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Sunday, August 06, 2017

On Friendship Day

On friendship day, I have to thank all my good friends who prop me when I am feeling down. Who share their good news with me because they know I will be happy for them. Who share my craziness with me. Who eat all my experimental food and love it. Who encourage me to write. Who are courteous to my parents. Who can talk to me for hours because they like our conversations. Who remind me of the goodness in me. Who give me an opportunity to be affectionate and hence improve my emotional well-being.

There are too many to tag in this post. You know who you are. And when I think of you, I believe I have been very fortunate when it comes to friends. Sure, I have met people who manipulate and lie, but they are not my friends. And they are not in my life. We choose our friends. And that free will makes relationships so strong. You don't 'have to' anything for your friends, you do it because you want to.

Of course, there are challenges of being 'best friends' in adult life. Sometimes, we judge compatibility based on income, lifestyle, ages of kids. If you are married, it has to be good vibes from four different people, which makes it even more challenging.  Maybe we should judge our compatibility based on our beliefs, our creative pursuits, common hobbies instead.

I have faith that there are good people in this world. And I want to give them my time. I want to foster an environment that encourages them to let their guard down and confide in me. Let our hair loose and be our silly selves at least for a couple of hours. There is always a chance of betrayal. But I hope that every person values true friendship and has the maturity to identify one when they come across it. Don't be a situational friend. Be a,' Call me when you are in the Emergency Room' friend. But don't abuse that privilege either if you are on the receiving end. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Why are we friends?

Some of my friends replied:

Soma Basak
Because I like you

Shweta Yadav
Because you are a girl with imagination! And you use that to be creative! That's attractive!

Chandrima Roy
We were classmates and got along well back then and it good to stay connected now too though through FB.  Given a chance, I would definitely meet u.

Tanuka Bhattacharjee
We met for the first time in Dibyendu Sir's house, and we jelled along right from the first meeting. I found you, Jaya and Bijaya to be very simple, jovial and friendly...And gradually started counting all three you among my friends.

Priyanka Mehta
We became FB friends as we all do as a half remembered acquaintances.
We became actual friends as we liked the same things, felt strongly about certain topics and overall loved what the other was excited about.

And then I like your soul, who you are as a person and you're someone I definitely want to have in my life. There's always a flow of beautiful energy full of affection.

Of course, I love your food, makeup, and selfies

Suryatapa Chakravarty
A story a day, that's how it started, ages ago

Saikat Bose
One spring evening, as you ran a high temperature, you decided to venture out in the chill, to witness two wandering souls slowly walking towards each other... As you rolled up your eyes in despair watching the slo-mo action... You decided to kill the guy walking from the other end...   the reason that the guy is still alive and is typing this... shows the souls of dragons are still alive. That's how the dragon souls met.

Sonia Dey
Because you are one of my best critic and that badass personality I am in love with!
LoveShow more reactions ·

Swati Kar
Because u r an independent lady, were a nice senior to me and I love reading ur food blog.

Sejuti Sengupta
Only because we could get drunk on JP Licks's Kahlua ice cream

Raikishori Ganguly
Years ago you showed me two fingers & asked me how many fingers I saw.... You taught me to reflect & nudged me to think beyond the obvious but we were friends long ago... It feels like we were born friends!

Soumyajit Dutta Roy
Let's just say I was a misogynist pig back then (when i was 14 / 15) ..and Raikishori Ganguly and you helped me change that view...

Paramita Paul
Bcoz u r a well wisher and not my enemy

Sudeshna Ghosh
Because you are you!

If I am ever feeling sad, I will always come back to this post to remember how my friends found me. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Judging the book by its cover

I was talking to a retail employee at Giorgio Armani at Westfield where I asked him the difference between his experiences in retail in Vegas and in Silicon Valley. 

He mentioned that here people walk in wearing their summer shorts and flip flops and buy the most expensive stuff in the store. If anyone is dressed, they are either salesmen or going for an interview. In Vegas, where a lot of people are attending conferences and conventions, most of the customers are shopping for a replacement suit which they had ruined the previous night.

I had to laugh at how true it is. I love to dress up when I go out, but the culture here is definitely not the reason. If you go to Castro Street or Santana Row, you will often see people in sweatpants. Some of them own start-ups and are worth in millions. Yet, when you talk to them, they are like regular people. No airs. Only when you refer to their area of expertise, you realize their capital is their knowledge. 

