Showing posts with label The Old Country. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Old Country. Show all posts

Sunday, February 18, 2024

some backstory... and a Boss Day

Some backstory to yesterday's poem.

Our grandmothers were first cousins, so Sunil was a distant cousin--although that doesn't matter much in the  Indian context (something that's unclear in the poem, and I should work on it). Our grandmothers were as close as sisters--closer, as they had no sisters and lived in a big joint-family mansion where they had private tutors--so they were together all the time. They were really close--they always talked about how they breastfed each other's babies so their babies would feel like siblings and think of them (their aunts) as mothers too.  

It didn't work out exactly like that. My mother would go to her aunt when she fought with her mom, but later there was some family drama (our grandmothers fell out in their sixties) and mystery (things people won't talk about). Stuff that came out as what Nicole rightly called "mixed things." Nance found the ending surprising--something else I'm working on. I was trying to express how it felt to have someone in my peer group die... like the beginning of the end. As I mentioned in a comment to StephLove, Sunil died of a heart attack, so that feels as though our bodies are going. 

Pic: It's the puppies' Boss Day! Huck and Max got new lick pads and love them. 

(It's not their actual Boss Day, but it was too bewildering for Scout and Huck when we celebrated them individually, so we picked the 18th of the month to celebrate a puppy Boss Day. Max's "smile" cracks me up.)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

the first cousin to die

for Sunil

I'm always eight, you're always fourteen
in the long time ago that lasts forever 
I know now I'll never see you again

you have other people to haunt and anyway
 they probably want to hang with you--
the dad you lost at two, your young uncle...

all those men in your family who died young
it's why your mother, grandmother, sister 
 dote on you, as if to try to keep you forever 

I wondered how you had more friends than books
I confused you too--I remember when you 
congratulated me about my school exams, 

and seemed so confused why it was important...
 I mean--you were so rich you didn't have to work
--and I don't think you did even at 40, right?

but you were always kind... if a bit ganja-fueled 
when a single kindness could keep me happy
for days. I wonder at my dad saying

I shouldn't be alone with you... I feel you loved 
my gentle dad, wished he were yours
in the sheerness of the childhood--

which brightened us up... now only if this end
too could lift us up... instead it sets us adrift... 
as if to warn us we're going... extinct 

Pic: An icy, windy day--but oh, such brilliantly blue, sunshiny skies. A long walk with Big A to the MSU Baseball stadium. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

on not meeting expectations

I don't like my grade the student says
You're not from here, are you?
the student says

So where are you actually from? 
(India!) I thought so...
student smiles

I got the assignment wrong because
of your language (English?) 
the student says

It is so rude of you, the student says
to say... that my assignment 
didn't meet expectations

Note: This came from a long and unsettling office-hour exchange with my one disgruntled student today. It felt demeaning and I was so... crushed. Luckily, it was also the day our PR team had alerted me to an alumni interview which spoke glowingly of me, so I had some balance. But I'd been working on a new version of our land and labor acknowledgment, so it also felt like I'd been wrestling with issues of prejudice all day. 

Pic: No pic today--it was too, too hectic. My Thursdays are so long that they've become standard Subway-for-dinner days--Big A picks them up between his clinic and hospital shifts.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

"bougainvillea, sing your song"

I grew up with bougainvillea brambles practically growing wild over all over the neighborhood houses, walls, and gates even under drought conditions. Needless to say, nostalgia plays a big part in how much I love these plants--got to love their hardiness and range of color too. 

Back home (in Michigan) I have two bougainvillea plants I got at the specialty nursery, and one manages to put out a few blooms in the summer and the other one is dormant (or dead :/). 

So it always surprises me when I'm in tropical climes and they seem to be growing untended the way they did in my childhood. (Especially if it's in the U.S.--they do that in California, Hawaii, and Florida AFAIK.)

In Cabo, they seemed to be using bougainvillea as hedges and cropping them pretty closely, but nothing could keep these plants from showing off a little bit. 

Pic: A Bougainvillea hedge. I took this as a reminder that we're on the cusp of Spring, and soon we'll be awash in scent and color. I took a long Boss Day walk by myself this morning to say goodbye.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

all the things

Wow. What a day. 

Freezing rain all day, so I moved my classes online and then was committed to sitting with my laptop all day.

