones we start on our own, the life we have left behind and the one that we currently lead, they also are a million other bits and pieces from all across the universe. These come floating by through the changing seasons, through revolutions that bring about change, through portraits of places far and wide, through the words that are carefully chosen for biographies that find place in our nightstands, through our daily strifes as well as stories of success. We are the custodians of all these and so much more.
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.