If I have learned one thing living in this place, it is- never judge a book by its cover.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Metamorphosis

My father is rereading a short story collection by Kafka. We remembered the time I had read 'The Metamorphosis' when I was in standard IX. My father had advised against it, 'Wait for a couple of years.' I went ahead anyway, thinking, what could a novella do? I had nightmares the night I read it. And developed an irrational fear that I would turn into a cockroach (my translation of a monstrous vermin)

Maybe we should just enjoy the story in its absurd realm. But to draw parallels, I think we fear to become irrelevant to our loved ones. The most absurd thing was probably how indifferent his family was about his transformation. But I thought of it this way- what if a man met with an accident, became invalid and a prisoner in his own body? Wouldn't he be in the same predicament as Gregor Samsa? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Midnight in Paris

They say Paris is magical at midnight. I walked out of my hotel to experience that. After an unpleasant smell of what appears to be an open toilet for a homeless guy, I walked up to Pont de Grenelle, a  bridge across the River Seine.

I half expected some revelers from the past to sweep me back in time, like they do in the movies,  for a night with some of the greatest minds of art and literature. Hemingway, Picasso, Stein, Monet, Hugo- it didn't matter which part of historical reality. I imagined an enlightening conversation that would give me the unified mantra of life. A few phrases that would help me through every ordeal I ever face.

Then I look around, a family of refugees in the park, young people laughing by the river bank. The Eiffel Tower lit up like a million fireflies are climbing up and down. After everything the city has seen in recent years - all the showmanship by the terrorists to frighten the people and the head of states into reaction has yielded nothing. Because life goes on.

I believe the mantra I was looking for is: Be alive.

The Eiffel Tower at Midnight. Every hour from 9 pm to 1 am at the strike of the hour, the Eiffel sparkles like diamonds for 5 mins as the lights change from a continuous glow to a dazzling glitter. The lights go out after 1 am.

At Le Moulin Rouge (The Red Mill)

It was a lavish extravaganza featuring pirates, an Indian princess, classic can-can dancers, circus clowns, miniature horses, a talking dog, a gorgeous woman dancing in water with pythons (my favorite act) and three specialty acts. We decided to go at the 11th hour and were not disappointed, even though I have seen several shows in Vegas.

 The Notre-Dame is a medieval gothic Catholic cathedral

The Louvre Pyramid

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle

In the heart of the Emerald City, Seattle, there is a glass art exhibition showcasing the life's work of Dale Chihuly. Born in the Pacific Northwest, Chihuly began experimenting with glass blowing in 1969 and later traveled to Venice to work at the Venini factory on the island of Murano. The world famous Murano glassmakers still lead the world in the art of glassblowing.

I first saw a glass museum on our way to Niagra Falls with my friends on a 4th July weekend, way back in 2008. Then, SG and I received two gorgeous Murano glass centerpieces in 2010, as a wedding gift from an Italian family friend. I have left it for safekeeping with my mother-in-law unless we find a nice spot to house them.

In 1976,  Chihuly had a head-on car accident in which he flew through the windshield, got severe cuts in the face and got blinded in the left eye leading to his loss of depth perception. Then in 1979, in a bodysurfing accident, he dislocated his right shoulder. Chihuly relinquished his gaffer position and let others work on his designs. He started to communicate his vision by drawing forms which became an important part of his self-expression. In an interview in 2006, he said,'Once I stepped back, I liked the view.'

Glass Forest
Organic forms created by letting glass down from a ladder

Mille Fiori (a thousand flowers)
Inspired by Chihuly's mother's garden
Mille Fiori, in Italian, also refers to a type of honey gathered from several flowers

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Chihuly often beachcombed and found Japanese fishing net floats along the beaches of Puget Sound. The Ikebana and Float Boats were inspired by this childhood experience.  In the mid-1990s, he was in Finland when he threw his glass forms into the local river near the glass factory there.

One day, Dale woke up and said that he wanted to hang glass chandeliers in his favorite city, Venice. He had seen a chandelier in Barcelona in a low lying ceiling. It inspired him to make the chandelier series.

