Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Autumn leaves and slowing down...

I'm usually always in a hurry.
To start things. To finish things.
My mind is ruled by lists, even in the most "relaxed" of times.
But not that day...

The "Slow down Mummy" poem had struck a chord. A deep one.
I shed a tear or two and decided to make "slow down" my new mantra (even if it was for a day).
It had been a cloudy day. The light drizzle, a strange reminder that it does not always need to pour.
We were in the middle of our usual daycare pickup ritual - my little girl and I.
She was eating a banana in the back seat and telling me how her day was. I was telling her about mine, while my mind kept wandering to the thoughts of what I'd make for dinner.

And then I stopped. The car...and my mind.
Under a beautiful maple tree, dressed in its autumn attire.
The grass around it was soft with the rain. The sepia-toned dry leaves on the ground were wet too.
"Why did you stop, Mummy?", she asked.
"Because we'll pick a few leaves today..."
"Yippee!", said she.
And then, the two of us played the "who could pick the best leaf" game!
The leaves were damp...but not our spirits. We picked leaves, looked at them closely, commented on their veins, dropped the broken ones back on the ground....and picked some more.
Our hands were wet and muddy...something that would irk me on any given day. But not that day.
And the little girl's chatter and smiles swept clean all the lists in my mind....all sense of false urgency.
Pleased with our collection, we placed the leaves gently on the back seat and drove home.

We dried the leaves in the sun for the next few days. And then, one Sunday afternoon, we "framed" our special moment.
It's not perfect, but it's special.
Turns out, slowing down is a great idea not just while driving but while living too. And oh, the memories it creates...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spot is good for you

S: Mummy, they have spots in daycare.
Me: Spots! What spots? Who has spots? Are they red? (I shoot a zillion questions, thinking someone at daycare has an infectious disease of sorts.)
S: Spots, Mummy. Can I have spots too?
Me: No no no. Not at all. You don't want any spots.
S: But teacher said spot is good for us.

What kind of daycare is she going to! I decide to call the daycare first thing next morning. They should have reported something like this to me. Not my 4yr old.

Later, while emptying her daycare bag, I find a little form  - "Enrol your child in Sports".
My little girl jumps in joy "You found it, Mummy. See, I told you! Spot is good for you!".

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My wild (wild) child

Her swimming instructor throws these little toy seals into the water and says "fetch". Okay, she doesn't really say "fetch" but encourages the kids to swim and grab one each from the bottom of the pool. The idea is to make it fun for them to have their faces inside water. It's a race of sorts...except, my 4yr old doesn't know that. The other kids obediently do as they are told, grab the seals and swim right back to the instructor, eager to hear a "well done!" My little girl however, grabs the seal, drops it again deliberately, grabs it again....talks to it and swims to the other end of the pool (opposite to the instructor).  She's the last one to swim back, not because she struggled with the activity (which would be fine too), but because she decided to make it her own little game.

In ballet class, she's always making the funniest faces and coming up with her own "moves", much to her teacher's amazement. At daycare, they put it nicely "S is such a funny little girl. But she needs to work on her 'listening' ears."  In short, my 4-yr old is funny and fun...but never a teacher's pet :).

There's a part of me that wishes she would blend in, listen to instructions and win her teachers' hearts and praises. And there's a part that is immensely proud of her free spirit. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care if she misses out on the accolades. But I am equally honest when I say that I mostly celebrate her uniqueness and tell myself “her imagination is far more valuable”.

I often tell her that she reminds me of the little girl in "The Croods" (even has wild hair like her), who defies authority to go out and explore the world on her own. Always a fearless child, eager to explore things way too dangerous for her age, she is forever pushing her own boundaries (and ours). Strong willed, a mind of her own, tiniest attention span – all ingredients to a so called "difficult" child. And when that child has a mother who is not known for her patience...well, things can get a bit out of control.

But nobody said parenting would be easy. And what makes it more interesting is that I was a complete opposite when I was a little girl. But as long as there's wine in stock and chocolates at hand, bring it on, I say! So I'll be sporting a wild hair tonight, and dancing like the croods...with my wild (wild) child...
My wild (wild) child, may I always be the wind beneath your wings….

