Reflections From The Reference Desk

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While deep in thought searching something up on my computer at the reference desk, I heard a voice say, “Angel!” Awaking from my reverie and collecting my senses, I asked the good looking man in front of me- “Are you looking for books on Angels?”

“No, you look like an angel”, he replied. I really do not like to flirt and I said a bit curtly, “I am here to help you with reference questions, do you have a question I can answer?” He stared at me in awe, shook his head and said, “Wow, professional too, a professional angel!” and to my dismay and his happiness, I burst out laughing and so did he. I do not know why I laughed but that is the most unique compliment I have ever got and this is a true story. (The good-looking part might be a stretch but everything else is real.)

I love my job at the library. I get to answer reference questions in person, virtually and on the phone and sometimes people just stop by at the desk and start chatting. The questions can be as simple as where a particular book or electronic material is located in the library to something more labor intensive as helping someone build and format a resume or finding several primary and secondary sources for someone’s research paper. There is a woman who calls every evening (yes, every single day) and asks for the weekly weather forecast complete with highs and lows and the percentage chance of rain.

 Once, a lady called me and said she was researching from a book but she did not write the citation down and she did not remember the title of the book for me to pull it out. She had jotted down the information by pen, if she had made copies, she would have had the title and page numbers at the bottom of the page which would make it easier for me to find the book. I asked her if she remembered what color the book was and after thinking for a while she said that it was bound in green and there were several volumes of it. I went and looked in the reference 920s as she had researched some biographical information on a fairly unknown woman. I found the series, found the exact volume and article she had looked at and gave her all the information needed to cite this reference source. She was delighted and it was such a thrill to be able to help her, almost felt like I had won at a scavenger hunt or something.

At the library, when I look at the people around me, I can see that it is a microcosm of society. People from all walks of life- the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the homeless, they all visit the library and we treat them equally and respectfully. It is interesting to me how we can gauge the personalities of people just by talking to them very briefly. There are the nice, gentle folks who thank you twice or more just because you told them where the restroom was. There are the impatient, rude people who are drumming their fingers on the desk while you are looking up answers to their questions and you print them some really good information and they snatch the papers from your hands and leave without a backward glance or smile, let alone a thank you while you sit there in shock listening to the click clocks of their pointed high heels fading away.

I simply love and adore children and sometimes I regret that I did not choose to be a children’s librarian. When my kids were younger I sought a break from them and talking to adults was refreshing and desirable but now that my children are older, I realize that I want to work with children.  Once, this sweet little girl who came to the desk with her mom told me, “I like your shirt!” I was wearing a flowery blue and white shirt and she had a little kitty t-shirt on. I said, “I like your shirt too” and not to be outdone she said, “I like yours better!” She said she loved my black hair and asked if she could touch it. I seriously wanted to bring her home with me. I have one girl and two boys and I have always thought having one more girl in my family would be so wonderful.

I also feel very sad when a mom comes in to do homework on the computer with four kids in tow and they do not sit patiently (we do have puzzles, books and crayons for them but it only holds their attention for so long) and she is yelling at them. It broke my heart when I heard a mom say to her six year old- “Sit down right now, you do not deserve any Christmas gifts, I should cancel everything!” I do not blame the mom as she is working full time, studying and taking care of her kids which can be so stressful but it makes me feel despondent to hear these things being said to little ones.

The library is usually a quiet place where people come to read and research but once in a while we get some excitement/entertainment too. The incident I am going to narrate is real and I am going to name it ‘Love in the Library!’ The heroine is a voluptuous homeless redhead who was with her homeless African American boyfriend when apparently a White homeless guy started flirting with her. I do not know what happened but the two men were scuffling, one on top of the other on the table and then whilst trying to punch each other they rolled off and fell with a thud on the floor with that loud noise reverberating in the whole library and startling everyone. Of course, our security guys came running and separated them while they were still yelling and cussing at each other with the choicest of bleep words. People had gathered around and were watching in shock and disbelief and the two guys who were fighting were escorted out of the library. I had been a witness to the whole incident too from the sidelines and when the guys left, I turned to get back to my seat at the desk when my eyes met with an older distinguished looking Caucasian gentleman standing next to me. I told him “That was quite something, wasn’t it?” and he said “Yes, Welcome to America!” and I burst out laughing. Nothing like a good laugh to dissipate all the nervous tension from watching such an incident!

I was helping a lady who wanted to print some recipes of cakes and cookies for a tea party. She was homeless, had dirty nails and was smelling really bad and so I knew that she did not have a house to throw the party at but I went along with her as in her head whatever she was planning was real. I have so much empathy for the mentally ill, it is the worst kind of disease when you lose control of your mind and the thought of that ever happening to my brain scares the living daylights out of me.

It is amusing to me that when people misbehave, for example if someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone in a public area, sometimes, they will not listen to you but if you call security they immediately hang up. It reminds me of how the traffic slows down when people see a police car on the side of the road.