Similar to a floppy bowl I made in BAGI, these art pieces are clouds of bright color

A reflection of the Seattle Space Needle on a glass ball in the garden

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Letter from a Leaf

I attended a writing workshop yesterday at The Arsenal by Lita Kurth, the co-founder of Flash Fiction Forum, San Jose. We did several exercises, one of which was to pen down either an autobiography of a leaf or a letter from a leaf. I chose the later. I would like to share the first draft with you.
Dear Ma,

It has been a while since I last saw you. After the gardener had pruned some of our sisters with his gigantic shears, we lay on the ground for hours in the scorching heat. Some of us crumbled and gave up. But Tessa and I kept hoping for a spot of rain.

A young woman with purple hair picked us up and took us home. She put us on her writing desk and started sketching details of our anatomy. Occasionally, she touched or smelled us. We were delighted to be there.

But soon her art project ended, and she threw Tessa away. I did not see her after that. The woman put me in one of her notebooks, and now I live across one of the poems she wrote about love. One day, I saw her weep. Her tear drops fell on a few lines of my neighboring poem and smudged a few words. When she closed the notebook, I got a black stain. But I don't mind. I had seen the woman when she was most vulnerable, and I think it is a privilege.

Don't worry about me. I'm living beyond the lifespan of my other siblings who fell to the ground the day we were pruned. Sometimes, it makes me feel guilty. But I think you'll be happy to know that I survived.

Your loving daughter,

Saturday, June 24, 2017

He drew windows everywhere

A poem by Roberto Juarroz, an Argentine poet famous for his 'Poesía vertical' (Vertical poetry)

He drew windows everywhere. 
On walls too high,
on walls too low,
on blunt walls, in corners,
on air and even on roofs. 

He drew windows as if drawing birds. 
On the floor, on nights,
on glances tangibly deaf,
on death's outskirts,
on tombs, trees. 

He drew windows even on doors. 
But he never drew a door. 
He didn't want to enter or leave. 
He knew one can't. 

He only wanted to see: to see. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Of Language and Accents

People pick up accents from where they live and work. When people accuse you of faking an accent, they probably think that you are doing it on purpose and struggling behind it. But expressions and phrases can make their way into your vocabulary organically. It depends on the amount of interaction with the locals.

We were taught British pronunciation and spellings in school. But now, I need subtitles to understand thick British accents on TV. The nature of language is fluid. What was once yours can become foreign one day. Though Hannah Arendt once said in her famous interview: 'What remains? The language remains.' What happens to those who do not have the opportunity to continue learning their mother tongue? I see a lot of children born in the US conversing exclusively in  American English. Some might feel it is a cultural betrayal.

But I want to tell them- the kids are growing up in a different environment. Their teachers, friends, family friends speak a common language. If they choose to converse in American English, let them. If some day they feel the need to learn about their roots, they will. Of course, some people make sure the kids are exposed to their mother tongue. Since Hindi, Bengali, or Tamil is not taught in schools here, it means extra coaching. I admire the tenacity. But is it really essential to love your mother tongue first? Learn of course, but love? What if someone can converse better in a different language? I love reading Bengali literature, but that doesn't mean I have to treat the first language I learned in school (English) differently All are mediums to express my thoughts. And no matter how many words I use in what language, I never feel it is complete.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Humans of Silicon Valley: JP

Have you ever stopped to think that beyond the visible spectrum of our universe, lie millions and millions of other galaxies, more vibrant and warm than the one we live in? Maybe there is an alien life more intelligent than ours. However, as Calvin (Bill Watterson) would say: The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. But what if through a magical portal you could reach another life like yours but equally different?

I had the good fortune of meeting JP recently. A 40-year-old French-American with a little twinkle in his eyes. He lives in Bay Area with his husband and two kittens-Princess and Alien. He plays the harpsichord, loves Baroque music, and works in the software industry. He dropped out of high school when he was 17, taught himself to code in BASIC, Pascal, x86 assembly,  c, and c++. One of the reasons he moved from France was that it was easier to get a job in the US without a formal degree. But even in the liberal bosom of Silicon Valley, there are some impediments to overcome, for example, in companies where you need higher education to become a direct hire and enter the tier system of designation and salaries.

When I told him that I love my job because I have all the creative freedom I need, he lamented that the software industry is not what it used to be and engineers are having less and less to do with the creative process while the managers make the decisions about what needs to be done and how. He wants to change fields but he has already invested so many years in IT security, and it is not always that easy. He will probably have to take a pay cut too.

Though he was born in the US, he grew up in a village in France with a population of about 5000. He biked to school through the woods. His father was a Particle Physicist who worked for the government.