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Baba's watch

One of my most treasured possessions happens to be my Baba’s watch. It was a wedding band of sorts. My mum’s family gifted him this Seiko at the time of their wedding. And it’s the only watch he ever had (barring one he got from his colleagues at his farewell, which never left its box).

Back in those days, a watch was a watch. It wasn’t a fashion statement. Nor was it expected to beep and glow to remind you of special occasions/events. It did not buzz when you have been inactive for more than 30 mins. And no, it did not give you your heart rate or sleep data. But surprisingly, most people still managed to keep active, sleep better and remember special dates. And a watch was just a watch. It gave you the time and date. And nothing more.

Yet, my Baba, like many of his generation, was more loyal to his watch than I ever was to mine. For how could I, when I had more than half a dozen of them at any given time? Baba had just one. For life. When it stopped, its batteries were replaced. When its glass cracked on being dropped, it was repaired. When Baba lost weight, its band was adjusted. It accompanied him to work, social events, holidays and even to the hospital when he had his heart attack. There wasn’t a different one for every occasion. There was only one.

To me, this watch is a symbol of loyalty and simplicity. It’s a reflection of those days when relationships and things were valued and looked after. It’s a reminder of the times when people were happy and grateful for what they had. Every time I hold it, I think of Baba. Of how he wore it on this right wrist. Of how he kept it on his little bedside table, next to his glasses. Of how he never considered changing it or having another one. Of how it grew old with Baba.

Turns out, the watch was more than a watch after all.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Unconditional Pride

I am often asked (and I think many parents are), what I’d like my child to become when she grows up. While the question itself is flawed, most educated parents of my generation seem to answer it with this:
I want her to be whatever she wants to be. I want her to be happy. 

This response has become a modern day cliché. Whether young parents actually believe it, or say it just so that they are not perceived as “last century”, is another matter. For all we know, the very limited list of “doctor, engineer, lawyer (and subsequently MBA)” as preferred career options are so deep-seated in the Indian psyche, that even the most liberal of us may not know how these still subconsciously affect us. But the fact that we are trying to expand our horizon….and at least “say” that we will be happy/proud parents irrespective of the career paths our children choose, is a step forward.

One of the few (for me, it’s a “few”, as opposed to “several”) reasons why I chose a foreign land as “home”, is the mindset that respects every kind of profession. The mindset that does not associate success with academic brilliance only. All good in theory, and still very cliché. The real test will be if my child grows up and actually takes up something totally unconventional (unconventional for middle-class Indians, that is) as her profession. An even bigger test would be if she is not "extraordinary" (as per the conventional definition of the term).

I have a feeling that most people who say, “Yes, I’ll be happy if my child becomes a dancer…or an artist…or a musician….or an athlete”, somehow believe that their kids would excel at these non-academic professions. They somehow see their children travelling the world, performing/playing in front of packed auditoriums, signing autographs and endorsements. But what if that isn't the case? The intention is not to belittle any profession. The intention is to really dig deep, think and find honest answers. And if the answer is “No, I would not be truly proud/happy”, then it’s time to train our minds to think differently. Because our children deserve nothing less from us. They need to know that we will be proud of them, unconditionally.

A major part of parenting involves helping our children be “the best version of themselves”.  To support them in their journey to reach their own potential. “Their own potential” is the key here, and that’s where things often get blurry. Not our unreal idea of their potential…not our hopes of living our unfulfilled ambitions through them…and definitely not our desires to make them smarter/better/more accomplished than every other kid we know.

Parenting is the art/science of nurturing. Finding our children’s interests and strengths, and nurturing them with care, thoughtfulness and respect. Ferrying them around to sports/music/art classes is part of this discovery. What excites them? What challenges them? What makes them happy? What are they really good at? And even if they are not seemingly extraordinary at anything, but can utilise their own potential to the fullest, they are all achievers. They are enough. They are more than enough.

So from the very beginning of our parenting journey, the focus shouldn’t have been on trying to raise accomplished children. Compassionate, honest, responsible, well-behaved children – yes. But not “accomplished”, as we commonly define/understand the word. Because that is beyond our control.  The focus should have been on becoming better parents.

