December 29, 2009

{Grandma's House}

{Childhood memories of Grandma, Maiji}

Just got back from a short trip to India.

During my stay in Kolkata, I slept in Maiji’s bed. I set my alarm for 4am to wake up and experience that feeling; Maiji used to wake me up exactly at that time, every day. As I woke up, I looked my study desk in the room next door. Then I got out of bed, used the restroom quickly, and sat at my desk, the way I did every morning for twelve years.

As I sat at my study desk, I looked at Maiji’s bed. The visual was very familiar. I kept thinking what kind of commitment it took for 12 years, without fail, to wake up a grandson every morning so that his career would be built on a solid base. I guess the commitment to be a parent and to be present in a child's life does not come easy.

Simply amazing.

What was missing was Maiji’s breakfast served to me at my desk as I studied.

December 22, 2009

{Blogging from India: First time ever}

Today I am in the house my grandmother (Maiji) built in the early 1940s. Maiji’s bedroom on the second floor has a balcony that faces the garden in the back. As I slowly entered the balcony, I could see Maiji’s easy chair still there. I stood on the balcony and pictured Maiji sitting three on a summer evening, meditating. Her gamcha (thinner version of a towel) used to hang in that corner of the balcony.  After she finished meditating, I would come over and sit at Maiji’s feet as she would tell me stories. Just being around her warmed my young heart.

I looked down at the garden in the back of the house and I remembered Maiji used to work in the garden, wearing a white sari, with the anchal covering her hair. She would take a small brick from the garden and use it as a seat as she worked. My mind can’t help but go back to the days when Maiji would sit on the brick and hand-plant the grass, one seed at a time. No, there was not sod that was easily placed in there. The coconut trees in the corner were all planted by Maiji. The hibiscus, too, was handpicked by her and planted in that corner. She even placed the bricks at an angle in the ground to separate the yard from the trees.

Today the grass is a little patchy, the coconut trees are as tall as they can get and produce fruit all year long and the hibiscus plant still blossoms every year, celebrating each year of Maiji's dilligence not only with her garden but also with her family. Of course the easy-chair is still there on the upstairs balcony. Everything Maiji invested in still stands tall today, including the souls she has touched. The only thing is missing is Maiji’s warm presence. I wish so badly that she was here today, asking me about what I am doing in the U.S.  I wish Raka could sit next to Maiji and nestle her head in Maiji’s lap as Maiji tells her the story of Ramayana.

I closed my eyes as I stood on the balcony.  I measured the time since Maiji passed away. Then my mind started going back to count the stories Maiji told me sitting in this balcony, the number of evenings I sat on the floor with my head rested on Maiji’s lap as I stared at the sky. Maiji, I miss you.

December 15, 2009

{Ready for a Break!}

{Mumbai: City of Brotherly Love}

Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9am I am leaving for India. This trip was planned last minute as Raka will be with her mom over Christmas break. It will be a short trip, but I am excited for every moment I will be in Mumbai with my brother Oni, my sister-in-law Rachna, and my little nephew Agni. I also am excited to visit my parents in Kolkata.  But at the bottom of my heart, I am sad. Tonight Raka gave me a big hug before she went to bed, and I will really miss her over the next two weeks.

Once I travel to India, my brother assumes the role of my local guardian. He plans my days and even my trips to Kolkata (city where my parents live). A few days back, I was asking him about the dates I am supposed to travel to Kolkata and he had his typical answer, “Do not worry. Everything will be arranged.”

The impatience in me wanted a better answer. A few days later I asked again. This time his answer was different. He said, “I need time to plan. I am getting you here for only eight days, so I need time to plan when I can take you to Kolkata.”

I was pleasantly surprised. “So you are coming to Kolkata?”

His immediate response was, “Yes, I cannot miss out on any time with you.”

I was quiet. His words touched me deeper than he will ever realize. Of course the sarcastic (but thinks he is funny) side of me wanted to pull his leg for being so “warm, fuzzy, and mushy.” But then I thought for a while and decided not to ruin this moment. I was quiet. Then I changed the subject and talked about other details of the Mumbai trip.

After I got off the phone that day, his words kept echoing in my head. I was swelling with happiness. I know once I go to India, things could come up and Oni may not be able to make it to Kolkata with me, but his heart is in the right place.