I asked him, ' Don't you feel suffocated in this jungle of concrete?'

‘I don't live in this jungle,’ he said with a sheepish smile.

'Of course, I forget, you live in the hills!' I laughed.

Then he shared an interesting anecdote about how his next-door neighbor had to dig his own well because the Santa Clara County line ends just at his place. He talked about the renovations he made to his place recently and advised me against investing in properties in Florida and putting too many eggs in one basket. ‘There are several cost disadvantages to investing in different locations too,' he explained.

He married in 2013 after the US Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision in the United States v. Windsor) declared that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

He told me how he fought with the DMV in 2008 to get his vanity plate 'HIV POZ'. When he first applied, his request was rejected. At that time, the story caught the attention of some local news agencies. 'My three minutes of fame,' he joked. A DMV spokesperson had said that a team of personnel reviews vanity plates and determines whether submissions are inappropriate or offensive, from degrading sexual terms to negative references.

JP said, 'I don’t think it’s something you need to hide from or be ashamed of. I wanted to break the stigma associated with it. HIV negative means that the test conducted did not show the presence of HIV virus or any kind of antibodies. However, receiving a single negative test result is not confirmation that the individual does not currently have HIV, as tests have various window periods and need to be repeated for confirmation over time depending on one's sexual history.

All types of HIV tests have a window period, which varies from 1 to 12 weeks. 3% of HIV infections still show up negative on the most common screening test, the antibody test, after 12 weeks. This means even if you go get tested today, a negative result doesn't prove you are actually currently negative. It means you were negative as of 1 to 12 weeks ago with 97% confidence. The test can only confirm if you are currently positive, but cannot conclusively prove if you are currently negative.'

He sent me links to his blog, the treatments available, and advice for sexually active gay men.

‘How do you people react to the vanity plate on the streets?’, I asked.

Most people react positively, he said. ‘Some throw high fives on the freeway, a lot of people take pictures that I can see in my mirror. Many pedestrians on the street take pics too, but there are also assholes who cut me off for no reason.’ Then he shared a thread on an online forum which had an excerpt from a news article featuring his case and  some comments like:

‘And, of course, he drive's a Prius. Not only do we have to fear being run off the road by a Prius now we have to fear HIV POZ Priuses as well!’ 
‘Hope he is never in an accident that requires on scene medical assistance.’ 
‘Way to set yourself up for a hate crime, bro. There's being open, and then there's painting a target on yourself.’ 
‘If your car gets rear-ended by the aids Prius, is it gay too now?’

I don't think it bothers him anymore. He lives a very private life and keeps to himself. And tries to educate people who are willing to listen.

(With permission)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My name, my identity

The first time someone mispronounced my name, Aparna, was in the school assembly when they were announcing the winners for a recitation contest, and they called out 'Aprana Kar'. I waited for a moment before one of my friends pushed me,' Go! It's you!' I was amused. I thought it was a relatively simple name; there was no reason to jumble it. Maybe they just misread it from the certificate. Some of my friends had it worse. Imagine what a barista at a Starbucks would do. Your coffee would never reach you.

Aparna is a name of Goddess Parvati, given to her during her severe penance, where she went without even a morsel food (not even a leaf/parna) to win over Shiva. I didn't starve for any penance, but I tried my best to score well in GMAT by closing the doors and windows to the world for several months. I consider that my hardest effort to date and I am proud of it. Shiva doesn't necessarily mean a person. It also signifies liberation. I was aiming to be liberated from the shackles of a limited existence. I think the motivation worked.

I have come across people of different countries who have more exotic, harder-to-pronounce names. They often Americanize it and use a diminutive form for ease of use. French Camaraire becomes Cameron, Greek Christos becomes Chris, Italian Rossellini becomes Russell and so on and so forth.

Friends call me Apu, Appy, Aps endearingly and I love it in every form because it signifies a unique bond. But officially, I have stayed Aparna. A name which I hated so much once because I thought it was too common. I even tried to convince my father to let me change it to Apurva (meaning unique). Now, I love it. It does not matter if your name is unique or uncommon. Are you, as a person, the first of anything significant? Then your name will live on.

Most of my American colleagues pronounce Aparna very clearly. Occasionally, it becomes Aperna. But that's cholable. A French friend calls me Aparnita affectionately. All are some aspect of my personality that only they have sensed and loved.

