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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Guest post :Tryst with Life

I feel very privileged to publish a guest post by my friend and classmate from Holy Cross, Dora. When I first pitched the idea, she shied away saying that she couldn't possibly write anything good. I insisted that each one of us has a unique set of experiences that make us who we are. People connect to your words as long as those are real. I wasn't wrong. She wrote this beautiful piece about her father who passed away suddenly last July. For a glimpse into the pure love of our parents and her bittersweet reminiscences, read on: 

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy birthday to you!” That’s how Baba used to wish me at the stroke of the midnight hour on my birthday. I so wish to have recorded that moment, only if I knew I would never get to hear that again! I always believed that life is unpredictable, but Baba’s sudden demise surely made me see life with a new perspective! It’s almost a year now since Baba left us. I can still feel a void inside me, an emptiness which I do not want to share with anyone. That’s something I own, something which I want to carry along, maybe for my entire life.

Baba was never good with expressions, something I must have inherited from him. He never hugged me and said, “Love you Shona”. I always used to feel that difference when I saw fathers lovingly hugging their daughters around, expressing their love in various possible ways. It took me years to realize that it’s difficult to define love and its varied expressions; I now feel love watches over, love takes no time off, love is a sentinel, forever watching those in its care. I still remember the day, back in 2007, when Baba got admitted for the first time. We were supposed to go out shopping, and Baba promised to gift me a new smartphone; a new craze I had induced from my hostel! I had just enrolled for my post-graduation in Jaipur and was in Kolkata on a break. He got diagnosed with COPD, a chronic lung disease along with Tachycardia, a heart ailment. When I went to see him, he was resting on the ICU bed. I could sense that he was in pain, so I thought of not disturbing him and quietly sat beside him. The moment he opened his eyes and saw me, he said: “Go and buy your phone, why are you here!” With teary eyes, I rushed out to Ma “How can he say that? He is so sick !” Ma hugged me and said, “Don’t worry, he will be fine.” Many admissions followed in the coming years, but he always used to be back home hale and hearty. The same thing I expected this time too! So when Ma told me last June that Baba has been admitted for a general checkup, “Don’t worry he will be fine” is what I told myself.

“Benuda has been diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, there is nothing much we can do” Mamaji said. I walked out of the consultant room and stood still. It was the first time I realized what it was to feel insanely helpless! I rushed to his bedside, tears gushing out of my eyes I stood still staring at his restless unconscious body. Every time I called him, he looked at me like a stranger. I was infuriated; the fact that I could not do much for him, could not relate his weakness and back pain with something as grave as cancer, could not give him the luxuries that he deserved, could not express my gratitude for all that he did for me. No amount of regret could give me back the moments lost, and I stood there silently hoping that he knew how much he meant to me! At that very moment all I could pray for was to speak with him for one last time; to ask his forgiveness for all my mistakes, to hug him and thank him for whatever he did for me, and to tell him a million times that I love him!

Exactly a month post his diagnosis I lost dad to cancer. It was a painful battle with no positive consequence. The memories still haunt me at night and keep me awake; that feeling that I will never get to see him again, hear him again, and feel him around me is suffocating. I still wait for his call and long to hear his voice; 'Babu' he used to call me fondly. But I know that’s never going to happen, and I am slowly learning to live with it, be at peace with it.

Seeing Baba's struggle, I have learned a valuable lesson; life truly is unpredictable, but it’s beautiful in its own ways. I feel truly blessed being alive, yes alive! I now feel that’s the biggest blessing that I could have ever asked for. Can't thank God enough for keeping me healthy, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the small moments that matter; thankful for letting me see, smell, touch, walk, eat, laugh, cry, love, hug, sleep, dance; the list includes all such very basic moments which we tend to ignore in our daily life. That’s what matters, don’t you think? Can we enjoy any of our luxuries if we are not well, can we enjoy the simple pleasures of life if we are not healthy, and will the daily worries that disturbs us matter if we are chronically unwell? No! Right?

