Thursday, September 22, 2011

I write to a dead man

In the past few years, I have lost quite a few of my aunts and uncles—on both my mom and dad’s side of the family. None of these people were old. Early sixties. Having seen death visit my family so closely and frequently, the person inside of me feels guarded; the philosopher, emotional around words.

When I was in India in the month of August, my mausa (Mom’s sister’s husband) fell sick. So much so that he was in the ICU, and his children from California and India visited him. First people didn’t have the faith but then mausa showed progress and promised to be around. He started to do better. I visited him in the hospital in New Delhi. We spoke for a couple of minutes. But 48 hours later, on the day I left for NYC, he passed away. Death and destiny do not knock before entering, do they?

I didn’t find out about my mausa’s demise until after I reached New York. My husband, who had come to the airport to pick me up, shared the news. I called up my parents but couldn’t wrap my brains around what had happened. Numb. Shocked. Scared. Heartbroken. I couldn’t cry or eat properly or fight off the uneasiness.

My mausi (Mom’s sister) passed away two years ago. I have mentioned her influence over my writerly-life in my blogs and interviews. My mausa would appreciate my work too. He would print out my blog posts and discuss them with my parents over whisky and wine. He told them how proud he was of me. Every time I saw my mausa, he would bring up my blogs and quote lines from them.

I saved every email my mausa sent me—especially his response to anything I ever wrote about his wife (my mausi) in. In one of his notes, he said, “My dear Sweta, I owe to you to keep alive Memories of Meena. An excellent attempt to heal the wound. Thank you, only you could achieve this belief.”

Death of a dear one makes us selfish. Last week as I sent out links to my blog post (Updates on “Perfectly Untraditional”) and pictures from the Indian book tour, I marked my mausa a copy on the email. I didn’t even think or didn’t want to think, I am not sure, that he wouldn’t be able to read them. Or that I wouldn’t get a reply… from him.

For me, that was the day I felt my loss…the magnitude of it, anyway. I felt a vacuum, broke down, and said to my husband, “I have no mausi-mausa left. Their house, my childhood memories with them, and the precious relationship will be part of anecdotes at family gatherings. A closed chapter.”

My family is very close—we don’t care about how we are related to one another. Second cousins, third cousins. I am not saying we are perfect—but we are temperamental fools with big hearts who will do anything for the people we love.

I mentioned in last week’s post the support the whole bunch showed for my book launch in New Delhi and readings in other cities. I can’t even begin to tell you how much moral, emotional, and physical support everybody extends when sickness or death happens in the family. It’s almost unreal.

But when you are vulnerable and emotionally unsettled, the mind explores thoughts you normally wouldn’t turn to. I said to my husband, “Sometimes I envy parents and children who are in symbiotic relationships—parents give birth and bring up their kids—because of that, once the same children are older, they do what is morally appropriate and socially expected. Basically, the sense of duty keeps the relationship afloat. But there is no affection or emotion—just pragmatism. At least such people can deal with loss, pain, and heartbreaks a lot easily.”

My husband said, “You don’t mean that. You are saying this only because you are upset.” He was right. Later on when I calmed down and thought about what I had said, I cringed. I would be nothing without my family and friends.

Honestly, I pity detached families. What can be more unfortunate than feeling only a sense of responsibility towards your parents or ownership towards your children? That’s what charity and work are for, not family. No desire to spend weeks together, chew each other’s brains, participate in each other’s lives or even pick up the phone and chat/fight? What’s sadder than a parent-child relationship with no emotional connection? I know I would die if I were cursed with one. Relationships make us who we are.

There is a reason pretty much the entire city showed up at my mausa’s cremation. He was a good man, revered by most. It’s the emotional bond that has created this blog post. And it’s the relationship we shared because of which I will continue writing to him. I am not ready to give up yet. And one day, when his mailbox is full, the emails will begin to bounce back. And I am not sure if even that day I will stop. Sometimes the dead are a lot more precious than those alive.

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.22.2011

“People love others not for who they are but for how they make them feel.” Irwin Federman.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What a month away in India taught me

Yes, I am back from my almost four-week long trip to India. Many of you have emailed and asked me to share my experiences and pictures from the book launch and other events. I apologize for the delay. A few days after I returned from India, we headed to Minneapolis to attend my husband’s cousin’s wedding. Any excuse to meet with the family, catch up on chitchat, and dance like a rock star, is very high on my list.J

Anyway, the formal launch of “Perfectly Untraditional” was in New Delhi on August 5. Zig Ziglar said, “People who have good relationships at home are more effective in the marketplace.” On the day of the launch, family and friends showed up from all over the world. I am cognizant that we live in times where every second is important. But on August 5, many people put their lives on hold to celebrate my small achievement. My heart has carved out a special place for all of them.