I grow and learn to give some significance to my name. That one day you might proudly say, 'Aparna? Of course, I know her. She is my friend.'

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

On writing

Even after a 'decent' first week's sales, the royalty from the eBook is nowhere near what I can earn in an hour if I work for a client writing blurbs or laying out content in InDesign. So, why do I want to continue writing? Simple. Because I want to.

I believe that I have stories worth telling and people I know have often commended me on my use of words. I believe in simplicity in all things. My way of life, my food, my emotions laid bare- everything is very uncomplicated. But it is not uninvolved.

Our parents and grandparents used stories to tell us what we ought to know. Virtues of the protagonist were usually the ones they hoped we would develop as we grew older. People often write to say something about themselves that they otherwise can not in an everyday conversation. My personal experience has been very transformative. If I could, I would insist that everyone should take up some form of writing- poetry, prose, lyrics, even a scrapbook or a journal.

In the end, I'd like to quote Tobias Wolff,

'We live by stories. It’s the principle by which we organize our experience and thus derive our sense of who we are...
we put a beginning and an end to a thing, and we leave things out, and we heighten other things...
because that’s the only way we can give it significance.'

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kindle eBook: Belief

I am very pleased to share that my first eBook ( a short story of about 20 pages) is now live on Amazon. You don't need to own a tablet or a Kindle device, you can view it using the Kindle app for Android, Mac or Windows.

Though self-publication is the most convenient way to offer your work to others, there are certain limitations to it. The cover page, the content layout, and the formatting have all been done by yours truly over a weekend. There is a possibility that you might find some errors because the automated conversion from PDF to Kindle supported DRM format via Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP) is usually fraught with issues. I invite you to share them with me at I will try my best to fix those.

It would help if you can leave a review on both Amazon and Goodreads, even if it is just a few words. If you like the short story, please share it with your friends.

eBook links:

Cover page

PDF preview of first page

'Belief' is now #15 in Kindle Short Reads in the US.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Identity and passion

All my life, I have wanted to become a writer. But I have realized that the world is full of dilettantes who keep wishing to become something without making any serious efforts. I hate a weak will. I hate it when people say-'Wish I could do that!' and then do nothing about it. If my friends confide in me their personal goals, I will often push them towards it and remind them of their commitment. I care about their dreams as much as I care about them.

One of my favorite teachers told me that my strong suit was my determination. When I look back, I feel that I made leaps of faith with a bullishness bordering on stupidity.

My mantra of life was: Always seek a higher datum plane of existence. Evolve your identity by giving yourself opportunities to pursue your passion.  And that requires discipline, dedication, and the willingness to make some uncomfortable decisions.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The business of beauty: playing on our insecurities

I have found that people who try to make you insecure have an ulterior motive. Normal people don't go around putting down others. For example, my regular aesthetician says that I don't have any blackheads and we forego the painful procedure upon my request because it doesn't make much of a difference. Some days ago, my Vietnamese hairdresser was trying to convince that I need a special facial package to remove my blackheads. I had to say firmly,'No thanks. I have a regular aesthetician who takes care of me.'

Another day, a saleswoman of a luxury cosmetics and skin care brand said that I have to use an undereye cream because I am getting dark circles. I do get circles easily if I stay up late at night. Not my strong forte. I am a morning person now. But the primary reason was that I used a certain liquid liner with high-density pigment which gave a sharp line but was difficult to clean up even after using makeup remover wipes, cleansing milk, and face wash; leaving the sensitive eye area darker after each application. So I starting sporting a nude eye look instead. It goes well in Summer and I am out with the shades during daytime anyways.

So this brings me back to the topic again. Why do people try to play on your insecurities? What do they want to sell to you? What is it that they want to hide about yourselves that they distract you with your flaws? And to feel better about ourselves, we hide behind contoured cheeks. And then they comment' OMG! Why do you put so much makeup?'

I have realized that you can never make some people happy. They will always find something to complain about. And it has absolutely nothing to do with you. It is just their perspective. A friendly advice is quite different from a mocking tone. We are grown up enough to understand the difference.

We should avoid people who try to make us feel inferior. Our time can be spent well elsewhere. Maybe cooking something for our friends, or just talking to someone over the phone whom we really connect with. Sometimes, just doodling or reading a book. At least, we will learn something new.