I am trying to learn the art to simplify life; focusing on the small moments, and ignoring the agonies that will not matter five years down the line. It’s not easy and needs a lot of retrospection and practice, but it’s really worth a try.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

যোদ্ধা রাজকণ্যা (The Warrior Princess)

Recently, I purchased a copy of Thakurmar Jhuli again and I was surprised to discover the gender bias ingrained in the stories. The stereotypical rivalry between the queens, the princesses valued only for their beauty, the prince going out on adventures. I thought it was time my next generation had a different story. So, you may call it Pishimar Jhuli instead of Thakurmar Jhuli. In all fairness, Thakurmar Jhuli was first published in 1907 and the stories precede that. I’d like to think that there has been a significance change in the Bengali society since then and most of you are ready for a new hero. A hero irrespective of gender, a hero by the virtue of their personality traits and not for their pulchritude. I hope that both adults and children will enjoy this tale. Let me know what you think!

P.S. This story is NOT a criticism of current Bengali society. The author's note is merely a forethought about the scope and necessity of a retelling of our fairytales.

সম্প্রতি, আমি ঠাকুরমার ঝুলির এক কপি কিনেছি এবং গল্পগুলোতে কিছু লিঙ্গ-পক্ষপাতমূলক বদ্ধমূল ধারণা দেখে বিস্মিত হয়েছি। রাণীদের মধ্যে গতানুগতিক দ্বন্দ্ব, রাজকুমারীদের শুধুমাত্র তাদের সৌন্দর্যের জন্য মূল্যায়ন আর শুধুমাত্র রাজকুমারদেরই কাজ বুঝি দুঃসাহসিক অভিযানে বেরোনো? আমার মনে হয় আমাদের পরবর্তী প্রজন্মের জন্য একটা আলাদা রকমের গল্প লেখার সময় হয়েছে। তুমি এটাকে "ঠাকুরমার ঝুলি" না বলে "পিসিমার ঝুলি" বলতে পারো। সত্যি বলতে কি ঠাকুরমার ঝুলি তো ১৯০৭ সালে প্রথম প্রকাশিত হয়েছিল এবং গল্প গুলো তারও আগের । আমার মনে হয় তখন থেকে বাঙালি সমাজে অনেক তাৎপর্যপূর্ণ পরিবর্তন হয়েছে এবং তোমাদের অধিকাংশই এক নতুন নায়কের জন্য প্রস্তুত; এমন নায়ক যে লিঙ্গ নির্বিশেষে, তার ব্যক্তিত্বের বৈশিষ্ট্যে, শক্তি ও কর্মদক্ষতার জন্য নায়ক, সৌন্দর্য্যের জন্য নয়। আমি আশা করি প্রাপ্তবয়স্ক ও শিশুরা সবাই এই কাহিনী উপভোগ করবে। এ সম্পর্কে তোমার মতামত অবশ্যই জানিও !

যোদ্ধা রাজকণ্যা 

এক দেশে এক রাজা ছিল।তার দুই রাণী - সুয়ো রাণী আর দুয়ো রাণী। রাজার কোন ছেলেপুলে ছিল না বলে রাজার মনে খুব দুঃখ ছিল। একদিন তিনি খবর পেলেন যে পাশের জঙ্গলে এক মুনি এসে বিশ্রাম করছেন। তার কাছে রাজা-প্রজা সব সমান। যে তাকে তুষ্ট করতে পারবে তাকে বুক ভরে আশীর্বাদ দেবেন, আর যার ওপর রুষ্ট হবেন তার সাত বংশকে অভিশাপ দেবেন।  রাজা একদিন গিয়ে সেখানে নিজেই উপস্থিত হলেন।  গিয়ে দেখলেন ভুসো কালি মাখা, মাথায় জটা, বিদঘুটে একটা লোক গাছতলায় বসে ধ্যান করছে । আসে পাশে ছড়িয়ে ছিটিয়ে কিছু লোক তার জন্যে অপেক্ষা করছে। মুনি একে একে সবার নাম নিচ্ছেন আর তারা উঠে গিয়ে তার বেদির সামনে উপস্থিত হচ্ছে, তখন তিনি কারোর গাল টিপে, কারোর চুল টেনে কি সব বলছেন। 

রাজার পালা এলে, রাজা ভক্তি ভোরে হাত জোর করে গাছতলায় পৌঁছুলেন। মুনি বললেন- 'হুম! সন্তান চাই? নে, এই ফলটা দুই রাণীকে ভাগ করে খাইয়ে দিবি। মনে রাখবি, সমান ভাগ হয় যেন!'