December 8, 2009

{Worried & Concerned}

{Alone at Mumbai Airport}

Soon I will travel to India for a short vacation.  Raka is traveling with her mom over Christmas, so I thought I would travel myself and return before she comes back.  As I plan my trip to India, I keep thinking of the time I was in India a few years back.  My flight got into the Mumbai airport (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport) on time, close 1:30 am.  I picked up my luggage and walked outside to wait for my brother, Oni.  For security reasons, non-travelers have to wait outside the airport.

As I walked out the airport building, I faced hundreds of people standing across the railing.  Each one was there waiting in the middle of the night for their dear ones to arrive from an international flight.  I felt everyone’s eyes on me and I tried to find my brother in the crowd.  Usually when I arrive there, within a few seconds of me coming out of the door, I hear a soft deep voice saying, “This way.”  That’s my brother.  I walk to the side and he meets me where the railing ends.  He grabs the luggage cart from me and whisks me to his car and drive off in the middle of the night to his home.

But this time, it was different.  I had come outside and it had been a few minutes but still there was no Oni’s voice.  I was getting restless.  I started carefully screening each face in front of me in the night.  I could not see Oni.  I decided to walk with my luggage to one corner of the sidewalk and wait.  The cab drivers were swarming around me, asking if they could take me to a hotel. But I waited. Soon it had been nearly thirty minutes and I decided to walk down to a payphone and try to call Oni. He did not answer. So I waited. Then I decided to call and wake up my parents in Kolkata. They too had no idea where Oni was. I was getting worried. Finally I decided to call Oni’s father-in-law.  I felt bad waking him up that late at night, but he answered the phone and was happy that I was in town and had a safe journey.  When I asked him where Oni was, he had explained that Oni was at their place earlier in the evening and had left after dinner. Now I was extremely worried. Was my brother okay?

I kept calling Oni’s phone from the pay phone. An hour or more later, Oni finally picked up the phone and said, “I am on my way.”  It was short and abrupt. I was happy he was okay, but I have to confess that I was bummed that he was so late in coming to the airport.

Oh well.

Soon Oni was there and I was in the car with him.  We didn’t say many words about the delay as he drove through the streets in Mumbai in the middle of the night. 

A few days later when I was having dinner at his father-in-law’s place, the mystery was solved. Oni had been working nearly twenty-four hour days, non-stop for the last week in order to finish all his work before I got to town. That evening itself he had finished the last piece of work. Then he had gone to his father-in-law’s for dinner. After dinner, a tired Oni wanted to take a short nap before he came to the airport to get me.  But, sleepless and fatigued, sleep took over his body and he had no chance in hearing the wake-up call.

I looked at Oni, across the table, having his meal. I could not be angry with him anymore! What a brother!  He was trying to become free for me. Wow! 
I realized that his measure of our relationship is the number of minutes he can dedicate solely to me when we're in the same part of the world.

December 1, 2009

{The Countdown Calculator}

{25 Days till Christmas and a Parent's Countdown}

There are twenty-five days left till Christmas, and all too soon it will be twelve days till Christmas.  The countdown to one of the biggest holiday celebrations in the world creates a level of urgency which makes us all plan our days so we can use every day to the maximum.  This count-down, in a way, will drive our lives for the next few weeks as we plan when to buy the last gifts, when to mail the cards and the gifts, and finally plan what we do on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  For some, the day after Christmas sale is another critical event.

Another countdown has begun in my own life.  In 632 days, or 90 weeks, my daughter will be ready to leave for college. Which means there will be two more Christmas celebrations and one Thanksgiving celebration before then!  As her mom and I are divorced, that means my time with her will be cut in half; only 45 weekends together before she leaves.

Wow! This countdown of mine started when I had 90 weekends with my daughter and now half of it is gone. When I look back at the last 45 weekends, I can visualize the days my daughter woke on a Saturday and I had her favorite fish curry ready for her. This last weekend, she went out on a run with a friend in the morning while I was in a mad rush to get scrambled eggs and toasted bagels ready for them when they returned. As the two friends gobbled down the brunch after their long run, I made hot chocolate in the kitchen. I watched Raka scrape the last bit of the scrambled eggs from the plate and I smiled. That's my baby. I was so content to savor the moment.

I am not sad that the countdown has begun, but rather excited that because I know our days together are diminishing, I can try my best to enjoy every moment and create memories that will last me a lifetime.

To find an inspiration to an art for this post, I went on Google images and searched for “counting man,” and guess what I found? Nearly every image is of a man counting money. Another Wow!