There are so many more anecdotes to tell but I do not want the blog to get too long. Let me sign off by talking about my encounters with Indian folks (my people) who do visit the library a lot. I usually get two kinds of questions, the first one being a very disdainful look of why I am not an engineer or a doctor and they cannot believe I actually had to get a master’s degree to get this job. The second kind always think it’s so cool that I work here and they ask me if I can find a job for their wives at the library which I cannot, I am not involved in the hiring process at all. With this, I end my reference desk sagas and maybe I will write a sequel soon as there are a lot more interactions in my inventory.

Forty Five

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No, this blog is not about Donald Trump who many people call 45 as they do not wish to take his name! Its about the age I turned this June. I had been anticipating this birthday with some apprehension. Birthdays come and go and the milestones are always those which end in 0’s. People tell you that 40 is the new 30 or 30 is the new 20. Thankfully, 20 is not the new 10. I am sure nobody wants to hear that at 20! When we are younger, we cannot wait to grow up and when we are older, the best compliments are those which tell you how young you look. The decade birthdays are brimming with bouquets and brouhahas while the ones which end in five do not get as much attention.

My youngest son, all of eleven, gets really excited about my birthdays and he kept asking me how I felt about my fast approaching special day. I told him that I was kind of sad as I am getting older. He gave me a hug and said, “Mom, look at it this way, 45 is a good birthday to have, at least you are not turning 54!” He eagerly told me with all earnestness that I look about 25 to which my almost fourteen year old son replied, “Armaan, you are such a suck up, sheesh, Mom looks like she is 38!” I smiled and thought to myself, “How did he come up with 38? 35 would have sounded better but I will take it” My sixteen year old daughter told me, “Why do you care so much about how you look? It’s not even important”

I keep telling my children that I adore chubby and cuddly babies and I may have another one soon and it really mortifies my 16 year old as she does not want a sibling that much younger to her. I am definitely not having another baby, it’s just  wishful thinking out aloud on my part but once I start my monologue on how much I love babies and how wonderful it would be to have a cute little toddler at home while the older three go off to college, she gets annoyed. So, this birthday,my daughter told me in her usual matter of fact way, “Mom, you cannot have babies anymore now, can you? You are 45 and menopause will be soon, right?”

Menopause occurs in women anywhere between 45 to 55 years of age. The Ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: “men” + “pauein.” The word “men” means month which is closely related to the word for moon, “mene” because the months were measured by the moon.  The word “pauein” means to cause to cease or stop.  At 45, you are definitely beginning to experience perimenopause. As your estrogen decreases you may experience mood swings and fatigue. So the next time you succumb to the urge of crying uncontrollably just know that it’s the side effects of your hormones going out of whack and all is really well with the world. I never had pimples as a teenager and now they are erupting everywhere. I work at the library and I have always worn a light cardigan or jacket there, even in summer as the air conditioning made me cold, but not anymore. For the first time in years, I am not cold in the library. At home, when I say, “Oh God, I am so hot, I feel so hot,” my husband will smile and say “yes, you are, I agree” and I will laugh but there is no pun intended. I go over and decrease the temperature in the air conditioner settings.

45 is a pivot point, half time in the game of life, a time to reflect on how the previous years have been and how you want to live the rest of your existence. I feel an increasing awareness of my mortality, an urgency to live the best life I can because I have wasted enough time already. For the first time in years, I am serious about taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. I had fallen off the exercise wagon and so I went back and started Zumba again. There is nothing more exhilarating and enthralling than dancing with a group of women to catchy songs complete with clapping and woohoos at the end of class. Endorphins are released,calories are burned and camaraderie and companionship is formed. I am trying to eat food rich in omega 3s like fish and nuts and also more of fresh fruits and vegetables. We, as mothers, take our kids to the pediatrician, the dentist, the orthodontist, the ophthalmologist and so on but every once in a while we forget to get our own checkups done. We need to go to the doctor for regular physicals and other recommended exams. We need to have a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent the occurrence of osteoporosis later in life.

I read an interesting quote that in your middle age when your body starts falling apart, your head is finally coming together. That could not be truer. I feel like I have grown into myself, I am stronger,  I am bolder, I know what I want and what I don’t. I don’t have room in my life for toxic people. I have a very low threshold for tolerating other people’s bad attitudes.I feel an impending sense of “what would my legacy be if I were to die tomorrow?” To that end, I wish to do more for my community, to volunteer more, to be a better daughter, wife,mother,sister and friend. In my twenties, I was very insecure and I would get upset when my husband was not expressive enough or when my friends would unknowingly say something hurtful. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, I really don’t. I have complete confidence that my husband loves me, he doesn’t talk the talk but he walks the walk. He is always there for me, we work as a team and he makes me laugh every day and for that I am so grateful. I have three beautiful children and for that I feel extremely blessed.

In my twenties, I was a cautious driver staying mostly in one lane and I would feel scared driving to new places, fearing I would get lost. Now, I am one step away from getting a speeding ticket and I am more adventurous when it comes to driving to places I have never been before. My patience for irresponsible drivers has decreased. I get really annoyed and say some choice curse words when people cut you off and slowdown in the left lane or when they make a daring/foolish left turn and you have to slow down for them else they would get hit by you.