Of the many promises I make to my little girl, one is to be a better, more open-mind human being. For she deserves no less. So while she grows up, I will have my own growing up to do… learning and unlearning…facing my biggest fears…criticizing my own thoughts/beliefs….reshaping my mind until I am more capable of appreciating the nuances of parenthood. I promise to let her be my guide. When she shows a clear interest in something, I will know it’s time to explore it a bit more.

That’s exactly how we ended up in the local ballet school. She clearly enjoys dancing. But be it her age or her over-active mind, she quickly loses interest in things. So we now find her running in circles on her own, unwilling to listen to instructions or follow the teacher. Is that her telling me that she’s had enough? Is that her way of saying “Mummy, dancing is not for me. Let’s find something else to do?” If I give in, I’ll probably find something else that would keep her engaged for a few weeks. But what if I am giving up too early on something that could become her true passion? What if I am meant to keep at it, until she overcomes her momentary boredom? The dilemma continues. And so does my exploration of my little girl’s mind.

So, while I have no preferred career paths for her, if there are two things I wish for her, they would be curiosity and initiative. The first would hopefully lead her to her passion, and the second, to a life that she finds truly fulfilling. As for me, may I have the strength and wisdom to be proud of her, unconditionally.


I am the power in a singer's voice
That echoes in packed auditoriums

I am the mother's shrieks
Who cries over her child's corpse

I am the glimpses of eerie things, hours after watching a thriller

I am the cold shower on a winter day
And the warm touch of passion, they say

I am in a story well told
In a mystery unfold.

I am often called "the chill"
As I come and go at will.

I am the sign of being alive
I am both adult and naive.


(written on 26 August 2016; posted much later)

Every time I’ve been happy…
I’ve wanted wings.
To flutter away to the beach at sunset.

Every time I’ve been sad…
I’ve wanted wings.
To drown my sorrow in a drink or perhaps walk on the sand.

Every time I’ve been angry…
I’ve wanted wings.
To slam the door behind me and zoom out of the house, leaving the world behind.

I finally have wings. I finally have a driver’s licence.

Monday, March 13, 2017

From Mighty to Endangered – The Journey of a Pen

This is an excerpt from my editorial in Oikyotaan (2016), the annual magazine published by the Bengali Association of Western Australia (BAWA)

Do you remember the rotary dial telephone? The one where you had to turn a dial all the way to a fixed point, until it made a “click” sound. If you happen to still own one of those, hold on to it. Soon, you could make good money from auctioning it as a vintage piece.

Keypads and touchscreens have taken over. In fact, speed dial makes the whole act of dialling redundant. Some call it “innovation”.  I call it “scary”. If it takes less than a decade for things to become vintage, it would take just about double that time for things to become extinct. The good old phone is gone. But what about the mighty old pen?

When was the last time you used one? To sign a form, a greeting card, or a credit card receipt, I hear you say. But you wouldn’t call these “writing” as such. How long back did you use a pen to write something that was more than a page long? If your answer is “more than five years back”, be afraid… very afraid. For you are likely to be part of the generation that murdered the pen.
Primary schools these days are making the most of technology, and using innovative ways to teach children how to read and write. A friend’s son learnt his numbers entirely on the touchscreen of a tablet.  The concept of turning a page in a printed book could soon become alien. Our kids will scroll through digital media with ease, but may never know what it is to read a paperback. In a few decades, we may need to take them to the museum to see a pen.

So hold on to those Wilson fountain pens, I say. Dig out the limited edition Mont Blanc that your old-fashioned uncle gave you as a wedding present. Use them and pass them on. If you need to start with writing shopping lists on post-it notes that go on the refrigerator, so be it. If you can manage two lines on a postcard to your mother, while you are holidaying in Greece, even better. When asked what you’d like on Father’s Day, tell your children that you’d love a hand-written letter on beautiful calligraphy paper. If the wife likes gold, give her a gold pen for her birthday (but don’t hold me responsible if she throws it right back at you!). If your niece wants ideas to spend her pocket money on, tell her how a good pen could be a friend for life. Every time you resist the temptation to make a to-do list on your smartphone, and put it on a piece of paper instead, give yourself a pat on the back. For you, my friend, may make the mighty pen live a little longer.