I also got into it with the very pro-Hindu nationalist people on my WhatsApp. Hope springs eternal in a teacher's breast I guess. If even one of them stops to reconsider their exclusionary stance, that would be helpful. But I can't do this every day--it's exhausting and draining and makes me question what kind of world I'm living in.

Then Big A woke up grumpy and I pushed back (I mean, he's not a toddler!) and then we fought on text for a bit. Then he "hearted" something I had said in snark and then I felt bad and then the fight was over. Just like that.

My car has been in the repair shop since Monday and they don't know how to fix it--they're waiting on input from the tech team. I was so alarmed by this, that I texted "Is my Bluey [what I call my car] OK?!? 😭" to the family chat... except I sent it to the repair shop by accident... and they texted back "We should be hearing something today. Bluey has a bit of a boo-boo." And I laugh-cried in embarrassment. 

Motaz Azaiza the passionate Gazan journalist has evacuated Gaza. He did such great work, and I'm glad he's safe, and so humbled that he's only 24!

So many of my U.S. friends texted me in a panic about Trump winning the NH primary... but I don't know what to tell them. Is the option really "Genocide Joe?" The lesser of two evils just seems more like the other evil day by day. 

And finally: another day of back pain. Whomp-whomp.

Pic: An icy Red Cedar through the railing on the Sparty (not official name, I think) bridge. From my Monday walk. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

"go not to the temple"

I'm feeling frustrated about the huge celebrations in India and worldwide for the temple Hindu fundamentalists have built over the mosque they destroyed (and the blood of the people they've killed). 

My Twitter and FB feeds are mostly progressive articles and quips, but my WhatsApp (elementary school pals) is chockful of people sharing pictures and claiming they're just celebrating and that it's not at all political. How could anything that caused the deaths of over 2000 innocent people and has led to the current wave of intense and ignorant Hindu fundamentalism be unpolitical? All these (high-caste) Hindu women posting random and adulatory details of the temple! I wonder if our non-Hindu classmates--the Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Parsi, Periyarist Dalit kids--have already left or are just staying silent. 

On the cousins' chat, my cousin very helpfully posted a picture of themselves drinking out of a mug labeled "liberal tears." I was going to say something cutting, but this is a troll move and I'm not responding--anything else would be a reward for them. 

Pic: Tagore and "Go Not To the Temple." Friends have been posting a lot of Tagore, and while this is not his best work, I've been resharing it. It would be easy to ignore me, but it's a bit harder to ignore the Nobel-winning author of the Indian national anthem. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Happy Pongal!

Imagine my delight this morning when the sun rose magnificently for the first time in (many?) weeks as if to show up for the Pongal sun celebration. 

Close to twenty years ago, I was writing on ye olde blogge about the range of procrastination the various Hindu "fresh start" dates allow. Nu and I were laughing about that at pooja today because At and Nu loved to use the term "fresh start" after they encountered Will Ferrell (their childhood fave) saying it in The Other Guys.

In any case, I've always thought of Pongal as a day to reset any New Year resolutions that didn't take.

A younger and wiser cousin wrote on the cousins' chat:  

The sun symbolizes energy, positivity, equanimity, discipline, consistency... adopt one value that you feel you need in life and practice it for the six months that the sun moves to the north.
I probably need all of those traits in my life, but may pick equanimity--I could certainly benefit by being less emotional.

Pic: Max and I are out by Scout's memorial around sunrise. Scout always came out with me for pooja. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

"I believe that children are the future"

My mother once told me that even when she was mad at me, something (sweet/funny/adorable) I did as a baby or toddler would flash in her memory and it would help her get over it. I can safely say this is how it works for me too. 

I mean there's no way my kids are going to meet every arbitrary milestone and make only perfect decisions. Things could get "bumpy" any minute/soon and the one thing that centers me is thinking about how much must be going on in their lives right now, because all they ever did was always only sweet/funny/adorable once. (And in the meantime, I bite my tongue until someone asks for my advice.)

Actually, I think it works for everyone i.e., people who aren't kids in my life too. I think it was in a Jennifer Weiner novel, where the protagonist finally finds a way to get along with her unhelpful MIL by thinking back to her being a neglected baby. I've frequently used that trick to find compassion and understanding for people when they're being jerks.