রাজা ঘোড়া ছুটিয়ে রাজ্প্রাসাদ ফিরে গেলেন। আর সঙ্গে সঙ্গে অন্দরমহল গিয়ে দুই রাণীকে বললেন- এক্ষুনি এটা সমান ভাগ করে খাও!'

কিন্তু সুয়ো রাণী খুব হিংসুটে ছিল। সে ভাবলো-'দুয়ো আমার ছোট, আমার অধিকার বেশি!'
তাই সে ফলটার দু ভাগ করে বড় ভাগটা নিজে খেল আর দুয়ো রাণীকে ছোট ভাগটা দিল। 

কদিন পর রাণীদের ঘরে সন্তান হলো। সুয়ো রাণীর হল সূর্যের মত ফুটফুটে রাজপুত্র আর দুয়োরাণীর হলো চাঁদের মতো রাজকণ্যা । সবাই দেখে বলতে লাগলো রাজপুত্র কি সুন্দর রাজা হবে! আর রাজকণ্যার রূপের আঁচে সব জ্বলে যাবে!

কিন্তু রাজপুত্র বড় হয়ে ওর মার মতো হিংসুটে হয়ে উঠল। ও ভাবত বাবা খালি বোনকে ভালোবাসে। রাজকণ্যা  কিন্তু তার মার মতো সরল, মিশুকে আর মিষ্টি। দাদার পেটে যে এতো বিষ সে জানত না। 

রাজা দুই ছেলে মেয়েকে অস্ত্রশিক্ষা আর শাস্ত্রশিক্ষা দিতে লাগলেন। প্রজারা কেউ কেউ ভাবলো - বুড়ো রাজার ভীমরতি হয়েছে - মেয়ের হাতে কেউ অস্ত্র তুলে দেয় নাকি ? রাজা সেসব কানাঘুষোতে দৃকপাত করলেন না।

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Conversations #1

My uber driver just told me: Your perfume smells nice. You smell like fresh orange blossoms when they first open. I used to live in Florida and you remind me of the orange orchards.
I told him it is Tom Ford Jasmine Rouge and it does have top notes of Mandarin. I had to compliment him on his sharp sense of smell. He said that his friends call him a freak. My marketing brain was already thinking of a slogan for a perfume ad: Smell like a burst of freshly bloomed orange blossoms 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why work?

Yesterday, I met a Vietnamese man named Cuong whose mother used to work at the historic Agnew Insane Asylum in Santa Clara. He said that most of the inmates were 'normal' people who acted insane so that they could live comfortably without working for it. It reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest where the central character, Randle McMurphy, faked mental illness to avoid hard labor in prison.

In those days, Agnews treated the mentally disturbed; housed the aged, vagrants and the helpless; and was a detention facility for “imbeciles, dotards, drunkards, simpletons, and fools.” (official version)

When it first opened in 1888, there were only 65 inmates, transferred from the Stockton Asylum- California's first psychiatric hospital. By 1906, the number had increased to 1,800.

Cuong said that it is unfair that the difference of rewards between those who work and those who don't is so little in this country. He asked me- why should I work so hard then if I can sit at home and draw welfare checks? I won't live comfortably, but I can get by.

Then he looked at me and said- You must earn a lot. But you must be paying a lot of taxes too. Wait till you have bought property here.

I told him that there is no pride in welfare checks if you didn't genuinely need them.  I believe that working hard for pennies is more respectable than being a freeloader. Also, when you start acting like an invalid, you run the risk of getting caught in your own lie and making it your life's reality.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Service encounter #2

The UPS guy missed me at home and delivered two of my online orders to the leasing office of my apartment community. I called up the leasing office to check if they had it. Someone named Noel picked up and confirmed that they had two packages waiting for me.