In an age where Twitter has made it clear that an average person doesn’t have the inclination, time or attention span to read more than 140 characters, anything you do to revive the lost art of writing is worthwhile. Our text messages are getting more cryptic, our short stories are getting shorter. Posts on social media are out to prove that vowels are a total waste of time – apparently, most of us can read and understand entire paragraphs written in consonants. So why bother?

Bother, because libraries are filled with inspirations in the shape of hardcovers. Bother, because the more we read, the more likely are we to write. Bother, because nothing beats the smell of a new book….or old. Bother, because autumn leaves make beautiful bookmarks. Bother, because every time a pen touches a piece of paper, it could be the beginning of a story untold.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Out of sight, but always on my mind....

There was a time when I hardly spent time with my Ma.  I was studying, teaching, volunteering, managing our household (finance, maintenance etc.), and having fun with friends, all at the same time. So, when I was ready to wrap up for the day, I would be tired…and Ma too sleepy.

When my professional life started, time was scarcer. First, I left my home town for work-related training…and then she left the country to live with my sister. There were work deadlines, different time zones….and life was too fast-paced for both of us. She was always on my mind, but not always part of my daily routine. I told myself that I would slow down when she got back. I would imagine the two of us sitting in our living room….having a chitchat every morning, while dunking our Marie biscuits in tea (something we both enjoy), before I left for work.

But then the wedding…and the relocation…..and the new job….and the settling down….and the kids (two of my sister’s and one of mine) happened. And although we did get several lazy mornings (while I was on maternity leave) when we had our chitchat over our morning cuppas, things had changed.  There was always the awareness that she had come to visit, and would eventually go back.

As the grey hairs started to become more noticeable on both of us, the realisation dawned. That spending time with her wouldn’t ever be as easy as walking to the next room. It would involve planning, preparation, budgeting, tickets, visas, time off work/school etc. It’s the price I will pay for the rest of my life (and I know many others like me do too), for choosing to call a faraway land my home.

Today, she is more on my mind than she ever was.  Every time I check the time, I involuntarily spend a few seconds thinking what she must be up to. Has she gone for a walk? Is she watching TV now? What did she eat for lunch today? Is she spending some time to learn how to use her new smartphone, as she promised me she would? And although she doesn’t know this, I feel like I spend more time with her than any other person I see every day.

I do call her every day (almost). Even it’s for a couple of minutes. Sometimes, I call just to tell her that I can’t have a long chat that day. Just hearing my voice brightens up her day, I know. For what more can we do? We, the children who live far away from our aging parents?

There’s actually a lot we can do. We can write letters, send flowers or birthday cards. We could buy them something they would never buy for themselves – like a smartphone or a flat screen TV (my old TV works just fine, she would tell me).  Or perhaps a tiny photo gift – a coffee mug with the photo of the grand-kids, which they would display with pride in their living rooms (and value more than the flat screen TV). We can offer to pay their bills online. We could speak on the phone to their doctors or carpenters or even the maids. What’s the point, you ask? Well, according to my Ma, when I spoke to her doctor at one of her regular visits, she felt so relieved because it was not up to her alone to ask all the questions and get the advice.

We could arrange for someone to take them for a medical test they have been feeling anxious about (sometimes, they feel too conscious to ask for help). We could get them involved in a community project, where they could teach underprivileged kids at home, or take them out for a picnic. We could get their favourite meal delivered at their doorstep (thanks to online orders). We could send them a movie ticket….and one extra, to take a friend along. Or money for a little indulgence (my Ma likes having facials at home J). We could send them a postcard from every holiday we go to. Better still, we could take them on holidays. In short, our parents should be part of our bucket lists (“see the Kanchenjunga with Ma”) as well as our to-do lists (“make a list of Ma’s medicines and stick it on the cupboard where she can see it easily).

So every time I hear someone say “What could we possibly do for them, living so far away?”, I come up with a dozen things in my mind.  All we need to do is use our education, imagination and friendships to get things organised (all three of which, we ultimately owe to our parents). Our parents don't need a lot from us (not half as much as we needed from them in our growing-up years). True, I have also heard of parents who can never be satisfied and pressurise their children with their demands all the time – stuff for another post. But for the vast majority, our parents never actually "ask" for anything but our time. For ultimately, it’s not living far away from their children that they fear the most. It’s the thought of being forgotten.