We are often too polite to ask people to back off. But this builds resentment. I don't want you to be a snowflake who feels slighted by others too easily. It is just about managing your energy better and focusing on what really matters.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Spotlight: Lloyd Lacuesta

I was very inspired to hear the story of our MC last night. Lloyd Lacuesta was a long time South Bay Bureau Chief for KTVU Channel 2. He was awarded six Emmy awards and many other accolades during his broadcasting career which spanned 43 years. Some of his major stories included the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the Oakland hills firestorm 1991, and the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999. Lloyd was the founder and the first elected national president of Asian American Journalist Association(AAJA).

He joked that Mexicans and Phillipinos shared the same colonial masters. Hence, similar surnames.

His father was a labor on a pineapple farm in Hawaii who had migrated from the Philippines. As a journalist, when Lloyd waited on the White House lawn to shout questions at the President, he thought to himself -not bad for a laborer's son!

His wife, Mona Lisa Yuchengco, is a filmmaker. Her father, Alfonso Yuchengco, was an Ambassador to China, Japan, and the United Nations and a prominent businessman in the Philippines who established a generous grant at the University of San Francisco to create the Maria Elena G. Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


People say that childhood friends are the best. I agree that some of them have a special place in my heart, but I have been fortunate to have great friends in all the phases of my life.

S1 is my first best friend and my favorite cousin. I can still talk to her for hours without feeling judged. And I think she is one of those people who can never offend me no matter what she says. Love how she mothers me sometimes. 'Eat your food', 'sleep on time' etc. I tease her for it.

R and I shared the same crush in school and loved the same kind of music and books. We had long conversations and sleepovers, and I found depth in her quite rare for her age.

P took care of me when I had my first heartbreak. We went to the same school and the same college, but we had a different circle of friends. It wasn't until much later when I started a job and realized the value of a familiar face through what I believe were my 'years of struggle'. I was trying to find an identity, and she believed in me. She always believed in me.

I met S2 while doing my MBA. She was from a different university and a breath of fresh air. I took her to different socials with me, where she met her future husband. She still gives me credit for that, but I believe that they were destined to be together. They make a lovely family of four with a child and a dog. And every time I see their pics on Facebook, it fills me with great joy and pride.

But the most surprising friendship of all is probably S3. The first time we met through mutual friends, I thought she was quiet. Far from it. She is loud and crazy and makes me laugh. I took forward to our little adventures together, and every time I cook something nice, I think of her. She is very generous with her compliments and her happiness after a satisfying meal shows on her face. I cherish that.

I don't think life would be as beautiful without them.
You know who you are. I love you guys. I can't say it enough.

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

Guest post: 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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Where is home?

While watching Lion, I couldn't help but wonder that life might have turned out very different for Saroo if he were found sooner. He had an opportunity to change his life. But many other children are not as fortunate.

We can romanticize about what we called 'home' from a distance. However, those who stay back might be living through Hell.

Home is not about a place in the past. It is not where you sleep at the end of the day. It is where you keep all your dreams stashed and pick one each day and work on achieving them. Home is a voice that says, 'It is okay to fail. Let's try again tomorrow.'

My home is here, right now. And it is not a person, building, or room. It is where I can be myself without fear.

Love where you live

I am the kind of person who usually skims through a document before signing it. So when we were signing a lease renewal for our apartment, I read through the guidelines again to see if they had added new terms. I discovered a federal law called Megan Law, created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka, requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offender. I went to their site and made a search of any known offenders and violation.

My apartment community is spotless because the population comprises mostly immigrant employees and aging couples. The trouble makers are usually college kids whose only crime is the occasional partaking of the stinkweed that leaves the elevator stuffy. I just attribute it to their lack of knowing better. Mundu gele khaabe ta ki? It is important to take care of your head and not puff things that can mess with your spatial memory and cause you to forget where home is.

Anyhow, I go to this website and I get paranoiac just by looking at the mugshots. The San Jose Downtown, like any other I guess, lights up like Christmas with blue(offenders) and red(recent violations of parole) markers. Some of the police records make my skin crawl. 'Lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 years of age' is especially infuriating because that is just the upper age limit. The scum of the earth walk around and breathe the same air we do after 5 years of jail time.

You may visit the website here

You have to sign a disclaimer to not use the information to blackmail a person, then you can put in your address and search within .1 to 10 miles radius. There are other search criteria too, but I think this is the more relevant one. Also, take note of the sidebar which includes Education and Prevention. It is especially important to teach children about saying no to any unwelcome touch or action.