As I am getting older, I am realizing that time does not heal some wounds. When I lost my dad in my teens and my older sister when I was 24, everyone told me that with time, the pain would get better but it doesn’t. I still miss them a lot and think of them often, especially on my birthdays; I am swept away by the flooding rush of memories. However, I did have a good forty fifth birthday. My children made me some beautiful cards, my middle son baked me a heavenly Tiramisu cake, my friends treated me to lunch and I had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family. I am surrounded by love and I cherish and treasure those who love me. I am proud of how far I have come, lucky to be alive and excited about the future.

Now that the kids are older, I am also inspired to travel more, to visit new countries and discern more of this world.. My children motivate me; my daughter grows her hair and then gets it cut to donate it for making wigs for cancer patients. She has donated it a few times and inspired by her, I am planning to do the same later this summer. I enjoy spending time with my children as I know that they will go off to college soon and I am also trying to make them more independent and ready for the real world. Going forward, Maya Angelou’s quote comes to mind, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”

(I wrote this blog in 2016, republishing here from my now extinct blogger site)

She is Fat

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            I reconnected online with a childhood friend of mine after a long time and after catching up on her life, I asked about her older brother. She told me that he is doing well and is married with kids. I asked, “Who did he marry? How is his wife?” She replied with some disappointment, “She is fat, she was big boned to begin with and now she has put on some more weight.” I was taken aback. Why is that the first adjective which came to her mind whilst describing her sister-in-law? Why does the physical attribute of fatness take precedence over all the other amazing qualities one may have as an individual. You could have a beautiful smile, a kick-ass attitude and a great sense of humor but the first thing anyone notices or defines about you is your weight? I gently chided my friend that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and if they are happy and she is nice, let’s not worry about her bigness.

          The social stigma of obesity is a reality. Fat people not only bear the burden of their physical weight, they are also crushed by the weight of society’s sarcasm and disdain.Overweight people are stared at, laughed at, called names like fatso, fatty etc. and we as a society do not realize that we are being mean and hurtful. It is somehow okay to make a face if a heavy person sits next to you on the plane or laugh at negative stereotypes of fat people in movies.

           When friends in an online group responded with laughing emojis to a video which had an overweight woman dressed modestly in an orange sari and a black cardigan dancing to a Bollywood song, I shook my head and thought to myself, this is not right. We cannot normalize making fun of and mocking such videos. I felt relieved and reassured when one of the friends in the group wrote that the lady is dancing very gracefully and she admires her self-confidence to go up there on the stage despite her weight and dance alone in front of a big group of people. Dancing is really not just the prerogative of slim people, talent and graceful dance moves can be exhibited by people of all sizes.

        In today’s society, it’s not just the morbidly obese who bear the brunt of fat jokes. You could be a few pounds overweight and still have micro aggressions thrown your way. I have put on some pounds over the years but I have no health problems and I am confident enough to know that I look and feel great for being in my forties and being a mom to three teenagers. You cannot be expected to look the same as you did when you were younger. There is such a thing as aging gracefully. Age adds character to your face.The curious case of Benjamin Button is not a reality. However, it’s interesting when people who meet me after a long time expect just that and literally lament that I have let myself go and woefully remember my yonder days of slimness and slenderness.

           Scrolling through Facebook, I always shake my head with some annoyance when I read comments such as, “You look so pretty, have you lost weight?” as if you cannot look beautiful without losing weight. The perception in society is that if you are slim and toned it means that you have self-control, self-discipline and you have it all together. If you are fat, then by default you are perceived as lazy, unmotivated and unworthy of adulation. Sometimes, you are not fat because of your habits, you could have a thyroid imbalance, water retention problems or just a genetic disposition towards weight gain. All slim people do not eat healthy, they could be on a diet of fatty foods and desserts and yet have an active metabolism which burns all their extra calories.

        In the world today, when I see actresses who looked gorgeous being an average size aspiring to be slimmer, I wonder, how slim is slim enough? Is it just about health or largely about vanity? It is so refreshing to read an interview of Vidya Balan who is secure in herself and in her talent and is unapologetic about her weight. I completely agree with her when she says that she does not need unsolicited advice or questions about her weight, it’s really nobody’s business.

     The body positive movement in social media is a welcome start and it needs momentum and acceptance. What we need more of, is positive connotations attached to the word ‘fat’. In Bollywood, instead of a stereotypical Tuntun providing comic relief, we need a big beautiful heroine completely confident of herself, who knows she can do anything and be anyone she wants to be. Such a heroine should be portrayed as totally worthy of the love of a dashing hero.

     I am not advocating that people should put on weight or be unhealthy. What I am advocating is that we as a society should change our attitude. Let’s not be so harsh and unfair. Let’s not judge human beings on their weight alone and lose the chance of knowing them as people. A fat person should not be an embarrassment to their family and friends. Let’s celebrate their qualities and talents without focusing so much on their physical appearance.