Pic: My loves--Max, Huck, Nu, and At--hanging out for a moment before we headed to the temple for New Year's Day blessings yesterday. I hope they'll always find warm, cozy places to rest... and that I can make those places for them if they need me to.

Monday, January 01, 2024


How tired the world
how long the way
how we have been 
survivors for over
365 days

may the new year 
be kind, enormous,
hold us in peace
may it gently--
24/7--teach us

to resist, to vary 
history's encore--
the hum of hope
its own language
in 2024
Other New Year's Day poems:

Pic: Our holiday card!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

things are still up

Our Christmas tree is still twinkling away, our menorah still has stubs of candles from the last day (birthday candles... we ran out), our porch decorations are still up, my snow globes are still out, my little nativity set (catholic school holdover) is still on the altar, the holiday card holder is full, and there are too many cookies for even Nu to finish. I'll be putting away most of this stuff before the start of the new year (except the holiday cards, I like seeing everyone's happy faces and hang on to the cards until it's Spring at least). My spirit is still up too.
I love birds and elephants, and I'm so touched when new friends notice and make note. At Diwali KM gave me one of those Phil Walters' bird silhouettes that you stick into a tree and last week AS sent me a set of "Guide Birds." I'd seen it in a catalogue and liked it a lot, but couldn't justify buying it for myself. As a gift, it's so perfect in every way. Each of the seven birds "corresponds to an inspirational word, such as joy, courage, and generosity" and I look forward to meditatively picking one every day when I light the evening deepam.

Pic: On my overcrowded altar, guide birds shelter under an elephant lamp.

Friday, December 15, 2023

sentimental offerings

Another festival of lights at CB's "Winter Warm Up Party." It was beautiful--my neighbors J and E from across the street sang the blessing (I'm more used to reciting it) as we lit the menorahs (I did two). 

Big A's in Milwaukee until Sunday, so I took Nu with me. As always, they protested having to go and as we walked home, raved about how glad they were that they went and how much they love "community." I guess I do know best after all. Ha.

I am a sentimental mess just from reading Nicole's account of The Small One (Q: Is this the first time I've cried at a Wikipedia entry? Ans: No.). I love its theme of offering up devotion in whatever small way one can. "Little Drummer Boy" is another great example of this. And now I'm thinking of "Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame" that I first encountered in Anatole France's version in my French textbook. And now I'm thinking of how much my mom loved that story when I shared it with her, and how she connected it to the story of Kannappa who did all the taboo things (offered meat, spat water, put his feet etc. on the deity) out of love and devotion. And this in turn reminds me of a scene in a Tamil movie whose plot and title I've forgotten in which the Hindu heroine who is in love with a Christian boy goes to church to pray for him. But she doesn't know any Christian prayers, so she recites the entirety of an 8th century hymn-paean written for Durga in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. It's a moment my mom and I found both funny and sweet. It's a hymn my mom and I love. And now I miss my mom.

Pic: A forest of candles at CB's "Winter Warm Up Party."

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

it's beginning to look

a lot like a bit like Christmas. CF, my dear friend who moved to South Carolina sent us a beautiful Christmas centerpiece, JG sent us treats from Sunnyland Farms, AK sent a blooming amaryllis, SV made a donation in memory of Scout. It seems my girlfriends are into sending things that are more like experiences, and I love it.

Counterbalance: My uncle told me that there had been a fire in my sister's office building in Bangalore. My sis then sent me a video of the 20-story fire. Scary. A student whose poetry I love received a rejection. Sad. One thinks we'd be able to protect the people we care about from harm or disappointment, but we're so limited.

Pic: CF's centerpiece--I lit the candles to send her a thank you photo. Bonus peek of Nu snacking in the kitchen.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Five-year-old me

What would my childhood self think about grownup me? 

I've been thinking about it since Nance mentioned that she keeps her kindergarten picture on her dresser to remind her "of the little girl who wanted to be a teacher and a mom. I look at her often and think about how so many of her dreams came true and then some. It helps me stay grateful."

