Friday, April 29, 2011

Their graves will not be unknown

We were in Maryland this past weekend, celebrating my aunt-in-law’s surprise 60th birthday. As always, it was amazing meeting all the cousins and partaking in regular family fun: food, chitchat, cackle, and stories.

We all got talking. The family in the room knew that I was a writer. But they didn’t know about my deadlines or forthcoming books. I, personally, don’t fancy discussing my projects until they are ready. Of course there are a handful of people who are privy to the rodent crawling inside my brain. But that’s the extent of it. What’s to say? Everyone has a job. Almost. Everyone keeps busy during the day. One can hope. Why should my profession be given a special treatment? Why should I receive the limelight when every job is equally important?

Anyhoo, I told the lovelies in the room about my upcoming fiction novel, “Perfectly Untraditional.” I couldn’t have asked for a better audience. They were so attentive, encouraging, and supportive. Be it the aunts and uncle or cousins my age, everyone was beyond generous with their words. No double standards. No passive-aggressiveness. I was one of them—their child or cousin—not a daughter-in-law. I felt blessed. Believe me, that’s not an experience most South Asian women are always privy to. Are you surprised I cherished every minute of our stay in MD? Or why I love visiting them?

Speaking of novel, my husband manages to sneak in the author copy of it everywhere he goes. It’s really funny. He took it to his office. He’s taken it to our friends’ houses. Apparently, he packed it, hid it, and carried it to Maryland too. He, not so subtly, suggests that I show the author copy to my peers and friends. No kidding! I don’t because I see some benefits in humility. But we’ll keep that “success-goes-to-people’s-head” discussion for another time. J

I’ll confess: Deep down somewhere my upcoming novel makes me miss a few people. Relatives who passed away prematurely. People who would have been as happy as my parents and husband upon seeing my novel. People who influenced my life.

  • My Dada (paternal grandfather) - My Dada, a sweetheart, was an idealist who judged the deed, not the doer. He was a big believer in the truth and doing the right thing. My father is the same way, and I seemed to have inherited those impractical qualities too.:-) But I am ever so grateful for those genes. It makes for a tough but content life. My Dada died of throat cancer, but he urged me to never forfeit my voice. He never once mentioned medicine or law when he spoke with me. That’s almost unheard of for a South Asian grandparent (or parent for that matter). I was five when he passed away. But it seems he had me figured out before anyone else.

  • Baba (My husband’s paternal grandfather) - The first time I visited my husband’s ancestral home, Baba made me sit right next to him at the dining table. I was a daughter to him. He wasn’t concerned about my culinary abilities or crotchet collection. He asked me to sit-in when he was talking to his clients (He was a lawyer). Did he think I would get stories in my head from that interaction? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I have a picture of him on my writing desk. And that he would have been so proud to see my book.
  • My mausi (My mother’s older sister) - My mausi and I were extremely different individuals. The other week my cousins from California were over—mausi’s son and his family. We were all out to dinner at a fancy Mediterranean place, having a fantabulous time. Towards the end of the meal, as we glanced at the dessert menu, I saw it. Stared at it. Smiled at it. It had rice pudding as one of the options. On a regular day, I can eat rice pudding by the gallon. I don’t (because of the dumb calories and all), but if I could, I would. That evening too I had a glint in my eyes but didn’t order it. Instead, I told everyone a story.

My parents relocated to North Africa in the 80s. The first time we visited India on vacation, we spent a big chunk of our vacation at my mausi’s place. On one of the evenings, we all went out to a 5-star hotel for dinner. Upon seeing the menu, my mausi’s older daughter happily declared that she wanted to eat malai kofta with pulao for dinner. I was too young to own a spine or mind, so I asked for the same dish my older cousin had ordered. My mausi turned to us and said in an annoyed tone, “Try something new when you go to a restaurant. What is the point in ordering a dish which gets cooked at home?” That was it. I quietly ordered, “Chicken ala king.” Man, I loved it. I cook it at home. It is one of my husband’s favorite entrees cooked at home by me!

After that day I have never been able to order myself anything ordinary at a fancy restaurant. I learnt my lesson: Never follow the mob. Create my own identity. Strive for extraordinary.

My mausi expressed interest in my writing process and writerly life more than I could have ever imagined. My last conversation with her was about my book.

  • Saroj bua (My father’s older sister) - Saroj bua, whom I never met (She died before I was born), was a writer herself. A pure hearted poet, if I may brag. On my recent trip to India, my father gave me her journal. It will be the most treasured diary I will ever own! I translated her works (It’s now published in a Chicago-based publication. Click here if you’d like to read) from Hindi to English. As far as I am concerned, her journal of poetry gave me a sneak peak at what occupied her mind. Poetry was her therapy. Poetry was her escape route from reality. Words gave her the choices that life didn’t offer. I felt attached to her. I empathized with her. A connection. A revelation. I often choose to write poetry because it's healing. It's calming. It gives me the strength to deal with actuality.

Ironically, it’s not that I was super-close to anyone of the above-mentioned people in particular. For a woman growing up across three continents, boarding school, and hostel life, there is only so much time I had with them individually; however, I feel their absence. I guess it is the quality of time spent versus quantity. They each taught me a valuable lesson.

Actually, my unconventional attachment to my deceased relatives doesn’t surprise me at all. Maybe I am romanticizing the dead. Or maybe these were the people who very early on interpreted my dreams in their own, unique way. They encouraged me, the writer, to be myself. Be it through their journals or actions, they supported the perfectly untraditional me.

Here is a toast to them. I bow my head down in humble silence and thank them for their love. I promise, every time I look at my upcoming novel, I will mentally salute them. I know they are smiling at me. And perhaps, muttering, "You did it, girl!":-)

More until next time,


Copyright © 04.29.2011

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” ~ George S. Patton


Anonymous said...

Loved it, Sweta!

Prabha said...

How come you never fail to pen down my thougths in the way I can not. Amazing, read your Bua's poem...Salute her!

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