I went to the office to pick them up when a man named Brad insisted that they weren't any packages for my apartment. I asserted that I had spoken to Noel a while ago and my Amazon tracking shows someone called Brad signed it in. Then I noticed his name tag: Oh, it's you!

He went inside again and came back with the packages, apologizing for his mistake- 'It's all over the place! Nothing is where it should be!'

I said, 'No problem! ' and walked out calmly.

This could have gone wrong at various levels. Firstly, I understood his mistake was genuine, and several boxes were waiting for their rightful owner. Maintaining inventory could be overwhelming. Secondly, I didn't know this guy. He has no reason to have any personal grudges against me and deprive me of my organic cold-pressed castor oil or cosplay costume.

Most service encounters go wrong when both the customer and the representative are not willing to share responsibility. It is very easy to push the blame onto someone else and make it someone's else problem. (In case of Brad, it was 'Nothing is where it should be!')

He has just one job: to keep track of resident packages. He can either look for a few more extra seconds or come back with an excuse.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Houston, we have a problem here

A language problem.

Sangram was telling me the other day how odd it was to hear one of his Indian collaborators say,'Forget about it!' in response to his,'Sorry about that!'Though it is quite the standard response in Indian English to an apology, we are now more tuned to hearing,'Oh that's okay!' or 'Don't worry about it.' Just as 'Be quiet' is a more polite way to say, 'Shut up!'

I used to say 'Chill Yaar!' a lot in college. In fact, I think I once said it to my Dad, and he responded, 'Nahi Yaar!' Not everyone is a sport about it. Someone I know was unfriended on Facebook (and in real life) because she responded,'Chill !' to a comment. At that time, I didn't realize that it can sound rude in certain contexts.

Language is a living, dynamic thing. Our usage and preferences also change over time with the environment. If someone speaks loudly, I feel why he/she is so rude? When most of the times, they are just animated. Maybe if we are aware of the nuances, we can avoid miscommunication in different cultural contexts.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just another day in a working mom's life

Hi readers,
This is a guest post from my friend Sejuti. She wrote something and shared with me, which I loved. She doesn't blog so I thought it'd fun to post it here (with her permission). Love such spontaneous notes.

We met this really nice couple while sleigh riding with our 16-months old in Mt. Washington Resort. We had taken a luxury one-day trip, and since our brand new walker could not ski that year, we just enjoyed the associated perks without the physical activity. We got talking with the couple wowing over how well behaved our baby was, who blissfully went to sleep in his dad's arms. It was just magical, so pretty, with the sleeping baby, riding a mammoth horse driven carriage in the snow. Talking about the snow, it came up how our co-passengers were not used to snow in Indiana and it made life so much harder in New Hampshire. Like a stereotypical East Coaster, I think the only place west of us is California, but we learned that it can get pretty cold in Indiana too. I think I actually said aloud that if it's cold it might as well snow. The romantic in me will never die.

Anyway, so I admired the couple for moving across the country with a middle schooler and a high schooler. And here WE are, going on and on about can we really live outside of Boston? We both had moved our lives from a totally different country at 22 years with two suitcases, only to meet each other and have two off-shoots, a 4-years old Springer Spaniel, and a toddler after 10 years in Boston now. I also loved how the middle-aged couple kept their romance alive and decided to take a day trip, just the two of them. It so happened that their kids had school on President's day, but he had the day off and decided to make an impromptu trip out of it. So, there he quipped isn't it such an odd holiday, and I gushed how wonderful it was to get the day off! He then totally shifted his attention to my husband, the quieter of the two of us, and asked if his workplace gave the day off. It was such a harmless way his mind was programmed to function but just turned on the reality of the everyday world and the subtle bias that we face every day. It doesn't need to be an outrageous act, just little thoughts that need to change, little ways I can make a difference raising my son, little ways I remind myself I should not feel guilty for spending time away at work.