I'm five in this picture, and my favorite thing was to line up my sister, our ayah, and the dolls in my playroom to play school--with me as the teacher. So I think five-year-old me would be thrilled that I grew up to be a teacher and tickled to know I have kids and puppies of my own--I think they'd find that part really hilarious. Back then, the expectation to be "good" was intense--I wonder what five-year-old me would think of my daily quest to be a better person, to keep learning... When I was little, I was always afraid of being orphaned (I read too much even back then), so I wish I'd known my parents would know their grandkids...

Like Nance, I too am grateful that so many of my dreams have come true--even dreams I did not yet know to have for myself. I can see myself at ten or eleven lying on the terrace looking up at planes and wondering (not even wishing, really) *if* I would have a job, if I would fly on a plane (only my parents had flown at this point), and if anyone would fall in love with me. 

Pic: An old B&W portrait of my family (dad, sis, mom, me). I remember so clearly that my dress was a very pale pink and white with a soft collar and square white buttons with a pink inlay; my sister's dress was a hand-me-down from me, it had been a favorite until I grew out of it--I called it the "peacock frock" because it cascaded in overlapping "feathers" and had a deep blue embroidered motif on each. I'm pretty sure my mom's organza sari is orange with white polka dots. When the square belt buckle (buttons and buckle were all purely decorative) on my dress fell off, I used it as a tool at my art table to scrape excess crayon off the paper and even out the colors. I wore a school uniform to school, and "play" clothes at home; I had a very small collection of "fancy" clothes to wear to parties, the club, and so on and I remember most of them quite fondly. My sister was wearing a corrective leg brace at that point, which is why my parents are holding her hands on either side. No one is holding my hand... I wonder what I seem so pleased about... Wow. I did not expect to remember so much. And look at my HAIRY forehead!! lol

Thursday, November 30, 2023

"it's that little souvenir of a terrible year/which makes my eyes feel sore"

I thought I was done collecting snow globes... 

But I was at the store getting personal hygiene products for my students' community service project and this snow globe called out to me. Scout loved Christmas... and I like how this one makes it as though Scout is getting a visit with Santa this year too.

It plays "We wish you a merry Christmas" and I never wind it up all the way, so it plays really slowly and sounds super sad. Like those songs which do double duty with an upbeat happy version and a slower sad version. "Que sera, sera" in The Man Who Knew Too Much is the only example I can think of right now... It's a really big thing in Bollywood films, something the kids love to parody with basically any song. 


It's the first Christmassy thing I've set out this year.

(Big A and I still tear up every day/every other day when we talk about Scout, who took so much of my heart with him. Does anyone have the timeline for when things will get better?)

Pic: Inside a snow globe with Scout and Santa. Wish I could be in there. #It'sMyBlogAndI'llBeMaudlinIfIWantTo
The title is from one of my favorite nostalgic songs from the 90s--The Sundays' "Here's Where the Story Ends." 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

"Oops, I did it again!"

I just finished Deepa Varadarajan's Late Bloomers the book Nicole inadvertently recommended. It's not terrific, but it is about South Indians in the U.S., and I kept reading out of curiosity.  It's about people in their 50s dating other people after having been married to each other for 30+ years.

Coincidentally, an older colleague of Big A's is going through a divorce at 60+ and I was surprised to hear Big A say that perhaps after 60 people should just stay put in their relationships. I find that disturbing--surely people should be free to start over at any point in their lives? Why should someone live another 30 potential years with someone they don't like?

And then, oops! Straight on the heels of finishing one book about South Indians, I started Abraham Verghese's Covenant of Water and am loving the intensely South Indian location and poetics of it all. There was a moment where a character helps a vendor lift the wicker basket off their head and land it on the ground--and that gesture seemed to tug at some memory of seeing that... in a movie? My grandmother's house? I think the writing is beautiful and the story compelling... but honestly, maybe I like it so much because there are flashes of the city I grew up in? And there's an elephant! What more could I want?

Pic: Big A, Huck (lounging near me), and Max (longing for me). 

Monday, November 20, 2023

my mom speaks on trust, lust, and gods

My mother once told me 
that even if God himself told her so
she wouldn't believe my dad could have an affair. 

I was so touched by the trust 
she had in dad... and then she added:
"You know how he is--he really hates to spend money."