I had always dreamed of sharing this momentous day with my dear ones. And I feel blessed that most of who mattered graced the occasion with their presence. And the ones who mattered but couldn’t make it in person, you know who you are, showed more than enough love and support throughout my journey in their own way. And I am fortunate to have you in my life.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “Some days are meant to be counted, others are meant to be weighed.” How true! The room that evening was filled beyond capacity. Words, smiles, blessings, hugs, pictures, and autographs flooded the evening. An image I would like to carry to my grave. My parents sat in front, with their faces beaming. My mom said, “I am a celebrity’s mother.” My father sat in trance as he showed me his two thumbs up while my brother made sure everyone was seated comfortably. My dearest friend Jaya, who flew down from Kolkata for the launch, said, “Bhaiya is so hospitable—as if it is your wedding.” My husband, the man behind the camera, made sure each breath was captured forever. My uncle (Phupha) said, “Beta, it’s so nice to see how supportive Anudit is of your dream.” My aunts, uncles, and cousins extended their stalwart support. An uncle-in-law brought coworkers and stayed on to get his copy autographed despite his sick mother at home. My friends, old and new, embraced me for my madness. They brought their friends and sat with a “Sweta-flag” at the venue. My husband and very dear friend Pooja organized a cake to commemorate the occasion. The audience greeted a debut novelist, humbly yours, with such warm applause. It was a magical night where everyone present just added to my big day. When my brother asked me if the launch was everything I had imagined it to be, I said, “And much more, Bhaiya.”

Following the main event in New Delhi, I went away on a multi-city tour. There were readings, talks, event judging, meetings, interviews, and research work in Bangalore, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Rajgir, Nalanda, Varanasi, and Delhi again. I was invited to give two talks at one of India’s leading and most prestigious universities: BHU. And I was requested to judge a debate in New Delhi at the high school where Shahrukh Khan studied. Yeah, I am definitely on cloud nine. Some of the review, interviews, and write-ups are available. If you’d like, you can read them here: OR


Many cities meant newer experiences, meeting up with new and old friends, and catching up with family. Writers in different cities welcomed me warmly as they released my book. The list is endless as is my gratitude. Numerous other folks made time for my journey. Some called, some sent emails, some asked about the launch while others gave hugs and showered blessings. And few others showed up, in different cities, with big smiles or sent cakes and flowers. There are so many ways to be involved in someone’s happiness—my own book launch has taught me that. But more importantly, the voyage paved the path for both my emotional and mental evolution.

I feel like a different person after this trip. All the emotional turmoil and agony that I was dealing with right before I left has turned into vapor. I am so much at peace with myself. I can appreciate why philosophers and writers go looking for answers in India. It’s not a publicity stunt to sell tourism to foreigners. I might have found that pearl of wisdom and solace of mind that most others look for.

A friend of mine, who is a therapist, commented that I am au fait with the human psyche and see people a lot lucidly and deeply than most others. Well, I wish I could say I am gifted. But the truth is my profession trains me to grasp my world a certain way. As writers, we peel away superficial layers in every human being we meet and are able to see the “real self.” Combine that trait with a month long stay in India, and you have X-ray eyes + mind:-)

I wrote a book about relationships. And this past four weeks have taught me that we are nothing without them. The good ones bring us a sense of fulfillment and the bad ones lead us to appreciate the good relationships in our lives.

What is also true is the adage: “What you sow is what you reap.” People respond with love and support if you nurture your relationships. No one can be taken for granted. And in today’s world, every relationship, irrespective of age and gender, has to be treated with respect. That is if you want any iota of respect or affection in return. It is equally important to weed out or at least maintain distance with cold, mean, and nasty people. Sometimes, we forget that we have to set our own boundaries to avoid getting hurt.

I recently read a quote on my cousin’s Facebook profile while I was negotiating my feelings for certain people. An old man once said, “There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”

Perhaps, that’s what’s happened to me. I feel healed after this India trip. I have come back with a clear understanding of who I am and what I mean to whom. No confusion or dissonance any longer. It’s such a magical feeling knowing where you stand in people’s lives—good or bad. And it’s even more humbling to know where you stand in your very own eyes.

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.12.2011

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours."~ Wayne Dyer