The purpose of this post is not to spread fear, but to stay informed about your community and your surroundings.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Before we met

I often wonder...
Who we were before we met.
Every dream I had until now,
Everyone I loved, cherished, desired-
Seems in the distant past
Blurry, unreal.

The forms of black smoke
Gliding over me
Vanished in the light of the day.
But their screams remained
Resonating in my emptiness.
I held onto it because that is all I had.

On nights like this
I walked through the empty halls
Running my fingers on the peeling walls.
In desperation, I wrote ‘I believe!'
A thousand times over
On my body with a black marker.

I wanted to believe
That a different life was waiting for me.
I deserved to be happy.
I deserved to be loved.
I deserved to dream a little
Of you by my side.

Though it is by no means a poem, a friend picked a few lines from my composition and posted this. Thanks Chitra!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Customer Service Experience: CharityHowTo

One of my supervisors, Bob Bergstrom, recommended me the CharityHowTo website to attend webinars about non-profits. I purchased a gold membership for $89 per month which includes access to recorded webinars.

So ideally, if I select a recorded webinar it should be included in my membership. But due to some glitch, they were charging me again for the webinar and for the gold membership (which I am already getting charged for every month).

Obviously, it was very confusing. I tried to contact their customer service with a 617- (Boston) number. The first two times I tried, it went to voicemail. Then, someone named Amy called back on my number. She promised they wouldn't charge me twice and I should be able to access my library free of charge.

Not only that, the owner, Kurt Steiner,  talked to me after that.

Me: So, are you in Boston?
Kurt: We had an office in Boston, but we are in Panama in Central America now. I see you have a 617 number too.
Me: I went to school there.
Kurt: I apologize again for this. I have sent an email and left a voicemail for you. Our engineers are taking care of it as we speak. Is there anything else I can do?
Me: No, Amy took care of me. Thanks !
Kurt: Great! You have a great weekend!
Me: You have a good one too!

Nice, human conversation when I was expecting pre-recorded messages.

I know it becomes difficult for larger corporations to stay in touch with their customers. Hence, what we call 'the moments of truth' in customer service becomes increasingly negative.  Before the interaction, I was considering canceling my membership. Now, I know that someone feels responsible for the glitch and are trying to fix it.  Sometimes, that is enough. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Our story so far

Sometimes, I remember our initial days together as PIGS: Poor Indian Graduate Students. We hardly had the time to meet even once a week, and dating meant listening to music on his iPod while sitting on the rocks by the bay at Harbor Point in the evening or catching an occasional movie together in Downtown Loews. There were times when I was not even sure if this was serious. I had a different set of expectations from a 'boyfriend.'

However, every time we met, I felt a strange sense of peace sweep over me. I felt that I could live with him even if he had to bask with his keyboard at Park Street Station and we had only spam sandwiches every meal. He could make me laugh like no one else could. He would say the most absurd thing in a conversation and bubbles of laughter would spill on my lips. It is not an easy feat because my humor is very selective.

Some very close people (now nowhere in my life) advised me that 'You can do better than him! You are pursuing an MBA; you will earn a lot soon. You might want someone who earns more than you.'

Thank God I knew what I wanted and what I didn't.  My Dad always said that marry someone for the person they are, not for their bank balance. When I married him, he had a debt from relocating from Boston to San Jose for his new job. I was a little worried, but I felt that together we could work off that debt. And we did. In fact, he did it on his own.

I saw him working crazy hours. Trying this, trying that. Keeping hope alive in our life. I saw that sincerity and goodwill can help you earn a place in the world where strangers respect you for the work you do. Our struggles are not over yet, but we have a come to a comfortable position where we can experience life in a certain way.

Most young couples struggle to stay afloat. If you listen to your parents, they will tell you how they survived on a meager salary of 500 INR every month and even managed to shoulder responsibilities of their big families with it. Maybe the thing that kept them together was their shared history of less resourceful days.

Maybe we respect the person who stood by us even at our worst and we believe that they deserve to be beside us when things look up. Maybe love isn't just a storm of passion sweeping us off our feet, but gradual understanding and respect that develop over the years. And though things can't always be sunny, we can take comfort in the memories in the rainy days and dream of a more beautiful future together.