This never fails to cheer me up
as does her her other quirky semi-religious 
pronouncement wondering why on earth Hindu women 

always prayed for a husband 
like Rama--famously so faithful to Sita 
"He made her life such a misery," she says, She's right. 

He literally made her walk through fire
to prove her chastity... and still abandoned her.
"Now, our Krishna," she says, smiling (he's her favorite)

"yes, he may have had all of those 
161108 wives... but he kept each of them happy
we never hear of him making even one cry." She's not wrong.

Pic: This mossy-jeweled beauty in Baker Woods yesterday with LB and TB. I was jabbering about my mom a lot yesterday.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

blast off!

It was amazing! 

I fed everyone, talked to everyone, and everyone seemed to have fun. I had 48 of those silk pouches with diyas as favors for the grown up guests, and now they're all gone--I hope they'll bring light and delight in their new homes. 

I've been thinking how Diwali (diya = lamp; wali = chain) so we're supposed to light lamps, but not singly--light one and pass it on... like kindness or empathy.

Now that that's done, and everything is tidied and put away, I want to have small dinner parties so I can linger around the table and chat. But I'll break that to Big A another time. Ha.

Pic: Fireworks at the end of the evening.

Saturday, November 11, 2023


I can't prep Diwali food ahead of time, so I pottered around all day trying to prep everything else. I did the centerpiece, the party favors, and the porch decor. And not that anyone is going to inspect the garden, but I cleared a ton and raked all the paths and sitting area too. 

Big A spent hours trying to get the lights on our LONG driveway to work. People are going to have to park on the street and it would be so awful to walk up our driveway in the dark. Plus inauspicious for a festival of lights! 

BL (who was student, colleague, friend, sister, and is now my adopted nibling) is going to have a little station for people to paint diyas. I thought I had all the little earthenware lamps we'd need from my last trip to India...  But when I took them out today, I realized many of them have swastikas imprinted on them (not in a Nazi way, in a Hindu way--but I feel like I couldn't expose my Jewish friends to something like that anyway). I'm going to have to improvise.

I suspect I'm going to have to improvise a whole lot in the next 24 hours, actually.

Pic: Diwali centerpiece with (flameless, multicolor) tealights; the favor bags are in the background. I plan to fill in the gaps with a flower-petal rangoli. I'll do that tomorrow so they don't wilt before the party. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

a personal pause

In retrospect, I was unraveling a bit last week. I found Chiconky's advice, in particular the bit about how, "You don't have to bear witness to everything to hold sacred what is happening" so incredibly comforting. That coupled with my need to focus on making sure Big A had the best 50th celebration I could give him really helped me pause the spiral.

So a personal pause. In the lead up to Big A's birthday, I also bypassed the whole navaratri business/busy-ness, and instead of a multi-day celebration where I dressed everyone in saris, we did nothing... and I missed all the visits to other people's golus because we were away this weekend. There's always next year!

And we usually decorate for Halloween in the week after Big A's birthday, but I think I might just skip it this year because I'm off to a conference in a couple of days (and I don't like looking at scary things anyway!).

Pic: Big A and I walked over to the Wharton for a David Sedaris reading and it was delightful. (The weather was such a balmy 72 degrees.)  It was a full house. I kept thinking how much Nicole enjoys Sedaris and wished she could have been there too! Sedaris is a terrific reader and my favorite bit was a new piece where Sedaris reworked a banal Chat GPT essay written in "his" style, amping up the banality and incongruity.

Friday, October 20, 2023

here we go

Although it has stayed mostly green where we are, I can see the colors turning every day on my commute north to work. I listened to chants in Sanskrit in the car and it was pleasant and peaceful and gave me some time to enjoy the poetic beauty of the slokas and puzzle out the agglutinative meanings of words I don't know (my favorite this week is samudra-tanayaya-- body like an ocean).

I am excited to finish the 1001 meetings scheduled for today and then take off with the fam for Big A's birthday weekend. 

I couldn't find any places on the water that would allow us to bring Huck and Max, so KB kindly offered up her parents' place on Torch Lake. The plan is to get everyone a light dinner, pack a backpack each, pick up At after his shift... and go!

Pic: A glimpse of the Red Cedar north of us from CC.

I march forth

It's only my fourth year of knowing my birthday doubles as  "March Forth Day," but I'm carpeing everything I can out of t...